The idea of grouping crossed my mind this morning. I was recalling all of the great memories I’ve had over the years forming groups in MMORPGs. I have loved (and still do) grouping over the years for many reasons: Social dynamics, access to more dangerous areas, often the increased rewards of tackling more and harder enemies, and the ways in which classes interact with each other in group settings. Groups feel like the core of a MMORPG to me.
Grouping is definitely not the core of MMORPGs for most people. I say most people because I have observed the rather obvious trend toward solo play from both what the bulk of players want and what the bulk of developers deliver — there is no coincidence that the two align.
Why is solo play preferred over grouping? I feel that if this can be identified, and the reasons for players choosing to solo either alleviated or incorporated into a grouping experience, then we can maybe get more people to want to group up in MMORPGs. Here are a few of the reasons I can think of for why players choose to fly solo and how I think we can begin to start addressing them. I would like you to comment with yours.
Finding and Forming a Group Takes Time
Forming a group is the most time consuming part. Finding players, getting everyone together, and organizing can often tap into play time. If someone has an hour to play, the formation process may take up half of that. LFG tools helped, but were never given a true chance to develop once the tools came out that built groups for you. These very tools became a means of making group play just another version of solo play. I think if the older format of a LFG tool — a more robust version — we can get back to the group creation process. Creating that group is crucial to the process.
We can not cheat time. There will never be a way to properly remove the wait while maintaining the integrity of a great MMO group. But maybe we can reward players for time spent looking. For every 5 minutes without gaining experience while tagged as LFG, your experience gained during that play sessions will be boosted. That way once you find a group you can catch up and gain experience as though you were gaining the whole time.
Gaining Experience is Faster Solo
Many believe that playing solo allows you to gain experience faster. That is often true in modern MMOs — in fact it is very true. In older MMOs some classes were designed to solo, and they did quite well. I played a Necromancer and I could solo much faster than most groups, and most groups didn’t want me until I had certain abilities anyway. Grouping up should always give more experience. It should give a boost.
If killing 1 monster solo in 1 minute gives 100 exp, and killing 1 monster grouped takes 20 seconds and gives 100 exp — the rate of gain is triple that of a solo player. That’s how it should work, or something similar. However, in most of today’s games the experience is divided up and the monsters do not take that much longer to kill solo. A solo player can see gains much quicker. I believe in group EXP bonuses. I strongly believe in them. Do not punish a player for soloing. Reward a player for grouping. There -is- a difference.
Solo Players Can Do It All
This is definitely a product of the times. Modern MMOs have all but done away with having to group while leveling up. Solo players can go anywhere and do anything. This is only the slightest generalization. Soloing in older MMOs pretty much meant finding the places few and far between where you could gain experience, and grouping meant the world was your oyster.
Grouping needs to unlock more areas with the benefits from above. More areas = more cool stuff to see, better experience, and faster exp. These areas can not be instances. They can not be “additional.” People should want to go where groups can go.
Classes that Have to Group are Boring
I think this is a real thing. Classes made for grouping these days are boring. Players who can solo perceive their bag of tricks to be more dynamic and interesting. A player who solos in today’s MMOs does indeed feel like he or she can do everything. Back in older MMOs, groupers had the bag of tricks and solo players were one-trick ponies. Cast 1 nuke until it does or dot, fear, sick pet, sit. Give people more cool and exciting ways to harmonize with other players and they will seek out these opportunities.
Reward grouping without punishing a player for soloing, and make the transition from solo to group an easier one. Create the true richest experience of the game in a group while still providing the means to solo. Never punish a player for soloing — some choose to do so because they find that more fun, and I understand that. At the same time, these are massively multiplayer online role-playing games meant to be enjoyed to their fullest in a group experience with other players.