What drives a person to want to solo on a game that is designed to be massively multiplayer? Given that I’m one of those freaks, I have a few thoughts on the matter. As game developers heed our cry for solo content, much to the chagrin of group-oriented players, we are showing up online in masses. I know many people must wonder why don’t we just play a solo game or go sit in front console. I played solo PC and console games. Back in the day, I had fun playing Myst II and III, Fable, Halo 2, Harvest Moon and The Sims. That was until I experienced my first MMO. Now there’s no turning back.
For me, playing a single player game just doesn’t cut it anymore. I enjoy knowing that there is life other than me and my avatar in the virtual universe that I inhabit. I like the social interactions and opportunity to group with others when I have the time and inclination. I want to be part of something greater than myself but retain a strong sense of independence, self reliance and self determination. I don’t want these things at the expense of others – group players and their needs. However, if I can’t solo a good bit of the content for each level, I’m not playing – hence not buying. And whether you like it or not, companies like Blizzard, Sony, Turbine, etc. want my money too.
I grouped more in Asheron’s Call 2 where finding a group and completing most quests/dungeons was a fairly quick endeavor. AC2 provided shallower content which necessitated the need for more content, which they in turn couldn’t really deliver fast enough. Players got bored and left the game. But that’s a different topic. What shallower content *does* provide, is support for shorter playing sessions more suited to casual gamers. On AC2 I could log in for a couple of hours and still do most vaults (instances and dungeons). There were some serious XP generating quests and dungeons that you could knock out in 30 minutes! How's that for casual?? Mob grinding groups were easy-as-pie to find after level 25 or so. There were zones where people would line up to grab the next available spot in a mob grinding group. Show up, put your name in the queue and go grab a bite to eat or do something else until your turn came around.
The double-edged sword of shallow content is that it necessitates new content be introduced more frequently. If it can't be then hardcore players are are forced to do more of the same-ole-same with higher frequency. When hardcore players get bored they leave a game and when they go, so does the survivability of said game - hence the demise of AC2. On the other hand, most games aren't just labors of love. Profits are required, which generally goes hand-in-hand with popularity and a broader player-base, which is fed by attracting casual players. This is where WOW has bridged the gap.
In general, World of Warcraft instances are considerably more complicated. Many require 10+ players of certain class combinations who know what they are doing. Then there are the end-game instances, call raids, that need 20 or 40 people, a predefined strategy and extensive knowledge of the instance. Hmm, that doesn't sound like something that can be done very quickly does it?
My general rule of thumb is that if I don’t have a solid 4 hours to play, don’t even think about doing a group quest or instance on WOW. Just organizing a group may take and hour or more, let alone completing all of the objectives. So what do you do when you don’t have 4 hours to play? You solo or you do player-vs.-player (PVP) combat. If you’re not into PVP then you must solo – hence the need for solo content if a publisher wants casual players. And you know they want casual players because our money is just as good as anyone else’s.
The second reason I find myself soloing is to relieve stress. Trying to get strangers to work as one can be stressful. Can you imagine when it’s 20 and 40? Even guilds have drama in large groups. I’m not always up for the stress of performing under pressure – doing exactly what is expected of me at the precise moment required. Hell, I get enough of that at work. It’s much more relaxing to go somewhere and bash monsters in my own fashion and at my own pace. If I die, I die. No one else is affected or penalized. I want something to drink I stop. I get hungry I eat. If the phone rings and I want to stop playing and talk, I do so. My game, my way, is often much more relaxing than group conformity.
Lastly, I’m just moody. I need my space and demand that I can have that space in a virtual universe. If I can’t have my needs met in fantasy what the hell is the point? There are nights when I run my mouth in chat all night long and crack jokes on voice chat. Other times I say hello when I log in and not another word for the rest of the evening. No voice chat and not even watching the chat windows; I’m lost in my own thoughts, hacking my way through content or farming. It’s blissfully quiet and I find that relaxing. But I know that if I *want* to talk, thousands of other players are right there – mere keystrokes away.
So why do I feel the need to solo in MMOs? Time, personal style and inclination – these are the reasons that I require solo content. Not so strange is it? Aren’t these some of the very same reasons that affect how most people approach anything that they do? Why would it be any different in an online game?