Monday, May 6, 2013

Scanbot Sunday - Looking For Group

It has been a pretty great weekend. The streets were dry by 4pm on Saturday so I was able to head down to the bike shop and have the uncomfortable pieces of my bike replaced (pedals and grips.) I also picked up a key lock to replace the combination lock that will be wrapped around my seat pole for all time. (Or until I learn how to use a wrench.) Today was exceptionally nice. Took the new parts out for a spin to work and back. I Was a little worn out but I avoided taking a nap. I am going to do the bike transportation thing this week and see how it goes. It may be a couple of weeks before I am able to do that and have the energy to do much of anything else. Eventually, just like the other exercises, I will grow accustom to it and resume normal functions. Incidentally, I was a pound lighter when I got home. Something tells me that's not sustainable.

Alright, enough stalling, let's talk about group finders. I'll start with a spoiler, I think they are an essential tool in modern full featured MMO's. There, now if you disagree with that you'll be able to proceed through this piece with the appropriate amount of bile welling up. For those of you who do not know what a group finder is that will be the first thing I cover after the jump. Click the out of place black box to continue to the article.

When people speak of a Looking for Group Tool they are talking about a simple interface where you select your group role and enter a matchmaking queue. The tool will construct groups of players that suit the content and teleport them to the instance and return them to their place of origin when the content has been concluded. There are opinions on what this does to the community of the game, pretty evenly divided and contentious opinions. I am going to give my opinions, good and bad.

When a tool of this type is introduced to a game the percentage of players who use it to participate in content exceeds the percentage of players who were previously participating in that same content.  This is the single most important fact. Everything else, both real and imagined, hinges on this utilization fact.

Now for simple math. If we take everyone who plays MMO's and line them up in order their ability to play well someone is going to be at the front of the line and someone is going to be at the back of the line. 80% of the players are not sitting at 90% skill level, that's not how percentiles work. When the percentage of players participating in content increases the reality is that the skill divide increases, and if the utilization gets very large, say 80% of the player base, then you can start to run into some interesting statistical anomalies.

These anomalies can result in failures. If there is a significant amount of incomplete content  the sensible result is to reduce the difficulty of the content so that the majority of groups are succeeding. Getting this right is a challenge. Keeping content challenging enough to be fun but accessible enough for whatever large percentage of groups to be successful is a balancing act that takes a lot of iteration to get right.

This is one of the common assertions leveled against group finders. "They make content easy." In a way, this is correct, but in a way this is wrong. It's an oversimplification of a complex issue.

There is also a concern that the tool negatively impacts the community and results in the player base just standing in town waiting for queues to pop. To tackle this issue I think it's important to analyze behavior when there is no tool: In order to find a group a player will have to stand in town and speak into an accepted chat channel with a cut and pasted statement. "Lvl ## <class>/<role> LFG <dungeon name> PST." while also reading the chat channel looking for groups looking for members. IE standing in town waiting for an opportunity to participate in desired content.

My assertion is that the tool actually frees up the population of the game to participate in other activities while waiting for their queue timer. They can chat with guild mates, chat in city channels if they want, or they can head out into the game world and farm for resources or work on quest lines that are unfinished. Essentially, they can do anything they want. Sure there are players who will sit in their house and just wait for their group to form, but that's their choice, that's how they want to play the game.

For players who don't want to use the tool, who prefer those personally connections all of the tools that existed before still exist in a world with a LFG tool. Guilds, City Chat, /emotes, whatever. All of these ways of talking to other players still exist, and if that is your want, make it happen. In the case of Wildstar I think the Circles system is going to be perfect for organizing large groups of players who want a more classic MMO LFG experience of personal interaction and decision.

Some people will go as far to say that LFG tools don't take anything away from players who don't want them. That isn't strictly speaking true, because it does take away a significant portion of the player base who prefers the ease of use of the tool over what is frequently the tedium of spamming city chat channels for an hour.

One final point on the subject of player doucheyness in LFG formed groups, particularly cross server groups. The argument that the tool creates a culture of disrespect for other players because the field is so large that offending 1 or even 1000 players is insignificant. I don't agree with this. I don't think players become unchained in this environment, respectful players with good social skills will still be who they are. Players with poor social skills, anger management issues, or a lack of patience, well I think it's safe to assume that these players would not be the type to be standing in town for an hour polity asking for groups. So, yes, the mood does sour a bit on an overall measure, but not for the reasons asserted by the opposition. Dicks are just going to be dicks. You see a lot of dick tanks and dick healers because these queue times tend to be shorter; see point about lack of patience above. If you want to avoid it, the old ways still function for those who want them.

In conclusion Looking For Group Tools absolutely have an effect on the culture of an MMO. There are positive effects and there are negative effects. I feel the positive far outweighs the negative. Any credible complaint about the effects of LFG Tools can be overcome through use of other tools and a bit of extra effort. There are also ways to look at the system and suggest improvements instead of dismissing it out of hand. So far the community has encouraged a "same server only" option box in the tool for players who desire to only run dungeon content with players from their own server, to make connections. Maybe there is a way we can encourage not being a dick through the game's systems. Time will tell.
As a final, slightly off topic note, I hope there is a tier of optional content that exists outside of the LFG tool. Something that is designed to be extremely challenging for the best players who seek challenging small group content. World of Warcraft introduced Challenge Modes, and at first I was excited about them, but I became disinterested when I learned they were just about speed gimicks. I would have preferred super tightly tuned fights with additional mechanics that maybe were only designed to be cleared once a week. I'm actually hoping an option to ramp up the difficulty for this solo story content exists also. There are times I want a punishing challenge, and there are time I'd like to just stand in the back and cast magic missile until the boss drops purples.
There you have it, my complex and convoluted feelings on group finder tools. The are essential, they grow the game. and I use them because sometimes it's 2am and I still feel like running a dungeon even though all my friends are asleep.

Until next week Scan Bot.


  1. Ha! It's totally 2am and I'M awake and YOU'RE asleep! I would like to point out, as we previously touched on, adding in additional check boxes to a LFG interface is not a great solution. To some extent, it may make some people happy, but in all likelihood, it will make far more unhappy.

    The reasoning is simple enough. LFG systems are about efficiency. It can be dressed up in whatever pretty language you want, but these tools are implemented to allow the maximum amount of the player base the smoothest possible access to the maximum amount of content. Which is a good thing. Unfortunately, by introducing additional queuing criteria (ie check boxes) you are not increasing choice but rather limiting it.

    Let's say I want to queue for a dungeon. The second I do, the group finder automatically eliminates most of the game's population. No one significantly above or below my level is a viable candidate for my dungeon. Only need one healer, so that removes all other healers. Also removed is anyone who does not meet the minimum gear or previous content requirements. Then we eliminate everyone not on my server that checked the "group with same server" box. Every supposed option given to people when queuing takes another chunk out of that pool. Eventually it becomes more efficient to just wait for your friends to log in. These tools work because of their nondiscriminatory nature, not in spite of it.

    In the end, I guess, haters gonna hate. It's about what kind of hate the community team wants to deal with. Is, "I have to group with douchebags because of LFG. Remove this feature or give me my money back" really better than "The queues in LFG are so long, I can't do dungeons. Shorten the queues or give me my money back." If so, please disregard the previous rambling.

    1. Hey there West Coast. It was 4am here at that point. I am biking to work today, so I thought I could use a little sleep.

      I do agree with you, dividing the player base into slices runs significant risk of making everyone's experience less umm, good. (7am brain unable to access adjective database)

      I do like this implementation though. It puts the power in the player's hands. Maybe it could causes some statistical goofiness, if that's the case then they will kill the option and find another solution. I think it's a good compromise though. Should work fine.