Although it’s updated somewhat sporadically, Scott Miller’s Game Matters is one of the more thought-provoking game blogs out there. While catching up on my reading there, I came across an interesting post suggesting that World of Warcraft‘s extreme popularity is due at least in part to the fact that almost alone among massively-multiplayer games, it can be played alone. Says Miller:
There’s one overriding reason I played WoW, while I never played previous MMOs: I could solo all the way to the top. Not once did I group to enter an instance. Occasionally I grouped with players in the same area doing the same quest, and occasionally with a friend to share a quest, but 95 percent of my experience was as a solo player. And that’s how I prefer it. I like to be able to jump into the game and play without waiting to form a group, getting right down to the business of fun.
It’s a relief to see somebody else admit that, because I’ve had a similar experience with WoW and have wondered how common it is. For a multiplayer game, WoW works surprisingly well as a single-player game. I enjoy grouping up with other players a bit more than Miller apparently does–when the teamwork comes together, the experience of conquering a tough dungeon as part of a group is a real thrill–but I confess I’ve rather guiltily enjoyed a lot of the game without interacting much with my fellow players.
Miller then asks the obvious question: if you’re going to play the game solo anyway, why not stick with single-player-only games like Morrowind and its ilk, and avoid paying the montly Warcraft fee? It may sound strange if you’ve not experienced it, but his answer is dead on: it’s somehow just more fun when the world is populated by “real people,” even if your interaction with said real people is quite limited. Crossing paths with other lone adventurers in the far corners of Azeroth, making my way through the teeming, diverse crowds of Orgrimmar, and knowing that the potions I’m selling at the auction house are being bought and used by other real people–there’s just an intangible thrill to it all. There’s a hard-to-define depth and sense of immersion that simply isn’t there in even the most elaborate single-player games.
So it’s good to know that on those days when I just don’t feel like interacting with other players–when I just want to hike off into the Badlands without having to chat it up with guildmates, when I don’t feel like spending an hour organizing an expedition into the Wailing Caverns–I’m not alone. Solo players of World of Warcraft,
unite keep goin’ it alone!