MMORPGs have been on my mind recently. Yesterday I was talking to a co-worker who is a hardcore gamer: he played three accounts at once in EQ, he plays two in WoW, he has every console, etc. It occurred to me that one reason he likes the games is because he plays an entire group by himself, so the entire game is open to him.
WoW has terrible soloability; solo quests and PvE are mindless, I mean it can be automated pretty easily (I would know :-o). However, there’s no way you can solo any dungeon until you’re 20+ levels above it, and all end game content requires at least one other person (PvP arenas) and up to 39 others (40 man raids). I personally do not want to join a random guild with random people; I don’t want to have to try to make friends in MMOs—I want to play by myself, anytime, or with my friends. In Ultima Online friends seemed to come more naturally, and you could solo almost everything so the entire game was accessible. DAoC gave group bonuses so it was beneficial to group with anyone you could find.
Another big problem I have with WoW is the fact that the game revolves entirely around gear. The best gear wins everytime. The best gear is a pain to get (long, hard quests or massive dungeon runs with virtually no chance of getting the drop). The difficulty of getting gear inherently favors the hardcore and leads to another nasty feature: soulbound items. Soulbound has at least two negative effects:
1), you cannot trade/sell gear which hurts the economy and is unfair to users with multiple characters—you can’t even trade your own items to yourself!
2) people with the best gear will always have the best gear—there’s no way to lose it; armor’s broken, repair, done. In UO items were easy-come, easy-go which made for a much more casual feel and required much less time. UO also lowered the gap between a hoss in the best gear with perfect skills and a newbie with starter gear and no skills; everyone was competitive and could have fun. The point of this gargantuan post is that MMORPGs are not out of the casual gamers reach; we simply need the right game (with high soloability and little reliance on gear/level). I hope a game satisfying these requirements will come out soon although I doubt I’ll play.