Kevin over at "The Server is Down" recently started a discussion on the grouping versus solo-ing dynamics in these addictions we're so fond of. He ponders where is the line between too much grouping and too much solo-ing?
Here's what I had to say, as it quickly became an essay. The topic was weighted with the soloability of WoW being an issue for people when they had to start grouping at 70 or re-roll. Anyway, here's my spiel.
WoW was designed with the mindset that at any time a player should be able to progress either solo or in groups. Never needing to feel like they can’t progress while solo, is one of the reasons the game has remained so strong. People with no desire to group, or no patience, or simply no time, can still play and feel part of a world.
I do not think, it will ever be good for a game to go back to the idea of forced grouping (I know that’s now what you’re getting at here, but humor me). Instead, we’re seeing right now a big emphasis on solo-ing which is great… but it’s coming at the cost of grouping because in almost every MMO that allows solo-ing, it’s far more efficient to solo your way through the levels than to group.
The answer? Grouping Incentives. Like Damiano said, give people MORE xp for grouping. Give them bonuses of all different kinds for grouping. Give them titles for joining a certain number of groups, or completing a certain number of quests while grouped.
Also, away from grouping incentives, free up those chains somehow. Too many quests in today’s quest driven MMOs are chained. You do 3 quests, and want help on the 4th, but your friend needs to do the 1st 3 before he can get credit for the 4th, so you’re left to help him catch up 1st. Or worse, you don’t have a friend on, and finding someone to help you get a quest done becomes harder because there are so many different steps to a chain.
I’m not saying let people skip content by jumping in on a chain, but maybe create a “partial share” system, where the player on quest 4 could share the quest with someone’s who already done it, or someone a quest or two behind and that person would then receive partial XP (50%?) when player 1 finishes the quest as long as the two are still grouped.
I’m certain that’s not not about balancing the amounts of group content compared to solo-content. It’s about balancing the incentives for doing either. As a game designer, were someone to allow me to be one, I would never want to limit my players’ ability to accomplish the tasks I set before them. I would always want them to be able to do what they wish, even if I had to work harder at designing a way how. Yes, I’m talking even letting them raid onyxia or take part in epic boss fights without having to be in that uber guild.
Think WAR’s Public Quests and you have an idea where I’m headed. You should never limit your players’ ability to PLAY. Plain and simple. Doing so is just plain bad design. It shows your lack of ability to think of ways to entertain people. Instead, the focus should be on getting everyone involved in EVERYTHING. You as a designer should cater to your players, not the other way around.