Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Improving PuGs

There is a subject I’ve been thinking about for a while, but it is hard to come up with a good solution: how could you improve pickup groups (PuGs) in World of Warcraft? A pickup group is a group formed with complete strangers, via the looking-for-group (LFG) system or via chat, usually formed to tackle a challenge that can’t be soloed, such as elite quests or instanced dungeons. In World of Warcraft PuGs are a source of constant complaints on all sorts of forums and blogs: they quite often fail to achieve their purpose and break up before they completed the quest or dungeon they were formed for. So why is this, and what could be done to improve PuGs?

The first thing to discover is that the term PuG and the complaints about them are new; they didn’t exist before World of Warcraft. Nobody complained about pickup groups in Everquest or other pre-WoW MMORPGs. This tells us one important thing: the problem is not inherent to MMORPGs in general, but specific to World of Warcraft. So what changed? What happened was World of Warcraft making soloing more prevalent, and grouping optional. Soloing was a niche version of gameplay in Everquest, limited to few classes, and everyone had extensive group experience. Of course there were still bad and failing groups, breaking up early. But as there was no alternative to grouping for most people, players had better grouping skills, and they behaved better because they didn’t want to be excluded from future groups. But of course this doesn’t point us to a solution; you can’t turn back the clock and make a game with enforced grouping, it would fail miserably. Soloing is very, very popular, we need to come up with a way to make PuGs work in a soloing environment.

When thinking about what the problems of PuGs in WoW are, I came up with three categories: risk, reward, and communication. Lets look at these three categories in order.

Risk describes the chance that the pickup group fails to reach its objective. Why does this happen so often? Now some elitist people will start about how all the other players in the game are idiots, this is the main explanation given in many of the rants on the official forums. One thing to consider here is that if you held an “exit interview” with all 5 members of a failed PuG separately, *every one* of them will tell you that the fault lay with the other players. It is rare that the mistake leading to a wipe is clearly identified and visible to all players in the group. And sometimes a wipe is just due to bad luck, a resisted taunt coinciding with a critical spell hit, leading to a failure of aggro management, with all players having insufficient skills to recover from that. Learning to play in a group isn't easy, because you often don't find out what the root cause of the failure was. And there is a vicious cycle going on: pickup groups have a bad reputation, thus people prefer to solo, thus they don't learn how to play in a group, thus they make pickup groups bad. So yes, the risk of pickup groups is strongly related to skill, but the skill of players isn't necessarily determined by their IQ, but more by practice and game design. And sometimes it's the guy who complains the loudest about the other players who actually caused the PuG to fail.

So how could risk be reduced? One possibility is a touchy one: fiddling with the difficulty level. It is evident that if a dungeon would be much easier, fewer groups would fail when trying it. But of course the danger here is to create trivially easy and thus boring content. Far too many players think of the difficulty level of World of Warcraft encounters being written in stone and having to be identical for all players. That is nonsense, as you can easily see when looking at normal and heroic dungeons in TBC. So theoretically it would be possible to have a wider variety of adjustable difficulty levels, like easy-normal-heroic, with corresponding reward levels. The purpose is to offer to all players group content corresponding to their skill level, so everyone can have gameplay that is challenging enough to be fun, but easy enough to be beatable. In a large population of players there is a distribution of skill and dedication, and the cut-off point for minimum skill and dedication required to have a successful group could well be lowered. Solo content, which is mostly non-instanced, was designed to be beatable by everyone. The instancing of most group content makes it possible to have content that is more challenging, but the current situation in WoW where group content is principally harder than solo content is not absolutely necessary. Easy mode group dungeons, not much more difficult than solo content, could be introduced to remove the step-up in difficulty between solo and group content.

The less controversial way to reduce the risk of a PuG failing is to increase everyone's skill level. But to achieve that you would need to get more people to play in groups, for training. So easy mode dungeons would actually work on that aspect as well. But if you don't want to change difficulty, you need to get more people into groups by working on the rewards and by making it easier to find groups, that is the reward and communication categories.

Group rewards in World of Warcraft, compared with previous games, are a strange beast. In many other games as a member of a group you can earn more experience points per hour than if you'd play solo. This is not the case in World of Warcraft. The xp for killing a monster are divided by the number of group members, and then a group xp bonus is added, which depends on group size, but is relatively low. A mob that gives 100 xp when soloed gives 28 xp per group member in a 5-man group. Thus if the group doesn't kill mobs 4 times faster than a single player, which is unlikely, in a group you earn less xp. Groups in WoW are nearly exclusively formed to kill mobs that can't be soloed at all, and not for the experience points but for the loot and quest rewards. If you level up soloing and don't buy gear from the auction house, in WoW you will mostly be geared in green gear. The more you group, the more blue gear you will acquire. But while better gear is always nice, for leveling up it isn't strictly necessary, as you outlevel your gear fast anyway, so you can well solo and wear greens all the way up to the level cap. So if the only reward for grouping is blue gear, and you don't really need that blue gear to advance, it's no wonder that many people decide they don't need to group. Of course that strategy stops working at the level cap, where gear improvement is the only way of character improvement left. Grouping becomes relatively more attractive (although nowadays you can pseudo-solo PvP instead), and then not having grouped for 70 levels comes back to haunt you. It is no wonder if PuGs are bad if the players in the PuG have very little training in group play.

Thus improving the rewards for grouping would improve PuGs. And it is easy, Blizzard would just need to change the group xp bonus modifier. If a group of 5 killing a 100 xp mob would get 50 xp each instead of 28 xp, grouping would become a lot more popular even for killing non-elite mobs. If it gave 100 xp, most people would hunt in groups whenever possible, and the first solo fans would start complaining about grouping being "mandatory". The group xp bonus modifier is a brilliant tool to influence player behavior, and should be used more to encourage grouping. By encouraging grouping the players would get more grouping skills and training, and the general experience of grouping would improve.

My last point is communication. If you hang out in any city in World of Warcraft you will quickly notice the amount of groups being formed via the general and trade chat. If you are of one of the more desirable group classes (tank, healer), you'll also notice groups being formed by private chat. But if you use Blizzard's own LFG system you'll find very few other players there. In my opinion this is due to the LFG system being over-engineered: it not only tries to make people find each other, it also tries to automatically groups them. And it doesn't do a very good job with that. You end up with groups without a tank or healer, because the automatic system assumes that every warrior, druid, or paladin can tank, and every priest, shaman, druid or paladin can heal.

PuGs could be improved by improving the looking for group system, and that would be very easy: just remove the automatic grouping system and replace the whole LFG system by something much simpler. People should simply be able to flag themselves as looking for group, and be able to write a short note, like specifying where they want to go, or what spec they are. It would also be helpful if you could inspect people on the LFG list, so you can already see whether a warrior is protection spec, or whether a player has the gear necessary to succeed in a heroic instance.

Pickup groups will never be perfect, and never be as fun a grouping with your friends. But making new friends is an important component of MMORPGs, and improving PuGs could well achieve that. Blizzard would just need to improve the risk/reward ratio of PuGs, and make them easier to form with a better LFG system.
The old games like EQ also had a variable challenge. Look at the mechanical structure of what groups were doing. The only variable you have access to in WoW is to select difficulty level between trival and challenging.

In EQ you could for a beginner group decide to pick a spot and farm it at a low stress pace, or you could go for one of those more adventurous challenges of moving your group through the dungeon. Its apparent that the designers of WoW prefered the second alternative in EQ, as did I and those I played with. However there is no entry level topology in WoW either. You dont learn the basics of "the camp" which is a reduced set of problems. Everyone gets straight into the challenge of reaching the end goal at the start.
Tobold, you are mistaken. PuGs exist in other MMORPGs, too. During my DAoC-time (many many years ago), the PuGs indeed had a better quality but were still not as good in quality like a guild group. The PuGs I encounter in Guild Wars are equal in quality to the general WoW-PuGs, that's why many people prefer to try a mission/quest just with heroes and henchmen. At least the NPCs won't leave you standing in the rain...
"The only variable you have access to in WoW is to select difficulty level between trival and challenging"

I do not agree whith this statement.

OK, today Normal difficulty setting is trivial. Hell, Heroics are mostly trivial...

But remember when you just hit 70 and tried SL on normal difficulty. Did that feel trivial to you?

Normal difficulty dungeons need you to learn encounters and are really challenging.

Untill you outgear them, that is.

Complaints about PuGs aren't an exclusive WoW-phenomenon. FFXI for instance had (still has?) PUG issues, magnified by the fact that past level 15, soloing wasn't possible (disclaimer: I stopped playing FFXI in 2005, things may have changed).

Just mention "Valkurm Dunes" to any old FFXI player and you'll get, at best, a sigh.

FFXI's LFG interface was better in my opinion, though. A player would pick different flags depending on what he wanted to do (exp, skill up, questing...), added a comment, and then joined one single server-wide LFG queue where the player could filter with a couple of slash commands. Or I might misremember it and you simply used the /who command. Anyway, no need to browse through dozens of preset filtered categories to see if there might be a healer queueing up for another place who you could convince to join your group.
I really doubt that it would be possible to make the LFG system popular again, at least unless you make it extremely spectacular.

I think the LFG system has had it's chance and blew it. People are too used to it sucking and will therefore not even think of using it.

There is one function that Tobold has mentioned before which might save it in my opinion, and that is cross server grouping. Make that possible and only through the LFG tool and then it MIGHT be popular.
The LFG system has horrible failures beyond automatically grouping people (and doing a poor job of it; picking a prot paladin or feral druid for a "healer".) It's astoundingly bad, for a variety of reasons; in no particular order, and likely forgetting a few,

1) You can only set yourself LFG for three things at once, rather than in general. There's a dozen or so five-man zones, and many times that number of group quests in Outland (there's, what, 10 or 12 in Nagrand alone?). This could almost be forgiven if not for...

2) There's no way to generically LFM. If you aren't looking for whatever specific quest or instance someone else is, you'll never even know they're LFG.

3) As a consequence, there's also no way to look for quests you aren't on. This means there's no way to use the LFG system to check for people doing pre-reqs to a group quest you're on, to an escort quest (as they begin when they're accepted), and so on.

4) There's no way to LFG outside your level range. While this is obviously to help curb people twinking lowbies through instances, it prevents people from looking for groups for lower level alts using the LFG system. I know there's been occasions when I've messed around on a leveling alt because there wasn't anyone LFG for an instance my main was willing to tank - and obviously, I have no way of checking if this changes, beyond the LFG channel.

Even one of these - and there's doubtlessly more I'm forgetting - would be enough to cut the usefulness of the system dramatically. All put together, it's somehow managed to be less useful than a plain chat channel. It (like the meeting stones before it) has to be some idiot dev's pet edict. There's no other reason something so pointless has lasted so long, especially since Blizzard definitely knows better.
How about an invisible reputation-type system with other players on your server? So, say, whenever you wipe with a group those players in your group drop in reputation with you. When you successfully complete quests with others in a group your reputation increases with each other. When you then enter into future LFG queues, the systems tries to group you with others you have a good reputation with. Just brainstorming here ....

The main problem I have had with PUG's were the totally asshats that you occasionally run into. People that seem to go out of their way to make the group fail or to create loot controversy. Once you get one of those people, its tough to boot them out and replace them on the fly without having to start all over again what you are trying to achieve. If you could somehow save your progress in an instance, exit the instance, realign your group, and then re-enter at the point you left, that would be cool.
I think Blizzard adding a threatmeter to their UI is a very usefull tool to make grouping less frustrating.
It implies/explains the concept of threat/tanking etc.
Furthermore messages like *who* broke cc will make players learn a lot quicker. Nobody needs to point a finger and you have to have a really thick plate in front of your head to ignore the 'fingerpointing' by the system itself.
Another idea would be to make the standard UI show MT, OT's, MH, RH and MA just like it shows the RL and the ML.
Ofcourse these terms are easily explained or googled, but I guess we can safely assume that people are stupid;)
A number of different issues here.

PUGs in general: What I find is that there are two major reasons for PUGs failing.
1) Tank can't tank - Healer casts spells and gets mob aggro. This is one of the main causes of PUG failure.
2) Players in PUGs have no patience - The endless whining/arguments that are completely unneccessary are a trademark of the typical PUG.
People expect a perfect group, and when things don't go according to plan, they get angry over the slightest things, leading to players dcing or just leaving the group.

LFG Tool. This really does suck. The examples are many.

You may have a group quest in your log, but have levelled a bit since you got it. So you go into LFG and it decides you are too high level for that quest and are not allowed to put yourself down for it.

You can only show an interest in a limited number of quests/dungeons etc. Considering at Lv 70 you can go to any Heroic instance, why be limited in this way?

Even when you have put yourself down as interested in various instances, you have to keep going into LFM and refreshing the screens to see if anyone new has joined.

I wouldn't say the LFG was completely useless. I often put myself into it for a Group quest, just so I can keep the LFG channel open.

Since I got to Outlands I have done a lot of PUGs. Some of them truly stank, but the majority I would say went ok, and I even had a lot of fun in some of them!

I have pugged Shadow Labs, Steam Vaults, Arcatraz, and Durnholde in the last week or so, to get my Karazhan key. I only need Black Morass now, and I intend to do that in a PUG too!
Some comments concerning the PUG issues :

I think that the PUG issue is slightly overstated. In general we hear more about complains that about things that went well. And so I think the issue is not specific to WOW, it is just more visible.
The reason for hearing more complains than in other MMORPG is the one you stated :
. Complaining does not make you a bad reputation because the community is way larger.
. Grouping is not compulsory, so people fall back to the easiest path consisting in complaining about it and no more do it instead of trying to improve things in their own PUGs.

I effectively aggree with the general ideas of Tobold to improve this, with some tweaking :
. Group XP : in fact they should be renamed, this should not be "Group XP", but "Instance XP:. Only instance are really tuned for effective grouping. Giving more XP for people grouping for the solo is a bad idea, this won't teach them instance grouping.
And for the rare cases effective need of grouping oustide of Instance ( elite mobs ) the rewards ( mob drop + quest XP + quest reward ) will be sufficient.
This just requires to remove world elite zone like they have already done in Arathi.
I'm *extremely* surprised that no-one's mentioning what always seems to me to be the biggest problem of a PUG - lack of ability to communicate fast and efficiently during play.

I normally play with two other people in the same room, 3-manning instances. We're vastly efficient, not least because we can quickly adapt to a changing situation - "Oh, shit, that mob doesn't sheep! Ok, sheep the mage, I'll tank the other one!".

A PUG's communication is limited to text. Now, I type above 80 words a minute - secretarial speed - and I can't really communicate anything even vaguely complicated during gameplay. Most people don't type anywhere near that fast. As a result, as soon as something unexpected happens, group cohesion breaks down.

Sadly, WoW voice chat doesn't really work. It's a pity, because it would hugely improve the ability of PUGs.

Aside from that, though, I must say I've mostly found the "dreadful PUG" to be a myth. Sure, sometimes you'll meet a very young or inexperienced player, but most of the time, the PUGs I play in are full of competent players who know their roles and the instances well. No idea where everyone else finds the n00bs!
"OK, today Normal difficulty setting is trivial. Hell, Heroics are mostly trivial...

But remember when you just hit 70 and tried SL on normal difficulty. Did that feel trivial to you?"

Trival when you were at level 70 geared in greens was going to Ramparts or UBRS. The topological difference of the mechanics in the challenge does not change from Scarlet Monastery to Karazhan. The only changes are matters of scale.

There are some topological experiments like "Gauntlet" challenges which are different. And a few "rare cards" which bosses use. Otherwise its a matter of doing the same thing "more correct" to defeat the "higher challenge".

Looking at it through a game design lens its the verbs of the interaction that always are arrange to relay the same meaning. A better design will allow the user to select the mechanical territory, not just the cosmetical dressing.
A general increase to the group XP bonus would not make people to become better players in a group. As you and many others have noted, players tend to look for activities with the highest reward/risk ratio. With a high group XP bonus, they would group up and start killing non-elite mobs that they could solo as well. Since these mobs are easy to kill, they wouldn't need any group tactics to obtain extra XP. So they would not learn anything.

Instead, a raised group XP bonus on elite mobs only would probably improve group play.
How about an "Group Achievement" tab and a "Guild History" tab, accessible to inspection by other players?

The Achievement tab could have a "rating" based on your success rate in boss kills / completing an instance versus wipes, and a companion 'group' rating to show the rating of the members of your groups.

The Guild history would show all of the guilds you've been a part of.

Both would follow you through server and character name changes (and all previous character names could be shown too).

Finally, I would love to see the group XP penalty go. My wife and I almost always quest together, and the group XP penalty really hinders our leveling. I can understand why people generally don't group to quest, because it slows down leveling so much. "Kill" quests are completed about twice as fast, but "drop" quests are often more than twice as slow. And since leveling was so slow, once we hit about 56-57 in the pre-elite, pre-XP nerf TBC, we literally ran out of old-world normal quests (Western/Eastern Plaguelands, Silithus, Winterspring) since we were typically completing orange and red quests.
In my opinion, the problem with PUGs (and I actually love PUGs, although I recognize they have a higher chance of failure) is that the responsibility for success is not spread out evenly. A typical 5 man PUG has a tank, a healer, and 3 DPS. The tank and healer therefore become critical points of failure because they have no direct backup.

Having a poor DPSer is survivable, because one of your other 2 DPSers can cover his deficiencies directly. Even the tank and healer can cover it indirectly by being exceptional and lasting long enough for weak DPS to overcome foes. Plus, DPS is the easiest slot to replace if you lose a member, as most people like speccing for DPS in order to solo. If you have a bad tank or healer, or lose them, the group's potential to progress is severely limited because the other group members can only help fill those roles indirectly.

If the tank can't hold mobs or requires too much healing, there may not be much that can be done. An exceptional healer can cover a poor tank by being able to heal more, but this makes it more likely that the healer will end up tanking the mobs. Similarly, an exceptional DPS might be able to cover a tank by bringing mobs down faster or control them through kiting/CC, but the DPS too will end up tanking.

A poor healer can be covered better than a tank, through exceptional tanking that doesn't require much healing, or exceptional DPS that brings mobs down fast and avoids damage. But these are still indirect measures and typically no one can support the healer directly.

The answer in my opinion SHOULD be hybrids, but I think the hybrid classes have lost their ability to hybrid fluidly; they're all specced and geared for specialized primary roles now and can't perform their off-roles well enough (or are too busy filling that primary role) to support a tank or healer who needs assistance. And fights now seem to be tuned such that you need primary role fillers in each group slot. That's not to say it can't be done anymore, I just think it's become difficult enough that PUGs have acquired a bad stench.
Better feedback systems need to be built in. For instance getting kicked from groups and yelled at doesn't help you improve. But being told why and what you need to improve helps.

As a healer raiding, I find Grim reports from swstats to be invaluable. I may remember what I did correctly or not, but the grim report tells me exactly what happened when the tank (or whoever) died. This way I can learn and improve.

Similar reports need to be available and the defaults need to be to turn them on when in groups and automatically report after a player dies. Then later players can turn it off to turn them to silent mode.

They're already contemplating adding threat meters, other reports and feedback mechanisms should not be too big of a stretch.
But if you use Blizzard's own LFG system you'll find very few other players there. In my opinion this is due to the LFG system being over-engineered: it not only tries to make people find each other, it also tries to automatically groups them. And it doesn't do a very good job with that. You end up with groups without a tank or healer, because the automatic system assumes that every warrior, druid, or paladin can tank, and every priest, shaman, druid or paladin can heal.

I participated in a very long camapaign a year or so ago with other people on the wow forums and we all talked about the LFG channel and it's failings. It always comes down to the same simple thing. The old global LFG channel was an advertisement to every person on the server that hadn't proactively turned off the channel. So you were effectively letting every character and their alts online know a group was forming. I used to regularly form groups where 2 or 3 of the people whispered and said.."hey i've got a XXXXX alt is that ok" and our group would form and we'd be off.

Now you advertise to a small percentage of people in the LFG tool that are actually qued up for that specific instance. Even if you go to a major city and use general or trade your potential audience is tiny compared to the old global LFG channel.

To give blizz some credit I think they were trying to force people to group with level appropriate toons and make the group experience better. And that might have worked at the beginning but in the end that one change hurt grouping more than anything else. I've screamed forever that they need to remove the grouping penalty. But I've discovered as I level My horde priest I get much more experience killing the elites in the instance in a group than I do soloing. But it takes me hours to find a group and about 50% of the time we have to stop somewhere in the run and find another person. Because of that running instances becomes less efficient.

That and pre BC pugs were generally profitable for well geared people. Orbs in strat, alchemy stuff in scholo, Living essences and arcanite in Dire Maul.

All my friends who didn't quit when BC came out keep telling me that prior to the idea of badges there was absolutely nothing there but a repair bill for them once they got thier gear. That's just poor game design and again unnecessarily limits the pool. Some of the best learning experiences I had where running with overgeared players who shared thier experience with me.

though I'd much rather run an undergeared pug. You learn so much more and it is much more exciting.
I think that the PUG issue is slightly overstated. In general we hear more about complains that about things that went well. And so I think the issue is not specific to WOW, it is just more visible.


. Grouping is not compulsory, so people fall back to the easiest path consisting in complaining about it and no more do it instead of trying to improve things in their own PUGs.

I think you are wrong about it being slightly overstated and I posted your words because I think you contradicted yourself. The fact that people give up and take the easier path of soloing and don't try to improve means the problem is more likely understated because those people just solo and don't complain.
Gwaendar said it well; Most of the issue with PuGs is that grouping to level isn't mandatory. I too played FFXI for quite some time, and once you could get past Valkurm(shudder), it was an awesome game. Well, with the exception of the parties who some how made it to the mid 60s being still full of fail.

@Hugh: Communication has nothing to do with it. FFXI had no voice chat, and no real way to run a program outside of itself. Pickup groups there were far, far more successful than anything I've ever run into in WoW.

As for the LFG system, while limited, it's better than anything I've seen before. However, there are some areas for improvement. I personally enjoy being able to look for one or two instances, but I'd also like to be able to flag global for any instance. The same thing goes for group quests. Further, it's doesn't auto-group for anything by default. As many of you point out, this is clearly a good thing.

So how do you fix the system going forward? I don't think there is a fix. PuGs will exist, in good and bad forms as long as people participate in them. This will be the case for as long as MMOs are around. Ultimately, the cause of failure in PuGs is people not being fully versed in their role in a group, not knowing enough about particular encounters, or not being willing to follow directions given by people who do. So, the question that needs to be asked is not 'How do you fix PuGs?', but rather 'How do you fix ignorance?'.
the problem is that the "better" players aren´t participating in the PuG market, cause they usually have guild groups and or they already finished all the content and are raiding. left are casual players (majority wise speaking) and thats why PuG are often so bad.

The reason this has become such a common talking point is really a perfect storm type of situation. the last year or so I don't really remember how long, Blizzard had a global LFG that everyone got used to using. They had caved and allowed it because people were really frustrated with being forced to hang out in major cities while trying to get a group going. There were issues with spam and people using it for chat etc. Then with BC they invalidated all the old content and gave us the new LFG tool. Problem was the new tool was less flexible and advertised to far less people than the old way of doing it. The old way everyone was subject to the advertisement unless the actively opted out. This allowed us to advertise to anyone who was online even if they alt they would bring wasn't online. I'd say 1/2 of my pugs I was on a low level alt when I saw a group forming and would whisper them and log over to my main. And I probably got more people in my pugs that way than people who were on the charater they wanted a group with.

So in effect with the launch of BC, we got a huge rush of people who were rushing to 70 to be the first and get to the real game. The old content was made literally meaningless, there is little incentive to go back to the BC 5 mans once you have your gear and the grouping system was made less flexible and advertising free all in one swoop.

Grouping has never recovered. And PVP has made it even less necessary to form groups. I'm finding level 55 rogues that have lockpicking skills of 1 to 20 because they don't PVE they just PVP. I understand the reasons for thier changes and I think if they'd been implemented early in Vanilla WOW it would have worked but the DEVs destoroyed PUGs. I think they understand at least part of it because the addition of badges to the 5 mans is a step in the direction of fixing the BC side of it. But things for people that like to group are in a pathetic state now unless you are at end game.
One way to remove the problem is to remove levels.

But then you everything else changes too.
I'd have to disagree that soloing is the cause of pick-up groups being bad in WoW. The problem is one of encounter tuning. Blizzard has designed most of their dungeons such that you need an optimal configuration of skills and abilities to be successful. If you have four rogues and a mage, it doesn't really matter how skilled you are, you're not going to do very well in an instance. You really HAVE to have tank/healer/dps-cc. There is no alternative to success, and if not everyone in that required combination has the skill and/or gear to perform to the required level, the whole group fails.

Tuning in other MMORPGs is far less stringent. Yes, you generally need some sort of tank and some sort of healer in the group, but it's far less stringent than WoW. In EQ2 many melee dps classes can perform the roll of 'tank' in a typical group, just not raid content.

It's not so much that content in other games is easier, as it is the mechanics of the game don't REQUIRE an optimal group configuration for success.

PUGS are a subject near and dear to my heart, and I'm happy to see you point your impressive analytical skills in their direction. I agree with 80% of your analysis, but I think there is one missing factor - quests. The current design of questing works against groups as follows:

1) Quest chains - If there is a 4-part quest in a zone, probability theory says there's a 40% chance that a randum PUG will have someone who has not started it, and someone who is on the last step. If you're the guy who hasn't started, it's great for you. Sucks to be the guy on the last step, waiting for everyone to catch up.

This is a problem, because quest chains are one of the few opportunities (outside of instances) for a group to stay together for any extended length of time.

2) Collection quests - Who hasn't done one of these with even ONE friend, and you had to turn on "free for all" loot after the first person got their items? The more people in your group, the greater chance someone will catch a bad run of drops.

Honestly, I really don't want grouping in WoW to be equivalent to instancing in WoW. Instances are frankly too hard for people learning to group (what group of true newbies will EVER finish Deadmines?). In EQ, outdoor PUGs were every bit as common as dungeon PUGs, and I'd love to continue that tradition. Fixing quests would go a long way towards making outdoor PUGs viable.
There are two main problems...

The first is that yes, the LFG system sucks. It's hard to find people, and I do agree it is probably over engineered. It'd be easier to just have a random LFG flag that let you set a comment and what kind of group you're looking for, along with what spec you are (looking for dungeon group, looking for quest group, looking for pvp group, etc.). Then you can let the players who want to find each other do so.

The other thing that needs to be done is to actually train players for group play. This is done more or less for DPS but not any other role. I had to personally train several other players in my guild to tank after they first leveled to a point when they began grouping. They didn't know how the threat system worked, or what the mechanics behind Taunt were, or how to handle more than one monster at a time. Similarly (though to a slightly lesser extent), the healers need to be taught what it is they need to do to heal, and how to be better at it.

Blizzard taught warriors about stances with varying quests tied to unlocking them. If there were quests to teach players to tank (an engineer telling the player "hold off these monsters while I set up the sentry guns") or heal (see old Benediction questline in Stratholme area), things would help a lot.

I think if a game make instanced training sessions that you have to pass once in say 10 level to increase your level cap, it will force everyone to learn their role in group situations.

For example, you get into a battle with 4 AI characters (if you are a tank, then with a healer and 3 dpsers) and only win the battle if you play proper role in the battle and use proper spells that you learned.

I know this will not solve all the PuG problem, but given the fact that I've seen a lvl 70 mage who doesn't know what spellsteal is for and a priest who have never used dispel magic, this will help people to realize what they roles in a group situations are and prevent them from becoming the core reason of failed PuG without realizing it.


P.S. I'm reposting this because the first post didn't register. It looks like Rawr already mentioned something similar.

I've said this before. Pre BC leveling is supposed to be the "training" in the game. The growing pug problem has it's roots in the way BC was implemented.

The only way I see it getting better is if the devs actually start throwing some bigger incentives to people to actually suffer through all the bad groups while the system realigns itself.

PreBC leveling was *not* training for the rest of the game. Pre-BC leveling suffers from the same thing that BC leveling does - emphasis on DPS to the exclusion of everything else.

When I was leveling, I had to experiment with various skills to see what they did. How much threat was Sunder Armor? How much threat was Revenge? What was the difference between Heroic Strike and Cleave? Will Sunder Armor keep generating threat after I maximize the stacks of it?

The threat system (and by extension, many aspects of group play) are completely opaque to the new user, from level 1 until level 70. It is only through hundreds of collective hours of experimentation that players have reverse engineered the way threat mechanics in wow work. One would find more competent players if the game actually bothered to train them to be competent, rather than requiring them to go online and read large essays and forum threads (the Class Mechanics forum at has over 108,000 posts in it!).

The devs don't need to put in incentives to group. The incentive is already there: better loot than standard soloing/questing gear. What the devs need to do is to stagger some quests for the players as they level to learn about how the game mechanics work. At level 10, a warrior gets Defensive Stance, Sunder Armor rank 1 and Taunt. A perfect example would be a follow-up quest at level 12 where the warrior has to then learn to use those skills in a group setting.

Similar quests could be put in for healers, paladin tanks, etc. at appropriate levels. Incorporate the training into the actual game, and you'll have a lot more competent players.

rawr I won't disagree that wouldn't help the players. IF the quest rewards were good enough for them to do .

But I didn't see this problem nearly as often in Vanilla wow. People may not have learned all the nuts and bolts but they grouped enough that they played fairly well.

The biggest problem I see now is people who have grouped 3 times and think because they have PVP epics that they should be telling me what to do. Or they just leave the group when you point out they need to back off on thier dps.

I think they could add all the tutorials you want and it wouldn't help much. Nothing teaches you how to fix your playstyle better than running in a group that is not overgeared. And that's another side of this messed up formula. Most players will get frustrated trying to get a group and then have a 70 run them through the instance 3 times till they get their gear . Then they are off to PVP.
Holy cow, pickup groups were a problem in EQ, and each game I've played beyond that. People certainly complained about it.

An EQ1 druid who couldn't remember to snare? Groups would wipe, with nothing to do but crawl your way back down to your items before they rotted.

How about a PUG EQ1 mage or necro that couldn't keep their pet on passive?

Or an EQ1 wizard who loved to overnuke, who caused the cleric to overheal, which caused the group to wipe?

There were plenty of PUG nightmares in EQ, and DAOC with the same sort of "you didn't do your job and we wiped" issues.

I guess maybe the difference with WoW is wiping isn't as painful as EQ certainly, or DAOC. We can bitch about how bad PUG's are in WoW and how they could be improved (no disagreement there), but it doesn't hurt more than inconvenience and annoyance. PUG wipeouts in EQ1 could be epic.

There was no acronym for pickup groups back then. PUG is a WoW phenomenon, or at least that's the first time I heard it used. The concept, and the FEAR of the concept, has been around for a long time, though.
Aside from the fear of potential bad players, the biggest problem I have seen, in EQ1 as well as WoW, is the fear of the death penalty.

In EQ1 people were downright afraid to take risks with newer/lower-level people because they were afraid of wiping and losing a lot of experience. In WoW, people are afraid of incurring large repair bills for little to no personal gain.

People would more readily take risks with unknown other party members if there was no penalty for taking those risks. No repair bill, no problem. I have seen the problem first-hand, in both EQ1 and WoW. It's very hard to even get guildies to assist you with tasks if they think there is the remotest chance of failure because of the harsh penalties.

I have never been satisfied with games that punish people for taking risks. All it does is discourage them from trying. Death penalties are an impediment to enjoyment of the game.

I don't know what the fix is but I'll say it again. Something about the design of BC and I tend to point at the trend to make it easier to solo, broke grouping in WOW. It was not as bad in Vanilla WOW as it is now.

Maybe that was because the player base had more people who came from other games. Maybe because they had to group to get thier good rewards. It was my experience pre BC that old timers would come redo the old content to gear their alts for enchanting mats or just to relax and do something that was easier than the current raid boss they were up against. That doesn't seem to happen anymore.
Somewhere along the way they pushed thier player base into solo is more efficient.

I hope they can fix it. or someday there will be 12 million wow players and only 1 million of them will be in the western world.
Some possibilities to help instances out a bit:

Experience bonuses for bosses: There already are quests for some bosses, but these are one time things, and a lot of them cannot be shared. Instead, the idea would be that people would get a quest level of experience appropriate for their level for killing an instance boss, and would get additional experience the more thoroughly they killed off the bosses in the instance. (a first boss gives 1000 exp. for example, the second would give 1250, the third 1500, the last 2000, to give an idea of the ratios and how it would work. Numbers of course would be different at different levels, this one seems around 20 or so.). This would hopefully help encourage more people to make it through the whole instance, to repeat instances after getting items or quests done.

Another one might be to add a badge like system to instances, to again give some reward to people for doing multiple runs of an instance even after getting loot of quests done.

In general, instances or other types of grouping would need to attract mini-maxing people in order to be more successful, since those seem to be the bigger group of people in the game.
I like the idea of a badge system for all the lower level instances. Especially if they'd add a vendor that would let players buy lower level epics say 1 to 60 with them.

But if they do that I'd want to see something that prevents the badge from dropping if someone who is too high level, say 10 levels over recommended, is in the group.
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