However it’s not the problem with catch-up mechanisms, it’s the problem with raiding in MMOs. The real problem is – and always was – that an MMO consists of two completely different games: the leveling and gearing needs single player or only short-time teamings, while the endgame needs stable group play. The “solo is easy and raiding is hard” is wrong, solo is easy because it’s made easy and raiding was only hard because was tuned hard, LFR shows that it can be tuned pretty easy.
The fundamental problem is that these completely different games have completely different playerbases who are pushed into the same game by inconsiderate devs. It is now customary in WoW that both groups needs to do at least some of the other activity to be able to do its own game. Solo players are expected to run at least LFR to get gear and some quests done, while raiders are expected to level up and get some gear from 5-mans.
Both groups are unhappy. Soloers hate that their gear is always sub-par to raiders and some achievements are unavailable to them. There is also very few challenging solo content. Raiders consider solo play a necessary grind forced upon them.
I agree that this model needs catch-up which is poison to MMOs, as it means that the best way of progression is logging off and waiting till the desired item becomes catch-up. Ergo, the solution is to separate raiding games from open-world MMOs. They can use similar assets and rulesets (“WoW: king of the raid” and “WoW the epic world”) but the players can’t play together.
If I’d design an MMO now, I’d go with no-catch up and no raids, making the whole game completable solo. This doesn’t rule out grouping for convenience and faster grinding, but achievement-worthy actions would be in solo instances.
How would I “fix” WoW now to get rid of catch-up poison and still not lose half of the playerbase? By completely separating the two kind of gameplay, yet allow them to support each other:
- There would be solo, open-world content, some easy grinding and some solo-instanced challenging content. There would also be group content, some grinding and some hard challenging raids
- There would be solo and group classes. Some classes would be great for solo (self-only heals, interrupts, CCs, limited mitigation, limited damage) while other classes would be great for groups (strong heal but no damage; strong mitigation but no heals and low damage; huge damage but no heal, no mitigation). So players would pick a class according to their playstyle.
- Solo classes would start at lvl 1 and can only advance to certain zones by completing the solo content before it (for example you can’t go to Outland before you complete Silithus main storyline).
- The solo content isn’t just grind, there are solo-instance bosses that are hard. If someone completes the main storyline quests (needed to advance), he will be underleveled and face these bosses at orange, needing lots of skill to win. Less skilled players need to complete side quests too to get enough XP and gear to face these bosses at equal level and better gear. Bad players have to grind to outlevel the bosses and to get superior gear from collectibles.
- The group classes would start at max level and get instant-boost to max level when level cap is increased. They also receive starter gear that allows them to start group content.
- Solo content (quest rewards, solo boss drops, collectible shops) only rewards gear usable by solo classes. Group content (boss drops, BoEs, badge shops) only rewards gear usable by group classes.
- So far, the two kind of players play completely separate games on the same server, now let’s make some connection: challenging solo instances that can only be defeated by max level, geared solo classes rewards guild-only consumables. These are only good for group content and mandatory for high-level group content. These cannot be traded openly, only put to the bank by guild members whose contributions are recorded. They have limited lifespan (expire in a few days to prevent stockpiling) and are lost if someone joins a guild, so a seller can’t just jump guilds, you have to get them in a guild. A competitive raiding guild cannot function without top solo players collecting consumables for them.
- Bosskills create a guild-wide buff that increases solo instance gear drop chance, solo XP bonus for leveling, bonus for solo grind collectibles. Buffs increase in strength by the difficulty of the bosses killed. So the better the raiders are, the better rewards the solo players get.
- Guild sizes would be limited to prevent a famous raiding guild to have hordes of soloers. Assuming 20-men raid size, 50 raiding and 50 solo character slots would be optimal. One can also create casual leveling guild which has no raider slots, unlimited solo slots, but of course no raiding buffs.
Please note that with my plan, the solo and group players would still play separated and wouldn’t play together, yet they would play the same game and help each other with buffs.