[MUD-Dev] Concerning "Groups"

Jeff Gaskill d1r7_man at yahoo.com
Fri Apr 29 07:30:08 New Zealand Standard Time 2005


Hello MUD-Dev,

My name is Jeff Gaskill and I am an undergraduate student at the
University of California at Irvine. I am currently doing research on
'grouping' in MMOs, specifically World of Warcraft.

That was just a warning. This, however, is mailing list for MUD
development, so I hope I may be able to provide some useful ideas
about virtual worlds. I am a first time poster, so I hope I'm not
treading on any formalities or using this mailing list
inappropriately.

Now I'll get to the point. I am both a player and observer of World
of Warcraft. I've done an empirical study comparing group types and
moods of players. I've found that casual groups tend to be the most
friendly, whereas instance (dungeon/raid) groups and groups trying
to take down elite quest monsters are increasingly unfriendly. These
results are fairly obvious to the average WoW player, which is why
I'm looking further into the reasons of why this happens.

A few easy answers pop up, casual groups are generally with friends
and are striving for minor goals, whereas raid groups are more often
groups of 'necessity' (at least in WoW, other games have casual
groups being necessary too). Loot tensions can also play a part, as
well as the more stressful and demanding difficulty of the
encounters. Finally, the larger time investment of raid groups can
create much crankier and easily upset players. What's more
interesting is why players are willing to endure these periods of
stress and uncertainty while they are playing a game for 'fun.' What
exactly is 'fun' is of course, a very difficult topic, so allow me
to move on.

As a consequence of it's design, World of Warcraft has treated
grouping as more of a hindrance than a help.  Blizzard explicitly
promised and delivered character classes that all have the ability
to level up independently from groups. The newly implemented
'meeting stones' strive to alleviate the stress caused by the
'necessity' of finding a group.

What I want to know is: Since when has grouping become a necessity?
All MMOs I know of have it in some concrete form (except maybe A
Tale in the Desert, I'm not sure) and at least all of the major MMOs
do. I'm not sure of an text MUDs that had concrete grouping, that
is, a hard-coded grouping implementation that gives some sort of
benefit. Most groups implement experience bonus or at least shared
experience for monster kills.

Groups are a good way to organize but also for the game to know to
split the credit to all the members of the group for their
accomplishments. This is a product of the code's requirement and the
games inability to track character achievement without such an
explicit declaration of grouping. What it allows for other than chat
organization is for collaboration where not every member of a group
deals damage to a monster (because killing a monster is currently
the primary form of awarding experience, whether with straight exp
or with quest credit).

If players wanted to group together, surely they would be friendlier
with each other when they do so. My question is: Are groups doing
what players and developers want them to do? Or are they just a
consequence of the difficulty to track abstract concepts of
'achievement' through concrete computer-friendly means? Perhaps
grouping could be saved somehow, the accomplishment of coming
together and doing things bigger than just one person is exciting,
but when group content is bypassed (say by grouping with higher
level PCs to simply 'get through' the content) then there must be
something missing.  Raiding just isn't unique anymore.

I would appreciate any feedback, especially concerning the history
of grouping and what purpose grouping serves for players and/or
developers.

Thank you,
~Jeff Gaskill
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