Fiannor over at Misdirections had an excellent post up talking about the issues surrounding gameplay in LFR, particularly the social aspect.
I’m going to try to keep this short because I think it is a topic I could go on about for a while, but has a short, succinct problem statement and a few answers.
So, let’s begin!
Why Don’t More Players Play in LFR?
Metrics on LFR suggest it is pretty popular, and yet, most of us know people who don’t touch it, or who only seldom bother with it. I am one of those people – I’ve queued for LFR, across 16 characters who have been max level at some point in the last 3 expansions, about 10 times total, and never as a tank.
I think the core issues I have personally with LFR is that it often feels completely unrewarding, at least in the modern game. It offers gear on par with world quests (of lesser value than emissary cache gear, at a certain point!), gold and runes that can be obtained in other ways, and Azerite, but not enough to be really worth it. It also offers a slow trickle of crafting materials (you’d have to do 20 full wing clears of LFR to get as much Breath of Bwonsamdi as I got last week!). However, some of that perception is also on me, as someone who raids Normal and Heroic – I’ve seen the fights and completed them on more difficult modes, so LFR offers nothing new to me personally.
However, there is a broader issue that I think plagues LFR and gives it a bad reputation – the players. Now, I think most people who do LFR are good players and people and don’t set out to cause trouble for anyone. However, the social dynamic of the modern game has given rise to a troubling phenomenon – the silent party. Question for you, reader – how many groups have you gotten for a 5 player dungeon in the last year where anyone has talked at all?
I’ll answer for me – in over 1,000 random runs, I’ve had maybe 5 groups where anyone said anything. I’m not even throwing shade here – I often don’t say anything unless someone offers a greeting or talks shit about our progress. Dungeons cultivate this group play environment where conversation isn’t needed and doesn’t matter, so people with that same mindset come into LFR. No one explains strategies, no one sets expectations, and no one usually even breaks the ice. A group of 25, silently rolling in to a raid, silently pulling trash and killing bosses. LFR is even designed, partially, around this – Opulence on LFR requires no synchronization of golem kills, because they share health and always die together. It is important to note that despite this, LFR is not friction-less. LFR bosses are designed to minimize social friction – to reduce the likelihood that players will have to, in the moment, call out an assignment shift, a stop or slow DPS moment, or to call for a burst of damage. The fights are built to make this mostly unnecessary.
But fight strategy is still needed, and people can and do wipe in LFR due to poor planning or lack of mechanical understanding.
And this is where LFR tends to break down. If someone tries to communicate strategy, they might be shouted down or ignored. If the raid fails, toxic players might speak up about how a lack of planning set them up to fail, or just pick a target for blame – the tanks sucked, the healers couldn’t keep up, these 5 DPS players are riding the bottom of the meters, etc. It is easy, unfortunately so, in these situations, for a pile-on to begin, and one player being a jerk to the tanks becomes 5, and now the top DPS player is calling the lower-end players names, and everyone is mad and people are leaving and the raid is sitting in front of a boss and some jerkass hunter just right-clicked the boss for auto-attack and now you have 1 tank and everyone is typing in caps and you think, “why am I even doing this?”
That run-on sentence has been a non-zero occurrence for me in LFR, and has happened on more than one occasion. The point of this is merely illustrative of a larger issue – the social dynamic of World of Warcraft is fundamentally broken, and many aspects of the game suffer for it.
So what kind of things would I like to see in order to remedy this? Well, it’s going to take a mix of player action and Blizzard intervention, I think. The core issue is that the game mechanically caters to low-interaction with your fellow players. If you want to talk to people, the game is designed assuming that means you will find people on your own – a guild, a static raid group, a Blizzard Group, etc – some community that will offer that for you, rather than solely the game itself.
But let’s talk specific fixes and ideas!
1. Reward Competent Group Leadership – The stock WoW random queue tools already assign a leader – did you know this is an option you can set too? However, while the game has the framework to offer that as an option, and forcibly assigns it to someone if no one has selected it (question for readers #2 – did you know this was a thing, and if so, have you ever selected it?), it doesn’t actually mean anything in reality. There is no expectation of what that person will do, and the game UI has no meaningful way for that person to, well, lead – short of standard game tools like raid warnings, markers, and the like. Those are probably enough, but how often do the designated leaders in LFR use them? Most groups I’ve been in, the tanks are not marked as leaders but tend to anyways, as the weight of social obligation in MMOs always drops leadership into the lap of your tanks.
What I would like to see is a meaningful designation of leader – that person can place raid markers, use raid warning exclusively, and can mark delegates who can use some of those privileges (so tanks can mark targets, hit RWs, etc). At the end of that run, every boss killed in one pull nets the leader a small bonus (could be a standard matchmaking reward cache, could be some gold, could be a Seal of Fate, something) and a portion of additional gold or reward for following instructions that is given to the rest of the raid. Maybe you would need a voting or commendation mechanism to ensure the leader actually facilitated that easy clear, but I think giving people a strong incentive to lead and help the group through the raid in one piece is a critical first step to making LFR more meaningful and fun.
2. Take some pressure off the higher-stress roles – Tanks have it pretty rough in general, and it takes a lot of people time to work up enough nerve to tank with friends, much less with strangers. I’ve played WoW since June 2005, and it took until mid-2009 for me to even try tanking, and then took until late-2015 for me to become a main tank. Tanks deal with a lot of stress and struggle – they’re often expected to lead the group, dictating the pace with their pulls, the route through the dungeon, and smoothing their own damage intake enough to ensure the group can keep focus on their own roles. However, this often translates into blaming the tank for not knowing how certain things work. I’d love to see a model with a bit more forgiveness for tanks – better attack telegraphs (even if they’re giant Final Fantasy XIV orange telegraph spots), guidance on routes through the dungeon (whether emotes or even just LFR-specific arrow signage to push you towards the next objective, and some better way to coordinate assignments with a co-tank.
Also, healers can use a bit of love here too. You often get, as Fiannor put it, “superstar healers” in LFR who can carry the group’s healing needs on their backs with ease. That’s fine, but it would be nice to have more interesting mechanical design to allow different healers to shine. One of the things that has stood out to me in BfA is that Druids have relatively few options for rapid group recovery, as nearly all their AoE healing options must tick a heal over time effect to reach their full potential, which is often sniped in LFR by a healer with a more immediate toolkit (as a Holy Priest loving guy, I’ve probably done it myself. Sorry Druids!). I’d love to see a better mix of mechanics that would balance between the strengths and weaknesses of all the healers and remove the emphasis on superstars, or at least make it look less like the lower-tier healers aren’t working, since they often are – they’re just losing out to someone with awesome gear and faster spells. Such balancing would also help higher difficulties be more accommodating of these less-utilized classes and specs.
3. A Sense of Social Obligation – I get it – LFR players aren’t your friends and so it can be difficult to muster a degree of concern for their play experience, but here’s the trick – if everyone plays like they don’t care, then you will lose. A system of player commendations – acknowledging players who performed well and were polite and friendly – could go a long way to help the social dynamic. You could use them as currency even, to buy other things. Such a system exists in FFXIV, and it works to curb some of the worst behavior you might see in a matchmade gameplay environment. I’ve seen someone kicked from a raid only once in that game, because they weren’t following the strategy 3 pulls in a row, and I’ve never seen anyone leave a group mid-stream. Not to suggest it doesn’t happen, but anecdotally, that has been my experience. Chat is generally friendlier and now that I’ve leveled a job of all three roles, I can also say with some assurance that even DPS players can get commendations, and with no (easy and TOS compliant, at least) way to get a damage meter in game, it isn’t due to raw numeric performance. My experience has been this – in FFXIV, I’m more likely to have a positive group experience with friendly chat or at least a moment at the beginning where everyone says hello, and the group is more likely to stick together through a wipe or two in order to finish the dungeon or raid, and even on mechanically complex bosses like Thunder God in Orbonne Monastery, I’ve generally seen fewer issues and more progress even on multiple wipes (without boss mods, mind you).
4. A Better Sense of Reward – LFR giving out worse gear than a world quest emissary sucks, no way around that. I don’t think LFR players should have cutting edge gear, but I do think they should be able to get something of an upgrade from LFR, rather than a few pieces here and there that they can replace doing world quests. I actually think the answer to some of the complaints about the iffy economy and huge gold sinks in BfA would be to add gold acquisition to LFR – a full clear of a wing could be worth over 1,000 gold, and a reward cache should have something like 3-5k gold in it. Runes should flow more plentifully from LFR as well. Maybe that also means more gold acquisition in Normal and higher as well – I think that would be fine, since the weekly reset would prevent the worse excesses of farming behavior, or you could even limit a wing-clear gold reward to one per wing per week, regardless of difficulty.
5. In The Meantime, Change Starts With Us – If you join LFR, you can help influence others towards a better community experience. Say hello! Provide a strategy if you have a good one! Play to the best of your ability! Keep a positive attitude through wipes! All of these things are minor, but each reduces the chance of negativity creeping into an LFR run. If even half of the group are like this, the group as a whole will have a harder time descending into pile-ons, trash talking, or poor play.
While I mostly identified fixes I’d like to see come from Blizzard, ultimately, the core issue with LFR is community interaction, and it is a case where enough positive influences can make a difference. Ideally, we’ll see additional fixes to make LFR (and other matchmade groups or even LFG tool groups!) more palatable by incentivizing not just the content, but also the social interactions that will help the game thrive.