Solo PVP – It’s dead Jim…
Or is it? The subject of ‘solo’ play in EVE comes up with surprising regularity on the EVE forums and the past few weeks have been no exception. A slight twist to this well beaten path is the claim that the once noble Battleship is now languishing behind its smaller Battle-cruiser siblings as the weapon of choice for PVP aficionados.
Much of these comments are hear say and anecdotal but the frequency of them suggests that there’s at least the perception that Solo’ing EVE is more difficult (or perhaps less rewarding) than ever before.
There are, I suggest, two really fundamental pressures on Solo play on EVE today:
Firstly whilst EVE is a big universe, its also become a much more popular universe. The days of travelling through null sec without seeing another soul for days, even weeks, are perhaps long gone. This naturally makes solo pvp, where your ideal target is another solo pilot, that much more difficult. With a more heavily populated New Eden comes a more interconnected New Eden. The use of voice comms, jump portals and cynos (relatively new additions) are far more common as players have adopted them – meaning that even if you do happen across a lone target his help is unlikely to be far away.
The second factor is that solo leading into collaborative play in other MMOs is becoming rather popular. Proposed games such as Guild Wars II, or existing titles like Warhammer Online are pushing the theme of solo exploration that leads into collaborative play. In simple terms whilst roaming about your game world (on some errand or other) you stumble upon an event or incident being attempted by other players and you simply join in – proceeding on your way afterwards.
Naturally the goal of this type of ‘collaborative play’ is to gently nudge you into forming friendships with those you co operate with (the Incursion mechanic for EVE has a similar approach). With these new found friends, so the theory goes, your enjoyment of the game increases and you’re more likely to stay with the game and keep subscribing.
Solo players are a difficult target group for any MMO developer to address. You will probably recognise the “great game; not enough content” comment from other titles. Each solo players wants and needs from an MMO differ meaning that if you create one type of content only a proportion of you player base (both current and prospective) will ‘get it’ and come back for more. Typically ‘solo content’ is also something that players can burn through quickly. Needing a group, especially a specialised group, acts as a type of speed bump slowing down a players progression through that content.
Incursion’s are a good example – if you want to defeat the bigger spawns you’re going to need a bigger gang (or a LOT of alts). Chances are you won’t be able to muster those numbers every single session you play – hence completing that goal takes longer.
So why the hate for solo players? Well its not ‘hate’ for solo players so much as love for social players. Social players are a great boon for any MMO, and EVE is no exception. These types of players create a “social context” which is content, of a sort. Consider the times you’ve logged on to EVE and actually done very little, but chatted lots with your corp mates. That social interaction is free ‘content’ as far developers are concerned.
Social players, as a stereotype, are also fantastic marketing and promotional players. They’re more likely to blog about the game, add links through other networks (e.g Facebook or Twitter) or recommend the game to their immediate friends through word of mouth. This self generating buzz around a game draws in new players (and hence new revenue) like moths to a flame.
For these reasons we can understand why CCP are pushing their efforts into themes like Incarna, or cooperative and ‘network spanning’ features like DUST 514.
All of this though aught to come with a health warning for CCP. All players are, at some point or other, solo players. It might be that point where you log in outside of your routine playing time, perhaps a day off work. Without that social context, and without decent solo content your game world will feel flat, and lifeless. Equally it could be that moment when you just want to be alone amongst others. That sounds slightly existential but human beings can’t maintain a very high level of social interaction indefinitely. Indeed ‘gamers’ as a group are likely to be more inclined to be introverted and confident in acting independently.
Whilst CCP continues to push the theme of bringing people together it shouldn’t forget that much of the fascination about space as a medium is that it’s vast, incomprehensibly vast, uncaring, unfeeling and that you’re in it alone.