"This talk explores one of the more interesting puzzles of massively multiplayer game design: why do so many people choose to play these games alone? How should designers reach these customers? How important is solo play to games? Should game designers try to entice solo players to enjoy group mechanics like raiding, sieges or PvP? Or are MMOs destined to become 'massively single-player games'?"I've known Damion (casually) for years, and I'm constantly impressed by his digging into the tougher (and/ or more important) game design challenges, with concrete takeaways. I don't like to summarize his talks, because theres so much rich content there. But I will anyway. Check out is blog, http://www.zenofdesign.com/, for more of wisdom and wittyisms.
This talk was about the shift over the last five years in MMOs toward providing (really, requiring) solo play in addition to the "massive". He identified several types of "Loner" - both legitimate (personality type or good game design) and illegitimate (broken game states). Damion offered a large number of concrete design techniques that could help make great games (and avoid game-killing design mistakes)
Damion made an important observation that the "massive" is the differentiation for MMOs - "We can't compete in any other area". Despite this, it's not even an option to create an MMO without a solo aspect.
He also covered bits of psychology and usability -- like, many people don't want to learn publicly; but even more, they don't want to be embarrassed publicly.
Damion made some important real-world data analogies to MMO design (traffic, bars, casino design) that would serve game designers well to consider.
There are also gradations of solo players. Many people (like me) choose to play socially with friends, but solo if friends aren't online
Sociopaths, at their simplest, don't recognize social norms for the space they're in. But everyone who's new to a given MMO is a sociopath, until the designer explicitly trains them otherwise (you don't know the social norms for the new space until you're taught them, and they're ingrained). People who don't change or don't care need to be retrained, channeled, or booted.
From a game design perspective, being "a Loner" is OK; forced into being lonely is not, and is a borked game state.