337/366 – Solo Gaming Pays Little Dividends
One of the debates I used to see going around in gaming circles was the whole idea of whether or not solo gameplay when there are multiple options for playing should have a path to viability. Soloers, who for whatever reason preferred to deal with a game’s challenges and activities on their own, wanted and had a clear preference towards not having to group or even interact with anyone to get things done. In the most extreme cases, they took offense to the fact that grouping had an easier path, accusing developers of bias towards “forced” teamplay.
I don’t see this debate that much anymore, and I think the primary reason for that is that serial soloers (some of them at least) have discovered that it doesn’t really pay to play by yourself. Preference to being a hermit on your own video gaming island when the opportunity to work with others presents itself seems to more often than not end up with more of an inconvenience to the soloer than it is to suffer through group play with other people. The difference between now and then is the fact that developers have made the benefits a bit more subtle to both groups of players. Small experience bonuses. A bit of a more convenient, though not completely necessary, edge in quest completion and item acquisition. The gentle nudge to create friendships or at least associations in order to provide some kind of mutual benefit, even if that benefit is short term and reducted to mere presence on a friendlist. The list goes on, but because the clear benefits of teamplay are not as apparent (and that’s not even counting the intangibles of playing and having fun) there’s very little reason to go lone wolf when you don’t have to.
That’s not to say there shouldn’t be a viable path for the soloer to succeed at what they want. I think more choice is always a good thing, and even if the road is harder for a player choosing to go it alone, it should at least still be a possibility to do. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be seeing solo-only player queues or solo achievements in games have any traction to them. But with the ways that developers are gently pushing players together and encouraging them to naturally work together, it doesn’t feel like playing on your own, with the effort that it requires, can outweigh the much tinier effort of finding a group of people you’re comfortable with that you can trust with doing things in a game.
Heck, even games themselves are moving a bit away from solo heroes, so in lieu of having another actual person accompanying the player, you have one controlled by the AI in some form or fashion. Gone are the days of Gordon Freeman wandering around alone for the most part in a futuristic wasteland, and here are the days of a vault survivor having a companion that’s there to interact with and watch their back. Many games that even had solo heroes (like Lara Croft) now enjoy an ensemble cast of occasional helpers that interject themselves in appropriate times to get things done or to assist. So if games themselves are emphasizing the idea of having another character to work with, it’s no surprise that it’s happening in the context of games that have solo and not-solo options. Less forcing, and more enticing – perhaps the overall secret to getting others to try out a different way of playing – is what’s bringing soloers over to the group side, causing viable soloing to be less of an issue.