Modern MMO design creates new barriers for grouping

Keen is talking about why people choose to solo instead of group, and all of his points are spot-on. Some are design mistakes (solo being more efficient/rewarding than grouping), others are social (people are mean), and for some the time needed for group content just doesn’t fit into their gaming time often enough to bother. I think all of this is true, and an area where MMO design has to evolve, but not devolve into sRPG games with global chat.

One thing an MMO needs to do is encourage grouping naturally. If I’m out in the world killing stuff, another player coming along should always be a bonus. This not only means that you form groups with random players and potentially make new friends, but it also means that when a guild mate logs on and joins you, that’s always a good thing.

Far too many MMOs today fail with the above. Back in the day quests were simple, one-off “kill a bunch of X” tasks. This simplicity meant that “I’m questing” didn’t instantly result in “I’m playing solo, you aren’t on that chain”. So yes, we got fancier, more involved sRPG-style questing with phasing and whatnot, but we lost the social aspects that got us interested in an MMO in the first place.

A lot of times you don’t even need official questing IMO; just give me a natural reason to kill a bunch of mobs (wealth progression), make killing them better/faster with more people, and allow me to determine how many people I want to bring and how long we want to keep killing. Again modern MMOs over-focus on holding your hand and always making sure you have a directed list of tasks, and all of that creates major barriers to playing with others, which is insane to think about in the MMO genre.

That said, it’s also important to acknowledge that times HAVE changed. People have more choices now, and not only that, but it feels like most people play more games at the same time than in days past. If we want to go way back, I remember having to play every Sega Genesis game to death because I only got one every few months, where now I can pay a few bucks and get half a dozen in a Humble Bundle. Factor in F2P titles, Steam sales, mobile gaming, and everything else, and suddenly expecting the average player to sit down and hammer away at your MMO for 3-5 hour blocks 3-5 times per week is simply asking too much. Even those of us who have that much gaming time aren’t likely to dedicate it to just one game for long periods of time.

Just because someone only has an hour to play, shouldn’t mean they can’t spend that hour in a group doing something fun in an MMO. Developers need to look at all of the barrier they have created of late and ask if it’s all worthwhile. Is everyone playing an sRPG really better for your game, or would enabling players to form social hooks in your title keep people playing/paying longer/more?

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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6 Responses to Modern MMO design creates new barriers for grouping

  1. weritsblog says:

    I’m certainly one of those solo types. For me, it really comes down to time. My time is limited, and I just don’t like having my fun dependent on other people. Frankly, most group activities (dungeons) also just don’t interest me. PvP does, but getting together a pre-made takes time.

    I much prefer asynchronous group activities, like the AH.

  2. bhagpuss says:

    GW2 is a really interesting case here and its something you may not know since you only played it for a short while back at launch. The game was famously designed not to need groups in open-world content since almost all activities give shared xp/completion credit/loot based on participation and proximity.

    For a long time people didn’t group up much for open world content because the game didn’t require them to or reward them for doing so. Over time, however, a number of background mechanics were altered, most specifically those concerning loot. Tougher mobs (Champions particularly) acquired loot that people wanted and were prepared to farm to get.

    At some point players began to notice that, although they would get Event credit, xp and karma for almost any level of participation there seemed to be some unseen threshold for loot. Solo players who couldn’t put out sufficient DPS (often players playing lower level zones at-level alongside max-level characters downleveled to zone level by the game) struggled to get the Champion Bags that have the (supposedly) good loot in them.

    As a result if you play GW2 now and are anywhere near any kind of large event where stronger mobs appear (especially Champions) you’ll see a constant stream of LFG requests and the reverse, people starting groups and asking for others to hot-join them.

    New players often ask why they need to group (since the game clearly doesn’t expect that you would at these points) and get told that you get better loot in groups. The detailed explanation of the specific circumstances in which that is true are rarely discussed, so over time a culture is developing where GW2 players doing open-world content designed to be taken collectively are instead choosing to form old-school five-man parties.

    In WvW parties are also now preferred by many, even in zergs of 30-50 people, because apparently all those buff abilities that affect a specific number of targets (usually five) prioritize party members in proximity. Two years down the line, despite having been designed not to need or encourage grouping at all, GW2 has ended up as a “group preferred” game.

    That said, these groups bear next to no resemblance to the kind of groups you and Keen and I fondly remember form the good old days. They aren’t social. No-one chats or banters. No-one adds anyone to a friends list. They exist entirely and only for the material benefits they provide.

    This is, I think, the problem with all the “encourage grouping by reward” solutions. Until and unless the pace of play is slowed down to leave obligatory periods lasting more than a few seconds between bursts of action, even if everyone is grouped there won’t be any more socializing than if those players were soloing.

    Good luck getting players to slow down and smell the conversation in 2015. I see no sign whatsoever that modern MMO players want to take things at a more stately pace – exactly the opposite in fact.

    • Dejara Thoris says:

      There is another important reason for grouping while in a GW2 champ zerg that you missed: recovery after being disconnected. Now that the megaserver system is fully running, the chance that you’ll get back to the same map instance after a d/c is somewhat small. If you are grouped however, there is an option to rejoin the rest of you party on their map.

  3. Pingback: Why i play solo | Party Business

  4. Dotcalm says:

    Hey Syn,
    Gevlon had an interesting article about this. While I find his writing to be a bit hit or miss, this one I quite liked.

    His basic argument is that modern (complicated) encounter design means that a poor player robs the other players of Gameplay opportunities. Not just winning/victory, but the ability to continue to play in a meaningful way where even a loss at least feels good. And I kind of liked his solution wherein losses should be personal and not group wide.

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