Grouping in MMOs

I was reading something recently that cited figures on grouping vs soloing trends in current MMOs (I couldn’t find it again to link), and it bugged me; it wasn’t until last night that I could work out why.

I happened on a show about The Scablands, Mystery of the Megaflood. In short: The terrain was assumed to have formed very slowly. Almost everything we know about geology validated the theory and so geologists were very reluctant to hear that it might have been formed, instead, in just a few days. There were a few clues here and there that didn’t add up to a slow formation, and rather than trying to explain these aberrations a small few geologists instead tried to find an alternative explanation which showed how the traditional indicators of slow formation could be duplicated under extreme conditions.

So it seems to me that perhaps the behavior of players in current MMOs has to be some mix of the mindset of the player and the design of the games they play. I think that summarising a tendency to solo play from today’s MMORPGs isn’t neccessarily indicative of what players actually want.

My favorite moments in an MMORPG are usually group-related; but I spend a lot of time soloing because I hate grouping with idiots. Worse, idiots tend to see grouping as some kind of contract. So two aspects of my nature come into conflict. On the one hand, I want to group with other people, but on the other hand, I want to be able to leave those people easily.

Many MMOs make casual grouping difficult. EQ2 is a bitch for quest updates that are single player. I think the intent is to draw out the completion of the quest – e.g. Lore and Legend books dissapear as soon as one person picks them up. Meaning that you have to try and hold out while everyone picks up a copy with long, pointless gaps inbetween. These gaps are presumably mean’t to draw out the surrounding content. But all it actually does is make the content an irritant and it makes taking a group a penalty rather than a perk.

All too often I see people give up on a quest step because they just don’t want to have to kill this same group of mobs 6 times. EQ2 has enough content now and the rate of exp progression is fast enough that they could dispense with this aggravation and just make ground-spawns either update the group or instant respawn.

This sours the prospect of grouping, in games like EQ1 and EQ2 spectre of greed. Even when you are largely just interested in experience points, uou go into an ad-hoc/pickup group wondering if its going to be worth it. But what is the worth you are looking for? Items and cash, perhaps for a start: will I get anything either useful to me or that I can sell? But also, probably, something that will advance your characters storyline – i.e. quest updates.

There is also the the inevitable demon of debt and the zombie of burden. The group invited you, so helping them with this next mob is somehow your duty. After you’ve killed Fred the Fencer, you have to try and get out of the group before someone can say ‘You wanna help us kill Marge the Maggot 3 zones away’ because you probably don’t have that quest. Or perhaps it’ll be the group that wants rid of you before you confront them with your stupid shopping list of stuff they don’t have.

WoW solves this to a degree with shareable quests, but obviously once you’re a few steps into a quest its a bit different. However – allowing the sharing of fundamental quests goes a long way towards making it less onerous helping someone with a quest step and goes a long way towards making grouping a less daunting task.

I notice that D&DO has been adding solo content. For those who don’t know, Dungeons and Dragons Online originally had no real solo content. Most of the zones are instanced, with a few “communal” zones where groups form and get quests etc. The zones are full of puzzles and unique material which gives them less replay value but makes them a hell of a lot more fun on first play.

I’m not sure how adding solo content is going to work for them, I think that adding r&r content might have been better – like player housing and perhaps housing-related crafting. Putting people into solo content consumption undermines everything that I felt was great about the game where creating a sideline social aspect that is capable of occupying the players’ time would raise the online population and thus make building groups for content consumption that much easier. I’m sure the solo content helps with that to some degree, but it probably draws players away from group content consumption too.

Unarguably there are lonewolves who don’t want to be grouped with people and who simply want to play a game in the presence of other living beings, but I don’t think that’s most people. Maybe its most of today’s hardcore MMORPG players, because maybe that particular audience happens to coincide with the group of computer gamers who want a little more than single player games.

9 Comments

Try Granado Espada (or Sword of the New World in the west). It features Multi-Character Controls so soloing is a breeze (auto-heal, auto-nuke, auto-tank). But since it’s an online game, they attempt to foster a community by giving bonus XPs to parties.

On this side of the planet, I noticed that people play online games precisely for the community and not just for the game (that’s why 2D game Ragnarok Online is still pretty strong here). But it’s annoying because you always get hounded with party requests even during a soloing session.

In games I’ve played on US servers though, I find it difficult to find a party because players are more hardcore in consuming the game content. As fast as they can.

My favorite group was strangers – all of us strangers – on an advanced quest where I was the main tank. We surprised ourselves in killing a major boss (dragon) and then moving on the major quest after major quest. None of us wanted to finish. We each had *accidentally* jelled, and accidentally brought talents that helped the group. And when one died, everyone was suddenly working to save and raise them back from the dead. THAT was what I wanted joint quests to be like. But you can’t make that. Guilds are supposed to provide that – but – you must join and leave a few guilds to find one that works for you. YMMV. It was worth all the other dumb, yelling idiots in one group that spoils it for all.

I recommend questing with anyone who has read Canterbury Tales, and has thereby learned how to be a “guest” in a group of “guests”. Fellow pilgrims, as it were. But that would be rare, wouldn’t it? :)

Is not an obvious enabler of creation of a community in which casual groupings are more likely to be happily synergistic, the explicit inclusion and open communication to customers of design features that reward grouped gameplay *and* make individual gameplay unproductive and unrewarding?

A game community containing a higher percentage of customers who like grouped gameplay and a lower percentage who like lone wolfing, ipso facto, will contain a higher percentage of customers who have the particular set of group-gameplay characteristics and behaviors with which you are particularly compatible in a casual group. Therefore more of your casual groupings will be happily synergistic.

WWIIOL, for instance, awards points for individual capture actions and individual kills, not group actions of any kind. There’s no equivalent of the common sports practice of points for an “assist”. There are no game actions that explicitly require the presence of a group. The game provides an ammo exchange mechanism, but only LMGs need to be recipients, and the ammo provider gets no explicit reward and often no specific benefit for participating. The game provides the same access to command-and-control information i.e. map and other UI tools, whether one is within a proximity limit of one’s mission leader or distant from him. In those game modes that simulate the utilization of vehicles and weapons that in reality require commanded-team operation, multicrewing is dysfunctional in multiple ways and polycrewing doesn’t yet exist. Almost always, two single-crewed weapons/vehicles have more firepower and survivability and are more gameplay-effective than one double-crewed one. There’s no penalty for *being* alone, and no additional penalty for *dying* alone.

I.e., if you want more grouped gameplay, design and market the game to attract customers who like grouped gameplay, and to be less attractive to customers who want to Rambo.

Well, I had a long reply but I forgot my name/email so I lost it. Here’s the short version which is probably for the best.

I see the draw of solo play. It’s nice to have something to do that’s productive for my character if I don’t have much time or can’t find a group, but I think solo play undermines the social aspect of a traditional MMORPG like WoW or EQ2 at least for myself.

I prefer group play. A good group far surpasses the solo experience and shows the best of what MMORPGs have to offer, but a bad group is horrible and can almost make me want to unsubscribe in extreme cases. Thus I find myself choosing the consistent mediocrity of solo play more and more and only grouping with real life friends where I know beforehand what type of group experience I’m going to have.

When I played EQ1 that certainly wasn’t the case, but that was because you had to group to advance with most classes you couldn’t just fallback into the solo content safety net. It’s hard to say if I’d play a game where I had to wait around for long periods and find a group before my “fun” could start anymore though.

Granik – try hitting your “back” button, it works for my machine – everything is still there, just need to fill in the blanks.

JWILLY – excellent point about giving experience points to the rifleman who reloads a LMG, with more points for more rounds being taken, as a way to stop someone just re-re-spawning to reload a full gunner.

As to joint questing, especially in WWIIOL – is it better to “force” a joint action, especially in group capture requirements, where 1 man cannot ‘cap’ a table, but 3 people (or more) in the building will thereby cause the capture.

That goes back to the area of influence to capture places on the map that have been discussed in the past.

Not just influence of numbers in favor of one side within a control radius of a point of value, though, but specifically the presence of at least one integral, in-supply group from that side, and no integral groups from the other side.

How about this: I enjoy solo play, but in a group context. AKA Squads. But my roles are always separate from the immidiate location of the others, I don’t like being around crowds. Crowds have idiots and idiots get you killed.

The forced teamwork functions leveled only on the infantry in WWIIOL were always puzzling to me. As JWilly pointed out, there is nothing to reward cooperative gameplay. Having 1 player command a 5 man tank while forcing an player of infantry to carry LMG ammo he can’t even use for himself is ridiculous.

If teamwork is so rewarding, why don’t people want it ? Cost/Benefit isn’t there, that’s why.

I’ve held off commenting because I think, in a way, WWIIOL is the voice in the desert. Jeff (and in part Jwilly) nailed it.

Our players are social-play enabled, and so they do. Other MMOs don’t have similar social play capability so their player’s dont.

To conclude from this that most MMO players are, what casinos call, seat fillers is to fail to see the flaw in the design.

Please note, that infers that I believe WWIIOL’s lack of group-play rewards to be a flaw or defect.

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