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Goin' Places on Game and Player

Goin' Places

Michael Ubaldi  //  December 17, 2009

On World of Warcraft's new Looking for Group system.


ll the talk about World of Warcraft's new Looking for Group system is thick with superlatives, one of them assigned by Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street, lead systems designer. "I don't think I've been involved with a feature since working here," Street wrote in the game's official forums, "that received so much positive feedback." On any other day as de facto ombudsman, "90% of what I hear from players is negative."

Last week, Blizzard Entertainment released the third and final installment of its second World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King. The gates of Icecrown Citadel breached, players will spend the next several months challenging twelve bosses of the undead Scourge for some eighteen hundred of the game's most valuable treasures. Frigid energumen Prince Arthas, whose betrayal of his subjects and conquest of fantasy realm Azeroth has spanned five titles and seven years, faces reckoning, judgment, redemption — whichever end completes the story occupying nearly all of Blizzard's visible activity.

Now, joining with other players for experience and battle gear could hardly be more convenient.Glorious, magnificent, etcetera. What is instead on everyone's mind is a push-button, in-game means of instantly joining players to spend 15-30 minutes shouldering their way through one of WoW's dozens of 5-man dungeons. Matchmaking, defined in Bungie's Halo 2 and refined by any well-to-do multiplayer developer, would be the closest comparison. Joining with other players for leveling experience and battle gear could hardly be more convenient.

Before Tuesday the 8th, entering such a dungeon (called an "instance" due to its uniquely serving of content) meant players met players. Friends might organize a group or individuals sought others to fill each of a group's positions through BBS-style requests. Arrangements could follow quickly; or take forever. Once together, players would traverse WoW's seamless — but gargantuan — game world, at least until two of the five stood outside of the instance to use an enchanted monolith and summon the rest. Mobilizing gobbled up as much time as dungeon-crawling.

The act is now telescoped: running an instance need only consist of running an instance. Alone or as part of an assembled party, players open a dialog window to choose, within their level range, a specific dungeon or a selection at random — the latter choice earning some generous rewards. Indicating which of three roles their characters can fulfill (damage-taking "tank," damage-dealing "DPS," or damage-healing "healer"), they enter a queue, free to continue whatever it was they were in the middle of. As with a console game's matchmaker, the silent process could take a minute or two. But as easy as pickup ball, usually only a few seconds pass before players are prompted to accept the 5-man team to which they've been assigned. If yes — poof, they go, whisked inside the dungeon.

Usually only a few seconds pass before players can enter a dungeon.
I confess to having been taken by Bethesda's sandbox RPGs and spoiled by WoW's open world. Upon first try, a player will see his character wander athwart Azeroth for hours before stepping into a teleportation device. Fantasy derives from a sense of primeval, of expanse; abridgment divulges a stage backdrop, weakening the suspension of disbelief. Foremost on Greg Street's mind. "We knew the teleportation aspect in particular was going to be controversial," he wrote in response to a player's concern. "It was something we discussed over and over again. I think there is definitely a risk that the world feels somehow emptier when you are magically transported to a dungeon instead of having to walk through its entrance." Street, however, sits behind hard data that must be very important to the entrepreneurs of Blizzard, shifting the question to pragmatics.

Which is better: the contiguous experience of the fewer, scouring dungeons the old way; or the compressed experience of many more playing content paid for every month? Two more questions: 1) how many of us hot-footed it to the entrance rather than waiting to be summoned; and 2) for WoW's millions of subscribers, does the balance of playtime lie in dungeons or outside, questing, where Azeroth is still very irreducibly big? Blizzard can simplify a favorite activity for one demographic segment while leaving the larger game unharmed for the rest.

How does the new Looking for Group work in practice? My use of it has been a pleasure; not without meeting the usual troublemakers, but to no detriment of the system. The majority of players have been polite, or businesslike but innocuous. A few were fledgling and ill-equipped — although when I happened to speak up and offer advice, the one player followed my instructions, profited, and thanked me.

How does the new Looking for Group work in practice? My use of it has been a pleasure.I have voluntarily abandoned a group only once. A smug healer decided he would attract the attention of monsters and leave it to me, playing the tank, to wrangle every jumbled, oncoming throng — think of a goalie who insists on playing offense, risking turnovers every play. First, I asked nicely; then I reproved; then I left.

While running an intermediate dungeon on a lower-level character, I witnessed use of the Vote to Kick option, protocol which — developers and players know — is democratic when it isn't ochlocratic. These runs are rough-and-tumble, with many players still guessing on how to play their character. Something, I can't say what, set off an exchange between our time-sharing tanks (in a 5-man, one tank should always suffice). The endemic insults flew: – Noob! – Fail! – I'll show you my seven max-level characters. – Oh,yeah? I'll beat them up. One of the two initiated a vote. This is silly, I thought, and voted No. Then a second vote: I waited a moment, too long, and was counted as an abstention. The louder of the two players disappeared, another took his place, and our party continued.

An early verdict? Were I to sign into the game on my highest-level characters right now, I would enter Looking for Group after only checking in-game mail and doing a little housekeeping. If I decided to put some time in on a mid-level character, Looking for Group would more than feasibly substitute running quests for a level or three. "We'll have to iterate a bit before we're really happy with it," concluded Street, but that seems a matter of polishing a gemstone.

Matthew Mosely // December 17, 2009 // 11:31 AM

After my xbox died I decided to return to the Kingdoms of Azeroth yesterday. It had been about 4-5 months since my last visit. I quickly noticed the new tool bar for quests & its minimap feature showing you exactly where the quests was located as well as where you return it when finished. Which I found very helpful since after logging out for months, you forget what quests you were on & where you received them from..

I then decided to finish a quest I had in a dungeon, I entered the new LFG system & like you said, I was matched with a party within 2 minutes. Ran the dungeon & finished my quest. A quest that I spent hours searching for party members before the patch.

I am very excited about this new matchmaking feature. I have always loved WoW but was always a bit unsatisfied due to the fact that I would never be able to run the larger raids. The larger raids seemed like they were designed for the hardcore WoW'er, who had a serious guild that treated the game like a second job. I could never find a group running the larger raids that I could join. And if you waited to get the expansion it seemed like everyone had already finished with it & you were left behind looking for a party while everyone had moved on to newer content & bigger bosses. This had always bothered me, knowing there was so much more content in the game that I would never see.

But this new system shall change that I think. I shall be able to adventure anywhere I desire. I can't wait to dust off my pauldrons & return to Azeroth now.

Michael Ubaldi // December 17, 2009 // 11:48 AM

Great to hear, Matt! Speaking of raids, when your character hits 80, I encourage you to look into using the new Raid Browser for weekly raid quests.

Just open the social dialog, turn to the Raid tab, and select the browser — the system isn't automated like LFG, but it's an easy way to look for players and put your own character up for hire.

Weekly raids are obtained where daily heroic quests were once offered. Both bosses since last Tuesday were the first in two quarters of Naxxramas, so even pickup-group runs have been pain-free.

Jai // December 17, 2009 // 12:07 PM

I've gotten an Ulduar and a Naxx boss for the raid weekly, myself.

And the new LFG has been fun, though I've gotten quite a few bad players. The druid healer that didn't use tree form in a heroic, for one.

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