Mechanic #027 - Solo - Duo - Group|
Parallel advancement for MMORPGs that allows different playing styles to advance independently.
This is a slight departure from the other entries. This has a philosophical mechanic - the idea that a player can advance in solo, duo, and grouping separately but simultaneously. It's not a difficult to understand mechanic, but given the mindset of some players out there, it does require that the philosophy behind it be explained, and even preemptively defended. Don't worry. I'll return to the fun stuff for the next entry.
I like MMORPGs. I love sandboxes, and I love how MMORPGs seem to constantly grow and change. But I have problems with MMORPGs. As someone who doesn't like to play games with strangers, I am frequently made to feel like a second class citizen. I solo and on some occasions, I duo with my wife. With few exceptions, these two play styles are not capable of fending for themselves. A large part of each MMORPG is locked away, and we're told that if we want to see it, we have to group.
The problem is simple. With a hundred thousand players, how do you make everybody happy? If you balance the game towards solo players, then the people who group will find the content far too easy. If you balance towards grouping, then the solo players are thrust up against a brick wall and cannot find enjoyment in the game.
The current wisdom is that you target group players. For some reason, MMORPG designers think the majority of players are grouper (contrary to actual statistics). Perhaps they, themselves, are groupers, and that's all they understand. Whatever the reason, the outcome remains the same. For the most part, the solo player is out of luck. To add insult to injury, they even give groups bonus experience points for grouping - so a group of six guys killing the same enemy as a single person will get more experience.
Even games with a large amount of solo content, like World of Warcraft, eventually starts skewing to groups. About the time you reach level 40, a majority of the quests and tasks involve elite zones and instance dungeons. Once you reach the level cap, you'd better enjoy raiding (but raiding is a different evil for a different time). It seems that no matter what the MMORPG, in the end, you've got to engage in grouping to progress.
My solution to all this is to provide alternative advancement depending on the type of group you are currently a part of. It's similar to a class system, except rather than skewing towards tanking or healing, the system skews towards solo or group. I'm going to take it a bit further than that and allow the player to change between these groups as much as they'd like. But first, an overview.
At the most basic level, each player has three (or more) advancement trees. One for solo, one for duo, and one for grouping. There could be additional trees for PvP or raiding, but I'll keep it simple. Depending on whether you are in a group or not, one of the trees will become active. So, if you are playing alone, all your skills come from the SOLO tree, while if you are grouping, if comes from the GROUP tree.
To improve matters, equipment may also come in those flavors. You may have a considerably more powerful sword while solo, but when grouping, you'll have something that generates a lot more threat.
By balancing skills and equipment towards certain means, a solo player can be equal in power and ability to a full group. The solo player could play through an instance dungeon. Thus, you don't need multiple type of content - just multiple types of abilities.
The fundamental problem to something like this is how to switch one's abilities and equipment when changing the size of the group. For instance, if you are out in the wild and meet another player, you could invite him to your group. Suddenly, you aren't solo anymore. Or if you are in a full group, and several of the players leave after finishing a dungeon, you may find yourself solo again.
My solution is to simply make grouping something that can only be changed at a central location, like an Inn. There you can store pre-built sets of equipment and abilities which will simply get equipped based on your grouping needs. I considered allowing multiple sets to be changed while in the wild, but I figured that under this system it would be too easily exploited to allow groups to become a bunch of really powerful solo fighters. With the group changes only happening at Inns (or possibly even camps), you can be sure that the players are not in the middle of content when the change happens.
So, what separates each of these play styles? Grouping is how MMORPGs are typically done now. There are specific roles needed, like healer, tank, nuker, crowd control, and so on. Each role tends to be narrowly focused, but also tend to include abilities that help the other members do their jobs. For instance, a nuker may have an ability that reduces hate so the tank can keep aggro.
This system would be unchanged under this parallel progression system. Each character class (like fighter, priest, necromancer, etc) would fall into one of the pre-ordained grouping archtypes. The skills in their tree will be focused as they are currently focused.
The solo player, on the other hand, needs a much more robust set of abilities. He needs to be a tank, healer, nuker, and do his own crowd control. As such, he needs these abilities to be built in.
Looking at a fighter as an example, his group role is that of a tank. He needs to soak up damage and hold aggro. Solo, that aggro part isn't as important as doing damage. As such, he may gain more abilities to do damage or hit multiple units. Maybe he'll gain ranged attacks, like throwing axes. Perhaps he'll gain self-heals and buffs that improve his solo performance. He becomes a hybrid class, capable of taking on a group of enemies with the same force and success as a group. Non-fighters will likely require the use of pets to become their tanks and damage dealers.
A duo situation is similar to going solo, but the relative power is reduced (since there are now two instead of one) and there is a lot more skills that affect your partner. Perhaps, in a MMORPG first, there could be Partner skills that give duo players an edge. The duo player's role will, like in a group, be dependent on the class's role. So creating a decent duo will involve finding the right combination of two classes. The duo is a compromise - utilizing smaller versions of team building and coordination, perhaps at a more intimate level (most people who duo know each other), but also more varied and beefed up than their grouping version.
The first question comes to mind that if a leveled up solo character is just as powerful as a leveled up group character, then why would you ever solo? Well, because you'd want to. It would be entirely dependent on preference rather than some arbitrary balance towards a specific playstyle. If you want to group, group. If you don't, then don't. Heck, if you want to do all three, go for it. It's all up to you.
When Guild Wars added henchmen and heroes to replace group members, a lot of players complained that it made grouping more difficult. I argue that the reason for this is because once the option was presented, people picked the one they liked best. Grouping became more difficult because there were less people who felt forced to group. If your play style requires other people to be forced to hang out with you, then I argue that your play style is unrealistic, not that the players are.
I think there are more than enough people who prefer to group as it is. I don't think introducing separate advancement paths for solo and duo players will do much to deter people who like to group. Simply put, grouping leads to better grouping abilities and soloing leads to better soloing abilities. If relative individual power is all that matters to a particular player, then it's probably best that we keep him away from the other players anyway.