Massively Solo Gaming

July 21, 2008 at 10:24 pm (Musings) (, , )

So we have these games and they’re called MMOs and the first two Ms stand for Massively Multiplayer. This is cool because it means that we can play a game with thousands of other people simultaneously and we’re all sharing in the same experience, we can team up, we can fight each other, we can chat and talk about the football or roleplay or we can validate our deeply held opinions on the narcotics habits of games developers. Or whatever.

Basically there are people who aren’t us in our game. Sometimes they’re annoying and we want to smack them. Sometimes they’re awesome and we laugh and laugh until our eyes are red, there’s bizarre white goo coming out of our nose and the wife has wandered in to make sure we aren’t having some kind of seizure. Mostly though they’re background, they are an ever changing tapestry of additional content that we can sample and pick through as we like.

Still though we increasingly tend to play by ourselves.

I’m as guilty of it as anyone. In all the MMOs I play (3 currently) I have a fun and supportive guild or corp, I have plenty of virtual friends and a network of people I can tap up for help, advice or just a chat. I don’t mind sharing my toys, I have no funny ideas about the purity of solo play, I don’t care too much if I put my advancement on hold to go and help out my friends but still I end up logging in and running around pretty much solo the whole time. It’s like playing a slot machine, you pull the lever, see how the reels fall, collect the shinies and then reach for the lever again. It’s safe, it’s mostly predictable, you get something at the end of it but it’s still pretty much the least fun you can have in the house.

I’ve been in terrible groups to be sure where I was convinced the other players were friends in disguise playing some elaborate prank on me. I’ve been in groups where every member appeared to be actively hostile to every other member. I’m aware that a decent percentage of other players suck and that people will tend to do crappy things at bad moments for no readily discernable reason. However in all my time in MMOs, across every game I’ve played, I can’t remember one truly awesome moment that I had when I wasn’t in a group. Every defining experience I’ve had has been when I was with other people.

Playing with other people is hard work. You need to put a little bit more effort into it than just logging in and getting on with whatever you were doing. It’s often frustrating, people have different priorities and you often stand around doing nothing at all because someone else thinks feeding the dog is more important than being your healer. It’s totally worth it though.

Games in the current market need to cater for the solo player, there will always be people who can’t or won’t make friends, there will always be times when you just don’t want to have to deal with other people but you still want to play for a bit. That’s all fine, I’m not suggesting that solo play is necessarily bad all the time. Some games seem to actively discourage you from grouping – at least in some gameplay aspects. EvE online missions for example are horrible to run as a gang. Low level quests in most MMOs are often faster and easier to run solo than they are in groups too. Exploring is hard if all the other guys want to do is set up next to a big spawn and farm all night. The game should never put itself in the way of players however. Games with a stronger co-operative element form stronger and more durable communities. Stronger communities bring better retention and better word of mouth.

How do you play? Do you find that your reality is more massively single player these days?


  1. rambleicious said,

    I used to play Guild Wars a lot – I had a couple of friends to run around with for the missions that are damn near impossible to do alone – but I got sick of it after awhile.

    One of the group who was well ahead in the game (higher level, better weapons etc.) would consistently take easy kills leaving the lower level people to die at the hands of the really nasty monsters – and get lower amounts of experience points.

    I tried joining a guild, but they were a non-cooperative bunch and I couldn’t get anyone to go on missions with me. So, I broke up with MMO’s and decided my XBox 360 is more fun.

    I’m definitely more of a massively single player type.

  2. Servitor said,

    I *wish* my reality were more “massively single player.” I hate grouping, but I like having other people around to chatter with and, perhaps more importantly, seed the auction house for me. 😉 But I really find things like quests chains that start out with solo quests and then culminate in group-mandatory quests to be awful. I’m being cheated out of the end of each little plot line unless I play the way the designers think I ought to want to. Ick.

  3. arbitrary said,

    I find myself mostly duoing or soloing during the day (with other slackers) and then grouping up in the evening.

    I know many who should fall into the massively single player category though, and am sure on many days I should! But I like to chat!

  4. moar links!!!111!!!! « Book of Grudges said,

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  5. Grimley said,

    As someone who has time on his hands to play MMOs during the day, my time breaks down somewhat like Arbitrary’s, mainly solo play during the day, and participating in group activities in the evenings. Unless the guild I’m in has organised a daytime social event on a weekend.

  6. Rick said,

    DAoC was the game where I grouped the most, and I hope Mythic recaptures that magic with WAR. They’re subtly encouraging grouping, and I really like the tools they’re providing. Hopefully, other MMO’s take note, and grouping becomes easier and more common.

    I think I grouped less in WoW than in any other MMO. I felt like grouping was slowing me down there. Clearly, their model is popular, but yeah, it felt like it played better as a single player game in a lot of ways.

  7. Flimgoblin said,

    Back when I was levelling up in DAOC I could probably manage to solo for about 10 minutes before I NEEDED A GROUP – now to be fair it wasn’t a game set up for soloing – especially not as a gimpy Mercenary – but even though I’d end up killing similar monsters with whoever I’d grouped with the combination of the chat and the group play dynamics were what made playing fun. If I didn’t have a group and a goal (let’s go smash things in Dartmoor!) I could end up spending an hour bouncing around gothwaite harbour and chatting – rather than bringing myself to solo.

    Nowadays I can play solo – it’s a lot easier because there’s missions to be run, quests to be done, storyline to be discovered but even with the much improved solo game of any recent MMO I find myself thinking “why am I not doing something in a group somewhere?”. I still can’t solo for a long period of time even with all these improvements.

    There’s definitely inertia though – tradeoffs – setting up a group takes time – waiting around for people to turn up takes time – going back to pickup someone who got lost, or afked without warning.

    I think when I’m playing whether I solo or not depends on a few things:

    1. How many friends I have in the game – if I have a guild that’s active and likely to group up it’s a lot less daunting to /gu “anyone fancy grouping up and killing *foo*” when you know you’ll get a positive response.

    2. How much there is to do as a group – there’s no point getting a group together if there aren’t any group-sized targets. Ideally these are things that can’t be done solo (or at least can’t be done solo at your current level). Grouping to kill Salisbury Giants when you’re level 14 (rather than waiting to level 21 and soloing them).

    3. How much I know about the game – this is kinda there with part 2, but more along the lines of “if there’s group content and I don’t know about it it won’t encourage me to make a group”. If you’re the one putting the effort into forming a group you’re probably going to be leading it, and it’s not much fun if you have no idea what you’re doing.

  8. Garthilk said,


    There is two big pushes going on right now. One is towards single player MMO’s, and the other is to guild MMO’s. With guilds being the replacement for groups. Instead of forming bonds with encouraged grouping mechanics, developers are inspiring bonds via guilds. While it’s obvious to me at least the push is more towards single player MMOs, the guild push is too large to ignore also. The day of encouraged grouping is dead and I’m not sure why honestly.

  9. Rósa Dögg said,

    If I want to play alone, I go back to age of empires or red alert or majesty. For me, logging on to an MMO(RPG) is kinda pointless without knowing that there’s going to be friendly people there to greet me and maybe joining into something fun like dungeons or roleplaying or both.
    In wow, on the rare occation I don’t find guildmates to play with, I either log off or say yes to a PUG on the offchance they turn out to be good people. I’d rather do that than do all the dailyquests for a few hundred goldpieces. oof. I’m always broke but at least most of my wow-time is spent in pleasant company. Only time I can stand soloing for some amount of time is when guild chat is chattery.
    It’s the reason I didn’t renew my subscription to LotRO and D&D:O, I didn’t meet any people who swept me off my feet the first two weeks and most of my guild was staying in wow. It’s the reason I stuck with a NWN-multiplayer server for so long, my little drow bard probably broke some records with playtime 😛 running around in this tiny (compared to mmo’s) land with only a handfull of different people in it, doing what ever came to mind. It’s also the reason I don’t stick with games like baldurs gate, diablo, nwn-singleplayer and so on – there’s fun in them sure, fantasy and all, but unless the story is *really* catching (wich it rarely is for me) and I don’t have something else to do – I don’t finish them. I play them in multiplayer mode, and I enjoy playing fantasy games in co-op mode on the playstaytion, but that only lasts as long as the other people want to continue and even then I might quit early.

    I guess I like multiplayergames for the same reason I like tabletop and pen and paper – the chance to play around with a persona (or an army) and interact with other people.

  10. MerseyMal said,

    For the first year of Dark Age Of Camelot I spent most of the time soloing until I reached the level 40 when I headed off into Avalon City and it was only once I’d found the right guild to be in that the amount of time spent in a group increased.

  11. Phem said,

    I am pretty new to MMO thang :D, I was a avid FPS’er no RPG MMO pay to play bs crap for me… then i played wow… lol

    I have to say things over the world chat /1 and trade chat /2 and even guild chat some times, is pretty full on, callng each other names… I wasn’t used to it when I first played… I came into WoW from playing 10 years of counter-strike and I was sure I had heard / read every insult, and encounterd every nub player in the world, but MMO really takes the cake, I have seen max level 80’s not know how to do thing, and people over trade chat having hour long rage fest’s towards ex clan members,

    Hearing EPIC rage fits over vent…

    All I have to say is lol @ MMO

    But its like that with any thing, make a new world fill it with humans your bound to get some rtards here and their, but keep looking 🙂 their will always be a few people worth knowing

    PS im pro lololololololloolol!~

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