Looking for a LFG tool
Now, I'm only going to give you my opinions that are admittedly limited to World of Warcraft, RoM and a handful of articles I've read discussing others' opinions on improving LFG functionality.
I think making a good LFG tool that is simultaneously used a lot is hard to do. It's a tool that provides choice for players that have used the trusted chat window for many years now. Chatting is something every player sees and already uses daily. We've grown accustomed to it. For whatever reasons, many of us also tend to look for direction. We want to be told where to go and what to do next. I think, almost subconsciously, we need to be forced into doing something sometimes. Otherwise, we stray away from it.
I think Blizzard has come close to hitting a sweet-spot with WoW's dungeon finder. Blizzard developed the tool, and it has attracted so many players that it almost forces other players' hands. I'm not here to go into excruciating detail on how I think Blizzard accomplished this, but it does seem that way, doesn't it? The cross-realm grouping is one such feature added to an "optional" tool that comes close to forcing players to use it.
Many tools can live happily outside of incentives and forced motivation, but a LFG tool is one that really only does well if it's used. If someone goes looking for a group and hardly ever sees anyone in the LFG window, they'll go looking elsewhere.
RoM's LFG tool: The pros
I primarily like what I see when I open RoM's LFG tool. It's easy to access and has some great features. You can specify exactly which classes you're looking for and which instance you need help with, and you can even leave comments for others to read. In addition to finding groups for various instances, you can also search for help with specific quests in any zone and recruit fighters for the various battlefields. The level of detail that can be entered is nice, and having a comment box allows for specifying more intricate objectives if the default interface were to ever fall short.
RoM's LFG tool: The cons
One of the problems I see with it is that it isn't intuitive enough. I tried the LFG tool when if first appeared in RoM, but it's been so long since I last used it that I basically had to relearn it from scratch. You shouldn't really have to learn how to look for a group. When you first open the tool, you'll see two tabs along the right-hand side. It's not self-evident why the two separate windows are there. Where do you start looking, and exactly how do you get started in registering an entry? Is the first tab for people looking for a group? Then what's the second tab? Is the second tab where players just offer up there individual services?
Why doesn't it get used?
I like all the functionality on the LFG tool. I wouldn't want to see any of it go away. It's especially great that you can search for help with specific quests and battlefields. But like I said, it rarely gets used. Blizzard started offering oodles of extra experience and gift bags as incentives to using WoW's dungeon finder. Apart from adding incentives, I'm not sure what better methods exist for increasing RoM's LFG tool would be.
Originally, RoM's LFG tool was a great way for players to access the entire community without spending money on world chats, but world chats are now a dime a dozen. They still cost, but they're already offered as incentives in other places like Tempest Heights. World chats have become very prevalent. I'm sure they still make money for the cash shop, but it becomes easy to throw them around willy-nilly when they are cheap to begin with and you can also get many for free in-game. Players typically opt for shouting in world chat and will quite frequently throw out a world chat for other players.
The comfortable familiarity of the chat-window also outweighs the time it takes to enter information into the LFG tool. Chatting is immediately easy, even if it's actually taking more time and work in the long-run compared to a set-and-forget LFG tool. Then you get the twist by which players end up preferring the overall longer, manual, time-consuming method of chat because no one else is using the LFG tool. There's a certain amount of needing to feel that the action created a response. Manual chats give you that certainty. It's like when someone starts a brand-new car for the first time and he can't hear it running, so he doesn't trust that turning the key worked. He lowers his head, listening for the hum of the engine, or feels the dashboard for vibrations.
Make it better, stronger
The LFG tool could use some streamlining, mostly in explanations. Either add a button that brings up a small pop-up window with a tutorial, some tool-tips when you mouse-over different buttons or better-written explanations directly within the interface window. Add in some simple incentives like a free phirius potion (or something else) that can be claimed via an "accept party request" button. Apart from that, I'd ask players to just try using it. We all want to save time. It's the reason RoM went from a multi-click gathering system to a single-click gathering system. Double-up on your time. If enough players use the LFG tool, it will be the better way to go. You can set your entry and be totally free to go about your crafting, questing or whatever you were doing without having to stop to shout in chat.
My suggestions are thinly veiled copies, but I always like to try to push innovation and come up with newer, better ideas. That's where you come in. Is there a better way to get RoM's LFG tool in the limelight?
Each Monday, Jeremy Stratton delivers Lost Pages of Taborea, a column filled with guides, news, and opinions for Runes of Magic. Whether it's a community roundup for new players or an in-depth look at the Rogue/Priest combo, you'll find it all here. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.