Tobold's Blog
Friday, December 04, 2009
Keen on soloing

Seems to be the subject of the week, or I'm hearing echoes. Keen found some new information on SWTOR, namely that it will have companion characters which will allow you to solo everything, and thinks it is a horrible idea. Great minds think alike. ;)

Of course it is too early to say how big the influence of companion characters on Star Wars the Old Republic gameplay will be. But if it is all that is promised, it will be a nice test of my hypothesis that people will first love it, then leave it. Great test case actually, because if anyone can start the massively single-player online role-playing game genre, it is Bioware. SWTOR could prove that eliminating player cooperation from a MMORPG is a bad idea, if they drive the companions concept far enough, and it ends up becoming the dominant gameplay mode to the detriment of grouping with actual players.

[EDIT: P.S.: Oh my god! Now even Syncaine agrees!]
I think soloing in MMORPG is a good idea if done properly. Things like solo (or plus NPC companion) dungeon should exist in the game functioning as an alternative (probably with reward that is lesser than the group content so that people don't just abuse this) rather than being the main selling point.

I agree that MMORPG should be played with the idea of interacting with other players in the game rather than soloing your way throught the whole content. But at the same time, let's not kid ourselves here, there can be massive frustration when you just simply can't find people to play with, or you only have somewhat short time to play that nobody wants to play with you because they'd prefer playing with others who have more available time. Solo content would be perfect for this kind of situation.

Forcing to group all the time is definitely a bad thing. Allowing to solo all the time is equally as bad. So there need to be a balance between solo and group content so that an MMORPG will still have "MMO" as the main selling point without forcing the players to commit 5hr+/day just to play the game.
I'm not entirely convinced that it is bad.

In my opinion, the indirect interactions are more important in MMOs than the direct ones. If Especially if developers concentrate more on it.

My guess, however, is that there will be some things that are to demanding for the AI companions and will therefore require groups of humans.
Hopefully the companions will be similar to the computer controlled characters in Left 4 Dead. They can fill in the position and allow you to play, but they're just not as good as a human. You cannot solo a campaign on advanced or expert because the bots just flat out aren't good enough. But they serve their purpose, if someone leaves the game, or if you want to start the campaign and play while waiting for the remaining slots to fill.
They're clearly aiming the game not only at the MMO market but at the Baldur's Gate/KOTOR market too.

Thus it makes sense to protect the single player experience.

I imagine that for MMO veterans the real game will start after the storyline playthroughs, like a more extended version of Age of Conan's Tortage plotline.

I just hope they don't make the same mistake AoC did of inadvertently creating a storyline so much better than the more open game that followed it that no one wanted to stick with it.
On the other hand, Bioware RPGs have always had a companion system, as far back as Baldur's gate, and including the SWTOR games. It's something Bioware can do pretty well and it added immersion having those companions speak up their minds every here and there (or having them squablle amongst each other...)

I think porting that idea into the MMORPG is not necessarily wrong. And hey Luke always, or usually, had R2D2 as a companion :)

It also doesn not mean that solo play is enforced everywhere... I can easily see quests where a player plus companion just isn't enough... Or where the actual acuity of a real human companion makes something doable where the AI of the companions just isn't good enough... After all, there are heroes, and hangers on.. I think it's hard to predict what it will lead to until we actually see it.

Furthermore, from reading your post, it looks like Bioware may have taken pointers from the typical complaint on games that have been up and running for a while. Lotro epic books were a marvellous idea, building an actual continuous storyline into an MMO (which WoW doesn't have for one), but people were complaining after a while that, as more players had levelled it became increasingly difficult to find groups for said content.

As a whole, and yeah being a Star Wars AND a Bioware fan means I may not be objective etc., we won't know if this is good or bad until we see the system in action.
I do agree that driving the MSORPG thing too far would probably be bad, but if some balance can be found it might be good.

It is possible that if I had some way of experiencing the content that in WoW today is group/raid content solo I could still be playing it. It all depends on how it would be implemented.
Every time I read something about SWTOR I get more and more the feeling it will indeed be a MSORPG. Probably nothing wrong with that. I will play it for a month, maybe two, just like I did with Mass Effect, and move on.

I just hope Bioware is not counting on players sticking around for months/years, because from all I have seen or heard that is not going to happen.
Really, what's new about this? Is it any diferent from what Guild Wars offered many years ago? It was entirely possible to solo the whole of the original Guild Wars with the Henchmen. In my experience, the NPCs were not only more competent than most of the players back then, they were better company too.

And is it much different from the last, really excellent, Everquest expansion that added NPCs you could hire? They made a huge difference, opening up the game not just for solo players but for duos and small groups too.

Honestly, AI assistants is built in the fabric of MMOs. This is just another example of a tradition that goes back almost as far as the genre itself. Why were Necromancers and Mages reccomended solo classes in early EQ? Because they had pets, and what ae pets other than AI controlled NPC assistants.

Most MMOs have pet classes. Most pet classes can "solo" things that otherwise take two or more player characters to kill. MMOs already have pets that tank for you, or heal you while you fight, or do the DPS while you tank, or even unlock chests or remove traps for you. We have vendors we can summon to repair our armor, sell us ammunition and buy our loot sowe can fill our bags and do it all again.

Henchmen, hirelings, whatever you call them, are just one more kind of pet. This story says more about BioWare skill in marketing their Star Wars MMO as if it was innovative rahter than about any actual innovation.
Guild wars had it. It worked pretty nice to be fair. And I prefer bots over warriors in spell power plate any day. But it will give the groups much more freedom then grouping with idiots.
I think it's a great idea. Noob free parties!

Humans will always be better to have in your party anyway so there's still an incentive to bring them.
Sometimes I do wish for more solo content in my games such as WoW dailies (sure some classes can solo them all, not mine heh). Other times I like group content a lot and would miss this aspect if it were gone.

While I miss the grouping aspect of Everquest it is nice to be able to solo in other games. It's hard to say how this really will be if it's heavily focused on solo. Sometimes it's harsher on the games community.

I know someone who is hyped about this game in hopes that it will focus on a lot of solo play. I guess it appeals more to some than others. I'm still on the fence.
I agree that it will be a good test ground, however, I am betting against you in this one. I bet that it will be a rousing success and people will love it. SWTOR might very compare to WoW like WoW compared to EQ. That is, take the same basic formula, "dumb it down" (as syncaine would perhaps say) or make it more accessible to the general populace (as sane people would say), and tweak the things they noticed everyone hated. I really think it has the potential to be the spiritual successor to WoW, although I still probably wouldn't bet cash on that.

Is that a good thing? Who knows. Obviously you don't think so, and you certainly bring up some points that I can agree with. But it's been made very, very clear that ease of gameplay is one of the core ways to keep customers playing. A MSORPG, as you say, may take away some of the core things that define the MMO genre, but that makes it essentially diablo 2. And I lost more than one summer to diablo 2 back in high school, as I am sure many others have as well. Even if it is a bad idea from a sheer "purity of the master MMO race" standpoint, I really don't think it will prove a financial failure providing disincentive for later MMOs to follow the same trend.
I am looking forwards to SWTOR. My worry is the longevity of the game. Basically the question is, why do people only play through Dragon Age once or twice, but spend thousands of hours repeating content in a MMORPG?

I personally think that both an epic story line and complete soloability with companions are good ideas for the first pass through the game, but are actually harmful for the motivation to repeat content. Both NPCs and story lines are predictable, so if you've seen them once, there is no good reason to see them again.
"I am looking forwards to SWTOR. My worry is the longevity of the game. [...]I personally think that both an epic story line and complete soloability with companions are good ideas for the first pass through the game, but are actually harmful for the motivation to repeat content."

I do not think the two things are mutually exclusive (depending on how you do it) if the companions only follow you for a short time (they are here to support the story according to Bioware) So if they leave you at some point -or the added bonus you'd get for grouping with human beings was good enough - then the feature of an companion to help you when the game becomes frustrating or when you really don't feel like teaming up. Thus easing parts of the game that would otherwise be solved by you waiting untill you where in the 'mood' to group up or untill you found people who wanted to group up. Both things that would help you get to the end-game. Personally i'm not very much of a group person while leveling, unless it does not mean hours of waiting around or detours.

What im trying to say is that this feature -if tuned right- could be a huge boost to keep people hooked during the start up fazes, aka that infamous first month of play time, where o so many return to WoW.
I'm looking forward to SWTOR also.

My main worry is how they will approach the trinity aspect of the game where healing is concerned.

They've already hinted that each class will have abilities that can be trained towards healing, but they've also said that full-out healers will be needed for more difficult that tells me that the group dynamic is pretty much a given, and that it might very well be linked to what is considered "end-game" content/encounters.

My other worry deals with the solo aspect of play for SWTOR; in that with the game being touted as a story driven experience, you will no doubt have players who will try and blaze through the content as fast as possible, and companion characters might very well have artificial limitations placed on them in an effort to -slow down- progression.

But one thing is for certain; we know so little about the actual combat mechanics at this point that companion characters might very well be a boon if implemented properly. I think I will reserve judgement on this until we know more about the actual mechanics of the combat.
From what I gathered from Darth Hater, it seems the Companions are more like filler, not necessarily intended to eliminate the need for parties.

Have 3 people for a quest, but none of you is a tank? Pull out a tank companion and hope he works out well enough.

It's early to speculate, but I think each player can only have one companion active at a time, so while it might make it EASIER for someone to solo some content, I'd be surprised if simply having one companion out made it so that the same player could solo EVERYTHING.
As mentioned on your older post, MMORPG has no "The End", so it's the reason why people are willing to repeat the content over and over again with the hope of getting "the best gear" in combination with "preparing for next challenge/expansion" and also simply just to have fun with friends emphasizing the people playing rather than the content of the game itself.

On the other hand, Dragon Age has "The End" and thus, once it's over, well it's really over. No real reason to repeat content over and over again because the goal of the game is simply to reach that "The End" point of the game. Most people won't even bother trying to complete every single thing in the game, while there are people who'd try to do everything in an MMORPG, even if they can't receive the reward for all those.
I was leaving a comment, and it turned into a blog post:
There is nothing wrong with soloing, and I refuse to believe that games can not be designed from the outset to allow greater flexibility to account for play style. I hate having my gaming fun dictated by the mandates of other people, which is something WoW has gotten fairly good at in recent times. You can easily solo most of the non-instanced content, and can work on achievements as well. For that content where you want to be with a group Blizzard has provided tools to assist you with that.

Whats wrong with demanding all play styles be catered to?
Whats wrong with demanding all play styles be catered to?

You got that wrong. It is *I* who demands that all play styles be catered to, both soloing and grouping. But for that to happen, there needs to be some advantage to grouping. If you can do every encounter in the game alone or with NPC henchmen, too few people are going to want to get over the hurdle of finding a group. Grouping will die out, then suddenly people will find they aren't having fun all alone all the time, can't find a group, and will quit.
Really, I simply can't understand why anybody would complain about this.

Forced grouping is one of the last remnants of the old super-penal hardcore style games, and I can't fathom why people are so attached to it. It's one of the things that makes most MMOs still suck.

Grouping with real people can be cool, but when your friends aren't around forced grouping is just another barrier between the gameplay and the player. What if I want to play with one of my friends? Two of my friends? None of my friends? Why should the game not support any of these choices?

A previous reply mentioned Left 4 Dead, which I think is an excellent example. The entire game is designed with the expectation that 4 people will play together, yet it's absolutely playable with 1-3 players and bots filling the missing slots. There is no wasteful 'different' content path for the solo player - he plays the same game that the co-op players do.

This is the way any game with grouping needs to be implemented. Give us the flexibility to make parties of a mix of human and computer players, and let them all be effective. Don't make me waste an evening because I'm short one or two friends!
Look at the bright side, now all the solo-heroes will have one place to go and play with themselves. Who knows, maybe life after SW:TOR in the MMO genre will be one without a 7hr queue on launch day. That would be nice.
The thing that boggles my mind is just this: why would you want to play an MMO solo? Just at all, why? There are vastly superior single player games that are way more fun and interesting than anything any MMO has ever offered for solo playing. I understand leveling in WoW solo, because for some dumbass reason the game discourages grouping while leveling. But playing an MMO solo because you prefer it that way? Why?

There has to be a reason to play an MMO--- a game designed more around keeping the server happy than actually, you know, being FUN. So why do solo players play?

Frankly, I don't really believe there are many people who are genuinely soloists. They want the option to solo because it often happens that feel like being alone, or nobody is one, or nobody wants to do what you need to do... but hardly expect to solo all the time, or even most of the time. Because someone who was all solo all the time in an mmo... well, that's just freaking weird.
I'm honestly looking at SWTOR as an online singler player RPG.

Everything I've read about it makes me think solo'n will be the favored activity over groups or large scale raids.
If grouping is not intrinsically rewarding for you then why are you so desperate for it?

Henchmen will probably cost you some extra money any way.

Personally I don't really care for small group content. Solo + Raid suits me just fine.
"Why do you think players are willing to run the same dungeons many times in a game like World of Warcraft, but consider to be done with a single-player RPG after having played it through once? People consider it perfectly normal to do the same raid several nights a week for several weeks in a MMORPG, but I do not think that there would be many people interested to play single-player dungeons with NPC support at that rhythm. The participation of other people in a raid makes all the difference, even if that participation sometimes leads to a less than optimal outcome." - Tobold

People run those raids over and over again because they want the loot. And if they're like me they prefer doing it with people that have completed the run before to save the aggravation you mention. I can't speak for WoW having never played it, but I'm assuming everyone in a 40-man raid doesn't get all the loot they want/need on the first run? If they did, MMO companies would be in trouble because people would realize they are out of content. Needing those shoulders or that epic weapon means you need to go back. Or perhaps they want to farm for crafting supplies.

I enjoy the social aspects of MMOs and it's fun running instances with friends but there are definitely times I enjoy soloing. As Greta Garbo once said, "I want to be alone." Having an option to solo an instance instead of trying to fill a raid group might be appealing to someone who does just want to farm and doesn't want to bother their guildies or suffer the potential frustration of pugging. Or maybe they don't want to listen to the back-and-forth comments in Vent and would rather turn up the sounds of the game. What a concept.

Another answer is in a single-player RPG, once you beat a boss ... you've beaten it and usually get your quest item or new ability or whatever. Time to move on. That's a problem I have with PvE content. Once you figure out a particular dungeon's or boss's strategy ... you can beat it ... over and over again. The challenge is gone. Now if they start programming bosses with better AI and less predictability, then it would be worth replaying. I only replay instances now to get the loot. Doing these with guildies only makes the monotony more bearable.
This is sounding a lot like the concept for Guild Wars which after 3 expansions sold over 2-3 million on the PC platform.

I think it could work. It won't be an MMO like Warcraft, but Guild Wars was actually very fun, although the look and feel wasn't quite right for me. I want my avatars to be able to jump.

So heavily instanced like Guild Wars, and the ability to add companions instead of real folks also like Guild Wars. And if they make towns more than just meeting places, I'm sold!
"I am looking forwards to SWTOR. My worry is the longevity of the game. Basically the question is, why do people only play through Dragon Age once or twice, but spend thousands of hours repeating content in a MMORPG?"

I realize this is not quite about the original solo topic, but I find the question to be very interesting nonetheless. My personal answer is twofold:

First is pure content size, or lack of thereof in single player games compared to MMOs. There is enough content for the first pass, but nothing really to make a player stick for months and months. Whereas MMOs get new patches and new content all the time, so there is always something new to keep the players busy. If DA:O had the same content expansions and patches that WoW has, for example, I would call it a pretty safe bet that players would play that for 5 years as well.

The second answer would be tied in to how the above content is structured in MMOs - because designing and implementing new content is simply just an incredibly time consuming issue, designers have to force players to repeat whatever content they can actually produce. That's why we raid the same dungeon for several months instead of a new one every week: it simply takes too much time and money to have one out of the production pipelines.

Single player games on the other hand tend to be more narrative driven, with a clear path that is pretty linear (unlike the MMO spiral progression). The notable exception would be Diablo - a game that makes use of recycled content and character persistence after the game is 'finished'. But then again Diablo can be looked at as a proto-MMO, for sure. DA:O has none of these elements, once you finished the game you pretty much have to start from scratch - hence the inherent low replayability.

To sum it up, I would argue that longevity is more about character persistence across playthroughs and content availability rather than a solo vs group factor.
@Toxic: I am currently soloing my way through AoC and I will keep doing so until 80.

Why? I travel a hell of a lot and when I travel, the work laptop can't handle AoC. I live in a timezone where most of the server is still sleeping when I play. And AoC is not the main game I play these days I just don't play enough (or long enough at a time) to get around the hassle of finding groups for pretty much anything, or do 4+ hour group content.

BUT I still want to see a character hit the level cap in AoC. And if that is going to happen at all for me, it'll be through nothing but solo play.

It's not that I hate grouping, I loved grouping up in Lotro especially with my guild. But then again, I would spend on average 3 hours in Lotro every night. That allows for building up a comfortable level of belonging with your guild. In AoC, I just can't devote such an amount of time to it.

And if Bioware delivers the way I expect them to, I will definitely want to level to whatever cap they have. But will I do that in a guild etc? That will depend on plenty of RL stuff, not on the game itself. Or only partially..
Where does it say “everything?” I looked to say that places that might normally require multiple party members will be accessible to solo folk (and it doesn’t appear to mention raids at all), which is to a large extent exactly what Blizzard did when they launched WoW. Even more so with this last expansion, Blizzard was careful to give you a helpful NPC pet or vehicle when a solo toon would not suffice. All that’s left in WoW are the 5-man’s and raids. It remains to be seen if Bioware Intends to remove the 5-man’s as well.

Even if they do remove the group requirement attached to a 5-man equivalent. That’s exactly what the Star Trek MMO coming out has said they are going to do and it’s a fairly natural evolution of the game genre. With EQ everything was a 6-man or a raid. With WoW 5-man’s and raids are compartmentalized away such that one cannot accidently fall into one. With Frozen Thrown the difficulty is ratcheted back up in the outside world a bit, but the player is given an AI or vehicle helper in these instances. Maybe It’s time that AI helper we already get in WoW when needed will be available to fill 5-man group spots as well.

I actually see something else as the problem though. Pet AI has traditionally been a huge problem in MMO’s. EQ eventually had to stop pets from gaining proximity agro. And, this is not because of lazy programmers but because it’s a hard problem. I’ve not seen any improvement since the EQ era. A hunter pet will still take a seemingly random route to get to the player or mob. Making everybody a pet class seems to be a potential for serious issues to me.
I am looking forwards to SWTOR. My worry is the longevity of the game. Basically the question is, why do people only play through Dragon Age once or twice, but spend thousands of hours repeating content in a MMORPG?

Because Dragon Age is paced much differently than a MMOG. It's also got less depth in its systems than a MMOG, it's less punishing to restart, you can save and reload. These are all huge factors that make a big difference in time spent and overall play. Make a mistake with your spec in a MMOG? Now you have to go grind a bunch of currency to respec. Your party wipe at a difficult fight in wow? Now you spend 5-10 minutes running back, resurrecting, adjusting strategy, etc. In Dragon age, you push the reload button and prep for 10 seconds. Generally, the main disparities are the pacing and the sheer amount of content.

As for the companion characters... I expect that they'll give them a tactic/gambit system similar to dragon age where you can give them basic scripts on how to behave in combat, but a thinking person would be much better when it comes to controlling them.

I find that I'm of two minds when it comes to this sort of thing. On one hand, I vividly recall FFXI and how much the game opened up when they added a fairly robust AI companion like these. Being able to farm my own crafting materials without having to bore one of my friends to tears or solo leveling an annoying subjob was a god send.

On the gripping hand it's hard for me to see this as anything but another nail in the coffin of the part of MMOs I love the most, socialization. Personally, every time I've quit an MMO it has been primarily because of social issues. Either never being able to find a guild I meshed with, having most of my friends quit, etc. As an illustration, I find that I can't even recall very many outstanding solo occurrences, and the ones I can remember are mostly either amusing stories of farming mishaps that get told to friends for a laugh or tricky solo PvP fights in WAR. I can, however, tell you all sorts of minute details about the first party I ever joined in FFXI, or about leading pug warbands, good and bad, around in WAR, or some of the disturbingly odd RP characters I met in CoH, and plenty of other tales.

To me socialization, and more precisely community building, seem to be the key thing that separates MMOs from other games. Yet every new game I've picked up over the past 7 years has seem hellbent on diluting this one great advantage over similar single player games instead of trying to leverage it. I've personally been wondering if the next step in MMO evolution might not be akin to a massively upscaled Facebook game. Something like the game existing as a way to facilitate and support communities instead of vice versa. I would certainly prefer that to a total shift to single player games with a built in IRC client and auction house.

Or perhaps I'm an aberrant case.
I think sometimes things get mixed up. It's a GOOD thing you can solo content, and have the choice to group up IF and WHEN you want.

the only horrible experiences i have is with forced grouping, quite the contrary (EQ, AION...)

And ofc, raids and endgame is what defines an mmo and makes it superior to any single player game.

Just enjoy both and don't mix things up :)
suddenly people will find they aren't having fun all alone all the time, can't find a group, and will quit.
You are assuming that they wont react to not having fun alone all the time by then looking for a group. They may not find one immediately, but they wont be the only one sick of soloing.
I don't see 'filler' companions like this having an overall detrimental affect on grouping.
For marketing purposes, MMO companies will claim to know what we want but in actual fact, all they care about is the money.

In order to maximize their income, they have to cater to as many people as possible, most of the time at the expense of lore or gaming etiquette. Most of us play MMO because we like the idea of living in a fantasy world with real people, fight alongside/ against other players and become heroes.

However there is a minority who prefer to do things solo in MMO(weird, I know) and EA Bioware want their money too.

Saying solo people should play a single player game is like saying casual players don't deserve to raid. Both will only lead to pointless debates.

No single company in their right mind will cater to a faction of the players base when they can cater to most. It's all about the money! soon as I read "Great minds" and Keen in the same sentence...

I lost all interest in this post.

I mean, Keen has proven time and again that his skill in picking a game to be a hit, falls flat (examples: WAR and Darkfall)

So, I always take what he says about any new game and its features and use an opposite approach.

If he likes it, I will hate it...if he hates it, I will like it.

Go figure.

Now, I know how to feel about SWTOR.
On repeat play possibilities: each class has a distinct story. Bioware is, I think, betting on 'get them to roll an alt' to keep subscriptions going. Eight classes = eight stories to play through. All depends on execution, of course.
As a way to fill out groups, I think it's a good idea. It could cure the "four people" problem. However if it's forming the entire group with NPCs, that's asking for disaster. Maybe they're dumb enough to only be usable as filler.
Why keep asking why players solo in MMORPGs? Every time the question is asked, answers are given, and then the very next day someone asks the question again.

I can still log into Guild Wars, two full years after the last non-holiday content update, and get a group full of human beings if I'm patient. Somewhat more often I can get a group of 5-6 human beings and the spare slots filled with NPC AI, if my time is short.

Access to companion AI simply *does not kill grouping*, if it did, nobody would ever group in Guild Wars. So there's no reason to doomsay and insist that it will kill it in TOR.

Frankly the assertion that if people were forced to group they would group more often makes me laugh; if someone is determined to solo and a game is forcing them to group, it is more likely that they just won't play.
I think you might be jumping the gun here with your logic Tobold, I mean for starters, how many companion characters did they say you can have? Cuz to me from the interviews it sounded like just one. I know that a duo can handle "elites" in most MMO's but they would have a really difficult time handling most 5 to 6 man dungeons and certainly couldn't perform a raid. If the raids give the best loot people will still form groups.
I apologize, I just listened to the interview and it indeed sounds like they want to give you several on SWTOR. While warm humans are more fun to play with they are also a lot of trouble to rally. Is playing with them its own reward? For some people yes, for others no. Some people only care about seeing content or loot. I've had plenty of experience with them myself. However some people like playing with actual people instead of AI's (I being one of them) and I would probably opt to play with players whenever possible.
I'll second Bhagpuss and casualdoes. Also, if there is something like this that offers options to MMO players, and the playerbase proves (one way or another) that certain options are profitable, I call that a Good Thing for the health of the market at large. When you're stuck with every designer slavishly adhering to the "MMOs mean grouping" dogma, is it any wonder that the market stagnates into clones and flash in the pan games with no longevity?

Options keep markets healthy. Options keep an individual game healthy. It's one thing to be afraid of players who don't play the way you do (though it's none of your business how others play), it's quite another to say that they will be the doom of the genre. That's usually just patently false, and mostly blind fear.

Even in the slim chance that it's an accurate prediction of doom, I'd argue that it's about time. Some game design really does need to die, or at least be relegated to small niche markets. (Team Ninja can get away with "Nintendo Hard" design, but for the most part, the market has moved on, finding it to be abusive and considerably less than fun. Don't blame the market if you can't keep up, or choose not to. Find and support the games you do like.)
Eric said:

"However there is a minority who prefer to do things solo in MMO(weird, I know) and EA Bioware want their money too."

I think things are the other way around. If WoW would make the environment dangerous to the point where you would have needed to group in order to survive in the wilderness (like in instances), it would never have been so popular and if they do it now, the outcry would be tremendous.

The solo part of a MMO is as much important and popular as the group content.

Now the question is, should MMOs do like WoW and when you hit endgame force grouping on you to continue your progress? Absolutely not.

The group content should be distributed in all the games progression with tools to either solo the content (scalable or Henchmen) or LFG tools.

Henchmen should be strong enough to make it possible to get through appropriate level content. But by nature their AI won't be as good as the average player. Dragon Age tactics would permit the solo player to have a more strategic game.

In Guildwars Henchmen take a share of your loot and that's ok. They should even need/greed rare drops depending of the level and class.

Grouping should be for the fun of it and not forced upon a player who wants to enjoy all the content.

I personally only play with 1 or 2 friends. We play this way for the social and gameplay enjoyment. The problem we encounter is that solo content is too easy for a duo or trio and full group content is undoable.

Since I play in short sessions of 3-4 hours, my biggest problem with grouping is the time it takes to form a “correct” PUG.

Casual players have the problem that in most guilds if you don’t login at least 4 times a week, it’s hard to get

I think MMOs should make the nominal difficulty of the environment around a small group of around 3 players with some of solo and some group content. Here are some of the reasons why:

- A trio retains the social aspect of MMOs and takes allot less time to find and ready a group.
- A solo or duo player group could add one or two henchmen to complete.
- As Tobold already mentioned several times, the current pattern of solo content is unchallenging and without any strategic value. It’s soloable by any class and in many MMOs not because of good class design but because it’s too easy.
- If the open world content was made for small groups there would be more place for some strategic play and more chances to punish negligence and things to going all wrong. Even if it isn’t nail biting, at least the gameplay should keep you focused.

Some MMOs make instances scalable, I wonder if open world content could be scalable. When an small orc patrol encounters a small group of players naturally they’ll charge in, but if the same patrol encounters a large group of players it could call for backup adding mobs to the fight (spawn and aggro them at the limit of vision) to challenge a larger group.
If Keen thinks it's a bad idea, then I'll probably love it. I generally only read Keen's blog to find out what he hates; so I can go play it!

Personally, I'm more worried about Bioware's inexperience with the nuts and bolts (databases, network traffic, login servers, account management) than I'll ever be about their ability to design an enjoyable game. Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate 2, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age: Origins are enough evidence of their storytelling abilities ;^)
If Keen thinks it's a bad idea, then I'll probably love it. I generally only read Keen's blog to find out what he hates; so I can go play it!

That's what I have Syncaine for! The method with Keen doesn't work for me, because Keen tends to indiscriminately love most games, until he plays them, then he hates them.
I like forced grouping... because groups have been very weak in every MMO where grouping was optional.

Sure in the utopian game everthing works but that hasn't happend yet and until it does I will favor forced grouping rather than easily soloable content.

True. I guess my "Keen as indicator of something worthwhile to play" really works best on single-player games. But yeah, he does tend to have that "I love it, oh wait, I just found the catch, now I hate it" vibe.

It takes all kinds to make the world go 'round.

In his defense, he's usually very descriptive of why he loves (and later hates) things. So I ignore his conclusion and look at his reasons.
The sudden lack of confidence in Bioware's design skills is... startling.

I definitely think that a game designer worth his salt can make companion systems work.
"If he likes it, I will hate it...if he hates it, I will like it.

Go figure.

Now, I know how to feel about SWTOR."

Instead of simplistic, reactionary rules for forming an opinion, why not look at the issues, think a little for yourself, and then form your own opinion? Not every issue out there is black/white. Hell, you may even realize you agree with some people more often than you realized.
It's really very simple why soloing is so popular with casuals. Often (enough) the anonymous people you group with act like asshats and/or treat you like an idiot. Or at best they are impatient with you if you don't type fluent MMO chatspeak, and don't know EXACTLY what to do at all times.

The whole process of communicating via chat can be intimidating and very unfun. Meanwhile you're trying to learn how to play a complex game.

Casuals likely haven't had the time, energy or knowhow to build up a social network in-game, so their only options are random PUGs. 90% unfun.

There are also plenty of casuals who are perfectly able to and not intimidated by grouping, but the waiting, coordination & tolerance required make it unfun as well.

I think your attitude is a bit elitest because you are so enmeshed in gaming that you have lost touch with the experience of being relatively new to it.

If an industry like MMO's is going to grow and succeed, the mechanics of multiple play have to be more intuitive and forgiving, and less elitest.

Banning overuse of the word "noob" would also help.

Keen has been getting kind of sensitive about that because we started calling him out on his love, hate, what I would change stages of games.
I like forced grouping

Most of the people crying for more soloing don't even know what "forced grouping" is, because they never played Everquest. They can't imagine a game in which you can't earn a single xp solo, if you are beyond a certain level, and not of certain classes. They think World of Warcraft has "forced grouping", because they can't solo Arthas. Sigh!
When you're stuck with every designer slavishly adhering to the "MMOs mean grouping" dogma

A lot of people seem to be arguing in completely the wrong framework. What mass market game released in the last 5 years wasn't designed with the intention that 80+% of the people spent 80+% of their time soloing? Even Vanguard has about that ratio of content, only Eve maybe drops below it.

The variation between existing games is that for some, that figure is 90/90%. And for some future game, it will probably be 100/100%.

The thing to remember is that, assuming constant resources, even completely eliminating grouping only increases the amount of solo content by 25% at most. And it is hard to believe the revenue hit for a solo-only game would be as small as 25%.

Nevertheless, game developers would have to be very brave to ignore the demands of such a clear majority of their player-base.
They think World of Warcraft has "forced grouping", because they can't solo Arthas.

Actually WoW _does_ have forced grouping when your are at the level cap and have instance or raid gear in every slot. A level 20 EQ 1.0 rogue could 'solo' to their hearts content - it's just that none of the things they could kill, being green, would increase their power level.

How is that in any way different from a level 80 Paladin in WoW who has gear good enough that nothing they can kill solo would be a power upgrade?

It's less clear that WoW _also_ has forced soloing - some people could argue that you should tolerate getting 2x less exp and 5x less loot for the fun of other people's company. Technically they might be right, pre-level cap, soloing is not strictly enforced, just heavily encouraged.

What the world needs, or at least wants, is a game that genuinely makes both soloing and grouping viable options for all of its life, not just the first few weeks after release.
I'm sort of between the views that "companions hurt grouping" and "companions aren't an issue for grouping". From playing guild wars, I have noticed that groups are less common as better heroes and henchmen were introduced, but they definitely are there.

For me, though, this isn't a reason to remove companions, but rather a reason to improve the systems these game has for people to find groups. The final point of these games is to have fun, whether that be through grouping or soloing, so a better reaction to something that makes soloing more fun is to look for a way to make grouping competetive with that fun.

Grouping certainly has a lot of issues that reduce its fun (LFG systems, PUGs being uncoordinated, asshole players, etc.) A better system for finding groups certainly seems within the realm of possibility. I can also imagine a player rating system (Where, for instance, if a player was really annoying, other players could, say, give them a thumbs down, and when grouping, the tamount of thumbs down/thumbs up on players would be visible), though other possibilities certainly exist. A guild wars style server system would certainly help with grouping over more WoW style servers. There are certainly other such possibilities.
The MMO lover side of me immediately agrees with Keen and the others on this.

However, I think about people who have played KOTOR 1 and 2 and love them, who are huge Star Wars fans, but could not care so much about hardcore MMO style play and I think this could come off to them as KOTOR 3 with cool online elements and a persistent world.

If you approach it from that angle, I can totally see how it could have huge appeal to draw in single player game fans.

I remember being a single player fan and then I got Diablo. Yes, I could play through the entire game offline, solo, but I never did. Once I discovered and experienced playing with another human, I was totally hooked. To this day I have never beaten Diablo in a single player game. Hell, same for Diablo 2!

I guess you didn't read my second comment where I pointed out that, in Keen's defense, he always offers the reasons why he loves (then hates) something. Keen's opinion on something is just a quick rule of thumb I can use to tell me if something is worth wasting my time and energy investigating ;^)
Agreed Tobold. Considering EQ only ever hit 300K subs it seems that now days more people claim to have played EQ than actually played it.

I made a Karnor Castle train joke in Aion and was greeted with silence. I figured of all MMO's I'd find a few EQers there.

By all means EQ was far from a perfect game. However I play MMO's for the grouping aspect of it. If you take away the requirment to group then I'm left with a single player game with a monthly fee.

Maybe I'm just an old school gamer. I don't like people coming in and changing a genre to match their playstyle. Shouldn't you find a genre that matches how you want to play a game rather than changing the one I like?

You can't have a game that you can solo or group. One will always suffer. You must always have a focus or you suffer from missing the mark of both targets.
WoW is effectively a solo game for me anyway. I don't raid and play 99% of the time solo.

PUGs are really solo play for me too... 5 players, don't talk and play the instance by the numbers to get emblems and gear.

I prefer it that way.

I log on to chat in game with guildies and friends and will only group with them if they need assistance.

More solo content if you ask me... I'm not interested in grouping in general and play at my own pace and style.
"They think World of Warcraft has "forced grouping", because they can't solo Arthas. Sigh!"

I'll rise to that.

It's blocked content, unless you have a group.

Granted wow has less blocked content than EQ, from what I've heard, as you can't even level in EQ latter on without a group.

But the principle is the same - content you have paid for and are continuing to pay for is locked away unless you have a group.

I'll add a caveat - in quake live, I can't beat nightmare level bots. Now if the content was locked away because of skill, I could start to understand that. But in mmorpgs like wow, it's not a matter of skill, it's simply a matter of bums on seats.
All I'm seeing here is mmo's evolving and a certain few are not evolving with them. Covering the entire "concept" of allowing players to solo or group with a blanket statement like this is ridiculous. One "concept" makes the entire game worthless? We haven't played ToR yet and people like yourself are stating that this idea alone is enough to ruin a game. Nonsense, and you know it is. It's like bashing a game poorly based on some screen shots for showing some bad graphics. This is one part of the game not the whole.
I have to defend poor Keen a little here. When he finally breaks down and quits a game after his standard 2 months, he'll write his obligatory "I'm quitting and these are the flaws in the game" post. That post is often some of the deepest, most insightful analysis of a particular game.
Someone above commented to the effect that too many people say they played EQ when there couldn't be that many since EQ only had 300k at its peak (it was actually more like 600k, but that's beside the point). This illustrates one thing people are missing: MMOGs have churn. Far, far more players than EQ's peak subscription numbers played that game over the years.

The same is true of WoW. There are many more people who played WoW, subscribed for more than the initial month, and stopped playing forever, than there are currently listed as subscribers. Even a ridiculously tiny amount of churn per month over the years ensures that. They aren't playing other MMOGs either, else those would have millions of players too.

Millions of people who liked WoW (and other MMOGs) enough to subscribe for a while, yet in the end found current MMOGs wanting. What do they want? Surely many different things; they're not all the same. Can a substantial, viable portion be attracted back to MMOGs if whatever things are lacking for them in current MMOGs are identified and implemented?

It looks to me like BioWare is banking on meaningful solo/small group (~2-3 friends) content as one of the things current MMOGs lack. Sure, you can solo or group with a couple friends in WoW (et al), but it's not very meaningful. It's just a side-game that gains you levels. You miss almost all the main, most interesting content of the game. The success of SWTOR may hinge on there being enough ex-MMOG players (and new ones) for whom this aspect is a big reason why they don't still play WoW and the others. (They're doing other things, of course, like emphasizing story. But the solo/tiny group thing seems the biggest break from what's out there now.)

Which means that SWTOR isn't intended for those who like the current MMOGs, who are still playing them, blogging about them, and posting in forums about them. So it's no surprise that such people don't like what they're seeing. It's not for them, it's for (potentially) millions of players who have been left on the table by current MMOGs.

Time will tell whether or not BioWare correctly identified their target. I'm cautiously optimistic that it'll be what brings *me* back to MMOG-like online games after not playing any at all since quitting WoW over three years ago.
Oh who cares!

Hey, if I paid my $xx.xx and my $xx.xx per month to play this game, I want to play it the way I want to.

I really don't care who thinks soloing is bad.

Then don't solo and group. Play your game.

If you don't want solo, then LFG. Then play your game.

Today, it's about freedom, choice and balance. Don't cry about it, answer with your wallets, is it worth you $xx.xx?

'nuff said.
I really don't care who thinks soloing is bad.

I really don't care who thinks grouping is bad.

My point is that you can already solo A LOT in the current generation of games. There is very little group content left. What I see SWTOR doing is to eliminate that last little bit of group content by making it soloable. At that point the game will be 100% solo play, 0% group play. And I believe people will quickly grow bored of that, and the game will die, because people quickly grow bored of ALL single-player games.
If the game is solo-able to max level then finding groups will be extremely hard and here's why; Player A wants to form a group and asks Player B (who is soloing) Player B will reject group offer because he can solo just fine.

What also make grouping difficult is the Quest Driven nature of all recent MMORPGs (but that needs a book to be explained).

Almost all MMORPGs are solo-able till max level, don't you think it's fair that we (those who like group-encouraged-MMOTPG) get our long awaited MMORPG?

I've been waiting for a world with dangerous creature. Fear and anxiety. You need to band together to survive. I want to feel what I felt playing EverQuest 10 years ago. I just want ONE game, just ONE game and I am far from a HardCore player I am just basically someone who longs for a different kind of MMORPG.
Eric said - "No single company in their right mind will cater to a faction of the players base when they can cater to most. It's all about the money!"

Yet, they all FAIL to cater to those you call the majority.

I agree there is a minority who wants forced-grouping and harsh content MMORPG but you must understand if ANY company supporsts such a game then it fills a niche that is not available in the market and since it will be the minority's only choice it will attract them all and it will have a stead 500,000 sub unlike AoC and WAR who failed to attract those so called majority.
Not 100% solo, 0% group play. It sounds like it'll be more like 100% solo, 100% group play. In accordance to what the players wish, each time they play. Solo with a bunch of NPCs, group with a friend or two and a few NPCs, or go with all players in the group. The choice determined by the players themselves.

If people quickly get bored of that kind of gameplay, it won't be any threat to forced grouping MMOGs, will it? Nobody is going to copy a failure. Those who don't like BioWare's ideas and who think it'll fail have nothing at all to worry about, do they?
Player A wants to form a group and asks Player B (who is soloing) Player B will reject group offer because he can solo just fine.

He'll reject the group because the energy it takes ot put together and work with a group isn't enough to compensate for any extra fun that might create.

That's a challenge for game developers to solve, not something to fix by taking something away from other players.

It's perfectly fair for those who like group-oriented gameplay to want a game that caters to your style. Unfortunately, the only AAA title that was aimed at that style (Vanguard) was a major flop. Meanwhile, the biggest MMO out there (WOW) is being very successful by not catering to that style. Businessmen are going to look at those facts and draw the logical conclusion that group-based games are not the wave of the future. The only way another AAA forced grouping game is going to reach the market is if some wealthy fan of grouping funds one: it's going to be very hard to convince any non-gamer venture capitalists to throw their money away on what certainly seems like, at best, a niche game and, at worst, something destined for failure from the beginning.
people quickly grow bored of ALL single-player games.

This is no secret, and game developers are no fools. Single player games have your money, they don't care how long you play it. MMORPGs have much, much more content because they want to keep you around and paying that monthly fee.

I am one of the bigger soloers here, and I played WoW off and on for two and a half years over the last 5, coming back for each expansion. Each time I quit, it has been because I grew tired of the grouping, not the soloing (hard to grow tired of something you're not allowed to do anymore).

Tobold, you and I see two different games in WoW, but neither of us is wrong. You see the trip from 1 to 79 as highly encouraging soloing, and thus it is very hard to find a group for a low level instance. You worry that if soloing was a prevalent part of the end game, the same would happen, and grouping would be over.

I see that from 1 to 79, there are plenty of low level instances. While you are encouraged to solo, there are many opportunities to "take a break" from soloing and have fun doing an instance. It might not be as efficient as soloing, but you do get xp and loot, so it is by no means a waste of time. Conversely, at the end game, there is no soloing content at all. You cannot "take a break" from grouping.

This is all I want. I do not want soloing to be emphasized over grouping in the end game, the way it is from 1 to 79. I want soloing to exist as a way to make meaningful, however less efficient, advancements to my character. It would be a less efficient alternative that groupers would largely ignore.
"And I believe people will quickly grow bored of that, and the game will die, because people quickly grow bored of ALL single-player games."

I should of said I really didn't care either way, grouping or soloing, but you pointed that out.

People, in general get bored of everything at certain points. That's why bands release new albums, why people buy new games and why I need to continue staying open minded.

Because sometimes I get bored of listening to peoples opinions and judgement calls and need to find new experiences to make my own.

Time will tell.

It is true that Vanguard was our only hope at least for this decade which was developed by Sigil Online (founded by Brad McQuaid one of EverQuest designers). However, Vanguard changed its coarse from being something like EverQuest to become yet another WoW "clone". I've been following Vanguard since 2003 and I was really disappointed when it was released.

The devs through out the years said there won't be any Auction House (broker) kind of economic trade and that they will add a hybrid between EQ's Bazaar and the Tunnel. They lied and we ended up with an Auction House just like WoW.

The devs motto was "Set yourself free" and we ended up with hand-holding quests with marks on top of NPCs (something they promised they wouldn't do).

We asked for EverQuest (pre Luclin) style of itemization but we got a Diablo2 (WoW) itemization style instead (world drops green which leads to a lot of bag micromanagement and the gear doesn't look very interesting because we've seen it all in D2 and WoW).

The list goes on.

I believe if a developer do it right he would attract all of those who are looking for such an experience and if it's done right they would top WAR or AoC sales easily because it's niche.

P.S: The solo/group people are just people that are looking for different genres by the way.
The problem is you can't have solo content without if affecting group content and vice versa.

It's a scale that must be balanced. The better the solo content the less likely people are to form groups, the better the group content the less likely people are to solo.

You can't have both because you split the playerbase.
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