[SWTOR] Effects of LFG and ranked warzones, and deciding whether to make the mental switch to endgame

liberateddroid

So even liberated droids get floor mopping duty, apparently

I have been playing SWTOR a fair amount this week, focussing mainly on my reasonably new level 50 Jedi Sage. When you ‘focus’ on a max level character in an MMO, it generally means that you plan to spend most of your time in game on that character, probably finding ways to progress it (ie. by collecting gear, gold, etc), socialising, or chasing achievements or other collectable type things. This tends to mean you will be doing similar sorts of things when you log in, depending on how much time you have available and whether there’s some group event you plan to attend. In SWTOR specifically, this means knocking out the daily quests, hitting some regular and hard more flashpoints, figuring out exactly how bad I am at PvP in warzones, and hopping into the occasional Operation/ Raid (I’ve done one with my guild and one PUG that was assembled via general chat on the fleet) – that’s a  good sampling of what endgame has to offer.

Next week I suspect will see a slow down for me, partly because I’m in full job hunting mode (for positive reasons, just got a new qualification), partly because I snagged a pass to the next GW2 beta weekend, and because Crusader Kings 2 accidentally fell into my checkout in the Steam Sale; so I have a new goal to try to learn how to play it. (Incidentally, there’s a really good tutorial here.) The other reason is that my Sage is now pretty much fully kitted out in Columni gear, which you can get from hard mode flashpoints and is also the gear that drops from the two easier story mode Operations, and I also have most of the Battlemaster PvP set, so the urge to get as many hours in as possible is waning.

So I feel that I have a fresh view on the SWTOR endgame and how it has been different for me with this character than previous ones, due to changes in the game.

LFG: They could just rename it ‘Looting Fast Gear’

My run of good LFG flashpoint groups has continued unbroken and since I’ve been running at least one per day, I’d say the tool is off to a good start. I have been queueing as dps and generally the queue times have been less than 30 mins. There was this one time when I clicked queue and really did get an instance pop immediately (as dps, yes) so with the population limited to same server, it can be very variable depending on who is queueing. Queue times do vary predictably with time of day and days of the week, with the evening after weekly maintenance being a prime raid night which means long flashpoint queues. There is a daily quest you can get from the PvE mission terminal which rewards 5 Black Hole tokens for running a HM in the group finder. The daily quests tick over at 1pm local time so people who are online will tend to queue just after that so that they can pick up the daily quest and knock it out quickly. (Or just before it if they didn’t manage to get the previous day’s quest done yet.)

Players on my server also sometimes comment on fleet chat when they queue, especially if they are playing a tank or healer (ie. “tank just joined the LFG”) to encourage the other roles to join the queue. So players are experimenting with combinations of LFG and general chat formed groups.  I am also finding that restricting the group finder to the server community makes quite a large difference compared to WoW. I begin to recognise names that I see around the fleet from either PvE or PvP. So if I get a good group and put people on my friends list, I know they will likely be around. I personally think this growing sense of server community is well worth slightly longer queue times.

The combination of much easier to find groups and experienced players queueing so that they can get the daily quest rewards is that instance runs tend to be fast and easy, plus I have learned lots of short cuts or ways to avoid different bosses. Taral-V takes the prize here, because you can avoid all except two bosses (and I have heard it rumoured that the final boss is avoidable also). Hence my new 50 is really pretty well geared already, which is fine but really the only way for her to get better gear now is to head into hard mode raids or do lots of dailies for Black Hole tokens that way.

I think the effect of fast gearing on the player base is that people tend to get done with the content and bored more quickly, since grinding for progression forms such a core part of the MMO gameplay. Or at least,  players look to progression for guidance on setting their character goals and deciding what to do next in the game. in SWTOR, running daily quests is also a good way to collect credits so you’ll tend to amass in game cash by doing the same things that you would do to progress gearwise. This is a subtle point, and while it is very convenient for casual players, it makes playing the economy feel very optional. My consular just has gathering skills (scavenging, slicing) and I can easily scavenge up some highly sellable metals while doing dailies also. In many ways SWTOR is such a great game for more casual players that I hope Bioware wise up and think about adding more casual friendly endgame elements in the future. I suspect it is one of the better and more approachable games in the market for a true MMO newbie at the moment.

I don’t feel bored with the game now that my Consular has most of what she’d want from hard mode flashpoints, but I have definitely gotten to this point far far more quickly with this alt than with my original Warrior.

The endgame mindset

Dusty had a very insightful post about metagames/endgame in MMOs  and how although you can often begin playing these games by jumping in and trying what is fun, there comes a point where difficulty ramps up and you need to either optimise your playing style or quit.

… here’s what happens with the average player.  They start off, casually playing, and by far and large enjoying the game.  And this keeps them playing – for awhile.  And then, at some point, one or two things happen:  one, they encounter in PvP some other player or players whom have put together some game-breaking combination of abilities the designers never conceived of, and are ravaged by them repeatedly, or two, in PvE, they reach content that requires some combination of abilities the designers intend for you to either know about or have tried, and they don’t, and so they are effectively just stymied from progressing. 

There is plenty to say about the endgame mindset, but I want to pick out this notion that there comes a point where if you want to be competitive or complete cutting edge content, you have to stop playing in an exploratory, playful way, and start playing in a more defined and optimised way. Or in other words, there comes a point where you have to decide if you want to look stuff up and learn the metagame, or just move on. That’s where so many people get a character to max and then drift off to the next game on the list. I think there is also a concept of metagame fatigue where you spent so much time theorycrafting or practicing your minmax spec in one game that you need a break from that intensity of gameplay, or don’t want to switch to a game with another involved metagame. Another player strategy to avoid this shift in mindset is to start in metagame mode right from the beginning and use guides to plan out every aspect of a new character/game right from the beginning.

I personally find this sucks the fun out of games for me so I try not to do it, but after you’ve been burned in one MMO by picking a class/spec that sounded fun and later finding it had no place in endgame, it’s so tempting to do your research first the next time.

This is what killed Rift for me, incidentally. It’s a good game and all but I’d designed a soul combination that I really liked for levelling, and it didn’t cut the mustard for dps in endgame raiding. At that point a player has to decide if they want to switch to the optimal dps combination (which you can look up on blogs and bboards) or just not play that part of endgame. I decided the game had been fun and I preferred to move on than relearn my character and abandon the megadot build. And, maybe more to the point, I didn’t want to join raids and not ‘pull my weight’ – and maybe I’ve learned from WoW to be too much of a perfectionist with dps, because doing significantly less than the max doesn’t feel good enough any more, even where everyone else is happy and bosses still die.

And so to SWTOR. While the game has no addons, you can take a combat log and there are external dps meters that will check the log and report how much damage you are doing. Since the harder raids do involve enrage timers and dps checks, it isn’t surprising that raid groups do measure dps and ask individuals to do so also.

Now, on my Consular I have three DoTs and a proc to keep track of, all represented by little icons which I can’t find a way to enlarge independently. So if I want to do great dps, I need to keep the DoTs up as much as possible without renewing them too quickly, keep an eye on the proc and any debuffs I want to use, and have a rough idea of the best  priority attacks to use when those are all accounted for. My current issue is that I can’t get my dps high enough for the raids I’d need to do, and I don’t know if I can be arsed to keep practising the rotation/ priority until it gets higher. Or rather, I’ve done the research for the metagame but I don’t  find the “maximal dps in raids” metagame to be all that fun; because who gives a flying f*** if my DoTs clip as long as the bosses die, I don’t die, and I’m doing all the other things I need to do in that encounter; potentially including off healing and CC. The dps meter gives a flying f***, that’s who. I am weighing up the options of either more practice (I have an Ops target in my ship now, thanks legacy perks) or switching to healing – because despite what people might tell you, healing or tanking are WAY easier than topping damage meters on a class with a complex rotation.

What I really want is a different model for raid encounters that is less dependent on tight enrage timers and more on utility and reacting to the environment.

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.)

The evolution of LFG groups

Today SWTOR is updating with patch 1.3, which will include a LFG (looking for group)  functionality. That means if you want to find a group for a flashpoint/instance, you will be able to bring up the LFG tool and select your chosen destination and the roles you are willing to fill in a group (ie. tank, healer, dps) and the request will enter a queue. When the group is ready, you’ll be notified and will be able to jump into your new shiny pick-up group to complete the instance. (You can still also use the old fashioned method of putting the group together yourself via friends list/ guild/ general chat.)

A lot of MMO players feel that this type of group-creator tool is now mandatory in any game which contains group content. That is an indication of how popular these tools have been in WoW and other games which offer the facility. It could also be argued that battlegrounds also have this functionality, where you queue separately and are placed in a random group when the instance comes up. So it seems like a good time to evaluate how random groups are doing in WoW, partly because I’ve seen a couple of posts come up on my reader over the last week that suggest that people are having issues.

First thing to note is this– The general idea with the random group finder is:

  • It should be quicker to find a group this way than by other methods, and also less hassle. This assumes a lot of people are queueing and with a decent mix of class roles, so that the maximum time you have to wait for your instance is reasonable. Also some people have an aversion to talking to anyone else in game so this way they can group without ever having to do so.
  • Playing with a random selection of people means you’ll end up with a mix of player skill/knowledge in the group but should hopefully be good enough for everyone to complete the instance. That is to say: you can’t be too fussy if you voluntarily sign up for a random group, but the mix should be manageable.
Since WoW introduced LFG (in Wrath) the way people use the tool has changed, depending on the position in the patch cycle and difficulty of the instances. I remember when it first came in I had a new level 80 Deathknight and threw myself into LFG to gear her up, and it was amazing. The groups just zipped up, most of the players were decent (or at least the instances were easy which made everyone look decent) and the gear and tokens flew like water. People were generally happy as long as you seemed to be actively helping the group and it was viewed as a great success.
Later Blizzard added extra inducements to players to queue, in the form of a group buff and extra rewards for whichever role was the most in demand in the queue at the time — usually tanks but occasionally healers. My experiences with using LFG were occasionally amusingly bad, but generally worked out well. Some groups were a bit rubbish but the vast majority were fine. Players in general started to feel more stressed in LFG groups as some of the hardcore players weren’t tolerant of people who didn’t play at their level, wanted speed runs, and criticised other people’s performance even when it was perfectly adequate for the instance. (ie. somehow they forgot that random means random.) So on the whole things were working out well, even though tanks and healers in particular were feeling the strain of expectations, and dps were beginning to be quite judged on their dps.
Getting that mix of experienced and inexperienced players into the queueing system means that both sets of players need to have an incentive to grind instances. Typically this has been extra tokens and the lure of a short queue and fast run. At the beginning of an expansion or after a new patch, everyone is after tokens so the queue is populated and there are plenty of good players to pad out the mix. (This is both good and bad, because some of them are elitists who ruin other people’s experience with their unreasonable expectations.) But right now, at the tail end of a WoW expansion, experienced endgame players are not very incentivised.
WoW did also convert the daily LFG bonuses into weekly bonuses, where instead of getting a bonus for the first LFG you run per day, there are seven bonus LFG runs per week so if you want to log in on Wednesday night and do seven runs, you can get your weekly bonus in a lump. This may well have incentivised hardcore players to do this very thing rather than spreading their LFG queuing more evenly across the week. So it could be that if you are unlucky enough to be queueing at the end of the week, you are more likely to end up with a bunch of worse players. I don’t know if that’s the case, I’m not in WoW at the moment so can’t test it. But it is possible, and would mean that Blizzard had sabotaged their own LFG system and forgotten that the primary need is to keep a variety of players in the queue at all times.

The Grumpy Elf and Stubborn both report recent experiences with very poorly performing PUGs in WoW. If random players are queueing evenly, this probably shouldn’t happen because you should generally get a mix of good and poor players.

My usual reaction would be “You chose to queue for a random group, don’t complain if the random players you got were rubbish,” but if this is more than a few isolated experiences and has become a trend, it may speak to something more systematic in the player base. As well as hardcore players having no incentive to queue, what would make other players actively not care about trying to play well. Or just adequately. For example, my experiences in PUGs in SWTOR where none of us really knew what we were doing were still positive, the groups worked together to try to figure things out. There were enough MMO dinos to explain concepts around tanking and healing to people and the instances were mostly tuned so that we could manage them.

So what would make players actively ignore this in favour of just running off and hitting random stuff? Could be that they’re kids. (This may be a bit unfair to kids but we don’t really expect them to know how to play nice with others if they haven’t been shown — or in other words “blame the parents.”) Could be that they’ve learned from interaction with LFG that they can do what they want. Could be they just don’t give a shit (this quite likely happens in low level or easy instances). Or is this a natural evolution of LFG functionality, that the more hardcore players will hit the queues hard at the start of a patch/ expansion but will exit the system in large numbers as soon as they have got all the goodies they need, leaving it to less experienced players? And even then, why would less experienced players be so bad? Or does that truly represent that average player who queues for LFG?

Have you experienced player quality in LFG dropping recently if you play WoW? I’m quite looking forwards to trying the new tool out in SWTOR when I get home next week, I have a fairly new level 50 Bounty Hunter healer to play around with.

It came from the PUG: In which I get kicked!

One of the quirks of the WoW dungeon system is that if you leave a group before the end of an instance voluntarily, you have to wait 30 minutes before you can re-queue. For example, if you zone into a random instance and decide it’s one you don’t like so you leave straight away. However, if you get kicked by the other group members, you can re-queue immediately.

This week I figured I’d go on an emblem hunt before the next patch. I picked my druid because a) I haven’t played her in awhile and b) she’s a healer and I find healing very laid back in heroics these days, mostly due to gearing. Because I haven’t played my druid in awhile, she’s mostly in a mix of gear from the last couple of raid tiers prior to ICC. Although I did get lucky on an alt run of ICC 10 and picked up a decent healing mace too. None of this should really matter because I was healing heroics perfectly well a year ago.

So I queue up, instantly get a group, and zone in to Trial of the Champion. “This should be quick and easy”, I think. The tank is a bit undergeared so I run through one and a half mana bars during the first fight. One guy (a rogue) dies. He’s been mouthy the whole time so I am sure that he’ll be the type to go pull the next boss as soon as he is ressed. I decide, judiciously, to drink before I res him.

He says, “Res.”

I say, “Just drinking.”

He says, “res!”

I say, “You could run back while I’m drinking if you’re in a rush.”

He says, “res!!”

He says, “res!!!”

He says, “wait 5 mins and kick noob druid”

He says, “res!!!!”

And this is where it hits me like a bolt from the blue. I WANT to get kicked from this group.

(Yes, healing does make me quite passive-aggressive.)

Think about it. All I need to do is spend a few minutes reading and then I can get rid of this monkey, set him on ignore, and re-queue for another group immediately. I decide at this point that I’m not going to res him, whatever happens, but comment that he could ask politely if he wants a res. Unlike Tam, this is not because I am a nice person who wants to instruct the rest of the player base in manners. It’s because I know there’s no way on earth he’ll ask politely so I am bound to get my group kick.

(If he had asked politely I’d have done it, my mana bar was full by this point. I might have … slacked a bit on healing him later on though.)

Meanwhile, the other druid in the group disconnects while the group leader is whining at me and asking him to do the res. Fate is on my side! This is meant to be! No one suggests kicking the annoying rogue, or telling him to stop bitching and run in – it’s one of the shortest cemetary runs in the game. (I assume because I’m writing in coherent sentences they think I’ll be easier to reason with, which is probably true.) I certainly don’t suggest it.

Before the 5 minutes are up he keeps adding more exclamation marks to each res request, insults my gearscore (like I care) and says I must be a noob. I have gone to get tea by this point, I just notice it in the chat when I get back.

I realise he’s finally been able to request a group kick because he says, “kick the druid” a lot and I do in fact find myself very shortly back in Dalaran. I then put him on ignore and get into another group almost immediately. Working as intended.

It came from the PUG: I never really wanted to be a healer, I think I’ll be …. a lumberjack!

lfginterface

If you’ve never seen the random dungeon finder interface in WoW, this is what it looks like. You can choose which instance you want to queue for – or let the system pick a random heroic for you, as is shown here. And you tick the little circles next to the shield, plus sign or sword to show whether you want to queue as a tank, healer, or dps. If you play a hybrid who can perform more than one role, then you can tick more than one box.

This isn’t rocket science. If you tick the box it means you are willing to play that role in whichever instance you are queuing for.

heallfg

Then when the system is able to match you up with an instance group, you get this little window which shows clearly which role has been assigned to you.

Again, it’s all very clear and not very difficult. And at every stage, if you change your mind you can leave the queue and there’s no harm done. You won’t even get the usual 30 minute dungeon leaver debuff which forbids you from queuing again until it has run out.

Because tanks and healers tend to get shorter queues, you’ll hear a lot of stories about people who queued as a role which they weren’t able to play (either through lack of gear, lack of appropriate spec, or just lack of interest). But usually those guys bail on you at the start of the instance, or get one of their mates to drop from the group so that when the 4-man group re-queues to get a replacement, they can sneakily change the role they queued as.

But what about someone who decides halfway through an instance run that they don’t want to heal any more? I was in a group this week with one of my alts where the healer had been getting increasingly bolshier and more agitated. He’d been healing fine – regular heroics these days just aren’t remotely demanding.

But for whatever mad reason, he decided that he’d had enough. He whined at the dps shaman to switch to healing. He whined at the tank to switch to healing and the dps warrior to switch to tanking. He kept telling the rest of the group that he was really dps.

Then he just switched spec between pulls without mentioning anything so no one was healing, which inevitably led to a wipe. This was the point where I started a vote to boot him, which duly happened.

The strange thing? We were right next to the final boss of the instance. If he’d just sucked it up for a couple more minutes, he’d have had his badges and could have done whatever he wanted afterwards. The group did fine, we got another healer in a few seconds, who was delighted to have such a quick badge run. But although I try to understand what is going on in other players’ minds when they do something that seems odd to me, with this one I have no clue.

It came from the PUG: Only on the internet ….

Other than the obligatory heroic with Spinks to test out Revenge, all of my PUGs this week have been lower level ones on the various alts.

I have theories as to why lower level instances feel more relaxed than level 80 heroics, and it is mostly because people simply don’t care as much. Even if your low level instance is a wash, the chances are you still got some xp so it wasn’t a total waste. Also, low level instances are generally tuned so that it won’t matter if half the group are complete idiots. (This may be true in higher level instances too, but seems more obvious earlier on.)

When you genuinely don’t care too much about the outcome of an instance, LFD becomes the WoW equivalent of chatroulette. It offers a 15 min slice of WoW life, which may include some amusing characters, and at the end of it you move on.

Sorry, I only speak Darnassian

So, in the spirit of chatroulette, I present the non-bilingual night elf.

This was in a run of Razorfen Downs (renamed Razorfen Bore by me, for obvious reasons), and one of the guys in the group never spoke on the party channel. He only spoke via say, and only in Darnassian. I don’t know if he was a new player who hadn’t figured the chat system out yet and had accidentally set his chat language to one that only night elves would understand, or whether it was just some random roleplayer.

In any case, I was the only non-night elf in the group. I did ask him a couple of times to set his language to common and tried to explain how to do that, but to no effect. I feel I have an understanding now of how non english speakers find the game.

Incidentally, the group managed the instance just fine.

Who healed MY tank?

I have noticed that low level healers sometimes get very fussy if another hybrid casts a heal whilst in the instance, as if it was impugning their ability. I can understand this, but at low levels, everyone is feeling out their capabilities.

Sometimes this does lead to truly epic arguments along the lines of, ‘I’m healing here, and I have the union card to prove it! Quit healing, you blackleg, or I’m walking out!”

The funniest instance of this I saw last week involved a healer throwing a blue hairy fit and demanding to know which of the group had dared to heal the tank. Someone suggested that maybe the tank had used a healing potion (he was busy tanking at the time, so possibly too busy to chat) which sparked off another sniffy fit of ‘Well, THAT wasn’t necessary.’

Then the fight finished and the tank settled the argument. “I just levelled.” (In WoW, when you go up a level, your health and mana bar instantly refill.) Everyone had been so busy arguing about who had cast the illicit heal that no one had noticed…

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

It is amazing how much difference it makes to how you view another player if they say sorry when they make a mistake. If nothing else, it shows that they know it was a mistake and will try not to do it again.  For example, Arb and I are now in ‘that stage’ where the random finder keeps sending us to Blackrock Depths. She’s been healing, and doing a great job.

So when we got a group where the tank messed up a pull and pulled an entire room full of dwarves and we wiped, surely everyone realised that it was his fault and  not the healers? Not that tank. Cue five minutes of him bitching about how a good healer would have handled that pull and completely ignoring everyone else who was informing him that actually it was his own damn fault, not hers. He didn’t once accept that it was a bad pull.

But the beauty of instance roulette is that you just hop out when you are bored and hit the button again. Our next run was with a super group who cleaned out the whole place, including the emperor. And the tank apologised when she made a mistake. And so did everyone else whenever they made a mistake.

I think it adds a charmingly random element to dungeon excursions. What’s the oddest experience you have had with the random dungeon finder?

Thought of the Day: Fighting for Control of a Group

While the vast majority of groups I have found using the dungeon tool have been great, the annoying minority stress me out far more when tanking than in any other role. This is because in annoying groups, lots of players are fighting for control. In relaxed groups, people offer leadership or guidance if needed but they aren’t actually trying to fight about it.

Everyone who pulls randomly? They’re trying to control the group. And they are doing it passive-aggressively rather than just saying, ‘Can we go faster?’

Now this becomes more of an issue when you are tanking, because the traditional tanking role in instances DOES involve having more control. The person doing the pulling in the instance controls the pace of the run. And by convention, that is the tank because s/he will get initial threat on the mobs that are pulled. In the workplace, if you are assigned a job to do, you will wonder what’s going on when you find that other people are doing that job instead of you. It’s demoralising. You will also wonder why you are there in the first place.

Or in other words, there is a social contract in groups where the roles are understood. For example, as a tank:

- I will try to control the monsters so that I take all the hits.

- I will have good enough tanking gear/ talents to be able to do this without folding instantly like a paper doily.

- I will try to keep an eye on the rest of the group so that I can pull monsters off them.

- I won’t do anything to make my healer’s job harder.

- I won’t pull a boss before everyone is present and ready.

- I will know any tank-specific tactics for the fights, if I don’t know then I will ask before we pull.

So what do you do when some group members seem hell bent on forcing you to break that social contract? For example, I had a pair of jokers who kept stealthing ahead and pulling the bosses in Drak’theron before I got there. I can hardly stop my group getting hurt when they sneak off deliberately into danger, knowing I can’t see them.

Short form: I don’t want to have to fight with my own group. It isn’t fun. I don’t know why some people feel they must lead via doing silly things but if it keeps happening, the shortage of tanks will continue. Because a lot of players don’t want to fight with their own group.

The long distinguished roll of pick up group disasters

This post marks the end of a long week of posts about WoW and particularly about the new random dungeon finder that came in with patch 3.3. What can I say? It’s been a jolt in the arm for an aging game. It’s been a reminder that the instanced content was always WoW’s strongest selling point. And it’s reminded a lot of people who thought they disliked grouping that what they mostly disliked was all the associated hassle in getting the group together.

The most brilliant thing about the dungeon finder from Blizzard’s point of view is that no one else running current gen games can copy it. In order to work, a tool like this needs a massive user base. For example, I woke up at 2am this morning and tried to get a group on my death knight out of morbid curiousity. 10 minutes later *BAM* smooth as silk Forge of Souls Heroic run. Now think about how many players you need active in order for there to be a 50% chance for any single person to only have to wait 10 mins to get a group at two in the morning.

My new Death Knight who conveniently hit 80 the day before the patch is also looking rather sleek in her new gear, thanks to some lucky drops.

In any case, we’ve all been running a lot more instances, and getting to grip with a lot more PUGs. I feel as though I’ve been in a permanent sugar rush when logged on. And it’s also not all perfect – what’s more, even those of us who are usually paragons of perfection occasionally make (say it in whispers) minor mistakes.

Here’s a list of some of the dumb things I have done this week:

  1. Ran a whole instance with my Death Knight in the wrong presence. I didn’t realise until right at the end when the tank asked why I kept getting aggro.
  2. While manoeuvring a mob in Forge of Souls, I fell off the platform.
  3. Told a death knight that it was fine for him to use Army of Souls on Loken, following which we immediately wiped.
  4. While trying an experimental short cut in The Nexus, I fell off the platform (incidentally, EVERYONE who has ever run Nexus has fallen off that platform at some point but it don’t half make you feel like a noob when it isn’t your first run.)
  5. Let far too many people die while healing on my druid because of being a bit out of practice.

By the way, every single one of those runs was actually successful (except for the Loken one because my friends logged on and I left the group). The only one that even caused a wipe was when I fell off Forge of Souls, because I was tanking at the time.

The oddest complaint I have had from another player was that I killed the bosses in the Nexus in the ‘wrong order.’ I told him I hadn’t received that memo.

I’m not the only person who has been cataloguing personal PUG failures (aka “I was THAT guy.”)

The changing role of guilds in WoW

Tipa joins the ranks of players who are having buckets of fun with the new WoW random dungeon tool, and she comments that she no longer needs a guild to have fun grouping in WoW. I don’t see this as a sign that guilds will die out in the game or that people will stop playing with their friends. We already know that Cataclysm will bring with it a surge of new guild related content, after all.

But I do think that the success of the new dungeon tool will make people ask themselves what they want out of a guild. Guilds are not actually gatekeepers to 5 man instance runs in WoW, although it can seem like that if you run solo. Still, for those players who felt forced to join a guild because they wanted to have people to run group content with — they’ll be free to leave.

It won’t matter any more if the other people in your guild have a very different playing style. You’ll be easily able to find other people to play the instance game with. I think that in Cataclysm we will see the rise of two different types of guild; the social guild made up of people who have some interests in common, and the hardcore guild of raiders who want to focus on hard mode raiding. The inbetween guilds, the social guilds that feel that they have to act more and more hardcore, the ineffective subhardcore guilds where people only stick around because they need the group access … those will probably dissolve.

I think it will lead to a healthier guild scene in the long run. People who don’t want to be attached to a guild won’t have to do that, they can still get their game in using the dungeon and raid finding tools (anyone not think that Blizzard will expand the raid finding tool across servers?). People who want to be part of a friendly guild but get frustrated at being with less hardcore players will be able to hop into hard mode groups easily and still socialise with their guild friends. People who want the full hardcore experience will still be able to do it, and will be able to pick up random groups for their alts or in off hours easily too.

Unshackling the social side of guilds from the group game may be one of the most long sighted advances any MMO of this generation has accomplished.

Random LFG in WoW: Day 2

In which badges are traded in for epics and a hapless stranger is relentlessly mocked

Anyone else finding these random heroics quite addictive? They’re very ‘just one more’ish and I’m still finding the whole setup to be successful beyond my imaginings.

Is it just that the horrible players people talk about haven’t found the tool yet? Only time will tell.

1. This one was an early morning instance, run on my new death knight. Drak’Theron Keep, an uneventful instance with a friendly group of early risers. After this instance finished, I realised that I had 30 emblems of triumph so ran off to upgrade my green shoulders to … err… Tier 9. I think that sums up how WoW has changed in this expansion. They are shiny! I even bought a rare gem for them.

2. The Old Kingdom. This instance marks the first time that my Death Knight actually topped the damage meters in an instance. Baby’s first pwnage? Clearly those epic shoulders were dazzling the others into standing around and gaping instead of actually nuking stuff. Another smooth run until we got to the extra optional boss at the end where the healer had one of those healer-psycho moments and managed to pull all the mushroom guys and the boss at the same time. I don’t actually know how. Group disbanded after the wipe (I think no one could be bothered to run back in and regroup just for one badge.)

3. Utgarde Keep. I suspect the LFG tool is actively trying to cycle me around the different instances, I haven’t had a single one repeated yet. Another perfectly fine group which is a shame because it would be way more fun to write about a dysfunctional one. Upgraded my green leggings for the nice purple ones that dropped off the last boss. Sadly the LFG tool still doesn’t think I’m well enough geared to let me queue for ToC or the new heroics, which is a shame because they’re the most likely source for a weapon upgrade.

4. Grabbed my partner and queued for an instance on Spinks. We pulled Drak’theron again, and the rest of the group had already killed two bosses and was waiting by the third. I have noticed that people really don’t mind being brought into a part-completed instance with the new tool, probably because they’ll get their completion badges more quickly. Noticed that one of the other guys was called Pornostar (or something similar) so we mocked him relentlessly about his name, in the sure knowledge that we wouldn’t get kicked. But who calls their character Pornostar? Really, people, you manage to name your dogs and cats, your cars, your partner’s naughty bits and even your kids so I know you understand what names are all about. So why when it comes to naming a character do you just type the first thing that comes into your head? Non-RP servers are weird. I have noticed that I am much more likely to boss people around or poke fun at them when I am on my tankette, I must be more careful to use my power for good.

I am increasingly curious as to how long the positive experiences will last. Guildies report that lower level instances are more active also, so it may be that players now have a much better chance to practice group skills while levelling. Is it still going to be like this a couple of months from now?