Forming Groups in a Sandbox World


*Dusts off his soapbox.*  Ahhem.

Are you people crazy?!

I just about spewed my morning Diet Coke all over my desk when I opened up the latest EQ Next poll.  Surely the people wanting to play the ‘next’ EverQuest game know this will be a sandbox.  Surely they are mostly fans of the original EverQuest and EverQuest II, and have been brought up in this industry as sensible, wise, and sane people.  Surely they aren’t the type looking for dungeon finders, cross-server queues, zero social infrastructure, and absolutely no reason to communicate with anyone or have any sort of accountability.  I guess I was wrong?

Part of me wants to smack the person who put the poll up in the first place.  The other half REALLY wants to smack them.  Don’t even entertain the idea of a dungeon finder or matching system in EverQuest Next.  Now you have to have Omeed get up there in the video and do his marketing thing by explaining the rationale behind why a certain type of player wants the ability to log in and instantly be whisked away into a dungeon group while the seasoned developer on the other side explains why that type of crap breaks this type of game.

Let’s look at what some of the messages posted for the SoE team.  These are the logical responses:

“I haven’t had much fun with matching systems. Players tend to play dungeon and disperse. No connections. Prefer friends.” – David Georgeson

“I think that options are important, but matching can be problematic!” – Jeffrey Buttler

“I prefer the social bonds that form when players form their own groups.” – Darrin McPherson

And these are the ones that make absolutely no sense to me in the context of this poll.

“Grouping should be accessible for both those with lots of friends and more occasional players.” – Steven Klug

“I generally play with friends but would love a system to find people doing similar things when necessary!” – Terry Michaels

“In this area, options are best. I want to play with family and friends or group up with random strangers. It’s how you make friends…or so my family has told me.” – Michael Mann

You guys realize that you can group with strangers without a dungeon finder, right?  It’s called “Looking for Group.”  That’s how you meet new people, make friends on your server, and start to build the types of social interactions that actually make the MMORPG genre different from Call of Duty.

I like knowing that I can find the same players I enjoyed grouping with previously.  I like that feeling when I find the perfect puller and add that person to my friends list.  I like knowing that if I find a player who doesn’t match my playstyle I can avoid grouping with him ever again.  This is the stuff Darrin McPherson is alluding to.

My fun in MMORPGs has actually gone down CONSIDERABLY since I started only playing with my close circle of friends.  I stopped meeting new people.  Every group became the same.  I lost the ability to type to my group and take on the personality of my character.  I weakened the immersion factor.

In a themepark world where the whole point is to play through content and get gear — a dungeon finder works.  In a sandbox, or pseudo-sandbox like the original EverQuest, I stand firm: Keep that filth far, far away.

  • I tried the Rift lfg briefly. I’d like to know that I’m actually going to get in a group sometime this century.

  • You know those experiments where they give rats everything they want with no work and the rats stop having sex and die off. Kind of feel that’s what happened with MMOs.

    No person or organization shoving tons of money behind a game will want to go against opinion polls this large(well unless there is a way to scam stocks with it). This is why even with all so called change that is happening, nothing is changing The problem is systemic and will only change if crowd funding actually reaches MMO funding levels (like star citizen).

  • Issue isn’t with dungeon finder, it was with cross realm dungeon finder. This removed all accountability, wheras in server dungeon finder retained it, without forcing connections.

    Some of us are introverts, we don’t care about making long lasting friendly connections with people. Sitting in town shouting for LFG for hours because you were a less desired class wasn’t exciting to me. The people I met did not generally become long lasting friends, although sometimes they became acquaintances when it was in server.

    Now the good people I meet are never on my server, so no acqaintances are ever made.

  • Idk how a dungeon finder will work though. Remember they have said the world is completely destructible.. You can just start digging down and find a dungeon. Seems hard to have a dungeon finder for randomly generated dungeons like they are suggesting

  • Keep in mind the potential negative impact on community fostering isn’t necessarily the focus of this question.

    I believe in a straightforward sense this question may be perceived by the non-gaming blog community as more simply “Would you like to have more or less options when it comes to grouping?” and is reflected in one of the quotes you posted:

    “In this area, options are best. I want to play with family and friends or group up with random strangers. It’s how you make friends…or so my family has told me.” – Michael Mann

    It is a hard sell to try to convince the gaming population at large that less options is the bitter pill they need to swallow for the overall health of the community (regardless if that is actually the “correct”answer).

    I also imagine that results might be skewed towards the all options answer from people who could actually have a strong preference for one or the other type of grouping, but feel that it would be selfish to impose their ideal game play style on others, and in this way they could perceive the middle ground answer as most community friendly or at least utilitarian.

    Perhaps you could post a question that more directly asks what you want to address such as “Which grouping option would most likely foster a stronger sense of server identity as well as immersion?”

    Don’t be surprised if the answers provide seemingly contradictory conclusions as people outside of blogging settings may not put as much thought into analyzing theoretical outcomes and may even be willing to sacrifice a stronger sense of community for greater convenience.

  • As a dirty casual, I liked the dungeon finder. I didn’t want to spend an hour looking for a group on a server just to finally get in it and someone had to AFK for dinner or facesmashed themselves on the keyboard instead of playing. I had invested at least 30 minutes into that groups success. With the random dungeon finder it was quicker in finding the groups. If it was awful I would know i could bow out and find another group in 5 or 10 minutes. I didn’t need to feel a connection to them. If I wasn’t feeling that into it, there also wasn’t any bad thing that was going to happen to me if I slacked off on the DPS, I could coast and not worry about the DPS checking all the time…

    If I was a tank or heals and the group was bad, I could just leave and it wasn’t a big deal. DPS could cycle in and out freely and if someone wasn’t pulling their weight they would be gone.

    I understand I wasn’t building any meaningful relationships in the game, but sometimes its just not worth it. I can’t commit to an extensive online friendship when I don’t play all the time… It doesn’t make sense for me to friend a guy and then not even see him for another 2-3 weeks. Most of the time I won’t remember befriending them anyway.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Just admit it… we are the old guys sitting on the porch in our rocking chairs yelling at the kids ‘get off my damn lawn!!!’

    I am not being critical of younger gamers but think it is just a reflection of the difference in our generations. Younger gamers like systems that make games more casual and fast while many of us think back with good memories on a more drawn out experience. I loved Fallen Earth and the insane travel times but was constantly reading comments from people begging for fast travel and things like that. The same can be said for dungeon finders. When you can click on an in game system and get a group you have zero need to actually forge relationships and do content.

    Once again, not picking on or being critical of those gamers, I just think there is a distinct difference in the gamer community now and developers need to decide which they are focusing on. Making your game more casual friendly may give you larger initial numbers but might lead to steep declines and less overall players. Focusing on the more hardcore long term crowd (like say EVE) may not give you big fancy numbers but can give you a great stable costumer base for a long time.

  • Any game that is designed using poll results is going to end up very similar to WoW, because ultimately WoW is very close to what the vast majority wants. When a poll directed at hardcore fans of a game franchise that is known for the characteristics that you like and even that poll turns out a result that is the exact opposite of what you want, you have to admit that your preferences are in the very narrow minority.

    I just hope that more companies wake up to the fact that there is enough demand out there to support niche games.

  • Players want the game to randomly match them up with other players? No wonder community is dead in MMOs, people can’t talk to other players now, for fear of cooties I guess.

    /incoming rant alert!

    Remember Dungeons & Dragons back in the 70s? (I do, you may be young and so you get a pass on this). It had a small-ish but dedicated and enthusiastic fanbase, consisting largely of college student types. The community was fantastic, and having fun was the goal.

    Then the 80s happened, and suddenly D&D was a big fad with millions of players. This ruined D&D for me, because the community changed drastically. Suddenly junior high school kids were playing, and I saw all sorts of absurd results (demi-god characters with heaps of legendary loot). I personally knew a small game shop that went by the honor system of letting D&D players shop there without the owner in the store- he trusted us. In the 80s, he was taken advantage of and ripped off by some of the ‘new players’ that showed up.

    Everything that I had enjoyed about D&D had changed for the worse.

    The exact same thing has happened with MMORPGs. MMO players were once a smaller cult audience that got along well. Now it is a huge audience where players- many who have no idea of the MMO tradition before playing WoW- want to turn MMOs into casual single player games where they don’t have to talk to anyone else.

    I want my old hobby back 🙁

  • Only unemployed, students, or people who spend their entire free time in a game can manage that kind of time sink. It’s a small crowd because so few have the time to devote to that kind of game play. You can’t make money with that audience, too small.

  • I played EQ for years. Some of my least favourite memories involved assembling groups manually. During the heyday of LDoN especially, I spent more than one night assembling a group only to watch if fall apart before any of us actually zoned in. 4 to 5 hours wasted. On some weekends, that could go up to 8. What did i get out of it? Frustration. I promised myself I would never try to form a group ever again, I was that traumatised. I got over it, but the stigma is always there for me.
    WoW’s dungeon finder is a great concept with a just insanely flawed execution, cross server. In EQ, you had to be on your best behaviour because your rep made or broke the game for you. The only drawback to a LFD is that the human filth can always get groups using it, bypassing their sullied reputation. If an LFD enforced people’s ignore lists, then this can easily be resolved (it doesnt put you in a group with anyone on your ignore list).
    If SOE introduces cross server LFD, then they have failed (and for a multitude of other reasons, I’m hoping EQN does not even have server shards, but one server, I like playing with friends and new friends, regardless of their inital arbirary server choice), and lack a basic undestanding of the concept of building a community. Since community is one of their stated goals, and no matter what you say about them, they seem to have at least as much sense as a drunken lemur in a blender factory, I have hope they will do it right.
    I dont ever, EVER again want to spend 5 hours a night herding cats, listening to promises, excuses and sorrys, and making appologies to the guys that did turn up and were sitting next to me for the last three hours waiting for the healer or the tank (I was an enchanter so we had CC and slows), that part of things made me feel terrible and I’m sure did not enhance my rep to them.
    I made a couple of friends through it, sure, but i made 80+ when I joined a social guild. The ones from the guild lasted much longer, too. If WoW’s LFD was your server only, then there are more than a few other players would have friended in a heartbeat, but they were on other servers…
    LFD also forcibly expands your world view. You wont only look for shaman slowers or Warrior tanks. You wont only look for people in the same zone as you. Your view of the world is expanded. You are exposed to more., you can find out how that world event is going on in Kithicor from a first hand account, even though you were in lake Rathe a minute ago. More people are exposed to you increasing your potential friends. Yes it takes you out of your area briefly, before dropping you back, but some people like that. I do.
    Non-Cross-Server LFD is a tool, just like OOC or Chat, except it is without bias and without frustration and the most awful job of any MMO (that of assembling a group) is handled by someone else.

  • In GW2 there is no Group Finder until recently. Thus there is two consequences :
    – I very rarely do Dungeons,
    – when I tried, I shall repeat “LFG for Ascalon” or whatever other Dungeons, and say “Hi ! ” when they joined. Is this really a meaningful exchange?

    The best story i had with strangers was when doing Jumping Puzzle and people start to encourage each other and show the secret of the zone !

    As in “real life” ( but games *are* real life !) the only real relationship went when *you want* to know someone, or when you do an activity together, not when you wait in queue in the supermarket.

    What a MMO game shall do to increase strong relation ship ? :
    – no barrier for group activity – playing shall be playing together or alongside
    – Easy to help other
    – Some down-time *during* activity to let guys type message and exchange
    – forced groupe can work, but you need long activity – at least multiple hours => This will exclude a large part of your population

  • If you believe SOE’s hype machine, then yes, it’s “The Biggest Sandbox EVER”.

    The actual details we got seem to suggest otherwise. If you read their website it sounds eerily similar to GW2’s pre-launch marketing, and we all know how that turned out. They go on about a “living world” where “your choices matter” and there is “permanent change”…. and then give the example of saving a village from mobs or not. Literally the same example Areanent gave of dynamic events for years. All of their examples talk about content SOE is designing for you to play, which doesn’t sound sandbox to me.

    Then there’s the whole voxel “everything is destructible!” line. Except it turns out not everything is destructible, because of course they can’t let you destroy really important stuff. And then of course stuff can’t stay destroyed, so everything you change about the landscape will just “respawn” moments later like any random MMO mob you kill.

    I’m just saying to be careful with your expectations. All we’ve seen so far are a lot of buzzwords that are very common in MMO marketing today and never live up to much. Already the few details we know seem to water down some of the hype. I think you’re overestimating the degree to which EQN will be a sandbox. Not to mention that this is SOE, they haven’t exactly pulled off any great games lately.

  • Hey, expectations not being met is one thing. Saying a game is a sandbox then delivering a themepark is something entirely different. If that’s the case, I’ll be carrying the torch leading the angry mob. Until then, they say it’s a sandbox so I’ll criticize things (like dungeon finders) that go against the ideology.

  • @Lupinus :

    “as much sense as a drunken lemur in a blender factory”

    I assume he would have fruit, and I’ll bring the rum, sounds like a Tiki party to me, not boring at all.

    Otherwise I agree that putting together groups can be very tedious even in a smaller guild setting. I don’t have the same vehemence against LFD as some purists may, but even in that context devs could make the process less artificial than getting ripped out of the current environment by the hand of God when it pops.

    One idea could be having fixed regional teleportation gates, which players need to interact with be brought to a large central community hub where people could gather and set out for dungeons; this hub needn’t be solely dedicated to LFD activities either, but be fleshed out to serve as a general environment for community activities and events. Of course this may solve one perceived problem for purists at the cost of another taboo topic, fast travel; perhaps if there was a percent chance that upon using a portal someone could experience perma-death with full looting then it might be acceptable?

    …I kid, I kid. 😛

    It seems that for a number of people on this site the primary problem is with the cross-server aspect, and less with the finder tool itself.

    In any case we all agree that SOE is not some independent studio, and as such I cannot envision it purposely hindering accessibility to a larger gaming audience to cater to an old-school purist demographic’s desire to make the game purposefully more difficult to enhance one aspect of player communication.

    One sees a similar argument against cell phones where immediate unlimited access and texting has negated the need to set actual concrete meeting times for group activities, as well as the necessity of meeting someone face to face to finalize arrangements; this is largely true, and likely does undermine a certain aspect of human interpersonal interactions, but now that this has become established as a standard operating procedure for social interactions, how many people would look forward to going back to landlines?

    I think that it is important to recognize that at the heart of these discussions of how gaming communities are best fostered is the idea of social engineering, specifically how 2 communities of gamers with different expectations (hardcore and casuals for lack of better descriptors) can coexist in a virtual world.

    It is here where we can run into strongly bigoted love it or leave it exclusionary attitudes, specifically in this blog against “dirty casuals” as Yotor refers to, something I myself am also responsible for perpetuating. In this way many gaming blog lurkers are akin to conservative traditionalists looking down upon the immigrants who have disrupted the established community norms they have come to cherish (as exemplified by Morreion’s description of the good old days of gaming); the thing is that concept of minority-majority is at work, and we traditionalists are no longer the lynchpin for mainstream MMO economic success.

    In the context of an optional recreational activity the concept of separate, but equal, is most likely applicable, with WoW being the land that hardcores want to send the casuals back to, perhaps ignoring that the “but we were here first” argument is not an economically relevant argument.

    The thing is that the formation of a homogenous community is best suited for smaller countries, and I doubt that a massive corporate entity such as SOE is shooting for that level of boutique specialization.

    TL;DR: SOE is not a boutique game developer so I expect game mechanics that conform to modern standard operating procedures such as dungeon finders, fast travel, minimal death penalties, and simplified get in and get out casual-oriented options.

  • The fundamental piece of the WoW dungeon finder is NOT that it finds dungeon groups, but rather that it bribes raiders with over-tiered currency to go back to content they no longer need. I.e. it CREATES groups. Without this incentive, automated or not there is too little critical mass to actually form groups for most content. Whether you are clicking a button and being offered a group X amount of later or plaintively asking if anyone wants to group with you for X content and getting zero responses because no one needs X content anymore isn’t actually that relevant. Likewise, when I have played dungeons with currency incentives but without automated match-making, I haven’t found that the social connections are much higher.

    Not saying that either system belongs in a true sandbox (Fidjit’s question about whether a company as large as SOE actually has the stones to make a real sandbox is valid), just saying, the automated match-making is a distractor from the design question – how do you maintain critical mass to make sure it’s actually possible to complete your group content?