Category Archives: LFG

[GW2] Farming Arah and the ugly Face of Anonymity

For reasons not entirely transparent to myself, I’ve recently decided to set myself a goal in GW2 which is farming tokens from the Ruined City of Arah in order to acquire the only set worth a look on my female Norn Elementalist. It’s not that I require the gear statwise, as it’s identical to my current armor which also happens to look smashing – but then, GW2 endgame is all about creating your own challenges. And Arah surely is that, although not in the way I initially anticipated. While this might be one of the more challenging dungeons, its greatest annoyances come in form of skipping content and frankly obnoxious people populating pickup parties.

Here’s a confession: I hadn’t been to Arah-the-dungeon prior to my decision to farm tokens. My personal story is pending just one or two chapters before that. I have finished a story mode run more recently but my first runs ever were in complete ignorance of the place (which is usually the case when you do something for the first time) if not of Orr. That said, story mode is no preparation for exploration mode really, so what is a player to do other than to start and build up experience from there? I would also say for myself that I’m far from slow when it comes to steep learning curves.


Yet, my first few Arah PuG runs almost made me give up completely on my set goal (and humanity). They were spent group-rushing through large packs of trash, frantically spamming cooldowns and hoping to keep up with the others because no idea where I’m going. More often than not, they were spent being one-shot by said trash which either wiped the entire party or “the unlucky one” (as I like to call him by now), then re-attempting the same leeroy act, corpse-running over and over until somehow the entire party makes it through alive. Should you happen to be the unlucky one, don’t count on much help; you then get to attempt the insanity all by yourself with the rest of the group waiting impatiently, rather than porting back to retry together and increase your chances. Because what nobody likes to admit is this: thank god it wasn’t me and I’ll be damned to go back and help anybody! I’ve actually been in parties where people were happy to stand around for 15 minutes, rather than helping the person rushing trash alone, dying over and over. This gotta be the saddest, most asocial show I have ever experienced in an MMO which pains me a great deal to admit.

Most of Arah’s trash is ridiculously overpowered and probably meant to be skipped, which doesn’t excuse shitty behavior one bit. The absurdity of the trash combined with the vast scale and multiple paths within the dungeon, make it every beginner’s nightmare. Not only do you not find your way alone, your group is too tired and annoyed by the trash to play more cooperatively. You’re supposed to know your way around or be damned. This of course leads to many more questionable situations, soon making you wonder whether you are really saving that much time by skipping mobs:

  • Groups wiping because it’s not clear if a particular trash is to be avoided or killed, ending up with three players rushing through and two pulling.
  • Everybody reluctant to be the first one / on the front-line of a rush.
  • The group deciding to continue without the unlucky one, in order to activate the next waypoint. This may include killing a next boss without the person.
  • Squishier classes getting the greatest beef. Direct quote from my last Arah run: “this is why we don’t play Elementalists”.

Now, I’m happy to admit I still have things to learn on my class and I’ve already improved much as far as individual performance goes. It’s the whole randomness about skipping trash in Arah that gets to me. Rushes are so chaotic and hard to coordinate (with strangers), it’s often a lottery who gets through and who doesn’t. I’ve had runs where I didn’t die once and I’ve had the most horrible and frustrating runs which in fact made me ragequit once or twice – not last because of how thoughtlessly people behaved in general.

The paradoxical thing is that you can go through all this negativity before ever hitting your first boss. From my experiences from paths 1-3, there’s not one boss in Arah as frustrating as the long, to-be-avoided trash routine. I can easily survive through Lupicus by means of my own survivability skills and despite what some say about the bossfight, I don’t think it’s too hard. It’s one of the greater fights in all of GW2, one where tactics and your survival skills can truly shine.

And the whole grouping mess already shows before finding parties. Generally, players will use for lack of an ingame grouping tool in this cross-server MMO (!), then whispering random strangers for an invite. Only, that’s not how you do it, which I discovered after being ignored a couple of times. “Use self-inv” was the gracious reply I finally received one day and so I added myself to a party where quite obviously nobody was interested in who I was. Which to some degree makes sense in a setup-free game, only doesn’t if you then also have a look at popular party requests for GW2:


Random days, random dungeons on LFG (click to enlarge)

“EXP ONLY NO NOOBS” – “LF ZERK WAR / MESMER” – “Excessive dying will not be tolerated” – “RETARDS WILL BE KICKED” – “full exotic gear, must ping gear”

Here’s the funny part: nobody can truly tell experience by looks or gear in GW2. Hardly ever do you even get asked for gear level and “proving” it is pretty useless without inspect or armory functions. More importantly, you need neither the greatest gear in the world, not a certain warrior or other class, nor years of experience to run a dungeon like Arah (or any other dungeon). All you really need is a decent group of human beings.

What exactly is the point of lines like “exp only” or “full gear” if nobody checks on you anyway as you self-invite yourself?

The ugly face of anonymity

We’ve known since WoW latest that cross-server anonymity is one of the big banes of server community. The upside of shorter queues is won by too a high a price and it’s not just the exceptional troll that makes for lousy group experiences. There’s a common dynamic of caring less about others not from your own server, caring less for your own performance because there’s little consequence, caring less for decent communication because explaining things to strangers is tedious – and why do it when they’re so easily replaced? A note about social mechanics in any human society: anything that makes people “care less” is generally a bad thing.

Furthermore, there appears to be a direct, inverted relation between downtime tolerance and the actual downtime in an MMO: GW2 is a game of few downtimes related to grouping. Not only can players cooperate without formal grouping on outdoor quests, there’s the self-invite function and lack of strict group setup requirements. You could therefore think that players are generally less in a rush and more inclined to wait for each other or explain something – but not so! Being used to little downtime results in an even lower tolerance for the same. At least people treasure their groups more in MMOs where they cannot take them for granted and where losing a member is to risk more wait time.

Do I advocate to bring back grouping barriers and artificial downtimes? No. However, for all its improvements on the social side, such as dynamic outdoor grouping with shared nodes (I know GW2 is not alone in this), res-anyone and setup freedom, GW2’s pickup dungeon experiences are as bad or worse as any other MMO’s – not least because of ANet’s concept of the global village. The entire server/world is your guild? If so, where’s the g-quit button?

GW2 removed a few dated concepts that came with their own set of issues. Unfortunately, it did fail to replace them properly. I’m thinking of more positive ways to motivate spontaneous grouping between levels 1-80 and better overall cooperation in dungeons (I would’ve expected a lot more in terms of encounter design or combo mechanics). I’m in full agreement with Psychochild here – I’ve no wish to go back to good old bad times but there’s clearly a lot more to be done about cooperation and social interaction in this genre which continues to push mega-servers, paradoxically enough for a not-so-MM experience. I wish we could go back to small or even private server communities already.

To close, an attempt at balance: yes, there are good PuGs in GW2 sometime, just like there are in any game. I’ve had few runs by now which were almost pleasant, with people I would sadly never run into again because they weren’t from my server (and friendlists are a downtime). Every now and then you’ll find “relaxed group” advocated in LFG, although that’s fairly rare. There’s a much greater issue at large here and while bad design does not excuse nasty behavior (it sure does not), it has a way of coming through and slowly affecting everyone and everything, until even the most supportive person resigns to what’s been established as the most efficient way of playing, rather than the best one. The fastest way to treasure, so we can be done playing this already.

Yeah, I did have some good groups in Arah…still, I’d rather not ask how they may have turned out had I dared to be unlucky.

P.S. A new episode of Battle Bards is up – go check it out!

On difficulty in WoW and social control in MMOs

The following article is a follow-up to this topic by Klepsacovic. For full context, please head there first (including comments). I would like to second his clarifications on using (relative and problematic) terms such as ‘good/top’ or ‘bad/sub-par’ players for the second half of this argument. No player is always just good or bad and good players always benefit from the presence of someone a little weaker.

Difficulty in WoW for the average player, lvls 1-80

On social control in MMORPGs
Admittedly, I have omitted one more lesson of WoW’s current “difficulty syllabus” in the above picture: heroics. If we look at the stark discrepancy between WoW’s leveling game from 1-84 vs. the huge step-up of entering a serious raiding scene, we must give credit to the implemented bridge between the two. In theory, WoW players are supposed to stick to this schedule:


5-man dungeons and heroics are the “gate-keeper” to raiding; or at least that’s how it’s intended. At the very latest, this is when a new player is introduced to cooperative group-play. Here he is pushed to learning his class and role, here he is questioned, here he is geared up for the challenges ahead. Here he understands the importance of strategy and communication before class is dismissed.…If only!

No matter how Blizzard have tried to hard-tune their raid-entry dungeons in Cataclysm, heroics do not fulfill their assigned role as necessary stepping stone between noobland and the unforgiving reality of many raid encounters. Getting into a raid is relatively easy, but many are ill prepared for the individual challenge and pressure that awaits. For guilds and recruitment this means a big crowd of potential candidates with the barest pre-selection.

For one thing, there are too many ways in which players can avoid challenging and maybe stressful/frustrating 5-man runs (for example by gearing up in other ways). More importantly though: in an MMO with cross-server LFG no reliable means of player selection or preparation exist. The purpose of the training phase is undermined in a game of anonymity. Here’s why:

Let’s have another look at yes – vanilla WoW. Back then, we had 5-mans too at lvl 60 and hard ones they were (hello Stratholme 1.0 & Co.). We didn’t have heroics, normal modes were bad enough. Gear was important and there were no ways around acquiring your starter raid-gear (8-piece sets on random drop!) from in there. Then, there were also attunements and resistance gear which kept sending you back in frequently, not just for yourself but those you were trying to help out.For the MC raidguild looking at a potential, ready-looking candidate at the time, this meant the following: not only had this person leveled from 1-60, he had also jumped all hoops in order to gain entry and had made it through all essential lvl 60 dungeons (many times) to gather his gear sets. More so, he had succeeded in finding/organizing and finishing runs with groups of your own server continuously. If you hadn’t heard of said player in negative terms up to that point, if he wasn’t on any spoken or unspoken blacklist by that time, there was a pretty good chance that this was your guy! Even if not quite that – at the very least, there was full confirmation of this player being incredibly motivated and experienced enough to raid.

There are no similar pre-raiding hoops in today’s WoW and heroic gear tells us very little about a player. Maybe he is a complete fail who only ever made it by jumping from one LFG group to the next while being an anonymous ass, ninja-looter, rage-quitter. Who knows – you certainly don’t! Who can say how somebody behaves in a cross-server group? Who can judge how well a player truly performed in order to gain his gear? Even if he let himself carry (or cooked his dinner during runs), he certainly didn’t need worry about not being re-invited to a next group (as tank/healer within the next 5 minutes). No social pressure – no social control.

We need the concept of social control for functional communities. We need the dynamic of reputation. We need small enough server communities for social interaction to become meaningful and transparent. We need consequences. The last thing we need is anything cross-server or bigger. Guilds and smaller groups don’t benefit from quantity, they benefit from quality.And so does the individual player, by the way; black sheep aside, it’s not exactly fun to be the “weak link” in a raid guild. It’s not a nice awakening to realize you are ill prepared. It’s disappointing and stressful to end up in a place too early. In a game of unforgiving raid mechanics (which is the situation I base this argument on), you want and need proper hoops early.

How I became a different person
I used to be the raider who loved vanilla raids for being 40man; the scale, the epic kills and also the hilarious chaos (and challenge to order the same). I loved being part of a mixed crowd and running raidguilds that had colorful characters in them. I liked having merry minstrels and jokers along for the ride, to share good moments and laughs on our way.I liked being able to afford “clowns” in our raids.I was never a l33t player and I don’t consider myself “hardcore”, despite having always been a core member and healing coordinator in dedicated top guilds. Fame, loot and kills are all nice and dandy, but I want to share them with good folks and have fun together. I want both, the close-knit team and serious raids. If this means I need to cut back on the first and heroic kills in order to have that – fine in my books (as long as I still experience most of the content). I don’t seek the affirmation that comes from being nummero uno on a ladder, nice as it may be. I frankly also never wanted more than three raid nights.The guilds I ended up in (founded in vanilla & early TBC), were therefore more or less always composed the same way:
20% top players & figureheads / 60% average & good players (wide spectrum) / 20% players you’d carry more frequently, but who’d in return bring other qualities and talents to the table. I’m fine with such a guild and for myself, ideally I want all three groups present.

  • You need the top players; you need them to pull and push the group. You need them to be your guides, guild leaders, coordinators and analysts. You need them too because very often, they’re simply the consistent show-ups with the most time available (which is why they make great guides or leaders).
  • You need the solid good players who are dedicated but down to earth; You need them for a healthy, balanced guild culture that is neither too casual, nor too hardcore. You need them to be the pendulum that swings in between. They are your main executive force.
  • You need the sub-par players; You need them for social qualities, for wisdom and humor that may be indispensable and unique. You need them so your top players get their occasional extra challenge and feel needed. You also need them because somebody always needs to be the weakest link – it’s better to know yours than to constantly look for a new one.

I don’t wish to be in a guild where every person is exactly like me (despite a healthy narcissism, that’s just boring). Nor do I mind slower learners or players who simply fail at the odd mechanic, and those who might fall behind a little due irregular playtime – as long as you can compensate for them somehow during specific encounters. (Assuming of course that they’re otherwise awesome).

Only, this gradually stopped being the case in WoW after the 40man era. Encounters became highly technical, focused on individual performance and unforgiving in ways that wouldn’t let us make up for lower bracket players – there was suddenly a hard line that wasn’t summary. We could only stand by and watch with increasing frustration as they went through the motions, again and again. We became helpless spectators of our guildmates’ ordeals, despite all guidance given. Worse: they started to become the “enemy”. If 100+ wipes into a boss, the same few people are still stuck at beginner mistakes, it’s human to start feeling resentful.I never wanted to become that other person or find myself in that well-known dilemma of so, so many raidguilds out there. But if I am pushed into the corner of choosing between keeping the bad player and not seeing larger parts of the game’s content in time (which was my motivation to play WoW at all) – then yes, I want the bad players out! I even want established people out who I used to appreciate and tried to support for as long as possible (my guilds have always tried longer than many would). I will make the unhappy choice if forced to; I won’t see an entire raidguild fall apart because the other 80% (and especially top 20%) will start looking elsewhere some time into the stagnation. Hesitating forever is not an option. If you’ve tried all you feel you could and if you intend to stick to the established raiding pace, you must make the choice as a leading team.

It’s no wonder so many good leaderships crack under the pressure of this decision; it sucks beyond comparison (add the issue of recruitment). It will always be one of the big sores for me when looking back on an otherwise great raiding run in WoW. It cured me of being too judgmental about how some guild leaders will act, too (“wear my shoes and see”).Sometimes raidguids change their original philosophy because they are catching the “success bug”; it’s a dangerous place to find yourself in, the upwards spiral of success that many fall for, becoming something else, someone else, forgetting how they started off and with whom. I fully acknowledge this problem. But what we experienced like so many others from the 25man era on, was not of our making; it’s nothing you choose, only what you roll with as good as you can.

To this day, I am deeply resentful; resentful of Blizzard, of the game’s later raid designs that presented my own guild with such a reality. I resent them for putting the focus on the weaker players, without any chance for the rest to step in and make a difference. I resent them for cornering us  – for making us choose like this, again and again as the game took its course. Most of all, I resent them for making me that different person. A person with less and less tolerance for team diversity.

What is fairness?


Much in this argument is relative, depending on your own personal approach to an MMO like WoW. Maybe you’re the type of raider who wants to be in zero-tolerance guilds and who has always managed to keep clear of such problems. Maybe you’re not even interested in raids. However, for a big number of “mid-bracket raiders” that form the majority in WoW’s endgame and who are in constant competition for recruits, the missing pre-selection mechanisms and highly unforgiving raid mechanics on individual level, are presenting a real struggle and dilemma. There is also the added pressure of the ever-looming next content patch.

The game did not start off like this; raid teams had more leeway, partly due to the nature of bigger 40man raids, partly due to different encounter design. And while many asked for a more even share of responsibility and target focus after WoW 1.0., I don’t believe that Cataclysm raiders benefit from today’s very different situation – no matter what player group they belong to in their own guild. It’s the broken overall streamlining of difficulty combined with a lack of social control that impact negatively on everybody. They present today’s raidguilds with greater struggles than ever, logistically as much as socially and emotionally.

The curious case of SWTOR and LFG

Imagine yourself the type of player who loathes the dungeon finder for many reasons; most of which can probably be summed up by “single-most detrimental feature to social interaction in MMOs” or “what really sent WoW’s community downhill”. Imagine yourself the player who would rather wait for the proper group (and go do other things), who’d rather start his own groups by taking initiative in zone/general chats, who’d rather re-think his role choice (in an MMO that enforces a trinity), look for a guild or form one himself, before seeing this type of feature implemented in his favorite MMO. If you’re not that type of player: imagine it anyway. Imagine yourself as someone like me.

In no conceivable MMO-future could I picture myself among those who actively ask for LFG; that would just be utterly bizarre. Unthinkable. Outrageous.

Or wouldn’t it?

Oh, teh irony…!

For several weeks now, I have kept an eye on my co-bloggers currently immersed* in the worlds of SWTOR, commenting among other things on the absence of LFG in the game. The thing that increasingly made me raise an eyebrow was the number of players calling it a grave oversight while blogging from the “MMO veteran corner”. Certainly not to be expected – what’s going on there?

The answer is frankly making my heart bleed. For most discussions, the bottom line is this paraphrased (also see one very recent example for this dynamic at Rohan’s):

“SWTOR being the type of solo-centric / solo-friendly MMO that it is, those players who usually look to group up frequently are left with not enough opportunities to do so. On a server where the majority of players are content to solo (alternatively stick to micro-groups) or use NPC companions, the traditional MMO player is faced with a gaping silence. The same crowd who used to condemn LFG is starting to require it.”

Now, I don’t know how the situation is on every server. Nor do I claim to know how much of that felt lack of opportunity is actual lack of own initiative. Still, I can clearly see a problem for grouping-friendly players in an MMO that does not enforce cooperation; I think it can be expected too that with much lower overall numbers, finding suitable players for grouping during the same playtime as your own, is taking a big hit no matter how great your initiative (which can be expected to some degree if we still assume a player of a more oldschool persuasion). Especially in a game that still clings to certain group setup.

…With that, the remaining players are left with the wish (or rather: resignation) for LFG, lest they not miss so much of the group content and dungeon runs while leveling up. How deeply cynical is that? How completely upside down!

And once more, we must recognize how the old, non-chalant claim of “just play the game the way you like” or “it doesn’t affect you, just ignore it” is utter humbug. HUMBUG folks!

A couple of post scripta

  • P.S.: This is in no way a jab at anyone who enjoys soloing in SWTOR; Bioware obviously intended the game to work this way and at least some are having fun. Whoever is not, can only do the obvious thing and stop paying (and write rants on it).
  • P.S.(2): LFG still sucks. An MMO that makes types like me wish for LFG must therefore suck even more. Sodom and Gomorrah!
  • P.S.(*): Raph Koster actually says that immersion is for dreamers (ha-ha). I guess he’s enjoying SWTOR then! /sarcasm off
  • P.S.(3): I wasn’t looking to bash SWTOR in this article. But I guess it happened anyway.
  • P.S.(4): I will continue to bash MMOs I am not playing (and those I am playing) on this page and there’s nothing you can do about it. Objectivity is all about erm…distance. ^^
  • P.S.(5): Yeah, sarcasm wasn’t really /off there. I lie. Sometimes.

What ever happened to a/s/l?

Chatting to one of my still-WoW-playing friends the other night, particularly on the topics occupying me this previous blog-week, he shared a gem of conversation with me that he experienced some time ago on his PVP server; one example so telling it had me choking over a bowl of green curry, not the most pleasant sensation, I might add.

I know gearscore-hysteria is a big deal in WoW by now, and of course not just entirely of the player base’s own making. Yet, this was such a moment of unimagined heights that I begged him to send me the screenshots so I might share. Without further ado, this piece of interactive brilliance –

Wow…wow indeed! I admire anyone witty enough to come up with this/any kind of reply. I’m not sure my reeling mind would have recovered quite as fast.

“GS/GR/GA” – the essential 3 Gs of today’s World of Warcraft? Now you can say about good old IM/chat conduct whatever you like, “a/s/l” was at least somewhat more personal than this! GGG? – Ye gods, I’d rather be AFK!