Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On The Supposed Death Of Solo PVE In Cataclysm

"There will in effect be no more solo content in the game. That's why there is only five levels. In the expansion, the only critical question will be what guild you chose to belong too.

Solo is dead."
- DeftyJames, in the comments on my Friday post on the expansion
"The big picture take away message from Blizzcon 2009 is simple: solo content is dead. The real cataclysm is not to the the physical geography of Azeroth but to the entire game experience. Solo questing as a major game mechanism is finished and guilds moves to the center of the game play experience."
-Elnia, posting at the Pink Pigtail Inn

I spend 90% of my gaming time on solo PVE content, I have a blog, and I'm not afraid to use it in thousand-word increments. Shouldn't I be the one writing about the imminent demise of my own gaming style? The answer, like most arguments on the Internet, hinges on how you define your terms.

Will you need a posse like Marshall Windsor's in order to do anything in Cataclysm?

Confusing the Incentive and the Gameplay
Defty's choice to quantify the expansion in terms of levels instead of content tells you where the difference in our perspectives is coming from.

Levels are an arbitrary incentive reward given out for playing the game. The whole intent of the "on rails" quest system is for players to attain their next level at the same time as they use up the content from the previous level. You could implement the entire PVE game of WoW leaving the players at some fixed level and having mobs be higher or lower levels to scale difficulty. Instead, Blizzard makes the arbitrary decision to increase the arbitrary number by your head after you have completed some arbitrary amount of content - frequently at first to reinforce the behavior and then more gradually over time as the Pavlovian reflex has been established.

This does not, however, make levels the purpose of the game; if all you wanted was to see a number constantly rising, you could just get a stop watch and set it down on your desk. The reason why World of Warcraft is more popular than sitting and staring at a stop watch is that people actually enjoy PLAYING World of Warcraft. If this is the perspective that you're approaching the game with, new content is new content, whether it's located at level 1 or the non-existent level 86. It's your choice not to use it, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.

(You can, as Defty does in the comments here, dismiss the entire old world revamp as "just adding some new text to the quests". That's a matter of opinion that no one can prove or disprove just yet. My belief is that merely delivering the areas presented at Blizzcon would represent a substantial addition to the world, and that failing to deliver on the one primary feature of this expansion would have a nigh suicidal effect on Blizzard's billion dollar cash cow. Time will tell.)

The Purpose of Solo PVE
I find the assertions by both Defty and Elnia that guild talents will kill unguilded solo PVE especially puzzling because the announced talents are either focused on raiding (Elnia seems very worried about the repair bill she racks up while solo for some reason) or are things that actually decrease the amount of content and challenge that you get to consume on the way to the level cap.

Slow leveling is a problem if you don't want to be doing solo PVE at all and are just in it to get to the endgame (in which case, you're probably in a guild anyway). Slow leveling is a problem if there isn't enough content to actually get you through the levels. If you are doing the content because you are enjoying doing the content, slow leveling is a bonus feature, not a penalty for lacking a guild.

(Ironically, guilds with very diverse playstyles might actually have an incentive to split up over guild talents, so the altoholics can have the talents they want and the raiders can have the talents they want, etc. That's a design issue with guild talents, though, not solo PVE.)

Personal Impact
It is true that solo players who 1) do not spend much time on alts, 2) are strongly motivated by working towards rewards and 3) are not willing to settle for incremental gear upgrades obtained from repetitive content will have a bit less to do than usual in this expansion. The truth is, after the way gear has been handled in the Wrath era, I personally fall into that category. I will spend more time in the Cataclysm era on alts than I have in the past, and I might even spend more time away from WoW.

Even so, I don't see how you get from a somewhat reduced number of zones in the expansion to the conclusion that solo PVE, the innovation that WoW brought to the genre in the first place, is dead when Cataclysm arrives. The content that the expansion does deliver will continue to be the shiniest in the business. I will ultimately see the revamped zones, whether it's on a new alt or running by one-shotting things with a level 85 mage. Spending a bit of time tending to an area of the game that has been largely neglected for the last four years will help keep the game around and delivering more content (including more content for me) for years to come.


Anjin said...

I am perpetually amused that several people can view the same set of facts and come to different conclusions. They've certainly focuses on alt content and the raiding game, but I don't think the absence of news about solo content amounts to a feature cut. As a matter of fact, I believe the whole Path of the Titans system is about giving soloers something to do outside the standard endgame content.

Anonymous said...

What I'm fascinated about is the inherent faction building that happens.

How much of it is "You guys who do X over there are screwed." Or "I'm screwed because Blizzard is supporting Y people."

It strikes me as a bad idea for Blizzard to choose one portion of their player base over another. Yet we seem to keep drawing all these imaginary battle lines. Like suddenly the "Hardcore" are going to "Win" World of Warcraft for themselves or the "Socials" are going to "Ruin Skill".

I'm curious to see the new content. I can't wait for the hunter changes. I wonder how the new system will affect our tiny 10 man guild. I'm curious to see if there's going to be long term benefits that make starting a new guild prohibitive.

The only thing I'm really worried about is all these incentives to stay in a guild promoting people staying in abusive guild situations.

Longasc said...

I do not like what I read about the guild system.

My main has 2 gathering professions, mining/skinning. Now they plan to eliminate the need for resource gathering:

"(5) The complete elimination of the need for the gathering professions for guilds as they will be able to by such items directly from specialized guild vendors."

and all the many other things that Elnia listed.

Seriously, WTF?????????????? Forced socialization and screwing gatherers?

What's my main again? said...

The thing people need to remember about levels is that it is relative. Yes the new expansion is only a 5 level jump... but that doesn't mean at all that there will be less content or even that it will take less time to get to 85. It takes 10 minutes to get to level 5 from lvl 1 but it can take days to get from 70 to 80. Blizzard can tune the experience gain to make the 5 levels take as long as 10. In fact I think thats partially the goal.

In increasing the time to level you give room for doing long quest chains and not out leveling them. You also have more opportunity to see all the content instead of literally skipping over zones like in Northrend. Additionally from a solo perspective this alows you at 85 to go to northrend and finish some of the high level quests and still get the full gold reward.

The other reason too is because they don't have to have as much of a gear reset if at all. You will likely see people at 85 with their icecrown epics and that to me isn't a bad thing.

Andrei Filimonov said...

Not just death of Solo PVE - it may also bring down smaller and family-oriented guilds. If there is too much focus on guild advancement it may result in domination of a few mega guilds with a complex hierarchical almost cast-like structure.

Anonymous said...

I dont read this as the end to soloing either. My main and the two alts I play most regular are all in guilds (all less than 15 members) . I have never teamed with any guildies. I chat now and then, occasional "Hi, or Gratz" and go on my merry solo way. I stay in these guilds to avoid the constant "sign my charter" "join my guild" tells. Being in a guild does not force you to team. Im not sure the "forced social" element will work out that way. I can foresee people making small "pug" guilds just to possibly get some mutual rewards. Im playing anyway, and if some of what I do can benefit myself and others, why not? Of course until we have more details, its all speculation, but I can see this impacting more the players that move to more progressive guilds in their advancement rather than the soloers.

As far as bringing down smaller or family guilds- why? I would venture to guess the reasons for these types of guilds are because their playstyle is not the same as the larger and/or hard core guilds and they have no desire to join one. There will always be someone/some guild with more gold, gear, achievements that I have. Doesnt change the way I have fun one bit. :)

Darraxus said...

I agree. Elnia at the PPI seems to have some ridiculous theory as to what "solo play" is. I think is losely translates to loner who plays super casual and wishes they could do more.

Solo content is going to be exactly the same as before.

Green Armadillo said...

@Anjin: It's too early to draw much of any conclusions about the Path. They did say it's non raid, non grind, and time-restricted, and it sounds kind of like EQ2 AA's, but who knows until there are more details?

@Anon1: They're only taking exp from the 20 MVP's in each guild, so your small guild won't be crippled. Beyond that, it's all going to depend on the rewards, which, like the paths, are still pretty early.

@Long: Remember that Blizzard is also implementing a "binds to guild" tag for guild heirlooms, and that guild currency will be used for other things. If you use the guild tag to keep the items off of the AH and provide compelling choices elsewhere, people aren't going to be spending their entire currency reserves on flasks.

@WMMA: Yeah, that's kind of what I was getting at when I mentioned quantifying the expansion by content instead of levels. The high level zone for zone comparison between Cataclysm (5) and TBC (7) or Wrath (8) isn't as bad as the "half as many levels" might make you think.

@Andrei: Raiding guild alliances are one area that could be decimated by the new system. Beyond that issue, though, I don't see what a smaller and/or family-oriented guild could be doing with their time that would be broken by the lack of guild talents/heirlooms.

@Anon2: Almost all of my solo toons are in guilds as well, even though I almost never do group content with my guild. I like having a chat channel I can actually tolerate, and it's occasionally helpful for trading crafting services. The only major annoyance is that those blind /ginvites are going to come even more fast and furious when you represent free exp for the guild that snags you.

@Darraxus: In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that's my conclusion. Perhaps there will be less of it, but there's no reason to change the way that the stuff they are implementing is going to work.

Andrei Filimonov said...

Based on information that is available small guild demise doesn't look like a real threat. In the long run if Blizzard caves in to catering to the players in the *uber* guilds demanding "better rewards for better achievements" or if their marketing gurus decide that "this feature gives significant competitive advantage" it may result in Blizzard putting majority of R&D efforts in enhancing guild advancement system. This in turn may tip the game balance in favor of mega guilds. Consider these scenarios:

- With guild advancement Blizzard may create a different character progression path. So in addition to end-game raiding progression you have guild advancement. Let's say that really meaningful character progression is only possible in a bigger guild. That pushes small guilds aside from both end-game raiding and guild advancement.

- Players get significant guild progression perks and they loose tangible portion of their character progression if they leave the guild. That may bound players to stay in the guild even if they don't really enjoy it. Combined with #1 this may quickly result in a guild consolidation.

- Imagine new types of guild drama in distributing guild progression perks. Here comes guild hierarchy where players on the top not only have better gear but more powerful characters (e.g. improved talent mastery) coming from the guild progression.

Ferrel said...

The sad truth is that when anyone sees a play style different from their own benefiting they don't consider it as a positive. More frequently they see it as attracting people away from their play style and thus a negative.

I actually applaud Blizzard for strengthening guilds and encouraging (notice I didn't say forcing) players to join them. Guilds have been weakening over the years and we need to turn that back around. Guilded players have more connections and would be more likely to renew than someone who feels isolated.

It comes down to this. Even if guilds offer a better reward that soloing that IS NOT forcing players to be guilded. That is a misconception. Being forced would mean you physically could no longer solo. I don't take this announcement in that light.

G-Rebel said...

As far as guild leveling is concerned, from what I've read the guild will gain exp & levels from all kinds of activities, including much solo play by the guildies.

Personally, the last 3 guilds I was in there came a point when out of (say 100 members) I was the only one that ever played for days or weeks on end. Even though I enjoy to solo PvE most of the time, it's nice to have others there to talk to, help or call on for help.

I think Blizzard is trying to strengthen many aspects of the game, Raiding, Guilds, and solo PvE in leveling. As a business they would be stupid to isolate one group and only make the game better for them. I will be able to be in a guild, still solo PvE, my guild (as long as people login) will still gain exp through me and we all get guild benefits. There's still much info yet to be realeased, maybe we need to wait before drawing too many absolute conclusions.

Kiryn said...

My only response to this is "bwuh?" I'm seeing more solo content in Cataclysm than any expansion has ever given me.

Sure there are only 5 levels added to the max, and slightly fewer zones than before, but they're completely revamping the entire leveling game! You can practically add every existing zone to the new stuff we're getting. All of it solo content!

Not to mention Path of the Titans giving me something to do at max level that doesn't involve doing dailies for rep to get gear that pales in comparison to 5-man drops. Searching the world for artifacts! Learning new skills and passive bonuses as if I were still leveling, but with a non-experience-based game mechanic.

Unless they are using "solo content" to mean something other than "things I can do by myself." I honestly don't understand where this "solo is dead" idea is coming from. I'm a mostly solo and small group player these days, and I'm extremely excited about what I'm seeing in Cataclysm.

Anonymous said...

new xpack for wow "SOUND" like re vamp
Everquest 2 game ,, ie merge ing Warcraft and Everquest 2 to created "NEW WOW"

mmm sound like old coke-cola , new coca-cola again

Anonymous said...

I think your point:
"Levels are an arbitrary incentive reward given out for playing the game"

sum up a large point of confusion.

To suggest that personal progression stops when your XP bar caps out is silly...

After all, we "all know" the game starts at 60/70/80/85.

People spend more time at level cap "leveling" their rep, crafts and gear than they ever do between 1-x.

I reached 70 with 3 zones unexplored in TBC.
I reached 80 after only completing 3 zones in WoLK.

Solo game finished... gear wise maybe.. definitely not experience wise (vs. XP wise)