Together Alone, Alone Together

Over at the nerfbat, Ryan adds another lesson, this one about Solo Content not being a bad thing.

He is right, in his way. Solo content isn’t bad, and personally I think that every game should have solo content. But to what degree?

One of the major issues you will run into here is that solo content will actually affect your entire game design and reverberate through your community. Take World of Warcraft as the 800 lb. example. Pre-Burning Crusade, soloing to level 60 was easy. Anyone could do it given enough time at the willingness to do so, with any class. But, if you only played solo content, you were viably limited to solo and small group content. Even if you did instances now and then, or even were hardcore at the five man instances, when it came to open PvP or the battlegrounds you were completely outclassed by raiders. The gear obtained from raids was head and shoulders above the rest of the gear in the game, to the point that raiders could have nearly double the hitpoints, resistances and damage output. Unless you were a perfect assassin type circle strafing PvPer, you almost could not win. Most games on the market are like this because of the weight that items carry, they are item-centric designs.

Post-Burning Crusade, it got better… the “crap drops” from “trash mobs” and easy quests were nearly equivalent to raid gear from the Pre-BC era. Of course, as people explore the raids of BC, the disparity is re-emerging because the game is designed for raiders to get better rewards than anyone else.

Of course, you could try to solve this problem by giving soloers and raiders the same gear rewards… but then your raiders would complain, or they simply wouldn’t bother with raiding since the organization and trials of doing so earn them nothing better than they could get in a group on a lazy Saturday afternoon. As a non-raider myself, I would not mind this in the least, but there are people who would.

The flaw here is in attempting to cater to many play styles AND have those play styles interact. Each style is rewarded differently, and those differences become glaringly aparent when the styles clash.

The solution? Smaller, more focused games… or move away from item-centered designs. I really think that the Xbox 360 is on to something with its achievement system. Games need kill sheets, titles and trinkets. Adornment to show that you’ve done raid X or killed monster Y or cleansed the world of Z hundred creatures or completed quest chain A or defeated W other players in combat. We need more rewards that don’t affect game balance, things that show what you’ve done without making you capably better than players who haven’t.

4 comments

  1. Kevin says:

    Achievements are addicting.

    Just do me a favor. When you get your XBox 360, don’t become one of those guys who only plays games because you can rack of 1000 points in an hour. Gamerscore whores suck.

  2. Jason says:

    Heh… no, I plan to play games that I enjoy, get achievements as I find them and seek them out only if I love the game.

    My brother was telling me about some twit on the xbox forums who gloats that he has over 40,000 points or something, but its because he’s played just about every game in existence and racked up the easy points.

  3. I would argue that in WoW, items are significantly more important (read: imbalancing) than they are in most games. I honestly can’t think of one with as much disparity as exists in WoW when you consider a full out raid-geared-up vs. a solo-geared-up player.

    Additionally, I don’t think you CAN’T reward players as much for soloing as you can for raiding as long as that player overcomes an equal challenge. The traditional line of thought when you consider “solo” content translates to “easy” content. What’s to stop us from creating content that’s just as difficult to solo as something is to overcome with a 24+ man raid?

    Given, there isn’t a 1 to 1 comparison, since working together with so many people can be a logistical nightmare compared to soloing, but we could probably find a way.

  4. Jason says:

    I actually think items are unbalancing in many games, but its hard to tell because most games have very little PvP, so there is little direct comparison. Even back in games like the first EQ, take a Time geared raider versus a crafted/dropable/soloable gear wearing player, the gap between them was staggering… they just never fought on any but the 3 (?) Zek servers, so it was only apparent when the worse geared player trying to raid with the big boys and contributed far less.

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