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The problem with grouping

For the longest time, I wasn’t a fan of grouping. I played solo, talked in guild chat, and was happy with only teaming up when it was time to run a dungeon. It stands in contrast to how I’d played MUDs beforehand. I had been social before and would meet up with friends I’d made in-game to adventure often. Yet, when I made the jump to a “real” MMO that disappeared. I became a voice in guild chat and the occasional raid buddy.

Nowadays, things are much different. I love grouping, talking in vent, and generally being a community member instead of just a player. So, I ask myself: what happened?

I think it all comes down to opening the door on the MMO genre. The difference between then and now is that I had been playing WoW and now I’m not. Warcraft jumped into the field and proclaimed themselves to be the MMO for the non-MMOer. It was the game that opened doors except that, in doing so, they closed others in the process.

For some reason that I’ll never fathom, they decided that people who group to complete quests should be punished. Maybe it’s that that they want to “guide your experience” and leave less to chance. But why punish? At the end of the day, unless Blizzard tells you to group up, and sometimes even when they do, you’re going to get less xp per kill and progress slower than if you went it alone. If that’s not the nail in grouping’s coffin, I don’t know what is.

For a single game, the “solo to level-cap” ideal wouldn’t much matter. The problem is that game studios and, more importantly, publishers want to emulate WoW’s success. So, we see this model repeated until soloability becomes the expectation. No big game “forces” you to group. They might encourage it. But there are always ways to advance, even if it’s plain old grinding. Yet, that fact is one that gets lost in the complaints that players shouldn’t be “forced” to do things that “aren’t fun.” As a result, games release more “casual” content so people can play by themselves in these massively multiplayer worlds.

I didn’t realize the bubble my playstyle had been in until I escaped the WoW-trap and hopped between games for a while. I don’t like feeling like I have to do something any more than the next guy but I found out that taking risks and trying something new can actually wind up being a lot of fun. Darkfall, for all of its hardcore-i-ness was one of the single most fun MMOs I’ve ever played for the simple reason that it was the single most social game I’ve ever played. Yet it stayed true to its MMO roots. I’m not talking Free Realms social with Darkfall, I’m talking get together and overcome social.

Even though I’m not playing WoW anymore, it’s still the industry trend setter. It’s the Big Daddy of the MMO world and when it moves, people turn and look. And if, one day, it wears a blue shirt, it’s not unlikely that the other kids will start to wear blue shirts too.

You know, for all of the good WoW has done the industry, I kind of wish they’d never taken up a leveling model. I know, it’s the natural move, but doesn’t level separation create walls that’re hard to overcome? Someday, it’d be nice to have a game with all of the MMO bells and whistles that will let you hop in and group with from the get go. Levels don’t let you do that.

For the time being, I’m contented. I can solo when I want and group up when the mood strikes me. That’s something I really like about Aion right now. The K&G and Havok community are active and fun and a pleasure to talk to on vent. They say that community makes or breaks a game and I’ve found that true. As we move forward, I hope the WoW approach to grouping is something we leave behind. Keep the option, drop the penalty, and we all win.

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  1. xXJayeDuBXx

    For me I would only group in WoW outside of a dungeon or elite quest only if I had a rested bonus. I love grouping in Champions and did in City of Heroes as well because you are not punished for it, and it’s fun.

    1. Chris "Syeric" Coke

      I agree, it is fun. It’s too bad we take the path of least resistance so often. Then again, I don’t know why Blizzard would make grouping a path of resistance in everything other than dungeons or raids. It just seems like a recipe for bad PuGs, IMO.

  2. Blue Kae

    I’m glad we’ve moved away from the EQ forced grouping design. I do like to group, it makes for a more social and enjoyable experience than just grinding mobs or quests. But I don’t like standing in Iron Forge, Bree, or Altdorf trying to put together a group because I’m stuck on a list of group only quests. A lot of players will take the path of least resistance, but they’re responsible for their own fun. I’d rather not have a game force into grouping just because other players feel they have to min/max their way to the end of the game.

  3. Poopywalk

    This is evidence to the fact that WoW and MMORPGs in general have become less social (hence you people wondering, ‘wow this game was so much more friendly and everyone knew everyone’). The attitude now is, ‘bring your friends!’ instead of ‘make new friends!’. Sadly it is only getting worse with stuff like casual content as well as cross-realm battlegrounds and now cross-realm raids/instances (including faction, server, name changes) hopefully games like Darkfall or even Aion (which focuses on server community dynamics, and doesn’t have name/faction/server transfers and hopefully never will).

    Personally my perfect MMORPG will combine the ease of use that comes with solo content with the community of multiply.
    Some ideas;
    * Surnames for whole accounts. Unchangable. So reputation becomes important again instead, this also means that you are fully connected and remember by older friends, etc. Of course changing accounts will always be an issue, but this in general is a step towards the right direction. It sucks that I have made so many friends over the years but cannot get in contact with any of them, that is not how real life communities work and I don’t see why MMORPGs should would that way. Would I get in touch with all my old friends if I could? Probably not, but it is nice to know that the option is there for both myself and others. Community is key in MMORPGs.
    * Automatic or (really really easy, near automatic) grouping, this will encourage grouping (of course forcing grouping itself will also force others to group, make it important from the start of the game). Also grouping that doesn’t require long periods of time spent together, so example if you group isn’t full and a person leaves there is an instant summon option to go along with good grouping tools… which leads onto the next points…

    ?* Better server direction (will need more advance technology), which would group a bunch of servers together for earlier parts of the game, this will help people make friends when they later decide an end-game server (will have to go hand in hand with Surnames). Mostly required for large areas of land which will connect a large range of servers for a certain level range, e.g. think of 3-5 zones of WoW being joined together on multiply servers, issues that can come up are, is there a level range/limit or can highend players go into these joined servers? Also, once a server gets past a certain amount of players, other players will need to be fed into another server.

    ?* Gameplay defines itself by how many people are online. E.G. Game is solo-able if there are limited players online while if there are huge amounts of players the game doubles/triples/etc in difficulty. Auto-afk after 5minutes to discount other players online and other dynamics will need to be included of course.

    Anyway, I think many of these games are mostly just ignoring the basics for the most part. MMORPGs aren’t about solo, they are MMO, take a page out of the UO/Darkfall book and make content harder so people can actually make friends like how it used to be.

    1. Chris "Syeric" Coke

      I agree with a lot of your points, so I think we’re on the same page. Just to separate myself out from the “you people” though, I never thought the game was better when everyone knew everyone. I guess I never really saw it that way. Even on WAR, when scenarios were limited to single servers, the majority of the time it’d be “Hey, I recognize that name” and not much more. Thanks for the comment!

      1. Poopywalk

        Firstly to add to a point to my original post;
        * Easy access to character history. e.g. you join a person in a group, there is a message that pops up saying that you had played with the player previously… Maybe even pointing out what happened with said player (what DPS/healer they did or how well they were as a tank, and so forth. Maybe even giving the option to the player to read previous notes made about the party or player).

        WAR is a bad example. Not going to lie. Firstly, scenarios were built like WoW’s battlegrounds and hence the nature of them and the situation were based around the same aspect of WoW battlegrounds at the time (as the biggest MMORPG at the time for many players AND designers, things tend to catch on and WAR via players and designed was influenced by WoW). Get into a game, and hopefully win a game (which is lose a game most of the time for Destruction since longer queue times and worse class balance).

        And get me wrong. I played WAR and felt the same way as you. The chat UI/system wasn’t built correctly for maximum effect, nor was the UI system as a whole (considering the whole game was based on a shitty old engine). As a WoW player for years at that point the scenarios had a Battleground/Battlegroups feel to it, you went in there with random people (being able to queue from anywhere helped this) and joined into a random game, you didn’t NEED TO GET TO KNOW PEOPLE. And I think that is one of the underlying things here.

        The best I can say about WAR is like what the guy from Hardcore Casual said, WAR is a PVP game for casuals. Can randomly sign up to a BG… ooops I mean scenario… for a few minutes and leave.

        Personally, I think you should come up with a better example. Using a WAR one really doesn’t validate your point for me since WAR in general was a horribly designed game and stating that something didn’t work within it just means nothing to me since it is like saying that a plot-technique doesn’t work because it didn’t work in some shit film like ‘Epic Movie’ or ‘Meet the Spartans’.

        1. Chris "Syeric" Coke

          Fair enough. I used WAR as an example because they refuse (and still do) to allow cross server scenarios to preserve the game community. Yet, as you state and my experience reinforces, it hasn’t really worked.

          1. Poopywalk

            To add to my last point (about easy access to other player’s history that you’ve had to them), this setup is to mimic real communities. You remember a persons face in real life and memories/etc come to you about what you have done with them in the past. MMORPGs don’t have that visual aspect (character customisation is not the key), so if anything this type of aspect tries to ditto real life but in a different way. You do something with person Y at a party, then a few months later you meet them somewhere else, but in a MMORPG you wouldn’t remember going in a group with a specific person and then talking to them later about a trade deal (a few weeks later) because real life has many cues (e.g. face, height, smell, voice) while MMORPGs don’t.

            Cross server is interesting. On one hand you have a tight community while on the other you have faster queues. Many (mostly fanboys) state that pre-cross is only nostalgia-based and in some way they are correct. But on the other hand, wouldn’t others have nostalgia including post-cross as well (a.k.a. if people had as good as a time in both sets of examples then they would recall both equally as fun and valid)?

            My friend who came after cross-server was introduce has never stated, ‘oh I remember in x battleground when y happened’ or recalls any wonderful memories of battlegrounds a part from ‘lolgrindfest’. I remember at the end of vanilla, I remembered how much I enjoyed PVPing in battlegrounds in the past and went to try it again… But with both cross-server introduce and the new grind-factor (was with 2.0, since ranks were gone, even though the rank system itself was far from perfect) and asking myself ‘wtf am i doing this for?!’.

            There was no sense of purpose anymore, I was not playing for Horde on Barthilas against the evil Alliance (lolRP) with others who could actually judge me on my skill… It was playing against randoms for epic loots that… would help me kill other random people faster..?

            And WAR brought into that mentality, did scenarios matter in the long run?! I don’t remember any ingame cities falling because of them.
            No.
            They didn’t. If mythic or ANY MMORPG developer wants to change a mentality they have to make it dramatic. WoW had many new players that never played a MMORPG before (and was well designed as a whole, unlike most MMORPGs) and hence could get away with it within Vanilla (personally didn’t mind TBC myself, even though Vanilla was much better). If a game design team wants to make the impact that a game like UO/EQ (or in the case of another genre, Half-Life) got, then they cannot half-arse a game that is basically mimicking current MMORPGs (or the current MMORPG in most cases). Anyway, getting a bit off topic so I’ll stop there.

  4. Talifalana

    This could be seen as a chicken and egg situation. Blizzard moved away from world grouping because the players wanted it. Players stopped grouping in the world because Blizzard made it so you wouldn’t have to group. Which came first: Players wanted it (the chicken) or Blizzard programmed it (the egg). It could be that a few players wanted it and it just steam rolled until it was common place. Interesting question none the less.

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