The curious case of SWTOR and LFG

Imagine yourself the type of player who loathes the dungeon finder for many reasons; most of which can probably be summed up by “single-most detrimental feature to social interaction in MMOs” or “what really sent WoW’s community downhill”. Imagine yourself the player who would rather wait for the proper group (and go do other things), who’d rather start his own groups by taking initiative in zone/general chats, who’d rather re-think his role choice (in an MMO that enforces a trinity), look for a guild or form one himself, before seeing this type of feature implemented in his favorite MMO. If you’re not that type of player: imagine it anyway. Imagine yourself as someone like me.

In no conceivable MMO-future could I picture myself among those who actively ask for LFG; that would just be utterly bizarre. Unthinkable. Outrageous.

Or wouldn’t it?

Oh, teh irony…!

For several weeks now, I have kept an eye on my co-bloggers currently immersed* in the worlds of SWTOR, commenting among other things on the absence of LFG in the game. The thing that increasingly made me raise an eyebrow was the number of players calling it a grave oversight while blogging from the “MMO veteran corner”. Certainly not to be expected – what’s going on there?

The answer is frankly making my heart bleed. For most discussions, the bottom line is this paraphrased (also see one very recent example for this dynamic at Rohan’s):

“SWTOR being the type of solo-centric / solo-friendly MMO that it is, those players who usually look to group up frequently are left with not enough opportunities to do so. On a server where the majority of players are content to solo (alternatively stick to micro-groups) or use NPC companions, the traditional MMO player is faced with a gaping silence. The same crowd who used to condemn LFG is starting to require it.”

Now, I don’t know how the situation is on every server. Nor do I claim to know how much of that felt lack of opportunity is actual lack of own initiative. Still, I can clearly see a problem for grouping-friendly players in an MMO that does not enforce cooperation; I think it can be expected too that with much lower overall numbers, finding suitable players for grouping during the same playtime as your own, is taking a big hit no matter how great your initiative (which can be expected to some degree if we still assume a player of a more oldschool persuasion). Especially in a game that still clings to certain group setup.

…With that, the remaining players are left with the wish (or rather: resignation) for LFG, lest they not miss so much of the group content and dungeon runs while leveling up. How deeply cynical is that? How completely upside down!

And once more, we must recognize how the old, non-chalant claim of “just play the game the way you like” or “it doesn’t affect you, just ignore it” is utter humbug. HUMBUG folks!

A couple of post scripta

  • P.S.: This is in no way a jab at anyone who enjoys soloing in SWTOR; Bioware obviously intended the game to work this way and at least some are having fun. Whoever is not, can only do the obvious thing and stop paying (and write rants on it).
  • P.S.(2): LFG still sucks. An MMO that makes types like me wish for LFG must therefore suck even more. Sodom and Gomorrah!
  • P.S.(*): Raph Koster actually says that immersion is for dreamers (ha-ha). I guess he’s enjoying SWTOR then! /sarcasm off
  • P.S.(3): I wasn’t looking to bash SWTOR in this article. But I guess it happened anyway.
  • P.S.(4): I will continue to bash MMOs I am not playing (and those I am playing) on this page and there’s nothing you can do about it. Objectivity is all about erm…distance. ^^
  • P.S.(5): Yeah, sarcasm wasn’t really /off there. I lie. Sometimes.

30 comments

  1. You’ve given me some food for thought, although I get the feeling that if I write another SWTOR blogpost that someone’s going to lynch me ;)

    That said, I think that we’ve seen what happens with LFD done badly. There are ways to make it much more social and beneficial to both players and the playerbase, they just require a bit more work to develop.

    1. By now I wonder whether you can even develop them much ‘better’ – obviously it’s very hard (or is it just not a focus?). no matter what LFG you design, it will impact on how one big part of social interaction is initiated in your game, and in truth I applaud Bioware for being aware of that. good matchmaking is an interesting topic….and also depends hugely on the overall design of an MMO (is it solo-friendly? is it role-based or not? etc.). I guess we can only wait and see.

    2. The big thing I think would make them better is an effective reputation system. EBay has fostered a community with astonishing integrity because of a good reputation system. If I send money to someone on EBay I’m pretty sure he’ll post me my purchase, I can trust him.

    3. …but isn’t that exactly what we used to have before the convenience and anonymity of LFG? :D

      what you speak of is social control – it’s vastly important. and on isolated servers with no way to circumvent interaction, active initiation and your immediate neighbours, reputation has always existed and worked. more so, it added spice to server communities.

      cross-server tools are a disaster. why try to fix one thing with another instead of removing the source?

  2. Concur with the above statements. I’m one of those gamers who thinks WoW iteration of LFD is nothing short of terrible, but the criticism is given for a great many reasons. It’s implementation is anti-social and group balance is unachievable (1 healer 1 tank ALWAYS required) so this makes the system much more beneficial for the necessarily high demand/short supply classes. It’s literally a system that encourages players to combat each other.

    Another problem of a WoW type LFD is that it ignores player needs in order to serve the system. We all know how it selects players and we all understand that player choice was sacrificed in order to get the system as it is. Players don’t get to pick groups; the system picks the groups. Players don’t get to specify why they’re going to a dungeon (quests, achievements, RP, etc), which would help put players in more desirable groups with players with the same goals. Finally, the LFD doesn’t allow players to play how they want: you MUST be a tank, healer, or DPS. If you wanted to find 4 rogues to solo BRD with using a group tool, you’re out of luck.

    I hope no one is asking for the kind of LFD WoW uses, but there are other systems out there to be modeled after and improved upon. Systems that really get the social aspect quite right. I’m not sure what LFD would even be worth in a world like SWTOR, where the game clearly prefers you play alone in order to build your personal story.

    1. I’m interested in better matchmaking myself (I’ve posted on this a while back) and it’s certainly true that we cannot take WoW as positive reference model here – but still as great example of all the dangers. to be fair, it IS a much bigger problem in a role-restrictive game like WoW. but that brings us back to the holy trinity issue to some extent (and how things like LFG, respecs and balanced to death classes are really an acknowledgment of all the setup issues clinging to this ‘design crutch’ causes).

      I’d like to see a proper matchmaking tool sometime. I’m not sure I will endorse the concept as a whole by then, but it would certainly be interesting. I have a feeling though that my ideal future MMO doesn’t require LFG, because it’s so cooperative and easy to group up there the ‘traditional way’. and most importantly: needed.
      maybe requiring an LFG is a sign of failed game design – because clearly you have failed to create natural cooperation (and yet you seem to think you want the cake and eat it too).

  3. As a relatively isolated/introverted person, one of the great things about MMOs for me was the ‘massively multiplayer’. Even if the game isn’t perfect, the fact that grouping and interacting with other people was necessary sort of acted as a social opportunity for me. For me there was a time when people were more present as people in MMOs; there was a culture, and the games weren’t just games. That sense of culture seems to be getting lost with each new release.

    I remember when I first started, I would make tons of pugs and because of that I’d often make a friend or a good connection. If the games didn’t encourage that then I wouldn’t have done it (I wasn’t the type of social person to group up just because) and I would have missed out on a lot of great experiences and memories.

    I’ve found that the people who I play with are often the biggest factor in what keeps me playing and it’s what makes a ‘Massively Multiplayer’ game special. I guess a lot of people missed the memo on that.

    1. Oh, I hear you. of all my personal gripes, the change in social dynamics is probably my biggest. even if future games will still enable cooperation through LFG tools, it’s just not the same; going the distance to find your own people creates different memories – and good relationships always take time, rule of life really. I’m baffled how nowadays we want the social without being willing to put time into it – and on top of that some wonder why the quality then gets reduced.

      but maybe the types of us are altogether wrong to ask for meaningful relationships in MMOs, or at least today’s ones. the cool kids just wanna have spontaneous 30mins play here and there, lotsa bling for little effort and achievements they can browse on a web app. sorry, I should stop now. :)

  4. People like Rohan and Tobold may be MMO vets, but if you look back at older posts of theirs, they’ve frequently spoken favourably about WoW’s dungeon finder. So when they ask for one to be added to SWTOR, they are not doing so out of any SWTOR-induced despair, but because they want it to be more like WoW. They haven’t changed their mind about anything on that subject as far as I can tell.

    I think I’ve yet to see anyone who actually dislikes the dungeon finder wish for one in SWTOR, and I have no idea what Rohan’s statement of “The same crowd who used to condemn LFG is starting to require it” is based on. For me, the game has only reinforced the bad points of LFD as it reminded me of how much more fun it is to group the “natural” way.

    1. I admit I didn’t focus on Rohan’s (or Tobold’s) past or general opinion on LFG there; to me, it was just one more similar post that I’ve read on asking for LFG lately and the net really is swarming with them right now. I’ve read so many, I just chose to pick the most recent. from the tone of his voice though, it felt clear to me that while he’s not even convinced LFG is great on all accounts, he really feels that he needs it in SWTOR in order not to miss so many flashpoints. (I would also assume players like these two don’t ask easily for LFG and are very capable to find groups under ‘normal’ circumstances). maybe I read this wrong, but it comes across this way – and that’s really what I am interested in here (although you’re probably right that as a whole, he might not be the perfect example).

      And your own perspective on this is one I had hoped for heh, as it paints a very different picture. it’s odd how opposed the voices withing the SWTOR playerbase are on this subject at the moment. it’s certainly worth looking at how much of it is whining, not whining and how much is due to the game’s overall design.

    2. while he’s not even convinced LFG is great on all accounts

      Quote Rohan less than a year ago: “So that’s my take on the Dungeon Finder. I think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.” Still surprised that he wants one in SWTOR too? ;) I’m just saying, someone who relies on the dungeon finder in one game “needing” one in another says more about the speaker than about the game in my opinion.

      After all, it’s possible to have the opposite experience too, as Syp hints in this post for example: “I think I’ve done more grouping, both with family and strangers, in the past couple weeks of this game than I have in LOTRO in a year.” (This also matches my own experience, without the LOTRO part obviously.)

    3. I think it’s a quote from a commenter, not my original post.

      I have always been strongly in favor of automated group creation for transient content.

  5. @Shintar, I don’t remember Rohan ever stating that on his blog – and I actually think it’s Syl’s opinion of what the stance of the pro-LFD crowd is. Read the paragraph carefully – it actually doesn’t imply Rohan or anyone else said it.

    I also disagree that the problems with grouping are caused by TOR being a “solo centric” game; finding a pick-up group for a dungeon (i. e. a long lasting group with role requirements) without any tools to facilitate it is quite annoying by itself so the game would have to be fairly “dungeon friendly” in order for players to prefer dungeon groups over soloing.

    1. Thanks for the clarification. you raise an important issue that I agree isn’t quite yet as clear, or rather cannot be seen as main/only indicator: the solo-friendliness. while I think it does contribute, it cannot be the complete answer by any stretch. SWTOR’s approach and design as a whole must be looked at carefully and the way it impacts on various player groups and potential interaction among them. role requirements are high up on such lists in general.

  6. forced matchmaking sucks in every game…be it forza3, modern warfare2, etc etc…

    it sure is a convenient way for antisocials, dirty console peasants and clueless people though.

    1. Well the thing is, it isn’t forced here. lol that would be the next step to gamification hell I guess, but then we can really close the MMO idea.

      so far its just an “extra option” in MMOs; but it’s curious in this particular case, because a certain (and unlikely) group of people feels indirectly forced or rather dependent on it to experience group content.

  7. I think that one has to consider game mechanics in their historical context in this case.

    WoW inherited the EQ players. Trained by forced grouping, brought up to believe that community rep was one of the most important attributes they grouped well despite WoW’s design not because of it. Of course not every WoW player was ex-EQ but the newbies followed the cues of those who knew what they were doing.

    Increased selfishness was inevitable and has been since games emphasised soloing. It took a while to happen and, yes, LFD accelerated it, but now that it’s happened it’s baked in to the player base (unless we revert to forced grouping games again). People in SWTOR are already doing all the things that people claim are caused by LFD systems because SWTOR inherited the WoW players and it won’t change them.

    1. A very insightful angle, there’s certainly much truth in it I need to ponder further. I’m not sure though how ‘irrevocably baked’ social behaviour truly ever is; I think a vast part of any MMO playerbase will change behaviour this quick if the game offers the right incentives(aka lootz).

  8. Hi Syl, great post as always. I played WOW for 4 years and remember when you spammed LFG for instances, and I have also used the tool. I am now playing in SWTOR and I go with guildies or the occasional group. I have to say I prefer the gathering a group on your server method. I feel that this creates a better environment for every player. Heres why, it seems to me that the rage people have and take out on the other players is kept at a minimum. In other words you get an “elite” or someone who is a very capable player. They group with your group and things don’t go so well, player says he is not happy with group and leaves, and you find another player. Easy peasy. For example the other day me and a guildy, hes a DPS and I’m a healer looked for people on our server to run a Heroic (4), we found 2 others both DPS but decided to try it any way. First pull was tricky but we got it with CC and plenty of healing. 2nd pull not so good, I sent my guild mate in to pull the entire group thinking we could handle it, without handing out CC assignments. Definatly a mistake on my part, we wiped. One of the group decided to leave, said we needed a Tank and left. No big deal, no RAGE, no calling of names. I do think that having to associate with others on a daily basis like this really improves the community. Especially with the addition of the Legacy names. Now if you chose to show it, people will associate you with your alts. Anyway I really think that adding an LFG tool would just promote isolationism, and SWTOR would move towards the RAGE machine.

    1. Hi there and thanks! nice to see that you appreciate not having LFG in SWTOR. my natural reaction would be the same (if I even played it).
      You’re absolutely right that more dedicated and direct associations and communication is healthy for server communities.
      they don’t allow you to act like a jerk; they force you to consider other people you play with and the consequences of your own actions. you can still be a jerk of course, but then you need to live with repercussions towards your reputation – and this is the social control every community needs. anonymity cannot be the base for establishing fruitful and long-lasting cooperation. all it offers is shorter wait times.

  9. In the parlance of our times: hate the player, not the game. SWTOR absolutely needs better server-only matching systems (a global LFG channel would go a long way), but it is not a “single player game”.

    You get bonus Social Points for grouping up that you can use to buy mods or stylish moddable gear. The XP bonus for working in a group is awesome, and the mechanics to let a group of 1-4 people quest together is great. Hunting Datacrons (unique items) can costs lots of credits or take a lot of time without a group to pull each other around and topple elites. Flashpoints contain gear that you can still mod and use in level-capped raids if you like the look of them. There are 2- and 4-person heroic quests in every zone, from level 10 on through 50 with really nice rewards.

    There are plenty of incentives for folks to group together!

    1. “hate the player, not the game”

      hehe…I need to remember that one.
      seems to me that you and Shintar are pretty much on the same line, then.

  10. As an aside, it’s true that the net / blogosphere is swarming with discussion about SWTOR LFG, but it’s also worth remembering that bloggers do *not* represent the MMO community particularly well. No statistician would put any weight on the average view of a self-selecting subset of a population that is a very low single percentage proportion of it.

    We know (from Shintar and others) that on the heavier populated servers, and for those players with the determination or mindset to build a group the old way, it IS possible to do group content. Those that don’t have the right mindset will just drift away and quit, and SWTOR will naturally acquire a set of gamers that like its style, i.e. a style that is somewhat old-school with regards to grouping.

    Then all the blogosphere will die down, and SWTOR bloggers will be less distinguishable from other bloggers. The only reason it SEEMS as if there are many discontented people with SWTOR right now (some blogger called them doom casters the other day, I forget who) is that a large number of people are trying a new game, and naturally, a proportion of them WON’T like it, and will blog to that effect. Once they have all finished blogging and quitting, I predict that the SWTOR blogosphere will become quite loyal and full of camaraderie.

    I must admit, SWTOR wasn’t a game for me (I did try it, even bought the CE), but I can certainly see its merits for players that have a different approach than I do.

  11. Well, I am probably as anti-LFD as one can be. And I wrote several times now that SWTOR should have a LFD. Why? Because it can’t destroy anything. You level on your own anyway. You even have your own individual stories!

    Does SWTOR even have a chance to develop a server-identity? I don’t think so. I don’t think the developers ever planned for this to happen. And in this case the LFD doesn’t destroy anything; it just allows you to go right for the action. There’s really no social cohesion or even world to destroy there. SWTOR is about single-player stories and action, not about a virtual world or communities.

  12. Back before the advent of the LFD tool in WoW, one could still (for the most part) form groups for an instance run while out questing. The instances that were level appropriate were usually in the same zone that one was questing in. It wasn’t taxing to use zone chat to see if anyone wanted to do the instance while still being able to “do stuff” in the zone.

    While a similar atmosphere exists in SW:TOR when it comes to the “Heroic Areas”, the only place one can really use chat to find a group for a Flashpoint is in the Fleet. There’s is very little, if anything, to actually *do* in the Fleet while looking for a group, however. I don’t think that I’m alone in preferring to be out on one of the planets “doing stuff” rather than cooling my heels in the Fleet looking for a group.

    I believe it is problems such as this, which cause even the ardent LFD-tool-haters to wish for some sort of LFG tool in SW:TOR.

  13. Yeah, I remember the good old days, growing up in a small town. In the evenings lots of us kids would organically form an epic game of kick the can or capture the flag. Walking home in the dark having misplaced my shoes somewhere. That kind of community was amazing and I miss it. But frankly, it hardly exists anymore, and good riddance.

    IRL Communities have transformed into technological marvels of instant communication, centrally organized activities of nearly any kind, and nearly effortless travel.

    Why would we hold back our MMO communities from the same?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available