Another example of my earlier point, for those of you who've played at least a little FFXI, SE provided similar areas in Valkurm Dunes and Buburimu to exp in. You could say that everyone has a choice as to what zone to play in, but in reality you're forced to choose the Dunes because that's where the parties are and where the lfp players are waiting.
Yes, Valkurm was a more popular leveling spot that Bubu. Did that mean you had no choice but to level in Valkurm? Nope. It meant that if you wanted to rely exclusively on PUGs (strangers), then you had to follow the crowd. If, on the other hand, you made some like-minded friends and decided to mix things up a bit and head out to Bubu, there wasn't a single thing stopping you from doing so. I find it tragic in a way that we would choose to rely on strangers rather than developing a large network of friends and then seek to place restrictions on those strangers in order to influence them to do things the way we want to see them done. You're shifting the source of influence from yourself to the developers, which is maybe not ideal.
Again, if you like to group and out of 300 people who have characters at a roughly similar level of development as yours you can't find enough people to fill a group, what does that tell you? Playstyles, skill level, objectives, tolerance, and people skills all play an enormous role in allowing for a successful group and it's pretty darn hard to develop a system that mitigates those influences. I'm not interested in showing up to a party and having to spend more time adjusting to the boneheadery of people who don't know and don't care to know than on clearing the content, and despite the "community" in FFXI, there were no shortage of players like that. Someone does something that does little more than create a headache for the rest of the group and you ask them politely to try it a different way and what do you usually get? Some sniveling buffoon giving you all manner of grief because they resent their parents and teachers and anyone else who asks them to do anything other than what they want to do. Do you think a developer can find a way to remove that element from the game?
Or what about the other side of the coin...you know from experience in other groups that you're a competent (not uber, not stellar, just nicely adequate) player yet you join a group and all you get from start to finish is some overbearing elitist douchebag spouting off about how great they are and how everyone else sucks, usually starting with gear, followed by skill, and all-too-frequently bottoming out with relentless references to one's intrinsic worth as a human being because 15k xp/hour is just so, so nub.
But that's fun, right? However long you wait just to get the group and you feel compelled to put up with that kind of nonsense simply because "something" is better than nothing? Since when should it be required of players to endure <x> number of hours waiting for a group plus <y> hours spent in crappy groups that either sorely under-perform or contain all manner of people with sub-par behavior and people skills for those handful of shining, glorious hours with the group that finally just clicks for once? And you wonder why people head out solo so that they can have a better shot of enjoying their recreation time and restrict their group efforts to specific short-term objectives instead of relentless grinds with no escape in sight.
You know what I found to be really fun in an MMO that has diverse solo play as one of the many options when you log in? Finding a group of people with similar interests to me and shredding group content. I'll make the effort in an MMO to find a group of people that I enjoy experiencing the content with and they'll be the first people I look to if there's some group content I want to sink my teeth into. I'll PUG occasionally, but if someone relies entirely on PUGs and thinks that it's up to the developer to control the playerbase so that they don't have to build that social network...ya...not gonna fly. And history has shown that the more control you try to exert over the playerbase in an MMO, the smaller that playerbase becomes.
In similar fashion, in a 50/50 solo/group game, the players will deem the solo playstyle as the easiest path to advancement and those who enjoy the group dynamic more will be forced follow suit. This leads to highly contested solo content and a cry to cater more of the content for the solo player. The only way to avoid this is to focus on cooperation and group play.
If there is entertaining and rewarding content that requires a group and is tuned in such a way that a status quo group can manage that content in an hour or so, people will group. Key is that it has to be entertaining and rewarding. It has to be developed and tuned with the human factor in mind in that it's usually best if it's fairly linear and diverse enough to be interesting but not so diverse that people end up not knowing where to go or what to do. That's an area where a developer can influence content to support group play without doing so by placing restrictions on the players. Having to group to level is the antithesis of that.
I do agree there needs to be things to do when time is limited, but they should be different methods of advancement. Give us quests and missions we can do solo to rank up when we don't have time to party. Even reward us with decent items for these accomplishments. A more interesting crafting system... Just don't make 'soro onry' a valid means to reach end game in a multi-player game. I hope this type of mix is what SE was referring to.
What's the difference between solo for character development and grouping for some quests and missions and grouping for character development with solo for groups and missions? I'll take a solo option for the grind and group option for the content any day.
Besides, though it was encouraged, FFXI didn't completely force you to group. There were a few jobs that could solo perfectly fine. PUP and BST if I recall, probably a few other combinations as well.
Ya, but if you ever leveled BST you know that the freedom came with heavy consequences and an unforgiving method of fighting that required a particular mindset that only a small handful of players could maintain. Ideally there would be more diverse options available to players.