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Massively multiplayer single player gaming

Jennie Lees

The PlayOn project has been quietly gathering data about how we play World of Warcraft for the past eight months, across five representative servers, and their findings are neatly summarised over at Terra Nova.

By looking at the time spent in groups, and the social interactions embodied in guilds, they've found some interesting results:

  • Players spend about 30% of their time grouped at lower levels, but the majority of their time in groups after level 56.
  • 62% of players are in guilds, but 17.5% of players are in one-person guilds.
  • The median guild size is only 9, and very few (<10%) have over 35 members.
  • Players on average only group with 11% of their guildmates for more than 10 minutes.
So what do players do when they're playing alone? Why spend most of your time solo in a multiplayer world? My style of play fits a lot of these averages. When levelling, I generally solo, I rarely group with guild members (there are over 100 of us, but very few under 60) and I do have a character in a "vanity guild".

The author of the report goes on to explain some of the things we do that require the multiplayer aspect of the game:
  • Show off in front of an audience
  • Enjoy the social presence of other people; even if we don't adventure with them, we chat and trade
  • Watch other people do silly things
Of course, there's the darker side of multiplayer too; having people to scam, rip off and generally make life hard for does attract some players. However, it seems that being able to play by yourself with other people around is surprisingly important to WoW players. Given that we've all got different commitments and different playing schedules, it makes sense for the game to be soloable, but what these statistics don't show is quite what players get up to with each other. The feeling of a successful night's soloing pales in comparison with a BG winning streak or the efficient clearing of an instance, to me, but the latter two possibly feel better because they are so rare.

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