Two’s Company: Duoing in MMOs

Some of the most fun times I’ve had playing MMOs have been when I was playing with one other person who I knew from RL. I’ve levelled characters alongside my partner, I’ve levelled characters alongside my sister, and I’ve played a few sessions levelling alongside a friend or guildie who I came to know in game.

In some ways it’s the perfect blend of single player game and MMO. You’re on your own in a massive world filled with other people … but you’re not really alone. It’s you and your BFF against the world! Your group becomes your own private chat channel. You can almost treat the whole experience as a private game just for the two of you, which happens to have other people wandering around in it also. Although duoing does mean you need to coordinate your playing time with one other person, it’s much easier to do this if you know them (or live with them) in real life.

Having another person along means you can take out a lot of those irritating group quests (you know those questlines that start solo and end with a group quest?), especially if you picked a pair of characters that complement each other mechanically. Plus you can pick complementary trade skills to help each other even more.

So really you can have most of the advantages of soloing (ie. the convenience, not needing to rely on lots of people you don’t know), without the disadvantages of being cut out of so much content. Plus you won’t be feeling lonely. It never surprised me that a lot of people like to play in duos with friends or significant others. If you’re both gamers, duoing in an MMO can be a nice way to share your hobby and get some ‘alone time’ together.

I think most players probably underestimate how many other people play in duos. MMO devs don’t. All these games with special bring-a-friend offers cater to the duo, or specifically to the player who wants to encourage a friend or partner to come and duo with them. And it’s also not surprising that so many ‘group’ quests turn out to be duoable.

In fact, I’d be surprised if we don’t see more games experimenting with adding extra small group instancing or scalable content in future. It may well be the sweet spot for players who’d like a game to play with a partner but don’t want the hassle of MMO endgame, and don’t particularly want to meet new people and get ganked by them.

Problems with Duos

Duos can be terrifically antisocial. I know that when I’m happily levelling with a friend and we’re in ‘the zone’ it’s very unlikely that I’ll invite random people to join the group. Why would I? Part of the reason we are playing in a duo is to have some private time together.

Being in a pair also makes it more difficult to join an existing group. They need to have two spare places, and be agreeable to whichever two classes are being played. If a group needs a healer, will they be able or willing to take the rogue as well? And if you do find an existing group to join, will you bother to talk to them or just keep chatting privately while the group gets on with business?

This is going to be much less of an issue in a game like WAR when you can just rock up and join in a public quest without needing to fumble the various group disband and invite commands. But then again, very few people do talk to each other in WAR public quests. They don’t need to. So it’s sociable in the same way that getting on a packed train and only talking to your partner is sociable. Or working in a call centre. Lots of other people around you doing the same thing, but no real need to communicate with them, so no one does.

So I suspect that people in duos are less likely to act sociably than soloers. They don’t need the social contact, they may not need the assistance for group quests, and it’s more difficult for them to join groups unless they create the groups themselves.

The other big issue with duoing is being so reliant on one other person. What happens if you spend all your time in game duoing and your partner decides that they are bored and wants to quit? What if you have incompatible playing styles or one person is much slower than the other to learn how to play? What if they want to join a hardcore raiding guild and you don’t, or vice versa? What if they got bored with their character and want to reroll but you like your high level alt and want to keep going with it?

I find that the most duo friendly games are often the ones that also scale better in general. So if a third or fourth person does want to come along, it’s easy to switch up to appropriate content. City of Heroes is extremely duo friendly and if one person can’t play as much as the other or someone wants to start a new alt, it’s also very very easy for the duo to keep playing together.

(Shame the gameplay bores me rigid and I don’t find it a very exciting world to explore.)

What would be good duo content?

I’d love to see more small group content in games. We enjoyed the three-man instances in LOTRO, for example. But trouble is, it can’t come at the cost of less solo content or less larger group content. The solo content gives everyone more options – even the ones who don’t bring a friend with them – and the larger group content nudges players out to meet and interact with new people, which small group content doesn’t so much.

As long as MMOs are not shipped with the requirement ‘You will need a friend to play’ then the duo content has to be handled carefully. Because playing with one other person can be such a private experience, even a social player isn’t necessarily going to want to hook up with a stranger for hours of instancing. And forcing players artificially into duos is not really good for the social side of a game.

Really I’d rather see better scaling with numbers on non-progression instances. CoH can manage this and there’s no reason other games can’t also. It’s just that these kinds of instances would necessarily have to be fairly easy given how classes usually work. It just isn’t possible to have an instance not only scale with numbers but also give similar challenge to two players of any class unless the similar challenge is ‘it’s easy’ or ‘it’s impossible.’

Having said that, its easy to imagine crafted duo content. Imagine two switches that need to be pressed at the same time, a boat that takes two people working together to sail, and similar styles of encounter. I’m sure it’d be possible to figure out more interesting boss fights also where you know there will be two players involved.

So I’m torn. I’d enjoy more duo content but I can’t help feeling that a game based on that assumption would end up feeling like a virtual Sandals resort, or a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, or Hatton Garden at the weekends (it’s where half of London goes to check out engagement rings) … It’d be the Stepford Wives couples club. And so help me God, the thought makes me run fleeing to my random PUG where people might be annoying but at least they talk to you.

Save me PUG! I don’t want to be a stereotyped couple!!

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23 thoughts on “Two’s Company: Duoing in MMOs

  1. Not quite duo content, but the 2 new 3-person instances that arrived in LotRO Book 8 are very interesting, and show Turbine starting to incorporate the deeper kinds of strategies required for the group and raid content.

    Mobs with enrage timers, mobs that heal and buff each other when in proximity, corruptions that need to be removed quickly, bosses with unique abilities, environmental puzzles. There is some very impressive design on show, especially in how they have managed to enforce a tanking/healing/DPS/support balance without making any one class essential or overpowered.

    I doubt this kind of design would scale down to duos without sacrificing too much, but it offers pretty easy opportunities for duos to try their hand at instance content.

    The skirmish instances that are likely to be added in Book 9 are meant to provide scalable content for any group size. It will be interesting to see how much complexity they have to sacrifice in order to pull it off!

  2. When I first started playing WAR I had a friend join me, we ended up running a couple of Dwarf Engineers and we literally annihilated everything in our path. He eventually quit as his PC wasn’t up to the task of running the game properly but we had good fun for those first couple weeks in RvR and PvE.

  3. > If a group needs a healer, will they be able or willing to take the rogue as well?

    I duoed in warcraft with a rogue, I used to only heal for groups if there was space for the two of us. I remember one group who kicked their friend to make two spaces so they could get a healer

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  5. I think buddy gaming is important for the evolution of MMOs and the growing up of the first adopters. You are right to point out the inclusivity of buddy gaming, and I think that the best way to design that out is scalability and ease of grouping. I also think that henchmen are a good addition.

  6. I’ve mostly duoed or trioed through my MMO experience. Earlier in my experience, I would PUG quite a bit which was actually not as painful as it can be now.

    I was having some fun with duoing in WoW with various combinations. The best seemed to be a Prot/Holy hybrid Paladin with an Ice spec Mage. We duoed most of the old world content but hit a wall with Uldaman where you needed three people to open the gate. :(

  7. My boyfriend and I began playing WoW at the same moment. He’s a gamer and I was not. I rolled a hunter and he rolled a mage. I followed the elven questlines and he followed the human ones. He took the time to show me how to move my character, how to use the chat, what was quests and npcs, what was pvp and how to avoid it, how to use the map and read the quest text. It was a slow process.

    He levelled much more quickly than me and was at max level (70 at the time) when I was half the way to it. I began to do researches on my class to play it better and be more efficient. I discovered addons, guides, forums, blogs, etc… The end of the levelling process was really tedious because I was doing boring quests when he was having fun in Karazhan…

    When the extension hit, we levelled naerly at the same pace but not together, he being still faster than me and always managing to sneak in a few more quests when I’m fed up. But we could try the new dongeons with our guildies at the same time. And we were back to raiding the same day with our friends.

    That’s when we decided to level two new characters together. He rolled a warrior tank and I rolled a healing druid. We simply rushed through quests and zones it was so easy. And once in Northrend, it was really easy to find people for dungeons. And we could duo nearly all the group quests, but we often invited any alone player passing by if they needed the quest.

    But moreover, it was a great way to play together, just the two of us. Now these alts are at max level, we very rarely play them without the other. I really dislike soloing and questing with my healer when it’s so easy with my hunter. Our only soloing moments are when farming or doing dailies. I sometimes pug when I’m feeling adventurous but it often end up with him taking one of his characters to help filling the group.

    It’s strange how we are dependent of each other with those two characters when we are so independant with our main characters.

    And another story about duoing. I was with my hunter and one of our guildies was in the same zone at the same time than me. We spent the afternoon cleaning the zone, I was basically dragged around : it was her third character in the same zone when I was on my first… It was frustrating. It was going too fast for me.

    I liked your article. Really interesting. :)

  8. Brade and I duo with a lot of our characters, but I do frequently get frustrated with it, as we have very different playstyles when it comes to leveling. He likes to just rush off, and do things as fast as he can. Often he will just move along at his own pace doing his own thing, constantly leaving me behind or feeling like I’m chasing after him. It irritates the shit out of me. I like to *read* my quests, and to get them all set up on my quest tracker, and then go about them at my pace, and in the order I feel like. You know…stop and smell the flowers here and there. Once I’m past my main, it’s not a race to get to 80.

    So, what we have taken to doing for our alts is dual specing our tanks/healers and then leveling independantly, but with Brade staying within a level of me (which means that he’s playing more alts than I am because I’m not moving as fast as him). This way I don’t get frustrated all to hell with him as he leaves me behind and just blindly goes about his way, but we can still do instances/groups together when we want to =)

    • I’m the same actually (except I’m the one who speeds ahead) when playing with my husband, and like you we find it easier to quest separately and mostly hook up for instances or group quests.

      I think this is partly because questing is often easier solo (especially when you have to collect lots of stuff).

  9. Up until recently I always played with my husband. We were both gamers who finally gave in to our WoW curiosity and fell in love with the setting, mechanics and overall gameplay.

    It was only after spending a great deal of time raiding in end-game that I started to fight the burnout of constantly playing with others by creating my own little character and soloing things on my main.

    And while I still prefer playing in groups or duoing for the majority of my time, I find there is a real peace and stress-relief to playing WoW alone. :) Great article!

  10. This issue to me stems from game worlds being far too small. For me a minimum game should be the size of something like a continent. Even the smallest one is approximately 3 million square miles.

    The game I want is so damn big that randomly finding another actual human playing is extremely rare. If you want to group with someone you have to arrange to meet them somewhere.

    I just realized that if I really wanted to explain myself and why what I am saying is desirable to me I would have to go into every aspect of the game I would design and this is just supposed to be a comment. :)

  11. Notice the common thread in replies? You duo with the boyfriend or husband. It’s not easy to do it at all unless you live with the person and are both on at the same times, all the time.

    It’s been my experience that really, the only people concerned with specifically duo content are couples. Soloers don’t like teaming up at all, usually because soloing is still easier than a PUG duo. Party members don’t like often having to retrofit for duoing, since a lot of games party builds aren’t designed for the weaker monsters you duo.

    For it to work you’d have to redesign the entire game around it. The offline fakeMMO game .hack used three person parties as a basis of the game, with no real “alliances” even hinted at.

  12. One important thing about duoing that’s not often considered is that it has a large impact on system requirements.

    A couple or family rarely has two top-of-the-line computers. They might have one edge computer, but the other computer will be a few years older. Then the oldest computer gets an upgrade, and the other person lags behind.

    So it’s important that your game be playable on the *second* household computer. I think that is where WoW has a marked advantage. A lot of newer MMOs are definitely playable on the first system, but won’t run on the second system in the household, and so the couple cannot play together.

  13. I duoed with my boyfriend (holy pally and tank druid) from 70-80 which was great fun :) And with a tank and a healer you very seldom seem to have problems filling an instance group :)

    And it’s not only for people who live in the same house (although it is often)… he duoed an alt with his brother who lives interstate as a way to keep in touch and hang out :)

  14. I duoed to 80 w/ my RL wife (Human Warlock / Shadowpriest duo). We’re now leveling up a Warrior / Druid duo, currently in their low 50s. We duo a couple of levels and then powerlevel a level in an instance for the gear.

    Grim

  15. @Wildgrowth – I completely agree. I think many players forget that some people play MMOs to escape for a bit and aren’t interested in direct socialization with others at all times. I find it extremely relaxing to go off in a corner of a game and grind sometimes – release my frustration by obliterating pixel enemies.
    Other times you want to be in large boisterous groups – 40 man raids. Or very small personal groups like duo play with a partner, sibling, friend or child. I’d love to see the day when all of these group compositions can be satisfied within the same game and has scaled content so players can choose the group size for instanced content.

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  17. I’ve been playing LotRO with my better half, and we’ve run into a lot of these issues. The social aspect is the biggest for us. We actually game in the same room, so we talk instead of typing chat. That tends to put some other people off, I think. They don’t realize if I’m typing I’m not referring to my better half.

    This has bit us on the ass lately as we’ve come to some of our higher level quests that absolutely require a group. Since we formed a small guild for us and our alt characters, we’re not in a larger guild that we can call upon to help. We’re considering joining another guild, but it feels a bit cheap to just go join them mostly so we can get help on larger quests. I’m also not sure if she’ll enjoy raiding, especially with the radiance gear requirements currently in the game and the grind that entails.

    I’m playing LotRO right now instead of WoW because my GF is playing LotRO. She got sucked into that game, and I have a blast playing it with her. I agree: I wish there were more options for playing with smaller groups, even if it’s not the better half.

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  19. I thought duoing in Warhammer Online was fantastic. I had one buddy I played with, and we were able to take on lost of public quests alone until we got to Tier 3 and 4. When we needed help, we would often have an open group set up or join an open group, and it was a great way to meet other people.

    I know that’s a limited system since it’s not in other MMOs, but it worked SO well in WAR that I hope future games take the open group system and expand it. It might be my favorite part of that game, and since duoing is my favorite way to group, it really helps the confining feeling that can often come with a questing BFF.

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