Feature is a Word, Like Love

25968When I started reading about the new grouping feature in World of Warcraft, I was blown away.  Here, I thought that Turbine had triumphed in the slaying of “activation energy” to play the vanilla MMO with skirmishes, and Blizzard possibly one-ups them.  It’s a tough call to actually announce a winner. While the goal of both skirmishes and the random grouping feature in World of Warcraft is to decrease the time spent not playing.  They attack it in very separate ways.  Skirmishes are content.  Random grouping is a feature.

My good friends in my Lord of the Rings Online guild were very patient with me the other day.  I had, as they called it, “grass is greener ADD”-syndrome.  World of Warcraft seemed so shiny now.  People were playing old dungeons, for murlocs’ sakes!  All the time spent whining in global chat, praying for guildies to show up, and standing around was now vanquished by a mere press of a button that would warp me and 4 others directly in to a dungeon with a special random grouping buff.  How cool was that?!

The simple assault/defend skirmishes seemed… well, simple in comparison to being able to play a Blizzard created dungeon.  I wanted to re-up with my priest right away, even with the shiny, free Siege of Mirkwood barely scratched.  Like I said, my friend were patient with my erratic thoughts of splitting game time between a solid kinship and character in Lord of the Rings Online and nobody and nothing in World of Warcraft all for this one simple feature.  One glorious feature that I wish was in all similar MMOs.

But, one feature should not change my feelings on a game I just re-tried, should it?  It took awhile to get past the shiny-stage of thought and really examine why I wanted to get back to World of Warcraft.

My first thoughts were in terms of power.  I am pretty logical in developer decisions, or at least I try to be.  The new combat system in Lord of the Rings Online is nice, but my Captain really feels less powerful.  It’s a stupid thing to miss the heavy handed halberd swings, when my new lighter alloy halberd does as much DPS, or the four-digit crits I rarely seem to get anymore even if I get more crits per mob.  Turbine wants to have a logarithmic power scale, which is a good idea for the most part IFthere was a good reason to keep older content challenging, by which I mean rewards.  World of Warcraft on the other hand has an exponential power scale that absolutely destroys old content, but at the same time a new type of gameplay emerges.  The knowledge that I might be able to solo old group content ten levels later just to experience it, is a warm, fuzzy one.

The second was the success of skirmishes and the random grouping feature.  Skirmishes can be done solo.  The rewards do not seem to balance very well when adding more people.  Sure, there is a slight boost to skirmish marks, but with the extra mobs and their extra health, it doesn’t feel worth it.  Finally, skirmishes are not the main content.  They are good, additional content for sure, but the Mirkwood zone and Mirkwood cluster are where it’s at.  The skirmish barter rewards feel kind of insular too.  The random grouping feature, on the other hand, relies on the main content in World of Warcraft: dungeon instances.  It gives players a small boost to stats, and the rewards are the carrots people want anyway.

I go in to this weekend unsure of whether Blizzard will get another $15 from me or not.  I have to try and remind myself that Blizzard’s feature does not really change the core game.  It just allows people to play the core game more.  It’s probably a good idea just to play Guild Wars and Dungeons and Dragons Online until this internal struggle passes.

–Ravious
the soul to follow duty

16 thoughts on “Feature is a Word, Like Love”

  1. You should try some Puzzle Pirates detox. Not only is grouping just as easy in a lot of ways, but it’s a totally different sort of MMO. It’s good for the soul.

  2. I had exactly the same thoughts as WoW’s patch 3.3 and LOTRO’s Siege of Mirkwood and with that the Skirmishes were introduced.

    Guild Wars also had an idea how to allow solo, duo and group players to tackle the very same content years ago, filling up with NPC henchmen and later customizeable henchmen called Heroes.

    Guild Wars would also profit from WoW’s new LFG system, probably even more.

    I wonder if the time of the “instant dungeon & instant grouping” gameplay has come. This could also explain the new vigor behind Turbine’s DDO, besides the changed payment scheme.

    Both Skirmishes and the new WoW LFG scare me somewhat. Years ago people lamented instances and heavy instanced games to be somewhat lacking, not to be true MMOs and all that.

    And today? Today we have extremely instanced dungeon crawling, you can now play WoW and LOTRO without moving out of the auction house/town at all.

    I am a fan of worlds in MMOs. Funnily, Guild Wars has an extremely instanced world, and fast travel from hub to hub. And this – even more funny – feels to me much more connected than beaming from everywhere into an instance with people from everywhere I have not even seen before.

    This new trend is exciting, but I never played MMOs for the dungeons. I played them for the world. I wonder which generation of MMOs is catering to my needs, the current and next probably won’t. I loved Ultima Online.

    But people assure me Skirmishes and the new LFG tool are just very well done extras and don’t take away from the world aspect.

    True – but I see not much development of the world, if all of the focus goes into creating a new explorable area for every expansion and then put all effort into instanced areas or scenarios.

    1. Skirmishes definitely do not take away because they are a side dish, ultimately. When I came at SoM, I thought they might suffice as a full meal, but sadly (or gladly depending on mood) they do not. The core game is still the excellent PvE hubs and “cluster” at the end.

      Same goes for the random grouping feature. You can group up with one or two buds and then hit the button to get a few more to round out the group. Also it doesn’t work (yet) for 10/25 raids. Only 5-mans.

  3. I’m with Longasc. The whole idea makes me nervous, although I can see the benefit and don’t find it unattractive.

    In the end I just have confidence that the market will support a range of games, playstyles and approaches. It will be good to have the choice.

    I hope.

  4. The new LFG tool in WoW should be the nail in the coffin of any argument for the outdated concept of servers/realms/shards that divide the player base ;). Unless of course for games that are not that much into group content, to each their own.

  5. Servers are outdated? Someone better let all the network engineers and technicians know that a MMORPG player has single-handedly designed and tested superior technology…

    Maybe I missed a similar discussion back when all you MMOG Tourists were drooling and slathering over WAR and its Scenarios (entirely possible, I’ll admit, as I mostly ignored everything WAR-related pre-launch and given how popular WAR is these days *cough* that seems to have been a good decision), but aren’t Skirmishes essentially the same thing? Queue up from anywhere, when it “pops” you’re whisked away to do the Scenario/Skirmish content then you’re whisked right back to where you left off. The problem with that is, what, exactly? Sure, sure, if you’re the heavy RP type or if you’re a deluded Immersionite you may have some issues with your suspension of disbelief, although were I so inclined I could probably point out myriad other “features” that are equally jarring from a “reality” or “immersion” standpoint but apparently those are OK somehow…

    Back “in the day” the old-school MMORPG’s placed a heavy emphasis on the virtual worlds. If we take off the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia for a moment, we may be willing to take a hard look at the Old Guard and admit that honestly, they weren’t very good *games* at all. We were still addicted and overlooked a lot of the downright atrocious design elements because it was all new back then. We’d never experienced anything like that, and the designers were in the same boat. Starting with WoW most likely, the emphasis fell on gameplay — making these things fun *as games* — and that’s still where we are today. I’m hoping once developers are convinced they’ve got their game-building chops that they’ll *also* start looking back into having more convincing worlds to play those games in. Yes, I’m asking to have my cake and eat it too, but I don’t think that’s really asking the impossible within the context of MMOG’s.

    @Longasc: From Skirmishes alone, somehow I’m not getting the impression Turbine suddenly wants to not bother having a Middle Earth at all and just design a completely worldless matrix of instances like DDO. The whole “world vs. instance” argument always falls flat, and the “immersion” one even flatter. DDO will be the exception here but generally speaking you have the game world and the ability to travel. Everyone has the choice to travel (which some people delude themselves into thinking has “meaning”) around that world to the various locations, arguably under the guise of “immersion” or to use the various fast-travel options available. What happens in LOTRO? Did everyone in the kin ride their horses to the Rift each week in the SoA game? Did everyone ride their goats to the Moria instances and raids? Or did they rely on Hunter camps, Captain summons and Mustering Horns? Not to mention the various swift travel routes, the maps, and the Hunter and Warden’s Guide skill.

    I always think back to Vanguard when all the so-called “hardcore” guys were having wet dreams over no instances, no fast travel, no nothing. If you wanted to succeed in Vanguard you’d have to *work* for it by gawd! Uphill in the snow, both ways, and you’d be *thankful* for it! Apparently that sounded better on some drug-induced designer’s forum post than actually playing a *game* because those same “hardcore” bitched enough that the Riftway fast travel system appeared. Which of course, those same “hardcore” now bitch about. Just can’t please some people…

    1. “Back “in the day” the old-school MMORPG’s placed a heavy emphasis on the virtual worlds. If we take off the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia for a moment, we may be willing to take a hard look at the Old Guard and admit that honestly, they weren’t very good *games* at all. We were still addicted and overlooked a lot of the downright atrocious design elements because it was all new back then. We’d never experienced anything like that, and the designers were in the same boat. Starting with WoW most likely, the emphasis fell on gameplay — making these things fun *as games* — and that’s still where we are today. I’m hoping once developers are convinced they’ve got their game-building chops that they’ll *also* start looking back into having more convincing worlds to play those games in. Yes, I’m asking to have my cake and eat it too, but I don’t think that’s really asking the impossible within the context of MMOG’s.”

      Wow okay, so many things wrong here!
      * You go into no depth at all on how the old games were bad, just that they were and it is solely nostalgia that keeps them good. ‘lol nostalgia’ is of course a main argument (if not THE) main argument used by Blizzard fanboys to justify the state of the game compared with its former state.
      * So how were they bad? There is no explaination for this.
      * ‘Starting with WoW most likely, the emphasis fell on gameplay’. NOTHING STARTED WITH WOW. WOW IS NOT ORIGINAL IN THE LEAST. And were you even around when WoW started? Did you not notice the emphesis on the open world? WoW’s original design concept was the same as all original MMORPGs, that of an open uninstanced world… This is what I heard when I first started looking into the game and this is what I got when I started to play.

      Oh no. The only reason why the ’empty space’ in MMORPGs became useless is because WoW ‘evolved’ (or rather devolved) into NOT USING THE SPACE THAT THEY HAD. One old school example, UO. The space of the world was used for EVERYTHING (houses, gathering, PVP, all used the open area). How can you HONESTLY say that open space was just there because of bad games and that it was SOLELY nostalgia (I mean, nostalgia exists because of good times… And WHY were the games so addictive? You just throw out fancy meaningless words!) Bad games can define genres yet still be bad and unplayed, I mean Blizzard themselves have ALWAYS defined themselves as building on genres that already existed and making them better.

      Old games and their open worlds DID work and they worked because they used the open space.

      Ironically while you try and pin nostalgia-tag on others you yourself are blinded by the simple fact that you have forgotten (or never knew, since you are an unexperienced fanboy that provides no evidence for his opinion) what open space was there for, it just hasn’t been used effectively in games recently. The open space now days ISN’T USED FOR ANYTHING AND HENCE YOUR OPINION IS WARPED. While open space WAS used for central gameplay in the old games.

      And how do you define ‘gameplay’? How did WoW define gameplay? Again you fail to go into any depth and hence your opinion is useless.

      Either way, MMORPGs should be able open world, because MMORPGs are based on immitating worlds (otherwise they would FAIL TO BE MMORPGs, that would be MUDs… nothing wrong with MUDs, but there IS something VERY wrong with calling MUDs MMORPGs… that is what WoW is now days, a MUD). Give the open world purpose beyond uselessness (since leveling alts probably done better through instances now anyway) and there will be a need for it. Traveling from one end of the world to the other should have purpose, there SHOULD be gameplay in that from gathering to PVP.

      It should not be a chore because it is just a part of the game more then anything else… WoW MADE it a chore because Blizzard made the open space useless (and made too much of it).

  6. To be fair servers have been outdated for some time.

    Eve solves this by creating a virtual world which is between one seamless world and 5000 instances.

    WoW solves this with cross-server battlegrounds and dungeons.

    Guild Wars solves this by instancing.

    I think some of the other games are going to be forced to follow this latest move of WoW’s. Why would you spend an hour looking for a healer in Everquest 2 when you can get instant dungeons in WoW?

    I accept that servers are currently the dominant model but I think the industry is moving past them.

  7. I think you’ll never know until you try it. $15 to try something and see if it’s cool or not isn’t like a major betrayal of every principle you hold dear in gaming :P

  8. It’s a whole lot simpler to have a single “server” in EVE where you have three dimensions of nothingness and ships using menu-driven controls than it is to have enough virtual landmass (and content to go with it) to have all of say, WoW’s players on a single “server” without using some form of heavy instancing. Even in EVE when they transfer extra hardware to heavily populated areas it gets extremely lagged. Not to mention we’re not ships, we’re actual characters, each with our own individual armor, gear, tabards, etc. and we might be moving slowly, quickly, performing animated emotes, casting random spells for graphical effects… there’s no way in hell we have the tech to handle everyone playing a unique little snowflake of a character on a single server.

    Now, I will say that given the nature of both AoC and DDO’s population-controlled public instances, I always felt it was a shame they had visible servers to choose from at all. Both games would benefit from a Guild Wars “invisible server” approach where all the players can chat and group up and can choose which public “district” they want to load into.

  9. I hate to sound like a noob, but I can’t FIND the new grouping tool. I found the new LFR (raid) tool though. A tip would be great as noone in trade chat deigned to reply the one time I asked (and I am currently not very guilded).

  10. It’s where the old LFG tool used to be – bound to key ‘I’ by default, I think, and a little eye icon in the same group as the character sheet and talents.

    It’s completely brilliant. It does highlight the tank shortage a bit, but all of a sudden it’s possible to get groups while not at max level! Not as efficient as questing but potentially much more fun.

    I think the quality of my PUGs has also improved, in terms of pleasantness of players, but this may be temporary.

  11. Thanks so much. I never use those icons and I never accidentally mash on the I button when I meant to do something else strangely enough.

    Speaking of pugs, if you group enough you get a pug pet; eeeew it drags its butt along the ground and then sniffs it. I think it speaks tons about the quality of PUGs in general…

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