Inspiration to write on this topic should be credited to multiple sources ranging from message boards and fellow bloggers to in-game chat channel discussions.
We all have our preferred approach that we take when we sit down to play a massively multiplayer online game. There are those of us who prefer to solo and those of us who can not stand to play a multiplayer game without the multiple players. I do not need to establish this point any further; or do it? Recently it has become clear that the line is once again drawn in the sand between players. For a while this epic struggle of group vs solo play was taken off the burner and attentions turned to raiding vs, well, not raiding. I now return you to your regular scheduled debate.
There are a few recent cases where the aforementioned struggle comes into play. With the recent release of SOE’s latest EQ2 expansion, Rise of Kunark, players are faced with the blatantly obvious approach to befriending the solo gamer crowd. Kunark is comprised of an enormous collection of outdoor zones or “overland” areas and a decent number of underworld. If you’ve taken the time to explore or read about the overland areas in Kunark you would know that the majority of all the content seen to far has been incredibly aligned with the casual solo player. Solo quests are abundant and absolutely the best way to currently gain levels 70-80, there is no camping, and the quests all yield incredible loot. Those are just a taste of the solo friendly additions in Kunark. Tipa from West Karana feels that in EQ2 grouping should always be more rewarding than soloing – but is that fair? I can see the point of view from both sides. Those who group often feel that this is normal for them. Those that solo feel groups can be hard to obtain or unreliable. So who is responsible for mediating this debate? It falls to the developers of the game and players alike. The developers need to create the content for both and declare that it is how it is. Then it’s up to the players to either accept it and like it or not. As for EQ2 it’s unclear at the moment for everyone as to whether or not the solo play will grossly outweigh the group content but one thing is clear – it’s called EverQUEST for a reason.
Scott Hartsman (EQ2 producer) made a remarkably sensible statement about solo questing vs group grinding and racing to the end.
“Coincidentally, I got a few great IMs from raiders lastnight on the subject, whose guilds pride themselves on being among the first to max level so they can rush straight into raiding. One of them sums it up really well: “This is the first time I haven’t had to spend the first weeks of an expansion mindlessly sitting in the same 6×6 room grinding. I’m actually getting to enjoy it. This is fun.” Another was more brief: “quest xp = <3"
EverQuest II is not a game about sitting in one place and grinding. You find the activity that defines the core of your game, then you make sure it’s the part you polish the most, then you make damn sure it’s rewarding. That activity is questing.
Levelling is a transitory activity. Level 80, on the other hand, lasts a long time. Regardless of whether dungeon xp is tweaked or not, two months from now this entire conversation becomes moot, and people have had a blast in the meanwhile”
I mentioned there were a few cases of the group vs solo struggle. Pirates of the Burning Sea, set for release in early 2008, has taken an interesting approach to how they will balance the content in their game. Instead of clearly drawing the line between group play and solo play they have created a difficulty slider that will allow players to either make the battles easier or harder depending on how they would like their gaming experience to taste. As of now this is simply a conjecture but I think it’s safe to assume that if you find the group content lacking it would be possible to ramp the single player content difficulty way up and go at it with some friends. Heck, why not? While this system doesn’t work for every MMORPG out there (especially those that fall under the current fantasy formula) it definitely raises the question as to whether or not we’ll be seeing more choices being handed off to the player giving them the opportunity to determine their own fate and in a sense their own fun.
I don’t think it’s fatalistic to say that this debate will never end. It’s healthy for mmo’s to be under a constant microscope. That will keep the ‘ever evolving and changing worlds’ just that. As for me, well, I’m going to enjoy EQ2’s vast variety of content and I look forward to challenging or under-challenging myself in PotBS.