The Era of the Solo MMORPGer

dt_2_finch“Hey buddy,” the harsh voice calls from across the forum.  “If you’re just going to solo in a MMO, why are you playing these games in the first place?”

That right there is the voice of the old school, the folks who were either weened on grouping in elder MMOs or who see the increasing solo-ability of MMOs an affront to their utter Hardcore Nature ™.  We’ve heard it a lot.  We continue to hear it.  Yet it’s becoming an obsolete attack.

Ever since World of Warcraft — and even before, to a degree — gamers who desired to level by playing completely solo have been catered to in a way that this genre hadn’t experienced. Many classes in MMOs these days are even designed to be more “solo-friendly”, such as pet classes and self-healing classes.  Despite the conventional wisdom back five or six years ago, that grouping was THE reason and way to play a MMO, by opening up to more casual, solo players, the field has exploded.

Here’s the thing a lot of people miss when it comes to this argument: just because you prefer to solo doesn’t mean that you want to be alone.  These aren’t exclusive needs, especially in a MMO.  And as we’ve been discovering in online games, there are many mentalities and mindsets when it comes to how people play the game (and there is no one “right” way to do it).

Reasons for Wanting to Solo in a MMO:

  • Complete convenience of time — you’re never waiting on anyone else, you set your agenda, and you have complete flexibility as to your journey
  • Grouping just is not for you — raiding, instances, dungeons, group quests… for whatever reasons, it’s just not an enjoyable way to play the game, and you see grouping as a choice, not a mandatory duty
  • You’re unable to commit to a group due to real life constraints — limited time to play, family needs, etc.
  • Gamers, especially in MMOs, are aging, and due to that we’re not as prone to put up with unfriendly, rigid MMO structures; instead, we want more flexibility and choice.

Reasons Why Soloers Prefer to Play MMOs Even So:

  • You desire social connection, just not in grouping — soloers are often seen in guilds because they do love talking with folks and feeling as if they’re not adventuring in a vacuum.  Or even seeing general chat scroll by as you’re down in a murky cave.
  • You like the metagame competition — knowing that there are other players out there leveling against you, competing in the auction house, setting standards that you want to try to reach and exceed.
  • You appreciate the support network that other players can provide.
  • Unlike single player games, online games have a longer shelf life, are given more expansion treatments, and allow you to grow and maintain a persistent character.
  • MMOs offer far more bang for your buck in terms of Time Played to Money Spent than most forms of entertainment, including single player titles.
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38 thoughts on “The Era of the Solo MMORPGer

  1. I work shifts so sometimes I play in off hours. Thankfully games allow you the solo level or people like me would be screwed.

  2. Great post… I enjoy grouping, but often I’m off soloing somewhere. Exploring… crafting… whatever. Most of my T4 levelling was solo and it was quite enjoyable.

    I’d rather solo than be stuck in an ugly PuG in WoW. Why is it that WoW is so prone to such awefull PuG experiences?

  3. If you were running a guild, would you want perpetual soloers as members? What do you think a soloer has to offer a guild? Aside from one more person to spam the guild chat.

  4. I enjoy playing solo, but i’m usually still on voice coms talking to my fellow guild members. So its solo, but because of my responsibilities i can just get up when i need to and come back to the computer in a few minutes.

  5. Hear hear.

    “Multiplayer” doesn’t mean “joined at the hip onscreen with 5 other players” — it means “playing with lots of other people in the game at the same time,” whether you’re grouped with them or not. Solo /= antisocial, despite what the hardcore groupers seem to believe. I’ve been arguing that one for years.

  6. It’s the lack of solo content (in addition to the enormous time investment needed) in Darkfall that finally pushed me away from it.

    Hell, one time I was grouped with two friends and we couldn’t find any monster spawns within an hour’s ride besides goblins (and kobolds, which drop even worse loot) that we could kill reasonably.

    Sometimes there’s just not many people playing. On those days, there had better be something for me to do that isn’t mindless harvesting, otherwise a game’s going to lose my subscription, and many others’ too.

  7. I just don’t like to pug, and would thus be seen as a solo player by some. I turn down group requests frequently. A game needs to have a strong solo component to keep me playing. However, I am happy to run with guildies, in instances, raids, pvp, group quests, whatever. I also love chatting in vent and gchat. I’m ultimately a social gamer, but when I start a new game, the challenge for me is to go out of my comfort zone to find a guild.

    I was a solo player in WoW for the first year, before I found a guild. My characters are still in that same guild three years later.

    There’s inherent accountability in a guild. If a guildie acts like a jerk, there are consequences. Guildies know I’m a mom, and are more forgiving when that impacts my game play. So unless I can find a good guild, or a game has a compelling solo game, I just won’t keep playing it.

  8. I love Spinks’ comment. Its as though he’s saying “If so and so isn’t helping ME get what I want from then what good are they to the guild?”

    WoW seems especially prone to this mentality, and the proliferation of “Raiding guilds”. When the guild fails to progress fast enough, it collapses. Certainly no room for anyone to enjoy (even occaisional) solo content in that kind of environment.

    There are lots of people who do BOTH group and solo activities, and they contribute more than just “Spam guild chat”.

  9. I’m a dedicated solo’er who usually has a forum-based guild to turn to for group quests and things like that, but I’m starting to do more small group gaming just because I’m finding it a bit more fun to share the experience.

  10. It’s fair enough that solo-ability is becoming the norm in this genre. However, if this is the case, should classes that excel at finishing things by themselves be gimped in group play because of this? Current MMOs tend to think the answer to that is yes. Look the early Paladin and Hunter in WoW, the Shadowknight/Paladin in EQ2, and a plethora of other professions out there in the MMOverse. If the paradigm of how these games are played is changing, so does the conventional wisdom of how design goes for the game itself. No longer can it be said, “Well class X levels more easily, so they need to preform on a lower level later on.” because all classes tend to level with relative simplicity in the majority of MMOs released in today’s market.

  11. Excellent post, Syp. I couldn’t have expressed it better myself. I solo because I don’t like the hassle of groups. But I do like adventuring in an active world and the option to group if I get the urge.

    Heck, it’s the same way in real life. I spend most of my time soloing (or duoing with the wife) and only interact directly with people when forced to by circumstance. I don’t seek those interactions out.

  12. I solo quite a bit in most MMO’s I play for quite a few of the reasons you listed. I would add one more thing though: the lore/setting/IP. If there was a good single player RPG set in Middle-Earth, then maybe I wouldn’t play LoTRO as much as I do, same for the upcoming Star Wars and Star Trek games. Modern Massive Online games are nice because you have the option to play Multi- or Single-player.

  13. Vesta: Any time. But it’s a real design issue. If soloers want to be in guilds, do guilds also want soloers? Bear in mind that for most people, they join guilds because they want a community and they don’t want to have to PUG for group content. A soloer can’t help with that.

    I’m not talking about people who both group and solo — that’s true for practically everyone.

    But soloers do kind of leech off the community, they don’t really give anything back. They don’t support organised events, they don’t do anything with other people. Why would a guild want someone like that? And no snark please, it’s a genuine question.

  14. @Spinks: Hmm… I think I understand what you’re saying, but I suspect your definition of “soloer” is narrower than the one that most of the rest of us are working with. Your type of soloer probably wouldn’t seek out a guild at all, since they gain no benefit from it. Maybe they end up as region/trade chat rats.

    Many of us consider ourselves soloers, apart from guild interaction. When we’re part of a guild, we are often grouping/crafting/sharing resources, etc. Some guilds are solely social outlets, where all that’s expected is chatting in gchat. If all someone brings to a guild is their personality in guild chat or vent, then that’s just fine for a casual/social guild. Different people bring different things to the guild. Some people will be more involved, and some less. The diversity is often what makes it work. OTOH, if you’re talking about a guild with higher expectations of member participation, then your type of solo player is probably just not a good fit for that guild. That’s why guilds have screening processes. :)

  15. Yeah, I think Spinks is talking about people who actively solo INSTEAD of grouping, not people who spend most of their time on their own aside from the odd group, if that makes sense. Maybe they do add to a guild in terms of expertise, advice, items, crafting etc.

    I don’t think I’d exclude one, though of course, it’s not exactly easy to know for sure what someone’s playstyle is when they join a guild anyway. Nor if the game will turn on a dime and mean soloing is more likely at certain stages.

    I agree with the original article anyway, so thought I’d shove in a comment, despite the fact I often play in a group I need to have solo content because I work less than they do, so I want stuff to immerse myself in when they’re busy.

  16. Spinks: My comment wasn’t meant to sound snarky earlier – apologies.

    I also think your solo definition is a bit too narrow. That being said, I thoroughly enjoy the social connections of being in a guild. (Currently playing WAR and WoW) We know each others real names, chat about RL, and enjoy sharing aspects of the game together. We play to have fun. We may solo… we may group up… we may do guild events/dungeon runs but noone gets on anyones case if they would rather solo for a while than do the group thing.

    Maybe they have small kids that force them to go AFK a lot and they dont want to frustrate a group? Maybe they just want to explore/ get tomb unlocks etc? My main in WAR soloed almost all of the way from lv 31 to 40 and I quite enjoyed it.

    Now, even players who rarely group up can help add to the social component of the game. Help with quest info for instance… Especially in WAR (as opposed to WoW) where there isn’t nearly the depth of help websites available. I still say the guild is a better place because of that interaction. It is perhaps a guild emphasis that is different than others who purely want raid progression and leave the more casual and/or solo players behind as they jump from one treadmill to the next. I’m not judging – I just play MMOs for different reasons.

    I just dont see soloers as leeches if they are in an appropriate guild. As Sharon said- hence the screening process. So if you’re a guild leader of a self described hardcore raiding guild, then yes you will want to gkick all leeches – both soloers and casual gamers who can’t “keep up” with the pack.

  17. @spinks

    I’d like to turn the question around. If you recruit an exclusively solo player that makes little or no contribution to forum life or guild chat, what are they costing your guild? Assuming they aren’t raiding your guild bank for all its worth, where is the harm in giving a player a home?

  18. @Spinks — your definition of guild is a little narrow. Not all guilds are raiding guilds. For your type of raiding guild, sure, soloers aren’t a good fit — and most soloers wouldn’t want into that kind of guild anyway.

    I have to agree with Sharon above that your definition of soloer is pretty narrow too. I’ll leave it at that though, since it’s relatively clear your mind is made up. Shame that. We’re not all carbuncles on the face of MMO society.

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  20. i dont think it comes down to player choice, here.

    the reason most people solo is because they don’t want to to group on the terms the game sets.
    people don’t want the hassel of guilds, to commit to hours worth of planning and dungeon crawling etc etc.

    what we have to ask is why are MMO persistantly being developed with old fashioned mechanics time and time again?

    the grouping mechanics should make soloers WANT to group up (and note, i did not say “force”).

    it’s great that players can log on, go about their business with a chat room in the corner to read as they “kill ten rats”: but name one player who would define themselves as a “soloer” who wouldn’t group up if the grouping experience appealed? (loaded question, obviously the answer is “nobody”).

    WAR’s Public Quest system was a great step in the right direction (though for reasons beyond me never took off, and people still appealed to make them soloable…).

    to summerise: MMO devs need to stop basing their grouping mechanics on dated and redundant templates.

    and yes, i do think the multiplayer in MMO means play together as a guild/group, though as i’ve mentioned in this comment, completely understand why many people just plain can’t be bothered with it.

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  22. Great post, I’ve said many of the same things myself.

    @spinks, I’m just dumbfounded by your comments… so I, as a solo player, join a guild. A guildie asks “Does anyone know where I the magic jewel for this Kill Foozle quest is?” and I know and I answer their question. Another guildie says “Is anyone a jeweler that can make me a magic ring with fire resistance?” and my character happens to be a jeweler so I happily make the person a ring.

    “But soloers do kind of leech off the community, they don’t really give anything back. ”

    So you’re saying I’m a leech?

    A LEECH?

    That’s pretty harsh.

  23. Spinks, I’d like to ask of you a genuine question, if I may. Can you explain how your version of a solo player leeches off the community? It might help if you explain exactly how you define a solo player.

    If they’re a pure solo player and don’t interact with the Guild, then there’s no loss on the Guild’s behalf. It doesn’t cost the Guild anything to keep the solo player around. If they’re truly a solo player they’re not going to raid the Guild Bank or bug Guild mates for runs, or help with Quests, because they’re a solo player. Exactly what are they taking from the Guild?

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  25. I consider myself a solo player. I solo all questing content that I possibly can. If I can’t solo group quests, I generally delete them from my log. I absolutely refuse to run instances while leveling. I can’t stand it.

    However, I like the pretty purple goodies you get from doing instances and raids, and the only way to get those is by grouping up.

    For a time I was actually in a small guild of, get this, soloers, who would run an instances every night or two. We’d do our own thing until all five of us were online, then determine who needed what from which instance, and go run it. This worked out very nicely until the healer decided to leave the game. Unable to replace her, we slowly drifted apart.

    Since I still liked the purple goodies, I bit the bullet and joined the guild of someone whom I had helped several times with their quests. (I may be a soloer, but I don’t mind helping people who genuinely need it.)

    I still consider myself a soloer, but I’ve been promoted to officer and raid leader in the guild I joined. I’ve led 10 and 25 man Naxx, VoA, and OS, and I’m currently in a team doing Ulduar, which I’ll start leading a second 10 man in the next couple weeks. Yes, I’m a lot less social than most of the people in my guild. No, I don’t generally volunteer when people ask for members for heroics. I do, however, accept when people whisper me asking if I’d join them.

    And I love to hear my group’s excitement when we one shot a boss, or down one with no deaths. Then when the raid is over, I turn off vent (or more likely just go to an empty channel. As an officer I have to keep myself available for any issues that may arise.) and go back to solo questing and achievement gathering.

  26. I’m a confirmed soloer, and actually like some MMOs. If the game itself is fun to play, I’m interested. If it forces groups on me out of some sense that “that’s just how MMOs work”, I’m not interested.

    I’m interested in good game design, not social engineering. MMOs, as “virtual worlds” really should be amenable to both (as individual elements, and as a mixture), but far too many devs conflate the two rather than understand that they can (and should be, on occasion) be discrete entities.

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  31. “But soloers do kind of leech off the community, they don’t really give anything back. They don’t support organised events, they don’t do anything with other people. Why would a guild want someone like that?”

    I consider myself a soloer, spending about 95% of my time outside of a group. I am also always in a guild. I am constantly dropping money and items in the guild bank, helping other guildies with difficult quests or taking down higher level mobs, or crafting things for them (usually at my expense rather than charging them anything). When someone has a game-related question, I’m often times the one they go to because the groupers can’t be bothered to look something up for a guildie.

    I would say that I offer quite a bit to the guilds I’m in.

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  34. Let me start by saying this is an excellent topic with valid and overall civil responses to what we know can be a “flamers” heaven subject. I am going to post my “Two Cents” on this subject and is not meant to comment directly at anyone’s post here but is to continue this on the subject line and hopefully add to the discussion in some meaningful way on a subject that I care about.

    ‘Buffs’ where for art thou?

    I am against the rise of solo MMORPGs. I put forth to support my stance the age old claim that these were meant to be an interactive group based experience. I also bring to the table that over all the entire group dynamic has suffered in recent years due to the response to the generation of solo game play content in MMORPG’s. Given that these were changes brought about by us gamers as demands to developers. We asked, we got and in my opinion we suffer. I fully understand and accept that to many of us time constraints puts a strain on our ability to get out there and level because when we finally get online to play we are on to late, to early, or don’t want to look for a group as we will have to log shortly after due to limited time. Also as these games age and other newer products hit the market people leave and the server population drops making these issues worse. I went even as far as getting extra game accounts to make my own party in one MMO I played. All this still does not sway the fact that I miss the getting the group together recognizing the strengths and weakness of each class and the reliance on each other to do their part to have a successful adventure, and barring successfully fun in the enjoyment of company in on an adventure. I believe this spawns from my days of Pen & Paper dungeons and dragons, were a group of us would gather to adventure. I find also that people cared more for there chosen class when we not so blended and had actual roles specific to a group environment. Now I find that instead of rewarding group play by increasing experience given while in a group it is reduced, divided amongst the party members making it faster to level alone.
    It is too easy for us to blame this subject on the “One MMORPG That Shall Not Be Named” as the source of all our problems. I put forth that in this case they did not cause the problem, we did by asking for these changes, they just did it so successfully that now it must be emulated to ensure company success. I do not believe for one minute that this emulation ensures anything but ridicule and that success should not be measured by over the top profits, but that is another issue.
    To conclude, I say that solo play will not be the end of MMORPG’s but really is just another phase as the genre evolves. As the days grows long and night moves forward as there is fewer and fewer gamers around that recall the days when we would group up for benefit and company in our adventures then there on the horizon dawn and the ‘New’ aspect to grab the attention of the gamers will be grouping up and how good it is to be part of a team effort to accomplish your in game goals and then all will be well and as it should be. The circle continues but I leave with a warning with all sunrises there is a false dawn.

  35. [quote] I’d like to turn the question around. If you recruit an exclusively solo player that makes little or no contribution to forum life or guild chat, what are they costing your guild? Assuming they aren’t raiding your guild bank for all its worth, where is the harm in giving a player a home? [/quote]

    I’m going to be mean here. And I’m not saying this stereotype applies to Spinks, but it does exist:

    If they carry your guild tag, but do not wear the latest uberest T 727 armor set, they will make the whole guild “look bad”

  36. I’ve played WoW a long time, and tend to run around on different servers playing whatever suits my fancy at the moment. Needless to say, I only have a few 70+ characters.

    I stumbled on this (and a few other) excellent discussions about solo play, and it has resonated big time. I got to thinking — I find that a huge amount of time has been spent waiting for groups only to have them explode while being formed or, most often, just implode as people suddenly have leave (often the leader. what, you didn’t KNOW you couldn’t stay???). Rolling on items is often goofed up, and I’d estimate 10% of the groups are pretty good and about 1% are astonishingly good.

    I may be antisocial, but the glut on the Trade Channel where idiots seem to think their Chuck Norris or hate talk demands a wide audience (and it’s bleeding over to LFG) and most of the general talk is just horrid. My blood pressure rises. I’ve learned to just not open the Trade channel anywhere,

    People have always been asshats on the Internet because they are anonymous and can say things that would get a face full of knuckles in real life. Blizzard has done a horrible job of patrolling it with real consequences because their $15 a month is on the line.

    Still I play. After reading this and other sites today, I’m wondering if I really want to play, I might want to find a good RP guild (if there is such a thing) and be helpful and encouraging and at the same time aloof and a bit in the shadows (perfect for a crusty hunter or a sinister lock). I just know the future of this game for me is not in instances and groups, and if I can wrap my head around that point of view I might enjoy the game quite a bit more without all the melodramatic distractions.

    I’d love to level one or two of mine to 80 with that solo attitude, and even keep it in balance with group in BG’s and, to some extent, Raids. Solo isn’t a condition (as in just playing by yourself) but in maintaining the attitude and outlook as being your character/toon even in a group setting which can be necessary to get some of the better items.

    Anyway, that’s a lot, and I apologize. It’s just that this site is a good example of how a guy like me can get a new way of thinking that seems exciting to me. For that I’m grateful.

    Boomlord (Hunter extraordinaire)

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  38. under Reasons Why Soloers Prefer to Play MMOs Even So:
    there is the point:
    You appreciate the support network that other players can provide.

    I’ve played WoW for the last almost 3 years now, recently I’ve started looking into EQ2 to some extent and LotRO because of the Soloing mentality. As stated above: “Gamers, especially in MMOs, are aging, and due to that we’re not as prone to put up with unfriendly, rigid MMO structures; instead, we want more flexibility and choice.” Add to that regular A$$hats who like to ruin someone elses 2 hours of fun!
    My life has changed as have my gaming habits. I for one will be leaving WoW because of the nonexistent “support network that other players can provide.” I just cannot stand to hear one more joke about Chuck Norris and anal [add stupid meme here] in trade channel. Boomlord has said it all there is rly nothing more for me to add.

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