El Lobo Solo

Well, based on a post by SypYsharros has stirred up an interesting discussion on solo vs group play, and I have some extended thoughts on the subject.  Rather than continually derailing the conversation there I thought I’d use this place to sort out some of my own thoughts.

A lot of people seem to dislike the thought of people soloing in online games.  They think that playing solo is contrary to the idea of the genre, that it’s antisocial, that soloing is a form of leeching, and that it makes one a poor guild member.  Let’s look at each of these ideas in turn.

“Playing solo in a multiplayer game is stupid.  If you want to solo you should play a single-player game!”  This is flawed reasoning on several levels.  First and foremost, people choose to play the games they choose to play because, surprise, they find those games fun.  If I wanted to play Oblivion, I’d play Oblivion.  The fact that I choose to play EQ2 is suggestive that there are things about EQ2 that I like.  Go figure.  Telling me to “go play Oblivion” is tantamount to saying I don’t really know what I enjoy; I do.  I don’t need anyone’s advice on which games to play.  Second, there are a lot of activities in MMOs that aren’t found in single-player games.  One of the biggest of these is crafting and trading, which can be a lot of fun for some players; the effectiveness of these systems is linked to the presence of other people though.  Third, MMOs provide a lot more content and a stream of updates, which one doesn’t find in Oblivion; I can spend 20 or 25 hours and finish Oblivion, and that’s that.  If I spend 25 hours in EQ2 I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg that is EQ2’s massive content.  If I go away for a year and come back, Oblivion is the same as it was before; EQ2 has had updates, expansions, adventure packs, etc.

“Soloing in a multiplayer game is antisocial.”  Not necessarily.  First, it’s healthy to recognize that there are a lot of ways to be social.  You can e.g. chat with friends on guild chat or send whispers, and that’s quite social.  You can hang around public places and talk to people, which is also quite social, but doesn’t require you to be in a group.  You can listen in to the various help channels and offer a steady stream of useful advice, which is again quite social.  Or you can adventure with people in a group, which may or may not actually be social.  After all, some people join groups then say nothing, don’t listen to what others say, and do their own thing.  The mere fact that they joined a group doesn’t make them social, nor does the fact that someone else is ungrouped make them antisocial.

“Soloists are leeches.”  This argument is surprisingly common for all that it’s completely unmerited.  Allow me to present the examples of Al, Bill, and Charlie, who are members of the Koolguys Guild.  Al and Bill like to solo, while Charlie is in groups all the time.  Al spends his game time mostly doing his own thing.  He likes to chat with the guild, make jokes, and catch up on everyone’s lives, but he mostly likes to explore the game and learn everything he can about it.  Al is the guild’s go-to guy for lore questions, questions about difficult quests, etc.  Al can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the game, and he loves to do so.  Al isn’t benefitting from anyone else’s hard work.  Al is not a leech.  Bill, on the other hand, is a crafter and a trader.  He makes high-end items which he gladly gives to guild members.  Bill is quite wealthy and also is happy to give or lend money to guild members to help them out.  Bill is not benefitting from anyone else’s hard work.  Bill is not a leech.  Now Charlie, on the other hand, spends all his time in groups.  He likes to join groups, hit /follow, then go afk for extended periods.  He uses his guild members, and PuGs as well, for his own ends, while contributing nothing of value.  Charlie is benefitting from the hard work of others and is not contributing meaningfully.  Charlie is a leech.

“Soloists make poor guild members.”  I’ll grant that this one can be true if and only if the sole purpose for the guild’s existence is raiding, and there’s no other type of support one can give to the guild.  I’ve never however seen a single game where this is the case; there’s ALWAYS something that soloists can contribute.  Maybe they’re contributing money or status to the guild, maybe they’re crafting supplies needed by members, maybe they’re a good source of information, maybe they’re just, you know, nice people who are pleasant to chat with.  All of these can provide value to a guild, even one that’s obsessed with raiding.  If the number of spots in a guild is strictly limited and its main focus is raiding, then ok, I can understand why soloists would be less desirable than people who group a lot.  If the number of spots isn’t strictly limited or if the guild is in any way casual, then these arguments fall apart, and soloists can meaningfully contribute.

So what is a soloist?  It’s a person who spends more than half of their game time ungrouped.  I might spend 49% of my time grouping, raiding, helping guild members on quests, and hitting dungeons in PuGs, but if I spend 51% of my time solo (while also chatting with guildies, supporting their efforts, making the guild atmosphere more fun, etc) then I’d consider myself a soloist.  Soloists can and do group with others sometimes – that’s a major issue that seems to be forgotten or ignored by those who think games are about grouping, period.  It’s rarely all-or-nothing… just like literally every player who self-identifies as a “group player” is sometimes ungrouped, so too people who prefer to solo might quite enjoy grouping sometimes.

I generally solo in online games.  I enjoy RPing, crafting, trading, helping others, and occasionally raiding.  I have good reasons to play MMOs (e.g. the activities above don’t exist in single-player games) but I also have good reasons to play them solo.  I often go afk for extended periods, or even have to log out.  I like exploring at my own pace.  I like finding my own balance between activities and even between alts.  Now, I do like working with others, but because I have good reasons to solo, I often solo despite enjoying the process of grouping.  I am nonetheless a good guild member, hardly antisocial, not a leech, and I’m free to play games the way I want.

10 comments so far

  1. Tesh on

    Nice writeup. I really have to wonder about some of the psychology afoot here. It seems to me that in general, soloists are pretty content to just do their thing, happy to play the game. Groupies, on the other hand, tend to the raider side of the spectrum, which has a tendency to validate their gaming by comparison to other players. (“I have purples, so I’m special, and you lot are noobs.”)

    Soloists are a threat to that sense of self-worth because they just don’t care about the posturing, they are just playing, doing their own thing, not looking for value in others’ estimation.

    It’s always easier to try to undermine the other guy’s opinion rather than try to build your own, or admit that you might be wrong.

    That’s probably not the entire story, or true of everyone, but it does seem to be a subtle undercurrent of the “us vs. them” mentality.

    • foolsage on

      Good point. Many of the people who enjoy grouping are also raiders, and it’s certainly true that the core concept of raiding is very susceptible to comparison between players; it’s a competition to see who has the best loot and who can accomplish difficult tasks the fastest/most elegantly. Soloists who don’t share those goals can undermine the process and make raiders question their priorities.

      WoW presents raiding as the “real game” – life begins at endgame, that sort of thing. Refusal to see the game that way can make one a pariah and a psychological threat I suppose.

    • spinks on

      I see it as more that social players need other players around to do stuff with. Soloists don’t hinder that, but a guild with a few too many soloists drifts away from being ‘guild that does social stuff’ to ‘guild where most people are more interested in doing their own thing’.

      So a couple of soloists in the guild threatens no one. It’s nice to have the diversity of views and sometimes nice to be able to talk to people who aren’t involved in the drama. But if most people solo for most/all of the time then whole parts of the social game don’t really gel. I’m interested in the tipping point is all. Maybe the grouping/raiding playstyle is an old fashioned one and in 5 years time we’ll all be soloing with our pets/minions and only interacting via the auction house, and guilds will be mostly chat channels with banks attached.

      Who knows?

  2. Tesh on

    Aye. I don’t think that’s necessarily the driving force of the antipathy, but I do suspect it’s an ingredient in the mix.

    More troubling to me is that Blizzard encourages this sort of divide by their game design focus on the “endgame”. I figure people will always be trouble, but when the game design seems bent on creating such attitudes, I can’t help but feel that something isn’t being done correctly.

  3. Ysharros on

    Very nice! I’m a little nonplussed by some of the vitriol that ended up on my post, but I guess when one rants, one should expect responses. I actually thought people would go “Oh look, Ysh is banging on about soloing again, yawwwn” 😀

    What I find hardest to deal with is how soloers are quite happy to leave people to do their own thing, but groupers are never happy unless everyone is doing *their* thing. That just makes me contrary and MORE soloer! 😉

  4. Pete S on

    I only disagree with one point:

    “A lot of people seem to dislike the thought of people soloing in online games.”

    I don’t actually think there are a lot of people who feel this way. I just think the minority that do make a lot of noise about it.

    I do think most players have a live and let live attitude. But maybe I’m just being a starry-eyed optimist.

    • foolsage on

      Fair enough. I only meant to say that enough people felt this way (in my experience) that it’s worth addressing their points. I didn’t mean to suggest that they are or were or ever will be a majority.

    • Pete S on

      Yeah, I knew what you meant. But me just saying “I agree” was way too short for me. I had to verbose it up a bit. 🙂

  5. Wolfshead on

    Excellent article! This is one of the best examinations of soloing that I’ve seen in quite a while.

    “I see it as more that social players need other players around to do stuff with. Soloists don’t hinder that, but a guild with a few too many soloists drifts away from being ‘guild that does social stuff’ to ‘guild where most people are more interested in doing their own thing’. ”

    Spinks is right. If you have too many guildies who are primarily soloing then eventually that can cause critical mass which can disrupt the culture of the guild if the guild is based on grouping.

    “What I find hardest to deal with is how soloers are quite happy to leave people to do their own thing, but groupers are never happy unless everyone is doing *their* thing. That just makes me contrary and MORE soloer!”

    The reason for this is that group oriented players who don’t have other people around to group with are in a bad position. They can’t enjoy the game. Conversely soloers don’t need anyone and don’t care if a grouper is groupless.

    I can understand why people who like to group would tend to frown at soloers because instead of grouping with them they are playing a game of solitaire.


    A = Groupers sometimes need other players
    B = Soloers never need other players

    While A can be true sometimes, B is always true. Hence the conflict and bitterness.

  6. Tesh on

    Aye on the A/B, Wolf, but at the same time, those who rely on others to have fun in the game are setting themselves up for trouble, and pointing fingers at the other guy isn’t helping matters.

    One would think that players would find a guild that matched their interests, in *any* case.

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