What if we have our group and solo content the wrong way round?

I was pondering the other day why raids can be so stressful in WoW.

There’s pressure on players, and there can be crazy amounts of pressure on guild officers. You could say that there’s pressure because of the difficulty but sometimes it feels as though the whole raid guild social structure is on edge for all of the time. You cannot really grok this until you have been a guild officer in a failing progression guild and seen people leave because the progress wasn’t fast enough, and held your head in your hands (metaphorically speaking) wondering where the heck you’ll find another ‘class of choice’ so that you can keep the schedule going … so that more people won’t leave.

And I know I have played games where the whole raiding experience was just more fun. I mean, for the organisers as well as participants. So I don’t think it’s a given that raids need to be so hard that they cause stress fractures in guilds and it’s accepted by the player base as the cost of entry.

So I’m thinking, surely it’s possible to design fun raids that aren’t going to cause all this massive stress? Raids should be appealing to social players whether they’re hardcore achievers or not. Because they get to hang out with other players in a scheduled event. PvP raids, for example, are not so stressful.

Here’s the way things stand in WoW-type games at the moment with regards to challenge and difficulty.

Note: I’m leaving aside PvP, which generally sets its own level in terms of difficulty. So really it’s by far the most balanced way of introducing difficulty into a game. Also leaving aside the economic game which is a form of PvP.

Levelling

The levelling experience contains a mixture of solo and group content. It is generally easy.

The solo sections are particularly easy because they need to be accessible to a large cross-section of players and classes. Solo parts of the game are quest based and story based –- the stories may not be great but they’re supposed to be entertaining ways to get levels, not brick walls. Also some games have sufficiently poor class design that solo challenge varies strongly between classes. (Yes I went there.) In games like that, it’s very difficult to design solo content that’s challenging for the hunter but still accessible to the resto shaman. Or vice versa.

If a solo player wants more of a challenge then they can try higher level quests, or think of additional personal challenges (i.e.. solo a lower level instance, pull more mobs, etc).

Group content while levelling is reasonably easy. It is accessible to players who are still learning the game. So a lot of the implicit challenge is just learning to play your character in a group.

Endgame

Solo content is repetitive and easy. People can still think up their own personal challenges but there aren’t many new goals in terms of character progression for them.

Group/ raid content can vary from straightforward to bitching hard. The most stressful things you will ever do in game will be in groups or raids. You do have options to make things even harder by undermanning group content or attempting hard modes.

What if the raids were easy and the solo content hard?

So here is the thought experiment:

What if the raids were relatively straightforward? Make them into mass entertainment in terms of fun encounters, gorgeous scenery, cool vehicles, and so on. Let people ride on dragons, sink battleships, conduct orchestras, shoot each other out of cannons, blow up fortresses, play on ice slides and have a good time. Raids include some of the most entertaining content in the game, and the best stories. They should need tactics but let them be quite forgiving. Rewards can still be good, but few. So raiding becomes a fun night out with a small chance to win a good item.

Sure, it’s the gaming equivalent of going to the cinema to see a summer blockbuster but heck, why not?

And what if it was the small group and solo content that contained more of the challenge?  Give them the tricky puzzle-pulls that need to be worked out in advance. The smart bosses that adjust themselves to player tactics. The NPC group that uses PvP tactics to focus the healer first. The heart-thumping stealth instances where you get to do the Mission Impossible thang. The in game experiences that are actually more powerful when you are solo or with a small group and every single person makes a difference. And make rewards smaller but guaranteed – maybe badge based so that the solo player could eventually buy equivalents to raid loot.  So if you follow the solo or small group path, you’ll have a more difficult game but loot is not a lottery.

Would you play that game? I know that I would.