Thursday, June 22, 2006
How not to improve communication
One of the major flaws in the otherwise great game of World of Warcraft is the social user-interface, especially the Looking for Group functionality. Games like Final Fantasy XI introduced improved LFG systems years ago, and compared with other modern games like Dungeons & Dragons Online, WoW's LFG system is downright primitive. Bad group-finding mechanisms are in part responsible for people ending up soloing to level 60, and then being unhappy about the forced grouping in the endgame. So if Blizzard could come up with a way to make finding groups easier at the lower levels, the transition to the endgame wouldn't be so harsh.
Unfortunately the Blizzard game developers are at times surprisingly naive. Thus in patch 1.11 they managed to change the LFG functionality in a way which in a perfect world would be an improvement, but which in the real world is actually worse than what they had before: They made the Looking for Group chat channel global.
Now if everybody was just using the LFG channel to look for groups, and for nothing else, that would be good. If you were advertising that you are a priest looking for a Deadmines group in Westfall, players already in the Deadmines, or those still in Stormwind, are able to hear you and to invite you. So what could be wrong with that? ... Human nature.
The WoW chat channels are not moderated, you can chat about anything in any channel. You *should* put your general comments in General chat, your trade offers in Trade chat, and your LFG requests in LFG chat. But nobody can force you to. So if the patch just broke your addons and you have the sincere wish to announce to the world that "Blizzard sucks", which channel do you chose? The General chat, which would be the most appropriate, but which is only visible to the people in the zone that you are in? Or the LFG chat, which is visible to all of the players of your faction, wherever they are?
So you can guess what happened yesterday, when everybody realized that the LFG chat is now global. An orgy of spamming, general chat remarks, trade offers, and lots of people adding to the chatter by complaining about it. Soon most sane people just turned off the LFG channel, because it was just too much. Unintended consequence: if you are looking for a group now, you are actually *less* likely to get a response in the LFG channel. Because either your target audience has turned the channel off, or your LFG request got lost in other people's spam. The sure sign of ultimate defeat of that global LFG idea was when people in Westfall started using the General chat to look for a group for the Deadmines.
I minimized the damage by creating a new chat window, and putting the LFG channel there, and only there. So I can still have a look at the LFG channel when I am in need of a group, but it doesn't clutter up my standard chat window. I hope Blizzard realizes what damage they did and come up with a better idea. Global chat channels, with up to 2,000 people in them, are *not* a good idea.