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Commentary on Grouping

While I was grouping in EverQuest in Unrest tonight (an activity I’ve spent more time doing than I’ve played most MMORPGs all combined), I thought about grouping and the nature of group etiquette. These days, that idea of forming a group of people by requesting certain classes in a chat channel is gone. The days of having to find replacement members, whether for yourself or the healer leaving, are gone. Gone too are the days of group etiquette, or having etiquette or social play really mean anything.

Our tank just randomly had to leave tonight. That meant the group was essentially hindered — even paralyzed — until we could find a replacement. That action ultimately lead to the group breaking up. That person essentially hurt a lot of people’s evening plans. Many would say that it’s no wonder such a practice has been done away with, in favor of automatic group queues.

Similarly, groups aren’t formed to sit indefinitely in a space and earn experience for unlimited periods of time. Modern grouping mechanics match you with strangers and last for up to 30 minutes (heaven forbid any longer, right?).

Conversely, I’ve had group last 10+ hours where people courteously find a replacement for themselves before they have to leave. Those groups result is enormous leveling efficiency, wealth, and fun for all involved. In many cases, much preferred.

Asking myself which I prefer — the automatic groups or forming one — I would quickly respond the latter. There’s an element of humanity there, and a sense of forming a group to complete a task that gives the players some control over their fate. On paper, I hesitate to jump at saying I like forming a group and keeping it well groomed. There’s a weird ‘ideal scenario’ and ‘idyllic outcome’ that pulls to me. It’s that “we’re a real community of players all in a world” appeal. It’s the notion that I would never abandon a group as their healer because I know how screwed that makes them, and could potentially hurt my reputation. It makes me care more, and that incorporates some ‘real’ element into the game that makes it more fun for me.

Do you have a method you prefer? As the case would be with many mechanics isolated from the rest of their respective games and compared against the other, I don’t think one is better. I think both are so heavily flawed that neither could be declared a better method. They rely on a plethora of other factors and mechanics which when combined define what type of game you’re playing.

  • Serelyen says:

    I very much prefer automatic group forming and quick action. I did the group forming/member replacing thing alot but that was when I was in school and had nothing much else to do – nowadays with a kid and limited free time I pferer to not waste it. Or the time of others when I’m the one who has to leave unexpected (which happens way more than I would like).

    That being said I’m still an fan of MMO-s, but group activities are falling off my radar more and more for above reasons. I’m one of those who the super-casual mmo-s are being developed for.

    • Keen says:

      I can definitely identify with how you feel. I’m in this weird place, stuck between preferring the idea of creating manual groups and enjoying the experience of sticking with that group and growing social bonds with others players, and simply not having the time to do it.

  • R'nageo says:

    While I can see the appeal, for an extreme introvert like me, manual grouping is a nightmare. If I want to do something that needs a group, I’ll just wait until someone I know starts it and then join them, or I’ll likely never do that piece of content. Joining a group started by a stranger or worse, starting something myself, just leaves me paralyzed with fear.

    Automatic grouping helps me get past that first hurdle and actually join a group for content. It’s a pity that the random nature of it means you could end with undesirable people from time to time, but more often than not people are cordial if not very talkative.

    • Keen says:

      Fascinating to read about your feelings as an introvert. I’m an ambivert. I occasionally feel the discomfort when thrown into a situation with random people, but then I can quickly overcome that and even lead if called upon. Sort of a balance of both sides. Thanks for sharing!

      Another downside of the random groups over manual grouping is that you rarely ever find those players ever again. It’s so temporary. I think the temporary nature is what makes me feel less attached to the game.

      • Gankatron says:

        I believe it is important to keep in mind that not everyone is as strong an advocate of community or bust as you are, as R’nageo’s perspective illustrates.

        I too am more supportive of grouping tools due to my somewhat outgoing antisocial personality type, and consequent strong impatience with group dynamics, especially waiting around on Vent to see if online contacts eventually show up.

        A real-life analogy is meeting up with actual friends at conferences. Although I initially always make time to hang out with larger groups to get reacquainted and make plans for later in the week, inevitably no matter what cool music and food venues exist in such cosmopolitan settings, everyone ends up sitting in some generic Irish-pubesque place or extruded sports bar.

        It is the inherent lowest common denominator inertia of larger organized groups.

        Instead it can be more fun to set out alone or in a smaller like-minded group and meet interesting strangers along the way, but obviously personal preference dictates one’s course.

        Also, one comes away with more interesting stories that way, at least that is my experience in my night’s out in New Orleans, you just hope the stories aren’t about you.

        πŸ˜›

      • Gankatron says:

        Incidentally, I am glad there are community-based idealists around such as yourself, as whether in real-life or virtual-life, people need to learn how to play well together.

  • Bhagpuss says:

    Hmm. This is one of those questions that has no “right” answer, isn’t it? It depends on so many things. How much time do you have? How important is grouping to your playstyle? How important is playing MMOs to your lifestyle? How many friends and acquaintances do you have who play the MMO you’re currently playing? What kind of culture and/or community does your server/shard have? What are the requirements of the MMO you’re currently playing when it comes to grouping? How easy/hard/impossible is it to add replacement group members on the fly? Are the places where you group in the open world? Dungeons? Instanced? Ands so on and so on.

    I would seriously question whether any statistically significant percentage of the playerbase of any MMORPG ever actively enjoyed, sought or welcomed the situation where the beginnng of every gameplay session required a lengthy search for appropriate classes to make up a viable group before any actual “gameplay” could take place. Similarly I’d question whether having to stay with a group until a replacement for your class could be found (which in my experience often involved doing /who searches and sending tells to random strangers to begin sometimes lengthy negotiations while simultaneously trying to keep my group alive) was an experience enjoyed by more than a very select few – mostly masochists and control freaks.

    On the other hand, automated group finders are joyless, soulless and suck the life out of almost any group activity. I have almost nothing good to say about them and I very, very rarely use them.

    My personal response has mostly been to stop grouping altogether. The old way was often irritating, frustrating and more trouble thna it was worth. the new way is simply no fun at all. I always enjoyed soloing. Now I just enjoy more of it.

    • Keen says:

      We agree then. I think both ways are so seriously flawed. I wish there was a perfect blending of the two where we could get groups quickly, but have them be manual groups that aren’t soulless and life sucking.

  • Topauz says:

    I have had mostly good experiences with group finders. I used it a lot when I was playing SWTOR. I definitely prefer the older way of manually finding groups. You would end up playing with people in your guild or meeting new people that you could look for in the future. My current lifestyle just doesn’t work for that time commitment anymore. If my toddler wakes up early from her nap, I am not going to be able to stick around in game. So now I mostly just solo.

    • Keen says:

      It’s so fascinating to see the same story repeated by so many. We all ahd more time in the past, but now we don’t. So while we all preferred the manual way of finding a group, we’ve taken to doing more solo-oriented activities.

  • Gankatron says:

    Having an auto-group finder is a great tool, and not mutually exclusive to manual grouping, so no downside to someone who prefers the latter.

    Hopefully an auto-grouping tool is robust enough to allow those who have someone drop keep the base group together and just auto-group the missing desired position, …evening saved!

    • Keen says:

      The two are typically mutually exclusive because of how the rest of the game is designed. Rarely will someone in WoW manually LFG for a dungeon. Even more to the point, WoW’s grouping is a temporary and single, short lived, action-oriented system.

      In WoW groups are only formed to complete a single, programmed, linear experience. They form, they complete the prescribed task, they disband. Then people queue up to repeat it. The game has been designed to make manual grouping (with people you don’t know) pointless. Though interestingly it didn’t used to be that way in vanilla days.

      • Gankatron says:

        So, you don’t think you could have picked up a tank and salvaged your evening with an auto-grouping tool, or would you have preferred to just call it a wash instead of grouping with a stranger?

        Frankly, I don’t care about how WoW does it, as if their systems are the pinnacle of multiplayer game mechanics. I mean if they were perhaps I wouldn’t have left somewhere around 15 years ago and never looked back?

        I feel like using WoW failures as support for an argument against auto-grouping mechanics in general, is designing a counter-point purposely meant to fail.

        Let’s approach the question from a different POV; how would you design an auto-grouping tool that would best address your concerns?

      • Keen says:

        We looked, but as time went on people decided to call it. Spending 30 minutes to get the group back up to speed meant having to stay up later to gain the benefit. Most of the group being over 30 had work in the morning. πŸ˜‰

        WoW is only used as an example of the other side because of its relative size and use of such mechanics. It was the first to execute the tools in any sort of successful way on any sort of scale, and the only game to have stuck around after doing so.

        How would I design an auto-grouping tool? Quite frankly, I wouldn’t. I would try and solve the problems faced by manual grouping. I believe manual grouping leads to better experiences — when it works.

      • Caldazar says:

        I think you only remember half of wows group finder tool.

        One part is the automated LFG (Like queue and get dumped in a group for a dungeon, like what you describe)

        The other part lets you make a group for whatever activity (You literally type it in a text box, so you can do raids, fishing, questing, achievements,…) and people can queue up to this and whisper the group leader, while the group leader can invite people from the list and whisper them if wanted.

        The second version is pretty fucking awesome, it streamlines the spam channel without limiting you like the automated tool. And depending on the activity, people even talk :p

      • Keen says:

        Not forgotten, just set aside as it doesn’t really add to or detract from the point of manual grouping vs. random grouping. It’s stuck between worlds. I’ve used that system to try and form “pre-made” groups for the mythic +15 dungeons. It’s like a cross between a manual group and a random group. People behave the same as they do in a random group, and perform the same tasks as a random group, yet with an element of scrutinizing who they play with. Most experiences I had with it ended up being groups trying to be elitists.

  • audioshaman says:

    Much like what others seem to be saying, when manual groups works it provides a better experience, but it’s so demanding that I don’t participate anymore.

    Some of my best WoW memories were from Wrath when I was in an active guild. We did the 5-man heroic achievements when they were current, raided, etc. I made some real connections and we had a blast. My experiences doing dungeons with randoms from the automatic group finder doesn’t even come close in terms of fun.

    However, I just don’t have the time/patience for that anymore. My life has changed. I have a career, wife, home, dog, etc. I can’t spend all evening at my computer anymore, and I absolutely hate the social tension of guild vs family.

    More and more I am looking for “drop in, drop out” style gameplay where I can play a game for 15 minutes or 2 hours depending on my schedule.

    • Keen says:

      I can relate to this, and I think your first sentence sums it all up perfectly.

      When it works, manual groups provide a better experience. Major emphasis on ‘when’.

      I’m also really into those drop-in-drop-out moments these days. That’s why I’ve taken a keen interest in games like PixARK. We have our own server that we jump in and play when we want. It’s our version of on-demand gaming.

  • Sanz says:

    It’s all about risk reward and longevity. And being hard.

    If you can join a queue and form a group in 3 minutes, everybody is going to have all the same rewards. And you know what that equals?

    A 3 monther.

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