Developers clearly see PvE instances as a key part of the MMO experience. So why do so many of them fail to ensure I can access this content with a solid group finder? I have been trying to play something other than World of Warcraft (which does have a group finder) for a number of years. But even my current pick, The Secret World, commits this sin. I usually end up annoyed at spending time in LFG channels trying to form a group, so I give up, first on grouping and then on the game.I have a theory, but you're not going to like it, and you might end up back in WoW when I'm done.
So why do they design games where they assume I am joining the game with four like-minded individuals who have the same gaming schedule as I do? Why do they assume I want to spend time in public channels showing how little I know about the game whilst trying to form a group?
Don't make me go back to WoW. Unless I can access your content, there is no point in making the content!
First off, I'm with you here: I find it hard to take seriously any group- or dungeon-oriented MMORPG launching in this decade without a group-finder, especially for PvE. A developer that does not prioritize helping its community team up is a developer that is missing the point of the genre and cutting corners.
But cutting corners is what this is all about. I have no doubt that designing a group-finder is technically difficult and time-consuming, doubly so if that group-finder is expected to cross server boundaries, teleport players long distances, incorporate gear checks, track class roles, or tie into a rewards system. When a developer is faced with limited resources, either before launch or after a rocky lunch, it might not have a whole lot of choice but to skimp on mechanics that feel like luxuries -- like a group-finder.
Designers who grew up playing games like EverQuest might rationalize the decision by figuring that it worked back in the day, so maybe it'll still work now -- that players can muddle through by piecing their groups together in chat until a LFG tool is doable. After all, if the choice is making existing content more accessible or making new content, most developers will choose new content. New content is what will capture headlines and impress players on the "new shinies" level. A LFG tool, by contrast, sounds a bit mundane. By the time a post-launch game implements a LFG tool, it's regarded not as a bold and flashy feature but a long-overdue obligation worthy of mockery (just ask Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2).
But like it or not, a group-finder is what most modern MMO gamers expect. WoW has indeed trained us to demand it. We're not willing to resort to camp checks or clunky LFG channels anymore. We've seen it done well and be honed over many years. It's not that modern MMO players are lazy or unsocial; if anything, we're hoping to squeeze ever more actual gaming out of the playtime we have and broaden our social interactions with strangers without the annoyances of waiting around doing nothing or desperately polling for groupmates in spammy (or worse, underutilized) LFG channels.
LFG tools aren't perfect; some folks still argue they destroy server communities or trivialize world spaces. I don't agree, but I do know that I've wasted plenty of time in a long DPS queue and seen my fair share of abuses of vote-kick features. I'd still take all of that in a heartbeat over not having the tools at all in a themepark where they are such obvious complements to the gameplay.
Developers, these features aren't optional anymore. Your game is intended to connect people and cut down on wasted time so that players think of your themepark as a juicy, action-packed experience, not like waiting in a roller coaster line for two hours in the sun. A chat channel is perceived as a cheap or lazy shortcut. You need a groupfinder.
Don't make David go back to WoW. Surely we can do better than mechanics from pre-2009.
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