Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 23, 2012
On the difficulty of grouping in SWTOR

My main character in Star Wars: The Old Republic is a trooper / commando, with a healing spec. That is deliberate, so I can get into groups, because small group instances are my favorite content in any MMORPG. Only in SWTOR I barely ever manage to get a group going, which I consider a serious flaw of the game.

I tried getting a group all weekend long, and managed a measly 3 flashpoints, only 1 of which was level-appropriate for my trooper. Another I was 12 levels too high for, and just did it because I still had the quest and nothing else was available. And one flashpoint I did with an alt, duo with a guild-mate. What I wanted to do was the two flashpoints of the jedi prisoner series, but I only managed 1 of them.

There are usually 10 to 20 people of my guild online, but as they stretch over the whole level range, there are never 4 of the same level bracket available. So I tried the SWTOR LFG functionality, where you can flag yourself as looking for group and put up a comment for which flashpoint you are looking. I soloed for hours with that LFG flag up, and never got a single invite. Searching for people with the LFG flag myself revealed a grand total of 3 players using that tool, and of course not of my level.

So in the end I spent several hours standing around stupidly at the Republic Fleet and spamming a LFG in general chat every 5 minutes. Finally Sunday at prime time we got 4 people together for the Taral V flashpoint. No tank, but two healers and two dps, and up to 4 levels over the level of the flashpoint quest, which turned out to be sufficient.

Now I'm on a relatively full server, but I'm playing Republic side. As Empire is a lot more popular, it is probably somewhat easier to find a group there. But people playing on less populated servers, or outside prime time, are probably not going to see any flashpoints after the first one until they hit the level cap.

I reject the common notion that all strangers in an MMORPG are idiots to be avoided. All my online friends at some point in time were strangers to me. Grouping with strangers is how you make friends online. And a good MMORPG which hopes to offer any social cohesion must enable people to easily group with strangers. SWTOR fails very much in this, and lives completely of the social structures that its players formed in previous games, mostly WoW. If there were no WoW guilds in SWTOR, I don't know how any group activity would take place in this game.

If a game like EVE Online can live with all its players on one server, then I don't see how having cross-server dungeons with a dungeon finder tool is any worse. Minor modifications to a dungeon finder tool, with an optional preference for people from the same server, could help. But ultimately a group with strangers you are never going to see again is still better than no group at all. For grouping, SWTOR is a failure, and I'm considering to respec my commando to DPS. And if Bioware isn't adding a better LFG tool soon, I might not resubscribe after my current 60-day time card runs out. Why the heck would I want to play a massively single-player online role-playing game?
It looks like SWTOR wont last for a long time. Everyone grabbed a copy (hype effect + SW theme) but ... at the end of the day it's not THAT great, isn't it?

At least that's what I read between the lines, when reading fan-made blogs.
Lots of people chiming in on this topic these days. I wrote a whole post on it myself just a few days ago. I won't recount the whole thing here, but suffice to say I absolutely agree that SW:TOR's grouping mechanisms are wholly inadequate. I am coming to the opinion that some form of LFD is simply mandatory for any themepark MMO now. Whether you like the tool or not, agree with it or not, this style of game must have it.
*sigh* thanks for that, you've basically just kept me from buying with this blog post. Just gonna wait and hope they add better dungeon functions.
Well. This way you communicate and make close relationships on your server. Don't you feel richer and part of the community. Nothing brings people closer together than the shared frustration.

I canceled my sub because in my 30-s I found out that I haven't done Any heroic 4 and flashpoint past BT and Dromund Kaas. And this is a content that I want to experience.

Bioware claim they are in the long term. If they really are they should have known that after the initial rush the leveling grouping will be impossible. So a grouping tool is a must.

Unless you are perfectly positioned into the leveling curve - no grouping for you now.

Guid wars was so ahead of its time with everything.
But ultimately a group with strangers you are never going to see again is still better than no group at all.

If you're an achiever who considers "seeing all the content exactly when I want it" more important than "having a good time with people that are pleasant to be around with". To be fair, that probably does include a lot of MMO players, but we don't know exactly how many. I'm getting tired of seeing this argument being thrown around as an indisputable truism. :|
It's not (yet) better at 50 for me. We have 220+ online in the fleet during busy hours but even as healer I was not able to find or form a group for the new flashpoint Kaon Under Siege, for the whole weekend. We even started a custom lfg channel on the server a while ago but it still needs more people to join.

Chat spam even with a server wide channel is just such a flawed and outdated workaround for non existing well designed LFG systems in a game. It must be even more of a barrier for players new to MMOs than to seasoned ones like you and me. In general I really enjoy PuGing a lot, and community is for me all players of a game, not just a server, or a guild.

Stephen Reid posted a few days ago that they have a system in the design phase. How this appears to be an afterthought in a theme-park MMO released in 2011 by this developer is heart breaking.
It's quite striking how different my experience is, and that's largely from playing in a friendly casual guild where we do occasionally run flashpoints. I'm by no means playing a lot, but I think I've seen all the normal ones now (bar beating the last boss in Directive 7 which was bugged for us).

And I'm having a lot of fun with the group content. It is honestly worth finding a guild where you can run the stuff, because (aside from the bugs), it is genuinely fun.
I also found the grouping very tedious although I've done a fair bit (I leave my character in Imperial Fleet while I update my Eve farms and sell orders on the second pc).

My sub actually expired yesterday and I've been hemming and hawing whether to continue. In the end I phoned a friend who's 50 and he convinced me to give it more time.

If not for my RL friend I'd definitely leave it for 6 months or however long it takes them to install a lfd and get it tuned properly.

I'm astonished Bioware claim this was a deliberate design decision. The case for "server community" is surely incredibly weak. Maybe they just wanted to funnel players into the solo quests early on.
I believe you have answered your own question previously, at least partly. Because of the story based questing. It's both a blessing and a curse. I'm mainly playing SWTOR as a single player MMO, doing the quests solo and only do group content rarely. And I don't see that changing much in the future.

I've got my first character at L50 now and the only activity I like there is PvP, which has the usual flaws that follows a gear based MMO so I'll tire of that soon. No other activity at L50 will hold my attention for long, and don't get me started on the raiding second job.

I think that there are many people playing the game like me, single player MMO. And that will also have it's effect on the longevity of the game.

Personally I think that the current design of MMOs with different leveling and end game activity (raids mainly) has had it's peak and will now decline. Developers should try to find different designs and try to think out of the box a bit.
I have to agree with Tobold here.

I joined a guild with friends from WoW, and I've leveled up to 50 alongside my wife. In all that time the only flashpoint we managed was the Black Talon 2-man.

I've since managed to get a group for Kaon Under Siege, and it's bloody good content. But organising groups to go anywhere is a futile effort in pulling teeth. You're just sat spamming General for hours on end to try and assemble something.

I'm left with a choice - ditch my guild to join some kind of mega-guild that runs flashpoints regularly, ditch my guild and work on a character elsewhere, or wait for the population to catch up.

There's an old Google engineer quote - if a feature is barely used then it might as well not exist. That's the feeling a lot of people are getting from flashpoints at the moment.
that's because people been taught to be impatient..some they say that they went 30 level and realized they didn't experience any flash point..well thats their choice! I personally had lot of Flashpoints experience...

People are impatient and they prefer to run dungeons with anonymous jerks rather than build server reputation and friend lists..It is a new game and of course it is difficult at the start but day by day will be better and better as you meet more people and group with more people..

Its funny because people complaint that swtor was more "single player" game while in truth they want a single player game..they want to log do their job(dailies, dungeons grind) without the need to talk to anyone...they want to press a button and teleport into a dungeon with strangers just to do the "job". If you ask the most of them if instead an LFD tool they add 4 NPC with them so to be able to run the dungeons alone they would choose the second...

Its hard to go back to old days and build your relationships inside the server when you learned in streamlined content..the question is how you enjoy the streamlined content..Do you ever wonder why people complain to Blizzard that they add content slow?because this is what it matters now, every patch is just 10 items, that it is your job to acquire and this is because you do all these with strangers..
I think it's a case of some people not knowing what's good for them, or why. Yes, being able to instantly queue into a dungeon is good. No doubt about it. But this function draws a lot of other consequences that detract from the social aspect of the game. If we make everything instant and connections unnecessary .. well I'm not sure where that leaves an MMO. We might as well just get rid of the world altogether and have the game as a lobby where you queue up pvp/dungeons/whatever. Having an LFD where you queue up with a bunch of faceless nobodies instantly forgetting them is detrimental to the game, and I'll let someone from another website explain it more eloquently:

(originally posted by Lithose on FOH forums)
I know it's been said many times before...but MMO's lose to most single player games in just about every department, from story, to graphics, to even world interaction--MMO's are just inferior to a single player game in terms of the "game" aspect. The one place they shine, the ONLY place they shine, is by forcing social connections through daily ritual activities (Read Durkhiem for what I mean by ritual).

Those social connections are pretty powerful draws--Heck just look at Twitter, and Facebook for a clue about how powerful those social connections are (And how profitable exploiting them is..Blizzard understands, hence the Real ID stuff--too bad they fudged it.)...Those social bonds are what will keep people playing and spending money for a very, very long time---Just think about how many times you have heard this line..."I'd quit if it wasn't for my guild mates." If you've played these games for more than a few years, you've heard that..Hell you have probably SAID that.

It's not the game that makes you come back, the game is inferior to other similar products. What makes you come back is that shared sense of community. I'm really curious why you think it's a good thing to detract from the formation of that community and instead shine a huge, massive light on everything wrong with MMO's--Like the terrible grind of dungeon after dungeon--each of which you have done a dozen times--for loot that will quickly be abandoned in the next content update. Because that's really what your automated system does, makes it more efficient to get to, and get sick of, the part of the game that can be directly compared to any single player game and fall short (IE the actual game play)--All while bypassing the one thing that is supposed to cover up that inferiority (IE having fun with another human being, and maybe making a friend.)

That being said, I agree there needs to be a LFG system but there is no reason for the cross server shit. It is just a bad move in a game that relies so heavily on forcing the customers to make social connections.
I agree that SW:TOR requires a LFD. But please understand why:

Leveling in SW:TOR is very fast and players have been conditioned to not use the grouping tools the game actually offers. This is not fault of the players but it is still noteworthy.

Also, players expect to do the grouping content now. They are not willing to wait a few days - and it wouldn't make sense, anyway, because at this time they already are lvl50.

So, yes, a game like SW:TOR requires automatic grouping.

This kind of thing happens if you copy/paste WoW, without understanding why something works or how the individual parts play together.
Another problem for grouping is your spec. I lvled to 50 as a healer. But this weekend I did some FP as a healer, some as a DD. It cost a bunch of credits, beside the whiping with noobtanks...
Why not copy the good things from WoW ? I think 7 years of MMO evolution should be used to improve a new game....
Having bought the game with the full knowledge that there was no LFD surely you could see this coming a mile off? What else did you expect? A LFD in any new MMO is a basic requirement.
This game is too easy to play as solo. There needs to be greater challenges required by players to progress.

Player versus environment is too easy.
I disagree that TOR needs an auto-grouping feature, or that any game honestly needs one. I've played MMOs for many years at this point, starting with FFXI and moving from there.

TOR's biggest issue, and most MMOs biggest issue at this point is what WoW has done to the genre. Before WoW, nobody had an issue finding a group, because it was required for advancement. In a genre that is multiplayer by nature, in addition to being built on persistence and community, WoW radically changed player expectations for the worse.

While accessibility isn't necessarily a bad thing, when the pendulum swings too far, I feel like you wind up with everything out of balance, where no one really gives a damn about anyone else, even in WoW. During Vanilla, your rep on a server honestly mattered. If you were a tool, word would get around that you were. Things like ninja looting were a big deal. Now, in LFR? Ninja looting is commonplace. Needing on items with the intent to let them rot happens frequently. The same goes for LFD as well, to be perfectly honest. How many of you have tanked or healed an instance to lose the healer or tank specific item to someone else? While I freely admit that this occurred long before LFD, I can't help but think that it was far less frequent.

So, that said, I applaud Bioware for forcing players to do things the way they did before LFD. Building community is NOT a bad thing. Players will simply need to adapt to the new old way of doing things, and I sincerely hope that TOR will be a better place from it, a little bit freer from the asshats that currently plague WoW, because they ostracize themselves from their server community.
The total population of Eve Online is not that much greater than a single server in WoW, or, I assume, SWTOR.

Besides, having all the population on one server is different from having just one or two specific kinds of interactions with another server.

Hmm... gives me an idea for a new concept in PvP: war between different servers! Not sure how it would work... maybe you could attack another realm and loot items and gold! MMO Devs, put your thinking caps on ;-)
SWTOR suffers from the same flaw as practically every other MMO. They offer little incentive to group when leveling. Oh sure, swtor offers some reward in the form of social points, but it’s not enough for your average player.
There are group quests and flashpoints that are entertaining and provide xp, but not enough to actually make them worth the time doing. Worse, in the case of flashpoints, you are going to see them all again at level 50. No terribly pressing reason to do them early, even to see the content. Solo play leads to level 50 with the least amount of effort and time spent. Who can blame people for not actively seeking a group?
So now, just like WoW, you’ll find people at level 50 who have formed no social connections and who have no practice playing in a group. They must run a few flashpoints to build their skill set, and during this period they are not an asset to the group. This leads to more established players avoiding unknown players, making it harder for them to find a group. A vicious cycle, indeed.
What is needed is a substantial reward for players who group all the way to 50. And I mean substantial in terms of time spent. Make grouping the fastest path to 50, and you will not need an automatic dungeon finder tool. Players will have met others while leveling and formed those connections and skills needed for play at the end game.
This is one of my few real issues with the game (most others are minor). The severe lack of any reasonable grouping tool is downright criminal of Bioware, especially in a game that gets more difficult over time, such that grouping is a really good idea even when you're not doing instances.

The lfg "flag" is an ok idea I guess, but Bioware does a terrible job of telling people about it, so most people don't even know it exists. If people don't know about it, they don't use it, and if nobody uses it, it's useless, such that even when people do find out about it they don't use it.

The game needs something. I won't claim to know what the "best" option would be, but anything is better than what's in there now.

I'm fortunate to have a group of friends I run with, so I should get to see all the instance content as I level, but I'm wanting to play more than they are so it'd be nice to have a group finder for my alts.
They should implement some sort of LFD, besides the gameplay issues there's also the immersion/setting issue. We can holocall, quick travel, travel faster than light; but we can't use shuttles and holocalls to setup groups and travel quickly to the flashpoint?

I kinda see the skeleton of system in the game, you can take shuttles to fleet at certain locations on the planet.

There are some, seemingly obvious, bad design decisions. Having to go to Fleet, where you can't do much at all to find a group? Having to travel on foot to the spaceport to get to your ship? Over and over again? But you can quicktravel with a shuttle, just not to your ship?

In regards to the expectations for grouping, that ship has sailed. Back in the EQ, there wasn't the option to pick another mmo with a LFD functionality (at least I don't remember one). But now there's WoW and probably many others.

The next MMO innovation I believe will be tools and design that greatly encourage grouping and forming social structures. It's the people you play with that forms the foundation for a long-term commitment to an mmo.
I agree with you. For better or worse, WoW has spoiled us with the LFG tool. It made leveling in WoW much more fun. SW:TOR needs a similar tool. So far, I like the game OK (though I'm sick to death of running everywhere on these huge, empty maps), but it kind of feels like a single-player game. Yes - a well-designed, flawless storytelling, single-player game (this is Bioware, after all), but not an MMO.

I have to laugh at the person saying Bioware is doing us a service by "forcing us" to do things they way they were done before LFD tools. I don't think any company was ever successful by "forcing" players to do things the hard/unpleasant/tedious way. Sounds like a recipe for failure.
I think people need to consider how BW approached guilds prior to launch. People don't want to group with you because they imported with friends from day 1. I personally did this to avoid pugs at all costs.

For anybody that has been following this game since inception and hates pugs, it's a dream. I never have problems grouping within my guild.

BW seems to be catering to guilds more so than the unguilded, people like me being guilded from day one (moreso than other mmos) might be part of the reason you can't find a group.
@ "All my online friends at some point in time were strangers to me."


You didn't need lfg tools...others do. It's hurting the game.
I haven't had trouble finding groups for FP and Heroics on my US West server, but I agree a grouping tool would be really welcome.
We've not had too many problems in our guild (200+ people). Everyone has been grouping up for Flashpoints both normal mode and hard mode. I've had so many hardmode runs I am already on my 4th piece of Columi gear. I also completed hard mode Kaon Under Siege as soon as it was released. Kaon Under Siege is actually an awesome Flashpoint and well worth seeking a group to do.

I do agree that SWTOR does need better grouping options. But this shouldn't be too much of a problem if you are in a strong guild. Unfortunately too many guilds were formed without any structure or order and hence seem to be aimless groups of people looking for things to do.

My only advice at this early stage is if your guild isn't helping you achieve your goals in the game then leave and find a better structured guild. Preferably one that existed before SWTOR.
I dont understand why those that can get groups up and running on their own in SWTOR have such an issue against probably the majority of the players that want a LFG tool. For me I rather go back to WoW again and use LFG/LFR than start standing around in fleet for hours looking for group. Actually I did just that, cancelled SWTOR subscribtion and went back to WOW :)
"I dont understand why those that can get groups up and running on their own in SWTOR have such an issue against probably the majority of the players that want a LFG tool. "

Because if there's no LFG tool, some of those players will learn how to socialise.

I was on Ilum last night and I already noticed general chat was full of open invites to PvP ops and heroic groups. People are in fact actually becoming more inclined to arrange groups the old fashioned way. They will do that for flashpoints too, if Bioware just sticks to their guns.
Currently SWTOR punishes players who aren't in mega guilds. I rolled on my current server because I had friends/guildmates from WoW and Rift that were supposed to be playing there. In the end only 5 people rolled on the server. Now I'm stuck in a guild of 10-15 people, of which 4 of us hit 50 and we're almost never on at the same time.

I'm left with three options: screw friends I've had for 3 years and find a larger guild, stick with my friends and rarely experience group content, or reroll on a different server with yet another group of friends.

I don't lack the ability to find groups, nor do I lack the ability to make friends or find guilds, but as it stands spamming general looking for a group for several hours isn't productive.
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