Earlier this week, I was watching Unicorn Duck Shadow Puppet (the Wildstar show) on Gamebreaker. In the episode, and in chat, there was discussion about how an MMO should cater for different play styles. A few points from the discussion included:
- If you aren’t raiding, you don’t need raiding gear.
- Should an MMO cater for solo players since it is inherently multiplayer.
- Raiders deserve more due to the increased effort they put in.
- A game should be consistent in catering for different play styles throughout the game and not change at end game.
I’m going to assume only the following here:
- MMOs are built by companies who need to make money in order to keep producing your game.
- MMO companies are not inherently evil for wanting to make money.
Some of you might disagree with these, but they underpin everything I am saying here. Lets boil this down to the primary goal of developers being player gain and retention.
Solo play in a multiplayer world
This is an interesting dilemma. Should an MMO cater for solo play when it is a multiplayer game by definition? I would argue yes, but that solo play should be combined with at least random play, and preferably group play for a richer experience.
- Solo content is filler content. Its what you do when your group isn’t around.
- Solo content is important for players with irregular schedules.
- Solo content is an important confidence building and training ground for group play.
Solo content should be about player retention. The aim of solo content is to fill gaps, to engage players when they might otherwise lose interest and to prepare players for group play. Solo content needs to have progression in order to maintain engagement.
A good example of solo content might be the Brawler’s Guild in WoW. It is progressively more challenging and it is in the open world so that a community can be developed around the arena. It best meets the requirements above.
Random play is aimed at the same people as solo play, but involves grouping. It serves the same needs as solo content, but forces interaction with others. PuG raiding, looking for raid functionality, etc. are all parts of random play. Random play is really important in MMOs because most players start off solo or in small groups when they come to a game. Random play helps set the stage for interactions that lead to group play.
Group play should bring together organised groups of players in regular activity that provides a substantial challenge. This activity should vary in length from a couple of hours to repeated interaction over months.
How many players will it take to make my group play engaging? How many to make it challenging? How many to make it epic? Answer: as many as you like. Raids do not automatically become better if you add more people, though the number of people is one contributing factor I agree. Karazhan is still one of the most epic raids in WoW, but was the first to only need 10 people. Raiding is epic because of the scale. Raiding takes time. Many people will raid a single raid for months on end, progressing slowly, week by week. The problem is that as the epic nature of encounters increases, so does the difficulty of organising them. 40 people are harder to organise than 25 which are harder to organise than 10.
This is where I have the biggest problem. The question was asked: why do non-raiders need raid gear but it’s the wrong question. The question is: do raiders need more powerful gear than other players? If increasingly powerful gear is to be the reward for challenge, then all challenging play should reward it no matter what the group size. The gear could be different if there really is a need to denote raid gear separately. Raid gear could be pink, small group gear could be turquoise and solo gear could be black.
I think the key is that gear is awarded for overcoming a challenge and that challenge should be substantial. Seeing people get purple gear from daily quests is disheartening. Seeing people get gear over time in challenging content should be fine no matter the number of people or nature of that content. Rather than relegating other content to second place, developers should seek to put it on an equal footing with raiders. MMOs should seek to maximise participation whilst still rewarding the overcoming of challenges. If I was focusing on Challenge Modes in WoW only and they did not award Valor, I would end up being way behind when it came to participating in world content like dailies, world bosses, etc because all the rewards are cosmetic only. If I decided I had more time and wanted to raid, or my guild asked me to raid one night because they were short, I wouldn’t have the gear for it. This makes no sense given I may well have been participating in more challenging content than some of my better geared fellow players. It also doesn’t help the game at all because it segregates players from engaging in group content.
One final note here, notice I say challenge. I don’t say skill, or time spent though these may both be factors in a challenge. Completing the holiday meta What a Long Strange Trip Its Been, for example, is a challenge, just one of organisation and perseverance rather than skill. Challenges should vary so there is something for skilled players, grinders, etc. Also, challenge needs to come on a smooth scale with opportunities for gradual improvement. The best rewards should be given for the greatest challenges, but there should be rewards and opportunities to work towards those challenges for people at all levels of skill, time and experience.