One of the big deals in an MMO is grouping. Makes sense, doesn’t it? What’s the point of playing an MMO if not to interact with other people? (Okay, soloists, put the axes down; I do plenty of soloing, too, and I understand your POV. Work with me here.) The primary method of interaction tends to be “Hey-there’s a big thing I can’t kill on my own. Help!” This reaches its ultimate expression in content designed for groups. They may require special strategies to kill them, they may just require a lot more damage to be output onto them that a single player just can’t produce.
The problem is that sometimes, finding someone else to do this content is a pain in the posterior. It’s even worse in games which have no global means of chat; if you’re in the Barrens, it’s hard to learn that there’s a big raid being set up over in Northrend, for example. Or more to my current gaming tastes, it’s hard to find out there’s an Operation going down without being locked at one of the fleets perpetually.
Many games attempt to address this with tools that theoretically allow players to find other players who are interested in the same sort of thing. Star Wars Galaxies had my first exposure, although there it was called “Matchmaking”, and was really more for finding people of similar interests than it was for finding a group to do certain content like killing Krayt Dragons or hitting Death Watch Bunker. As I understand it, this did get rectified a bit later on, but that was after my time there. It seems that somewhere along the line, a lot of developers began to see the point of having these. And this also makes sense to me: if a dev is going to put time and energy into developing group content, he’d kind of like to see people actually playing it. If it’s not played, then it might as well have never been created.
And that sucks.
So: looking for group tools. Oh, call them that, or dungeon finders, or league finders, or what have you. They’re the same sort of thing: they’re intended to find people who want to do group content and group them with other people with group content.
Thing is, they aren’t perfect. How could they be? For starters, they depend heavily on people actually using these tools. In City of Heroes, there is actually two levels of grouping tools; the first is the standard flag where you declare to those who are looking “Yes! I want a group! (For missions/task forces/street sweeping/etc.)” That depends on someone actually using the search to find you, though. And as time goes on, it seems fewer people are aware it exists. The second level was intended for use for the Incarnate Trials and special seasonal content, although recently it now includes Task Forces. The problem with this, though, is it’ll be fairly random as to the people it throws together in a team. You could end up with a Task Force with eight Empath Defenders; unlikely, true, but possible. It’s a potluck as to whether or not you get a good team. And since you don’t get to see the progress of the queue-or how many people are in it-you could end up waiting a long time for the content to start-IF it starts.
Which is why most of the TFs and the like are still gathered by people using the Broadcast chat to call for volunteers.
Star Wars: The Old Republic recently has brought in its own tool. And it seems to work okay; okay meaning, you can actually select your role, and this presumably helps create a balanced team to deal with the assorted group content like Flashpoints (dungeons) and Operations (raids). And you can select groups of content, so you aren’t shoehorned into a single adventure search; you can end up with the first one available. You can narrow it down so you are only looking for one Flashpoint, too-although there you may have a longer wait.
For guys like me who aren’t in a major-league guild and can’t stand hanging around all the time in Fleet, this sounds like a godsend, right? Well, maybe. Again, a lot depends on who is using it. I’ve had mixed luck so far, but that has a lot to do with my availability, and last week was a fairly brutal one for me. (Which is one of the reasons why this post wasn’t written last week, either.) I did manage to successfully get in a group yesterday to do a Directive 7 Flashpoint; most of us hadn’t done it before, including me. In spite of this, morale was high, and we made it to the end objective, which proceeded to smack us silly. Even so, I still think we would have beaten the thing if the game servers hadn’t decided to vomit out everyone for a full restart. (Some warning in-game might’ve been nice, Devs.)
One thing I hope to try at some point is to see if this works out for Operations content. It’s possible that it will work nice and smooth, but I rather suspect in TOR, it’ll wind up like Incarnate trials: they’ll ignore the LFG tool for Operations, and instead stick with using their guilds and known associates for such operations (not to mention “you must have X gear to even THINK about going near this” as a qualifier). But you never know unless you try-and we’ll see where it goes in the next week or two.