I was dicking around in WoW again over the weekend and decided to run a couple of PUGs with one of my Warriors. It’s been a while since I’ve done one and, let me tell you, I don’t miss it at all. I mean, I miss the grouping and the tanking and general dungeon crawling, just not the nutsacks that I seem to get landed with on an all-too-frequent occasion. I’m sure there’s some legitimate psychological reason why people behave like monkeys when they’re matched up through the random dungeon finder and not when they’re playing with friends or guild mates but alas I fear I’ll never know of it.
Posts Tagged ‘grouping’
I’ve noticed a bit of an odd trend in WoW PuGs recently – everyone I meet is afraid to be friendly. Notice I said ‘afraid’ and not unwilling or unable. I’m no psychologist it’s true (please don’t tell the veterans hospital where I moonlight on the weekends), but the lack kinship that’s occurring seems to be more than just plain rude manners or late of netiquette. In fact, I think it boils down to players being a) reluctant to form lasting relationships because they know that they’ll probably never see any of the other party member’s again and b) they’re scared they’ll be insulted or derided if they come out of their shell too much. It’s all a rather sad state of affairs.
World of Warcraft is a fantastic game, no doubt about it, but I’ve always had one major bugbear with it – grouping sucks. OK, let me qualify that statement – grouping sucks at lower levels. Seriously, for a Massively Multiplayer world it’s a pretty unsociable game until you get into the higher tiers. Ironically enough, it’s got nothing to do with lack of players either because I see hundreds of people running around from levels 1-60 every day.
I love socialising in MMORPGs. Sure, maybe I don’t want to just sit around a campfire and swamp stories – I need direction and a point – but I want to experience teamwork and commradary. If you contrast WoW’s grouping with games like EQ2, you’ll see that these others place much more emphasis on the group experience.
World of Warcraft’s major issues are that it rewards soloing questing too much and grouping too little and also that the player base as a whole is just genuinely less mature and sociable (I know it’s a cliché but, lets face it, it’s true, it’s the nature of the game). We can’t do much about the second point (and would we even want to?) but we can certainly address the first.
Ogrebears had an absolutely fantastic idea for encouraging grouping in WoW, so great I had to write this article about it. He proposed the elegant idea of simply introducing social achievements such as grouping with new people and doing different things with them. I think this is a wonderful idea. Players love achievements so lets give them a carrot to get out of their stubborn ways and try grouping with new people. It honestly inspires me to run a campaign called ‘Embrace PUGs Today’ (-> a light bulb just went off over my head).
There’s definitely other things Blizzard could do to improve grouping and socialising but social achievements would be a start.
Oddly enough, whilst writing this article I’ve started to have the nervous thought that everyone is going to come back and comment on this and say that the grouping experience in WoW is tremendous and the social experience couldn’t be better thus rendering me with the sole thought that I can’t get any groups because I’m an asshole…
I played Everquest for approximately 5 years starting just after it was released in 1999. In that time I did exactly 3 quests (OK, fine, if you include the “fetch me 6 fire beetle eyes” and the “hand in 20 bone chips for Kunark faction” quests then it’s probably about 5). The 3 quests I did are listed below:
- Stein of Moggok
- Enchanter: Iksar Illusion
- Rogue Epic
3 quests. 5 years. Everquest. Irony central to the max.
Thing is, Everquest wasn’t about questing. It was about grouping, grinding and struggling all the way to the top. When it first came out it there was no such thing as quest journals, large, yellow exclamation marks hanging over NPC’s heads or quest location indicators on maps. Heck, there wasn’t even any such thing as maps (I used to have to keep a folder full of print outs from the EQAtlas website). Undertaking a quest resulted in having to research it on the Internet, print out 15 pages of information, spend 2 hours travelling and then a further 18 hours camping mobs only to accidentally hand in the components to the NPC in the wrong order and lose everything. Ah, the good ol’ days.
The next few batches of MMOs didn’t really do much to improve questing or change the way we look at it. Even second generation games like SWG and EQ2 initially didn’t bother much with questing. However change was just around the corner in the form a pencil-necked geek called Warcraft, World of Warcraft.
WoW was packed with quests and it revolutionised everything. It made EQ2 look half finished in comparison and practically killed it off even though it had only been released two weeks before WoW and had a large, loyal fan base. Everything had changed and now people wanted soloable quest content.
While other games, like EQ2, fought hard to keep up and add new content, WoW grew like a juicy maggot. It changed the MMO experience from being a time consuming group orientated one to a slick and easy solo one. Now people could log in, spend 30 minutes doing a few quests, and log off a happy camper.
The result of all of this is now that every MMO has to come briming with quests or it’s considered ‘empty’ and lacking depth and content even if the core game is good (Age of Conan is a perfect example of this). 5 years ago these games would have thrived but now people just want to quest grind alone and only group occasionally until they hit the level cap.
Seems like questing is a double edged sword. On one hand it’s introduced a more user-friendly style of gameplay with greater allowances for storytelling and immersion. On the other hand it’s removed a lot of the social experiences we used to take for granted. There’s a fine line between enjoying doing quests and just ‘quest grinding’ mindlessly to level up quickly which I feel is where we’re heading now in a lot of MMOs.
Ultimately, I want the best of both worlds. I want to quest but I don’t want it just being another tool for grinding, a metric that people use to determine if a game has ‘depth’ or not. Questing should mean something and be an intricate part of the game and it’s evolution certainly shouldn’t result in the extinction of grouping or sociability. I eagerly await the same revolutionary focus being applied to the group experience that was applied to the solo quest one four years ago.
A new post on Keen and Graev’s about Pick Up Groups (PUGs) got me thinking about how grouping with unknown players seems to have changed over the years from being the acceptable and common experience to something that people seem very negative about and reluctant to do. I first encountered the word ‘PUG’ about 2 years ago and since then it’s never been used with affection but more as a derogatory term or in-joke. I’ve even had guildies who stated they would never, ever join a PUG.
Is this outlook justified? Are random groups really that bad or have we just gotten ourselves into a whole lot of negative thinking?
Before the term PUG was invented, I never had any negative predisposition to joining a group of strangers. In fact, I considered it quite normal and enjoyed it and I could now spend hours relating fun stories about random groups I had in Everquest, DAOC, SWG, or any other MMO I tried. Sure, they didn’t all work out, but that was just accepted and it never seemed to put as people off as it does now. Even during my recent time of playing EQ2, I was always a big advocate for PUGs and never hesitated to join one or create one and I never regretted it once. I didn’t want to spend hours waiting for the right number of people in my guild to log on or free-up, I just wanted to get stuck into something and meet new people. I can honestly say that if I hadn’t joined PUGs, I would never have met most of my online friends so I cannot consider it a bad experience in any way.
But the outlook towards PUGs seems to be becoming more and more negative all of the time and I can’t help but wonder if WoW, in a round-about way, is responsible for starting it all. You see, Warcraft offers a huge amount of solo content and is very black and white with it’s talent builds which means that people tend to take the easiest approach to leveling – DPS soloing. This, of course, means that players aren’t experienced in grouping and are more likely to make mistakes when they do finally group. I also think the WoW player base is less hardcore and MMO savvy than in other MMOs. Don’t get me wrong, I think WoW is a great game but when it created an accessible focus on soloing, the inadvertent side effect was that groups in it are less likely to be successful than in other games.
Combine the lower chance of success with spiraling negativity and you end up where we are today. Everyone seems to hate those ‘PUGs’ (even though every member in one is a member of another guild and has successful guild groups) and goes into them with a predisposition for failure. Sure, maybe it’s a little harder to get good groups in WoW than it is in EQ2, but that doesn’t mean we’re justified in writing them all off. I think it’s time we were all a little more sociable and forgiving and championed the PUG a little more. You never know, you might make some new friends.