Home > Design, MMO > Catching up on my reading — and groups

Catching up on my reading — and groups

Having added a gazillion new feeds to my reader in the last 6 weeks or so, I’ve finally got around to reading some of the older articles these newly-discovered (by me, anyway) blogs contain from before I susbcribed.

One of them is this extremely interesting post on Of Course I’ll Play It! regarding instances, class roles, and why most WoW players haven’t the first clue what to do in groups, let alone in instances, even when they reach (or especially at) the level cap, whatever it may be this year.

Since I’m relatively vocal about it, you may already know that I have an almost negative level of interest in instances, for a variety of reasons going from the sublimely ridiculous (I feel a little claustrophobic in dungeons, even with my spanktastic new-ish 28″ screen) to the rather more prosaic (I am often called away from the keyboard, and that’s not something I like to impose on a group, instance or otherwise, that depends on me being there — I have a low tolerance for the single-sitting time-commitment that’s usually required — and I’m just not all that interested in shiny new loots to replace the previous 5 level’s shiny new loots). On the other hand, even though I don’t group very often — not counting the duos with the spousal unit — I *am* very interested in the systems and mechanics that underly how we create groups, why we might want to or not want to, and what we actually do when we’re in them (or not in them as the case may be).

So, to make a long story a little less long, one of the solutions the above-linked post proposes is to introduce players to grouping (and instances) right from the get-go, which is exactly how WAR introduces players to RvR and their role in it. This is such an obviously good idea that even I, old curmudgeon that I am, had to kick myself at its beautiful simplicity. Don’t force players to do anything; if you make something easy enough, chances are they will flock to it like lemmings to the cliffside. (I’m sure there are plenty of downside examples to that too, if it’s not done intentionally, but that’s by the by.)

It’s easy to queue up for a scenario — it wasn’t always quite that easy, but Mythic were quick to pick up on and respond to player criticism of the early incarnations of the system — and you don’t have to sit around with your thumb up your avatar’s backside for an hour while a “perfect” group is put together, or wait for said perfect group to actually form up and start doing stuff once they’re all found. And you can do that with all manner of other content — a scenario is really only a very short instance with some very evident goals where the “mobs” are other players.

It’s a great idea. Take me, for instance: as I said I don’t group a whole lot, but I could very well imagine myself grouping a LOT more in a game where a larger proportion of the quests (or content, call it what you will) involved short, casual, easily-joined groups. Instead of one long and involved instance for every 2 or 3 zones or level brackets or whatever, make it a dozen much shorter ones. Pepper the local quest lines with them — not all of them, because sometimes even an easy system just can’t do what you need (witness the non-popping scenarios on WAR’s lower-population servers), but enough of them to make a change from the usual kill 10 rats activity. Make some of them PvE, some of them PvP, hell, make some of them puzzles to solve (though that wouldn’t be much good for player repetition I guess) or crafting contests or cook-offs or whatever the hell else the designers can come up with.

The point is, if you build it (to be easy to approach and to fit with the flow of a player’s activities when online), they will come — even if “they” are old crotchety mostly-soloers like me. By “easy” I don’t mean easy to complete, but just because something takes 5 hours per run and needs 20 runs for success doesn’t make it hard — it might just mean that said content requires exactly the right actions performed at exactly the right time by exactly the right classes; that’s not hard, that’s Mastermind. What I mean is, “easy” to get organised for, easy to get to, and easy in terms of time. We’re mostly all busy adults with a crapload of stuff on our RL plates — I for one just cannot give 5 consecutive charged hours to doing something in a game anymore. Nor would I want to if I had the time; I prefer a variety of activities over that kind of time-span, and I’m not the only one.

Now that is the kind of group-system I can get behind. One of you real-as-opposed-to-armchair devs out there build it already!

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  1. March 21, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Not only RVR, but WAR did a bit of PVE grouping stuff with PQs as well. You didn’t need to pre-form a group to do them, you just joined in with other people who were there or who showed up afterwards.

    We won’t go into the blatant failings of PQs (like their roll system), but it’s enough to mention that the harshness of finding a group to do these has gotten significantly less harsh, even moreso with the addition of the “easy” PQs that only require 1-3 people to finish all the way to the end.

  2. March 21, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    You know what I think the real downfall of PQs were? The wrong system in the wrong game. I think that alone, PQs could have been a decent system in a PvE only game. Now, mind you, not in the condition they existed in WAR, but I think expanded upon, PQs could have driven a game instead of taking a backseat to RvR PvP.

    I think the focus has been on shifting to solo quests in too many games that they’ve completely borked group quests. First of all, everyone in your group has to have the quest and pretty much be on the same step for the quest to be effective. There are definitely ways to revamp the way group questing is done.

    A big thing is simply not having group quest available to players unless they are in a group. Breaking quests up into chapters and allowing players to hold over their progress in a quest should be allowed. The thought being that if a player doesn’t finish a complete group quest you’re not going to take any loot or XP away from them if they suddenly have something IRL to contend with. Sure, they may have to start all over with a new group or such, but no system can be *that* perfect.

    Making grouping more purposeful and easy to deal with is something that really needs attention nowadays.

  3. Tesh
    March 23, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    This interestingly dovetails with a new mental tack I’m toying with; mission based MMO design, specifically in the Battletech universe. No, it’s not revolutionary, but that game is built around small group tactical warfare, and in real-time, missions can range from 20 minute affairs to a couple of hours. Small skirmishes are very common in Battletech. The MechWarrior conceit of mercenaries fits nicely with the “grouping with random strangers” theme.

    …must ponder further.

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