Often, this column has focused on guilds and communities in MMOs, both the good and the bad. With the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic, it's interesting to look at the ways in which a community is slowly gelling on each server. Already there are players I'm bumping into more and more often, and while I tend to huddle around guildies most of the time, I find that I enjoy things much more when I'm surrounded by a good community of players.
There's already been a lively discussion among SWTOR fans about whether the current LFG tool is good enough or something more is needed. Do we need something more "meaty" to help do the job of grouping for us or not? Read on for some pros and cons, and weigh in on whether more is needed to help bring the community closer.
/ooc Looking for group!
I was born and raised (or at least, my little Ranger was) on using chat channels and good old-fashioned elbow grease to form groups. And more often than not, the fact that I took the extra step of putting groups together helped me recruit some nice people for the guild. It's amazing what a simple tell can accomplish, and yet if I had a copper for every time I saw a group of players all independently spamming chat for a group with no one taking the liberty to just form it up, I'd be a rich little Ranger. Even when a player will point it out in chat, it's surprising to see players still avoid actually making the group.
There's probably a few reasons for that, many of them good ones, and many of which I experienced, lived through, got the t-shirt, and would not like to do again. One of the problems with player-made groups is that you're reliant on that initial person to make a decent and full group. It's disheartening to say the least when you accept an invite only to find that it's you, the leader, and one other person, and you're stuck waiting around for more. The other problem is taking the invite, scanning the group list, and seeing Dood Loser'guy drooling in the corner. You've grouped with him before, and you know how miserable it is, but you like the others and you don't want to bail on them. Do you suffer through or drop and risk the chance to group with the others in the future?
Thanks for the group, jerk!
On the flip side, making a group can be just as difficult a prospect because the pressure is on you to make it a successful run, and when things go wrong, guess who usually takes the blame. As the saying goes, you usually end up kissing a lot of toads before finding the handsome prince, and that applies to making groups. If you tough it out and do it enough, you'll build up a nice pool of good players to select for groups, but in the meantime, you will undoubtedly end up with some less-than-savory characters fighting alongside you (or not, in some cases).
It's little surprise that dungeon finders have become so popular lately in MMOs. People want to group, but they just don't want the hassle and the responsibility that comes with it. However, for all of the problems that it does solve, it raises others. Now that people don't feel the same commitment to the group that they did when it was player-made, they aren't going to have as much motivation to work with the team and behave. If someone sends me a tell and I reply to the invite, I'm crossing the lines of rudeness to drop without explanation. With a dungeon finder, it's much easier for someone to up and leave because after all, he was placed there by an AI, not necessarily by choice.
The same goes for conversation and communication in general, which is a necessary ingredient in community-building. In groups that I've pieced together in the past, we always talked. It might not be friendly and polite all the time (especially after a messy wipe), but that communication actually helped us forge ties and get things done. When I'm randomly sorted into a group, I have little reason to speak to the others around me, unless of course I already know the people there. It's even compounded when it's a cross-server group because the chance of my ever seeing these people again is slim, so what reason do I have to even strike up a conversation or try to troubleshoot things that come up while in an instance? We're either going to win or we aren't, and if the going gets really tough, it's easy to just get going and drop the group to take a chance on another one. Now, I don't do that, and I actually avoid dungeon finders because it's so easy for others to do that, but it is part of the problem with the system.
The problem of grouping is something that has become a bigger problem over time, as MMOs have grown in number and server populations have become even larger than they were a decade ago. It's similar to the small town vs. big city comparison. The "small-town" populations of MUDs and early MMOs were small enough that you eventually knew a good chunk of the residents, and you were able to find a niche of players whom you enjoyed being with while steering clear of the local troublemakers. The big cities of MMOs today, though, make that a nearly impossible task, and while the technology is there to help us make groups, it won't necessarily help us find players whom we want to group with again and again, and it won't encourage the communication that makes the challenges of grouping more enjoyable. If the Fellowship of the Ring, for example, were comprised of randomly selected denizens of Middle Earth, I doubt it would make for a great story.
If the hue and cry is high enough, there's a good chance that we'll see a more proactive LFG tool put in place, similar to a dungeon finder. Players, of course, always will have the option of using it or making groups on their own. And while it will help piece together many more groups overall, that's balanced out by the fact that the quality of those groups might not be as good.
Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.