Solo content is an old argument. Should a massively multiplayer online game should bother catering to the solo player?
I thought that the argument had been settled some time back, but then games like Dungeons and Dragons Online release without any solo content and you wonder if anybody has been paying attention. (Turbine added solo content later, but probably after it was too late to make the game a success.)
So I was glad to see a couple of people pipe in on the subject of solo content lately.
A little over a week back EverQuest II Executive Producer Scott Hartsman was quoted in an interview on WarCry on the topic of solo content. “Primarily, there needs to be something to do when you?re all by yourself,” he explained.
Last week over on Nerfbat, MMO Development Lesson #12 was that solo content has to be an integral and fulfilling part of any MMO.
As somebody whose in-game time is 80% solo, I agree heartily. I want to have something to do in-game when my friends are not available. Being able to solo is one of the things that keeps me playing a game. Not being able to solo, at least not without great difficulty, was one of the reasons I stopped playing EverQuest.
But there is another aspect to having solo content, something beyond giving you something to do when your friends are not around.
I find that playing solo is really how I get to know a game. Being able to run off the main path and explore, seeing what is beyond a random hill, interacting with a variety of NPCs, crafting, and experimenting with your characters skills and abilities are just some of the activities that lend themselves to time alone. These are things you want to do at your own pace. These are also things that bring you closer to a game, that help you become familiar with the world.
For me to really get into a game, I have to be able to spend a lot of time just poking my nose into things and figuring things out.
Not that I am down on grouping in any way. I wish I could find more time to group up and play with my friends. But a group tends to be mission oriented. You have limited time together and you want to get things done that you might not be able to manage solo. That does not lend itself to voyages of exploration.
When I am grouped up, I want to do things with the group. Sometimes that can be exploration and learning, but it has a different feel to it. In the end I hate wasting a group’s time to indulge my own curiosity.
But if a game gives me the ability and provides me the opportunity to solo I am much more likely to feel a part of the game and end up playing (and paying for) that game for a long time.