Reasons to Play an MMO (Alone)
by Tyler Edwards, May 8, 2013
Massively multiplayer games are a social medium, and their high end content almost always requires cooperation between players. Even so, there are a surprisingly large number of MMO players who play mostly or entirely alone. Whether these players are a good thing or a bad thing for the genre is a discussion for another time, but they're definitely here to stay. If you've been tempted to try MMOs but are intimidated by the social aspect, or if you ever wondered why someone would play an MMO alone, this article will provide some of the reasons to play an MMO that have nothing to do with other people.
A virtual world :
Barring certain games that are more lobby based, MMOs usually offer vast virtual worlds for players to immerse themselves in. Your average MMO world dwarfs the environments of single player games and offers greater variety of landscapes, greater potential for exploration, and more seamless travel between different locales.
For some people, there's a certain indefinable appeal to being able to lose yourself in a complete fictional world. It speaks to that part of us that's still a child who wants to do nothing but play all day and live purely in our imagination. Many games offer interesting environments and intriguing universes, but it takes a complete world to satisfy this particular desire.
You can get this experience from certain single player games with large open worlds, notably the Elder Scrolls series of games, but for true connoisseurs of virtual worlds, MMOs are the best option. The MMO genre offers the most and biggest digital worlds to explore.
Because MMOs worlds are persistent, they grow and evolve over time, as well. Patches and expansions add new areas and sometimes alter or even completely reshape familiar territories. This helps to further the fantasy of exploring an alternate world, and it's not an experience that single player games can readily duplicate.
The challenge :
As a general rule, MMOs aren't terribly challenging games. They're designed with broad appeal in mind, and success is usually more dependant on a player's available time or social connections than their skill.
But if you set your eyes on content not intended to be played alone, suddenly MMOs can become very challenging.
Obviously, some group challenges are just out of reach of the solo player. A soloist will not get anywhere in a newly released ten man raid instance. But there are options.
Open world group quests are usually tuned with only two or three players in mind. With a good character build and a bit of effort, a solitary player can usually fight their way through these. Exceptionally powerful classes may be able to handle even more difficult content.
Outdated content can also provide an excellent challenge for the soloist. There's a special kind of thrill to taking on a twenty five man raid boss all by your lonesome. Trying to overcome fight mechanics intended for multiple people is a unique challenge that can't really be replicated anywhere else. In older games with a huge amount of obsolete content, such as World of Warcraft, the soloist will find no shortage of challenges awaiting them.
Lots of content :
MMOs are, well, massive. Even the smaller games are easily equal to the biggest single player games in sheer volume of content, and that's before more is added in patches and expansions.
Even if you limit yourself to the "main" content – quests, dungeons, player versus player, and the like – it can take weeks or even months for the average player to blow through the full content of an MMO.
And then there are secondary forms of play. Crafting can easily provide hours of entertainment for those who wish to be the best virtual tradespeople. There's exploration, there's achievement hunting, there's tracking down rare mobs...
If you finally get bored of all that, you can start leveling new characters. If an MMO has good class design, playing as a new character can make it feel almost like an entirely different game. Whereas a warrior might be able to cruise through whole crowds of enemies, shrugging off blows with heavy armor, an assassin would more likely require a careful, methodical play style based on choosing your battles.
MMOs tend to have many more options for play than a single player game, and they can keep a thorough player busy for a very long time even if that player never touches the group content.
Ongoing updates :
Related to the above, MMOs are constantly adding new content in the form of patches, downloadable content (DLCs), and expansion packs. Added to the substantive content MMOs start out with, these can allow you to keep playing a single game almost indefinitely.
Single player games just can't match MMOs for frequency and quantity of updates. When a single player game is released, it's essentially done. What you see is what you get. MMOs, by comparison, never stop getting updated until the day they shut down for good. Some games, like Guild Wars 2, update as often as every month.
Single player games might release the occasional expansion pack or DLC, but they're still generally smaller than their MMO equivalents. Patches for MMOs are usually free, as well, whereas DLCs for single player games are often rather pricey.
For those who want to stick with a game over the long haul, MMOs are definitely the best option, and there can be a certain satisfaction in making an MMO your long term virtual home. You'll find yourself growing more attached to the world and your character (or characters). MMOs can become a kind of "comfort food" gaming, a digital home away from home that you can keep coming back to.
They're (potentially) cheaper :
This one depends somewhat on your gaming habits and what games you play, but MMOs can potentially be much cheaper to play long term than single player games.
MMOs can be costly over the long haul, especially if you're playing a game with a traditional subscription model. $15 a month can add up over the years. But it's still probably going to work out to less than playing single player games for the same length of time would.
Consider that your average single player game costs around $60, and if you play often, even a very big game will probably only keep you busy for a couple of weeks – a month or two at most. If you make a habit of that, it rapidly adds up to more than the subscription fee for an MMO.
Furthermore, many MMOs are now free to play or require only that you buy the box. Most of these rely on micro transactions for their money, but these tend to be optional, depending on how generous the game's business model is. Free to play and buy to play games can be an incredibly good value over the long haul.
You just like the game:
Sometimes you just enjoy an MMO for reasons completely independent of its multiplayer nature. Maybe you can't get enough of the combat in TERA, or you love the storytelling in The Secret World, or you've got a soft spot for the cartoony vibrancy of World of Warcraft.
If a game is truly a good MMO, then it's also a good game, period. The social aspect is a big part of the appeal of MMOs, and it's sometimes used to compensate for lackluster gameplay, but any MMO worth its salt will have a lot going for it as a game beyond any social factors.
A good MMO will provide an exciting storyline, satisfying combat, nice graphics, compelling progression systems, strong character customization, and hopefully quests that are a bit more interesting than the standard "kill ten rats" fare. All of these are good reasons to play a game that are not dependent on making use of its social side.
It's not necessary to like every aspect of a game to play and enjoy it. There are undoubtedly aspects of your favorite games you don't particularly like, features that you ignore or try to forget about. Ultimately, the social side of MMOs is just one aspect of the genre – albeit a very important one – and there are still things to appreciate about them even if you completely ignore that aspect.