Is single-player content hurting MMORPGs?

The term "solo friendly" is commonly cited as a virtue of newer MMO titles. Many MMO related forums have threads such as this one over at MMORPG.com which discuss the "soloability" of player classes within an MMORPG. In fact many of the elements of games such as Everquest which players have complained about over the years such as "forced grouping," "camping spawns," or "racing for non-instanced content" have all but been removed from the most recent MMORPG releases.

When was the last time you saw two guilds racing to kill the same mob in World of Warcraft? How many of you have spent more than 30 minutes on a corpse recovery in City of Heroes? (That is a trick question, since there is no need to recover your corpse in that game.)

Many of you might be saying to yourselves "Good riddance! I hated that part of the game when I played EQ!" Ironically, the features we hated about older MMORPGs might be the very same things that bind server and game communities together. For instance, many Everquest server communities like the Druzzil Ro Forums are still going strong after 7 years. Many of the members of these communities don't play those games anymore, but they still remain part of their old server community forging bonds with other players that last beyond the cancellation of their game subscriptions.

Will such bonds still occur if those games allowed players to progress from level 1 to level 70 without requiring the player to join a group? Does the fact that end-game guilds were forced to compete more directly with one another in order to conquer various raid bosses in games like Everquest mean that those guilds felt more of a sense of pride and accomplishment than they would in a game like World of Warcraft?

Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. In the quest to make MMORPGs more accessible to the masses, maybe the games have de-emphasized the social aspects of MMOs too much. Rather than advocate a return to "required grouping," maybe there is a yet-undiscovered game mechanic that will allow players to group together without requiring an hour or more of <LFG> before letting someone play the game. Maybe instanced content isn't the panacea that many players initially thought it was. Rather than tailoring game content for a specific number of players, make the content customizable so that it remains challenging for groups of any size. (in fairness, City of Heroes does an admirable job of this already)

Ultimately, the staying power of an MMORPG will come from the strength of the communities that form around it. Many newer games offer more eye-candy and fancier game mechanics than games like Everquest or Ultima Online, but both of those games are still going strong while many newer and flashier games have already been consigned to the "Where Are They Now?" file.

This article was originally published on Massively.