Why Solo MMORPGs

Another one rescued from my Drafts folder, from February 2016…

I’m in the camp of people who primarily play MMORPGs solo, so I guess I can speak a little on this topic.

I wouldn’t say that I “demand” solo content from MMORPGs, though.* And it’s not that I’m against group content. I just prefer games where I can log in and do interesting things without having to form or join a group all the time. Because if I had to do that, I probably wouldn’t log in very often unless I had the time to idle a lot.

I don’t understand why this is a controversial topic–why it has to be one or the other. I think it’s well within an MMORPG’s capabilities to handle both styles. (It’s got to be easier than catering to PvE and PvP crowds at the same time, at least.) I can’t think of a single MMORPG I’ve played since my first one (UO) where I couldn’t do soloing or grouping depending on my mood.

The reasons that I prefer to play solo essentially boil down to two things, which I imagine are the two most common reasons anyone would give: Introvertedness and limited time.

Introvertedness

I don’t like to lean on introversion as an excuse, but the reality is that, even on a good day, it’s a lot of work for me to cultivate and maintain social relationships. Particularly right now, when I have a fairly intense amount of socializing I have to deal with at work, the idea of extending that into online games is pretty abhorrent.

You never know what kind of person you’re going to meet in an MMORPG, of course, but nine times out of ten, from the perspective of an introvert, other people are going to be an energy drain. They don’t have to be a jerk to do that, either. Sometimes the friendliest people in the world are just as draining. I hate to admit it but sometimes I find friendly people more draining to deal with because I feel like if I don’t mimic their friendliness they will receive a social cue from me that their behavior is inappropriate, which is both wrong and makes me feel tremendously guilty. So to avoid that I have to work extra hard to interact with them in a way that meets my needs but also doesn’t hurt their feelings. It’s far easier to just avoid people altogether. :)

Maybe we need some way to indicate our mood in the games we play. In real life, we can tell from expressions and body language and social cues whether it’s “okay” to approach someone to talk. But in a game, that doesn’t exist.

Time

The other big reason is time. When I log into a game, I want to start playing immediately. I don’t want to log in and wait an indeterminate amount of time while a group forms. Even with dungeon finder tools, I find it very aggravating to log in, queue for something, and then sit there staring at the screen waiting for the queue to pop. That’s one of the things I love about FFXIV–you can actually accomplish something meaningful (leveling an alternate class or crafting) while waiting for a queue. You can’t do that in most MMORPGs–you just have to stand there doing nothing.

Then there is how long the activity takes once you start it. If a game task starts to take too long, I start to feel trapped and claustrophobic and “stuck” at my computer playing what will increasingly feel like a stupid game. The upper limit of my focused concentration on one task is usually around 30 minutes, especially on a work day. (To me, a “task” is anything with a start and an end, like a dungeon, or a match, or a quest, or something like that.) After that I want to walk away for a while, or do some other computer task, or do some other game activities, or play a different game, or basically anything.

Long dungeon runs with PUGs are the absolute worst. I still vividly remember a two-hour dungeon run in Neverwinter and a two-hour dungeon run in WildStar. Both were successful by sheer force of willpower in overcoming failure after failure after failure. I should have felt great about those accomplishments but mostly I felt like I had gotten out of a two-hour tax seminar.

But solo activities in MMORPGs are usually short, finite tasks. Go to a spot, kill ten rats, hand in a quest. Boom, you’re done. Even if the task does take too long, you can always walk away and leave your character AFK for a while.

The minute you step into a group activity, you’ve lost control over your time. You have to stay there until the group finishes, and group tasks in MMORPGs are almost always time-consuming. God knows why, but they usually design group content so that it does take a long time.

Incidentally, I sometimes have more difficulty playing “sandbox”-style games solo because of the time factor, particularly if they have a harsh death penalty. It’s endlessly aggravating for me to be forced to make a “corpse run” because you have to get your stuff back before it disappears or someone else takes it. (Currently I’m experiencing this tremendous annoyance in ARK.)

* Back when I wrote this draft, there was an article or a blog post or forum post or something that talked about players demanding solo content, but I don’t know where it is now.

2 thoughts on “Why Solo MMORPGs”

  1. Always a good conversation-starter, this one. I agree entirely about friendly people being harder to handle than grumpy ones. I have changed servers and even MMOs to get free of over-friendly people.

    I’m not an introvert (I actually score as “balanced” or “ambivert” on most of those tests) but I have a job that involves me spending most of the day striking up conversations with strangers so I don’t always want to carry on doing the same when I get home. Often I just want to kick back, relax and take things at my own pace. I don’t want to have to respond to excitable /tells the moment I log in asking me what we’re going to do this evening.

    When I’m in the mood, though, I love to group. I especially appreciate the post-Rift style of free grouping that lets me feel sociable without feeling obligated but I go through phases of wanting to do a bit more than that. I’m in one at the moment so I’m actively looking for MMOs where I can do some semi-organized small group content.

    Solo is good, group is good. The key thing is that it be my choice.

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