What's wrong with grouping in MMORPGS... (blog rant)

Weee…a bonus on experience. That’ll teach people to group together. I mean, it has historically since EQ was the first does this and now everyone groups together without a problem. Yep, makes complete and total sense to me.

On to #2:
Dear Clueless,

This is why there are instances that can, realistically, only be completed by groups at the appropriate levels. It’s a sort of “on the job” training. Of course you can get your level 60 friend to escort you through the Deadmines for the nice quest rewards (look, quest rewards in dungeons that are only group accessible while the quest rewards are viable – another reward structure), but then if you’re that type of player you’re probably also the type that’s not going to read the “It’s generally considered good form to announce you have monsters about to attack with some statement to the group such as ‘We have aggro.’, ‘Incoming’, or, if you’re a caster, ‘OMG GET IF OFF ME AIEEEEEEEEEE!!!1111!!1’.” tooltip either.

Oh…so, just like every other MMORPG out there now, just throw people into the fire and see what happens. Yeah, that’s been working great. Good call. I agree tooltips aren’t read for the most part, but some training via a quest, via tooltips (that at least some will read), something needs to happen. Trial by fire means I get burned with retards.

You must be a scientist! Because only a scientist (or a civil engineer) would find such an overly complicated way to describe a feature that already (and ubiquitously) exists: /ignore and /friend. If you group with someone and you think they’re the shizznat, add them to your /friends list. Sure, you may have to knock off that hawt night-elf chix you were having, ahem long talks with last week. But it’s not like she’s talked to you anyway since his wife found out what he was doing online and told him to stop. Similarly, the /ignore tab is a wonderful manner for storing a list of all those folks that aren’t worth your time to even listen to. That should probably include the warlock who decided that it was okay to pull because he had mana and a succubus, so how hard could 4 be even if the warrior was at 50% health and the priest was currently AFK. After all, he solos 3 or 4 critters all the time on his own. BTW, what’s the ornate gold picture frame thingy mean on a monster? Extra treasure, right?

Oh… my bad, I didn’t realize that /friend and /ignore were the perfect solutions to grouping in an MMORPG. I mean, those commands have been around since what, UO? And they have served us well enough, lets not change now.

If only a game had systems like the above in place, everything would be fine. Disregard the fact that there will always be morons who bask in the radiance of their moronitude, and that if it’s important to you to play with people unlike that, the onus is on you. Hell, disregard the fact that at least 20% of the people you’ve played with have thought you were one of the people that needed the type of training you espouse. Clearly, it’s all due to poor game design and if only designers would think about such things, the problem would be magically solved.

There will ALWAYS be morons that will either inadvertently or purposefully break the system. Duh. That doesn’t mean the current MMORPG solutions are working. We all agree they aren’t, as a matter of fact.

Basically your response comes down to, it ain’t broke, people are just stupid. I agree. Completely. 100%. And now lets fix the system so that grouping isn’t a complete pain in the ass 50-80% of the time. Lets train people, without them realizing it, to be better group mates. Lets design a system that will encourage, not force, the users to work together in harmonious ways. So much encouragement people WANT to group. Not have to.

The question is this… Do you want to play with grouping in ANY game as it stands now? Do you feel even moderately comfortable going into an instance with a bunch of unknowns? The answer is no. The solution isn’t that people are stupid and we can’t fix it. The solution is coax people into working together with positive and negative reinforcement. BF2, for instance, does a fine job of this, in a more limited environment. And the work they did could definitely be extended further even for the FPS alone.

(Edit: Aw, hell, I would have been less vitriolic if I’d made the apparently-too-large-for-me leap in logic that linked your post name to the fact that it’s Matt’s blog. Ah well, a rant for a rant I guess. Nevertheless, tone aside, my points still stand. All of these systems are in game in one form or another.)

Bah, no worries. You’re completely wrong, but no offense taken :).

Yeah, I’m not talking about skill systems like UO. That’s still power levels. I’m thinking more of a system where you pick a skill set and that’s it, that’s your character. After that, you could have some light skill level differences, but the difference between lowest and highest would simply be time required to complete a task using a skill, rather than the ability to do so or not (for instance, picking a hard lock at a low level may take a full minute, where at a high level it would take a few seconds, but in either case, still completely doable).

So you’d prefer a Diablo system without the levels? Correct me if I’m wrong, but by the time you get to the high levels in D2, the difference in being viable and not in PvP is in: a) Fitting one of the few “tank mage” profiles that’s been min/maxxed for maximum survivability and b) Having the really rare loot.

I’m not sure how switching the levelling system from a character stat to having to acquire X items is in any way less of a grind or less of a disparity. It certainly won’t get rid of the loot grind.

Well, granted, you need much more of a game in the system I propose. It can’t be simply combat, as is the case in pretty much all MMOs to date. So no, I don’t want D2 without levels. And I didn’t say you had to acquire items, just that the focus shifts. The benefit of, say, your power being represented by your gun rather than your character, is that if you have friends that play nonstop, you can leech off them. Again, even in this case, the difference between crap and top-notch stuff isn’t so much that it creates a huge power gap.

That being said, the game that surrounds these tenets has to be as radically different as the ideas themselves. It can’t be, say, implemented in a game like WoW or EQ2 or even CoH. It requires that the focus of the game is playing the game, rather than mining the game for numbers. What I picture is a teambased game where the use of team members is not in combat so much as accomplishing certain goals. There will be combat, but it’s not the focus of the game.

For instance, consider a scenario where you need to break in to a corporate headquarters, infiltrate past security (or get rid of them), access the computers, steal data, and then get out. There’s a lot you can do there that doesn’t have to be combat oriented. Short of that, use your imagination. There’s a lot of places you can go when you radically change the fundamentals of established game design.

My perspective on this.

As a game developer, I want people to group as much as possible. Shared group experiences are what makes MMOs special, encourages social connections which makes the games more fulfilling and equally as important encourages the player to continue subscribing to our game for years. I like grouping.

As a player, I am an antisocial humbug who thinks that 99% of everyone I meet online is a complete raving idiot barely capable of processing oxygen, much less any higher biological functions such as “thought”. I see other players as renewable resources that I can farm in PvP games for experience and tasty treats, and in PvE games for gold through item sales or other such things. I despise grouping.

Bit of a cognitive dissonance there. The trick of course is to encourage like to group with like - to encourage the 1% of the playerbase on a server that LIKES listening to my waxing forth on politics and the idiocy of others when he should be healing or pulling to join groups with me. The only way to do this really is indirectly - through creating shared social spaces that cause people to meet one another in a non-forced fashion, and through shared dangers that cause people to work together towards common goals.

Anything beyond that will be resented fiercely if a penalty, or milked ruthlessly without giving any intended social benefit if a bonus. Trust me, many games have tried all of these. Sometimes at the same time!

A smart friends list though? (What Matt’s talking about) Easily doable, and comes under the heading of “tools to encourage indirect social interaction”. Which are good things.

No amount of programming can prevent jerks from acting like jerks in online games. Most of the teaming issues I’ve run into involve people who know how to play but just want to play their way and that’s it. There are some things developers could do that would facilitate better teamplay, but I don’t think that they’d make much of a difference overall. People will play like they want to play, training or not. As mouselock said, “/friend” and “/ignore” are the best functions for separating the good people from the dumdums. Blaming the game devs for this issue seems off to me.

[quote=“Matt Perkins”]
Weee…a bonus on experience. That’ll teach people to group together. I mean, it has historically since EQ was the first does this and now everyone groups together without a problem. Yep, makes complete and total sense to me.

No, it won’t teach people to group together. Your point was that you wanted to promote them grouping together. That’s a reward structure that does so.

[quote]
Oh…so, just like every other MMORPG out there now, just throw people into the fire and see what happens. Yeah, that’s been working great. Good call. I agree tooltips aren’t read for the most part, but some training via a quest, via tooltips (that at least some will read), something needs to happen. Trial by fire means I get burned with retards.

Look, everyone’s a retard at first. There are going to be few people that know how to do things correctly for the first time at the first instance.

The problem you’re having is likely induced by the fact that you’re not level 18 and looking to make a group. Or if you are, you don’t have the patience to put up with other people while they learn just like you had to. Hey, we all screw up. You want people to not sully your doorstep until they’re up to your standards? Good fucking luck there. Who says your standards are anything worthwhile to judge by.

Deadmines, WC, pretty much all the initial instances are pretty forgiving. You go in, you die a bit, you learn. You can’t really learn how to group without doing it. And you can’t really do it without having to endure people learning. Some people learn easily, and some don’t. If they don’t, no amount of training material is going to change that. If they do, what basis do you have for considering it a failure because they fail while learning? That’s inherent in the definition of learning.

Oh… my bad, I didn’t realize that /friend and /ignore were the perfect solutions to grouping in an MMORPG. I mean, those commands have been around since what, UO? And they have served us well enough, lets not change now.

sigh Yeah, I guess you couldn’t see it past the sarcasm. But for simplicity sake, if you want to keep track of people who you’d like to play with agan, you have the tool right there. If you can’t be arsed to use it for whatever important thing you have going on, how am I supposed to assume that your local rating tool would be any better? You asked for an in-game method to track people that you’d like to gorup with again. Could you provide a reason why /friend doesn’t work? Likewise, can you tell me why /ignore doesn’t work for people you don’t want to deal with any longer? Pretty damned hard to accidentally get into a group with someone you consider a moron if you can’t even get their group invites in the first place, I’d say.

There will ALWAYS be morons that will either inadvertently or purposefully break the system. Duh. That doesn’t mean the current MMORPG solutions are working. We all agree they aren’t, as a matter of fact.

Err… no. We don’t all agree. I think the current solutions to the problems you think exist are more than adequate. I believe that when you’re looking for someone to run BRD with and you get into a group of morons that it’s not because of any of the problems you list that it sucks. More specifically, I don’t think any of your solutions would make grouping better, because the underlying problem is that it’s a learned experience that requires constant refinement as things get hard, and the only way to substantially impact that is to require the morons to go through the process to advance. This doesn’t work not because they’re not told to group, or there’s no reward for grouping, or you can’t rate them, but because it’s 100% impractical to build a game which requires that you must have grouped x amount before getting to point y, which is the only surefire way to actually effect a change.

It’s far worse in WoW than it was in EQ, for example, because you can get far higher in WoW as a solo member of any class. You’d rarely see a warrior in EQ who didn’t know his group role at level 50, because he couldn’t advance at all without learning it. Likewise, you were always careful of the wizards and the mages and the druids, because they could advance readily by themselves, and they therefore had a much higher proportion of folks who don’t understand there’s a huge difference between playing alone and in a group.

None of your solutions will fix that. They won’t even substantially impact it. Because the very people you don’t want to group with most, who would benefit most from your suggestions, are the ones who won’t use them, ever, because they don’t need to. It’s harder to play in a group than alone, in the same way it’s harder to play in a raid than a group. There are more people to worry about, more things to coordinate, more potentials for conflict. And there will always be people who don’t want to deal with that if they don’t have to. These are the folks you don’t want to group with. The problem is that WoW enables that in a way that no other (group based) MMO has ever done, so you think it’s some huge lack of understanding. It’s not.

Lets train people, without them realizing it, to be better group mates. Lets design a system that will encourage, not force, the users to work together in harmonious ways. So much encouragement people WANT to group. Not have to.

The question is this… Do you want to play with grouping in ANY game as it stands now? Do you feel even moderately comfortable going into an instance with a bunch of unknowns? The answer is no. The solution isn’t that people are stupid and we can’t fix it. The solution is coax people into working together with positive and negative reinforcement.

The problem is those solutions are in place already and it’s still not enough for you. No matter what type of reward structure you put in, there will be a percentage of the population who doesn’t care, because doing stuff alone is the path of least resistance. Look, even in a good group grouping is harder than playing solo. You have to worry about who gets what loot, who has to go pee when, who has what attitude. What’s patently obvious to you seems like the strangest leap of logic to the other guy. So why not just go out and do your shit alone if you can?

The only way to solve the problem is to make the rewards and coaxing so stringent that it’s effectively impossible (de-facto or explicitly) to do stuff alone. Force people to group from the inception and they’ll learn how to group. But then you lose out on the casual audience that wants to be able to progress without finding a group in the first place.

Grouping, even random, pick-up groups, in EQ was far, far better than in WoW. Why? Because you were generally forced to do so in the game from very early on. In WoW it’s horrible because you can literally get to 60 without ever having to group. No amount of experience or healing bonuses in group, no amount of rating systems, no amount of information is going to change that, because there really is skill involved in being a good group member, and that skill is a trained response. And the people who don’t group, by and large, are folks who don’t want to. If they did they would have found the friends to do so early on and kept up with them and built the social ties so that they had people to play with.

In essence, I agree with you that random groups suck. But the problem is the underlying structure of the game. You can’t teach people to group better without them actually grouping more, and in order to do so the game would have to be structured so the proportion of people in groups vs. solo was different. In any game, this affects (directly) the playerbase balance between casual and “hardcore”. And there are tradeoffs for promoting more stringent grouping (all the bonuses can’t be gotten if you’re solo). I assume most of your complaints stem from WoW, and WoW is a really poor example because it is so solo friendly which basically leads to a really bimodal population, amplifying the effect tremendously.

Yeh, I suffer from the same dichotomy.

Sadly, I think the situation could be vastly improved simply by taking away player’s abilities to communicate via typing, and instead keep them limited to a tribes-like set of quick voice commands.

Of course, that will result in it’s own shitty amount of problems.

The shared social spaces reminds me of something I was thinking the game needed. Basically, two levels of ‘guild’. One which is your actual guild, people you raid with, whatever. The second one being a social guild of likeminded people. You should be able to join as many of the second as you want.

I think this would go a long way to help with things like guild breakups as well. I had to suffer through my guild on firetree slowly disintegrating as all the 60s decided they were much more attached to loot than interesting conversation.

A two tiered guilding system would alleviate a lot of that.

Ah, an RPG purist! There are MUSHes like this out there, but I really don’t think there’s the market for this type of game in the MMO scape. Real role-playing is hard, and hasn’t really translated well to computer at all, IMO.

That being said, the game that surrounds these tenets has to be as radically different as the ideas themselves. It can’t be, say, implemented in a game like WoW or EQ2 or even CoH. It requires that the focus of the game is playing the game, rather than mining the game for numbers. What I picture is a teambased game where the use of team members is not in combat so much as accomplishing certain goals. There will be combat, but it’s not the focus of the game.

For instance, consider a scenario where you need to break in to a corporate headquarters, infiltrate past security (or get rid of them), access the computers, steal data, and then get out. There’s a lot you can do there that doesn’t have to be combat oriented. Short of that, use your imagination. There’s a lot of places you can go when you radically change the fundamentals of established game design.

Heh… welcome to the HRose/Mouselock vision of interesting virtual worlds. I’m with you on that. For a while I’ve been dreaming of a World of Darkness based MMO with the actual relative faction power structures in place. At one level (if you like combat) you can play a grunt and go out and secure resources in a more traditional MMO type setup. If you want to be more strategic you can play a lieutenant… less fighting more asset management. At the top level you can play a master of the city (or the mage/werewolf equivalent) and direct operations/deal purely on the social level. All things for all people. (Of course there should be minigames too… werewolf/vampire chases through the street, stealth infilitrations against active opponents, etc.) The catch being that you choose which tier you want to play in and you can’t really “level” from one tier to another.

Of course, that’s probably an order (or two) of magnitude harder for programmers to make, and the social dynamics required to do something like that on a large scale are monstrous. How do you determine who gets to be at the higher (rarer) echelons for example? Ideally in the same way you would in a PnP milieu: Power struggles, votes, back-alley deals.

I’d love to see a game like this. But I suspect that it wouldn’t support the numbers necessary to be self-sustaining, because most of that is a lot more “work” to most people than whacking virtual orcs for bags of gold. :(

I wonder if anyone knows how frequently most MMO players group with people who are not part of their friends/regular group/circle of buddies? In my experience, I’ve either 1) started solo, grouped randomly, found folks I liked grouping with, put them on my friends list, and sort of gradually became part of a regular group of players, or 2) started playing with a group of people (my wife, usually, often with friends of ours as well) and stuck with them, maybe adding to the group as we went along.

I suspect that for most long-term players, something similar happens. Either they start playing with a group from the get-go, or they fairly rapidly drift into a regular grouping arrangement. What I’m curious about is what percentage actually never finds a “home” as it were, but rather constantly mills about in the world of PUGs. And if so, why do they do that rather than settling down? Most MMOs make it fairly essential at some point to group, after all, so why not do it with people you don’t want to kill?

While I’m tempted to say you’re the extreme case, I don’t know for sure you are. But, the point of my suggestions would be to get people such as yourself AND those that aren’t so much a “antisocial humbug” to group without it being a horrible thing. The smart friends list, as you call it (I like that name), the advantages to grouping together longer without dying or after gaining a certain amount of experience, etc are all with the idea to subtly encourage grouping AND to train people to group. This is my big problem with MMORPGs now. They require you to group, but very few of them do anything in the way of encouragement to group.

Bit of a cognitive dissonance there. The trick of course is to encourage like to group with like - to encourage the 1% of the playerbase on a server that LIKES listening to my waxing forth on politics and the idiocy of others when he should be healing or pulling to join groups with me. The only way to do this really is indirectly - through creating shared social spaces that cause people to meet one another in a non-forced fashion, and through shared dangers that cause people to work together towards common goals.

Agreed. Trick, if you will, people into interacting and playing together nicely. Forcing sure as hell hasn’t worked…

Anything beyond that will be resented fiercely if a penalty, or milked ruthlessly without giving any intended social benefit if a bonus. Trust me, many games have tried all of these. Sometimes at the same time!

A smart friends list though? (What Matt’s talking about) Easily doable, and comes under the heading of “tools to encourage indirect social interaction”. Which are good things.

So you’re going to make it so for your game? :P

Maybe it’s me, but why didn’t the writer just say “grouping in WoW” sucks?

Perhaps it sucks because the game doesn’t encourage it early on and by the time people are forced to group, they have ingrained habits and tendencies that make it difficult.

All the stuff you should have learned in kindergarten (low levels) you have to learn in high school.

You can’t really blame people when they can’t play well with others. You just have to hope that they’ll get the hang of it soon enough. The alternative solution (forcing/requiring early grouping) detracts from one of WoW’s greatest strengths.

Grouping with friends really isn’t better since they may not be very skilled players. The benefit of having a friend wipe the group is that you should be able to provide accurate commentary on the situation without having to worry about their reactions.

For example, my circle of friends in WoW includes a guy who plays a shaman. He’s awesome and does a really good job playing the class … except in groups. For the longest time, he couldn’t heal another person in the group to save his life. I’d draw aggro with my Warlock and I knew not to expect a heal. Thank goodness for Soul Stones. The rest of us in the group knew that we were Dead Men Walking. We didn’t mind too much because we knew him and we hoped that he would eventually get better.

> So you’re going to make it so for your game?

Sadly, I am not (yet) Imperious Leader here.

“People are broken” is lum’s line, and I don’t agree any more today than when he first coined it so many years ago. The people aren’t broken. They can’t be. If you market a peanut butter and lard mouthwash and it doesn’t sell, is it the public’s fault? What if it sells but consumers use it as anal lube instead of mouthwash? Are they wrong to do this? Of course not. It’s your job to make a product that the people want, and if they use it in an unintended manner, that’s your fault, not theirs. The audience can’t be wrong, because the product is created for their use.

Who’s at fault when your game experience sucks? It isn’t your fault, and it isn’t the other players’ fault, it’s the developers’ fault. One hundred percent.

What’s that you say? It’s hard to make a game simultaneously fun for 12 year old brats and 50 year old fatty soccer moms and 25 year old greasy chainsmoking college dropouts in their parents’ basement? Well yeah, it is hard, no kidding. But that’s not their problem. If all of these players aren’t having fun, it’s still your fault.

WoW has custom definable, passworded channels. There’s literally no difference between what you’re proposing and setting up your own channel in WoW. If you want to have a social group dedicated to appreciation of Vogon poetry while raiding MC, all you have to do is set up the “We<3VogonPoetry” channel and find people to populate it! (Good luck there!)

mouselock,

All I can say is we are on completely different pages. Requiring people to group the entire game will just mean less people playing. Encouraging and teaching people to group along with getting people to expand their social horizons could likely help…but then again, maybe not.

Basically, I strongly disgaree that MMORPGs are good now. Much more can and should be done.

You insult me good sir! I don’t expect thees and thous in an RPG. I just don’t think numbers have to be the foundation. That’s why I figure this system is best set in a current day or later situation where people can be themselves, while playing the role they choose (criminal, or detective, or hitman, etc). At least then when you get the leet speak it won’t be quite so bad…

Neat idea. It could work perhaps with an alliegance system like AC had? But I like the idea of back alley deals. Perhaps the game could start with developers themselves occupying the higher echelons, and then waiting for the players to outmaneuver and replace them. Another system would be a revolving one where only certain people can be there, but you can only manage to hold the position for a certain amount of time before you a deposed.

There’s so much room to build in the MMO gamespace, if only we could collectively move past UO and EQ.

Not only are they not good, but they are largely unchanged since everquest. All of the popular mmogs are dikus. They have varying levels of polish and innovation, but never ever any invention.

So you don’t think people’s online personas are different than their RL ones? Really? That’s what is meant, most of the time, by “people are broken”.

I’m in agreement though, that just because people are (or aren’t broken) doesn’t mean the MMORPG social systems could take drastic, helpful steps towards more fun interacting with your average joe out there.

You are broken. Also, your argument is backwards. The actual case is what happens when the peanut butter and lard mouthwash DOES sell, and then you can’t successfully remove it from the market because of a vocal minority who freaks out at the mere mention, despite the fact that it’s a horrible product?

You are broken. Also, your argument is backwards. The actual case is what happens when the peanut butter and lard mouthwash DOES sell, and then you can’t successfully remove it from the market because of a vocal minority who freaks out at the mere mention, despite the fact that it’s a horrible product?[/quote]
ala mouselock? :P

Nah, I think he’s got a good head on his shoulders, there’s just a fundamental schism between us with regards to how we thing WoW should be handled.