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.