The Ongoing Tension Between Solo and Grouping

In which we are reminded that the “group-solo” dynamic in MMORPGs is not settled and likely never will be.

I have been thinking about the solo/grouping dynamic a bit after a couple of previous posts regarding World of Warcraft and EVE Online.

Yesterday the 7.2 patch went live for WoW, and one of the key items in it for a lot of people was the ability to finally finish up the achievements to unlock flying in the expansion.

Now available

The grind to get there seems, to me, to indicate how much the devs would like you not to be able to fly until you’ve walked the whole expansion. (WoWHead has a nice little tool to track your progress towards unlocking flying.)

However, participating in a raid… which at one point was never going to be available via LFR, then was going to be available via LFR at some much later date… is no longer on the list.  The achievements for unlocking flying are available to the dedicated soloist.

Given the situation, where we learned back during Warlords of Draenor that a very vocal subset of the WoW population believes that flying is part of the social contract between them and Blizzard, and where Blizzard seems to have agreed after its own protestations, making it a soloable venture is the right decision.  “You must raid” as a prerequisite for flying is a non-starter, even with something like LFR available.

Then over in New Eden, CCP announced their plans for refineries in EVE Online.  One key aspect of the change involved moon mining.  Rather than being the passive activity it is now where, once the POS is setup and configured all you do is flying out to it once in a while and collect the resulting moon goo, moon mining is going to become an active process where chunks of the moon will be ripped from its surface to float in space where people will need to undock and harvest it.

Moon chunks in spaaaaaaace!

My own reaction to this was to wonder if this new method would be fun for people as an ongoing mechanic or initially fun before turning into yet another aspect of EVE Online that is grindy boring.  But I do not mine moons… or asteroids or anything really any more… so my thoughts on the topic were fairly brief.

Kirith Kodachi though, he saw this as a blow against the null sec empires.  Rather than being able to simply put up towers and collect the proceeds, people were going to have to work to get those essential… essential to tech II production… moon resources.  And that certainly seems to be the case.  Harvesting moon goo is going to be more work.

Enter Neville Smit, whose own follow up post to the CCP announcement takes this thought a step further.  He sees this as yet another squeeze on the solo New Eden entrepreneur.  Who besides the null sec alliances is organized enough to adapt to these new mechanics both effectively and efficiently?  It is the CSM elections all over again, where a large group that had to organize by necessity is thus already poised to take advantage of something where organization is a critical element.

Basically, the rich get richer and Malcanis wins again.  What is a solo capsuleer to do?

Azeroth and New Eden are drastically different places, but they both still end up walking that same path between what can be done solo and what should require a group, organized or otherwise.

World of Warcraft owes a healthy chunk of its success to enabling solo play.  It is one thing to pine for the good old days of EverQuest, but the fact that solo wasn’t a thing put a cap on its popularity.  So WoW has to keep on the path of allowing solo play to be viable to keep subscribers.  They have to play it safe and not do anything crazy like… say… making mobs in WoW Legion scale to your item level rather than just your level so your daily faction grind becomes a chore… and give solo players crutches in the form of dungeon finder to let them dip their toes into grouping without commitment.

EVE Online, on the other hand, does pride itself on being… difficult.  That alone has put a cap on how many subscribers it can ever hope to have.  But it has been reasonably good at not explicitly killing the viability of solo play, at least for specific definitions of “solo.”  Are you still “solo” if you are multi-boxing multiple accounts?  You don’t need half a dozen people to sign your corp charter or need to form a fleet of a given size to attempt content… you’ll likely get blown up if you do, but if you want to try you’re welcome.

And, in that spirit, there is nothing that specifically prohibits a solo player from trying to set up a refinery to moon mine, just like there isn’t anything specifically prohibiting a solo player from trying to take null sec space.  They can have at it all they want, it is just likely to end badly.  And I think it is okay to have content that requires group play.  But I wonder if CCP should be trying harder for solo and smaller group play, especially when it comes to making changes to things that were once viable for those groups.

6 thoughts on “The Ongoing Tension Between Solo and Grouping

  1. SynCaine

    Just like there are people who solo multibox Incursion sites, I’m sure someone will be moon mining solo. In EVE some things are more difficult, but little is impossible solo vs group, which is a pretty key part of the design IMO.

    More about the rest of the stuff in this post in a bit, as I think the general decisions around what is solo and what is group highlights another key reason why EVE in 2017 isn’t suffering the fate of 2017 WoW.

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – I am a fan of EVE, but I am not sure I would claim WoW, which made close to a billion dollars last year and remains the most popular subscription MMORPG, was “suffering” relative to EVE. It takes a few years for internet spaceships to bring in that sort of revenue. Blizzard is still laughing all the way to the bank when it comes to WoW.

    I do think that the ilevel scaling change I mentioned is likely to get rolled back though. It makes things difficult, which doesn’t play well in Azeroth. WoW is what it is.

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  3. Bhagpuss

    I still contend that EverQuest, at the time I began playing in late 1999, was one of the best solo MMORPgs there has ever been. What’s more, it was specifically designed to be soloable as was confirmed repeatedly by Brad McQuaid and others at the time. Thing was, if you wanted to solo you were meant to roll a class intended for solo play and go do content designed to be soloed.

    That’s the approach I like. Any *player* should be able to solo. That doesn’t mean any class should. Nor that all content should be soloable. We’re back to meaningful choices again, I think.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – The problem for me is that interesting choices also have to be informed choices, and EQ back in 1999 wasn’t very forthcoming as to what class should be able to solo and what content should be soloable. Furthermore, despite what Brad has said, the devs pointedly made changes at various times to thwart the ability to solo, such as the druid kiting nerf.

    I will agree that there were some solo paths through the game back then, but the effort to find them was a limiting factor. And pity the poor sap that rolled a ranger back in 1999, a class that was barely worthy of grouping, much less solo. It was a harsh time.

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  5. SynCaine

    WoW and EVE are on different scales of mass appeal, of course. But from a growth/retention % aspect, EVE is in a better spot today than WoW, and I think some of that is due to the fact that EVE holds large groups together better, because it has more/better group content.

    Moon mining going from a solo activity to a group activity is good in the same way that having group content is good for an MMO overall. That was my point.

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