A few days ago, Massively posted an article on why solo players aren’t necessarily playing a single-player game when they play their favorite MMO. Overall, I agreed with the article, but I wanted to take it a step further and discuss good MMO soloing versus bad MMO soloing.
Solo, instanced storylines are bad soloing. I get it, I really do. You are a developer/aspiring writer and you want to tell some sort of story. That’s fine, but when you have a MMO, the amount of protagonists raises to infinity, which really puts a damper on that “destined hero saves world from ancient evil” theme you were inventing. Therefore, you want to add instancing and a lot of it. It should be solo friendly because you can’t expect anyone wanting to be the Robin in this Batman story.
And that, my friend, is a dumb idea. Solo instancing separates individuals from the rest of the game, and locks them away in antisocial bubbles. All of that world building you thought you were doing with those amazing characters you wrote is lost as soon as the player realizes that those same amazing characters spend all day standing in one spot. They don’t even take a piss or eat. Try explaining that in your story without being contrived.
In fact, try making solo, instanced storylines not feel contrived. You won’t be able to, I promise. You’ll separate them off from the “real” world with fancy colored smoke doors. Or you’ll wander into the next storyline jump off point and spy a room of twenty sort-of-samey heroes looking just like yourself – all with camera reels over their heads since they are getting the next hit of your “literary” drip feed. God save us from the tyranny of your writing whims, and the infinite prison of instances and overdramatic cutscenes it will trap us in.
Good soloing is different. It doesn’t feel artificial, it isn’t forced. It doesn’t even have to be something you cater to, such as a one-man dungeon. Good soloing simply involves a well-designed player that funnels everyone to specific areas, where grouping is not required and soloing is not hindered. Essentially, Guild Wars 2.
I get it. You don’t want to deal with people today, or you have to pick up your kid from piano practice in an hour and a half. MMOs are an escape, they shouldn’t force you to always need five other people to function. However, I hope you agree that they are inherently social games and you should never be allowed to go it 100% alone. That isn’t to say that you need to group all the time, but I don’t believe you should ever be allowed your own personal corner of the world.
Good gameplay and good game design do a damn good job of getting you to play with others organically. They allow you to go it solo, but not do it single-player style. MMOs are about getting your ass surrounded by goblins and then having it saved because some Stranger also happens to need goblin testicles for a very, very strange gnome scientist. Not advertising “LFG Goblin Balls” for an hour before some guy invites you to a group he’s just going to afk in.