Declaring my independence

Maybe if I post this on a weekend, and a holiday weekend in the US to boot, nobody will notice and my rant can slip by unnoticed while still satisfying my need to get this off my chest.

(Post-publish edit: my rants seem to work better than I expect. A lot of this is tongue-in-cheek — I’m usually very much a compromise, negotiate, see-the-other-side type person, but that kind of thing makes for boring ranting. I’ll do a nice rational post later this week, honest. Apologies also to those whose posts I use as springboards — they’re just idea-bouncers. I’m not implying any of you are bastages or asshats or indeed anything but interesting, although our opinions may differ. If I didn’t find em interesting and thought-provoking, I wouldn’t be reading your blogs.)

Various people have done some fascinating posts about guilds — here most recently, and here and of course a fair few of my own (I guess I write about this a lot: here and here too) — as well as some very intense and interesting posts about grouping and soloing (Spinks has two I particularly liked: this and that) and I’m seeing an interesting but disturbing trend. “Solo is bad, group is good,” and “guilds are for groups.” Corollaries to this are: “solo lacks social-skills” and “solo is only solo because a) they don’t know what’s good for them and b) they don’t know how to make friends and/or how to play,” and finally “guilds are for raiding.”

None of these are entirely true. I remain deeply puzzled and saddened by the fact that players who prefer to group sweep my kind of play under the rug and refuse to even attempt to understand that their preconceptions may not be entirely accurate. Do I think all grouping players are wannabe Sergeant major activity-fascists who want to tell me what to do every second of the playing day? (Only when I’m ranting.)

Now, I don’t actually want to just rant. I want, one last (I promise) time, to try to foster some kind of understanding. You may not LIKE how I play, but I really would be grateful if you could at least try to see it from my point of view and not assume it’s bad. Just once. It’ll do you good, like grouping.

Here’s why I mostly play solo.

1. I play at odd, usually early-morning hours when there aren’t many other people around. This actually started when I played in the UK and most of my online friends were either working (UK) or still asleep (US) — I’ve almost always worked from home and that’s just how my schedule pans out. In the afternoons I’m usually working and in the evenings I’m usually doing something with friends and/or other halves. Yes, I do have them.

2. I’ve got a lot of distractions. Work is one — as I said, I work from home, which means I’m prone to getting work calls and/or having to deal with work emails and stuff like that. I’ve also got pets who distract me (in a good way) and housing stuff that also distracts me (in a less good way — laundry, cooking, bills, all that happy crappy). I don’t compartmentalise my playing and my non-playing into discrete and utterly separate chunks because I’ve never had to, nor do I feel the need to. What it does mean, however, is that I go AFK a lot — not always for very long, but usually unpredictably… and sometimes I don’t come back at all for a couple of hours. That’s murder on any kind of group activity and it’s not something I impose on anyone else unless I know them well. When I group, it’s with people who understand that and can work around it — by carrying on without me for instance.

3. I have a very limited combat-type play reservoir, especially when it involves lots of separate people. After an hour or two at most, I start to get input-overload and if I don’t stop and do something else, I’ll get cranky and want only one thing: to log the hell off. Blame my neurology or whatever — it is what it is. I can’t do 4-hour dungeon crawls: I’ll be chewing the walls to get away from it about 90 minutes in. It’s not a boredom thing, it’s an overwhelm thing, and it just is. No, I don’t want to change it; yes, I’ve tried. Not all of us are wired the same when it comes to what we like doing and for how long we like doing it.

I don’t really hate raiding, I’m just not interested in it.  It epitomises what I can’t do in games: a large time-block commitment with lots of visual and mental input (do this, go there, fire this, watch out!) in order to obtain gear to get better gear down the line. Since I don’t give a stuff about gear for the most part, that’s just not enough of an inducement to get me to bear with the input-overload of doing raid-type combat activity for several hours running. I also am not interested enough in the combat game to enjoy having to work out exactly what sequence of buttons to hit when — I realise many people do, but it’s just not my thing. Why does that seem to be so hard to grasp?

Does that mean I want raids to be taken away from games? Not at all. Does it mean I think I should just be handed said gear without having to put the effort into it that raiders do? Please — that’s specious and facile. Of course I don’t. As I said, I don’t give a shit about said gear in the first place, but if I did, I certainly wouldn’t expect there to be an easy way to get it and a hard way to get it. That’s not fair and besides, it’s stupid.

So, onto guilds. By most guild=group=raiding accounts, I shouldn’t need or want a guild, and most guilds should keep me away with the longest bargepole they can find because I’m just no use to them.

That’s just wrong. It’s also pretty bigoted, don’t you think?

As it’s been designed in our MMOs, raiding pretty much requires guilds because it’s the most efficient way of organising people, assigning roles, and allocating loot (or looting rights). Guilds were one of the first MMO social systems to have their own global chat channel, so using them to organise large-scale combat events is a no-brainer as well as a decade-old legacy. That doesn’t mean, however, that guilds require or even exist purely to facilitate raiding, and it’s blinkered to see it that way now.

Guilds are social systems. They are not just glorified, extended LFG interfaces, and they’re not just convenient name-lists for organising DKP. I understand how useful they are for that; I just wish the raiding/grouping players would, for one short second, allow themselves to see that that’s not ALL they do. I’d also like for them to see that different playstyles are acceptable, though by now I”m resigned to being told, in various ways, that MMOs are multi-player games and that multi-player means “constant grouping.” Oh, they qualify their statements and say “Well, I don’t think we should group ALL the time, but I do think we should group most of the time” — by which they almost always really mean “YOU should group when I need you to, you solitary bitch! Can’t you see I’m not having fun?”

Well, my sympathy is all used up and I’m going to turn my empathy off too. I’ve walked in your shoes and I’m damned if I’m doing it again until ONE lousy raiding/grouping/you non-groupers suck-type player demonstrates that they can walk in mine. This isn’t hyperbole — all I’ve seen so far is justification and explanation and qualification, but not one shred of real understanding. For grouping players, soloing is just plain wrong and will always be wrong and must be exterminated or electroshocked into conformity through stringent game design. By all means, show me differently.

For the last time: solo /= anti-social or anti-guild. Hell, group does not equal social; because if it does, then I guess all the grunting, monosyllabic morons I’ve met in groups, the ones who can neither say hello nor learn simple grouping techniques (like, don’t pull the entire fucking zone every damn time!) or loot courtesy — those guys must have just been having a bad day. Riiiiiight.

As I said, guilds are social systems. Some of us use guild chat to, you know, just chat with people. I have no problems at all making friends, thank you very much, and I’ve made hundreds in the last 10 years of MMO play — hell, I married one of them. Many of the friends I’ve made over the years are STILL friends even though we don’t play together anymore. If I wanted to group, I’d have no problem doing it and I’d have no problem fitting into the group mentality. What galls me is the assumption on the part of some players and commentators that I should HAVE to want to because they want me to, and that if I don’t, it’s because I’m a maladjusted borderline whacko sitting in the dark unable to make connections with people. Seriously. Do I seem unable to make connections? I don’t group not because I’m not capable of it, but because it doesn’t usualy suit my damn playstyle. How hard is that to grasp?

I’ve said elsewhere what players like me use guilds for: to keep in touch, to help, to advise, to provide gear/support/comfort, to laugh until we fall off our chairs, and to bitch about life in general. Aside from the base use, which is to get together and do stuff — but is it that hard to see that “doing stuff” isn’t just hitting “Invite X and Y and Z” and going off to fill out quests and kill shit and do a raid?

Who’s blind, here?

I understand that group-oriented players need other group-oriented players in order to have fun. But guys, that does NOT give you the right to decide that my playstyle is wrong. Nor does it give you the right to pontificate that I’m not playing MMOs the way they were designed to be played — bullshit. Any game can be played alone if that’s what you want, even Monopoly. It most certainly doesn’t mean that soloers have to be lobotomised into understanding that what they really want to do is toe the grouping line — if that were the case, due to RL stuff and the way my brain is wired, I’d have to stop playing MMOs. Thanks for that idea. Really, thanks. And it certainly also doesn’t mean that MMOs have to be lobotomised to only provide group content.

What it means from where I’m standing, is that you raiding, grouping people who so love to blame all MMO social woes on soloers need to learn how to make new friends. Sound fair?

About as fair as what you say, right. So. Suck it up. I’m done here.


43 thoughts on “Declaring my independence

  1. I too have heard the “why do you play a MULTIPLAYER game if you’re just going to play alone” quite often. I consider myself social in some regards, I will help friends with crafted items, I will help with particular quests – but I very rarely if ever group up to do stuff. I’d rather do it alone, and I have my own handful of reasons on why this is my playstyle. People have read my blog and assumed that I would like nothing more but to group all the time – and then are disappointed when they meet me in game because they have assumed I have a particular playstyle and it’s not what they thought it was.

    Then again I also get into odd moods every once in a blue moon where I do want to raid and I do want to group – but it’s very temperamental and rare.

    I can understand where you’re coming from, and I hope you find more acceptance from others for your play style as time goes on. 🙂

  2. I think the many articles that have suggested exactly what you say have had you read a bit too much into mine. I really wasn’t intending to insinuate any of that.

    My major point was to advocate an increase in group content and creating incentives to do it so that players do see it as an alternative to soloing. By having players interact and have a rich amount of group content to do they will gravitate to guilds. They are very much social organizations but they are also organizations that help you avoid bad players or sitting forever trying to find a group. They also tend to hold you more in a game.

    Solo players may have similar ties but I know a lot of folks who specifically did not quit an MMO due to guild responsibilities. Those relationships got them through bad times of development. These days, due to the developer focus on only solo content (and this has nothing to do with players) we put on and cast of guilds with ease. I see that as a tragedy.

    So, while you have good reasons to solo do you honestly feel you represent the average solo player though? Truly though I don’t advocate for the reduction of solo content. Normally I put a disclaimer about it in every article that relates to the subject. Apparently I forgot this time. You can find it in most of my Wolfshead replies.

    I do have to say one pretty funny thing though. I know how you feel. Most places do not support grouping and if you suggest anything at all you get rabid, foaming at the mouth replies about “forced groups.” So I know where you’re coming from. You solo on! I’m all for that. I’m just asking for some of the pie back that we had at the onset of the graphical MMO.

    1. Nah, I read your post for what it was — I just used it as a springboard for my 6-weekly rant. I should have made that clearer — and will, if you’d like me to. 🙂

      EDIT — actually, after having to do a quest twice yesterday because it was poorly designed and couldn’t be done by 2 people in a group at once, I couldn’t agree more with the idea of overhauling group content in general. There’s far too many disincentives to group these days, and far too few good reasons to do so. Increasing xp when grouped is only one of the ways, though I wouldn’t do what SWG used to do and let people be at opposite extremes of the planet and *still* get bonuses for being grouped (I think it may only have been mission payouts, but still… that seems sort of counter-productive).

      1. Yes, group content can generally be terribly designed. Some can be soloed and others claim you need three people but need six. We need better eyes on that situation.

        Total agreement on the distance issue. Proximity is pretty key to the whole “group” thing! If you’re in a group and off soloing you shouldn’t get the perks.

    2. “So, while you have good reasons to solo do you honestly feel you represent the average solo player though?”

      I think she does, as someone who solos most of the time, for most of the same reasons. And I live with another die hard MMO player who also solos most of the time, for similar reasons.

      For me, I just hate scheduling leisure activities. If I’m playing a game and it strikes me that I’d really rather be watching TV, I want to be able to just go watch TV. Or if one of the pets starts freaking out, I want to be able to go see what’s up and take care of them. Or if the significant other gets caught up on a programming issue, I want to be able to help her out.

      That’s just part of my psyche — schedules are part of WORK and I already work 2 jobs. I don’t need a 3rd.

      BUT if I’m in a guild with you and you say, I dunno.. “Hey, my low-level crafter alt needs to get Item X and there’s a high level mob blocking the path.” then there’s a pretty strong chance I’ll say “Hey, I can come help you out.” Or if I have a crafter who is a weaponsmith and you ask “Can anyone make me a vorpal blade?” I’ll be glad to do it just for the fun of making something for a guildie.

      This is why, in theory, Warhammer’s Public Quests were ideal. In practice there just weren’t enough warm bodies to keep them going. But I’m glad to group up to take on a 5-15 minute challenge.

      I just don’t want to be chained to anyone for an entire evening.

  3. I guess I’m lucky in that I’ve never come across any of these Nazi regime guilds you speak of 😛 Even in my my most hardcore raid days, when I wanted to go off and solo, I did so with no guff from anyone else.

    I do it now even in my raiding guild in WoW. Yes I get all my alts invited, but if I’m soloing or duoing with my fiance or trioing instances with my roommate, if someone asks for help in guild and I don’t respond JUST because I’m online, I don’t get chastized for it.

    I agree with you, for what it’s worth, because I find people who try to force others to play their way very A: hypocritical and B: selfish. I try to research as much as I can about a guild before I join (unless I know it’s comprised of friends ;)) for just that reason. I have a way I play that allows me to get the most out of the game. Sometimes it involves other people, sometimes it doesn’t.

    My worth to the guild comes when I don’t stand in the fire, when I can maximize my DPS / healing / Tanking specialties without dying and when I can be somewhere on-time when it’s been preappointed. Outside raid days, my time is mine and thankfully, my guildmates in all the games I’ve played recognize this and expect if of themselves as well.

  4. I feel that MMOs in general could be more creative about devising guild type activities that both solo and group players could contribute to. Cos that really does help cohesion.

    In tale in the desert, for example, there are reasons for groups/ guilds to need to gather lots of resources. So it’s very easy to divide the work between anyone who is interested and wants to help. TitD also does a super job of letting people be in multiple guilds — so you can have some which are basically private chat channels and others which are more goal based.

    But it doesn’t help when some soloers are so vocal about not wanting anything to do with other players ever, or group activities ever. It’s always so tempting to look at one rant and assume all soloers/groupers think that. I suspect most people don’t really think about it.

    My best experiences in guilds are in my WoW guild (which isn’t actually a raid guild, guildies who raid do it in various raid alliances), and in guilds in DaoC and WAR. Because the guilds themselves were less goal focussed it felt easier to fit different play styles in.

    But I still don’t know whether most soloers and groupers really want to be in guilds together. Maybe more flexible chat channels would help, I don’t know.

    1. “I feel that MMOs in general could be more creative about devising guild type activities that both solo and group players could contribute to. Cos that really does help cohesion.”

      Amen to that. I’d say guild-as-LFG-interface is now proven to work very well, and it’s time to move on to more and other useful tools for guilds. I think it’s happening, but very slowly.

      And aye… some soloers are anti-social bastards, and some groupers are grouping-bastards, and most of us are somewhere in the middle. I am usually in the middle, but polemic makes for better rants. 😉

  5. I like going solo sometimes, but my wife prefers that I do some grouping, or is that groping….come to think of it, I might be talking about something completely different!

  6. i agree with you totally. i have a similar playstyle as you in that i can’t handle sitting for 5-6 hours doing one thing with the same people. i am in a guild but thats mainly just to hangout and chit chat while i fiddle around cooking/fishing. i played during BC and was in a horde raiding guild and i quit because it was too job like, so now i play purely to have some fun and drink a few brewskis while i chat with people in guild. you aren’t alone my friend.

  7. I wonder how much of the “guild forces me to group” issue is from the class played? In WoW, I played a DPS spec and my friend played a healer. They would pester him to no end to go on raids and heroics because the guild was always short of healers. I, on the other hand, didn’t get quite so much pressure since DPS classes are a dime a dozen. This irritated him because sometimes he just wanted a quiet night of playing an alt. It irritated me because I’m not fond of healer gameplay and I often don’t like soloing in MMOs, so I wanted those invites. The irony here is that the best way to get my friend to go would be to invite me along. 😛

    I think designers should take a closer look at grouping incentives, as has been discussed here. Maybe I should write up some ideas on my own blog….

    1. Two game systems come to mind. DDO has a ‘select a difficulty’ thing when you enter an instance. You can play it on (IIRC) Solo, Normal, Hard or Epic. The harder the level, the better the rewards.

      Free Realms, the kid-friendly uber-casual MMO from Sony, let’s you switch jobs at the drop of the hat.

      What if you combined those two systems. So now you have 5 people that want to play. You just decide among yourselves who is going to be tank, who is going to be healer, etc. Folks switch jobs accordingly. Then, based on the levels of those jobs, you pick a difficulty, and off you go.

      How’s that sound?

      1. That’s one of the great things of the Free Realms system. It’s the natural evolution of “bring the player, not the class” design. Of course, I’d go even further and make a really robust dungeon spawn system that can accommodate a group that doesn’t build around the tank/DPS/healer trinity.

    2. If considering grouping incentives I do think that City of Heroes/Villains has done a good job there. Do you find the traditional roles in the game? Yes, sort of on hero side at least. Do you need them? Not really, combat mechanics does not emphasize holy trinity. Plus the various powersets provide a lot of diversity in how to deal with a situation.

      Combine that with the mission scaling, difficulty setting options, sidekick/exemplar, group xp bonuses and you have a system that for the most part encourages team play but does not enforce or require it.

      Global chat channels/global friend lists and global handles provide the basic functionality for bot social and purposeful “communities” and the supergoups (i.e. “guilds”) provide the group mechanic for bases (i.e. housing and various utility functions). And you can be a single person in a supergroup if you want.

      The game certainly has its flaws, but for providing incentives rather than forcing people to play in groups and provide other means to form temporary or permanent communitities I think it does a pretty good job. And it very much a reason I have played it for as long as I have.

      It also reflects on the attitude of most players in my experience also, most are rather relaxed and accepting on various play styles of people, although there are the occasional “I do not understand why people do not group all the time, solo sucks” remarks from some.

      I do beliecve that Cryptic
      1. Created this on purpose
      2. Consider it an important part of the game play experience

      For me that is enough to be willing to jump in and play any future game from them, regardless of lore/background/setting. I hope they will not prove me wrong here.

    3. One thing I find is that it’s always tricker to find a group when you’re in a duo, unless you start the group. Not only do you need to find a group that has at least 2 spaces free, you also have to find one that needs your specific roles.

      So if you are duoing, it’s almost always easier not to group unless you like to run the group yourselves.

  8. With all due respect, I’m a bit puzzled too but for different reasons. I read every one of the articles within the links you included that discuss this issue and nowhere did I see anyone make an outright claim that “soloing is wrong”.

    The opposite is true. Most reasonable bloggers that I read look at soloing as something that has established itself and is not going away. I even applauded soloing as one of the first forms of emergent gameplay in a recent article. The fact is that soloing has honestly earned its place and stature in the design of MMOs.

    For me this is a largely straw man argument because you seem to be attacking these nameless people and not bringing any evidence to support your contention that people are saying that soloing is wrong. If you could quote a developer, blogger or player that has publicly stated such a preposterous thing then I think your argument would have a bit more weight.

    Also the fact is that I can’t think of any commercially successful MMO where soloing is not possible with the exception of Final Fantasy (which I discussed in a recent blog post — and even there I believe there is one class if I’m not mistaken that has the capability if memory serves me correctly).

    I just can’t see how soloers are suffering as Ferrel rightfully noted, they are experiencing no real shortage of content nor is their playstyle being hampered in any way. Truthfully people aspire to group are the ones who are suffering — we have nobody to group with. We didn’t change, MMOs changed. If anyone it’s people who like to group who’ve been left behind and are disenfranchised.

    I’m really not seeing how soloers are being hurt or maligned here by this contention that soloing is wrong. Where is evidence of any appreciable injury or damage to soloers?

    All I really see are thoughtful people making passionate pleas for understanding that grouping is a worthy and noble part of what a fantasy MMO is all about and failure to promote grouping will surely incur a cost.

    As to your comments about some of your experiences with less then desirable people in pickup groups I sympathize but the concept of grouping is not to blame for their lack of group skills or lack of social skills. Don’t expect there to be many good groupers available for PUGs given the solo culture of levels 1-80. I don’t fault soloers for this, I fault Blizzard.

    Now if anyone were to say that soloing is “wrong” they would be laughed at. Soloing as a viable form of MMO activity is here to stay. The thing is that soloing can be just the beginning to what is possible in MMOs. Duoing is fun, trioing is fun, having a full group is fun — even *gasp* raiding can be fun. Are we wrong to point this out?

    MMO companies like Blizzard know this full well and hope that you as a player will invest yourself even more into WoW by venturing into the undiscovered country past soloing.

    “But guys, that does NOT give you the right to decide that my playstyle is wrong. Nor does it give you the right to pontificate that I’m not playing MMOs the way they were designed to be played — bullshit…”

    From what I’ve seen of the solo vs group debate it’s been very reasonable and polite. Lately a few of us in the MMO blogosphere have been pointing out the unintended consequences of solo-based MMOs. Discussing these issues should not cause anyone to have hurt feelings nor is it a condemnation of them personally or their skills.

    As to your other point, most MMOs certainly were designed initially 10-13 years ago to be played in a group. They were designed to be an online version of a D&D and single-player RPG dungeon crawl based on a warrior, wizard, rogue, cleric paradigm. Every class had their unique role in a group.

    It is to deny the history of where MMO’s came from (the previous games I mentioned and the Mines of Moria part of the LotR: Fellowship of the Ring which was the first dungeon crawl in literature) to say that current MMO classes don’t have a built in group based components of interdependency and synergy.

    Finally, I wish people who truly seek understanding would walk a mile in the shoes of other people. I solo almost 98% of the time in MMOs because like you I play weird hours and have time commitments. I’m a fellow soloer like you! But unlike you, I’d rather be grouping but instead I must endure soloing.

    What if you were forced to play a certain playstyle that you hated 98% of the time? You’d quit. But as we know soloing is alive and well in every major MMO so that will never happen. I find it sad that forced soloing is acceptable but forced grouping is not.

    People who can’t find groups or are not wanted in groups are *forced* to solo. Did you ever think about that?

    Yet it seems understanding the plight of soloers who are currently plightless is a one-way street. We must strive to understand their fears (Blizzard one day chasing away 80% of their subscribers by magically turning into jackbooted thugs and deciding that soloing is verboten and people must group) and ignore the real concerns of groupers who are currently being forced to solo.

    To me, that is a much bigger injustice then someone whose feelings are hurt because an unmentioned person may have said that soloing is “wrong” or that soloing was never intended.

    I have heard 2 bloggers say that people who expect to group in a MMO should “suck it up” if they don’t like it. That kind of sentiment is intolerant and counter-productive. You keep mentioning that you are seeking understanding and mutual respect on the part of advocates of grouping but then turn around and something say like that?

    “What it means from where I’m standing, is that you raiding, grouping people who so love to blame all MMO social woes on soloers need to learn how to make new friends. Sound fair?”

    And I would ask you to do the same and say to you that you need to make new friends who like to group. Groupers are not all like the ones you encountered. Normally in order to group you have to have a modicum of social skills in order to get the group and then demonstrate sufficient player skills to stay in the group. Soloing requires neither.

    There are “bad” groupers just as there are bad soloers. I firmly believe that there are more in the solo camp then their are in the group camp due to the reasons I just gave above.

    I freely admit that I’ve encountered a few wonderful social people who are soloers. They just like to solo for whatever reason and that’s fine.

    But to address your other point, of course not all of the social woes that MMOs are currently plagued with have can be attributed to soloing but I daresay the ability to solo so easily in a MMO that is designed to be played 80 levels via solo questing like WoW shoulders a large part of the blame. I’ve and others have written a substantial amount of thoughtful articles on this very phenomena.

    I’m sorry that you seemed to have taken some of these things too personally. That’s never been my intention to single out people for how they play.

    Please understand that most of my blog articles are aimed directly at developers. It is they who are directly responsible and culpable for the caliber of the players in their MMOs. For players that desire to group with other players, the caliber of players most certainly *matters* as our enjoyment is directly impacted which is why we will continue to articulate our concerns. Without other players our MMO experience is severely diminished.

    This reply has been rather long and I apologize. Thanks for reading!

    1. Wolfshead, thanks for the response 🙂

      I was unclear, as usual. My contention is not that people are saying soloing is wrong, but that there is an underlying assumption to that effect. To quote your own words in your Tale of Two Playstyles post:

      “Back then it was considered heretical that someone would subscribe to a MMO and not want to group. Just as you would expect people who come to a dance will want to dance with other people so too did we have the expectation that upon logging on that we would aspire to getting a group”

      — call me pedantic, but if something is “heretical”, that implies wrongness. Expecting that people go to a dance to dance implies that those who go there for other reasons are also wrong.

      Am I misreading?

      My post was intended to challenge the underlying assumptions of people who write about groups — they love groups, but to them soloing is always a secondary choice, the lesser one, usually not a good one.

      What I would like is for there to be some acknowledgement that it doesn’t *have* to be the less desirable alternative.

      I understand the plight of my grouping friends. I also warned, quite clearly I thought (for once), that I was writing a rant. I assumed (silly of me) that having warned of a rant, people might expect a little hyperbole.

      1. The purpose of my comment about the “heresy” of soloing was an observation of the mentality that existed 10 years ago. It was a different MMO world back in those days. Any reasonable person back then would have come to a MMO like EverQuest with the idea that they would at some point be grouping up with other players.

        In those gold old days, becoming part of a massively multi-player virtual world and not wanting to group with players would be like a hungry vegetarian showing up at a steak house for dinner. It wasn’t very likely back then.

        I suppose there may have been some may have seen soloing as *wrong* back then but soloing wasn’t really a major activity in MMOs as it is now. Soloing really didn’t represent a threat to grouping back then because 1) soloing was hard and 2) grouping had more incentives and synergies from the devs.

        Just to reiterate my stance: I’m not opposed to soloing or the people that solo. I’m just opposed to a MMO company that has failed to provide more incentives to get soloers to group. I also don’t think that soloing is wrong or ever was wrong.

        In 2005 I created a document called “A Class Balance Manifesto for Virtual Worlds”. Here is one of the articles:

        “5. Each class shall perform their primary role with equally efficacy and efficiency whether solo, in groups or in raids throughout the career of the player regardless of level.”

        As you can plainly see even back then I cared about the right of players to solo and solo effectively. I saw the solo abilities of a MMO class as just one part of a triad of purposes for which they were intended.

        What we are all trying to get to is the truth here. Part of that journey is being honest about how and why MMOs were made back then. I know I don’t have all the answers but I have been trying in good faith to figure out the roots of soloing and how it came to be and how that playstyle impacts and intersects with the grouping playstyle.

        Truth be told soloing came into existence for many of us due to the fact that we couldn’t find a group. Perhaps we played late hours and found fewer players online at that time. Or it could be that the class we loved to play wasn’t really designed very well to be effective in groups. So we did what we could and we fought tooth and nail for every ounce of progression for our characters by soloing. As necessity is the mother of invention, soloers have a long proud history in MMOs.

        I realize that there is still an unfortunate and unfair stigma attached to soloing by people who love to group and raid. The reason is that too often we see soloers join guilds and never bother to participate in any guild functions, events or even guildchat. My experience is that many of these people seem to want all the benefits of a guild without ever bothering to work for any of them.

        Soloing in the old days was respectable because it was hard and you had instant admiration for that person. Chances are they were awesome in groups too. It’s only in recent years with the advent of WoW and it’s subsequent dumbing down of the gameplay that soloing has gone into disrepute.

        As Tesh has said in some of his comments (I can’t remember where!) we need a “big tent” philosophy in MMOs. I agree. Everyone should be welcome with enough content and incentives to keep everyone happy. Soloing shouldn’t just be available at the start of the game — it should be available in higher levels of the game and with more challenge — no more training wheels.

        Conversely grouping and raiding should start much earlier (great articles by Spinks on this I’ve seen too) and should not be relegated to the “endgame” where one reaches the level cap.

        All playstyles should be given options so they can self-actualize their avatars. What I mean by this is that a soloer should be able to become a grouper if he/she wishes. Also a grouper or raider should be able to revert to a soloer if he/she wishes too.

        I think we can be one big happy family but we need the gods (developers) of these worlds to help keep the peace and provide adequate content and challenge for all to keep it all in harmony. We need *everyone* here to make virtual worlds work! 🙂

  9. Here is the problem I have with your rant.

    You say you don’t want our way forced on you, but yet you don’t care if your way is forced on us?

    I never have said solo should not be allowed. Hell I was a Bard in EQ, I lived by the solo. Difference was it was tough to solo. If you were good, if you had the skills, you solo’ed.

    The problem with the MMO market today is, you get penalized for group. Leveling is more effective if you SOLO no matter how good or bad at it you are. THat is the problem.

    If you suck, you suck. You good, then you shine. People should not be penalized for group play. Grouping should be the MOST EFFICIENT way to level, but not the only way.

    Deal with it.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Grouping should NOT be less efficient. I don’t believe I ever said it should be, nor did I think I gave the impression I believe that.

      That said, your response shows what my rant was about: why the hate? I don’t hate groups, I hate the assumption that group play is the only valid type, and that those of us who solo as a primary choice are misguided.

      1. It is the mentality that games should cater to solo people that has caused MMO’s to be in the state they are in.

        MMO should not cater to people who want to solo. It should allow solo if your either skilled to do it ( Bards, necro, druids in EQ) or deal with the downtime involved.

        Problem is the “Me” market of MMO’s currently is in, and not the “We” market they should be.

        MMO’s are the new modern Pen and Parer games. You could not play a Pen and Paper game by yourself ( and not those cheesy choose you adventure books). If i wanted to play alone, I played the Final Fantasy’s or Chrono Triggers, or Bard Tale.

        There are plenty of solo games around, but only a few MMO’s. The idea behind MMO was social gaming. having adventures with people.

        I was a Bard in EQ, I solo’ed a lot when no one was around to group with, but when they were I grouped because it was more fun.

        These days, people are just in my way. There is no group, and the game has devolved to a grind solo to max level then raid.

        Where is the fun in level… there is none because the group game has gone.

        I blame people with the same thought process as yourself for this.

        Bottom line: make it easier to group for leveling, and make it tougher to solo level….

      2. “There are plenty of solo games around, but only a few MMO’s. ”

        You must be living in 1995. There are more MMOs than large-world single player RPGs these days. MANY more.

        Oh, and look, the *audience* for MMOs is MUCH larger now that people can solo.

        Developers are in business to make money; it makes sense for them to make games that allow for the broadest possible range of play-styles.

      3. I’ve played a ton of the various of MMOs out there in the last decade and I have never, not once, made any comment to the effect that there should be more solo content, or more solo catering, or less grouping anything.

        Your blaming me for all the bad stuff in the group/solo debate is *exactly* what this rant was about. Do I blame group players for the fact that constant raiding has turned some games (eg WoW) into materialistic level-grinds? I do not.

      4. Well, it does no good to wish how things should be or pass blame on anyone. It only does well for the gaming community to realize how things are and to develop accordingly.

        Fact is…developers designed with a mindset that MMOs would bring groups of people together in a social gaming environment. Trouble is…a majority of people don’t want grouping forced on them for a variety of reasons. There are more instances of solo play going on in any MMO right now than grouping.

        Socialization goes far beyond whether you group during your play time or not. For instance, I enjoy gathering resources and stocking them for my guild. While other players in my guild have the time to group up during their play sessions, I typically don’t unless it is scheduled play. Those in groups typically don’t spend a lot of time harvesting. As a solo player, I do. So we all benefit from one another.

        The notion that people group up together does nothing to take away the “me” factor in gaming. I believe there are people who are genuinely interested in group dynamics in MMOs. I am. But it’s just not my favorite aspect. But most people are still in it for themselves, defining their own sense of fun when they play. They use groups to get what they want out of the game they play. That’s the motivation for playing.

  10. “Fact is…developers designed with a mindset that MMOs would bring groups of people together in a social gaming environment. ”

    And ultimately, that’s the problem. Either the assumption that these games need to be made for social gaming (meaning grouping, of course, never mind the indirect sociality inherent in any population in a persistent space) is a faulty one (meaning devs have something else in mind), or the assumption that that’s all MMOs can and/or should be is a faulty one.

    I remember when these things were touted as “virtual worlds”, which is a seemingly innocuous term, but which carries a lot more meaning than “D&D online” or “group gaming”. Most sane people don’t whine when Bobbie Jo and her posse go to the bathroom because they want potty breaks to be solo experiences, or vice versa. “Worlds” have many more ways to interact (and act) than combat simulators, loot treadmills and group *or* solo parties.

    And that’s the point; make these “virtual world” things fun places to play, and let people go do whatever they feel like, with (or without) whomever they feel like. MMOs as currently designed are a very small subset of “virtual worlds”, and very underwhelming at that.

    1. The industry has at least drawn the difference between “virtual world” and “game”. The problem is they are all moving more in the direction of “game” than in the direction of “virtual world”. Nothing illustrates the shift more than Star Wars Galaxies. SWG was considered more of a virtual world than a game. The NGE made it clear that development felt it took the wrong direction and quickly tried to save SWG by trying to turn it into a traditional game. We all know how that ended up.

      I don’t think we’ll see that virtual environment you’re looking for very soon. Look at all the MMOs on the way to us. Almost all of them traditional game mechanics or regurgitated UIs and systems of advancement.

      And one thing that is a sure difference between “game” and “virtual world” is how all the games tout “storyline”. Regardless of how creative the storyline ideas may be, it’s still a group of developers creating the story that YOU should be creating by playing the game.

  11. “Fact is…developers designed with a mindset that MMOs would bring groups of people together in a social gaming environment. Trouble is…a majority of people don’t want grouping forced on them for a variety of reasons. There are more instances of solo play going on in any MMO right now than grouping.”

    This is a great point and really the heart of the matter. Even the solo friendly nature of WoW is really just a funnel for people to graduate to grouping and raiding. Why else would Blizzard spend millions of dollars on those instanced dungeons?

    So we should concede that Blizzard in their heart of hearts created WoW for the purpose of people playing together in groups and in raids. Let’s also realize that Blizzard had no idea just how successful WoW would be. They also had no inkling that WoW would pull in so many solo gamers with their seductive quest-driven solo MMO.

    Creating a virtual world/MMO that brings millions of players together online really is a noble thing to do in an industry that releases thousands of forgettable single-player games each year. Being a part of that kind of endeavor is what inspired me to become a game designer and spend long thankless hours running on fumes and eating cold pizza.

    So here we are with a company that has literally redefined the state of the art AAA+ MMO and millions of solo players have arrived on the shores of Azeroth. What is Blizzard doing?

    They have started to cater more and more to soloers and casual players. 40 man raids are no longer in development. Raiding has been made easier and more manageable. Many group instances have been nerfed. Levels are much easier to get now. Most outdoor elite mobs have been changed to non-elite. No one can deny that with every patch WoW gets easier and easier.


    Because Blizzard has realigned their development process to suit their new core demographic: soloers and casuals.

    This is why there is so much angst and concern among people who came to WoW initially with the expectation of grouping and eventually raiding. They see soloers as the reason for the decline of the MMO that they used to love. They also see Blizzard coddling and appeasing these very same soloers. This is why people are really upset. We feel we’ve been the victim of a bait and switch scheme.

    However if we are to be realistic we need to understand that a MMO company is in the business to make money. I know for a fact that the Lead Designers at Blizzard truly love and revere grouping and raiding — heck they practically invented it back in EQ. But like any good company they are just doing what’s best for their current core demographic.

    My contention with Blizzard is that they are not reinvesting enough of their profits back into WoW (congrats WoW subscribers…you paid for the development of Starcraft2, Diablo3 and other Blizzard projects). Like Henry Ford who figured out that a wooden barrel only needed so many nails for it to hold together without collapsing so too is Blizzard only putting enough resources back into WoW for it to barely stay alive.

    This is why there is so much friction between soloers, groupers, raiders and even PvPers. We are competing for our share of a dwindling content development budget.

    1. I see the move towards casual being a huge huge boost for the grouping playstyle. If grouping is fun, then why should this fun be restricted to hardcore players?

      So I really think we (people who like grouping anyway) should be applauding everything they do to make it easier to group up casually and go knock over some raid instance.

      Raiding as it is in WoW is a dead end. I really do believe that. It’s been fun and all, but these things need to be doable without forcing people into hardcore guilds as a prerequisite.

  12. The emblem changes can be seen as an incentive for grouping. Currently, I see people “LFG 1 DPS for H-UK”, and while I’m a bit bored with mining and am looking for something different to do, I just have no incentive whatsoever for joining that group. With conquest emblems dropping in 5 mans, I have a much stronger incentive for joining that group.

    Things like the Argent Tournament Chillmaw quest are also an incentive for grouping. I don’t know how many times I’ve joined with random people to kill the dragon, then moved on to kill 10 scourge, and take down the commander with the same group. These are groups that don’t require a tank, healer and three DPS to do, and that’s a good thing.

    I just don’t see general (aka leveling) questing in a group as an enjoyable activity. I find it frustrating when people go afk consistently, or stop to pick every herb and mine every node, or pull huge groups of mobs and kill us over and over. To avoid these types of situations, I avoid grouping whenever possible. As someone above mentioned, I’m good for a 15 minute commitment to a group. Anything beyond that just gets tedious if it isn’t in an instance.

    A good portion of it may be selfishness. I have things that I want to do, and helping you collect 15 widgets and slay 25 weasels isn’t very high on the list. Neither is raiding Crossroads, or forming a elephant marching line in Ironforge.

    It may also be that I’m goal oriented, rather than experience oriented.

    1. The group-to-level problem is partly to do with quest design these days. Muckbeast did a great post on that a few months back:

      If we didn’t all require 18 slow-drop widgets, or if quests didn’t come in 15 stages so that you’re never sure that someone else will be on the same stage as you, grouping just to piddle about doing quests would be a great deal easier.

      And that’s without any particular emphasis on getting some kind of carrot for grouping, such as more xp, shinier loot, whatever.

  13. I still think that the only incentive that soloers need to group up is fun gameplay. Frankly, grouping isn’t fun for me the vast majority of the time. Special shinies won’t make me more social, they make me avoid grouping even more because of the mercenary attitude people bring when the only reason for playing together is the cheese at the end.

    Similarly, content gated behind group checks make me mad, and if I do manage to get into a group to get past the blockage, I’m certainly not happy to be there. I’m just playing through. I’ll bring my “A game” because that’s what I do when others are counting on me, but I won’t be happy to be there.

    There’s no loyalty, no interest, no camraderie, it’s either grouping for loot or grouping because I have no other option for progress.

    Now, if group content were actually fun to *play*, you might have me along for the ride. It is sometimes… but when we’re talking about incentivizing grouping, epic loot and content gates aren’t the way to go for me. They make the problem *worse*.

    1. Try this the other way around. How dull would soloing have to be to make grouping fun enough to be a good incentive, as it is right now?

      I’d say that people have enough of a proclivity to solo if the rewards are there that they pretty much don’t care how dull it is. I mean, endlessly grinding mobs and dailies is a lot of things, but fun isn’t one of them.

      Sure, make grouping more fun. I won’t complain. But I bet you still wouldn’t do it 🙂

      1. Psychochild just did an interesting post relating to all this (see below), and Saylah made a good comment over there too. I’m wondering if it’s grouping we don’t like so much, or if it’s what grouping has become.

        Early on I used to group at the drop of a hat — I soloed quite a bit too, but getting together with folks was a natural thing to do if everyone was hunting in the same area or dungeon. Asheron’s Call, for instance, made it easy — if you were above level 50 (max was 126 at the time) you could group with anyone also above 50 and nobody would lose xp. (That made it ridiculously easy to powerlevel, but that’s another issue.)

        Point was though, we didn’t have kill 10 rats or pick up 10 foozle-feet quests. There was NO downside to grouping, which under the new quest-driven MMO design there very often is. There was also not that much phat lewt to argue or fight over, which seems to be another thing that turns people off grouping these days (not me so much, but I don’t actually care that much about loot in the first place).

        I don’t think it’s grouping per se that’s a problem — it’s the self-interest, quest-driven grouping that is. At least for me.

  14. Now that I’m playing Guild Wars instead, I find I solo (or run with AI) a lot more than I used to in WoW.

    In MUDs, I tended to solo simply because MUD communities are small ones, and there may not be sufficient people on to group with, even when I did want to group. In some MUDs, more than others, soloing took more skill than grouping – especially in MUDs that did not have an infinite spiral of gear inflation.

    Before I quit WoW, my resto druid could kill some pretty silly things solo by standing there in elf form, hotting up herself, dotting the mob, and meleeing it. Off the top of my head, there were the demon and giant quest elites in that place with the boars and green fire (XD I don’t remember the name anymore, sorry, but.. black temple was in that area). And more things in that coloured Simon-says place ?ogrila?.

    My point isn’t that ‘oo I r so leet’, so much as a system of infinite gear inflation actually takes the joy out of things like that. Equivalent things, in MUDs, would generally not be due to outgearing the mobs so massively that I could simply stand and tickle them to death – but rather an understanding of that MUD’s mechanics, together with gear that wasn’t all that hard to get.

    So – in MUDs, I soloed boss mobs because it was fun for me to meet challenges I set for myself. It was rarely easier or faster than killing those same ‘boss’ mobs with people. I solo-played because generally that’s how most MUDs were built to be played… sure some had some areas that would go easier with groups – but most of the MUDs I played didn’t have the luxury to assume there would be enough people online to support areas which would reward grouping more than soloing.

    In WoW, non-instance wise, I soloed because it was *easier* (not counting the silly outgearing example above) and *faster* than going with people. I grouped for instances that I didn’t outgear/outlevel because it was *easier and faster* than trying to solo them. (Though I did sometimes try to solo them for the same reason I soloed boss mobs in MUDs…)

    In Guild Wars, I solo (to farm), or go with AI more than I go with people because *I hate depending on people*. I don’t mind helping random guild/alliance mates whom I don’t even know personally, if I’m not doing anything at the moment. I do seek out groups when I’m feeling social though – and I know, personally, that I am seeking out these groups because I want to be around people at that particular time.

    The key is *choice*. If I just want to get something done, then I’ll go with the AI most of the time, because I won’t have to play russian roulette hoping I’ll get a decent grouping experience with competent people who might even be *gasp* fun to play with.

    If I want to be around people, then I’m willing to accept the fact that the group may be far from optimal, or even civil, as the lottery-ticket fee to possibly meeting someone cool, and learning interesting things.


    So now I’m all curious. =) Am I a soloer, or a grouper, or some strange kind of mutant? Or do many people make decisions based on the same reasons more or less?

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