24 Jan 2012

LFD: No Simple Answers

Looking around the blogsphere today reminds me of battle re-enactment. I can see the same people pulling on the same uniform and dusting off the same weapons to have the same good-natured scrap over something. The sheep-skin drums are beating, the blue and red overcoats are being pulled on. The beer tent is filling up as the two sides filter in and catch up on old times. The battleground? Looking for Dungeon.

The argument is that Star Wars: The Old Republic needs a Looking for Flashpoint tool in order to help groups form for both levelling instances and endgame content. There are currently a large number of players unable to experience this content, either because their guild doesn’t have enough players at the same level or because they’re too busy enjoying the stupidly good questing content.

The choice seems to be between a Warcraft-style Looking for Dungeon tool, or not having one at all and just making do with shouting in the chat channels like some market trader. Neither is a great solution – one end leaves you frustrated with anonymous people you’ll never encounter again, while the other leaves you frustrated at the lack of response from other players as you sit doing nothing for hours on end. Either way you’re left frustrated.

The exception is if you have a guild that’s both large enough to support flashpoints (and populated with people who want to do that content) and which has people in broadly the same level bracket. If either is not the case then even with the best of intentions the guild is less of a guild and more of a social chat channel. But I digress.

Looking back on the early days of Warcraft some six or so years ago, zone layout consisted of a collection of quests followed occasionally by an instance at the end. The quest chains were laid out to drive players to the instance, making sure that they were aware of them and that they should take part. As a result, zone channels were full of people putting groups together while they were questing – you didn’t have to pause the fun activity of completing quests in order to form an instance group.

By contrast, SWTOR positions flashpoints as seperate content. While you can pick up the flashpoint breadcrumb from a ‘Flashpoint Courier’ in most level-suitable zones, it’s made to feel like optional side-content instead of central to the levelling experience. The chatter in the zone General chat tends to ignore them as well, meaning groups simply aren’t being formed while people are out questing. In fact, players seem more interested in the 4-man Heroic Quest group content than they are in flashpoints.

It means that unlike Warcraft, most of the flashpoint recruitment is done at the Imperial or Republic Fleet hubs rather than the questing zones. This means you have a tiny window of opportunity to grab people as they cash in their commendations and catch up on crafting before they’re off to have more fun on the next planet.
See the problem?

This is why large guilds have so much more success forming groups. By having a persistent chat channel that spans all planets, they have a natural advantage to forming groups while players are out questing. If you don’t have those kinds things at your disposal, you’re out of luck. Which is why so many people are clamouring for an LFD-style tool. Given the choice between struggling for hours to assemble a group and going to do something more fun like questing, world PVP or space combat, most players would pick the option to do something else.

That said, the implementation of the tool in Warcraft is pretty dire. It takes no account of player preferences and serves to make them more anonymous instead of less. It’s designed to be incredibly efficient at putting groups together and by consequence tends not to be focused on helping players get to know others from the same server. Rather than doing a simple “lift and shift”, BioWare should be encouraged to create their own design with better goals in mind.

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23 Responses to LFD: No Simple Answers

  1. Sophie says:

    I remember when there was no LFD tool in Warcraft, and when levelling I struggled to get a group – and this was in a game with 11 million subscribers.
    It was easy at level cap, as a healer, to get a group for a heroic as I was a healer, but levelling I did find it challenging.
    I don’t really understand how SWTOR can not have one with 1 tenth of the subscribers. Surely even just a server only compromise would be better than having nothing at all in an effort to be the “anti-WoW”.
    Sophie recently posted..Comment on Vanity Pets in WoW: Part 2 – Quests, Reputation Rewards & World Events by Vanity Pets in WoW: Part 3 – Drops, Grinds, Achievements & Guild Rewards « I Started With A NESMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think you’re on the right lines there. A tool that keeps the server community together while still helping groups form would be a huge benefit.

  2. Rodd says:

    I could not agree more. 100% across the board, everything you spoke of is spot on.

    In an effort to avoid reiterating, and to expand on what Sophie adds (SWTOR as a WOW killer), I am also shocked that there is no mobile app to supplement the gaming experience. I would love to see how my auctions are doing, what is in my inventory, what items my companions and I are are wearing, etc.

    • Gazimoff says:

      Mobile apps are a trickier thing. I’d give it 2 to 3 months to allow coders to focus on the key development requests from users, fix the remaining bugs and ensure that new content is deployed regularly. Once that’s running smoothly I’d then look at adding an API layer around the backend databases and potentially exposing it to internally run websites such as an armoury. If that proves to be stable I’d then look at developing mobile apps to run off the back of it.

      The problem is that while the core game codebase is still being refined and updated, it becomes difficult to develop APIs off the back of it. It’s better to focus your coders on other tasks until things stabilise. Once that happens then sure, I’d agree 🙂

  3. Honestly, what Tor needs isn’t so such an automated LFD tool like the 3.3 implementation in WoW, what they need is something similar to what WoW had from 3.0.8 to 3.2. A simple subset of the /who interface that allows a player to list 1-3 instances that they’re looking for, what roles they can fulfill, and any misc comments. One of the major problems with Tor’s dungeon implementation is that they shoved all the instances in the fleet, so if you want to run an instance, you have to wait in the fleet, doing nothing. If they streamlined the UI to make it easy to find a group while out questing, or ganking, or exploring, then it’d drastically increase the pool to choose from at any given time.
    The Renaissance Man recently posted..Nerfs Again: Blizzard Recognizes the Dangers of the Skill Gap.My Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      Completely agree. A simple flag/search list would help no end (especially if it’s advertised and promoted), together with a channel you can lurk in to see when groups are being formed. That would be a great first step.

    • Imakulata says:

      As you said, we had this in Wrath before LFD but few if any people used it to find heroic groups. Most of the players chose to spam trade instead.

      Actually, that might be why I like LFD, it allowed me to go out to the world instead of jailing me in Dalaran for hours each week, waiting for a group. I wonder what would I like more if it was LFD that would force people to stay in the cities…

      • Gazimoff says:

        Aye, being shackled to a city or other hub is pretty dire. I think that any tool needs to be able to support players being allowed to roam the game world and continue with other activities rather than having to suspend everything while they assemble a group.

    • Iyeri says:

      But SWTOR already HAS that kind of LFD setup. You can flag yourself as LFG in the /who list whenever you want. It could use some work, but it’s definitely there. Admittedly, people aren’t using it (just like they didn’t use WoW’s much) but it is there.

      Personally, the questing experience is stupid good right now and that’s enough for me. I don’t have the slightest issue with waiting to do tons of flashpoints later on when I’m bored with the questing, as I’m sure I will be by the second or third time through. By not doing a lot of flashpoints right now, I’m reserving some experiences for later. That might not work for everyone, but it’s fine for me. 🙂

      I was someone who used WoW’s LFD tool extensively. I liked it a lot, I leveled a whole bunch of healers to cap by running a ton of dungeons. I’m okay with not doing that again for a while, and the healer leveling in SWTOR is fun enough that I don’t feel that I need to either run flashpoints or play in a non-preferred spec to get anywhere.
      Iyeri recently posted..Framerate Issues – Counterintuitive Fix?My Profile

  4. Shintar says:

    Good post, though I have to say that I think people are making too big of a deal of the separation between Fleet and Open World. If you do a /who LFG it will show you everyone looking for a group on the entire server, regardless of where they are. Similarly, to see potential flashpoint recruits who might not have themselves listed, you can just do a /who [zone name] from anywhere and then whisper people of the appropriate level. While I was out questing on Taris on my Jedi Sage, I joined more than one FP group after someone simply whispered me with something like: “Hey, want to heal Hammer Station?” I used to end up in a lot of instances this way in WoW too, pre-dungeon finder.
    Shintar recently posted..Heroic PuG StoriesMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think there are always a couple of lucky exceptions. Plus, being a healer or tank makes you much more desirable (as an aside, my wife and I are now playing a tank-healer for our second leveled pair). What I’m suggesting would make it easier for everyone though, as long as server community is maintained.

      • Kadomi says:

        I know it’s a bit off-topic, but if you are leveling a tank-healer pair with your wife, try duoing flashpoints. It’s the best fun I had in MMOs for years.

        More on-topic, I still maintain that the introduction was the beginning of the end of WoW for me. Running 5-man content was always my favorite activity in WoW until the introduction of LFD. By now, I have numbed enough to chain-run dungeons using the tool, but it’s no longer with the joy I used to take from that. LFR is basically all my nightmares come true. I might as well play with 24 horribly rude NPCs.

        I agree that SWTOR needs to facilitate grouping more, because the grouping content is great fun. I oppose cross-server, but a better way for global LFG flagging without the need to spam chat. Afaik, @Rockjaw has already announced they are working on a system, so it’ll come.
        Kadomi recently posted..SWTOR: the best duo experience everMy Profile

  5. Syl says:

    A good follow-up, I can’t say I disagree with you here. the intro paragraph made me chuckle. 🙂
    Syl recently posted..The curious case of SWTOR and LFGMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      Glad you liked it! I didn’t want to portray it as some epic disagreement, as we both basically want the same thing. It’s just how we get there that’s different.

  6. Vrykerion says:

    I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. They need to steal DDO’s LFG interface and build from that! 😀
    Vrykerion recently posted..Level 50 & Looking BackMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      I’ve never tried the DDO LFG interface. What was it like?

      • Vrykerion says:

        Here’s a pic: http://www.mmocrunch.com/wp-content/gallery/ddo-review/ddo-lfg.jpg

        Essentially, you can create a listing for a specific instance (all ‘quests’ in DDO are done in their own instance), what classes you’re looking for, and any comments you want. The interface then gives people tools to whisper the party leader or just join an already created group. It defaults to only showing groups for things that you are in the level range for, but can be toggled to show all the other groups forming.

        It’s really easy to use, and find people to do stuff with. It also doesn’t HAVE to be tied to a specific instance. Some people just create groups with the intent of running and doing multiple hard or elite mode instances, so they’ll just add a comment about ‘doing multiple runs’ or something like that.

        Also, I can easily see it expanded to include Heroic Quests for different worlds.
        Vrykerion recently posted..Level 50 & Looking BackMy Profile

  7. Masith says:

    I have to say the best things LFD did in WoW was facilitate low level grouping. I started playing WoW 6 months after launch and the only time I was able to pug leveling dungeons without hours of spamming was in the brief rush after each expansions release.
    Much as I dislike the anonymity of LFD I would argue that anonymous leveling dungeons are better than none at all. Where the system falls down for me is endgame were a LFD tool wasn’t so needed to find groups. LFD has made it more efficient to find groups at endgame at too high a cost.

  8. selly says:

    I’m with your first commenter in that I think a dungeon finder would be nice but that I hope it stays server wide and doesn’t go farther than that. I have been playing WoW since vanilla and while I do appreciate the ease of finding a group in that game, I really miss the community building that actively finding a group used to grant you. I never really had any problems getting groups because I was friends with a lot of different people being the goofy social butterfly that I am, and I built so many friendships in BC and vanilla that way. By contrast, I made almost no new friends once the dungeon finder was put in. I mean, if you’re already in a guild and you just get thrown into groups with total strangers you’re never going to see again, where are you going to meet them?

    I guess that’s not entirely true; I made some friends in dungeon finders that I’d real ID friend, but not everyone is comfortable just handing out their personal information on the internet to a stranger so it doesn’t always work that well.

    I don’t know, being forced to pick from a pool of people on your server in WoW was a strong community building experience. Everyone knew each other. SWTOR has been reclaiming that old love for me. When I go into warzones, I see people that I’ve seen before, and it can get pretty intense. I know that doesn’t have to do with flashpoints directly, but you get what I mean – you make friends and get stuff done. It makes it so much more social.

    I could be speaking from a safe position that others don’t have, though. I mean I play with 7 other people I’m really close to (3 of which I actually live with) so finding groups for things is never hard. Maybe I’d be singing a different tune if I was playing all by my lonesome and I had 3 spots to fill rather than the occasional 1. Regardless, it’s something I think the server wide dungeon finder thing could fix.

  9. Reliquary says:

    If they would add a LFD it should be similar to Classic WoW where you had to click on a LFD queue (the summoning stones) and then it would group you once a full group was found. This way you have to make a conscious effort to join a group, you are only trying to get into one dungeon not randomly rolling thru whatever pops up, and it will only group you with people on your server. All of these I believe would solve Biowares hang-ups on implementing. And because they are server players it gives you the ability to ginvite some of them, again making it easier to group in the future. I recall my first ginvite was this way back in Classic WoW.

  10. Rinvan says:

    I solve the problem of having no LFD by playing a healer. I can’t visit the fleet without seeing at least a few people begging for healers for various flashpoints. I even get random tells for heroics on planets I have out-leveled.

  11. Imakulata says:

    I wonder whether the problem with LFD tool lies in the very beginning of each software project, the requirements. I think it was clearly designed for allowing players to create (full or partial pick-up) groups and finish dungeons quickly (compared to how long it took before) and it performs this task nearly flawlessly. The waiting times decreased (even in 4.0, when waiting times were the highest, they were shorter than they used to be pre-3.3), the players were allowed to leave town and still have a chance at finding a group and the completion rate increased as finding replacements actually became viable (before, having several people bail meant you could as well abandon the run as getting replacements bordered on impossible – now it’s possible to continue in a dungeon even if everyone else left). But the question is, was grouping what we wanted?

    Well, I’m not quite sure the answer is no but think about it: The players hoped to find new friends, to do content that was not soloable or to get rewards from it, to get boosted because their characters were not viable for solo play (not all games had unlimited respecs, I think this is much less of an issue in WoW), have fun with friends etc. and it just happened that grouping was the solution for all of the problems. And I guess everyone’s forgotten what the original problems were and thought that players actually wanted to group – and then Blizzard created a tool that enabled us to do just that. Of course, it enables us to do some of the things we wanted to do – such as doing content that was not soloable etc. but there are some things we thought were part of grouping that are missing from LFD – mostly it’s the socializing part. (I understand that this wasn’t something that used to go too well before either but it certainly didn’t get better.) Also, if you play with your friends, there is little LFD can offer. It might be good enough for the endgame, when players only seek to get some points – but it is lacking for the leveling players or those who want to get into the endgame because it doesn’t allow them to build the social connections.

    So there’s definitively a room for improvement in the LFD tool, especially in the social area. The system needs to allow… no, it shouldn’t just allow, it should encourage players to make the social connections, even if there’s a disparity between them. Maybe a kind of mentor-apprentice relation would be an improvement of midgame LFR?