Caster's Realm: On Soloing

Soloing has been a continuing topic of interest since the days Everquest first began. Newer games like World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 continually advertise new features and content for soloing. Clearly many players desire rewarding solo content, but what dangers lurk in such desires? What will happen to the rest of the game if soloing becomes the fastest and most reliable way of earning experience? Put your wizard on AFK and sit back for an interesting read.

Soloing offers many obvious and clear advantages. Soloers can often begin hunting right away. They do not need to wait for other group members; they do not need to surf the LFG channel looking for that one last tank; they do not have to show each member how to arrive at a hunting ground. Soloers can leave the keyboard when they wish without harming the rest of a group. Soloers earn reliable experience over time because they only have to trust themselves. They don't have to worry about getting that one bad bard who always overpulls and wipes out groups.

The clearest advantage to soloing is time. Soloers can get hunting, earn experience, and get out quickly – sometimes in as little as ten or fifteen minutes. Some players need this or they couldn't play. Not everyone has a lifestyle that lets them play a game non-stop for hours at a time. There is no pause button in Everquest. For some, soloing is the only option.

Soloing has some disadvantages as well. Everquest is built around grouping. The other players are the only clear difference between a game like Everquest and a game like Morrowind. If one solos all of the time, one will have a harder time meeting new friends, forming a network of allies, joining guilds, or get invited to hunts or raids. One who spends his or her entire Everquest career soloing misses out on what makes Everquest such a great game.

In Everquest, not all classes solo equally. Some classes such as wizards, druids, necromancers, and bards; have significant advantages in soloing. Other classes such as warriors, rogues, monks and most classes without an ability to heal or kite, have significant disadvantages in soloing.

Some argue, including SOE, that this is acceptable. On the EQLive website it clearly states which classes are better able to solo and which are highly sought after in groups. Some argue that not every class is as desired for a group and thus should have equal advantage in soloing.

I argue a different case. Every class should have equal advantage earning solo experience. Groups should desire every class equally, though not always for every slot in a group. Every class should have opportunities to earn similar experience to other classes alone if grouping is currently impossible.

I won't dig back into group desireability for every class. It is easy to argue that warriors, clerics, and enchanters are desired more highly than other classes in a group and this is partly true, but each group wants only one of those classes and wants three or four of the other classes. Just as every class should have reasonable chances for earning similar experience as other classes alone, they should have equal chances for getting into a group.

The way to fix soloing is to make grouping more desireable and easier to do.

Should every class quad kite in Fire? No. Not every class has to earn experience in exactly the same way but every class should have an opportunity to earn the same general amount of experience in the same amount of time; whether it is through the use of a instanced solo dungeon exploration, a task, a quest, or normal hunting.

What should that reward be? This is a more difficult question, one with no clear answer but one thing is clear:

Players should earn significantly more experience grouping than they should soloing.

It often takes a lot time to form a group, get to a hunting zone and begin hunting. One must consider this downtime when determining the experience reward a group should earn while hunting. Other factors such as players getting lost, players dying, players going afk, players leaving and new players joining need to be factored in as well. When we consider all of these factors it is clear that grouping experience shouldn't just be better than solo experience; it should be MUCH better.

What happens if it isn't? Eventually, people will stop grouping. If you think its hard to find a group these days, imagine how hard it would be if everyone earned more reliable experience soloing? Why would anyone group?

People seek the most reliable experience over time. Since soloing offers a much more reliable experience, the reward for grouping should be significantly increased to make up for its lack in reliability as well as the extra time it takes to form a group and get hunting.

What about players playing more than one account at a time? They seem to gain the clearest advantages of both soloing and grouping. Can or should anything be done about them? No. They count as a group just as everyone else does. They pay for those extra accounts. If designed properly, no one person should be able to efficiently play a game like Everquest with more than one character nearly as well as a full group of live players. The efficiency of having a live player behind each keyboard should result in faster and more reliable hunts in more dangerous and rewarding areas.

What should SOE do in regards to soloing?

Improve the task system with tasks anyone can accomplish with any class and any level in an hour.

Add more progressive solo tasks and quests that follow through a story line and offer good one-time experience and item rewards.

Ensure that grouping offers a significant advantage over soloing. Players should always desire a group over a soloing activity. Only in limited play-time or high AFK time situations should a player desire to solo.

Decide how much experience each player should earn soloing when compared to grouping and offer that experience reward equally to all classes. It doesn't have to be perfect but it should be close.

Add improvements for the classes that have a harder time soloing such as tasks, quests, particular items or skills that help that class solo.

Add tasks that don't require killing lots of mobs. Examples include exploration tasks, puzzle tasks, mini-game tasks, or spawned encounters designed for the class that spawns it.

SOE should improve grouping content instead of merely improving solo content. Many times players use the difficulty in finding a group as a reason for improving solo content. Instead of bypassing the grouping process completely, there are clear ways to improve grouping and speed up the time it takes to form a group and get hunting. Such improvements might include:

Let players invite other players into their group across zones. Let /invite player work regardless of where that player is.

Add player characters to the 'find' button. Help players track their groupmates more easily. Refund the points for the 'Find Group Member' group leader ability.

Add less demanding yet profitable hunts for non-ideal groups or groups with a mix of wide level ranges.

Add a mentor system similar to Everquest 2. Let players of mixed levels hunt together and earn experience.

Add tasks, quests, and missions designed for three or four players instead of six. Help bridge the gap between soloing and the perfect six-person group.

Players and game companies alike have embraced soloing nearly completely. Both Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft offer nearly enough solo content for a player to go from level one to the highest level without ever having to group. Continually improving solo content became the trend. Improve it too much, however, and you may destroy the very thing that made Everquest such a unique and monumental game: the dependency on other players.

Loral Ciriclight
12 April 2005