A Single-Player MOBA?

Tobold has come up with an intriguing, if heretical, idea: Why not a soloable or single-player MOBA (or game mode?)

It’ll catch a hitherto untapped audience, those that prefer PvE or those that can’t commit to the length of a match with other players (without a pause button to periodically go AFK) or those simply too nervous to learn the depth of a MOBA while facing the habitual toxicity of its regular audience (and provide a stepping stone training mode for those who might not mind PvP but want some extended practice by themselves first.)

The imagined protests that immediately cross my mind are those that shriek, “OMG, the very POINT of a MOBA is to group up to defeat challenges! Teamwork and communication are critical! The very feeling we’re craving is in that practiced coordination and super-smooth execution! Go solo somewhere else, like a singleplayer RPG, and not in MY game!”

Amusingly, it seems to be a similar protest to those who oppose soloability in MMOs, or soloable dungeons, or what-have-you.

There appears to be an underlying fear that they won’t have anyone to play with, if a solo option existed.

But frankly, that seems to be a completely off-base assumption, given the example of both solo and group options co-existing in MMOs. The social players still party up and complain bitterly about instances that force them to solo, the solo players still wander off by themselves and complain bitterly about instances that force them to group, and if the devs manage to hit that magic “no-forcing, solo or group as you prefer” option, then everyone seems more or less happy, or at least, content to deal with it.

Creating alternative game modes is great for variety, offering choices for people with different preferences.

The danger seems to be mostly overwhelming a player with options (which basically means they need a linear progression path or some kind of signposting or a “do this activity for more bonuses today!” promotion), plus the issue of having to devote sufficient developer resources to tend to that game mode.

Some people might wonder, “Well, in many MOBAs today, you can already play solo, in a sense. What’s he going on about?”

It’s true. Many many people solo queue into a match that contains other players on both sides.

Still others will solo queue into a co-op game, in which players are all on one side and bots on another, which is the equivalent of GW2-like social engineering – everyone on the same side, incentivized to cooperate against a computer-controlled enemy team, essentially PvE in a MOBA.

Anyone can easily set up a bot game in which all other nine players are bots, where they are completely alone and left in peace to do whatever the hell they want, or a custom game where they can tweak some variant of this player-bot formula to however they like.

But I think Tobold is implying something a little more. That developers can explore this as yet unexperimented-with space or niche further.

An easy analogy is that of dungeons in an MMO.

People expect to group up, to have roles and experience teamwork while defeating a sequence of enemies (with complex mechanics to learn) for rewards at the end.

However, we have the example of Guild Wars 1, which turned the concept of dungeoning on its head a little by letting players solo their way through pretty much all instances with henchmen or heroes (and mind you, some players still grouped to do the harder dungeons faster and more efficiently.) Ditto The Secret World, if I remember correctly, some instances were soloable.

We have Guild Wars 2, which has experimented with the idea of the Queen’s Gauntlet, a solo-only series of challenges (with complex mechanic to learn), as well as inadvertently produced a challenging side activity of soloing dungeons meant for groups (which appeals to another subset of players.)

Why not create MOBA game modes with a little twist to them?

One interesting possibility that comes to mind goes back to a MOBA’s RTS roots. Just like you could have one player control a number of heroes in GW1, why not let a single player control multiple MOBA heroes?  That would probably be a great multi-tasking, micro-taxing, control-group practice singleplayer challenge right there. It’s not as if MOBAs don’t embrace that concept already, with heroes that can summon other mobs or illusions.

Something else players of singleplayer modes do expect is some kind of narrative or progression path to follow. Why not throw in a story mode in chapters bookending MOBA fights, perhaps with preset groups of opposing or allied heroes?

It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Duels of the Planeswalkers is a Magic: The Gathering game that some players buy for its PvP, and some of whom merely buy to play its singleplayer chapters or puzzle challenges, unlocking cards along the way.

One might protest that without other players to show off vanity cosmetics to, that the whole revenue stream of a MOBA might break down.

However, one could also offer hero unlocks a la League of Legends or Marvel Heroes, or even content unlocks where each hero has a ‘story mode’ that you could pay for in microtransactions. PvP players who don’t give a damn wouldn’t be nickle and dimed at all, while PvE players who like that sort of thing might be convinced to pay $2-5 for several more hours of unique gameplay/maps/puzzle/story DLC.

Unlocking special achievements or increasing levels are another easy way to keep a singleplayer gamer solo farming or engaging in speed runs or mastering Dark Souls-difficulty challenges to their heart’s content. Get X number of last hits or creep or hero kills, win Y as hero or other, defeat Z mob with some kind of mechanic or finish the match in a set amount of time or whatever.

You could have leaderboards for this version of asynchronous competition too, again akin to certain competitive mode challenges in Guild Wars 1, or even in games like Batman: Arkham _Whatever_, where you have combat and predator challenges for a single player to test themselves against, improve their score versus other players’ scores and so on.

In my opinion, the singleplayer MOBA (or variant game modes thereof) is certainly worth a company’s time to experiment and tinker with. It’ll be interesting to see which MOBA decides to eventually branch or innovate in this direction, or if they think grabbing their handfuls of the competitive PvP / eSports pie is more than sufficient to focus on.

Paraphrased Quote of the Day

From a comment by MMOjuggler over at Keen and Graev‘s, slightly paraphrased by moi:

“One person’s entitlement is someone else’s customer preference.”

So…

…how much are you willing to pay again, in order to not have to share your game with others of a different playstyle preference?

According to Crowfall’s Kickstarter, the answer is a very rough average of $100 per person (specifically for Crowfall’s potential playerbase anyway, though I wonder how much they’ll balk if asked for more money later.)

I also wonder if it’s really a good thing to have zero conflict of player preferences in a game. Where everyone is of the same mind all the time? Does that a community make, or just a cult of groupthink?

Will a constant dose of always good and always happy feelings become boring and stagnant, without an occasional influx of the bad to offer contrast and subsequent renewed appreciation of the good when it does happen? A slot machine is most attractive with unpredictable staggered rewards, after all.

Perhaps this is why we see many MMO devs adapting their game to a form where there are many different activities appealing to different playstyles, where little mini-communities can form around each activity.

Except that this produces a new problem, in the shape of potential insular silos that may develop and proceed to chase other players (and worse, -new- players) away from the activity they are zealously guarding.

So maybe the next angle of attack is… how can one encourage the naturally forming little communities to interact with each other, communicate and share information, and even intermix or intermingle sufficiently to the point where folks don’t feel hostile towards another group?

Bloggy XMAS Day 14: Community and You

I come across a very common theme when I read MMO blogs:

It’s a lament that someone is looking for a community to be part of, but somehow can’t quite find the right game or the right group, or can’t quite spare the time or effort or investment in order to belong.

It made me very curious about the age-old questions on “How do communities form?” or “How do we join a community?” or even “Why do we need community?”

Google, you may be surprised, was not much help.

I got a lot of hits on questions regarding forms, the word “community” just happening to be in some sidebar or other, whereupon which clicking will bring you to that site’s forums.

I got told that you can “join our community” by “clicking this button or this link!” (Yeah, right, as easy as that.)

And, of course, I start getting religion thrown at me when I ask Why questions.

I did, however, find a few interesting links:

  • Michael Wu differentiates between social networks and communities by specifying that an individual generally has only one social network of pre-existing relationships, made up of all the people you know, while communities of various groups of people are formed around and held together by a shared common interest.

He goes on to discuss the formation of relationships between two people and how a weak tie might become a strong one, as well as further overlap and interaction between social networks and communities.

  • Social Media course website provides further reading links, where communities are defined from an economic standpoint, with social capital flowing through the system.

Still, all of this theory doesn’t really answer my main burning question on how to help or encourage those who are seeking a community to find and join one – and just how precisely they should be doing that, since it’s much easier said than done, without clear and constructive suggestions on how to go about that.

Psychochild comes at the community question from the perspective of a game designer or community manager, which is rather fascinating from a non-developer’s standpoint, to see a dev’s take on things. He’s got a lot of grounded advice on how to create, manage and/or lead one.

But what about the just regular joes, the followers, the introverts, the socially anxious, or the players like me that are more than a little allergic to leading these days? The ones that just want to be part of something, and might even settle for a zerg or one of the faceless crowds in lieu of anything better?

Well, if it’s only introversion standing in your way, David Seah’s “Community Building For Introverts” is worth a read.

He finds that it’s worth standing up to lead and “be the mayor” because that way, it’s easier for introverts to control the extent of their interactions with people and who and how many get to enter their community. There’s always a lot more followers than leaders, after all.

What if you’re like me though, and have been so burned out by the effort of leading that any suggestion towards being a nucleus or the center of something makes you want to run screaming to hide in a deep dark quiet hole somewhere away from the hell that is other people?

You see, I got good news and bad news.

The bad news is, if you want to be part of a community, if you’re feeling lonely or just a wish to maybe feel like you belong somewhere, you DO have to make some kind of effort at it.

The good news is, you don’t have to be the center of attention, you don’t have to lead.

Here’s an inspirational idea from a TED talk on “How to Start a Movement.”

You can be the Second Man aka the first follower.

You can be the guy (or gal) to join the first crazy person and offer support and validation of that idea. That reassurance and support encourages others to join in.

Before you know it, a community has surrounded you, and phew, you’re still not the freakin’ center of attention. That’s the first crazy person’s job.

Personally, this appeals to me a lot because I like being behind-the-scenes and still a right-hand person sort of figure.

But what if you don’t have the time or effort to be the Second Man?

Well, you can still be the third, or the fourth, or the fifth, or the Nth person to join in.

The important thing is, you still have to show up.

If you want to be part of a community, you have to make the effort to be there somehow.

In order for others to recognize you, your name or your face has to turn up regularly enough for people to make a connection.

Watching TV doesn’t take a lot of effort, but you still gotta sit your butt on the couch at a certain time and turn the TV on. (Even in the days of Netflix where TV comes on demand, you still have to set aside an hour to watch that show, even if it’s at an hour of your choosing.)

No one’s asking that you jump in there and start leading or become 100% active in whatever community you’re after, but you can take small baby steps of joining and belonging.

Log in. Play for whatever set time you’ve decided. Take note of the people or guild tags that play at that time. Research a guild. Join a guild. Attend events. Participate.

It’s not necessarily a linear sequence, mind you. You might go back and forth for a bit. Some days you might just only be able to do one step or two. Or not at all. Just get back on the wagon when you can.

If it’s a blogging or forum or social media-y community, then y’know… Read posts. Make an account. Lurk. Toss in a comment or two when you can. Maybe even get around to full creation of a post when you have the time.

Sometimes it’ll involve a bit of personal sacrifice.

Tradeoffs of time where one could be sleeping, or doing something else equally tempting, and maybe even personally profitable over merely being social with the community.

But you know, social capital has value too.

Regardless of whether it pays off in just good feelings or the power of reciprocal relationships to get someone else to help you out with something you need or want.

If you want that sense of community, then invest in it.