Yesterday’s post received a lot of good comments debating the merits of the new LFG tool and how it changes the social dynamic in WoW. What may have been lost or unclear in my post is that I believe the new tool is an improvement for the average WoW player, but it’s not an improvement for what MMOs are all about. The new LFG tool is not the first step WoW has taken to benefit the solo-hero at the expense of the MMO fan, and I think at least some people seem to forget this.
First let’s start with battlegrounds being added, which while a nice quick way to zone into some zero-impact PvP, killed any chance WoW had at world PvP (and back before WoW was released, a lot of attention was paid to, you know, that whole Orcs vs Humans thing WarCraft was based around, now long lost thanks to space goats and countless other additions). Now before BGs, world PvP in WoW was basically limited to one zone and guild raids on NPC cities, but who is to say it would have remained that way if instead of adding instanced battlegrounds, Blizzard added RvR-like zones similar to DAoC, or had come up with something new (I know, that would be a first, but back then the A-team was still at the helm so it might have been possible).
World PvP was removed in favor of instanced, pre-set, limited PvP. That’s fine as WoW was more about a set group interacting with itself rather than one big involved world. The first pass at battlegrounds allowed groups to queue up, which meant it was possible for a guild group to all queue into AV and play as one team. AV’s initial version was also more tactical, and winning often relied on coordinating the NPC special attacks and giving them proper support. When both sides lacked any coordination or tactics, you got a standstill, which was somehow regarded as a terrible, terrible mistake. Remember, if the cookies don’t rain down fast enough, WoW players start to cry. AV was ‘fixed’ by removing most of the tactical options, and the ability to queue as a group was removed to make things ‘fair’ for everyone. A win for the solo-hero, and another source of group-based activity removed.
Finally cross-server queuing was added because under-populated servers in WoW would suffer from long queues at odd hours, or for whatever battleground was the least efficient to grind out rep/tokens/cookies. While cross-server queuing did reduce the wait time, it also removed server rivalries and seeing familiar faces to fight with/against. How you view that change is a good indicator to the type of player you are. That many cheered the removal of waiting at the expense of server community is not surprising for WoW today, but at least back then it was somewhat shocking. It seems almost impossible to imagine a game like EVE or DarkFall with such a change, where the time to siege is shortened, but you are now sieging a random clan rather than a given target, yet that’s exactly what happened in WoW.
Looking outside of WoW, Warhammer Online gives us a perfect example of why random grouping does not lead to any sort of social interaction. One of the main complaints about Public Quests, outside of them being underpopulated, is that you run in, join a group, complete the PQ, and leave without ever saying a word to your group. This has long been the case in battlegrounds/scenarios, where outside of one capslock-kiddie crying for attention, everyone else was silent, but to see it happen in a PvE environment was something else.
When it becomes effortless to join a group, and the amount of familiarity needed to complete a group activity is so low, the need for socialization is minimized. You can champion ‘being social to be social’ all day long, but we all know MMO players are infamous for doing whatever it takes to get to the shiny, even if that means having LESS fun along the way. You can’t change human nature, but you can shape it by defining the rules your world plays by.
It’s the developers job to guide the players, and sometimes that guidance might SEEM like a bad change initially, only to later realized that you are having more fun with the game now than before. A good example of this is the recent PvE changes in DarkFall, which made many of the mobs in the game significantly harder. Initially of course players complained that they can no longer farm, that the game was impossible, and why is PvE being made more difficult when DF is a PvP game? A few weeks later, and group PvE is common, random group vs group PvP is occurring more often, and the whole risk/reward ratio is in better balance. It’s a change Aventurine knew they had to make, and it was one many in the community did not initially understand because the impact of the change was deeper than just the top layer.
The new LFG tool certainly makes getting into a dungeon easier in WoW, that is undeniable. What time will tell is how the tool changes the already weak social fabric of the game. WoW in 2004 was far more of a virtual world than it is in 2009, and with the continual changes to instant travel, anonymous grouping, and the reduced reliance on others, it’s not hard to see why many view it closer to a game like Guild Wars than something like EverQuest. Which is not a ‘bad’ change overall, as both GW and EQ are fun games for what they offer, but if I’m looking for a virtual world to interact in, which game am I more likely to pick, and which game is more likely to keep me around purely based on those social chains?