Sunday, June 13, 2010

Group Content and Group Creation

First, let us stipulate that there are two types of group content: transient; and extended.

Transient group content is content that is expected to be completed in a single session of play. The group is formed, the group completes the content, and then the group is disbanded. In WoW, group quests, battlegrounds, and 5-man dungeons are transient group content.

Extended group content is content that is expected to be completed over several sessions of play, and where the group is composed (more or less) of the same individuals throughout. In WoW, raids and PvP arena are extended group content.

Lately, I've come to the conclusion that transient group content is crippled without automatic group creation.

I've been playing a game (Age of Conan) which doesn't have a Dungeon Finder for groups. You have use a Looking For Groups channel, like in the old days. And it is terrible. It literally takes hours to form a group. I have never appreciated the Dungeon Finder as much as I do now. I remember having a lot of the same issues when I was playing Lord of the Rings Online. In fact, I stopped playing that game because I rolled a group healer and yet I found grouping to be too hard.

As well, because group creation is so hard, people seem to feel free to take advantage of the group with long afks, or generally do their own thing while the rest of the group waits for them. I remember that this used to happen a lot in WoW in the pre-Dungeon Finder days, but has since been eradicated from the game. Whatever the faults of the "gogogo" culture, at least they aren't wasting my time.

Without automatic group creation, the amount of time spent forming the group is excessively long, and makes grouping an unattractive proposition. I think this group creation time is really what keeps people from grouping up, more than any other concern such as rate of experience gain.

Other games have sort of approached this, while still leaving humans in control. For example, Warhammer Online had "open" groups, where you could just join a group instead of needing to be invited. While that was better than the old system, it still isn't as good as a fully automatic system.

It's interesting that the PvP side has always seemed ahead of PvE when it comes to this. Battlegrounds featured automatic group creation long before PvE. Perhaps it is because of a lot of the formative ideas for MMO PvP came from the First-Person Shooters and Real-Time Strategy world, where automatic group creation is the norm. While PvE grouping was stuck with the idea that it was important to let people choose their own groups.

Of course, automatic group creation is probably a bad fit for extended group content, if only because play sessions for the group need to match. In transient content, you know the play session matches because everyone is already online.

But it's also possible that I am wrong about extended content, that I am too used to the old system of making guilds, and I overweight the problems, and underestimate the convenience.

Perhaps an automatic matching system would be a good improvement for extended content. For example, a Guild Finder. Guilds could post what their schedules were like, or what type of guild they were, and players could do the same, and the system would automatically add people to guilds.

I think the bar has been raised for future MMOs. If an MMO has transient group content, it had better have automatic group creation for that content. As well, WoW needs to implement a system for group quests, as that is the last piece of transient content without an automatic group creation system. And group quests are noticeably the hardest content to find a group for.


  1. Interesting.

    The other side of this is that just because group content can be completed in a single session, that doesn't mean you can't schedule your groups in advance.

    So in the same way that you'd schedule your raid nights, there's no special reason that you can't schedule a 5 man. This is what my LOTRO guild/ kinship often does, with heavy use of calendar functions on the guild bboard.

    And if you look at it that way, there's not that much difference between organising a raid night and a 5 man instance night, even though the raid might spread over several nights a week.

    So I think the big difference is whether you're able to schedule your time/ group in advance, or whether you aren't. Or in other words, how casual do you want to be? And it's the guys who aren't able to schedule their groups who really need the automatic group creation tools. And only a game with either a huge playerbase or very very flexible classes can offer fast group assembly in a typical role-based PvE setup.

    ie. I don't think any other MMO can do what WoW had done with the random dungeon finder. They don't have the massive playerbase that's needed. The reason it works in PvP is because it doesn't really matter what the group makeup is for random groups. You can just grab the first X people.

  2. Well, you are right that you can do transient content in an extended manner, just as you can do extended content in a transient manner (pick-up raids).

    It's just that one form is more expected than the other. I'm not making any comment on the validity of guilds doing transient content or anything like that.

    As well, I don't think you need a huge playerbase for automatic group group generation to work. As far as I can see, LFG is the worst-case scenario, that an automatic system will always at least match LFG performance.

    If your game requires specific class balance, that can be built into the automatic system. If you want alts to be available, you can build that into the system as well, if it is really important. It really wouldn't be that hard to have you choose which of your characters should be in the system at any given time.

    WoW doesn't need to do that because of the large playerbase. It's fine with only considering your current character. Maybe another game would need to consider alts as well.

    But considering alts is not technically impossible. For example, if your alt is selected for the dungeon, in the load screen when you are transported to the dungeon, your current character could be logged out, and your alt logged in, so you appear with the right character.

    Now, if you're suggesting that players are required to be in guilds or a pre-scheduled group to do group quests and low-level dungeons, that's just crazy. A game that insists on that is doomed to failure.

  3. My heavy grouping days in EQ1 were largely from just after Luclin through to Gates of Discord, or 2001 to 2004. There were no real automated ways to form pick-up groups, other than a fairly basic LFG window.

    Nevertheless, we routinely put together groups night after night. We largely did it by building extenssive friends' lists, knowing people outside that by name and being pro-active. Yes, some people sat around for hours looking for groups and complained about it, but those were largely people who just switched on their LFG flag and waited for invites.

    I always found that it was possible to put a group together within about 15 minutes of logging on, providing I was prepared to send a few tells right off the bat. Once we had a group rolling we could almost always keep recruiting to fill vacancies until it was time to go to bed.

    The big advantages of this were that most of your groups were with people you were at least acquainted with. There was much conversation, camaraderie and humor and relatively little drama. The downside was that it required someone to be organised, motivated and outgoing and that role generally fell to one of three or four people, who eventually found it tiring.

    On balance, while i can see the practical benefits of the automated system, I prefer the more personal way of doing things. It does require a critical mass of players, however, and also that they be focused on the same content.

  4. I think a game which has any kind of LFD is just a failure. Why should I play with humans if I don't have to interact with then in any way? They should add NPC henchmen. I would prefer to play with NPCs over humens who abuse me for 2 frost badges. It would be better to design PvE content to be completeable solo then to add human-zombis automatically to my group. Every LFD system is just a way to make a design failure more bearable by the player.

    Another drawback of automatic groups is that group content can only be easy. That was discoverd in PvP long before the LFD when they started to group premades against premades and random groups against random groups (or whatever they did). Same is true for heroics. Something like Magisters' Terrace, in adequate gear, just couldn't be completed with a Fury/DK/Warlock/Tank/Heal. (And that's something the LFD loves to throw at me.) You needed CC and people able to use their CC. If a game offers something like the LFD it has to make sure that the LFD only generates groups which don't fail and the easiest solution to handle that is by designing the dungeon itself less demanding.

    But the worst thing is that it reduces a virtual world to just a game. Take the vanilla approach of forming a group for Dire Maul. Traveling from one city to the next and use the local /1 to ask for memebers. Then, traveling to the dungeon. Everyone had to fly, there were no meeting stones. It took 15 minutes to get to Dire Maul from Ironforge. Then doing the dungeon. Now compare that with an instant invite LFD, instant port to dungeon, 15 min AE run. Do we want the old way back? Probably not. Does the post-LFD WoW still have the ability to enthuise it's player base for 5 years straigt. Not for me. LFD killed WoW for me.

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  6. > I think a game which has any kind of LFD is just a failure.

    Of course I meant to write:

    I think it's just a failure to have any kind of LFD in a game.

  7. I love the LFG option for 5man as it really opens up doors for everyone. In a raid I think it would a tad more scarey and way to complicated with the personality differences of 10 or 25 people.

    Perhaps as an option once a raid has been available for several months Naxx, where it would be impossible now to get a group but perhaps people want it for cheeves etc.

    Hmmm I dunno...I see some good in the idea but for the newest content would be a nightmare I think.

  8. Cathy, it has nothing to do with the size. Just with difficulty and required time. Blizzard just has to make the raids easier and shorter. An easy 25 man raid which is completed in less than 30 minutes would be no problem for the LFD. I wouldn't be surprised if the would add the Cataclysm "Vault" to the LFD. (And later on all dumbed down raids.)

    A many hour LBRS run, or a complicated heroic (e.g. shatterd halls pre nerf) wouldn't work with the LFD.

    The amount of people is irrelevant, you just have to have an easy enough task to get a nearly 100% success rate in the worst situation for the LFD to work.

  9. Totally agree. Short raids wouldn't be a problem.

  10. While I don't see a problem with transient content completed by forming a group made entirely from an automatic match tool, that said contant needs to be easy.

    The problem with an automatic tool, in my opinion, is that it removes the ability to check on the quality of the player bieng brought to the group. Easy, short and quick content makes quality checks easier or non-existant. Longer, more difficult content demand quality checks if you plan on having some measure of success. I'm not talking about just gear, I'm talking about the mashing of different personalities, people able to take instruction and perform thier jobs, communication, all sorts of stuff that currently are not tracked in any MMO that I know of. Throwing a random assortment of people together and giving them a signifigant challenge in communication, coordination, and gear, is just asking for problems.

    For these same reasons I wouldn't agree with having automatic matching options for guild recruitment. It's like leaving your front door open to your house and letting strangers walk on in whenever they pleased. Your removing the human interaction element in a part of the game that is all about human interaction!

    Anyways, that's my thoughts on it. There is a place for automatic grouping, but that place, imo, is not for challenging content or guild recruitment.

  11. @Bhagpuss
    I don't know about your grouping experience in EQ1, but whenever I wanted to get a group, I mostly knew which zone I wanted to be in. I'd go to that zone and shout (or whatever zone wide was) that I was available. Like you said, I'd get a group in probably 15-20 minutes.

    What I think was the key to quick groups there was the fact that most of the time you weren't forming a group. You were replacing someone who had to leave. And you were ok being a replacement because you didn't lose anything like you would in a replacement for WoW. Sometimes I think EQ open world grouping was so much better than WoW instance grouping. And then I remember people are jerks and am glad my group get's its own instance to play in. But still, I was fond of chain pulling and grouping in general in EQ.

  12. I just had an epiphany: Blizzard is building a Raid Finder for a mid-Cataclysm patch.

    They just announced that raid IDs will be more forgiving: if your raid ID has killed the same set of bosses as another raid ID, you can switch over to the other raid ID.

    Now add a Raid Finder that matches you with another group of players that all have a compatible raid ID. You join a raid, do your best, kill a few bosses, and then tomorrow, you log on again and join a different group that has the same set of bosses downed. It doesn't matter whether it's the same group as yesterday, as long as they've made the same amount of progress.

    And there you have it: no more distinction between transient and extended content. Why should there be? Raiding is not rocket science, and the biggest barrier is that it's hard to find a regular group of people who are all online at the same time as you. Right now, nobody wants to PUG, because you'll just get locked to a dungeon with one boss down, and never see that group again. But with this feature, you can get a new group every day, and you can raid whenever you have the time for it. Brilliant!

    (And Blizzard, if you're not working on this feature, you should be. It will actually make raiding feasible for all the players who are interested in and capable of raiding, but can't carve out regular weekly times for a guild raid.)

  13. I personally find doing 5-mans with guildmates so much more fun than doing them with LFD. I still use LFD if I can't get buddies to do a 5-man, but buddies is better. Some of my best WoW memories involve running heroics for a week or two straight with a few other guys (and a girl) who hit 80 around the same time as my alt. All of us on Vent together, it was a blast.

    I don't know that LFD is essential, but it does help the guy who's sort of a lone wolf or who plays at odd hours or if you can't find guildies at that moment.