- A great post over at Massively muses on how the introduction of heroes changed how Guild Wars is played. Many people decried how heroes destroyed grouping and turned it into a single player game. The reason I bring it up is because the lessons we learned from Guild Wars highlight a problem in MMOs at large.
- While the argument is that heroes destroyed the community, I believe that heroes just highlighted that the community had already failed. At least, the community that people want to imagine had failed and ArenaNet took steps to fill in the gaps. And they are not the only ones looking to correct the social problems posed by MMOs.
- One of the early aberrations in the MMO field was the notion that people had to play in groups to accomplish anything in the game. The most iconic was EverQuest. People learned how to solo in very specific instances, but that style of play was entirely counter to the design of the game. Nowadays, the most notorious example is Final Fantasy XI that has no solo options, while at the same time actively discouraging informal groups from forming any cohesion.
- The accepted wisdom among developers and players is that people have more fun when they play in groups. So to get people to play together, they designed games that required people to play together, assuming that forced grouping would somehow force them to have fun. Players reacted by forming static groups among real life friends so that they could all play together. And they banded together into guilds so that they would have a social structure that would make it easier to find groups. This obviously worked well for some people. It is these people who you see asking for greater amounts of group content to shore up the social structures that they've built.
- But if these options worked so well, no one would have created the term "pick up group". For many people (people like myself), these games are amazing experience that they want to participate in. They just do not have the ability to easily form or integrate into these social structures. Ad-hoc groups are formed to tackle group content and then broken up when the task is accomplished because otherwise they do not get to experience the game. And everyone hates pick-up groups, so some people would rather not group at all than deal with other random players.
- Forced grouping is a failed concept and developers have been moving away from that paradigm for years now. World of Warcraft was famous for letting anyone reach the level cap whether they group or not. But they also added the Random Dungeon tool to take the friction out of finding a group. Guild Wars launched with henchmen and heroes were just a refinement on the concept. And now Guild Wars 2 will have dynamically scaling events that allow any number of people to participate. Even Champions Online's adventure packs have embraced scaling content.
- I can understand why people who went to all the trouble of forming guilds so that they could play games might be upset as solo options become more prevalent. But that's what it is to most people: trouble. Players just want to play their games. They don't want to spend hours getting ready to have fun. Content scaling promises to let players of all social strata partake. But if MMOs want to get out of the niche they are in, they have to embrace all kinds of players. Forced grouping is an exclusionary practice that will prevent people from playing and enjoying the games that we love.
© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.