Friday, September 2, 2011

Lion's Den - Solo Dungeons

Good news everyone! I found something to do with that other Wizard of Oz reference. Lion's Den pieces are typically going to be opinion pieces, and possibly rants.

And you know what I hate? Solo Dungeons. First Age of Conan does them, and now RIFT is jumping on the bandwagon. There have even been rumors of WoW putting something like this in the works, though I'm afraid I've lost that link. It wouldn't surprise me though, given that Blizzard is known for "borrowing" features.

Now, my problem isn't that they are a bad idea, or that I think they won't be fun. And by all means, I fully support there being interesting and fun content for players who want to go solo, because your friends can't be online ALL the time and sometimes you're up until 2 in the morning playing a game just because you can. No, my problem is the designers of this feature breaching a barrier that I personally considered sacred, and now there is a fear of it invading more titles. MMORPG's are social games. Whether you like it or take part in it, the fact is that you are paying your sub (or just logging in, in the case of F2P) for the opportunity to interact with others within the game world.

I recall one awful post on the WoW forums (Just one? Ba dum pish.) that was a plea to make solo versions of raids with no loot just so people who didn't have a raid group or didn't have the time to commit to one could experience the content. And now developers are creating solo dungeons for players who apparently have the time to do a dungeon run but don't want to interact with other people. I have Fallout and Oblivion for when I want to dive into dungeons without other people or when my internet is down. My question is: Why on earth do you want to go onto an online game to not be social?

I read Klep's post today, ""I am not the target audience" is an uncomfortable thought" and suddenly it hit me: Why is the target audience for an MMORPG becoming the person who wants to play solo rather than the person who wants to be social? So many features released in the past year or so have been directed solely at those who don't want to be a part of any social group. This is not news, of course, as it goes back to when the LFD tool was first released, but still a jarring realization. How many MMORPG's can you think of that are working on more features for groups than for solo plays? WoW's last major patch was a single raid dungeon and a set of daily quest areas. LOTRO's next expansion includes more quest content than dungeon content by a landslide. RIFT's solo dungeons, SWTOR's dungeon loot bags and solo questline stories, and I'm sure I could name a few more if I gave it a shot but you get the point. 

I'm aware that solo dungeons are merely the symptom of a larger issue at hand here. That doesn't mean I dislike it any less, but it also doesn't mean I'm going to argue with those who say it's merely the companies catering to their playerbase. Here's to hoping we'll get someone to put the Multiplayer back into MMORPG. Maybe GW2. Maybe.


  1. I have Fallout and Oblivion for when I want to dive into dungeons without other people or when my internet is down. My question is: Why on earth do you want to go onto an online game to not be social?

    I don't completely disagree with everything you've said, not by a long shot. And I've read your blog posts from time to time and found you to be a reasonable person and entertaining writer.

    But ... OMG you've said one of the few things that is a huge pet peeve of mine.

    Mock-wrath aside, please let me respond to your question above. You see, I want to play in a heavily populated persistent virtual world. I enjoy the knowledge that there are other people out there doing stuff. Its the difference between wanting to go hiking in the wilderness by yourself for a few days just to get away from it all, and wanting every other person on the face of the earth to die so that one can be completely alone forever. (Just to be clear, I don't want the latter).

    Don't you ever go, say, fishing by yourself and then look forward to getting home and having the pleasure of telling fish stories to other people? Its no different in a virtual world. I don't want to have to go to a completely different game just to be by myself for a bit. I want the option of doing things by myself in the same virtual world as my friends. Its very important to me and I always find it rather inexplicable when other people profess a lack of understanding.

    Oh, and I hated Oblivion -- couldn't stand the interface -- but that's a different issue entirely. :)

  2. I hate fishing. Therefore, your argument is invalid.

    All joking aside, thanks for the comment. I guess I would have to say that I do understand the desire to sometimes be alone in an online world. As I mentioned above, "by all means, I fully support there being interesting and fun content for players who want to go solo". I also hate the argument "Well, if you don't like it, go somewhere else." I solo plenty myself, and sometimes desire it over raiding.

    But by the same token, I play Fallout and so does my ex-roommate, and we still exchange texts with jokes from the game and the occasional "Dude, you HAVE to go here and see this." I can be social with a single player game as well. But if I could boil it down is this: I'm not angry about there being the option to solo, I'm angry because developers are putting more time into these solo options than they are into working on the social aspects of their games. And sometimes when they do make a social upgrade, like the Guild Leveling system, it serves the individual player more than the guild as a whole.

    Basically, I want to know why such a large part of the playerbase prefers the solo content to the group content to the points where it is shifting design goals for online games.

  3. I don't know that its true that a large part of the player base actually prefers solo content -- though I'm not denying it either, I just don't accept it as proven.

    I certainly end up soloing 95% of the time and when developers see such behavior (a large percentage of the player base playing mostly solo), it does make sense for them to jump to the conclusion that the same segment of the player base *wants* to play mostly solo. And given limited developer resources, it then makes sense for them to spend more effort on solo content. Unfortunately, that leads to people spending even more time soloing whether they want to or not, and we have a vicious cycle on our hands.

    The thing that makes me rather upset, and the thing on which it sounds like we're in complete agreement, is when the development of solo content ends up hurting group content (and vice-versa, though the reverse seems to happen rarely if at all).

    Your Guild Leveling system example is a good one. I think many had hoped that such a system would foster guild loyalty over time rather than actually encouraging guild jumping to higher level guilds. Sadly, Wow's implementation did the latter.

    All *I* want is rich and rewarding solo *and* group play with no conflicts between the two. Is that too much to ask? ;)

  4. "All *I* want is rich and rewarding solo *and* group play with no conflicts between the two. Is that too much to ask?"

    Agreed, 100%. The vicious cycle, I think, comes majorly into play here. I think it also has to do with efficiency. More than a few have pointed out that gaining rewards soloing tends to be more efficient than grouping, which then leads to more people soling. Which then leads to more solo content...

    But yeah, I don't have any number or figures, you are correct that it is an assumption I am pulling out of thin air. Still, the fact that devs are concentrating on it -is- a sign of player trends, at least.

    That being said, outleveled group content tends to have a following among the hardcore solo'er crowd, in reference to "though the reverse seems to happen rarely if at all". The transmogrification feature gives everybody the reason to do awesome stuff while solo'ing. I don't have the links handy, but there is one famous one featured on WoW Insider who solo'ed the Lich King, Yogg'Saron and various other ridiculous stunts.

  5. There have already been many cases of solo runs in WoW, they just haven't been instanced. Think of any zone and any mine, or cave system, or hideout etc that you entered to explore. These are all examples of "solo dungeons".

    The problem with making instanced examples of them is simply that this is yet another example of players being spoon-fed on another aspect of the game. Don't bother going out into the word, exploring and finding a cool area to venture into. Just press this button and all will be done at your bequest.

  6. I do not dislike solo dungeons as an extra feature nearly as much as the overall focus on solo-ability and self-sufficiency in MMOs such as WoW. I'm also fairly hopeful this trend WILL change because the player base wants to play together - the social factor is still important and currently missed in places, even if WoW paints a different picture. but where Blizzard's customer range becomes smaller, other MMOs can jump in.

    funny enough, GW2 has a whole new take on self-sufficiency with their class system; and yet, I believe they can manage cooperative better than WoW with its holy-trinity (yet offspecs and alts). I really hope they will enforce the need to teamplay, flexibility is not per se bad.

  7. @thenoisyrogue - I really like your take on that. I remember reading somewhere that in Vanilla WoW all those caves and mines were supposed to be "mini-dungeons" but after a while they stopped mentioning it. The instanced part is a good point though. It's like seeing a highlight reel of a game rather than going out into its virtual world to see for yourself.

    @Syl - See, I wouldn't mind MMO's like WoW focusing on solo content so much if there was a larger diversity of games in the market right now. If I had a choice to play a similar game that was similar in quality that focused on social aspects rather than solo-ability, I would. But the theme park MMO seems to be narrowing in its focus. It's about high time those other MMO's fill that gap already.

    I'm afraid I simply haven't read too much on Guild Wars 2, but the role system does sound very interesting. Being able to switch on the fly to have the Elementalist tank instead because he's all gung-ho and shift the Warrior into a DPs role would make pick-up groups very fluid. I just hope they don't ditch it soon after launch like RIFT did with its auto-grouping feature and nerfing the Rift events to be completely avoidable.

  8. This whole issue makes me pretty anxious about a genre of games that I love. There is nothing wrong, of course, with solo content or opportunities to solo in MMOs, but I agree with some of the comments above that take issue with the majority of a developer/publisher's efforts being put into solo content.

    I miss MMOs focusing on community building. Nowadays it seems like they're all racing to give us our own insular bubble where we don't have to talk to anyone. What's the point? Without community, I'd rather just play Mass Effect 2 again. :P