Grouping Today: Accessible Or Lazy?

Back in 2004, my average play session of Everquest was 4 hours. Aside from any sessions I may be able to sneak in during the day and apart from any social activities in the evening, my usual play time was from 10pm to around 2am. This of course was the beauty of being a student and a memory that I continually cherish as I’m forced to go to bed earlier and get up earlier every year. I think one day I’ll actually be going to bed when it’s still daylight outside and getting up when it’s still dark. Anyway, I digress.

Of course my point is that in those days my gaming sessions were a lot longer and, although I thoroughly enjoyed them, it was an absolute necessity (which fortunately I had the time to facilitate). Logging on, I would normally find myself either in PoK (the Plane of Knowledge) or Butcherblock depending on whether I was grinding LDON quests or adventuring in other parts of the world, such as Sanctus Seru. Soloing was entirely out of the question once most classes had past level 20 so the first call to action was finding myself a group. And that took time.

I usually set aside about 1 hour to find a group or put one together and then a good 2-3 hours for actual adventuring. Forming a group was tough work but very rewarding. My first port of call was always my guild and then, after that, my very long and healer orientated friends list. I found that by playing regular hours (I played on Stromm in 2004 which was a US server and thus perfect for my late night activities), I often bumped into the same faces over and over again, perfect for building up a host of reliable contacts.

If I couldn’t find a group to invite myself into, more often than not, someone I knew would be on and I’d be able to form my own with them. We then start looking for other players to join, usually by advertising in Out Of Character (OOC) chat. This required a lot of patience on everyone’s part and tended to involve us just sitting around in either PoK or the LDON camp in Butcherblock, waiting. And waiting. As I said before, I often put aside an hour for this process.

Finally completing a full group was then incredibly satisfying and we’d adventure for hours on end, most players staying a good solid 2 hours or so (it was usually considered rude to leave too early unless announcing it upon accepting the group invitation). Strangely enough, this was all before the term PUG was even coined and joining random groups of strangers was considered normal and necessary. I’d also struggle to remember more than a couple of bad experience I had in such groups.

But alas, how things have changed now. Today I will play a MMORPG for perhaps an hour a night during the week and maybe a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday. This is due more to circumstances and my, shall we say, “evolving” social and family life.  Even then, I’m faced with certain ordeals that I never had to endure 5 years ago. PUGs are generally meant to be avoided, maintaining a full group of strangers long enough to complete an instance is often a luxury, and my friend’s list is shorter than what Ms Piggy could count on her trotters.

No doubt a lot of this is of my own making but I do find it odd how now we have to be forced and herded into grouping. Blizzard is introducing a spanking new LFG system which pulls people from across servers and instantly teleports them into their desired dungeon all in an attempt to bring back socialising and grouping. I think that I’m all for it because it will mean that I can group without having to break my meager gaming pattern but then I catch myself looking into the mirror at the man I have become and miss my former self and the depths of immersion, adventure and socialising I’d reach.

So here’s the question: are we just becoming more lazy now? Are we too satisfied with our soloing and quest grinding to even bother putting together a group? Or are thing just becoming more accessible and making our lives easier?

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  5. Don’t Blame The Noob, Blame The Game

27 Comments

  1. Gremrod says:

    I think the reason mechanics are being put in for people to group easier was said by you a couple times in your blog. All comes down to the amount of time you have to play.

    If you have to spend an hour looking for a group and you only play maybe two hours a night, well then there goes half of your night game play gone…..

    Others may say is ruins the immersion into the game. I say to those don’t use the feature then. Find your groups the old fashion way.

    • Gordon says:

      I find it interesting though how the perception on the amount of time required has changed over the years. Like I said in the post, used to be that people wouldn’t even consider joining a group unless they had a couple of hours to spare, now it’s commonplace for people to leave before you even reach the dungeon.

  2. Ramon says:

    It’s also about putting a good incentive for grouping into the game.

    Look at Shards of Dalaya. It’s “EverQuest Plus”. You really get rewarded for a full group, like with the 200% exp bonus. If grouping is a disadvantage, like with World of Warcraft’s game design, of course nobody does it.

  3. Chris says:

    I wouldn’t call it lazy, either I don’t think, although that’s probably an issue for some players out there. In making MMO play more accessible, I think they created a generation of players that feel entitled to certain eases of play. Would they do it, even if they had to go the everquest route? I think most probably would if they had to. So long as they know they don’t have to go through there, they’ll go with the path of least resistance. Maybe spoiled is the way to describe it.

    • Gordon says:

      It’s a nice coincidence for me anyway that MMORPGs are becoming more accessible as I’m getting older. I was fortunate to be able to spend 4 hours on grouping 5-10 years ago but there’s no way I could do that now.

  4. Longasc says:

    It caters to a solo player mentality and a “I need a group to achieve MY goals” mentality.

    If you meet a great player, he might be from another server. -> End of socialization here.
    If you meet someone from your realm, you might say, he was a cool dude, let’s stick together.

  5. Callan S. says:

    Why did you think it was incredibly satisfying to put a group together to begin with?

    I mean, if you say ‘Well, then we get to adventure!’ well you get to do that now with the new LFG (if your playing wow) and sooner.

  6. If you have to spend an hour looking for a group and you only play maybe two hours a night, well then there goes half of your night game play gone.

  7. Ramon says:

    We could be very mean now and say that WoW is such a success because it feeds exactly the me-me-me-me mentality that most 12 – 17 year olds are in ;)

  8. One of the big problems is that MMO design du jour is hostile to groups. The common explanation was that it took so long to put together a group, with WoW allowing you to solo people are all to eager to forgo the pain of spending an hour forming a group.

    That doesn’t wash with me. I think there are some larger issues here, mostly dealing with making players “play the right way” and there being systems in place to smack down players power-leveling their friends. You also have issues with quest-driven gameplay, such as friends on different parts of a quest chain, having to repeat content in order to let everyone get their quests done, or other annoyances. In my blog post I linked above, I list a few ways we could open up grouping to make it more accessible and avoid a lot of these problems.

    The problem is that games aren’t doing that. Shamus Young tells about Champions Online and how being in a group means that every enemy will run to find friends. The spotty code leads to all sorts of “fun”, such as enemies who run for reinforcements even if your fellow players are nowhere to be seen. Why? What is the point of adding more complication to a group? If people want challenge, they can just go aggro more stuff (I did that a lot tonight when I was helping a friend catch up on quests in LotRO.)

    So, I think part of the problem is designer laziness. Instead of streamlining grouping, designers seem to go out of their way to hinder grouping, unfortunately.

    • Gordon says:

      Absolutely. I find it ironic how we went from games in which grouping was mandatory and soloing was impossible to games in which soloing is so easy and fast it’s preferred to the pain and lukewarm rewards of putting a group together.

      I have to say I always liked WAR’s concept of Open Groups. It seemed like a great idea but somehow lacked in its execution and didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.

    • nugget says:

      Hmm.. for me it’s never been about forgoing ‘the pain of spending an hour forming a group’.

      …it’s always pretty much been ‘the pain of being in a group of strangers whose competence you cannot rely on, and additionally, whom, if you are leading, you must then babysit and herd like hamsters’.

      >.>

      …this is why in GW, I need to be specifically in my ’social mood’ before I will happily look for a group. Because in my strange social-nugget mode, it seems to immunise me to some degree against frustration from PUG-hamsteritis. >.>

      (And no, I don’t always lead in groups of humans. In WoW, I basically led when I was the tank, because the role seemed to default to the tank, and things would run smoother with a clued tank who could lead.)

      …and in Jade Dynasty that I’m playing currently? Short of one-off kills for quest mobs (so they die faster and everyone gets credit), I avoid grouping like the plague. ^_^ I hear there are some higher ‘ROI’ quests in a few levels from where I am, so we’ll see. Incidentally, JD PvE is (so far) nothing but huge numbers of beastly fidos, so I don’t forsee those groups I do go for in PvE to be stressful. I hope. Surely killing beastly fidos can’t be hard? O.o

  9. Tesh says:

    Wait, it’s lazy to live a real life and only have an hour for the game instead of having FOUR hours every day? I do not think that word means what you think it means. ;)

    I call it healthy that people have higher priorities than spending a quarter of their waking hours in a game.

  10. SKapusniak says:

    There’s a certain amount of simple mathematics involved, surely?

    Let’s assume there’s a fairly fixed number of players in all the world who can (or want to) commit to that sort of play style any given year, and they’re really attracted to it. Every year some people lose their taste for (or ability to play) that playstyle and others accquire it, but the numbers stay about the same every year.

    You make a game that appeals mostly to them, let’s call it ‘Everquest’. It’s massive hit, and gets 0.5 million players of which three quarters are that sort of player. But because you’ve really hit the spot for that sort of playstyle those 375000 are also 75% of the entire available audience for that sort of thing.

    You then make a game which expands the market, let’s call it ‘Word of Warcraft’. It’s a massive hit and gets 4.5 million players (in the West). Because it’s more famous than the previous game, it gets 25000 players for the intensive playstyle who didn’t play the first game at all, and takes another 155000 of those sort of players directly from that first game, making 180000. It doesn’t get all (or even most) of those sort of players because the original game is still built around that playstyle whilst the new game is not. That means instead of being 75% of the playerbase in the old game, those people are just 4% of the new game, spread out across all servers and levels.

    So *of course* they have much less chance of finding each other, and most of the other players they meet will think them pretty odd, since they’re so rare. And because they’re not a big thumping majority of the game, the designers are less likely to prioritise supporting for that playstyle as opposed to others.

    • Gordon says:

      Interesting take on it. I think you’re dead on that a game lik WoW attracts different players from a game like EQ but I believe that ultimately it’s designed to make players interact in a different way. Players will always go for the more effect route from A to Z and the designer has the means to influence this. For example, when Blizzard increased the exp rewards on quests from 20-60, they basically killed grouping as the rewards from it didn’t outweigh the effort.

  11. Alik Steel says:

    Gordon asked “So here’s the question:
    1)are we just becoming more lazy now?
    2)Are we too satisfied with our soloing and quest grinding to even bother putting together a group
    3)Or are thing just becoming more accessible and making our lives easier?”

    1)yes, most gamers are becoming lazy.

    2)Why group, when solo makes you more XP

    3)and yes, There will soon be a big red button on your screen, Just push it when you wish to level.
    And we have planes for a micro for the big red button, So that you don’t even have to push it. This way you can log in and within just a few minutes you are at level cap. Now all you have to do is head over to the cash shop and pick out your armor.

    all of this is just “IMO”

    Alik Steel

    • Gordon says:

      It’s tough one as I want a game to be accesible but I don’t want to be lazy. Unfortunately right now in many MMORPGs, the effort required to group and socialise is too great and the rewards too little.

      Interestingly though, no one ever complains about raids being too hard to assemble because the rewards are so great :)

  12. Jeromai says:

    What tales from the good old days often miss is the fact that forced grouping game designs marginalize the soloists who can’t or won’t group as a primary playstyle preference. Which is fine, if you’re willing to forgo that niche as paying customers.

    However, I’m guessing that the success of games like WoW and Guild Wars and other games’ moves towards pandering to soloist demands reveal that the niche is of sizeable commercial impact.

    As Psychochild mentions, game design that encourage and don’t punish grouping go a long way towards making grouping a pleasant experience.

    Case in point, City of Heroes. A team of 8 means you can get away with having 1-3 not so effective players in a group without regular party wipes. No holy trinity reliance means less waiting around and begging for tank/heals/dps to fill that last spot. Group xp bonuses. CC that won’t break on hit, allowing for people to AoE at will, and other such group synergies like stacked buffs and debuffs, and powers that are more effective as enemy numbers go up. Instances are quick and short, not grueling 1-2 hour affairs where accidental aggro by one party member means horrific setback and face pwnage by mobs with nasty death penalties with only a -chance- of reward. It may make it too easy and boring for some folks, but this sort of game design generally encourages people to be a lot more accepting of others.

    I’m actually curious as to the level of grouping in CoH now, with added loot and self-set spawn sizes. One would think the inclusion of these designs would encourage a lot more solo farming, as you’d get to keep all of the phat lewt for yourself. The established community may still group out of habit, though.

    • Gordon says:

      Which is why I think I was very fortunate to be able to spend the time required that games like EQ required. If I was as busy 5 or 10 years ago as I am now, I would never have been able to play the game or experience it properly.

      • wml says:

        well in the case of City of Heroes, at least when I played it regularly, you most specifically did NOT need multiple hours to find a group and play; you really only needed about 5-10 minutes to find a group. (I do not know if that is still the case). A game that makes it even easier to group is puzzle pirates.

        As others have mentioned, a big chunk of the problem is in game design. Levels. Long travel times. Holy trinity class structures. Advancement by quest. etc.

  13. Matt says:

    The average MMO today only lets you make persistent changes to the game world in one, very limited domain — your character(s). Therefore, it’s inevitable that group play becomes viewed as just a means to individualistic ends.

    In WoW, for example, a dungeon group sees collective progress in defeating the monsters in the instanced dungeon. However, once all that dungeon’s monsters are defeated and the group disbands, no evidence of their group effort remains in the game world. Only the treasure, experience points and achievements collected by individual characters persists.

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