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.

25 thoughts on “The evolution of LFG groups

  1. I haven’t played WoW for months and my Morchok HM could hardly be called hardcore but still I had everything that LFG could give in 3 weeks (as raids also provide valor points). So the cycle could be:
    – first weeks: good players can show up
    – first 1-2 months: alts of good players can show up
    – later: mostly utter crap

  2. These systems is very sensitive to even minor adjustments to the reward/time curve. This is the devs’ own darned fault for bringing so many people who do not want to be there into the system for the sole purpose of getting currency.

    I’d suggest that part of the issue is one of the bullet points of your premise – the group finder is not significantly faster than getting your own group IF you have access to a tank, or at least it may be slightly faster but not enough to offset the time you can lose to a bad PUG. The result is self-reinforcing – the worse PUG’s get, the stronger the incentive for the good players who could otherwise carry said PUG’s to leave the system.

    I think you have a good guess for why the downspiral started, but once it did start we were looking at the same unpromising results as we got in early Cataclysm when the difficulty of Heroics was high enough to create a significant chance of outright failure (a catastrophe to the time/reward curve because the player who needed nothing besides the currency walks away with literally nothing for their time).

  3. I tend to be in the school that 99% of the people bitching about people being rude and bad in PUGs tend to gloss over their own mistakes and are in fact the rude bads in other people pugs.

    I know I can pretty easily carry 4 people who aren’t so sure of the game in most 5’s so I don’t really such point in bitching about it.

  4. I’d say lack of a good in game voice system doesn’t help. The only game that I can really use to compare this with is DDO – witch doesn’t have a LFG grouping system (yet) – but does have great in game voice chat support.

    Unlike WoW where a player that might be trying and screwing up is just vilified – in DDO *if* they have voice and communicate – people actually become very helpful.

    At the same time if they don’t have voice or keep silent – they seem to get the same treatment.

    Voice communication is so huge to these types of games – especially when assignments get complicated. Hardcore people always have voice – and many times even if they are using the LFG tool they queue up with another guildmate and so *they* can communicate.

    And all modern MMO’s are so complicated/face paced that typing doesn’t work.

    Lack of a voice chat system (that works!) is a serious issue.

    I don’t know why DDO which (compared to others) is a very small MMO with fractions of the cash flow the big guns see – can handle having a voice chat system that works – when everyone else seems to get it all wrong.

    WoW has one – but it’s so horrible that no one will use it.

    LoTRO has the same one that DDO has – but for some reason it was rarely used when I played it.

    EQ2 has one – but they use a hybrid/VoIP system that litteraly won’t work with a large chunk of home internet routers unless they support specific NAT setups – because the way most home routers use NAT – only one VoIP session can work at a time. And so many people don’t use it.

    Why TOR doesn’t have a voice chat system… I don’t know – but that kind of feature needs to be ‘in the box’ as they say – otherwise your hardcore will setup vent/teamspeak/mumble and then they won’t use it – leaving less hardcore in the dust.

  5. From what I’ve seen by talking with people who have done both, the real personnel/personal issues with LFG are in the Heroic modes. In my (admittedly few) experiences with LFG in Cata, they’ve all been normal mode and people have been polite and helpful. Sure, there have been exceptions, but judging by people’s reactions when I mention it in a PUG I’m not the only one who has eschewed Heroics and run normals almost exclusively.

  6. I was musing about this as well last night, as I’m excited but also ambivalent about the release of TOR’s LFG tool. I actually went back to re-read my own blog entries from when WoW’s dungeon finder was introduced and it was interesting how my first post made me sound very excited about the new feature, then I wrote a couple that came down to “I love the dungeon finder but…” and then a rant about bad attitudes, and then I slowly stopped talking about it except to make the occasional comment about how this or that run “was actually kind of fun”, which is sort of telling by omission.

    It also really drove home the point that times have changed a lot. It’s almost funny to read about things like me challenging a ninja and him apologising and returning the item. By the end of my time with WoW it was par of the course for people to need on everything and nobody cared if you objected.

  7. For the hardcore players, the lfg is more or less dead. The weekly cap on emblems means that you fill up the bar just by raiding. And if you’re missing a few, it’s a lot more likely that you set up a LFR group with a part of the guildies. Even if lower-ilvl, the LFR provides access to set pieces: while before some were buyable by emblems, now they aren’t, so the LFR has some added benefits if you want to gear up.
    Honestly on my main I cannot remember when I did the last LFG, actually I think that in the last year all I did was a single run of the new heroics introduced with the DS patch…..
    My latest runs in the LFG were cata normals and OT/Northrend normals for leveling. All runs were fine, even the 1st Utgarde Keep I tanked at level 68 in full OT+some heirlooms gear, and we got to the end simply because the healer was very good 🙂

  8. > And even then, why would less experienced players be so bad?

    One of the most difficult things to accept in life is that there are some people who will simply always be bad. Gamers with no matter how much experience, who will still play poorly. Students who will always fail to do well at school, no matter how much care and personal attention is given to them. Workers who will always be under-productive, no matter how much incentive from salary increases and benefits they are offered. Parents who even given a wealth of information and assistance will still fail to set up their children for success in life.

    Some people are simply bad. And you and I and almost everyone reading this blog will stare at them utterly bewildered, and wonder why.

  9. I think the content of the initial Cataclysm heroics was tuned just a little high, making the line between good dungeon runners and bad dungeon runners more pronounced (note, I’m not saying bad players. I think they can be good players, but bad at dungeon strategy).

    Most bloggers I read, when they talk about gearing up alts, they talk about buying or making PvP blues, doing the Thrall cloak quest line, etc.. so they can skip right into the newer heroics, mainly to avoid the starter heroics. Dividing the heroics so you can queue for them separately didn’t help the issue either. You now have the “in the know” players skipping to the later, easier heroics, while the newer, less informed players are crashing and burning in the more difficult content.

    I’m curious to see how things will shake out in Mists; whether Blizzard is able to improve on a poorly implemented, but good idea.

  10. Some pugs be fail. Some puggers be rude-arsed twatwaffles. This were true before LFR, this were true in the early days of LFR, this be true now. I don’t trust anyone what claims they can see a trend, ’cause the human brain don’t work that way. It rememberfies the unusual experience and it rememberfies the unhappy experience, but the reality be it flat-out sucks at rememberfyin’ experiences what be routine an’ uneventful. As a result, is heavily biased ta perceive “things is bad an’ gettin’ worse”. Only way fer ta really know would be ta document every pug run right after it done finished, an’ ta assemble the experiences of a number of different peoples. An’ ain’t nobody done that.

    My personal, subjective, anecdotal experience be that things ain’t changed all that much in two years. I run whatever dang day is convenient, an’ I sees folks willin’ fer ta explain fights, LFR runs with no yelling, no kicking, and no wiping, folks rollin’ Greed ‘stead of Need if’n they don’t need it, an’ I see the occasional fail twatwaffle. /shrug

    Only thing I is certain of be that ya don’t gotta never spend three hours puttin’ tagether a dungeon run no more. I call that a win.

  11. I think that the thing that makes a lot of people in Random PUGS behave so carelessly is that there is no real consequence: get kicked? I’ll just find a new one fast. The people hate me? Pff, I’ll likely never see any if them again.

    With the old system you had to actively WORK to get a group together, so you bet you would do ANYTHING to keep it together once you finally managed to find that last DPS. At the same time, you knew there was a very real chance you would meet again, which encouraged youtonplay nice, do your best, and generally behave. Heck, if you were very good, people added you to their friends list, or invited you to their guilds, creating a living, breathing environment.

    Now, it may just be the nostalgia talking, but I would take the community and civility of the old system over the cold, unfeeling (at best) efficiency of the dungeon finder anyday.

  12. I think you hit on all the major reasons why bad players can stay bad in LFD:
    1. The randomization suggests they’ll rarely be bad to the same people twice.
    2. People like your previous commentator Simon Jones ignore the bad behavior and consistently reward them by carrying them.
    3. The dungeons are relatively easy with few challenges, so why bother caring?
    4. The truly new players model their behavior on the majority of what they see, which are the ambivalent and careless (not truly bad) players.

    I think the mix of those four factors creates a kind of cyclical abuse that causes good players to become ambivalent because they otherwise would be, as I was told I was, “manufacturing problems” by trying to stand up for decency. It similarly turns ambivalent players into bad players because of a lack of common decency within the groups and lack of consequences: monkey see, monkey do. Finally, it reaffirms bad players behaviors by having anonymity and power to kick those who “manufacture problems.”

    At any rate, I’m going to be extremely interested in seeing if – or how – SWTOR’s dungeon culture changes as a result. I like how Shintar summed up her experiences with looking back at WoW’s LFD; let’s see if SW improves or follows the same curve.

  13. If you queue for LFG, it is your responsibility to have a basic familiarity with your class. If you queue for heroic, you should be familiar with the normal version. People don’t need to do 30k dps to win a WoW heroic, but they need to do more than 2k. Usually, when I played, there was someone doing more than 20k–but there were exceptions.

    Also, as Michael said, egalitarianism is false and people are not equal. Some people will always be bad, and no incentive structure or what-have-you will change it. It wasn’t a problem in wrath since the dungeons were easy, but they had the genius idea to make them hard in cataclysm and disaster ensued.

  14. It’s interesting, when I look back at what I wrote and what I continue to write about LFG and LFD tools. I am morally opposed to the attitudes you get in LFG tools and the idea of pugging a raid is an abomination, and yet … AND YET the TOR LFG/LFR tool doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t bother me one bit. I can only assume two things:

    1) I am a BioWare/SWTOR fanboy (this is absolute truth)
    2) Server-only tools will provide a level of accountability that will have real and immediate impact on how people behave.

    Server-only LFG tools make all the difference. You can use them as a leveling/gearing mechanic, a recruitment tool, or just a place to possibly meet new friends. It engenders a level of personal accountability and server-side reputation that WoW simply doesn’t not have. I think it’s a WONDERFUL idea.

  15. There may be some bias in the view of PuGs gained from reading blogs. I’m not saying that Grumy Elf and Stubborn didn’t have bad experiences, but that’s what made for a decent blog post. Nobody wants to write, or read, the post about “I was in a PuG and it went OK – everyone did their jobs and nobody was a dick over loot”.

    I can’t comment on WoW PuGs, but my experience with RIFT PuGs over the last few months has been… okay, I guess. Not many with players that are either assholic or terribad, anyway. Most of them seem quick, clinical affairs with players who are overgeared and farming for tokens of one sort or another, so it’s all about getting the run done efficiently and not really a social experience.

    As for the ‘bad’ players in PuGs, we probably need to differentiate. Some players are actually bad, in that they can’t play their characters well (and seem incapable of learning). Sad truth is, that happens with any activity… and there are always people who have no aptitude but keep trying anyway. Secondly, some players are undergeared, or at least not as OVERgeared as others for the instance, so their performance ‘sucks’ if the others in the group are expecting to do a total annihilation speed run. And finally, there are players who act like dicks because they can. Sometimes, these are ‘good’ or ‘hardcore’ players who jerk around for their own entertainment. Because they can get away with it. Because, with cross-server LFG you don’t really have a reputation to worry about, so why not screw up the dungeon run for teh lulz? At least these people are rare (in RIFT, anyway), but it’s unfortunately memorable when you do get grouped with them.

  16. One thing I’ve noticed from playing on a PvP realm is that it’s almost impossible to grief players of the other faction. You might get a kill or two, but it’s not difficult for them to escape. Once they do, it will be a long wait before another target arrives in the same area. By contrast, players in the same LFD group are pretty easy to grief and, if they leave, another one will magically show up seconds later. For griefers looking to generate tears the easy and efficient way, LFD has been a real boon.

  17. I have not noticed a drop in player quality. The bigger trend in PUGs is that many players now overgear all LFG content to a significant degree. I’m seeing both raiding tanks queue for normals but I’m also seeing people who need mechanics explained to them (usually after a wipe). Also, LFD groups in leveling dungeons are usually perfectly fine.

  18. Pingback: The Realities of 1.3 [SWTOR] | Diminishing Returns

  19. I haven’t done LFG in a while, but the quality of LFR has dropped dramatically. I used to be able to churn out an LFR every week fairly easily to see if I’d get my weapon – 17 failed tries later, LFRs rarely kill the first boss (Ultraxion) without wiping. It’s sad and I’ve given up.

  20. I like LFG tools in general. However I do think quality in players is due to leveling surges. As you noted when the latest mass is moving through content there are more advanced players landing in groups.

    I never had a problem in LFG randoms as a DPS player back in Lich in WOW. I was never kicked, received good play tips and had good conversations. As the expansion got older, the conversations stopped and the mood got nastier. The players that got punished the most were healers. I did have dual spec on my Pally as a healer. The random encounters as a healer were nail biting. That put me off grouping forever.

    I’m in WoW now, but I don’t group. My play form isn’t up to the same standard as it was a few years back. Truthfully I don’t want to deal with the potential crazy.

    I ran as a healer in SWTOR before lfg. The groups were good but hard to find.

  21. Because the SWTOR servers now have bigger population there is more anonymity and less realm culture which is largely the reason for the decline of quality in LFD (both the social aspect, as well as quality of play). Because there is no communication required to make a group with LFG tool there is no introduction of the player towards each other which also contributes to this. Therefore, I expect the quality of LFG in SWTOR to go down. I won’t experience it since I’ve unsubbed. I already found the PvE content far too unchallenging, the gear grind uninspiring, with PvP having the problem of being challenging, but buggy and also gear grind.

    You wrote: Some groups were a bit rubbish but the vast majority were fine.

    People do not remember the usual experience, the mediocre players, or the simple bosses. They remember the exceptions to the rule (both good and bad exceptions).

    The people who behave “bad” are probably farming VP, XP, gear, or something else which makes any normal human grumpy. It simply isn’t a fun experience. You’ve done it before and want to zerg through it because it is a waste of time and then some random stranger you don’t know, don’t want to know, and will never meet again is holding you back. That sets a bad pace.

    You wrote: (or at least the instances were easy which made everyone look decent)

    Bingo. You can’t make it too hard for a few strangers who may not have best spec, composition, network connection, UI, talent tree, glyphs, mood, quality of play, gear, and so on, and so on. See blue posts here:

    In MoP we’ll have 3 difficulties: normal, while lvling up. Heroic: pre raiding end-game. Challenge: downlvled speed runs to compete on time (think: ZA mount run without gear nerfing that content).

    I’ve played the MoP beta on my main and thus far the difficulty of the normal dungeons is akin to 4.3. When properly geared you need to somewhat follow the tactics. If too many people consistently do not follow the healer cannot keep up, especially the end boss. This is with standardized gear because Blizzard downscales the gear to test the difficulty (they did same with patch 4.3 dungeons which were tuned for ilvl 353; ie. full ZA/ZG).

  22. LFR has certainly gone downhill. At this point all you need to do is run weekly and the Greater Internet Fuckward theory will be proven again and again. LFG is still pretty decent, possibly because it’s far easier for one or two bad apples to spoil a bushel than to spoil a peck.

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