I read with interest the recent LOTRO post over at Massively OP about the group finder. It brought a few thoughts together that I’ve had of late regarding grouping and the impact that has on my enjoyment and motivation levels when playing MMORPGs. Firstly that I love running group content in MMORPGs, it’s a big reason why I play these games over single player RPGs or other genres. More recently I’ve played a lot of public group style content (GW2’s events or Neverwinter’s heroic encounters), but dungeons have always been a big part of my online gaming hobby.
The background to this is that my first proper MMO experience was WoW around the time of the Burning Crusade launch. I was invited into the game and a family-oriented guild by a close friend. For years (through to the Cataclysm era), my time in game was dominated by small group content – leveling with people, and running dungeons as often as possible with various combinations of characters and guild-mates.
Since then I’ve played many other MMORPGs, often with the same close friends, but never with such a tight-knit and social guild. My husband and I have tried joining guilds in FFXIV, Tera and Neverwinter. I myself have also been in other guilds in Rift, DDO, EQ2 and LOTRO. Invariably all those guild experiences have been soured by the dominant trend in the genre – players rush to the level cap and then focus on the gear grind and other end-game progression (e.g. tiered raiding). This means that leveling dungeons, especially for latecomers are an after thought and often bypassed.
These types of guilds are fine if you’re able to be active a lot, and if you can keep up with the level curve and gear progression. Otherwise you’re likely to be only enjoying the chat channels because the grouping opportunities aren’t for you. The crux of my problem for years now has been, as indicated in the linked Massively post, how to enjoy leveling dungeons at the actual level while it’s relevant content. I’ve experienced this problem myself in LOTRO, but it’s far from limited to that game. I’ve often been frustrated by the lack of grouping in EQ2, DDO and Tera as well. Bringing your own premade group is one solution, one that has worked on occasion and for limited time as it reduces your pool of group mates to such a small number.
Group finder exist for random groups in most games, but my overwhelming experience of these groups is that they rush like crazy and are often poorly coordinated or non-communicative. This was certainly true of my early experiences in DDO and equally in Tera. In DDO, way back in 2009, most players were veterans (before F2P brought a rush of newcomers in) and it was painful trying to find any group other than ‘speed-runs’ for the earlier content that I was seeing for the first time. Years later I faced a similar problem in Tera as I joined after launch: I did try pugging dungeons, but generally groups were veterans who knew the dungeons well and were only interested in rushing through – barely stopping to grab loot even.
So I’m left with a dilemma between games’ design limitations and player-evolved social conventions that seem to, so often, develop within these games. Many MMORPGs encourage a singular focus on end-game activities and goals, which leaves any newer players or latecomers out in the cold where grouping is concerned. I’m ideally looking for a “friends of nice and slow” type guild that take pleasure in simply playing the game’s content (all of it) through playing with whoever happens to be online. I’ve tried finding such guilds in numerous games – most of the guilds that I’ve come across are focused on end-game (even if they profess to not be!) and the lack of EU-time zone guilds in some games further compounds this sense of frustration.
Very few games have a designed solution for keeping leveling dungeons accessible beyond the initial post-launch/post-expansion release period. Games with a heavy emphasis on pug grouping, like modern-day WoW, Neverwinter and FFXIV have partially solved the problem by incentivising players to rerun low level content or to play multiple alt characters. Sadly running dungeons at-level alongside veteran players on level-synced characters (or twinked alts) is rarely a fun experience in my humble opinion. It is difficult to learn boss mechanics or the layout of a dungeon if you’re constantly running to keep up with others or where the poorly implemented level-sync completely trivialises the content.
Despite the tone of this post I have looked for and found good dungeon-running experiences in several games. I really enjoyed a summer of dungeon-running in Neverwinter a few years back. When I return to WoW, sessions are still dungeon-heavy and great fun for that. But in the other games that I play, or try to commit to more deeply, the lack of leveling-dungeon running groups and culture is often an issue.
So in the end, are group finders the only solution to this genre-wide problem? Equally can guilds actually provide a good experience for newer players wanting to see this content and learn their class?