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Soloing vs Grouping

My 1st MMO was SWG back in 2003.  I was married with 3 kids, working full time, and going to school full time also, so my time was pretty limited, and generally pretty late at night.  Opportunities for grouping were semi-rare, in spite of being in a “player association” with a lot of co-workers and their significant others.  They were usually in bed by the time I got home from school, after all, and if I played for an hour in an evening before going to bed, that was a lot.  As a result, I became quite familiar with “the solo game” and frankly, it bored me.  Some IRL changes happened and I became able to play during “prime time” and group up a lot more and I found the game to be ever so much more fun then.  And yet, when I was grinding xp for new skill boxes, I was nearly always doing that solo.

I eventually moved on to EQ2.  When the game 1st came out, you needed to group a lot because it was designed along that model.  Soloing was possible, but it was also a PITA and there was quite a lot of content you simply *had* to group for.  Over time, this changed and now the game is largely “solo outdoors, group indoors.”  And in thinking back on it, I think that while my attitude has gone through various revisions and changes, it can be summed up overall as “I like to level solo, but I like to *play* in groups.”  Part of that is, I think, that EQ2 is largely structured with a lot of quests designed to get you leveled up, but then once you are leveled up you want gear, not xp, and gear is found in group instances, not doing quests.  But I also think that part of it is that once you are leveled up and “equal” with other people playing that grouping “feels” more viable, especially if everyone’s working to “gear up” and improve and doing their best.

I find this to hold true in EVE also.  Sure, I can fly battleships and do level 4 missions for 3 of the 4 empires now, and I was and am happy to have “leveled that up” by myself.  But the best times I’ve had in EVE have been on “corp night” when we’d get a frigate swarm together and go rampaging through lowsec space, exploring, finding POS’s, scaring the locals, clearing rats out of asteroid belts since the locals fled once we showed in the local comm channel…. We never saw another player in that time, but we had a blast regardless.

And now I find myself playing DDO more and more.  I’ve played it off and on since it went F2P, but never really got past level 3 on most characters.  It doesn’t have a clear progression in-game, though I’m sure if I just went and looked it up I could find it easily enough, and so with not really knowing or caring where to go, I just never went anywhere.   But then a blogger indicated interest in making a “static group” and playing once a week and so I joined that group/guild and it’s been a blast.  Not only that, but since getting my character in to the mid-levels and am getting invited to groups and dungeons I’ve never been to before since I’m a “support class” that is needed in most of these groups.  I’m actually starting to outlevel the guild group and need to cut back on that a bit . . . .   But still… I’m having a blast in a group, while solo is still kinda meh to me.

Thing about all these games is that on their forums, the desire to solo from start to finish (finish being self-defined in EVE, of course) is an oft-expressed, probably most-expressed, desire.  And I’m right there with them — I *want* to be able to solo the whole game if I choose.  This doesn’t make any sense to me, though.  I know from my experience that I vastly prefer to be in a group rather than solo, so why would I have the deisre to have solo content available at all levels?  Why the insistence on “playing alone together?”

Perhaps it’s the IRL thing stepping in — MMO’s don’t have a pause button after all, and if I need to go AFK, I don’t want other people to have to wait on me.  If I’m solo, I can step away, even if it means a death, and no one is affected but me.  In my case, I’d have to say that’s most of it, really.  That’s why I’m on the blog right now rather than playing anything — it’s my night with the baby and she’s till semi-unpredictable as to how long she’ll be asleep for, so I don’t feel like I can commit to a group since I might be called away at any moment.  But if I were playing solo, then if I had to go feed a baby, it wouldn’t be a problem at all — I’d just go do it.

Any thoughts from any of you as to other reasons why you’d want to be able to solo at any time no matter what?

Science Fiction. Largely Unexplored?

Science Fiction is quite possible one of my favorite genres of games.  Don’t get me wrong, I love casting a large fireball or wielding a giant sword as much as the next elf. The industry seems to be flooded with the magical environments of fantasy though.  This isn’t bad, but it is making the sci-fi guy in me really crave a nice blaster, droid, and spaceship system.

I never played Star Wars Galaxies.  By the time I decided that pay to play systems were not the devil, SWG had already hit its peak and, according to the masses, been destroyed by Sony.  I also missed out on the era of Anarchy Online.  Once it went free to play, I tried it out for about five minutes.  I then had to go flush my eyes with water in hopes to alleviate the pain caused by the jagged polygon graphics.  EVE online is probably the best sci-fi based game I have played to date.  Although once I finished the tutorial and the industry quest line, I became lost in the vast area of space and large skill training times.

I’m curious why sci-fi has had such a hard time making a break out into the MMO industry.  What is it about the genre that causes most game developers to aim towards making a fantasy game rather than something in the far reaches of space? Is it the enormity of universe rather than just making one world? Or maybe its a class balanced system that forces them to rethink the Caster, Warrior, Rogue norm.    Sure we have titles like Star Trek Online and Global Agenda.  Global Agenda feels more like an expansive fps to me than an MMO.  STO is… well lets just say I’ve never really cared for Star Trek because I myself prefer the Star Wars universe.  (Its the phasers.  I cant stand beam oriented weapons even if they are scientifically more realistic).

Where are the games that allow us to explore far off solar systems, engage in combat (space ship and ground forces alike) and craft the very vessels we leave a planet with?  Has no one thought of the idea of having space to explore but the need to build your ship in order to see the content?  Perhaps players are just not willing to work for such experiences.  I for one would love to start out on a planet working months to create a vessel that allowed me to visit space and neighboring worlds.  The reward would be better than a surprise peach cobbler after a fantastic steak dinner. MMmm cobbler.

Maybe game companies see the dollar value of the fantasy genre and feel that it is a safer investment than sci-fi.  I think if a company put in the time to create an MMO that had you playing a character rather than just a ship, they could tap a seriously saturated fantasy market by providing  something the MMO world is desperately lacking.  There may be options out there that I have just not seen.  STO seems to have a mix of ground content with space content, but the story is set in a world that has a particular fan base and all the connotations (good or bad) that come with it.

Why do companies make great single player sci-fi games on a regular basis, but can’t seem to get it right or create something new for MMOs?  I’m befuddled by it.  Sci-Fi can be just as imaginative as any fantasy game.

Just give me one sci-fi game that creates an experience that isn’t pigeon holed into one element of the genre.  I don’t want to just fly in space.  I want to land and take on new worlds with groups of explorers.  I want to be able to colonize a space station or make a new space port on a distant planet.  Perhaps my desires are too specific and too large to realistically create.

What elements do you want to see in a Sci-fi MMO?  Why do you think this side of the industry is largely ignored by companies?  Id love to hear your thoughts on what would make you rethink playing an orc and wielding a staff.  Frankly for me, none of the games advertising this so far have come close to creating a world that has made me consider retiring from a life of fantasy.  How about you?

PS: Thanks again to Stargrace for letting me contribute to The Nomadic Gamer.  I look forward to sharing some of my thoughts and experiences with you all.

And as always,

Thanks for reading.