A day in the life of cross-server PUGs

twilight_zone-rod-serling <<twilight zone music>>

Imagine that you have had a flash forward in time, to an alternate future. In this future, Blizzard’s planned LFG changes have gone live. How will your game change?

You level up through a series of levelling zones, queuing for level appropriate instances as you go. You’ll likely not find one immediately you start to look but hopefully it won’t take too long, and when your instance comes up you will immediately get ported there with your 4 new friends who could be from any server in your battlegroup. You may never find out where the instance entrance actually is in the gameworld, if it even has one. You don’t need to talk to the other people in your group if you don’t want to – you won’t ever meet them again.

When you reach max level you can sit in the expansion-appropriate city for the rest of your endgame. Every day you can log in, queue up for the random dungeon daily quest and the random daily battleground and mess around with the auction house while you wait for the group to fill. Again, you’ll be ported directly to the instance or battleground when the group is ready. You can even queue for the random weekly raid instance if you have a bit more time and feel like a change of pace – in patch 3.3 the random raid group will only work for people on your server but surely if it is successful then it will also be expanded to the battlegroup.

If anyone in your random group turns out to be a jerk or a useless twat then the other four can vote to kick them out.

Maybe in each patch Blizzard will add in a new area with some daily quests if you feel like a breath of virtual fresh air. And if you’d rather do things old style and group with people on your server, there will be a LFG global channel (in cities) where you can compare achievements and put together those 10-man class PUGs.

My current thoughts in summary: A lot of people will benefit from this (people who don’t like feeling forced to be part of a community will be cheering). The game will be improved for many. And it could be so fundamentally game changing to the community that I don’t know where it will lead. We’ll have to wait and try it out and see. So my thoughts right now are phrased as questions.

Is this virtual heaven?

For some people, this will be a dream come true. While the LFG can never be greater than the sum of its parts (ie. you’ll still have the same people in the pool), it could benefit anyone who:

  • Likes PUGs and would like a bigger group of people to PUG with.
  • Don’t want to be part of a community but still want to do group activities
  • Don’t like travelling outside your city of choice, either because you think it’s a waste of time or just don’t like it
  • Wants to run lower level instances but finds that there aren’t enough people on their server — but there might be enough people on the battlegroup

So really, most people could benefit, depending on how good the group matching tool is.

The new system will now work to match at least one experienced player for the assigned dungeon with less experienced players in the group.

This quote in particular makes me nervous (call me harsh but boosting other people’s undergeared alts through heroics isn’t my idea of a fun time, friends excepted), but at the end of the day you’ll still be able to arrange groups old-style using the LFG channel if you want to know in advance who you will be with.

Those of us on servers who have really good PUG communities right now will lose out, though. I’d comfortably say that 9/10 of my PUGs are really pleasant experiences at the moment. Argent Dawn is a great place to run a PUG. That can basically only get worse if we introduce more battlegroups into the mix. But I suppose that’s what happens when you even people out – a lot of other players will benefit from having well behaved AD players in their groups now.

Or is it the end of the virtual world and the server community?

Server communities have the same issue as social players in general. They work because some people love them and work very hard to pull them together, and lots of other people don’t care but will participate if the work is done for them and the rewards are there. Together, the people who do care and the people who aren’t bothered but will go along with it make up the server community.

So what happens if all the people who aren’t bothered are given an easier way to get to the group content that they want? (Remember, they don’t hate the server community, they just don’t care either way.) But server communities have been valuable for people. By running server-based PUGs, new players can mix with existing ones. It has been one of the standard ways that people find guilds (or guilds find people).

Do most players even care that their game takes place in a virtual world or would they really rather sit in Dalaran and bitch on the trade channel until their next instance or battleground or raid comes up?

The sad thing about the players who say that they don’t care is that they won’t find out whether or not they really do until it is too late. Maybe the most hardcore gamist won’t miss seeing sunrises over the Grizzly Hills, or watching protodrakes swoop down and carry off woolly rhinos in the Storm Peaks (they totally do this, btw). Maybe they don’t enjoy the feeling of soaring between mountain peaks or experiencing the virtual world around them. Maybe they don’t have an attachment to the little starting village where their character first learned how to bind and use a mailbox.

But the experience would be less for a lot of other people without those things.

And what does it mean to be in a guild?

For a lot of people, a guild is their passport to group activities in game. As well as an in-game community, the guild provides a pool of people with whom to run instances. The guild may also have organised activities such as PvP or raiding.

But what if you could do all those things without a guild? What does the guild mean to people then?

And again, back to the social conundrum. The people who enjoy being in a guild will still guild up. But the people who didn’t care and were only tolerating the guild in order to get to the content may find it easier not to bother.

If the random raid PUG really takes off on a server, a lot of raid guilds will find it increasingly difficult to recruit. Why would you sign up to a guild with a fixed raid schedule when you could just log on when you had some free time and find a raid then? Maybe if you are really committed to the hard modes it would still be necessary (until Blizzard include a hard mode looking for raid interface with extra checks).

Ultimately, this really is a good thing. People shouldn’t feel forced to join guilds and work at their schedules just to get to the group content. They should join guilds because they want the community and feel of being in a guild. The game will be much more pleasant for everyone if the people who prefer not to be part of a community have the option to opt out.

Some things never change

One thing is for sure though: no matter how many servers are thrown into the mix, there will still never be enough tanks or healers to go around. But at least the random dungeon won’t have to be the Oculus.

I’m planning to keep a diary of my PUGs after this feature goes live, to see how it goes. I’ll run at least one random dungeon a day. So if nothing else, you’ll be able to see how I cope with the unwashed PvP-server masses … and vice versa.