The Group is the Thing

Let’s begin by saying that if you are the type of person who prefers to play MMO games solo or “alone together” then I am not talking to you.  I get it, you like being able to play by yourself and any game that “forces” you to group is a game you won’t play, blah blah blah… understood.  Now, for the people who play games to actually play with other people…

Always on my mind is ways to encourage grouping in games.  Fact is, while I think solo play is perfectly viable and that games should make playing alone possible, I don’t think solo play should be the best method of advancement.  Over at Epic Slant, Ferrel posted about Encouraging Groups and while replying on it I hit upon an idea that I wanted to expand on…

First, you have to consider the question “Why group?”  In most games these days there are only two reasons to group up with other players: 1) Social aspects, 2) Defeat non-solo content.  Especially in games following the WoW model, solo play is so easy that even some content designed to be non-solo can be done solo if you are willing to out-level it.  But there is raid content and group instances, specifically at the level cap where you can’t just out-level it.  And with the social aspects, well, back in EQ with auto-attack and slow cast times there was time to chat, but in newer games they wanted play to be more “active” and now you spend combat hitting buttons a lot and it make chatting in text difficult.  But games are coming along with voice chat, and people have solved that problem outside games for a while now with things like Ventrilo, however sometimes (like if you game while the baby is sleeping, or just late at night) voice chat just isn’t a good option, and besides, no matter how many people try to tell you different, deep barritone voices coming from dainty female characters is just something you never fully get used to.

Next, you have to ask the opposite question, “Why avoid groups?”  In World of Warcraft soloing up to the level cap is actually far easier than grouping because a) as long as you are not an idiot, you don’t have to deal with idiots, b) no loot splitting, c) no experience splitting, and d) you can always do exactly what you want.  They’ve made solo play so easy that it puts the group experience bonuses to shame.

So, in the end we have two reasons to group, and about a half dozen reasons not to.  Of course, my first thought is usually just to up the group experience bonus and make people want to group for faster leveling, but given a long enough period of discussion I will always talk myself out of it because speeding up the game, in my opinion, isn’t a good thing.  (People should want to play your entire game at the speed that allows them to enjoy it, not skip past a giant chunk of it to get to “the real game”.)  And then I’m off trying to find other ways to make people desire to group…

What about a game where items not only have bonuses for you, but also for your group?  To rephrase the example I put on Epic Slant: Instead of a game giving out a chest piece that provides a 20% defense bonus to the player wearing it, the game would have a chest piece that provides a 4% defense bonus to the group (player included) and stacks (so if 5 people have the same chest, the entire group now has 20% defense bonus), or a chest piece that provides a 10% defense bonus for the group and stacks but only to a max of two (so if 3 people in the group have the same chest piece, 1 of them can swap his out for one that gives a different group bonus).

I can already hear the solo players griping about how since they don’t group they are handicapped with a chest that only gives a 4% or 10% bonus and not the 20% that grouping players get.  But, as long as the game is still playable solo with the base item stats, then frankly I would be perfectly comfortable telling them to go play World of Warcraft or some other game that better supports solo play as the primary style of play.

So, what do you think?  Good idea?  Bad idea?  What other ideas do you have that would encourage people to want to group?  Just keep in mind, I’m not talking about demanding an existing game make changes, but looking at how to design a new game that would encourage group play…

One comment

  1. Garumoo says:

    I really like your idea of gear with group benefit bonuses. So instead of “group so you can get more of the same loot”, it’s now “group so you get more or extra benefits from the loot you already have”. This is providing a better group play environment, vs simply giving greater rewards for having played as a group.

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