Dreaming of a different dungeon finder

While link-hopping the other day, I stumbled across a post by Doone - which is admittedly already several months old - in which he talks about why the dungeon finder sucks. It's widely known that the dungeon finder has a bad reputation, though people will quote different reasons for it: no consequences for bad behaviour, too much anonymity, being grouped with players from other servers in general etc. Doone on the other hand looks at the issue from an angle that I honestly hadn't considered yet: he says that the problem with the dungeon finder is mainly that it takes away the player's choice. You have no say in who you get grouped with, and if you do take matters into your own hands by leaving or initiating a vote-kick, there are systematic punishments involved. We are basically being herded into groups like sheep.

Whenever I see the subject of the dungeon finder come up anywhere these days, I have to admit that I'm overcome by a certain defeatism. Yes, it's had some very bad effects on the game, but what is the alternative? Not getting groups at all? Clearly future MMOs will have to implement a dungeon finder too. Doone's post was a nice reminder that the issue is not as black and white as that, and that there are ways of providing players with group-finding tools that don't take away their choice.

This got me thinking about the way WoW's looking for group tool worked before the dungeon finder. Personally I always thought that it worked quite well actually - as evidence let me refer you to this old post of mine in which I talked about completing the daily heroic on four different characters within only two hours, with groups that were formed manually, by people using "looking for more".

Looking back at it now, I think the tool's main problem wasn't actually anything related to its technical implementation, but that people simply weren't ready for it mentally at the time when it first came out. They had loved their old LFG chat channel, and I remember there being lots of complaints when it was removed, with players stubbornly refusing to use the new tool and spamming trade with LFG requests instead. Whenever I hear people complain that finding groups before the introduction of the dungeon finder was so hard, and that they spent hours sitting in trade without getting anything done, I can't help but think that maybe they should have just used the damn tool instead of sitting in trade? But what do I know.

Fun fact: The old tool also had an "auto join" option, to automate group formation if enough people were available, but nobody in their right mind ever used it because obviously you didn't want to risk getting grouped with some random schmuck you didn't like. Kind of funny to look back at that now.

Aside from simply having an undeserved bad reputation, I think that the old looking for group mainly had three problems: First and foremost, a lot of the time there simply weren't enough people using it, partly due to the aforementioned stubbornness, but partly also because a single server generally couldn't sustain a large enough player base interested in dungeons across all levels. If you wanted to get a group for Zul'Farrak, nothing could really help you except maybe for spamming general chat in the right levelling zones and some helpful guildies.

Secondly, for some reason you were only ever allowed to queue up for a maximum of three instances at once. This made things quite awkward if you just wanted to run some heroics, any heroics, as a lot of people would not even see your availability on the tool if they happened to look at one of the other thirteen you weren't queued up for.

And thirdly... well, some of it just felt kind of clunky to me to be honest. For example there was no option to "view all" players in my level range who were looking for a group, you had to go through sixteen different screens for individual dungeons to see them all. Actually putting the group together also felt a bit mindless and involved sending lots of messages that you might as well have macroed for their sameness: "Hey there, I'm putting together a group for [instance], would you like to join us as [role]?" Or you could just throw out ninja invites, but those were considered rude by many people.

Looking back at that now, those problems could have been fixed quite easily without turning the whole thing into the fully automated dungeon finder that we have right now. For example we already have the option to queue for all instances in our level range at once instead of just three. I would think that making the default view show everyone in the right level range, with optional filters by dungeon, role, level or whatever, couldn't be that difficult either. Finally, they could implement a special invite window for the tool, similar to the current guild invite and dungeon finder pop-ups, that says "[Name] wants to invite you to play [role] in [instance]. (x/5 spots filled)" or "[Name] wants to join your group as [role] for [instance]" and saves you from having to type slight variations of the same questions all the time.

That only leaves the admittedly major issue of not having enough players to work with - but I think that if players were actually able to choose who to group with, allowing cross-server grouping wouldn't be that much of a problem. It could simply be another filtering option to only see people from your server or to see everyone in the battlegroup.

You ask, what's the point of choosing among a huge bunch of strangers? I think there are still a lot of factors that can influence your decision even then: maybe you like or hate someone's name, maybe their guild name rings a bell, maybe you really want to have a certain class in your group... you could also check out people's gear on the armoury. Are all of these things a bit superficial? Absolutely, but we are also happy to heavily judge people by first impressions in real life, and it's not completely without merit. Also, if you make a wrong choice, you can learn from it and do better next time: okay, so that guy's guild name sounded cool, but he was a total jerk so you'll avoid him and his mates in the future. And so on and so forth. Over time you'd probably be able to find some friends and make a name for yourself even in an extended cross-server community, because people would actually have to pay attention to who they play with, and acting like a twit would increasingly cause others to avoid you.

Of course a system like that would also need proper group leaders again, but I think that's okay. Clicking on a bunch of people of the right classes to invite them is not exactly a huge amount of work, but it shows some investment, earning that person the right to retain group leader status in the actual dungeon as well. There would be no need for vote-kicking or deserter debuffs because it wouldn't be random. You get to choose your groups anyway, and if you're not happy with the way things are going, you can always try again and do better (instead of queueing for the same amount of randomness again and blindly hoping that your next group will be less obnoxious).

Finally there's the issue of teleports. While they are not directly connected to the process of group formation, I'm not a fan of them in the current dungeon finder and would happily get rid of them as well, partly to emphasise the dungeon's place in the world again, partly to increase people's investment in the run by making the whole endeavour take a little more time. I'd probably put a summoning stone inside the instance portal though, which could be operated by a single person to mass-summon the entire rest of the party inside, across servers and all.

There are still some issues for which I don't really have a solution: For example the tank shortage would probably persist, so getting a tank for your group might come down to who can "snipe" an invite the quickest as soon as a tank appears on the list of available players, which isn't really desirable. There is also the awkwardness of multiple half-formed groups floating around that can't really merge without kicking anyone. And on lower levels, with few available players even across multiple servers, one might have to "camp" the looking for group window for a while to find enough people, which would be pretty boring - maybe the optional "auto-join" feature could make a comeback for that.

The main things that a system like that would change about instance groups compared to the dungeon finder would be that people could choose who to play with again and filter out unsavoury elements more easily, and that dungeons would require a bit more organisational effort again, thus becoming a bit rarer. Still, I'd rather have a really fun experience every so often than lots of half-baked runs that I end up being completely sick of after a few months.

To be sure, I have no illusions that Blizzard is going to take the current implementation of the dungeon finder back out of the game. They must be really proud of whoever designed the thing. But sometimes it's nice to dream.


  1. Interesting look at the dungeon system he has there. A point that I only rarely thought about myself. Probably because I am one of those people that gets everything done as soon as it comes out so it effects me less but makes me think about it now.

    When the ZA/ZG dungeon combo we all refer to as the abyss of the random system came out there were a lot of quests to do. That first day, or even the first few days, getting people to do everything so you could complete your quests was as easy as asking. I don't really recall anyone saying no to helping others finish quests at the start.

    After a week, yes, one short week, trying to get anyone to do anything that was not the absolute minimum required to finish the dungeon started to get harder.

    Within a few weeks, it was near impossible, unless you got into the rare group of decent people. When my guild does runs, if we fill in one or two spaces and someone needs a skipable boss or a quest done we always help them.

    Whenever I am in a group and someone asks, can we do so and so, I need something off him or I need a quest, I always say, sure, no problem with me.

    The problem comes down to tanks. They lead the group. If I am on a healer I have some power. I can just go to the boss the other person needs and if the person that needs the quest and at least one other DPS comes with me the tank will do it even if they do not like it but if I am on my DPS, I follow the tank. I have no power to sway the group. Most tanks would give more respect to a pile of dog poo then they would a DPS.

    The tanks where given power they do not deserve and they are the ones that bring down the system. The random system gave them all a complex that they are great and everyone else is the scum of the earth that they are carrying with them so we better be happy to be along for the ride.

    You have done enough dungeons to probably realize that my assessment that follows is correct for a somewhat large amount of the tanks.

    Most of the time, if the tank is willing to help on a quest or a kill someone needs then it is done, if the tank doesn't want to, it isn't.

    In all their infinite wisdom blizzard rewards these ego maniacs with a reward for single handedly ruining the fun of many players who might just want to move slower so they can learn better, kill a boss for a piece of gear or complete a quest.

    This is one of the reasons I am really looking forward to PvE scenarios. No tank? No problem.

    If only they could remove the need for tanks in heroics I am sure the community as a whole would benefit greatly because like I said, when someone asks for a boss or a kill, most of the time the healers say okay, the DPS says okay, but the tank skips it anyway.

    It is a "group" effort that gives no power to the group. That is the problem.

    Sorry for the long comment. Just started rambling and it went longer then intended.

  2. Heh, TheGrumpyElf. I queued specifically for UBRS the other day on my lowbie healer, as I'd randomly got LBRS earlier and wanted to do them both before outland. The tank (who probably queued randomly) wouldn't listen, was adamant to do LBRS regardless, and pulled while I was still trying to tell them that if they wanted a loot bag they needed to do UBRS. And then I get "WTF Heals" when they die because I was still trying to discuss things while they were off pulling.

  3. @priestwithacause

    Agreed. I wish we had greater ability to self-select in the dungeon finder.
    Blizzard does allow you to block yourself from being grouped with people who have been added to your ignore list (unfortunately the ignore list has a limit to the number of names that can be added).
    I wish they allowed you to "friend" good players who aren't on your realm.
    I've had some awesome runs with friendly people from other realms with no way of friending them or inviting them to a group at an arbitrary time in the future.

    The ability to group with cross-realm "realid" friends is cool, but the whole "social gaming with real life friends" idea is too restrictive in my opinion. I'd be happy to cross-realm group with wow acquaintances. We don't need to be friends to be friendly.
    Tying realid to a real name and private email address was a mistake, imo.

    "playerscore" (http://www.tentonhammer.com/playerscore) is a neat idea aimed at addressing some of these problems, but seems like something that Blizzard is in a much better position to implement than mod authors.


  4. @TheGrumpyElf

    Some tanks are jerks, but so are some healers and dpsers.

    I use LFD a lot in all 3 roles: tank/heals/dps.
    (Counting the kills from my combined armory the count is about 130 runs of troll heroics.)

    A benevolent tank can be a force for good.
    The problem isn't power, it's jerks.
    The power I have as a tank gives me a fighting chance at dealing with the jerks.

    It's not always enough.

    Also, regarding gogogo.
    I've met gogogo healers who push the tank, so it's not just tank/dps pushing healers.


  5. After the challenging TBC heroics, nobody in his right mind would have picked a DD DK or warrior for a heroic. Without the LFD it must have been nearly impossible to play a non-CC melee DD. I think that was part of the reason why they had to force the random element on us.

    And if you make the old system cross realm you would have too much fluctuation for the slow human-to-human chat communication. 95% of the player you chat would probably be already in a group. Or it might get annoying as a mage to get the 27th request from a hunter and rogue without tank and heal. I don't think the old system would scale. What they could do is make it realm wide and during off hourse merge realms together if the number of people in the tool drops below some threashold.

  6. I have to admit it's been a very long time (many months by now) that I last used WoW's dungeon finder to find people for a group, so the following observation might be off, but:

    My impression with WoW's dungeon finder was that I almost always ended up with people from other servers. I very rarely met a person from my server by chance. On the other hand, I've used Rift's dungeon finder a bit recently, and I end up in groups with at least two people from my server all the time. I wonder whether my server is just so populous, or whether Rift has a weighting in its finder that prefers to put people from the same server together, and WoW doesn't.

    If they don't, I wonder why. It would seem like the best of both worlds. Make a server-specific group, and open up if you can't find people to do it.

  7. Kring, you're not being pessimistic enough, unfortunately.

    Firstly, a tank would probably put together their own group rather than accepting invites. Next... never mind non-CC melee (who are unfortunately stuffed), good luck if you're not the optimal WoL spec for your class. Not an arcane mage? Good luck getting a group. Not an MM hunter? No group for you. Any form of rogue? Sorry, no.

    It'd kill variety outside of raiding, where variety in raids is already suffering from the WoL feedback effect.

  8. @Grumpy: Lol, that was quite a tangential rant, but I think I see what you mean. As it is, the dungeon finder tends to unofficially make the tank the leader regardless of whether that person is suitable for that role or even wants it.

    @Kring: Well, the CC issue has pretty much been made irrelevant since then, but regardless of that the ability to form your own group gives a certain power back to dps if they wouldn't be other people's first pick. I was a shadow priest back in BC and mind control was extremely limited as CC as well, but at least I could always take the initiative and form my own party around me. People are lazy and like being invited and not having to worry about anything else.

    As for fluctuation, that's why I suggested a special LFG group invite which already includes all the details of the group in your invite so you don't have to take time to spell it all out manually. I do like your idea of it being flexible depending on player numbers though; just not sure how feasible that would be to program.

    @Flosch: WoW's dungeon finder is supposed to put people from the same server together at a preference, but I think that unless you're on an extremely high pop realm, you won't see much of its effects. I still rarely meet people from the same server as me in groups.

    @Leit: I doubt that many people would waste significant amounts of time looking up other players' specs, gear etc. first, but if it's really a concern for them, let them. Based on how group formation used to go, I think that things like not having to share loot with the same class or anything indicating a good reputation are much bigger motivators when it comes to picking your team mates.

  9. "I can't help but think that maybe they should have just used the damn tool instead of sitting in trade"

    There's a problem with this, the old tool simply didn't have the required mass of players that used it - it was possible to get a trade channel PuG in a couple of hours but you could sit in the LFG tool all day searching for 3 DPS for daily heroic and not get a single one.

  10. @Imakulata: It probably varied by server, but my point is that if they are saying that they weren't having any success in trade, maybe they should have tried something else? As I said in the post, I used the tool with great success many times.

  11. @Shintar: I think I remember them saying they prefer people from the same server, but it seems their emphasis is more on waiting time than locality. It probably makes queue times more equal across servers, at the cost of less chance to do dungeons with "local" people.

    Not sure whether Rift has other priorities, or it's just cognitive bias. I certainly wouldn't rule out the latter. Especially since I queue as tank in WoW, and healer/support/dps in Rift, and I'm not sure whether that's comparable.

  12. It's nice to see players questioning the LFD in a balanced and thoughtful way. I would already be happy if the LFD wasn't used for all 5-man dungeons.

    Add a few more difficult ones, a few longer ones, a few shorter, a few dungeons for 7 players, a few for 11 players, etc to the game.

    Diversity ist the spice of live. The LFD is very, very boring and while it does have some advantages, its effect on the server communities was desastrous.

  13. I'm still firmly in the corner that they can never make the LFD a tool players can truly appreciate in it's current form. I'm honestly starting to think they just don't have the talent and/or the will to get these kinds of things designed in meaningful ways.

    @Shintar: The point about the lowered importance of CC has a much greater impact than we all realize. As you said, that was the thing that made DPS important to a group. You wouldn't lightly toss away your Mage, even if he had terrible DPS. It was part of the glue that kept groups together: mutual dependence. Without it, you get asshat tanks like we have in WoW. They are rampant, and as some others have commented the current LFD system makes them ego-maniacal. It's a mess. I refuse to use that tool.

    Yet there are plenty of other MMORPGs will well crafted LFD systems. With all the things WoW has taken from other games and polished up, they decided to reinvent the wheel on this (and some other) features. Go figure.

    One final word. A server wide LFD would have worked a little better in WoW if they weren't hell bent on keeping the superficial barrier between alliance and horde. But the single weakest point in the system is the need of tanks with healers closely following.

    The new scenarios will bring some balance back to the trinity as demand for tanks decreases.

  14. @Shintar, my point was the other options were even worse. Sure, you could be in LFD and trade channel at the same moment, but it didn't increase your chances significantly opposed to trade channel only. I did not mean to say you didn't have success with the tool (although success means different things for different people) but my experience with it was such that it was barely worth taking the time you needed to queue in it.