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“Solo-Friendly” is Mostly an Illusion

In my last post I pointed out that "LFG" is still very much a thing in modern MMOS -- even the most "accessible" ones. The interfaces have been updated, but the concept is still 100% there.

Today I want to point out how this idea of solo-friendly gameplay is also largely an illusion. When people look back on MMOs from 1997-2003 they often think of how those games were really not solo friendly at all. Then they look at modern MMOs as a bastion of "play by yourself all you want" which is completely false.

Let's compare the old school games like EQ (circa 1999), SWG, UO, etc., to today's accessible giant.

More...

Gear

THEN: In EverQuest the best gear for many could be obtained in a variety of ways from soloing, questing, or grouping.

NOW: In World of Warcraft the best gear comes from group content only.

Leveling

THEN: Leveling was the majority of the game and could be done solo by several classes (some better than others), in duos, and didn't absolutely require a group.

NOW: The vast majority of content is end-game at max level where there is no longer any solo-accessibility. The solo content is completed in a matter of weeks by an average player.

Character Progression

THEN: The same activities (done solo) that brought value to character progression in the beginning still continued to bring valuable character progression in the "end-game".

NOW: Very few activities you do at levels 1-100 bring any lasting or meaningful value to your end-game gameplay -- particularly solo gameplay.

Dungeons

THEN: Many dungeons could actually accommodate a solo player. The exact same dungeon that could accommodate a group.

NOW: Dungeons are instanced, group only encounters. 

In modern accessible MMOs there is, in fact, less ability to "play your way" than ever before. There's "play their way" and then there's the fringe exceptions.

My point?

When people talk about how the "old days" could never come back, they often point to a lack of solo-friendly content as well as how bad it was of the games to "force you to group" to see content. I have pointed out how even the most accessible MMO is guilty of both of these, and to a significant extent far worse.

  • DS says:

    If you’re soloing who cares about “end game”? You level to max and you leave. Screw this raid/dungeon crap.

    • Keen says:

      In today’s modern MMO landscape, that’s exactly the point.

      In which case the “old school” games with mechanics many solo gamers fear provided far more gameplay for the solo player than WoW does.

  • bhagpuss says:

    I agree with much of the sentiment, particularly about how much more solo-friendly old-school EQ was than most people gave it credit for, then or now. That said, quite a lot of what you’re saying about today’s MMORPGs seems to be based on WoW and I’m not at all sure how relevant that is to the genre in general.

    Yes, WoW seems to have gone down that “its all about the endgame” route, but many other MMOs have instead diversified into horizontal systems, many of them not even combat-related, that mean players spend inordinate amounts of time there doing stuff that doesn’t require a group. Even in combat, large tranches of “group” or “raid” content in many MMOs these days is open, public and hot-join. It is, effectively, solo play, even though there may be anything up to a hundred people soloing it together.

    As someone who did solo a lot in early EQ and wh’s both soloed and grouped in countless MMOs for a couple of decades, I would have to say that today’s MMOs are, by and large, hugely more solo-friendly than the older ones. It’s not that you couldn’t solo then, it’s that your choices were a lot more limited. Nowadays in most MMORPGs I’ve played lately there’s literally more solo content than I’m ever going to finish.

    • Keen says:

      Yes, I compared all of this to WoW because it is lauded as the “most accessible” of the modern MMOs, and the largest, and the one with the “most content.”

      I’m also looking squarely at where most dev time is spent and where most content is spent. Marginalized side activities are often considered “solo content” in other MMOs while the bulk of the game is dungeons, raids, and group content.

      Most, and I think that’s most by far, of the MMOs released in the past decade (of which few even remain active) are about “end-game” group content.

  • I think you’re falsely conflating some aspects of EQ in order to reach a faulty conclusion. While not impossible to solo, even if you did play a class that could it could be a grim and grindy venture sitting on the periphery of some group of mobs like the Aviaks, looking for a singleton you could take out, pulling it, working to kill it, resting up, then looking for the next target.

    You do that all evening and if you were lucky you could see a few pixels progress on your little XP bubbles. But if you got a double pull it was run for the zone line or die, and if you died then it was farewell to all the progress you made that night and probably the night before. And if a group showed up and didn’t want you they would take all the spawns and you’d be stuck looking elsewhere.

    In EQ you could solo, but grouping ruled on all fronts.

    In WoW there is a quest chain laid out before you that gives you something to do at any time and keeps you geared up. If you’re tired of that, you can go do pet battles for a while or go do a battleground. Solo and want to do a dungeon? just LFG it and get it done. Oh, and it doesn’t matter which class you chose.

    I loved me some EQ back in the day, but I’m not buying this revisionist attempt to paint old EQ as anything akin to being solo friendly compared to today’s market.

    • Keen says:

      My druid in 1999/2000 could quad kite and level faster than anyone grouping. He could also handle several camps for gear in Guk. My Necro was even more ridiculous at holding camps in dungeons and world for exp. My wizard could practically quad kite too.

      Grouping was better exp in many situations for some classes, but not at all a 100% end-all-be-all. There was plenty to do as an individual to make progress solo — progress for gear, money, and fun.

      WoW’s end-game is almost entirely about being in a group. You can’t do a dungeon without a group — you can barely even enter them. You can’t do a warfront, or a BG, etc. It’s group content. Easy to jump in? Yes, but that still doesn’t make it a solo experience.

      I don’t think that’s conflating the point at all.

  • Jeromai says:

    On the bright? side, the zeitgeist seems to have moved. We may conceivably see more PvE group-oriented players remaining in MMOs because…

    …let’s face it, there are game genres better catering to every other subtype. PvP players have battle royales and a slew of competitive games from FPSes to card games to MOBAs, leaving only those favoring large group persistent realm PvP to wait for the upcoming promised MMOs.

    PvE soloists, well, I have been playing Warframe and Path of Exile like a maniac and am at a point where I’m seriously reconsidering any further allegiance to MMOs as a game type. Plenty of other single player game fish in the sea as well.

    Games like the above and Monster Hunter World and their ilk also cater to PvE small group co-ops too.

    That leaves the PvE massive group seeking players. I just wonder how many people they’ll be able to find when a bunch of other players have gravitated off to more favored game types.

    MMOs are having their work cut out for them these days. They need to make a bit of everything to keep that bunch of other players from fleeing and it still may not be enough.

    • Keen says:

      You’re absolutely right, but I see the lack of players as a good thing. I recently wrote about designing for the niche, not the masses. It’s a great thing for the industry that people are moving on — that is, if the industry can take advantage of it by creating games for the smaller groups.

      They need to not focus on keeping players, but rather focus on creating the games the remaining players want. Why? Because then they’ll be creating the games for the MMO-lovers, not a subset of players who have and should moved on.

  • FreeQuest says:

    I play mostly Star Trek online the only group content is the Taskforce operations. Gear Wise apart from that you can pretty much solo the best gear in game and pretty much everything else.

    For WoW yeah soloed that game but as a mostly solo player, I am just interested in the story, not the gear not the epic stuff it just doesn’t matter.

    I decided to solo mostly because every guild I join no matter how big disintegrates within weeks this happened to me in WoW reportedly joined a large Aussie guild the guild was gone in weeks small guilds same thing.

    It’s the reason I solo I kind of think I’m like a bad luck charm for guilds lol.

  • Diltz says:

    in wow, it’s entirely possible to be “in a group” and not interact with another player in any way at all. I wouldn’t consider this grouping, more just playing a solo game next to other people. I foresee a future where AI is good enough that you can pick whatever class you want, and the game will fill in the other roles and an LFD/LFR player won’t even notice that they’re playing with AI controlled NPCs. not that this would be a bad thing, it’s just not an MMO. and definitely not “group” content.

    also, wow’s end-game group content is entirely optional. you have to choose to do mythic dungeons or raiding. The only reason you’re saying LFG in the traditional sense still exists is because you’re choosing to use it (most people don’t). You can see all the content purely solo, or in a basically solo experience alongside other players with the LFD/LFR tools. differences in difficulty, (which are mostly just differences in gear requirements) aren’t really compelling to the vast majority of players. and the only reason you need the gear, is if you want to do more mythics. so if you don’t care about mythics or joining a guild, you can see everything there is to offer without ever really even interacting with another human being. it’s these interactions that make a game interesting and keep people coming back. but people are lazy and if there’s an easier way to get the dopamine that doesn’t require interactions with another person, then the vast majority of players will go the easy route, and then get bored since they’ve never interacted with other people or created any bonds or friendships or had interesting experiences.

    WoW currently is a pretty good game, but it’s not really an MMO in the traditional sense. it’s more of a single player world/story exploring leveling game, and then a lobby based “solo next to other people” dungeon runner at end-game… even people that join a guild and do mythics is really just a group of players that have decided to create their own lobby within the existing game that they tend to stick to and avoid anyone else.

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