Social learning in MMOs: there are groups and there are GROUPS

I have been throwing myself into the gaping maw of the group finder tool this week on SWTOR and the overall experience has been great, I haven’t had a bad group yet. So why do I keep thinking about how strange it feels to play in a PUG put together by a sorting tool compared to a group of players who had  previous contact, even if it was just via chatting about the group in general chat? Most of all, the overwhelming sense of relief that I already know most of these instances and bosses from having learned them alongside my old guild, where we used to go in blind to see what happened, figure things out as we went along, and chatter on voice chat the whole time.

Frankly, a LFG environment can be a punishing place to learn content for the first time, especially if you are tanking or healing. Other players might turn out to be tolerant mentors, or might just be there for a speed run and guaranteed badges. They might be pleasantly civil, abhorrently rude, or merely silent. And always the looming threat of encountering one of those abusive hardcore player who will rage at anything or anyone which prevents them from collecting their entitlement of badges after a flawless 5 min speedrun.

It can also be a great place to learn content. More experienced players will know the faster routes through the instance, can tell you the smartest tactics, and can explain strategies quickly and simply. The more players you group with, the more you could potentially learn if everyone shares their best tactics on every run.

I can’t say I ever enjoyed trying to learn complex content (like raids) in random groups, however.

So how do we learn in groups?

The relationship of MMOs with groups has always been uncoordinated. These games were designed to include group challenges, but designers left it up to players as to how they would manage the tricks of group formation and learning. Still, we can imagine two main types of learning in groups.

1. The learning group. This would be a group of players that works together and learns content together. They’ll tend to stick with the same core set of members because that way they’ll be able to organise better, to learn each other’s strengths better, and put into use together what they’ve learned in previous runs. Group members will give frequent feedback to help the group improve. They may also offer social support (ie. if one player is nervous about a new raid or role, others will often encourage them: “Of course you can do it!”) Yup, this describes a raid group, or an organised guild. There are lots of theories about how groups form and work together to accomplish tasks, such as learning new instances or raids. But the main thing is that this type of group works together for more than one session and aims to learn as a group. A long standing group will have strategies to bring new members up to speed and include them in group activities, so that the group can keep learning and improving. Players will tend to feel some kind of commitment to the group.

You could also argue that the entire community of a game is a kind of learning group, with various members writing up strategies and tactics and providing video instruction of how to beat various bosses. But I don’t think there are really the kinds of feedback and support mechanisms in place to really underpin that. The resources are great, but they just underpin how difficult the task of learning in a group can be.

2. Learning in groups. You join a group, watch what they do and copy it. This is also known as social learning. Now, human beings will tend to learn all sorts of things in groups as well as boss strategies, such as how to behave towards other players. So if someone plays in LFG a lot and sees people being rude to the tanks or demanding speed runs, they’ll learn that is how you should play the game. While guilds and raids will also expect players to learn from being part of their group, they’ll tend to be more supportive about it than random players (even if they show this ‘support’ in ways like requiring high gear or dps scores before they’ll let you raid with them, that’s still setting a new player a learning target which could be useful.)

When WoW was released, I think the expectation of designers was that players would tend to commit to a guild and that the guild would learn the raids together. The notion that the more ambitious members would be guild hopping a lot wasn’t common at the time. Neither was the thought that a lot of people might not want (or be able) to commit to a guild, but would still be interested in endgame raids. On some servers, typically the RP ones, raid alliances formed so that people could have a raid schedule without leaving their smaller guilds. But the general idea of the raid guild as a learning organisation was built in from the start.

LFG is very much a newer and different kettle of fish. The groups are likely to have a mix of novice and experienced players, of people who know the content from people who don’t, characters who are overgeared and characters who are undergeared. So the kind of content that they want isn’t going to be the same as a dedicated learning group who will patiently wipe while they learn how best to handle a new boss.

I personally think the great flaw of Cataclysm was making the heroic instances both too hard at the start AND accessible via LFG. They weren’t too hard for learning groups, and in guild groups they were challenging and fun. But for LFG they were way too tough, and the fact that players had become used to fast easy LFG runs in Wrath didn’t help. If LFG had been restricted to normal mode instances at the start of Cataclysm so that the player base could learn the instances and gear up in a more forgiving environment, I think they would have been fine. No amount of gear requirements can really overcome the difficulty that players who have only learned content socially will have with new and complex encounters, if the more experienced members of the player base aren’t willing to patiently teach. And expecting people to patiently teach strangers (who may be idiots!) is a very different expectation to wanting them to teach members of their own guild. Blizzard I think has finally understood this with their easy mode LFR raids.

It isn’t fair to expect a random group to perform like a specialised learning group. But there is still one type of learning that devs haven’t really supported, and that is players who would rather learn and perfect an encounter on their own before joining a group. Diablo 3 shows how this can work. You can run through all the bosses on single player mode before ever joining a group, if you want. I think a lot of players would feel more comfortable if they could do something similar for MMO instances and raids. I have certainly played games where many of the raid mechanics show up in single player quests (SWTOR likes to teach you to interrupt, for example), but it isn’t the same as being able to practice an encounter carefully and at your own pace.

I suspect that presenting LFG groups with content that is too difficult for players to learn in those groups just adds to the stress levels. Players in general are not patient enough to say “I’ll come back when I have geared up more” or “I’ll try the normal mode a few more times” : they see the reward and the button that says “Queue for LFG” and they figure its worth a shot. And players who are already geared up and do already know the strategies will just be frustrated with queuing with people who don’t, particularly when explaining the strategies is tricky or would take ages.

This just adds to the stress for anyone new who is trying to learn an instance by PUGging it, which they are more likely to have to since the rest of their guild is probably off somewhere in the LFG tool too. Devs can help with this by making the encounters reasonably straightforwards, by providing as many pointers as possible in the environment (ie. graphical and sound indicators about what is going to happen), which I think they generally try to do in boss fights. Players can help by using LFG and trying to make it as pleasant and civil experience for everyone as possible. We can all shape what other players learn from their social experiences in our groups, just by modelling how we’d like people to behave towards us.

So if my SWTOR groups have been good, it is partly because the instances are quite fun, but mostly because the players themselves have been good humoured about the experience. People who were up front about their wish for a quick run and quick badges being understood and accepted by the rest of the group, people who explain that this is their first time in an instance being given the explanations they need, people who use raid markers for CC being chilled when CC is accidentally broken, the group just casually adapting if someone makes a mistake without making an issue of it, and so on.

It came from the PUG

50shades

Yes I was in a random group with someone called Fifty and someone called Shades. I would name my next alt Grey to keep the theme but I think it’s already been taken. (This means that yes, there is a possibility of a Fifty Shades of Grey instance group on my server.)

Breaking the Bond: things that disrupt a player’s MMO experience

Cynwise writes this week about ‘The Tyranny of Classes’ and wonders what happens when a class you once loved doesn’t feel right for you any more. Maybe it’s because your raid group has a greater need for a different role and you are tired of being the unwanted umpteenth melee dps and really really want to feel needed by your raid group. Maybe it’s because various patches and changes over the life of the game have just changed how it played.

Players I know who have switched mains for raiding or PvP seem to go through certain stages of anguish over this. Every time someone drops a pure DPS to tank or heal, it’s always emotionally complicated. <…> Sometimes it works out well – the new class is a better fit than the old one – but even then there are questions of discarded mains, of emotional attachments which need to be resolved. Rerolling is a tough step to take.

Or maybe your class took some nerfs and another class now performs that role better. It shouldn’t matter as long as yours is still good enough but other players will tend to ram it home to you all the time that the blood death knight is a zillion times better of a tank than your warrior (example picked at random) and how much easier things are when the DK can make raids. And before you know it, you feel unwanted and wish DKs would get nerfed into the ground just so that people would appreciate your efforts more.

I honestly think that for a lot of players, this is their first personal experience of discrimination. People judge you on external attributes that you can’t easily change, such as your character’s class. And it’s not fair because it isn’t your fault you weren’t prescient enough to roll the current overpowered class; you are just as good as those stupid DKs with their overpowered abilities, and why can’t anyone appreciate the great stuff that you can do, even if someone half asleep could do it better on their paladin and with fewer key presses too.

Cynwise is wondering why allowing characters to re-class is such a bugbear for MMOs. I’d say that role/class being fixed is a staple of RPGs because it stops everyone from rolling a tankmage and keeps some diversity of flavour in the game. But the fact is, players often have an emotional link with their main character. If that link weakens, the player feels less of a connection to that character or maybe loses the will to play it altogether, then their link to the game is disrupted.

There are other occurrences that can disrupt a player’s link to a MMO. Having your guild (or raid group) implode or friends leave is one of them. Another is having new content arrive that you feel forced to do for progression, but hate (ie. if a game that had been mostly PvE now ‘forces’ players to PvP for their upgrades). Another might be having the payment model change. Another might be burnout, which typically happens over a period of time, but there might be a single disruptive event that gets a player to realise they are burned out.

Any of these disruptive happenings offer the player a chance to change how they play the game: find a new guild, roll a new alt, learn how to enjoy a different playing style. Or they might just decide to leave and try their luck in a different game.  Because changing how you play may involve a lot of effort and energy – joining a new guild and getting to know a new crowd for example can require a lot of emotional energy, especially if you are naturally quite introvert.

One of the comments on Tobold’s post yesterday rang true with me.

MMO players have a career. They get into it, they play for a few years, burnout, spend another couple of years looking for a new MMO that will do it for them again, and then they wander off and play other games. Whether this is because of the demands of life, family, and career, or they no longer respond to the endorphin release of new gears and levels depends on the guy. But the number of people who are willing and able to play these things for decades is very small.

Disruptive events are likely to move a player along this career trajectory because they encourage change. When do you start looking for a new MMO? When something has disrupted your connection to your last one, perhaps. This is why nerfs are more dangerous to a MMO community than buffs, people don’t enjoy having their characters nerfed even if it was regarded inevitable.

When I think of issues that have prompted me to switch games or stop playing a game, I come back to guild/raid issues and burnout, and changes in game philosophy via patches, but also to classes simply not being what they were when I made my original choice.

What changes in MMOs have you found most disruptive? And did you decide to change or quit?

You were … disloyal: How do old guildies see returning ones?

I personally think that loyalty is a vastly over rated virtue. Being loyal to family or to a partner is great. Being loyal to your employer is sweet but badly thought out (they’re unlikely to return the sentiment). Being loyal to your country is vague, mostly because unless you have dual citizenship it’s the only place you have permission to live longterm anyway.

So for me, the concept of loyalty only makes sense when it’s mutual. There is also a sense in the word loyalty that it implies “through thick and thin”, meaning there might be times it hasn’t been easy.

I only mention this because I wonder if the “we stayed loyal” faction in WoW (for example) might not be too thrilled to have players like me back for Pandaria. After all, we didn’t stay loyal through the last expansion, we probably won’t stay loyal through the next one. Being a decent player isn’t the issue, being a reliable one in the long term possibly is.

I suppose I am wondering whether my WoW guild would really want me back. They’re nice people, so they’ll be polite and we can be friendly, but from a gaming point of view, I haven’t been there when they really needed people to be loyal.  I also wonder if it was a good idea to offer them free trials to SWTOR, but that was because they were friends and I think it’s a really fun game that they’d like. I now wonder whether it was taken as an indication of intent to poach but … I just thought my MMO friends would like to try a game I’ve enjoyed.

If you are in a game where you feel you’ve stayed loyal, how do you feel about less loyal players coming and going?

The lifecycle of a [WoW] guild

Scott Andrews wrote a very good column in WoW Insider yesterday, discussing how guilds die.

I was particularly taken by his experience of his own guild, because I think this mirrors the experience of a lot of players.

First the guild is born, possibly with a core of players who know each other in real life. Then it grows. The game is still newish but by the time the original founders get to max level, they find out about raiding and decide that they want to do it.

So, initially as a social guild, the guild starts organising raids. Many find they aren’t able to keep up the constant attendance from an appropriately geared, motivated and varied set of classes. The ones who do keep going, possibly recruiting extras as needed. At this point they usually are still trying to hang onto their social ethos and avoid doing things like stacking classes (ie. benching raiders for being the wrong class) and give everyone a chance.

Some raiders will become more hardcore than others. As soon as the social guild starts to slip behind progression, the more hardcore players will switch to more hardcore guilds. Strong leadership from the guild with well organised raids and tendencies towards progression can put this off for awhile.

Eventually the stresses start to show, particularly on officers and raid leaders. And all it takes is a couple of weeks off raiding, or a couple of failed raids before remaining hardcore raiders drift off to form their own raids, or join other raid guilds. And once the core is gone and the officers are too burnt out to rebuild from scratch, the guild dies.

It’s not inevitable this happens to all guilds. Many thrive without being hardcore raid guilds and still offer raiding (mine has a good compromise, but even so, the raid group has been tending more progression focussed with every expansion.)

What does it mean? It means that WoW (and it is specifically WoW) is teaching players that the only smart way to play in a goal oriented way is to join an individualistic bunch of people who share exactly the same goal.

A game which encouraged more broad based guilds would teach instead the values of negotiation, co-operation, and getting a lot of different people with different goals  to pull together.

I’d be curious to know if anything has any thoughts about the typical lifecycle of guilds in other games.

Important Poll! (Dilemma no. 23)

As those who followed The Book of Grudges will know, I’m definitely the whimsical non-serious blogger of the family, so here’s my current contribution…

This Friday and Saturday I’m going to be meeting some of my kinmates from LotRO (kin = guild and although I always call it a guild, I try and be good on ‘paper’). Met a few of them before, but not as many as will be around this weekend. And, of course, being a geek, the main question is what I should wear that strikes the precise balance between being geek-cool and amusing to me. T-shirt, of course. So here’s the choices, and you get to vote on what I should wear for a LotRO kinmeet on saturday:

Hawaii Five-O (I got lei'd - gettit?)

Sauron gets his Ring

Dragon Quest smily slime

Lost & propaganda

The Quick Brown Fox...

Over to you:

Guild Achievements in Cataclysm — Time to Start Over?

This week, Blizzard passed out more information about the plans for guilds in Cataclysm. That’s more about guild ranks, guild levelling, guild achievements, guild reputation, guild rewards, and by the way if you’ve completed any of the activities required for guild achievements previously then those won’t count and you’ll have to do them again.

They helpfully gave an example:

Let’s just say, that for example, you need to complete the new guild achievement “We are Legendary” in order to unlock the Dark Phoenix. That achievement requires the guild to gain access to all 6 legendary weapons currently available in the game. (note that all guild achievements start on Cataclysm launch, so anything you have now will not matter, it must be done with your guild after launch)

This is just an example, so may not be the actual achievement required to unlock the pretty dark phoenix mount. But what a way to make people feel that their Wrath legendaries are not only worthless (liable to be replaced by Cataclysm greens in a few months) but also that their guild might have to go farm them all over again.  The question is, would people feel less resistance to repeating some achievement if they did so with a different or new guild?

For example, when character achievements came into the game, players had to start from scratch, even if they had completed some of the achievement raids or instances previously. I couldn’t really be bothered to go repeat the older instances on Spinks just for an achievement. But on a new alt, I might be more inclined to go out of my way to do it. Crazy, huh? But in the back of my mind I was thinking, “I’ve already beaten TBC heroics on Spinks several zillion times. Like hell I need to do that again!! It’s not my fault that the game is stupid.” I think this comes from mentally ticking off achievement boxes in your head. Once you know you have completed a goal, it feel sour to be told that you need to redo it because the first time didn’t count.

If this is true for other people, then there has never been a more appealing time in which to start a new guild. A new guild can tackle all of the new achievements together without ever having to think, “This sucks, we did that last expansion so why do we need to do it again?” I could easily imagine 10 man guilds holding regular runs through old raid instances with the aim of eventually collecting legendary items (assuming that achievement makes it live.) But I’m not sure I can imagine raids doing that who already have done it before.

Maybe one measure of how hardcore a guild is will be how easy they find it to get people to do these runs again. And again. And again. At least it answers one question about what raid guilds might do on their off-nights.  Wonder if we’ll be able to solo Molten Core at 85…

Are you planning to start or join a new guild when Cataclysm hits? I know I’m looking forwards  to tackling the achievements in our newish little Alliance guild.

Ask not what you can do for your guild …

Yesterday, the NDA on the Cataclysm beta was lifted so if anyone thought they weren’t getting enough information about that yet … expect to drown in it from now until release. If the sheer volume of data is overwhelming, then comfort yourself in the knowledge that many things will still change before launch day. So you could reasonably just save your energy and ignore it all until you get to play personally.

Top sites for info:

Comparing with the current expansion, the NDA for Wrath was lifted on July 18th for a Release date of November 13th. If Blizzard are running a similar timetable for this expansion, then they’re aiming for a release in late October. So maybe a couple of weeks after Final Fantasy 14 goes live on the PC (Sept 30th).

A look at the proposed guild perks

I’m right in the overwhelmed with data category but I was curious to check out some of the guild perks which are currently in the Cataclysm beta.

This is definitely going to change guild dynamics. And I wonder if actually these new guild abilities will encourage good practice and help guilds to differentiate themselves.

For example, some of the perks on offer will automatically pay money into the guild bank every time a guild member loots a mob. So what are guilds going to do with that cash?

  • You could pay repair costs for guild members.
  • You could pay out bank dividends every month (just divide the contents of the bank by the number of players.)
  • You could run a guild lottery – let people enter by paying in crafted or gathered items (ie. something useful) in return for a chance to win the monthly pot. I’m considering doing this for my little friendly guild.
  • you could provide guild members with consumables or even crafted goods
  • you could pay for mounts, or for starting bags for new alts
  • you could keep it all for yourself and your alts …

But the main thing is, a guild will be expected to do something with this new resource, and to inform guild members what they plan to do. Other perks include increased honor points (from PvP kills) for guild members, better results from gathering, reduced repair costs, and shorter hearthstone cooldowns.

The other one which caught my eye in the list was:

Chug-A-Lug (Rank 1): The duration of buffs from all guild cauldrons and feasts is increased by 50%.

We haven’t seen cauldrons for awhile. In TBC a cauldron was a type of resistance potion which could be used by an entire group or raid. So it looks as though guild alchemists will again be able to provide an entire group with a potion or elixir buff.

In any case, being in a guild with any or all of these perks is going to be quite a sizeable advantage for a player. And I wonder whether the perks and the push towards being guilded will make more people question what sorts of services they think a good guild ought to offer to members. Will people still be satisfied with what they get from their current guild, or will GMs be expected to offer more?

Sociopaths r us! Is a social game a polite game?

I read a great article this week (courtesy of RPS), and it was by a gaming journalist who was explaining how playing Halo tipped him over the edge. He’s describing here how he got ganked by a random stranger, became mindbogglingly furious, and spent the entire rest of the evening tracking and corpse camping the guy to get revenge.

Not unusual behaviour for someone in a shooter, you might think. It also shows signs of classical sociopathy (A pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others) and I think he was right to recognise that the game was bad for him and quit.  Here’s an example:

Who was he to take my stuff? He respawned, this time I was off to the side of the base and tossed a ‘nade. It was beautiful, curved delicately and landed right between his shoulder blades. Pow!
I wrote: “2-1″.
In truth, I was sort of hoping for an apology. He could have just given me what I wanted.

The italics above are mine.

I’d spent time tracking this guy down, I was /right/. I killed him and he quit. I tracked him down again and again and again. An evening lost to bloodying up some jerk, feeling like a vigilante.

So when someone ganked him, he felt owed an apology, but no notion of apologising to the guy whose entire evening he had ruined. FPS shooter players just don’t do that. PvP has a similar dynamic. Why would you ever apologise or expect an apology for killing someone in a PvP game? They chose to play, they knew the rules. They can log off and do something else any time they like.

By comparison, look at an article that Matticus penned this week on his blog. It’s called How to Apologize. This is about a very different type of online game, and very different types of relationships between players. He’s talking with respect to running a raiding guild, although it could just as easily apply to any player in a guild or online community.

Still, the contrast between how the writers expect other players to behave is very marked indeed. FPS online chat is known to be vicious, hostile, sexist, homophobic, racist – in fact you can name the unpleasant behaviour of your choice and it’s probably rife on Xbox Live. Trade chat on WoW isn’t all that much better, depending on your server. But guild chat is usually more polite (or at least everyone is equally accepting of the level of rudeness.)

So why do players act like sociopaths online?

Freedom to unleash your inner sociopath!

If people are acting like sociopaths, it is because they enjoy it. A lot of players have stressful factors in their jobs, relationships, study. or just generally in their lives. Logging on and being randomly horrible to a random player may be a source of stress relief. Obviously, it’s not so fun to be on the receiving end of the insults. But the sociopath player is able to ignore that; they’re either a sociopath, or roleplaying it well online, or else it’s the local game culture that everyone is randomly horrible to each other equally. Griefers even find it fun.

So people who find it great stress relief to gank people and vent at randoms enjoy the general xbox live and trade chat atmosphere. It’s perfect for them. Just as long as everyone else plays the same way too. And if anyone dares to get upset or doesn’t want to play the sociopath game then it’s their fault for being different and not trying to fit in.

I am reminded of a guild officer in my old DaoC guild (which was, in retrospect, home to some of the worst officers I’ve ever encountered.) He saw himself as an in game sergeant major and regularly used to bitch people out in public if they annoyed him.

One day, he did this to a player who became very upset. They hated being yelled at, felt insulted and belittled, and made sure he understood exactly how upset they were. At the time, his reponse to this puzzled me greatly. The officer became furious with the upset player. How dare they ruin his good shouting session by bringing stupid emotions into this? Didn’t they know that when he yelled at them, they should accept it politely and change their behaviour to exactly what he demanded?

I don’t think he was really a sociopath, just an idiot who wanted the virtual world to reflect his self image. I think he knew that he’d gone too far, but what he actually did was to yell more at the upset player for being such a delicate flower. Unsurprisingly, this did not help and resulted in a gquit. i.e. the person who did not fit into the sociopath’s guild left.

Because you can!

The internet is anarchy. And without anyone to moderate the chat channels, bboards, or live chat then sociopaths roam widely, free to force the other web denizens to conform to their mould. And if we can’t boot or report the perpetrators, then everyone else is stuck with them.

So where do people go if they hate sociopaths online? Well, not to xbox live or open FPS chatrooms, that’s for sure. They have to collect in communities which will allow them to moderate other people’s behaviour. So guilds, private servers, social networks, moderated forums/ newsgroups and anywhere else where they can keep the riff-raff out to let their frustrations out on each other somewhere in the internet back of beyond.

And then people wonder why women don’t feature much in online gaming.

Social games force people to be more polite

So if a social game is one that forces players to communicate with each other, and to cooperate, then there is a limit to how sociopathic a successful player can be. If you want to win, then you have to work with others. That’s the bottom line in this type of game. A whole guild of sociopath players can be functional, as long as no one expects anyone else to care about what they think ( if you are the type who expects apologies when someone else insults your mother, then it’s obviously not the guild for you.)

But if a player who might be a sociopath in FPS is also an achiever, they’ll probably have to modify their behaviour in a social game. So social games will tend to be more friendly — whether they’re raid based like WoW or gift based like Farmville. Their communities will tend to be more supportive and functional.

We see this even more on roleplaying servers, because RP is all about socialising (you cannot RP on your own). So these servers hold a special attraction to the most social players.

More solo friendly games will breed more sociopathic gamers

As matticus’ post shows, players who make long term commitments to their online communities do need to foster and care about their relationships with other players. You don’t need to become best friends, but you also can’t treat them as abusively as a perfect stranger who you will never meet again.

And I wonder what this means with the ongoing trend to solo-friendliness in MMOs. Although the majority of players in the random dungeon finder are fine, it’s easy enough for the sociopathic ones to sneak in these days. And the less players need to communicate and cooperate with each other in game, the easier it is to treat the others as random objects of abuse.

But MMO culture isn’t the same as FPS culture. Many more women and older players play MMOs, for a start (and yes it does make a difference.) They won’t all suddenly become randomly abusive just because they can. But other people will. And especially if game companies keep chasing the hardcore male 18-30 year old player and putting out more solo friendly games, the prospects for better communities online are poor.

So driving away from that hardcore market and more towards the mainstream is a good trend, in my opinion. Casual gamers who won’t accept that they need to put up with all that shit as the price of entry may yet keep us all honest.

5 great ways for you to help new players

Blog Azerorth has a particularly challenging Shared Topic this week – it’s about helping new players.

Here are some other bloggers on the topic:

I do not spend a lot of my time  helping new players, if only because I don’t encounter very many. It also can be tricky to spot the new guys, often indistinguishable from experienced players who just act like newbies. So before I tackle the topic, here are a few pointers for newbie spotters. This is how you know you’ve got the Real Deal on your hands.

  • Player has not yet figured out how to use chat channels. They may use say or whisper instead, if they’ve worked those ones out.
  • Player does not know how to find the bank or auction house (or add any essential facility of your choice.)
  • Player is confused by need/greed conventions. Unfortunately this is easily mistaken for ninja behaviour. This could also just mean an experienced solo player who hasn’t grouped much.
  • Player can’t ask for help because they don’t really know what sort of help they need. If you are struggling with how to start combat, there’s no point asking for help with complex rotations.
  • Player went exploring and ended up in a totally inappropriate zone for their race/class/faction, and doesn’t know how to get back. (It’s the not knowing how to get back which scares newbies, more experienced explorers usually have A PLAN involving a bucket, 50’ of rope, and/or a hearthstone.)
  • Player got lost. (This does not hold for instances such as BRD where everybody gets lost.)
  • Player wants to improve or learn how to do something better. This is how you know you have a live inexperienced newbie and not an experienced zombie.

So, assuming that you’d like to help new players, how do you do it? Here are five things I try to do – and you will notice that I don’t go too far out of my way. I’m in game to play and have fun, not to act as teacher or big sister to the unwashed masses (err, excluding my actual sisters). I have also learned through experience that I won’t be helping anyone if I’m grumpy and out of sorts.

1. Answer (sensible) questions on global channels

A lot of people goof off in trade chat or the local equivalent, which is all well and good. But one easy way to help newer players is simply to answer questions on the chat channels. If someone has gotten as far as asking a question, it means that they’re taking the first steps towards helping themselves. And if you happen to be in the area covered by the channel and aren’t busy, why not answer?

I sometimes talk to people via whisper if they are asking warrior or tanking questions. For example, I spoke to a player last week who was asking how to gem gear for a protection paladin – it’s not a difficult question, and it’s also very little effort for me to give a basic informed answer, and offer signposting to decent tanking websites if the guy wants to read more.

2. Help new players to settle into your guild

If a new player joins your guild, you can help to smooth their experience. This doesn’t mean that you need to talk to them extensively every time they log on, especially if your guild isn’t chatty anyway. But you can help by making sure they know about guild activities, bulletin boards, addons, bank, or any other way in which your group usually communicates and organises.

It might mean as little as checking that someone has read the guild info tab (if your officers are organised and put useful information in there). Or asking if they want to join some regular guild activity if they are online and appropriate level.

3. Gold$$$

You can, if you choose, help new players by either giving them gold or sharing gold making tips. (Do lots of dailies to get gold for your epic mount, is a good one in WoW for example. Or start with two gathering skills.) A lot of players are ethically opposed to giving gold to beggars. Others may be amused enough by a good pitch to help an enterprising new player out with some starting cash.

I have been in guilds – and am sort of running one at the moment – where we aim to give people gold to buy their flying mounts at level 60 if they don’t already have the cash. The idea is that people can pay it back to the guild bank later and since we’re careful with invites, the facility won’t be abused.

If you’d rather give goods, then bags are always helpful to new players. So if you get chatting to someone after giving advice on a chat channel and would like to help them further, a gift of bags will not compromise your gold giving ethics but is a very helpful gesture. If you are a crafter, there may be other low level gear you can help players with. Glyphs and potions can be helpful too, if you don’t mind explaining how to use them.

In general, giving stuff to everyone who asks will make you feel like a sucker unless you just won the in game equivalent of the lottery or are a generous drunk. But giving stuff to ‘worthy’ newbies is a time honored way of helping new players.

4. Don’t bitch at people in low level instances

News flash. You will sometimes find new players in low level groups or instances. Do not expect these low level groups to function like well drilled raid groups in which every player has been studying their role for several years.

Instead, go in to have fun and be entertained. If the group upsets you, then you can always leave. But newer players can have an infectious enthusiasm and the better ones will take tips and advice if it’s offered in a generous way.

Low level instances are also often harder than higher level ones if you tackle them at the intended level and gearing. (I have come to the opinion that LBRS is the hardest instance in the game. It’s certainly the one I have seen completed least often lately.)

Give the lowbies a break. Assume they might be new. Give them a chance to take advice before you give up on them.

5. Don’t socialise if you are in a bad mood

This is the biggie. You cannot help anyone, newbie or otherwise, if you are burned out, stressed, bad tempered, or feeling anti-social. The kindest thing you can do for your fellow players in that case is to take yourself away from the social scene and either stay offline or maintain radio silence.

Never mind if you feel an obligation to help newbies. Never mind if you promised them an instance run. If you don’t feel up to it, make your excuse and back out. It’s allowed. And you need to put your own fun and welfare first.

It’s probably better if you don’t agree to do anything that you know you didn’t really want to do in the first place. People can take no for an answer. I know a lot of players who do have trouble with saying no, but it’s just one of those life skills that you need to learn for your own protection.

Bring out your dead: Profiting from the demise of other guilds

otters

In which we pore over new recruits from dying guilds like otters waiting for their fish.

It is a sad day when a guild or a raid community dies. Not just for the players involved – although by that time, many of them will probably be relieved to be free to find new homes – but for the wider community and even the game itself. A guild can represent so much combined effort from so many people. It isn’t just an in-game identity, it’s also a virtual home. And when a guild fails, all that effort goes to the wall.

Some guilds have an actual end day when everyone ceremonially leaves and the (ex)guild leader does the equivalent of falling on their sword and dismantling the guild. Others simply fade away over weeks or months of fewer people logging in, fewer events being organised, more raids being abandoned due to lack of interest, and players drifting off to join other, more active communities.

On a tight knit server, others outside the guild will notice the loss too. Some well known guilds spawn long, surprisingly sympathetic threads on realm forums where other players (including past members) voice their memories. A long running, well known guild is simply a part of the server history, a history that could be measured in the rise and fall of guilds, with all the associated drama ….

When my first raid guild in WoW split up, I was gutted. I was an officer at the time, and a class lead, and I’d ridden through both the high and low points with the rest of the guild. But by the end, I was so very tired of it all. I asked if the GL at the time minded if I left my character in the defunct guild, while I took a break from the game. When I logged in several months later to take stock, I had several whispers from people who just wanted to reminisce about my guild tag even though many of them had never been members themselves.

So when a guild dies, what happens to the now homeless players? If players had been very invested in the guild, it’s a time of grieving. Some will transfer servers to be with other friends, others will look for other guilds on the same server, and still others will spend some time as free agents, or even take a long break from the game altogether. Occasionally new guilds spawn from the ashes of old ones, but it’s never quite the same.

Good news everyone! Applications are looking up!

In WoW at the moment, things are winding down towards the next expansion which will not be for several months (no, we don’t yet know the release date). Many raid guilds are struggling for numbers as players get bored and decide to take a break until Cataclysm.  The ennui is hitting guilds which I had thought to be immune. Maybe things are really worse now, or maybe just older guilds have hit the point where the game itself has changed so much from when they were created that the leaders don’t want to keep changing with it. Or in other words, they don’t much fancy the idea of raiding in Cataclysm anyway if it carries on the way it has in Wrath.

In any case, we can tell that other raid guilds on the server are breaking up because we get an influx of new applications. And since the hardcore raid guilds on AD are … well … more hardcore than we are, those applicants are generally well geared, well disciplined, well spoken, and any raid guild would be delighted to have them.

It feels like a reward for hanging in there, because we’ve also been struggling for numbers but (much credit to all the comm members and to the long suffering raid leaders) have still managed to keep raiding and keep the progression just about going. But raiding has definitely slowed, and if we take on some of these guys, it would be a shot in the arm.

It is a risk also. Can someone who was a mainstay of a hardcore guild really be happy to raid on a more casual basis?  Maybe they can, if what they really wanted was a virtual home.

One thing is for sure, whenever one raid splits up, many other struggling raids will suddenly get an injection of much needed raiders. They died so that others could live.