Well I wasn't planning on doing any more blogging until Sunday, but sometimes things just work out differently. As I was working my way through my blog roll this morning, I started to come across post after post on the same issue... grouping and group content in Star Wars: The Old Republic. It wasn't just one person talking about it, it was several. So as is often the case, it made me think about my own experiences on the issue and what I might do to address it were I in Bioware's place. I'll include links to the various other bloggers as I go so you can read their full comments as well. I think it is safe to say that this is a very important issue, and regardless of what "side" you find yourself on personally. If you are playing SW:TOR, this issue matters to you.
Alone in a Crowded Room
First off, I sympathize highly with Rohan in terms of his personal experiences with grouping in SW:TOR. My experience with my initial main character (my Smuggler, Zintee) was very much the same. I completed The Esseles at level. I was fortunate enough to do Hammer Station and Athiss as well, but ever since then... nothing. And I am a healer! Similarly, I have not even attempted a Heroic quest since I left Nar Shaddaa (a low 20's level planet.) I will admit that part of this is due to the very low cost-to-benefit "ratio" for Heroic quests. Considering the amount of time they take to complete, even if you can find a group promptly, the reward you receive from them is paltry at best. So unless you are a total completionist, there really isn't much incentive to even attempt Heroic quests. My experience with my Bounty Hunter was pretty much the same. Athiss was the last Flashpoint I completed, and Heroic quests aren't even "on the table." As I advanced through levels, there simply weren't even enough people on the higher level planets to even bother trying.
Also like Rohan, I did not participate in the pre-launch guild selection process, and as I have lamented on this blog before, I remain isolated and guildless. I had thought that after launch, guilds would be active in looking for prospective members and new guilds would still be forming. I don't know if this is simply not true, or if I am simply not seeing it. I had expected to find recruitment ads in the various hubs like the Fleet, Coruscant/Dromund Kaas, etc. But this has not proven to be the case at all. Either every guild is already satisfied with their membership, or the message isn't getting out. And that brings me to my second biggest issue with SW:TOR as a game (aside from the horrendous UI.)
SW:TOR's social tools just absolutely, totally, and completely SUCK. In the game itself you have to rely on user-created channels for any sort of "global" communication, which as others have already mentioned is an exercise in frustration as those channels become dominated by trolls. And outside the game, even the official forums are not constructed properly to allow for efficient communication. Seriously, who at Bioware decided that server/shard specific forums should not be included? Hello? Bueller? Anybody home? This was a horrendous oversight. I have tried in vain to find guilds on my server that might be recruiting and it is all but impossible with the current forum structure. Once again, player created resources have emerged to try and fill the gap, but these are poorly maintained and hardly representative of everything and everyone on a server.
A Necessary Evil?
Stabbed makes perhaps the best point about why a "Looking For Dungeon" function in SW:TOR is almost mandatory whether you like it or not. He is talking about the pros/cons of LFD and the various arguments people make against it. In talking about how LFD encourages bad behavior, this quote just absolutely hit home for me:
inherited players trained by EQ's forced grouping system to not be
jerks. SWTOR is inheriting people trained by WoW and IT WONT CHANGE
THEIR BEHAVIOUR in a month. It's just designers trying to play social
engineer with the player base. It's egotistical and it won't work. Few
of us care enough about this game to fundamentally change the way we
interact with others online."
Truer words could not be spoken. This is the issue in a nutshell. WoW changed people's expectations and behaviors when it comes to grouping and group activities. We now expect to be able to simply "push a button" and have the game assemble a group for us. We now treat the other people in that group as nothing but disposable NPC's who's goals and motivations matter not a bit to us. We now find any effort beyond "pushing a button" a waste of our time and an inconvenience. This is the reality SW:TOR faces. It no longer matters whether you think LFD is good, bad, the messiah, or the devil. It is what players of a themepark MMO expect and thus a developer must either provide it, or face the consequences of not doing so.
One of the comments on these posts made an excellent point as well. If you can't find groups for Flashpoints and Heroic content now when the game is fresh, people are leveling, and populations are active and high... what is going to happen months down the road when people cap out and the "tourists" have left? LFD for SW:TOR is inevitable, just like it was inevitable for RIFT before it. Chalk it up as another "unintended consequence" of the WoW juggernaut. All other prospective themepark MMO's should take note. Have an LFD-type solution ready to go when your game launches... or else.
A Hill to Die On
As I have said before, I am opposed to LFD in the form it is implemented in WoW. However, as my father and grandfather would put it, "Are you willing to 'die on that hill?'" In other words, am I willing to essentially sacrifice any chance of the game being successful, or my ability to enjoy it, simply to remain true to the idea that I don't like LFD? At this point, I don't know. I am committed to SW:TOR until April. During that time, I would like to see some kind of grouping tool introduced. I would like to believe that smarter people than me can come up with a solution that addresses the issue but does not create the negative side-effects that WoW's LFD had on that game. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic and such a solution simply does not exist. But with other games on the horizon that interest me, I may be willing to "die" in SW:TOR over this. If they do implement LFD and it trashes the game, I can easily walk away. If they implement no solution at all, I will certainly walk away. The ball is in your court, Bioware. Better call a good play.