In Praise of PUGs

Most of my pick-up groups have been rather good. I have clearer memories of the horrid ones, but my non-guild groups almost never fail to accomplish their objectives, and few have really serious problems along the way. The problem is that the good groups blend together: teams succeed similarly, but each fails in its own unique way.

The Lord of the Rings Online™ has had the best mix of highs and lows. I attribute this to the clearly defined roles and lack of range of choice in characters, along with not terribly difficult content. Each class is supposed to do certain things and has a few key powers. This sets expectations, and when most people clear a minimal bar, a couple of high-performers can lead us to victory. Failure usually stems from having one role be completely incompetent or missing. In those cases, failure is absolute, painful, and often acrimonious.

I still remember running Glinghant with a tank who kept silence-aura ghosts next to the Minstrel; a Champion who never bought Clobber (interrupt) because it did not seem useful solo; and someone who ran directly through several groups of elites, wiped the group, announced that those “came out of nowhere,” then got very angry when the group blamed her for it. I also remember a highly efficient group that beat the Sixteenth Hall three times in two hours (normal time: 60-90 minutes), hard mode plus quests, with the Minstrel chain-pulling; main-tanking as a Hunter with no problems; and several cases where we hit two six-person fellowship maneuvers within ten seconds.

City of Heroes had the most extreme highs and lows. Good groups were pure bliss, eight people rampaging at several buff caps and intentionally having multiple people chain-pull because we wanted more enemies than the aggro cap could handle. Our best groups were about half-PUG, anchored by a few supergroup members that worked well together. Other times, I was in that PUG-half of another guild’s group, and we had epic times smashing the Freakshow. The negatives were also pretty nasty: since the missions scale, every new member was a chance for multiple bosses to clobber people; every person has a separate aggro cap, so one idiot can repeatedly over-aggro and draw it on the group; and knockback addicts could render our many area effect abilities useless. Or some people were really good with knockback.

The major factor in City of Heroes is flexibility in character builds. For various reasons, many people are missing basic powers that you expect from that set. I can still get irritated remembering a */Radiation Emission Controller who took neither Rad toggle and thought we were being unreasonable jerks for questioning the decision. I remember an Empathy/Radiation Blast Defender who wanted to play a self-healing Radiation Blaster; he skipped the majority of the Empathy powers, like Heal Other, because he could not use them on himself; I hope he eventually led a happy like as a Rad/Rad Corruptor. I remember meeting an interesting concept character that did not mesh well with groups: a Mind Controller who focused on single-target attacks from the Fighting pool, who would AE mez then slowly take them out one by one. I note this one because it was a great concept: the ancient martial arts master who clouds his foes’ minds and strikes them down with his bare hands. It was sadly useless next to our core concept: bring together many foes and blow them all up.

Warhammer Online had the worst mix, with mild highs and horrid lows. That mixed the post-release PvE content and the character of PvP play in general. PvE groups rarely stayed together long enough to get a rhythm going, communication was scant, and class composition varied wildly. I rarely noticed an especially good group, although I do not know if that reflected ignorance of what is really good or just content where excellence bore no greater fruit than adequacy. Once you are killing faster than the public quest respawn rate, it does not matter how much better you get. I heard about excellent AE farming groups, but those were all guild groups rather than PUGs. I did very little PUG ORvR, but a great many PUG scenarios. Again, because the groups broke up after every scenario, we rarely established much rhythm, although sometimes you got the same people several times in a row. Levels and competence mixed to provide unbalanced teams, so how could you feel triumph when half the other team was naked and around the level minimum, or feel any hope when that was your team? However negative your scenario PUG experiences are, PUGs are the only option there. You can have your pre-made team, but the other team is whoever gets added, and you cannot kick the guy who is trying to finish an entire tier by running scenarios naked. The highs and the lows were both utter face-meltings, which can be fun for a while on the winning side, as long as you do not run out of sheep.

I have more good groups, but they blend. I have one mental slot in The Lord of the Rings Online™ for “fought a giant troll; someone tanked; someone healed; I killed adds before we turned full fire on the big guy.” That slot contains many visits to Weatherop, Carn Dum, the swamps near Dol Dinen, the Forgotten Treasury, and so on. A similar one holds my City of Heroes memories of fighting Lord Recluse and his council.

Despite remaining cheerful and enthusiastic about PUGs, I have many more memory slots devoted to smaller accounts of, “This one time, this one idiot…” A recent PUG was successful but not something I will really remember: we had an average run time with no major problems, with the only deaths coming when three elites got crits on the tank in less than two seconds, and we still won that fight. I led, we followed the plan well except for some mez-breaking, and everything went smoothly. Without the highs or lows, there is little to remember. The highest it can peak is running really smoothly, while the lowest nadir is repeated violent death.

Let’s think happy thoughts this week. Try to remember those little peaks and the many, many plateaus.

: Zubon

10 thoughts on “In Praise of PUGs”

  1. Great post. I would have to agree with you on LotRO. When you get a good group then its likely you will have a blast. The best thing is that when you get a good group in that game people tend to try and hang around so we could get the most done. Good times. I’ll just try not to think about the bad PuGs :P

  2. I also find that in LotRO, bad pugs are generally not as painful as bad pugs in other games I’ve played (WoW, WAR, etc.). However, I hardly ever run into bad pugs so it’s kind of a moot point anyway. I still keep getting amazed at how the majority of the time, pugging in LotRO is actually a pleasant experience.

  3. I agree with Mallika. The one I remember a lot was Guild Wars PUGs. I would say in the beginning things were mostly bad, and henchmen only helped a little. However, once they added skill pinging so you could look at another player’s skill bar before heading in to the instance… PUG’ing remarkably improved. Poor players could no longer hide behind their own build-creating inadequacies. Whether they would be a good player was still up for questioning, but at least we could set their build straight.

  4. I don’t even worry about someone’s build in GW, at least for PvE. Why should I tell someone else how to play their character? Giving tips or suggestions are one thing but many GW players are as elitist as WoW players when it comes to someone else’s build/gear.

    I always found GW and WoW to have the worst possible PUGs though. Possibly a factor of each having so many players. Plus GW being free online play most likely attracts the younger crowd of teabaggers who might otherwise be playing Halo.

    Every other MMO I’ve had mostly good PUG experiences, with LOTRO and DDO at the top tier for friendly and skilled PUG players.

  5. I am a PUG addict, partly because they are often the only way a casual player like myself can get to enjoy group content but also because I like the commitment free nature of pugging. Sometimes its nice to just join a bunch of random folks for a hour of gaming without promising to be their friend for life. Mind you I have been playing a lot of LOTRO which is well known for having better than average pugs so I have probably been shielded from the worst that pugs have to offer.

    I think the ultimate expression of Pugging has to be the shooter Left 4 Dead. Grouping up with four random strangers just fits in so well with the whole ethos of the game. The lack of co-ordination can even add to the tension. After all when did you ever see a zombie movie where one of the survivors didn’t wander off on some foolhardy solo exploration.

  6. I’ve always said the greatest strength of multiplayer games is also their greatest weakness: other players. You might be blessed with a group of smart, switched-on, humorous and laid back folk who facilitate success and fun. Or you might be shackled to moronic, ignorant, rude cretins with a physical or mental age of 12 who make de-clawing the cat more entertaining than gaming – and less stressful.

    It was that way in Counter-Strike. And it’s that way in MMOs.

    Even WAR, which facilitated PuGs to an unprecedented degree, failed to actually make them work. City of Heroes is the only game I’ve played where PuGs are more often fun than soul destroying. But then CoH has a remarkably mature and helpful population. That’s a phenomenon I still can’t figure out.

  7. I played WoW for three years and got almost that many good PuGs.

    I’ve played LoTRO now for nearly two years, and had about a dozen bad PuGs, with only two or three being WoW-level bad.

    The difference is in the game, I think. WoW is designed to solo. ALWAYS. LoTRO initially was fairly solo unfriendly. Yes, you could (hunter, LM as long as it wasn’t dead, captain or champ traited correctly). As it has grown it has added solo play, but it was built as a group game, and while it relies on it almost as much as its distant ancestor EQ1, it has changed the mechanic of the group from Trinity and Friends to having everyone be able to contribute. I can think of many groups where I was the main healer as a Loremaster (1 heal for ~1/3 of the average player’s HP bar every 30 seconds) because Fellowship manuevers were hit, people knew how to manage agro, and people assisted the target.

    LoTRO’s groups are usually players more mature, reminding me strongly of EQ1, while WoW’s groups have a bunch of soloers who happen to need a group goal.

Comments are closed.