With the FFXIV news at E3 and the 9th annual FFXI census, talk about forced group play is stirring once again.
I'm going to be pretty blunt: group play makes games much richer, more social, and much more enjoyable than any solo play. Solo play makes players more reclusive, less interactive, less trustworthy of their fellow players, and downright terrible at the game. I'll cite WoW and all her offspring as examples.
FFXI was a hard game which wasn't very forgiving. However, by the time you were level 30, you knew how to play your class, as did everyone else. Once the party of 6 was assembled, you decided on a place to camp, and off you went. Getting there took some time, but once you were settled, the game play was slow-paced, but not easy. You had to make sure you were paying attention, but not so thought-intrusive as to stop the wonderful social experiences. You got to know a lot of people in your level range; you grouped with them frequently. If you were a jackass to people, you didn't get an invite back into xp parties. FFXI is often sited as having one of the most friendly communities in any online game.
Sure, after playing FFXI for 3 years and tired of waiting around in Jeuno for hours looking for a party, the prospect of soloing was a highly welcomed change. But I've seen what it does to communities, players, and the game itself. Players are not very friendly in WoW. They want to get in, get their shinies, and get out. If you are new to the encounter, you are going to flamed to high hell. Once at level cap, the game changes. Players have no idea how to play in group content because they've been soloing the past 2 months. This creates bad experiences for both the newbie and the veterans.
Imagine getting a pick-up heroic instance group together in WoW and not having to worry about how good the other players are. That is how FFXI is.
There is a sense of urgency in WoW that I think is very insightful: if you can't get a group together in 10 minutes, everyone leaves the party. It doesn't matter if they are multi-tasking by questing or farming, they will still leave.
Maybe the lesson to be learned from this recent generation of MMOs is not that soloability is desired, but rather instant-action. Bring back heavy group content, but make sure someone with only 50 minutes of playtime can get something done. It shouldn't have to take 3 hours to find a group, but I shouldn't be playing an MMO by myself either.