With the plethora of MMORPGs now available, each one is vying for a market share. That means trying to provide an even balance of both solo and group options. This may be an impossible goal. Gamers, by and large, are anti-social. Perhaps it’s this anti-social nature that draws them to games, or perhaps playing so many stand-alone games makes them anti-group. Regardless, if players CAN solo, regardless of the benefits of grouping, they will, and in large numbers.
In nearly every MMORPG, the advancement gains for grouping far out way those soloing, yet the die-hard anti-social of the anti-social soloers loudly clings to the firm belief that solo play is faster. They cite how much they gain per defeated creature; all the while neglecting to take into account that while the individual gains are much more than when in a group, a group gains more over time.
If a solo play option exists, even if it’s just a mindless grind of wandering opponents, it will be the major option selected by the player base much to the frustration of players who prefer to group. Making a game more group friendly is not a matter of penalizing soloing, it's a matter of overcoming that innate anti-social nature. The rewards for grouping must be far greater than those for soloing; otherwise, you have almost all soloers. However, if any options that exist for groups only, the soloers become very vocal and demand equal access. It starts a viscous circle that spirals down until everything that can be done, can be done solo, and that is all anybody does. Groups effectively cease to exist.
Why is grouping so important? Why does it matter? From a design point, it doesn’t. From a long-term growth viewpoint, it does. Grouping forces players to interact with each other, in some fashion. Players may chafe and grind playing in a group, but under these conditions they will, eventually, build a social network that will keep them playing even when the next MMOPRG game comes along. It fosters a need to play, to socialize, to be with friends made during these grouping sessions. It helps make a game, to use a web development term – sticky. Players stick with it through the ups and downs, and long after the game has ceased to be envogue.