Saturday, 28 September 2013

Group Hug, Anyone? : GW2, FFXIV

In the zeitgeisty way of these things, a flurry of seemingly-related posts turned up in my Feedly over the last few days, echoing some recent personal experiences.

Ravious at KTR detailed how his GW2 server, Sanctum of Rall, is dealing with the issue of AFKers at the Tequatl event by finessing the Overflow system. Jeromai at Why I Game had a powerful response to that, which he rolled up with a series of observations on the impatience, elitism and downright bad manners so often seen in modern groups.

Jeromai counterpointed his bad PUG example with a good one but Stargrace at MMOQuests and Stabs at Stabbed Up were singing the praises of going into tough fights with people you really know, people you can trust to stick with the job 'til the job gets done.

Meanwhile, Mrs Bhagpuss has put FFXIV on the back burner in favor of building castles in Rift and I have drifted back to GW2 and other worlds, both our choices guided at least in part by the inevitable, unavoidable tyranny of the Duty Finder. A certain malaise is in the air.

I'm beginning to wonder if I'm just getting too old for all this. I had to rewrite my original comment to Ravious's post because my initial reaction seemed unreasonable even to me.  I know all this server-hopping, guesting and guilds pimping themselves out as mercs-for-hire isn't technically cheating or exploiting but it sure feels like it to me. In a way that's worse because it suggests that activities that would once have been deemed unacceptable either by game developers or players or both are now seen not just as tolerable but almost praiseworthy. 

Just the four of us? Are you sure that's right?
I remember very clearly the days when Pick Up Groups had etiquette and rules of behavior that were largely understood and usually followed. One that was particularly closely adhered to was your responsibility to find a replacement if you had to leave. I can remember many times searching LFG and sending tells or calling out in /shout to get another healer or tank to come replace me before I left. I'd begin doing it well before I actually needed to leave to make sure the group suffered the least possible inconvenience.

Of course, there never really was a Golden Age of Grouping. There were good groups and bad groups then just like there are now. The big difference was that then you had some hope of meeting people more than once, of building relationships through repeated, shared endeavour, of turning PUGmates into acquaintances and acquaintances into friends. There was a payoff to not behaving like an arse that went well beyond the simple satisfaction of not behaving like an arse. Although that should never be under-rated.

A combination of closed, instanced dungeons and automated, cross-server group-finding mechanisms put paid to all that. Now your arseness or lack thereof is of the most transitory value or concern, at least outside of your own sense of self-respect. If you behave like a spoilt toddler and play like one too, the moment the group dissolves it's as though it had never been. On the other hand, even if your PUG gels into the greatest group of adventurers ever, short of all changing servers there's no way you can repeat the experience. What happens in DF stays in DF, with all that entails. It's a very high price to pay for fast instance pops and you don't always even get those.

Hmm. If I could tame whatever made this print I'd never need to group again.
Not surprisingly playing with people you already know really well is increasingly seen as the only way to have not just an optimal time but any kind of good time at all. Bad behavior is expected of PUGs, players who could set examples choose to absent themselves, the prophecy self-fulfills. With the heaviest of ironies players, who only a year or two back were demanding more and better open grouping and wider social access, are now devising cunning schemes to subvert or avoid the very mechanics that were put in place to give them the gameplay they said they wanted. 

I would still like to down Tequatl and I'd be lying if I said the time will never come when I'll take whatever kill I can get. If I end up knocking that dragon back into the ocean anywhere other than Yak's Bend, though, the victory will be hollow, the achievement tarnished.

There's nothing new about all this, that's the sad thing, or perhaps it the saving grace. It was ever thus. Clearly right now the wind is in favor of harsher mechanics, sterner rules, less patience among players and a work ethic that borders on obsession. The all-too-brief sunrise of MMO as light-hearted entertainment is disappearing behind the thunderclouds of serious commitment. Buckle down, learn your class, pay your dues. Anyone that doesn't comply to the new orthodoxy must be a moron, a slacker, an afker. Leave them, they're not worth it.

As usual, Wilhelm at TAGN has the middle path that works. Have fun with friends and a different kind of fun with strangers. If necessary, to stay sane turn the whole thing into a meta-game. Have your fun with them while they're having theirs with you but never let your standards slip.

A time will come when you'll need those standards again. Buff them til they shine.




14 comments:

  1. Sometimes terrible pugs can be funny in their own way.

    I dunno, my first MMO was WoW so perhaps my perspective is a bit less sensitive toward the ubiquitous terribleness of people than those who played during that Golden Age of Community of the pre-WoW games. To me, it's just how pugging has always been. I adjust my expectations accordingly. What I don't get is people who pug and are so uptight about things having to be -just so- and perfectly executed that they have meltdowns the minute things don't go flawlessly.

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    1. I generally like pugging but it's a lot better in non-instanced content in my opinion, or perhaps I should say in non-linear content, whether instanced or otherwise. In an instance that has a specific "win" condition, which the FFXIV and GW2 ones do at least while you are at the Story stage, there is not only the looming specter of failure and having to repeat but also an uncomfortable sense of responsibility to your group-mates. It's too much pressure for me to find it genuinely entertaining and entertainment is primarily what I'm there for.

      Although that said, my favorite pugging era of all-time was LDoN...

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  2. Find a replacement before you leave the group? That's actually the first time I've ever heard of that. :P

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    1. I said I felt old, already. You're not helping any!

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  3. Too much convenience can be a serious detriment, and I really wish players and game devs understood that better.

    -Ursan

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    1. Goldilocks syndrome. It gets everywhere.

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  4. I remember the time I told my Pug group that I did not know the way to sebilis (in old EQ dungeons were not instanced and you needed to actually go to the dungeon entrance to enter there). One of them ran back to zone line, guided us back while giving information about the dangers we can encounter on the way. Once we arrived and zoned, they continued to explain every encounter and give necessary information to reach each camp in seb. When we reached our camp they first explained then showed ho to break that camp. And this was not an isolated incident. Everytime I told I did not know something, I was given detailed explanations. And later on I did the same when encountered novices. Everyone kinda accepted this pay it forward mentality. Of course it was a different time/game then. EQ was so hard and unforgiving, if you were 20+, everyone accepted that you know the basics (aggro/control, pulling, breaking camps, resource management, etc) pretty well. It was also a much smaller society; everyone you see, you know you will see again and again and again. Reputation was important and for life. I remember people who changed servers and still couldn't escape their rep sometimes even name change was not enough.

    And now we are in the age of intances. We can que them where ever we are in that virtual world, and the people we group with; doesn't have to be from our own server/world. This changes perceptions a lot. People do not feel invested enough to teach stuff to others; they will most likely never meet them again. For the same reason, there is no pressure for being polite/considerate. After all, they are not much different than computer controlled mobs in that concept; you need them for that particular thing you want, be it dungeons / fractals / events / raids.. and when you are done, your need of them will end. So it doesnt matter if they are computer or player controlled. It's gotten so bad it is not unusual to form a pug and not say anything besides hi at the beginning. Sometimes not even that.

    And we've been like this so long all our perceptions are changed I think. Even mine. I remember explaining how to break camps or something like that to people again and again, as long as necessary. Now my tolerance level seems to be diminished to single digits. 2-3 times I can still handle, but the more people do not understand or do not seem to listen/make an effort the lower my trial limit goes. And then I apologize and leave. Without looking for a replacement.
    Hey it's not like they will actually look for one right? Someone is bound to be a lfg tool away.

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    1. Good, or rather patient, PUGs still do explain things. That hasn't been too much of a problem in FFXIV so far, but I feel it's probably a function of the game being new and everyone learning together. All MMOs start off like that. I agree, though, that patience wears thin a lot faster than it used to. I know mine does.

      The point about other players effectively being NPCs is well-made. The real problem starts when you begin to feel you'd be better off with actual NPCs. Actually, no, the real problem starts when you *know* you'd be better off with actual NPCs...

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    2. I'm honestly starting to wonder if no one explains things because they don't know enough to explain either.

      In an age of video guides and third-party websites, maybe they just slavishly copied or followed in the footsteps of someone else to get by once or twice and that's it.

      And of the people competent enough to figure stuff out for themselves, perhaps many stay within their own organized groups, only some post that information online (often in a bragging 'look how awesome we are' manner, rather than explain how someone else can catch up to their level), fewer still are not lazy enough to spend time writing out explanations in guide form rather than just video record themselves doing it...

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    3. That chimes with my experience. The PUGs I do, which isn't a huge number but isn't negligible either, split roughly into two categories: almost silent or conversational. The ones that don't speak can be anything from hopeless to frighteningly efficient. If things go well, no-one cares that no-one speaks because everyone gets what they need, A brief "GG" and off they go. If it's a failing group everyone just seems happy to end it and try for a better one. Occasionally there might be a critical comment but mostly people start to leave without warning and the group just disintegrates.

      Neither of those things especially worries me. They're understandable. What does bug me are the good, friendly, conversational PUGs, the ones where people are patient, sympathetic, and helpful and where everyone sticks at it through the learning curve until either we win or the timer kicks us out. That's much worse because you can see the possibilities for relationships blooming then dying as the instance ends and everyone vanishes, almost certainly never to meet again. I've had some great PUGs in both FFXIV and GW2 but I have never, ever met any of the people again.

      In the old days, when we stood outside the dungeons and LFG'd, if I had an awesome group on Thursday then on Friday I'd still remember their names and if I saw any of them hanging around at the entrance I'd group invite them or send them a tell. It seemed very natural and organic to do that. Do it a few times and you were acquaintances, on the way to becoming friends.

      Under that system it just happened, the process encouraged it. It's not impossible nowadays but it requires far more determination and effort, working against the grain of the game. I'm pretty sure there's a middle path that would retain the social structure of the /lfg days while adding the convenience of the DF but I can't say I've seen it yet.

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    4. They're going to add a 'server-only' option to group finding in FFXIV in the future -- so hopefully that can offer an alternative to the Vast Anonymous Hordes of the DF.

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    5. The pessimist in me doesn't think so.
      I've experienced a lot of lfg tools, and some were server only instead of all servers or EU/NA side. As long as the group content is one button away, and if one group doesn't work another trial is also one button away (save some cool-down time in same games if you are the one that split the group); I fear it all comes off as expendable and refresh-able resource instead of living breathing human beings.

      I think when MMO genre changed from niche to mass market perceptions changed on its purpose/goal. Community / Society did not stay at the front seat after that. Changes to make it more accessible changed playability for the better yes, but at the expense of camaraderie and community pride or whatever you call it.

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  5. I haven't bitten by that 90 minute timer yet but I can see it being huge annoyance later on with harder content.

    I was however bitten by their 1 healer and 1 tank rule yesterday. Two of my friends are healers and DF won't let us zone in. Luckily one of the healer was able to switch to a DPS class. Is there anyway to zone into a instance without using DF?

    I am all for group content and even forced group content but if I wan to gimp my group by taking 2 healers then I should be able to. So I don't really understand why they have these 2 rules in FF14.

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    1. If you have a fully hand-made party, you can zone into any instance in any group makeup via DF, so far as I know. It's only when you need random slots filled that it demands certain roles.

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