Thursday, December 27, 2007

Solo and Group Gameplay in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Once again: Do soloers have any place in a Star Trek MMORPG or not?

Well, before considering this question one last time, we'd better address (once again) that old canard that "if you don't want to play with other people, shouldn't you go play a single-player game?"

Well, couldn't I just as easily say, "If you like real-time social interaction so much, shouldn't you be playing a game in a room with other real people instead of sitting by yourself punching keys on a computer?"

The fact is that both social and solo players contribute to multiplayer gameworlds. Direct, real-time social interaction (in the game world) with other players has value in a massively multiplayer game world, but so does indirect interaction, such as collecting resources, trading in auction houses or with NPCs, and placing structures in the world. What soloers do has real, measurable, and cumulatively important effects on other players of MMOGs.

This belief held by many newcomers to MMOGs that only direct, real-time, highly social interaction "counts" is, IMO, a mistaken belief based on looking at MMOGs in terms of one's own interests instead of seeing them as places that need to serve the entertainment interests of different kinds of people. To restrict MMOGs to only highly gregarious people would exclude the real contributions that soloers make in helping to keep these gameworlds dynamic.

Now, having addressed that, let's turn to the specific case of Star Trek Online. To start with the obvious, having more soloers flying around in starships will help the gameworld feel more alive with activity. More importantly, who do you think will do the crafting (pretty much always designed as a solo activity in MMOGs) if the game is designed to tell soloers, "Get out -- we don't want your kind here"?

I think there's a reasonable balance that can be struck here. I see no problem in requiring several real players to fill the key duty roles in the largest player-operated starships in Star Trek Online. That kind of social interaction was an important part of Star Trek and it ought to be reflected in the gameplay of a Star Trek MMORPG. But I would also hope that many small- and medium-sized ships could be handled by solo players, perhaps with NPCs filling the non-Command stations in the mid-sized ships. I don't believe any useful purpose would be served by choosing to exclude these solo players from the game.

What I am sure of is that excluding them would put a large and unnecessary dent in the game's revenues....