The comments discussion in my post about why players are trending toward soloing in MMORPGs revealed a concept to me that I think has been neglected for far too long. It’s the idea of opportunity cost.
Opportunity Cost is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. In other words, it’s the benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action.
MMOs need to present players with options and choices leading to opportunity cost, and it needs to happen regularly. This isn’t something you choose at character creation when you pick to be a Warrior over a Cleric. This isn’t something that can be so easily rescpec’d or undone. Opportunity costs aren’t the penalties or the permanent choices some people think of when veterans like myself wag our fingers and talk about death penalties. Opportunity costs are giving one thing up because you prefer something else — the key is that you gave something up.
I’ve discovered one way to do this is to create bonuses and positive gains for all play styles. Soloing should have huge rewards. Grouping should have huge rewards. Both should be incredibly enticing for players. “Should I group, or should I solo today? I just can’t decide!” That’s what I want to feel.
Developers and armchair enthusiasts like myself have often turned to the idea that you have to reward grouping to entice soloers out of that mentality. The result is that soloers feel punished for not being rewarded for playing the way they want. There’s a perception of ‘missing out’ on something despite not wanting to participate.
The perception of missing out must exist for all play styles. Groupers must miss out of something that solo players can get, and solo players must miss out on something groupers can get. There must be benefits players have to forgo in order to obtain benefits from playing the way they choose — the key here being that benefits exist for all.
Choices. It’s all about choices and how players must not be given everything or feel that there is only one way or path to be rewarded.