Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 31, 2008
The Solofication of MMORPGs

Once upon a time there was a MMORPG called Everquest, and it forced players to group to progress. For most classes you could only solo the newbie zones, and starting from about level 10 or so you would discover that the lowest level mob that still gave experience points to you was already too hard for you to kill alone. But a few classes could use special tactics to solo anyway, druid were kiting mobs after them, and necromancers were fear kiting mobs away from them. (I played a quad kiting druid.) And it turned out that soloing was popular: far more people played druids or necromancers than playing any other class.

So every new generation of MMORPGs made soloing easier and easier, because that was what the customer wanted, until we arrived at World of Warcraft, where every single class is basically expected to solo all the way up to the level cap. There are differences in the speed at which the different classes and talent trees can solo, but even least soloable class can kill mobs and do quests of his own level. And soloing is still popular, with classes that solo faster being played more than classes that solo slower.

And as soloing was what the customer wanted, some unknown developer at Blizzard came up with a brilliant idea: What if PvP could be made soloable too? That sounded crazy, because by definition you need at least 2 players for PvP, and if you wanted more than just duels you needed large groups on both sides of a battle. But that unknown dev realized that it wasn't necessary to have players actually form pre-arranged groups to do PvP. It wasn't absolutely necessary for players to cooperate in PvP. Sure, a group that cooperated would beat a group that didn't, but you could very well create a balanced battle between two groups as long as both of them were equally unorganized. And thus battlegrounds were born, and once Blizzard tweaked the PvP reward system they were extremely popular. And the majority of people basically solo battlegrounds, that is queue up for them alone, and then do whatever they want once inside. I call that pseudo-solo. This goes so far that people actually complain if they end up against an organized group.

I don't know if that unknown developer switched from Blizzard to EA Mythic, or whether EA Mythic had their own developer realizing that this solofication strategy could be applied to PvE raid content as well. Because what they did was they invented the "public quest". Which works basically like a battleground, just for PvE instead of PvP. People just join, without arranging groups, everyone does what he thinks is best, while a few frustrated players try to shout orders and are generally ignored. Pseudo-solo large group PvE content, where everyone gets rewarded, I'm sure people will love it. Soloing is what the customers want.

But a MMORPG has a large and diverse base of customers, and not all of them prefer solo play. As early as Everquest some people noticed that a group is stronger than the sums of its parts. The larger the group, and the better it is coordinated, the greater the challenges it can overcome. Moving from open world to instanced content, developers were able to limit how many players could attack a specific challenge. But they couldn't prevent players from organizing themselves better and better, training each encounter for hours and hours, until even a large raid group moved with a coordination that would make the bolshoi ballet green from envy. And thus an arms race evolved, on the other side of the MMORPG from the solo content, a race in which developers would design harder and harder challenges, and raiders would again and again prove that these challenges could be beaten with perfect coordination. To understand that arms race, Blizzard hired one of Everquest's top raiders as lead designer, and consequently spent a lot of development effort on designing ultra-hard raid content. There were clearly *some* customers that wanted this, and not solo content. And while the number of top raiders wasn't large, they were deemed to be influence leaders, the kind of people that other players looked up to, and also the kind of players who were most likely to post a lot of comments on game forums or other places of the internet. And it worked! While the number of players actually experiencing the highest level of raid content is still tiny, the desire to be a raider is certainly far more wide-spread.

The problem is that these two parts of the game are drifting further and further apart in World of Warcraft and the MMORPG genre in general. Soloing becomes easier and easier, the need to group during leveling up has been nearly completely removed, elite mobs turned into soloable non-elites, and the rewards for pseudo-solo PvP have been much increased. It is now possible to go from level 1 to level 70 and full epic gear in World of Warcraft without ever joining a group once. And the classes who are best at soloing fast or best at PvP are the most popular and most played. Meanwhile raiding remains hard, because that is the very reason of being for it, and even harder raid content as added to the end with every content patch. But to overcome these challenges, people need to learn how to play in a coordinated way. And the mix of classes, talents, and gear required for raiding is very different from what is most popular and easy to achieve in the soloing part of the game. Slowly but surely the two modes of gameplay drift so far apart that cracks begin to appear, threatening the whole model. From a raider's point of view the leveling game now fails to fulfil it's function of getting people ready to raid. Sure, they might be level 70 and have epic gear, but they might still be totally useless for a raid: they have not even the most basic training of how to play their class in a group, and they are of the wrong class, wrong spec, and wearing gear with the wrong bonuses to succeed in raids. If the 40 people in an average Alterac Valley group decided to kick out the 15 least suitable among them and take the remaining 25 to any one of the 25-man raid dungeons, they would not be able to get past the trash mobs. The average player who soloed up to 70, invested some effort in PvP to get epic gear, and now wants to raid, will find himself rejected and laughed at by the top raiding guilds on his server. He'll complain about them being elitist, but in fact it is game design that created the gap between average player and raider. The solofication of MMORPGs creates a large number of characters who simply aren't viable for the top end raid game.

What needs to be done is to rethink the concept of solofication. Why is soloing popular? A part of it is due to Real Life ® contraints, if you solo you can play in smaller bits and bites, group play needs longer periods. But another part of it is just a Skinner box: people like soloing because the game teaches them that soloing is the easiest way to advance. So even if they would have the time for a group, they rather keep on playing solo, because setting up a group is so not worth it. Assembling the group is made complicated by a bad LFG system in WoW. Doing quests that aren't marked a group quests in a group is often bringing less experience points per hour than soloing them. And WoW's concept of teaching players how to group is equivalent of throwing them into deep water to teach him how to swim: some people learn it that way, but many get hurt and frustrated in the process.

Solofication not only opens up a gap to end game raid content, it also moves MMORPGs in a direction where they become vulnerable to competition from single-player games. When I recently asked whether people would play a single-player version of WoW without monthly fees, I was surprised of how many people would prefer such a game over an online MMORPG with monthly fees. If game design minimizes your interaction with other players, then why pay $15 a month for that interaction?

I think that it is time for the pendulum to swing back towards MMORPGs being more about groups again. Not enforced grouping, nobody wants that. But to a situation where even during the leveling process forming a group would actually be easy and the incentives would encourage it. Where people would learn to cooperate, because it would be to their advantage, and where due to that cooperation they would make more friends and develop stronger social bonds. Where players would arrive at the end game and already know how to play well in a group. Where playing a "support class" like tank or healer was a reasonable choice, and not a niche way for raiders to gimp themselves for the rest of the game. Where MMORPGs would be massively multiplayer again, and not massively singleplayer in parallel, as they are now. Here's hoping.
It seems like some games already solved this (a.e. City of Heroes), or am I wrong? 20-minute mission that scale based on your group + classes that supplement each other + sidekicks/exemplars allowing you to raise/lower your level temporary for grouping sounds very casual friendly and encourage grouping.
But it is not really successful, so it might be not the way people like it.
Every time I head people talk about CoH/CoV I wish I had picked it up. I feel like it's time is passed now and it's not worth the effort anymore... plus I'm waiting on WAR for now. What does everyone else here think? Is it worth it to pick up a game that's past it's prime just to experience the pros/cons of it for a couple (lets say 4-6) months?
I have been gone for a year now, almost willing to come back for a few months except for a few things.

My guild is dissolved so I would have to join a new one. My gear is so old I would need new gear so I would have to get handouts from a guild, or go gear up in 5 mans & such. That would mean spending hrs trying to get in groups haha, no thanks. I still have horrible memories of that even when I was in a guild as people tried to balance their runs perfectly.

As far as single player wow, you don't realize how boring that would be. it is like playing Oblivion; its a great game but unless you see others in the game, it eventually reaches an ending for you and you quit. Same as a private server, boring.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a solo dungeon one day. I mean they have them with quests already so why not a solo dungeon that lasts an hour to get thru. When you zone it, the enemies populate based on your class.

And regarding CoH from the above posters. I was in beta and played live one month. It was a neat concept and pretty fun. However, the drawback was no goals for me. At the time you already had your look for your entire career. And at lv 20 I would see a gang of bad guys, run over to the high lv area and see a gang of 40lv bad guys that looked the exact same. But yea, try it out for a few months, nothign wrong with that.

Personally here is my 2008 gaming schedule.

Apr-Oblivion (try some new mods)
Oct thru Dec-Keep an eye out for WAR & WotLK. WotLK will be an easy way for me to bring out my retired character and gear back up. Possibly rejoin a guild and play for a few months. However I see all MMOG as a 4-6month investment now and never plan on playing them for years anymore.
What amazes me is that for certain daily quests in WoW, grouping is actually better. Take the Skywing/Ogri'la daylies: I've been competing against my own faction members for demons to banish, prisoners to rescue and netherrays to wrangle. People don't seem to understand that not competing for mobs is better for all! Grouping is not always just about being able to kill a mob that's hard to solo... What incentive must Blizz give to encourage grouping? Instead of a XP penalty a XP bonus?
Taking Frank's example. Part of the problem with having the same quest goals is that that hassle of grouping with someone for something that takes 30 minutes isn't worth it for some people. If the game instead was smart enough to pop up a message that told you were in the same area and working on the same quest and if you wanted to group people would probably do it more.

Another problem is that people have no clue of the quest progress of their group members. If I could see how many more mobs/items the others in your group needed you would feel more confident about when it was going to be over and you could move on.

Some people I've bugged about grouping up for stuff like the escort quest just refuse to in case an epic drops from the trash mob they have to kill. The fact that the odds of that are so minute its hardly a factor some people rather not share any loot. So to combat that if while working on a quest as a group any mobs that you kill had a greater chance to drop better items. Probably hard to pull off without making it exploitable.
you can bring in the multiplayer if you create a common goal like Guild houses or for example, make the guild-tabard gemmable with guild-gems
(high resources ofc, and wears out after 2 weeks or so)

so when you are actually grouping the tabard will become effective or so.
To me it appears as if Blizzard is suffering from symptoms related to innovation. They believe they are innovating with design because the total system of WoW is too large to reference against older known designs.

This leads to a series of errors when they try to break new ground, mostly ending up where innovation belong. In the garbage bin.

The refences to the genres older acts like UO, EQ etc are still relevant in reality. but I dont see Blizzard understanding this any more. They are going their own way with WoW now and I think their legacy of being based on EQ is hurting more than helping this long after launch.

The upcoming titles like WAR and conan are even worse off if they look at WoW for inspiration (other than what to not do). But thats a different story which will spell their doom if they use too many similar verbs as those we use in WoW already. ^^
The LFG system is not so bad (if you don't autojoin ;) ).

The all solability of things is again a "make it easy so people will not to leave because of frustration" in my opinion.

It makes the game accessible but it also makes it less MM, less sociable.

I played a low level war this week-end and found myself almost alone in a zone (we were 3). No competition for kills but no help on elites.

It is strange for me to see people complaining on too much soloability when i remember the launch of EQ and EQII.
I completely agree with you here Tobold. Very good post.
For me, soloing allows me to dip into the game and have fun experiencing the v-world.

However, I get bored with extended soloing, and group play is essential to feel a part of the world.

Its like a pub: you go there to mix with people (solo), and on occasion you decide to get involved in adventures (group).
Soloable PvP is hardly an original idea. It started with Doom and Quake deathmatch, and evolved into team-based games like Team Fortress and Counterstrike. You'd join a server full of complete strangers, pick a team, and try to help to accomplish your team's obectives -- since that's how you 'won'. WoW BGs simply copied this setup.
I don't think that people like battlegrounds. They simply have no other choice, they have to do them to progress. I have seen raiders do battlegrounds to get the insignia of alliance, because they needed them for some boss. Arena players got it even worse, half of their gear strangely doesn't come out of the arena, but from battlegrounds. If you don't get it, you'll end up with a full set of s3-gear and still only about 150 resilience, instead of the 400 you need.
And those who do neither arena nor raid, they don't have any other chance to progress at all, they only have BGs left.

But try to get a full epic set from BGs. Sure, it can be done. Its also quicker than the alternative. But after two epics you will get bored. And after four epics you will begin to hate BGs.
For me there are only two items left that I need from BGs. If it wasn't for that little voice in my head that keeps telling me that only jerks afk in BGs, I would have done it long ago. But sadly about 5 to 10 people in every Alterac and up to 2 people in all other BGs don't have such a voice and make my BG-experience even worse.

I'd really love a MMO that encourages grouping, but doesn't enforce it. But I fear we will have to wait another five years for that to happen.
I'm curious Tobold what as lead you to be somewhat anti-solo now, when before you would champion more solo-friendly design.

I have a feeling that its a combination of prefering to play group-friendly classes (tank and healing priest) and seeing end-game raiding, but I would love for you to talk about it, as it's a fairly noticeable (to me at least) view change.
I'm curious Tobold what as lead you to be somewhat anti-solo now, when before you would champion more solo-friendly design.

It's not really a thing about pro- or anti-solo. Solo play is an important and essential part of MMORPGs, because if you only have half an hour to play for some reason, or are playing while keeping an eye on something else in real life (like babysitting) and could have to run off any minute, you can only solo. And on some days you just don't feel like playing with other people.

But just as "enforced grouping" is bad, "enforced soloing" is bad too. If you can play for several hours straight, and would love to play with other people, but still end up soloing because there simply aren't any groups to be found, that is a very bad state to be in for a MMORPG.

Just like always, if I champion a balanced design, people from both extreme ends of the opinion scale think I am anti-them.
very well stated tobold.

@anonymous. The LFG tool in its current state would have been ok at launch. Now it is useless.

It replaced the global LFG channel that allowed you to advertise to the whole server, including any people on alts that might be interested but not actively looking.

Now you only get those actively looking. You went from server wide advertising to looking for nich markets.

With the old channel I'd usually get one or two people who'd whisper me that they had an alt an they'd love to come do that instance. Those people are totally out of the loop now. Add the smaller pool to the smaller group of people leveling and all the design flaws of the tool that would have been minor at launch make it a piece of junk now.

I think the devs where trying to make it harder for people to get players who were higher level than the instance to just run you through. But from what I've seen it does the opposite. The harder it gets to form a group the more likely people are to get one of thier friends to just blow them through the instance.

I'll admit the spam on the old LFG channel sucked but it didn't go away. It just moved to the trade channel. So Blizzard failed on every point with this tool
while i agree with your last paragraph and your general opinions of balanced gameplay, i think i disagree with the majority of your post Tobold.
i think that WoW is pretty balanced in terms of solo/group play. there's lots of instances at almost all levels requiring grouping and plenty of opportunities to group in the world environment. we know that you can solo to 70 but there's nothing stopping anyone from grouping to 70. you could do this with a static party, a guild for which grouping is a priority or just through the LFG system which, while not perfect, isn't awful either.
so, in general, the raod to 70 seems pretty balanced to me. you can choose how you want to play.

i also disagree with you about the separation of solo and raid content. this separation only occurs if you play the game a certain way. if you play solo to 70 and you're not in a raiding guild and levelling an alt, then you're unlikely to be looking to be involved in raid content at the end of it. i think that most people who look forward to raiding at 70 will probably take every opportunity to group pre70 and relish the 5mans and heroics along the road to kara and 25 mans.

so, my point is that there's a lot of content in WoW and you can play the game how you like. how successful you are at playing the game your way may come down to finding a guild with similar goals but that part of what makes MMOs unique.
you talk about these problems but have you actually experienced them? i think that people who do get frustrated over the things you bring up probably haven't found the right guild or aren't being realistic with themselves about what they can put in and what they want to get out.
I sometimes think it would be best to reopen the old LFG-channel together with a new gossip-channel. Then spammers would have their rightful place and everyone else could turn this channel off. Should also be the cheapest way to kill both problems, group searching and tradechannel-spammers.
I think the availability of solo content is essential. For one thing, it ensures that the player has something to do if a suitable group is not available, or if the player doesn't want to socialize. Secondly, it allows the player to feel like a 'hero' that he is supposed to be. How heroic would you feel if every rat and goblin would wipe the floor with you unless you brought some friends along?

WoW actually has a very reasonable design with its 2 parallel character progressison paths: One is XP progression that could be(and in most cases is) best accomplished solo. The other is gear progression that is best done in groups, since the most powerful items are locked up in the group instances.

This setup works really well until you reach the level cap, at which point the XP progression stops. The solo player discovers that there's nothing left to do, while the group player continues to progress via the endgame raids.

With the majority of the WoW population now at the level cap, there was a growing amount of dissatisfied solo players. Blizzard responded with subverting the gear progression system (which traditionally belonged to the group players) to serve the solo players as well via the honor and PvP systems.

While making the soloers happier, this has caused some hard feeling from the group players, who feel thier achievements are being invalidated by awarding equivalent gear to those who didn't 'work' for it.
Tobold, as a solo player, I have to say you're completely and 100% wrong. Modern MMOGs cater too much to soloers? What the hell are you smoking? Yes, you can solo to 70 in WoW, but you sure has hell can't solo most of the raids in WoW.

Modern MMOGs *still* require too much grouping. Groups are given the best rewards and the new content. The problem you face -- that you have soloers who don't know how to group -- is specifically caused because soloers are being forced to group and they don't want to.

What we need is just the opposite... MMOGs that cater primarily to soloers, where grouping is possible but not essentially. Soloers will solo, and those who want to group will group with other groupers, and everyone will be happy. If you make a MMOG where soloers are going to have to "learn to group" to play, it's just like a hardcore PvP MMOG where PvE are players are expected to do the same. What happens? That just drives people from the game.
While making the soloers happier, this has caused some hard feeling from the group players, who feel thier achievements are being invalidated by awarding equivalent gear to those who didn't 'work' for it.

I have never understood this. These players can say 'i got this when it was hard !" :D

And what is the fun, working to get something or just the seconde when you get it.

the months i've worked in molten core was very fun not just when i got a drop...
There is one SSO daily quest where if you are within the area of a mob being killed you'll get credit (your living flare grows in size). Also you can plant the Emissary of Hate banner even if you didn't get the kill.

Those type of quests encourage working together. I'm sure there are holes for exploits, but I wish there were more like them.

How many times would it be nice to complete, for example, the Skettis escort quest without scrambling to get in or out of a group?
@sirbruce: I don't want to offend you, but why are you playing WoW? If all you ever want is solo play then there are games out there specifically tailored towards your needs and they don't even cost a monthly fee.
MMOs only make sense when you group at least from time to time and to do that, you have to learn how to do it.
Not to sound like an ass but you've clearly never been in an end game raiding guild.

"Sure, they might be level 70 and have epic gear, but they might still be totally useless for a raid: they have not even the most basic training of how to play their class in a group, and they are of the wrong class, wrong spec, and wearing gear with the wrong bonuses to succeed in raids."

Gear and specs are totally different for raiding and pvp'ing. To the point that a level 70 in full pvp gear, the very best obtainable, is crap for raiding. Its worse than good level 70 blues for raiding.

Further, gear is meaningless. You simply cannot contribute early on but you gear up very quickly. The only thing that really matters to end game guilds is someone who can learn how to play when taught. Typically pvp mentality people have no clue how to PvE so they're bad recruits in bad pve gear.
I don't really see the issue here...

Yes, I could solo in WoW from 1-70 with full epic gear (from PvP) but it would take me waaaaaaaaaaay longer than if I were to do it with a group.

Solo means no instanced dungeons, group quests, or organized PvP.

I could get from 1-70 with full epics way more efficiently if I had a group.

Any game that puts the focus back on grouping or makes it any more difficult than it was in WoW will never see my credit card numbers.
LFG channels are not the answer to easier grouping. You need something far more automated, even a browser that shows active LFG request for whichever quest, and showing the level and class of the requester.
that is what happen when you make the game suitable for childs

childs are egomaniacs, they only can thing of themselves, they cant even see the benefits of group play

mainly the reason for make the game pvp-centric
The problem isn't entirely the design of Wow, but also the age. After release I had no problems finding a group for any quest at all. Or for any dungeon. There were dozens of people at or around my level and I could partner up with one or two of them to make the questing go much faster.

But now you have the population mostly sitting at the cap, and a fraction of people leveling alts or playing WoW for the first time. That's the problem in a nutshell.

I absolutely hate forced grouping. After Final Fantasy XI Online and it's brutal grouping system I will never buy a game that requires me to group in order to level.

I wish that raids were optional to see all of the story in Warcraft. I've been to Kara, but not past it. I'm dying to see the Black Temple and such, but I can't commit the time to raiding. I won't. I could at best manage one night of raiding a week, but hitting Kara over and over is very dull.

Any attempt to move into forced grouping is a move against the very thing that made WoW so popular. Wow is the casual friendly MMO. It's the solo friendly MMO. These are what brought 10 million players into it. The next MMO needs to be just as casual and solo friendly as WoW--if not moreso.
I think most group players are more upset that they can't find a group than the fact that some soloer got epics.

That and the fact that 1/2 of the harder and harder to find groups are with some moron with his solo epics who keeps wiping the group because at 70 he still can't play the PVE game correctly. in a group setting.

I'd love to see pvp epics locked to pvp instances only. Then I wouldn't have to deal with the guys that run away from the boss when they get aggro because all theyve done is pvp and react as if a person were controlling the mob.

Then of course the wonder why you didn't heal them...

Were not upset about the gear they get.

We're upset that grouping is becomeing the inefficient thing to do so people aren't doing it till end game when they want to raid.
Every time I head people talk about CoH/CoV I wish I had picked it up. I feel like it's time is passed now and it's not worth the effort anymore... plus I'm waiting on WAR for now. What does everyone else here think? Is it worth it to pick up a game that's past it's prime just to experience the pros/cons of it for a couple (lets say 4-6) months?

Of course it can be worth it. City of Heroes/Villains is a game that is quite suitable to play it for a few months, drop it for a while and them come back and pick it up later again etc.
Content updates are released 3 times per year. It has a friendly community and since it encourages playing with alts more than many other MMORPGs you will probably have a good chance of picking up teams at any level, playing with both veterans and newbies.
And logging in, team up and play for 30 minute - 1 hour sessions are quite viable.
Contrary to some other MMORPGs, they do also revamp some older areas to make them better and more attractive to play in.
Part of the problem is that group quests (i.e. instances) are far too difficult compared to soloing. You take 5 competent newbies, and they can solo to 20 without dying more than a handful of times. Put those 5 people in Deadmines and they will chain-wipe for an hour.

This was NOT the case in EQ. By and large, it was unlikely that your average group would wipe. Certainly, you could go places where the chance of a wipe was high, but it was optional. Looking thru rose-colored glasses, people remember it as "EQ players knew their stuff", when in actuality 6 people beating on one same-level mob just wasn't that risky.

COnversely, in WoW, you should only join a group IF you're an above-average player. Grouping is inherently exclusive, and there's something wrong with that.

I can only recommend that you try some other games. WoW is not the only show in town -- there are other worthwhile titles whose developers made different design choices, and that are more group-centric among other things.

I can personally recommend Dungeons and Dragons Online. It's completely group-oriented yet very casual at the same time. It has a nice, mature community. Finding a group is easy, and nearly any group works. There's very little scarcity, so people aren't fixated on loot like in WoW. There's a free trial available, and the game itself (including 30 days of play) can be purchased less than 5 EUR now.
A few points I like in this discussion.

1. The tools for finding a group need to be better, but that will not solve the underlying fact that there isn't enough healers and tanks to go around. This ties directly into my next point.

2. Grouping content is harder in WoW than any game I've ever played. Personally, I like that, and I am primarily a PvP player! However, this comes at a price as you need a dedicated healer and tank FOR EVERY DUNGEON. Guess what, there is a massive shortage in WoW of both tanks and healers.

Need evidence? Just look at patch 2.4 and the LFG requests for the new 5-man, MgT (not MrT!!!).

On my server, Azgalor, there is often a bidding war as groups vie to pay more than another group for a decent tank. My guildmate made 50G for joining a Heroic MgT group on his prot warrior.

My kneejerk solution to this has always been to open up cross-server PvE queues for dungeons. I am of the firm believer that cross-server PUGs could not get any worse than same-server PUGs.

3. Time investment for grouping sucks. First, there is the LFG time. Next, there is doing the content. External to this is preparation time to be effective. A lot of content in WoW is not just "show up and do XYZ" any longer. This is more apparent in raiding with raid schedules, etc, etc.

4. Lastly, why does group content have to be so isolated? Instances are fine, but the complete lack of incentive to do open-world group content is a shame. I really thought Blizzard was on to something with the world Dragons in Azeroth, but they completely failed as the loot tables sucked balls.

Public Quests in WAR will be a great step forward, as people literally will walk right into them. PQs are on track to be integrated at every level of WAR and hopefully it will be a refreshing approach to this genre.

It's just so insane to think that you will get rewarded for what you do in an area without having to find a quest giver, spend time LFG, or get a big "failed" because you had to log out.
grouping WAS more quick and exciting in COH/COV. It was also more flexible and put less pressure on the tanks and healers, as long as you had some people who could kinda sorta tank and some people who could kinda sorta heal. Your class had flexibility. (Less cookie cutter than WoW) It may be again in Champions or whatever that new game that is coming out. However not everyone wants to play a super hero and not everyone wants to do grindy repetitive missions, so I wish a fantasy based game would pick up the ball and figure out that people like to have a choice. The Heroic/Normal dungeon model is a step in the right direction. In regards to all tobold has said about soloability I couldn't put it better so I wont, however I think hunters and rogues could be able to switch to moderate healing or tanking or buffing or debuffing if they wanted at end level (not as good as priest/warrior but good enough to pass) that way the glut of them could be an ok thing instead of a plague on them and on the other classes outside pvp.
I think perhaps part of the key is making grouping easier. Some way to automatically group people up. Currently the game rewards players who stand around and not helping someone in trouble, because then when they die you can get the mob. (this happens to me every time I'm doing the skettis escort quest).

I was also going to say City of Heroes, or rather, City of villains (due to class design and letting everyone do a little of everything)

However CoX falls down in creating a world to explore, or meaningful progress for the character.

I don't know, automatic grouping takes away player choice about who they want to include/exclude, which is also bad.

Perhaps the real problem is: it's two different games, and you simply can't combine them. I really think vanilla wow handled the levelling up and casual altitis-plagued players better. They're playing a totally different game.
While I definitely love solo challenges, and love the freedom that going solo affords, I actually like grouping also.

The problem is finding groups. And it's not the LFG channel.

The devs have a big problem in a game design where certain classes are required to succeed, and every other class it basically optional. Tobold is speaking from the position of having two of those required classes. Holy priest, and protection warrior. The world always looks rosy from the point of view of those classes. It's very easy to find groups, and every guild wants you.

If it were possible to go into any WoW dungeon with any class makeup and succeed, then I guarantee you that grouping would be more popular than it is now. But that ain't going to happen with the devs currently on the WoW payroll.
Tobold, you wrote my words in this post. It seems, however, that some of the commenters have not grasped what others plainly put out.

There are no toons willing to group for instances below lv60, because majority of the toons are sitting at level cap. And more and more of the capped players are getting worse and worse in playing their class in the group because of lacking experience on grouping.

The system will crack sooner or later.

I totally agree with you based on my experience in WoW. I only just started EQ2 only to see what it's about and the grouping is way more balanced and available at all levels. Somehow I wish it was somewhat similar in WoW, so that instead of skipping instances from lv30 to 65 you really could level up doing only instances.

I will work my main to cap, but I hate the soloing and working and waiting for group to form using both LFG, /whispers and guild calls.

Just because someone prefers not to do questing/hunting with a group does not mean that they are a pure solo player. There are many other things that players do together in WoW that I consider to be 'group' play:

- participating in the game's economy by selling and trading goods.
- seeking/giving advice to other players
- giving players an impromptu hand by healing them or killing some mobs
- competing with others for mobs/resources.
- socializing
- participating in server-wide quests and events.

I consider myself to be a 'solo' player but I find myself spending a great deal of time interacting with other players on the server, and I'm having a great time!

I have to disagree with your argument here. Five basic reasons:

1) You're completely ignoring the impact of guilds on group content. I don't expect any coordination when I do a BG with random people, but I expect it with my guildmates.

2) As other(s) have mentioned, battlegrounds weren't the invention of some crass developer trying to dumb-down MMORPGs, but was simply lifted from first-person shooters and "deathmatches" (and related game-types like capture-the-flag).

3) You also didn't mention 5-man instances in your post. Those are tremendous ways to develop your character that requires coordination and teamwork. In fact, when the expansion first came out, repeatedly running instances was _the_ most efficient way to improve your character; especially with the larger influence reputation played.

4) Further, since knowledge and gear proliferates the longer the expansion lasts, content becomes easier. Karazhan can be pugged, for example, but no one would have when TBC first came out.

5) You're discounting the tremendous amount of variety built into Warcraft. Want to do BGs in a group? WSG/AB/EotS is perfect. Want to do BGs solo? Alterac Valley awaits. 5-mans vs. 10-mans vs. 25-mans.

I agree with a sentiment in your post (that group content scales very poorly) even if it wasn't the main thrust. But your argument blatantly ignores a significant chunk of the game. Last, I think you're judging a game currently in its late development cycle, as 2.4 serves as a finale for TBC while WotLK inches towards release.
@ ben

1) you are correct and this works fine if you can find a guild that runs on your schedule. many cant'

2) maybe not but with the addition of PVP gear that has a flexible path that doesn't take 30 min to 2 hours to get a group for that is the result

3) The problem here is that there is a steady turn over in population so you have a larger and larger pool who have not done any 5 mans or only done them occasionally or been run through by higher levels. at this point its hard to get anyone to run anything below a heroic 5 man.

And this is from the perspective of someone leveling a priest.

5) The problem with the variety is the game has consistantly moved towards rewarding the solo player more than the group player all the way to level cap. Then it flips.
that's piss poor game design.
Grouping issues are often pointed up by instanced content.

IMO, the problem is that 5-toon instanced content design is as old as WoW, and badly needs a rethink.

First, it needs to be more flexible, spawning in a range (such as 3-7 toons) rather than 5.

Second, it could to be more dynamic, not always the very same instance. "Variation" consisting only of an occasional rare spawn thrown in and random boss drops is outmoded. Certainly the technology exists to create a dungeon on the fly! There is plenty of room in the storyline for some variable instances.

Third, boss drops need not to be only random drop tables, but rather mostly consisting of some sort of tokenized model. Loot customized to the party would be great. And the time is right for an NPC to appear in Shattrath who will shard never-equipped BOP items.

Fourth, the instance could scale / weaken / debuff a higher-level character down to the appropriate range and power, nerfing stats and gear and disabling higher-level abilities.
Probably controversially, instances could 'lock out' toons outside a specified level range, or could 'lock' drop tables for bosses if a party member was too high for the instance. This one would force grouping and hurt twinking, so it will never happen in WoW :)

Fifth, the introduction of new instances should be staged. TBC could have unlocked individual instances, or even hubs, on a schedule, timer, and / or patch paradigm (perhaps similar to the server-wide events of the Shattered Sun Offensive). Throwing them all out there without another new instance for 14 months was an error.
But most likely what will happen is that WotLK will give a huge boost with old-school 5-toon table-based boss-loot instances in the level 70-80 range with a sudden infusion of a dozen or more new instances leading to a new level-80 raid bottleneck, leave the 1-70 content to dry up, and only introduce new raid content and no new instances for the first year of WotLK. :(
Other commenters here have gotten the point that Tobold's commentary missed - the "holy trinity" is the real dealkiller, at least for PVE content. All but the easiest of group content (i.e. the stuff that a talented player of the correct class has a shot at soloing) requires the holy trinity of tanking, healing, and DPS. As far as I know, in every game that has offered these three roles, DPS has been far and away the most popular, while one or both of the other two proves extremely hard to find.

I'm not entirely adverse to group content, though I think Tobold is a bit quick to dismiss the difficulties of combining Real Life with 2 to 39 other people left waiting every time you need to go AFK, but I will not pay money for a game that I cannot play at all because there is no healer or no tank available.
No its not that the holy trinity is the dealkiller.

The dealkiller is that they have a game that rewards you more for solo till endgame and then requires the holy trinity. If everyone had to group to get the best stuff then you'd see more tanks and healers grouping.
But most likely what will happen is that WotLK will give a huge boost with old-school 5-toon table-based boss-loot instances in the level 70-80 range with a sudden infusion of a dozen or more new instances leading to a new level-80 raid bottleneck, leave the 1-70 content to dry up, and only introduce new raid content and no new instances for the first year of WotLK. :(

:-( this makes me sad because I don't think WOTLK will last content wise as long as BC did.

i give it 2 or 3 months before the screaming for something new starts.
Fitting real life together with raiding isn't as difficult as it might seem. You make a schedule and stick to it. In that regard, raiding is no different from any other group hobby. Your friends aren't coming to ask you for a drink in the middle of your football practice, are they? And your coach/raid leader will understand if you said you'd arrive late to practice because you have to take your mother to the hospital.

Make plans and stick to them. Schedule your time and make the most of it.
> I don't want to offend you, but why are you playing WoW?

I don't. I haven't played WoW in years.
I don't. I haven't played WoW in years.
Why did you start in the first place? I mean, why play a massively multiplayer game if you want to solo? Wouldn't a single-player game suit you better? Why buy an apple if you wanted an orange?
That's probably a discussion that belongs elsewhere. Suffice it to say that solo play doesn't mean not interacting with others in a virtual world; it just means not having to rely on them in order to experience game content. See zigabob's post for additional reasons you probably won't agree with either. Although you may not understand it, just accept that there are hundreds of thousands of MMORPG players who like to solo for a variety of reasons. I'm not a crafter, either, but I don't tell crafters that they're playing the wrong game and should go play Cooking Mama instead.
I have to disagree shalkis. I've been in several raiding guilds and they always start out laid back and willing to accept that you can't be on certain days. But eventually they hit some block and then they just have to have my healer. And then people start getting upset that RL trumps thier progression and best case I just go away and worst case I've seen a couple of guilds blow up over it.

I think the lucky few like you that find that happy guild whose schedule is compatable with yours don't realize how rare that is.
Don't get me wrong, I like soloing stuff as well. It's not as if there isn't any content in WoW for soloers. Far from it. I'd say that WoW is one of the more solo-friendly MMORPGs out there. But maybe it's just me, but I've never even expected WoW to be the game for me. It ain't tailored just for me. Blizzard has repeatedly stated that being able to solo to max level with any class is a design goal, but I don't remember them promising making all content accessible for soloers. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on that.

Sam: Sounds like that the guilds you've been in had a problem with lack of reserves and maybe with loot distribution. Putting all your eggs into one basket might seem a good idea for short-term, but I'd rather have 5 decently-geared healers than 3 with excellent gear. I've found that improving your guild's overall gear and skill level is usually the best for long-term prosperity of the guild.
No the problem with those guilds with one exception was that at some point in the progression the leadership got the raiding bug bad. then they pushed and pushed till people left. Then they didn't have the resources. I've never seen a guild that didn't have the resources that hadn't caused it themselves.

The one exception was my first guild and we had 15 healers pre BC. When no one had druids we had 5. but we hit a 8 month stretch of uneven loot drops and all the dps classes where ready to move on and the healers were very undergeared. So they started recruiting better geared healers. And were horrified and shocked when they lost 12 of thier 15 core healers within 2 months. took em 10 months to overcome the bad rep they created and get back to raiding. And to this day they blame the people thatleft because they were disloyal and "bad" people.

I feel safe in saying for every 1 really well run guild out there. There are 25 or more bad ones. So you have to find one of the rare ones and it has to have a schedule that matches yours.

I've had some invites to some great guilds that I would have loved to be a part of but I just couldn't match thier schedule to mine.
I'd love to see an mmorpg where ALL content could be done solo.

Create incentives to group but don't require it.

It's the only way to keep old content viable.
WoW *is* the one of the most solo-friendly MMOGs out there, at least until the endgame. It's also one of the most successful. I would argue that other devs should take the hint, but I don't want them emulating the endgame part too...

>>1) you are correct and this works fine if you can find a guild that runs on your schedule. many cant'

I see guilds that do their activities during peak hours, during the mornings, during the weekends, late at night, Oceanic, etc. etc. You may just have to do some shopping and even transfer if your limitations are severe. But honestly, if you can't string together 3 consecutive hours at a time ... this isn't the game for you.

>>>2) maybe not but with the addition of PVP gear that has a flexible path that doesn't take 30 min to 2 hours to get a group for that is the result

Sure, if that's what a player wants. But that gear has highly limited uses and will only get you so far. If however some people can only get gear that way ... they have an option and don't have to quit paying/playing.

>>3) The problem here is that there is a steady turn over in population so you have a larger and larger pool who have not done any 5 mans or only done them occasionally or been run through by higher levels. at this point its hard to get anyone to run anything below a heroic 5 man.

No, most players end up in guilds during the leveling or post-leveling process, and do 5-mans in their guilds. Which is why it's hard to get pickup groups, especially on smaller servers (of which I play on one). There is zero problem getting pugs on high-pop realms, from what I've seen during my time there, too.

>>5) The problem with the variety is the game has consistantly moved towards rewarding the solo player more than the group player all the way to level cap. Then it flips.
that's piss poor game design.

I don't know ... a decent number of people seem to play it. What you are neglecting is that WoW was _designed_ around end-game. The appeal of the game wasn't the grind, but all the things to do after capping. Blizzard designed the game to get you capped much sooner than other games on purpose.
youve got a few things sideways. Mthic entertainment developed battlegrounds first in dark age of camelot and in most players opinions still have the corner on the pvp or rvr format market.

as for grouping and solo play- most mmorpg's start out with players wanting to group. they stop grouping and solo for several reasons-
1. the player base expands and you get alot of rude and annoying players.
2. natural evolution of playing. as you learn more you develop your own style. other peoples styles may conflict with yours. nobody wants to be a sheep.
3. irrational behavior and action taken by companies towards griefers. all of us have been told at one time or another to either put up with a persons behavior or move on by a gm/csr/etc. or other players.
4. class imbalance. if i can solo pvp or pve , then why go through the hassle of being in a slow forming group. if my hibernian nightshade can solo a full group of albs or mids , or if my midgard hunter can solo pve and pvp , why put up with some jerk telling me to stay back and run static for charging players or stay stealthed until someone jumps the healer?

in short- my opinion is that less is more. im sick and tired of having to gain an additional 10 levels every damned expansion. invent something different. something more. and something HUGE for EVERY EXPANSION. if you dont , you will simply loose players because they are frustrated by all the crap. start small and interesting , add content that doesnt take forever and that doesnt take groups. make the system work with 8 players in a group or for 1 player. and above all. make all classes either perfectly balanced with absolutlely NO advantage ever or so imbalanced that its part of the game. (i.e.- guardians can kill mercenaries and rangers but cant kill a wizard or warlock. warlocks can kill guardians and mercs but not hunters or sorcs- etc.)
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