Tobold's Blog
Monday, June 29, 2015
The social patch

Something interesting is happening in World of Warcraft: After 10 years of trying, Blizzard finally got all the elements together to make people play in groups rather than solo. I haven't been playing in so many groups for so long for years than I have this weekend. Tanaan Jungle, introduced in last weeks patch, is the perfect group place.

The first part of the puzzle is content which you'd actually want to group. Yes, you could solo for example the Saberstalker reputation. But as you need 21,000 reputation for revered (which you need for flying), and each mob you need to kill gives only 30 reputation, but has over a million hit points, soloing would take a rather long time. Find a good group and you get to revered in a day. I did.

The second part is a good group finder tool. Warlords of Draenor added the custom group finder, which makes it possible to create or search for a group for any content. You can just write "Saberstalkers reputation farming" as name of your group, set it to auto-invite, and you'll have a full farming group all the time, with leaving members constantly being replaced. And no, you don't need a healer and a tank for that, 5 dps work just fine.

The third part of the equation is the system of cross-server linking and each server having possibly several copies of the same area. Which means that your Saberstalker farming group most probably will be in a copy in which there are actually mobs to farm. Your group won't be all alone, but it won't be totally overcamped either. That is especially useful for rare mobs, like the four champions of Hellfire Citadel which drop Medallion of the Legion (gives 1,000 reputation for all Draenor factions, basically one day less dailies to get to flying). You don't have to camp the rare spawn for half an hour, you can just search for a group for that mob, and when you join the group you will be automatically transported to the server and phase where the rare is up. I recommend the addon Premade Group Finder to check every 30 seconds for such a group and auto-signup to it. Yesterday I killed all 4 of them 4 times, once each on each of my 4 level 100 alts, and got 2 medallions out of it (they aren't bind on pickup, so I could send them to my main, but you could also sell them for 20k gold).

Even daily quests are sped up with groups. One of the factions you need to farm reputation with to get flying only has a single daily quest, which is finding 10 objects you get either by finding a treasure or by killing a rare. As you can only select each of the 51 treasures once, but kill the rares every day, rare-farming is the way to go. Especially useful here is the arena for the Rumble in the Jungle quest to defeat the three arena champions of Fangri'la. Even after you finished that quest you can still buy the totems to summon those rares, which makes it easy to farm in a group. Another faction you need reputation for requires you to do 3 bonus objectives every day, and that is a lot faster in a group as well.

For me this is especially interesting in view of having 4 characters at level 100. The patch is finally requiring my alts to leave their garrison, at least for a while, to get reputation for ship blueprints, and farm rares for equipment blueprints. That means I will progress slower, as I don't have the time to play 4 characters on work days. But that is probably working as intended, as alts just producing passive income is not great game design. I'm approaching one million gold without doing much for the money.

So in summary, patch 6.2 and Tanaan Jungle made World of Warcraft a far more social place. I hope Blizzard can keep that up for future content.

Two observations: firstly, this sounds like the kind of selective, automated group finding mechanic that other MMOs have had for years now - both GW2 and EQ2 allow you to set group objectives and recruit accordingly, for example. Another in the very long line of Blizzard waiting for other companies to test something and then add it when they are satisfied it works?

Secondly, in what way is this "social"? Did you chat to these people, find out who they are, what they're interested in, anything about them? Did you add people to your friends list? Will you group with them again? Do you remember any of their names?

I'm not saying this isn't a good innovation for WoW - it sounds convenient and useful and even entertaining. I'm not even saying it's not social for a given value of socialization. It's basically grouping for people who don't like groups, though, isn't it?
I'd say it is a process. First the game needs to encourage you to group with strangers. Making friends is a second step, which is left to the tastes of the individual. What I dislike is games where even people who like groups end up playing solo, because grouping is just too complicated to set up.
The standard for WoW has been that other people were competition for mobs and resources. You could group up, but the content was trivial and they might ninja your rare drops so there wasn't much point.
While progress has been made over the years, this is probably WoW's best attempting at getting the improvements to knitted together nicely. Open tagging on rares, improved loot mechanics, the zone-grinding content, and non-faceroll mobs provide the incentive to opt into the improved group-finding system.
I'd go forward on what Bhagpuss said: Would you call it social if the game would give you bots that look players and have some minimal chat ability ("hi", "thank you for invite", "grats guyz", "need to go, bye")?

How were your groups different from such bots?
Can you actually be sure that you weren't playing with bots?
Can you actually be sure that you weren't playing with bots?

Yes, because they showed some very human failings, like signing up for a boss fight while being far away and then complaining that the boss was dead before they arrived. Bots don't do that.

Note that a world boss fight only lasts minutes. When farming Saberstalker reputation I was with the same people for much longer, some staid for hours in the same group as me. If I had been in the mood to do so, I could have made friends. The tools are there to have a cross-server friends list and play together.
Except it's only going to be like this for 3-4 weeks then once everyone has flying I except it's not going to be easy to find a group unless your paying during peak hours just like timeless isle was.
I'm going to look at this as a stepping stone to what I feel is really needed, better guild and sub guild recruitment tools.

I'm not a fan of "bot groups", I.E. groups that are ad hoc and destructible to the point that the members could have been bots and you wouldn't know it. Now, I know these people aren't bots and "bot group" is a bad name, but I can't think of a better one. "Anonymous group" comes to mind, but that doesn't roll off the tongue well.

I don't think most people are joining these groups because they want to socialize, they join these groups because it provides a massively superior outcome that soloing without the group. However, they are still soloing, just while in a group. It's sort of like paying people to vote when they wouldn't otherwise out of a misguided notion that "Everyone should vote."

I think what's happening is they have added content that no one wants to do, and by all rights should be solo content, like grind some rep. Traditionally, grinding rep has been a laborious process (Hence the label 'grind') You do it because you have a lot of time to kill and you want some reward the rep gives.

But to be fair, the bot group mechanic is better than some of the really fail mechanics we've had before, like brutal competition for mobs and ninja looting drops.
"Personal Loot" is win win in this regard.

But what I really dislike is the forced bot grouping, where the goal you want is gated behind bot groups. The "Epic Ring" is an example of this. Sure, I could do LFR every week to get the huge piles of runes that drop in there quickly, but I don't want to. I hate LFR. Instead, I run BRF in flex mode with 2 different guilds 3 nights a week. I think it will take me to 2016 to get all the runes I need (Ok, that's an exaggeration.) Why should LFR drop huge piles of runes when the far harder normal and heroic doles them out one at a time? I don't even want the harder content to drop MORE runes, just the same amount. Hell, I think I get more runes from the follower missions than I do from actually raiding BRF in a challenging group.

The only way "bot group" content would be tolerable for me would be if the people in it were at least a semi-coherent offshoot of my current guild, a "sub guild" as it were that served to provide a huge pool of like minded players for "bot group" type content. There would be names I would see over and over, etc.

Social design in MMORPGS is complicated, and we're a long way from anything I would consider "Pretty good."
I have to agree with Bhagpuss, Gevlon, and Smokeman. Forced grouping has never meant socializing any more than a bigger city means a friendlier, closer community.

The only reason you can find examples for how you know they are human is through negative behaviors that you assume no programmer would actually add to the bot. If Gevlon programmed these bots, and put in some occasional annoying behaviors, you could not distinguish them from one of these group members. But those are rare examples, and even now if 90% of your group members were bots, you wouldn't be able to tell.

And I have to dispute the idea that this is simply allowing grouping to also be viable. This is forced grouping at its worst. Soloing is not a valid alternative here, you are just a complete idiot if you try to solo this.

The much better model for group/solo balance is leveling. Soloing and grouping are both similar speeds (grouping being slightly faster, even after accounting for the time/hassle of forming and waiting for groups), you really can simply play the game how you want.

Credit where credit is due, I do think the cross-server custom group finder does prevent this from being an issue. You can find a group doing old stuff like Icecrown achievement runs basically every weekend. I expect you will be able to find at least one of these groups at any time (and several during prime time) all the way until the next patch.

Don't expect to make any friends, but you will be able to do the content as intended: in a silent, "bot" group.
Thanks Tobold - how stupid have I been?! Set up a group, did the daily in just a few minutes - said my thanks yous and handed leadership over to someone else. A couple of people cycled through the group as others finished their personal missions. Everyone worked together very co-operatively. Attaining Draenor Pathfinder suddenly seems a lot more attainable!
Has anyone given thought to how hard it will be to get a group formed 6 months from now? Right now, you make a group and people join because everybody must unlock flying RIGHT NOW.

Remember, alts are grandfathered in if you get flying for your main. It won't be long before you set one of these insta-groups up and nothing happens. Then all these mechanics that encourage grouping are simply punishing you for something that's not your fault.

"...Then all these mechanics that encourage grouping are simply punishing you for something that's not your fault."

Yeah, that will likely be an issue for people that hit 100 on their first char after the majority get flying.

The problem isn't that grouping is "encouraged", it's that it's arbitrarily forced.
Uhhh.... this ia nothing new.

When WoD launched, people would form raids and go farm the Pit, since the elites there were giving credit for the Apexis daily and (I think) some sort of ... drops (?) people needed at the time. Not really sure, it's been a while. It was later 'fixed' by blizzard and the grouping disappeared.

The same thing happened with people grouping to get a rare spawn that dropped a mount. After a while interest died down and everyone went back to his garisson.
For me, patch 6.2 is the "server-hopping galore" patch.

You mentioned the Saberstalkers faction. That was easy: I camped a single rare which yelds 500 rep (more if you're human and/or got the appropriate garrison building) and I just server-hopped after every kill. 500 rep means 20 saberstalkers alone (25 rep each).... As you can see, the process is a LOT faster tan farming single elites (unless you're undergeared, I was 661).

Same thing for the 4 rares/champions which yeld tokens. You choose a spawn point and keep server-hopping until the rare materializes in front of you. I often join groups where the rare is already being engaged by someone... so it's just a matter of hitting him once and I can get free loot. Kill the rare, move to the next spawn point... server-hop and you're done.

I use CrossRealmAssist which loops the realms with a button click, so you can cycle dozens in few seconds until you find what you need: a rare, a treasure chest, a pack of mobs, an npc... whatever. This is how I farmed Felblight in few hours and managed to gain enough gold for 2 EU tokens. Skinning while server hopping is insane, you camp a spot and keep destroying easy skinnable mobs.
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