Since the release of World of Warcraft way back in 2004, MMOs have gradually shifted from a grouping focus to a solo focus. Unlike Everquest 1, Dark Age of Camelot and the other early MMOs, current MMOs are all primarily solo games. Not only is it possible to solo all the way up to the level cap, it is the most expedient way to do so. Gone are the days of open world content requiring a group. Now everything is solo friendly and group areas are few and far between in the open world. Most group content is now situated firmly in instances.
The argument that I hear from developers justifying this is that group areas in the open world quickly become barren and unused. Players would rather do the easier solo content than find a group and head to the “elite” areas. Because of this, developers have grown to believe that open world group content is a waste of resources. Why spend development time to create an area of the world that will be skipped by the majority of players out there? As much as I love open world group content, this rationalization has the ring of truth to it.
So, why do players skip open world group content? Do players really prefer to play solo? I, personally, don’t think so. I think players skip group content because it is generally such a pain to get a group together. Sitting around in the nearest city while spamming the group channel looking for players is just not fun. Why do that when you can just go level solo and level even faster?
WoW attempted to make finding a group easier with the Random Dungeon Finder. They were successful, except for two things. First, the RDF only worked for instanced content and so had no positive effect on grouping in the open world. Secondly, it had a detrimental effect on open world, both solo and group, because players started sitting in Ironforge waiting for their next queue to pop.
Warhammer Online had a different take, they simply made creating a group an extension of your normal play. Groups were formed spontaneously while out in the open world and were easy to join and leave. Unfortunately, for various reasons, this innovation only had a real effect on PvP. It still must be considered a success however. For all its faults, WAR is one of the few MMOs that I know of in which 90% of your in game time is spent in a group. PvP is the name of the game there and almost all PvP is done in a group in WAR. It is simply too dangerous to not be in a group and getting into a group is too easy not to get into one.
Before the Beta Events, I thought Rift was going to be yet another MMO that ignored Open World group content and focused solely on solo open world content and group focused instances. I have read various forum and blog posts in which Scott Hartsman has said that he too believes that creating “elite” areas in the open world is a waste of resources but, at the same time, he has also said that there would be plenty of group content in Rift.
I, quite frankly, was skeptical. I really wanted to see some open world group content in Rift and Scott’s position that creating group only areas was a waste really disappointed me. Then the beta events happened and I was able to see the Rift system in action.
Mr. Hartsman, I am convinced.
I believe Rift will do for PvE grouping what Warhammer Online did for PvP grouping. It will make grouping a natural extension of game play. Watching the Beta Rift events unfold, it became very obvious that the Rifts encouraged grouping more than a few scattered Elite group areas ever could. People joined groups because they needed to do so to survive. They joined groups because it was fun and they joined them because they were rewarding.
There was no spamming the LFG channel for group members. No one sit in Sanctum waiting for a group to form. People just went out, found Rifts and naturally joined the nearest group or raid and they had fun. People were joining groups and not even really realizing it. Groups just naturally formed as the invasions hit.
The best part of the system is that it is completely scalable. Not enough players to support the intense invasions we saw in beta and the system dials it down a few notches. People swarming the zone and the system dials it up. One night you may be soloing in the zone and the next you may be joining a group to fight off a huge invasion from the Plane of Water.
I am really excited to see what Scott and Trion have in store for us in the future. It is pretty apparent that we have just seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Rift system. I fully expect that the Rift system we see now and on release will be expanded upon and will look different six months after release.
Hopefully the system makes open world grouping relevant again and more importantly, maybe it will make it fun again as well!
Filed under: General Rift Commentary