Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
The rewards of grouping

Soloing is easy, grouping is hard. Everybody knows that. Well, at least everybody who thinks that World of Warcraft was the first MMORPG out there. Those who have been around a bit longer are maybe aware that soloing being easier than grouping is actually a complete reversal from how things were a decade ago. In Everquest in 2001 players started out soloing at level 1, but while they became stronger with every level, the monsters became stronger even more so. At some point even the "green" monsters several levels lower than you, the lowest that would still give you xp, were too hard for you to solo. People grouped not because of a dungeon finder or anything, but because most classes needed a group to kill any monsters that gave xp. If you think about it, being stronger when several people help you than if you are alone makes sense.

As soon as you make a game which can be soloed up to the level cap, that concept of needing friends to help you goes out of the window. Why would you bother to get a group together to kill 10 foozles for a quest if you can do it much faster alone? That thought quickly leads to "elite" monsters, which again are too strong to solo. And then you need better loot on these elite monsters to make players interested in making the extra effort to get a group together. And before long you find yourself in a system where players at the level cap raid for epics, while having leveled solo most of the way to that level cap. For any given monster it is obviously easier to kill it in a group than to kill it solo, but now we have strictly separated parts of the game, one in which only soloing makes sense, and another in which only grouping makes sense. And then you can reverse difficulty and make the grouping part harder than the soloing.

Of course now the same people who grumbled over "forced grouping" in Everquest will complain that soloing only gets them to the nominal level cap, while the best epic rewards are still unattainable for them in group only dungeons. They would love to be able to keep soloing up to killing the final raid boss in the final dungeon. Other players prefer going to dungeons in groups, and consider the leveling part of the game to be an annoying obstacle on the way there. But would these players still group if the same rewards could be had in a solo variant of the dungeons?

Raph Koster says that "Community ties are the single biggest predictor of retention. And in the subscription game (really, in the microtransaction game too, though the effect is more complicated), retention = money. Therefore, community ties = money." But that would mean that the people who claim that WoW has the worst community ever can't be right, because it is really hard to argue that WoW has a problem with making money.

Somewhere there is a contradiction. Even the people who like groups think that game developers need to either force people into groups, or at least offer group only content with better rewards to encourage people to group. How can you have in the same game a better player retention through stronger community ties, and a frequently expressed feeling of players resenting the other players which with they are forced to group to get certain rewards or see certain content?

I believe that the strict separation of the soloing part and the grouping part of content is harmful here. I would prefer a game in which everything is soloable, but where soloing is hard, and grouping is the obviously more efficient and easier way to progress. Instead of having any content which you are forced to group for, all the content should be set up in a way that players have the choice of doing it solo, or doing it faster and more efficient in a group. Instead of dividing soloers and groupers in two strictly separate camps playing through separate content, players would sort themselves naturally, playing solo one days when they feel unsociable or don't have the time to set up a group, and playing in a group another day.
A big part of this whole problem is that WoW has only one outstanding goal: Increase your itemlevel.

If you make a game like WoW you want to offer content for all kinds of people. And there are people who like grouping and raiding. Most raiders in my guild raid for years now. They don't care about equipment one bit at this point in time. They enjoy the social structure that has evolved.

However, since there is only one outstanding goal in WoW, Blizzard has a problem with offering content to those people who do not like to group. All that content is considered unimportant in relation to itemlevels.

That is why Blizzard wanted to introduce a Path of the Titans. That is why they like achievements. But to manage it as well as, say, EVE Online, there is still a far way to go.

Making gold is not really supported as a 'goal' in WoW, nor is there any serious content except for the "standard dungeon" and the "standard raid". PvP is isolated with almost no connection to the rest of the game.

The problem with offering more than itemlevel, is of course that WoW is built on the itemlevel skinner box. One the one hand side this is what makes WoW successful. On the other hand, this is what holds WoW back more than anything else.
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As I'm mostly playing with my brothers - family grouping - we are faced with this problem: we have to take on the normal 5 man instances even if we wanted just to adventure as a group. The levelling content is so solo friendly that it poses no challenge to even the solo character, let alone a group.

Grouping should be encouraged by incentives, rather than punishment. It's a design decision more than anything, the game's overall design has created the current situation in it's own right.

Players are prone to adapt to the path of least resistance. It's only human and if Raph is to be believed, the designers take these things into account in their game design.

Oh, and I do want to group, I really do. The Dungeon Finder has taken the social fun out of the grouping, as there is no need for the socializing. The vocal one is silenced by silence and the runs are automated slaughters.

To find a proper and suitable guild is a gamble at best: you either get lucky or end up running from one guild to another to find the one which suits you socially, by the feel and by the group event schedule. No tools to help in that, and as the server only grouping is voided by the LFD, there is no way to get to know the people on the server anyway.

C out
Nils basically said what I clicked this topic to write. Thanks Nils

WoW is fairly linear. I absolutely believe that there should be plenty of both group (of varying sizes) and solo content, in equal amounts even, but they shouldn’t be the same thing. I am all for just being able to exist in a world full of people as well as being able to work with those people when I want. There should be plenty of valid stuff you can pursue on your own that doesn’t require a group, but being able to solo an enemy stronghold defeats much of the epic experience for other people.

Since WoW only has one major goal, the two sides simply can’t coexist with that design, which I think is horribly flawed. If there’s only one goal, then there’ll be only one most efficient way to reach it. There is far less that qualifies as valid progression when you’re solo. WoW’s entire design is at fault on this one.

Achievements were a nice addition though.

I’d also like to stress that the concept of public quests is glorious. I haven’t seen it implemented very well yet, but the idea of being solo minded while casually grouped and unobligated to be forced into an unwanted situation, all the while helping and being helped by your allies, sounds like a wonderful thing.
I mostly agree with Nils. Extra Credits had a video on choice a few weeks back which I think applies here. Things like talent trees masquerade as choice, but they are really just calculations. There is one goal (damage output) and one single best spec to reach that goal, all other specs are incorrect.

With only one goal in the game (item level), there will simply be a single most efficient, or "correct" way. All other options are not so much choices as they are sub-optimal strategies.

So when you throw soloing into the mix, no matter how you balance it people will complain. Either you will have the soloers complaining they are "forced" to raid, or raiders complaining they are "forced" to solo. Or, with lockouts, perhaps everyone complaining that they are "forced" to do both.

You may remember late in Burning Crusade when doing PvP was the optimal way to get gear. People who hated PvP complained that they were "forced" to run BGs. This would be the same thing.

This is why I suggested in the other thread having gear which is specific to soloing.

You raid to get the best raiding gear. You PvP to get the best PvP gear. And you solo to get the best solo gear.
For WoW’s situation: What if instead of being able to solo all group content, you could sort of shadow another guild during a raid, popping in and out whenever you want to help and receiving your own rewards for the aid while not taking anything away from them. Obviously not an immediate fix, there’d have to be some changes for things like aggro for people outside the raid, but I think it’d be reasonable for people who would like to help raid but don’t want to commit to a guild or schedule.
Oh, I should mention something important here:

Soloing instances is already in the game.

Just not top level instances. In Wrath, I soloed Burning Crusade heroics, which turned out to be an excellent challenge. Now at 85, I will be moving up to Wrath instances. Elitist Jerks has an entire thread in the Hunter forum about soloing BC raids.

The content is already there, and more or less an appropriate challenge (currently ranging from not too hard, to more difficult that Cata hard mode raids).

All we are talking about right now is reward, which is obviously all basically vendor trash.
So it's not an apocalypse for you if a shift to a 'Other people are very useful to group with, rather than manditory to group with' model occurs? Okay, I assumed the wrong thing about you. I'm rather surprised.
As long as the reward of grouping is not grouping itself, but some loot for the player you will keep all sorts of issues that groups are not working.

in WoW groups is the mean to accomplish a goal, not the goal itself
So it's not an apocalypse for you if a shift to a 'Other people are very useful to group with, rather than manditory to group with' model occurs? Okay, I assumed the wrong thing about you. I'm rather surprised.

I believe the difference between a MMORPG and a single-player game is mostly that a MMORPG supports many different playstyles. I fully support the necessity that some of these playstyles must be solo, it is a direct consequence of not everybody always being able to play for longer stretches of time, or not always *wanting* to group.

The problem, as Nils pointed out, is if you consider that a MMORPG only has one single goal, you'll end up ranking the different possible playstyles by how efficient they are to get you towards your goal. I believe people should solo when they *want* to solo, should group when they *want* to group, even PvP when they *want* to PvP. But rewards and linear progression tend to get into the way of that. You end up with situations like early WAR, where everybody kind of liked public quests, but ended up doing PvP instances instead, because the rewards were better.

Even the current WoW situation is far from optimal. You want to raid? Well, do 85 levels of questing, mostly solo, first. For many classes that soloing doesn't even serve to teach them the very basics of their classes role in a group situation, e.g. a warrior never taunts while questing solo. Thus we basically force people to do something completely different for a hundred hours, to be allowed to play what they want to play. Isn't that stupid?

Last weeks posts were not about "everybody should group", but about "if you want to group, what exactly are your obligations towards the other players". The problem of queue times or green fire low dps don't even exist for soloers, so they weren't really adressed by those posts.
I disagree that ilvl is the only goal in Wow. It isn't even a goal for me, or many, many others. It is a means to an end - and for me that end is the satisfaction of killing progression bosses.

I think a far bigger issue is the culture of entitlement, demonstrated well by some here. Many players think they are entitled to see all the gear and content while still being able to do it their way. And that was is usually the path of least resistance.

Wow is a multiplayer game. If you hate the social aspect of the game and want a perfectly tuned single player experience, there are many, many games better at it than wow. Rather than whinging that you can't solo the entirety of the game, you should be happy that you can solo so much of a MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER game.
Obviously not an immediate fix, there’d have to be some changes for things like aggro for people outside the raid, but I think it’d be reasonable for people who would like to help raid but don’t want to commit to a guild or schedule.
If you're in the EU, you might want to consider checking out the PuG on Agamaggan
This is why I suggested in the other thread having gear which is specific to soloing.

You raid to get the best raiding gear. You PvP to get the best PvP gear. And you solo to get the best solo gear.

I see your point, Samus, but I doubt this would work well. Problem is that while you want to offer different activities you don't want them to be totally isolated. You still want WoW to be more than the summ of it's parts.

In EVE CCP uses the economy to do the trick. No matter what you do, it is all connected via the economy. You don't just do trade alone, you don't just wage war with your alliance, you don't just explore a wormhole with your cooporation, you don't just do missions on your own...
The whole game becomes much more than the sum of its parts.

WoW lacks here. (But excels at other things, so don't misunderstand this comment as some EVE>WoW thing, k ?).

If you just introduced special solo equipment you created an isolated minigame. That is why Blizzard has still not introduced special PvP skills/talent trees etc. It might be easier to balance, but it isolated the whole minigame even more than today. (I would hope that Blizzard doesn't do this for world->game reasons, but I guess the interconnectiveness of the gameplay is the more probable explanation :).

In WoW you character (without equip) is the thing that connects the minigames. But with dual speccs and even PvE/PvP equipment Blizzard has eroded this fundament even more in the last few years.

They created powerful exspectations of entitlement. Most players seeno reason for dual specc, but not triple specc.

To sum it up: Some design decisions can improve the individual minigames (individual activities) that your MMO consists of, but erode the fundamental advantage MMOs have:
The fact the the whole of those minigames is more than the sum of them. A quest in WoW is not really more than a quest. But a mission in EVE can be more: It can grant you credits that you can spend in a myriad ways. An interesting choice; even a meaningful one sometimes !
you said once

"combat is fun, especially in groups. It is fun, because it has just the right difficulty level. It is not trivial, you have to make decisions in a group combat, and if you make the wrong decisions you or another group member might well die. That is was games are all about, a series of interesting decisions. There is a sense of achievement when you manage to play your character so well that everybody survived a tough encounter. "

You only got to thinking that because the game design pushed you into it and you realised that it was quite satisfying and you got better at it, the more you did it. And it didn't take long to figure out how not to cause you or your comrades to be killed!

As you say the minute you can viably solo, friends go out the window.

A game that tries to play both ends of the field is inevitably going to run into the problem when people are forced to group. A lot of them will be bad at it.
In EVE CCP uses the economy to do the trick. No matter what you do, it is all connected via the economy.

How is that not linear? More ISK are better than less ISK. One of the reasons why the economy in EVE doesn't motivate me is that I know the most efficient way to get ISK, which is plexing. That is just a different shade of the same problem WoW has.

As you say the minute you can viably solo, friends go out the window.

Yes, but if you *can't* viably solo, you end up grouping with people you consider only as useful fools. The main argument against the Dungeon Finder is that it doesn't magically turn random strangers who only joined up for the reward into lifelong friends.
How is that not linear? More ISK are better than less ISK. One of the reasons why the economy in EVE doesn't motivate me is that I know the most efficient way to get ISK, which is plexing. That is just a different shade of the same problem WoW has.

Good question. I think it doesn't appear linear, because while credits are important, they are not that important. More important than credits is the prestige of your alliance, the general success of your corporation, the ease at which you do mining and missioning.

It is a fine line to walk here. Perhaps one reason credits in EVE do not seem to be the outstanding goal is that there is a (relatively) credible world behind it that is fun to play in. That would be the 'world bonus' I write about a lot. You probably don't agree.

Some people like to build up a trade network. Credits are a part of that fun, but not the outstanding goal of it. Moreover, credits can decrease. There is no way to make use of them without losing them. But epics don't decrease if you use them. Thus, it is harder to not consider them a goal in themselves.

Anyway, in WoW as well as in EVE epics/credits are a means to a goal. Thus, they are vulnerable to become goals itself. Nowdays WoW has problems here. Part of the problem is certainly your average itemlvl in your character screen. As well as that epics and any activity really have a direct relationship.

It is sometimes hard to say whether you raid for epics or collect epics to raid, because they have a direct causal relationship. You kill something -> epics. The relationship is maybe not complex enough.

Most EVE players will tell you that credits are just fine, but what you really need is cash flow. And cash flow requires many other things. Simply buying credits with real world currencies doesn't really make you rich. (Unless, you invest obcene amounts).

Epics and itemlevels have become a goal in itself in the minds of WoW players. That is a problem for the designers, because they it makes it almost impossible to design the game in a way that it allows players to do what they want.

I feel that there is very valueable lesson to learn here, but I haven't understood it completely yet. I need to write a blog post about it .. some day.
I think the solution is not to make things so difficult that you are FORCED to group but rather make things more rewarding so that you WANT to group.

I used to play in a group every week, we tried to find quest hubs where we had to kill x amount of mobs, these were always the quickest. The slowest were the quests were you had to collect a drop. Blizzard could easily change the mobs so that all players in a group can loot the drop if it drops therefore it doesn't take any extra time.

Instead of a group/raid XP penalty, make it a bonus. People will group up more if they get more XP for doing so. Do the same thing for raids and don't shut off quests.. why not let people quest as a large group (aka raid), what's the harm in that?

For healing and tanking classes there should be quests that require them to use their unique skills. This could be done before the first dungeon becomes available so that new players can learn some useful skills instead of entering Ragefire Chasm and being yelled at for not holding agro.
Or in short, Raph Koster git it wrong.
@Hugh Jass people are always happier doing something if they think they've made the decision themselves.

I'm a firm believer in detrimental influence. making death loose xp in wow would have a revolutionary effect! but knowing blizzard they'd ruin it by allowing # of deaths to be known thus causing 'deathscore'. Too high and either you suck or your friends suck.
So I've been posting on the soloist side of this discussion for the last few blog posts, but I do personally prefer the grouping aspect. A couple years ago I wrote a series of blog posts on what I thought they could do to encourage group play in WoW.

I don't think trying to doubly balance content around solo and group play is feasible. It's nice for us to say that it should be soloable and hard but groupable and easy, but drawing that line for all classes would be difficult if not impossible.

Here are my alternatives:
1) Group zones. I didn't play Icecrown, but I hear the idea may have been somewhat introduced here. In FFXI I remember that everyone basically gathered around a few zones that were most efficient for group levelling. I think if WoW introduced group zones which were too hard to solo (dungeon difficulty), had questlines that were fully intended to be done as groups, and offered some tangible advantage (achievements, point system, exp boost etc), you would see more grouping. Make these group zones very "wilderness"-y as well, so players feel like they are on the frontier.

2) Dungeon-length quest lines that are group oriented. Rather than a group quest as the end of a solo chain that you group up for one fight and then abandon it, create chains of group quests that are similar in length to a dungeon.

3) Allow players to repeat quests for financial award. Basically let party members share quests they are already done, where the repeater gets gold scaled to level. This would motivate players to help others "catch up" to where they are in a questline, etc (I actually believe a big reason why grouping is so unpopular is due to WoW's quest progression system).

4) Content scaled to group difficulty. Guild Wars 2 is implementing this, I hear, which I think is fantastic. If two people attack the same mob, rather than give one player credit, put the players in a party and make the enemy more challenging.

Obviously it's easy to make armchair improvements, but I think the exercise of trying to take the best parts of our memories of group MMOs and try and apply them to WoW makes for interesting discussion.
On the subject of Dungeon Finder groups: I think the lack of social interaction here is a self perpetuating problem that has more to do with the large group of people playing WoW. It's the most hardcore MMO with the most casual audience (if that makes sense), and a lot of players are not the kind of people logging on for the "MM" part.

I always make the effort in DF groups to start conversation and be friendly. Sometimes it works, and I have the same sort of fun I remember from other MMOs/early WoW. Other times nobody wants to talk at all. I like to believe that there's still a lot of really friendly community-oriented players, but they are drowned out by the cacophony of people playing for progress only.
Community Ties does not equate Colaboration. The community ties in wow are merely losely connected to the mechanics of the game and strongly connected to a sense of belonging within the context.

Socializing in mmorpg's has become more of going out for a coffee than about playing soccer in a team.

The good thing about this is that even if more people on earth go out for coffee than participate in soccer teams there are many different sports where colaborative play can be built profitably to a decent scale.
An example, a mob gives 100xp when you solo it, but if you're in a group of two, it gives 50xp to both players. Being in the group of 2 makes killing that mob much easier, it'll die faster and do less damage to you. You've trivialized it by bringing more people to kill it than is needed. Therefore the mob shouldn't drop it's full exp value, each player should get perhaps 35xp, not the full 50xp.

It's always annoyed me when games not only fail to reduce the xp, but instead give a _bonus_, so that if you solo a mob it gives you 100xp, but if you kill it as a pair it gives you 120xp split between the two. That doesn't make sense.

So I'm one of those players who just despises forced grouping and who demand that people be able to solo to level cap. But I'm also a fairly hardcore raider, who cries out over dumbing down content and giving casuals welfare epics. Why do you see these positions as contradictory?

I greatly enjoy grouping, when I can do it on my own terms. I absolutely hate when I have to sit around bored because there's nothing to do if I can't find a group.

What I would love to see is multiple progression paths that are completely independent, but that had similar levels of challenge and growth. In world of warcraft, questing is easier than raiding and is essentially a stepping stone on the way to raiding. What if instead there was gear that dropped from raiding that was very useful in raiding, but not so useful outside of raiding. That there were quest rewards that significantly helped in questing, but didn't really contribute to raiding.

Now here's the big change: Add in another half of the game questing system, but make it tiered/progression based. You _shouldn't_ be able to complete every quest in the game simply because you're max level, you should have to gear up from earlier quests, progress to the more difficult ones.

Right now, hardcore means raiding or pvp, because those are the only avenues of progression after you finish all the quests. We need more avenues, more ways to get better. So I can be a hardcore quester, or a hardcore merchant, or hardcore explorer, etc.
Two things:

First, I think there is a BIG disconnect between what people THINK about MMO 'communities' and what they really are. I believe people have some idealized view of MMO communities, and what they should be, that does not match reality. (Kinda like religion and politics).

I look at how easily the average person jumps guilds and servers, how many drop a game as soon as another potentially 'great' game appears, how poorly they treat each other in game, the crap that goes on in the message boards. And then I compare all of that to what I know about people in real life, and I come away with the impression that 'community' doesn't mean anything at all to the AVERAGE person. The average person is way too selfish to really care about community. That is just the way humans are made (but people don't like to think so).

Way too much importance is placed on the idea that a great 'community' is a requirement for a successful game. The game just needs to be good enough to hold their attention for a length of time.

The ONE benefit of 'community' that I see are the small subset of people who provide decent feedback to the developers - who 'hopefully' uses that feedback to make the game better. (Unfortunately, arrogance usually prevents developers from using that information because they believe they are smarter than their customers and know what is best for them.)

Second, a game like WoW can monetarily afford to provide it's players a smorgasbord of game playing options. Provide the banquet and let the players choose what they want to consume. Not doing so only limits WoW, and in my mind, reinforces the concept that games should not be developed by elite players (they will only develop what they like to play).
Read this:

Lets see if it works out. I hope so.

The original Guild Wars, which I still play from time to time, was highly underrated.
The problem isn't grouping. The problem is when you are forced or encouraged to group with people with different skill sets or goals then you. That only causes problems.

Wow has been poplualr because its kept that to a minimum. You can solo to the level cap and raid only with people you are similar to.

The dungeon finder and 5 mans are the only exception as you might be grouped with people dissimlar to you. This is why there is so much social friction with 5 mans as opposed to soloing and raids.

TLDR: Gropuping with simlar people with simlar goals and skills is good. If you go outside of that, prepare for friction.
Personally I think the contradiction is Raph himself... In any event, I've always tended to be a solo-centric player. Although I love grouping and playing with friends, I detest having my game play and time dominated by the trials and trevails of others. If game design can accomplish the task of providing enough solo-content for players like me, while also providing enough group content for those periods when I can or will group with others, it's win-win in my opinion.
I'm in full agreement. I enjoy more than grouping but not adverse to grouping when needed. However, I will balk and probably not sub to a game with too much forced grouping. I van spend my dollars else where.

I'd have no problem if soloing was harder but achievable. I do it all the time. In often go into zones or take on encounters that are way over my head to see if I can do it. It's often a fun diversion from plowing forward with the next quest. Multi-boxing instanced content is one avenue of applying that challenge in an interesting way.
Oskar got it right in his first sentence. Community ties does not equal collaborative play at all.

Lots of things contribute to community ties. Playing with family is an obvious one that comes from just acquiring the *right* set of people. Critical mass of a game contributes... if everyone plays WoW, then everyone will play WoW -- sounds tautological but that is network effects for you.

Gameplay mechanics that require collaborative play are just one way to accomplish tying users together. Social games use all sorts of very different mechanisms around reciprocal gifting, for example. And yet, they also form strong community ties.
Er, the above comment is from me. :)

Tobold, as I recall in EverQuest certain classes such as Druids and Necromancers could solo monsters at their level. Never seemed fair as a warrior that they could, but I suppose I got in groups easier.
I couldn't agree more with your last paragraph. I loved FFXI for the strong group bonds that were formed while playing in groups but absolutely hated having to sit around not being able to solo anything while waiting for a group.

In WoW it's quite the opposite, I'd love to group up with people while questing but there just isn't any reason to, and more than likely grouping up with others will hold me back. Somewhere in the middle seems like a logical place for games to be, I wonder why it is so rare?
I think the contradiction is in the perception of the community.

Much like how many players over-estimate their skill level, which is most likely merely adequate, so too people underestimate the average quality of the community and overestimate their own.

"WoW players are jerks, the community is horrible - except for my guild, the people I play with, etc".

Overlooking the drama and problems and immature players in their own sphere.

Turns out the 'terrible' community is a lot easier to be a part of and enjoy then people say.
I agree with your conclusion that soloing should be possible but difficult, but I would like to add something more. Better equipment should be available only by grouping, and that equipment should make soloing easier. It sounds paradoxical, no? And yet how many solo players would fantasize about those purple pixels, not at lvl 80, but at lvl 40, 50, or 60, and be brave one day and go into some dungeons? Frodo, Elric, and Conan did not go into dungeons every day, nor did they always have a full group. You don't have to be a hero every day to be a hero.
Then you should have played FFXI Tobold, and you wouldn't be writing this column, because you'd KNOW how much grouping drove people out of that game, and how people choose soloing eventually in grouping games because they are tired of long lfp and idiots.

Raph is wrong: the reason why WoW works is because it put off grouping till endgame. Making soloing the default mode made for a better experience than the community-focused nature of other games, and it's telling that most of the griping about WoW is in the group aspect. Even you gripe about things dealing with forced interactions.

I liked FFXI, but I'm not keen on going through that again. I think a lot of MMO gamers felt the same.
For me, the main reward of grouping is simply the chance to find a friend and develop positive social relationships with people. The most fun I've ever had playing MMO's have been when I've been able to be part of a social group (or community).

What I dislike about the WoW community is most of the game design is very goal oriented. So when groups are formed, as soon as the quest/instance is done everyone scatters and is onto the next goal that the game gives them. Its hard to meet people that are a good social fit AND have the same set of goals(similar level or progression). What WoW really needs are more group activities that a wide range of players can participate in together.

An example of good group oriented game design is a game that has a rich crafting game where you have separate player classes for resource gathering, crafting, and selling. The three classes can synergize together to form a virtual business. All three classes don't need to be online at the same time but can work together for a common goal over a long period of time so the players get to know each other and become friends.
if you google ffxi and tobold you'll find he did play it.

the whole having to find people of a similar level for groups was tough and got worse as people drifted off to "easier" games. Levelsync took care of that problem. Nowadays tho there's even less people in the lower levels because the input of new players is so small. In recent years SE have introduced more means to solo and are about to change that further by increasing solo xp, skillups and the frequency one can do fields of valor. This could well be quite a revolutionary change. Perhaps turning traditional parties into smaller fov parties.
I think you miss the one key point. the soloing works in wow now because they built the community first. Now everyone has the vested interest in the game so its working. For now.

But I was surprised to see how fast the login ques on overpopulated servers dropped off after christmas. I think the easy solo focused content is starting to show its weakness.
Mmomisanthrope, you are putting words in my mouth. I didn't say anything about grouping at all, in this thread OR in the blog post. I said "community ties." it is kind of a sad commentary on the state of things that people assume that the only form of social play is to group!

I actually completely agree with you that a huge part of the success of WoW has to do with the ability to "play alone together" as so many have put it. The lack of forced grouping made the gameplay much much more accessible.

But when people comment on the strength or quality of WoW's community design, i don't think they are talking about groups per se. They are talking about things like the overall social architecture, whether it feels like a welcoming place, whether they use it as a "hang out" space, whether they make friends there. These are orthogonal to grouping, really.

Wow. Late to the party on this one. Still... just on the off-chance that folks still read: this topic raises a few ideas about something I've experienced often in Icecrown. (Pre cat-patch anyway.)

Flying around farming herbs or ore, I often saw people asking /general for help completing the MANY group quests there. Being a natural-born care-bear, I'd usually reply in general if they wanted the help of a raid-tank, then swoop down from the skies to save the day.

A few points that I think are interesting:

First point: the more of a pain the quest, the more frequent the replies offering help in general. (The 'chemistry' one with balancing the pH of the cauldron in particular.) Solidarity against greater odds?

Second point: when I did join the poor leveller (usually a clothie or rogue) to tank for them, they never seemed to mind when I followed my usual policy of advertising to others in the area that I was about to walk one person through, and if three others wanted in on the ride, they should speak now. Even if this meant a few extra minutes waiting, my young beneficiaries never seemed to mind. Was this a case of not biting the hand that feeds or a willingness to 'go along' with charity, since their immediate needs are likely to be met?

Third point: Announcing that it was underway already with a raid tank usually brought others out of the woodwork who hadn't offered to team up with the first advertiser. People only join a 'sure thing'? Or just bad timing, and folks would normally /tell an advertising player who would then go silent in /general?

Fourth point: Upon completion of the difficult chains, it was often asked if I knew other things about the game, or if I minded being added to friends. (Occurred less often than not.)

I think that folks have more fun WHILE they're grouping, but the experience of searching for a group and/or not finding one whilst up against a wall, blocking content and/or progression, is incredibly dissatisfying.
For WoW in particular I would place a whole lot of blame on the hard cap on the number of raiders allowed to participate in a raid.

If you look back at EQ the collaboarative play har practically no upper limit for how many players were allowed to collaborate within any given challenge.

I remember leading raids in the plane of hate with something like 95 raiders where maybe 15 of them were afk taking care of RL things. The raid lasted for 12 hours so a rotating system for taking breaks during the fight was needed. That was a typical "Zerg" btw and it was quite horrible but also fun in its own wierd way. Before then I also led raids in the same zone (wow calls them instances) with about 25 raiders. That was the typical hardcore player. Guess which gave the most loot per participant?

With WoW being designed to be suitably challenging to a fixed group of 10 for its main content the rules normailse every player to attempt to be identical in both community standing as well as gameplay flavour.

Practically you will see that almost all WoW players are measured against the same "skill stick". This makes the community primarily interested in where everyone is along this stick. Interpersonal interactions which really is what humans maybe would prefer are reduced by the system and only some players that rebel against the norm seem to find the community aspect tangibly relevant.

The aspect of shared space is strong in wow and I would think the game would possibly be even more profitable if Blizzard would invest more in that and less in the raid game. But it is probably a bit late now.
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