A Match Made In…Well, Somewhere: Matchmaking Systems and Social Breakdown in MMOs

If you ask a lot of lapsed WoW players (or current Classic players) to detail the moment at which they sort of fell out of WoW, you might expect a handful of answers, most tied to a specific content tier or expansion. However, I would bet that a fair number would cite the addition of the Dungeon Finder as the point they dropped out of the game or at least knew it wasn’t for them.

I’m going to restrain my first-draft history lesson for the basics – added in Wrath of the Lich King patch 3.2, the dungeon finder grabbed 5 random souls out of a line in-game and teleported them to a dungeon together. They could be on different servers (first within the same datacenter before today’s regional approach) and the game bolted on supplemental rewards to make queueing for random dungeons worth doing – removing the daily Heroic dungeon lockout, adding more currency for loot purchase along with gold, and later adding caches for in-demand roles to balance queue times. This was expanded in Cataclysm with Raid Finder, an extension of the existing matchmaking infrastructure designed to pull 25 random players into a raid group and teleport them to a neutered, simplified version of a raid, split into wings and with additional rewards for joining in.

Until the Dungeon Finder, groups were a pure social experience. You had to bark in trade chat, guild chat, or both, depending on your social circle and role, until people came together, and it wasn’t uncommon that a group took 30 minutes or more just to form. After that, you had to get to the dungeon entrance, run the content successfully, and then say your goodbyes. You might expand a friend list this way, find people you liked running with, or even find a guild. Sometimes you might find people you’d excise out of your social circle and warn others about on the realm forums.

Matchmaking was a positive for a lot of players. If you were pressed for time, you could generally ensure a group came together and ran a dungeon in around an hour of play time, maybe less. If you were an introvert, you no longer had to take deep breaths before whispering group leaders for invites. If you played at weird hours for your server, you were no longer at the mercy of the limited pool of players on that one server. If you were a DPS player, you had more likelihood of being able to find a group.

If you view the MMO genre as a social-first experience, matchmaking kind of robs that from you. You’re no longer really able or empowered socially to commend a player or report their poor play (obvious TOS violations aside). It creates a repressive social environment, because standard niceties like greetings and thank yous to bookend your runs are no longer necessary, given that there’s no real social recourse for poor behavior. Loot obsessives could roll on anything they were allowed to, and even now under WoW’s personal loot systems, begging isn’t uncommon. Player power progression was accelerated substantially, because more players were running more dungeons with fewer lockouts or limiters to keep the gear curve in-check. Lastly, and probably most worth mentioning as a downside for those who left WoW in displeasure at the matchmaking systems for PvE content – the Dungeon Finder was such a business success at bringing players in and increasing retention that other games adopted it. Today, many MMOs have some form of a matchmaking system – FFXIV has the duty roulette at the core of the daily gameplay loop and allows matchmaking for almost ALL content, and a large handful of titles that came out since 2010 have also had it.

So there are clear pros and cons to the system, but why is that?

Server Community: I find this point very interesting, because it is valid and worth considering, but somewhat difficult to pin a value onto. For the social experience, there are two ways to look at this – the first is the good player, engaging in good faith with the community, who has no social capital gained from smart play in dungeons, raids, or other matchmade content. The second is for the bad player, the scoundrel, who suffers no meaningful consequences for being a poor sport, a bad team-player, or just unteachable. If a player queues for a dungeon group, does the first boss, doesn’t see the loot drop they want, and then drops the group, they might have a limiter on queueing again – WoW has a Deserter penalty that locks you from all matchmakers for 30 minutes if you do this – but that limit is only meaningful if a player cannot do anything else in the game, and that is rarely the case as games aren’t in the business of policing player behavior outside of obvious TOS violations. So bad players can just bail or be toxic and awful, and good players rarely benefit from being good as they gain no increased standing in the player community.

Drastically-Increased Player Power Progression: This one is also a double-edged sword. On the plus side, more casual players can gain access to more gear than they would have had prior to matchmade content, even without other restrictions lifted like loot lockouts or dungeon limits over time, simply because more players can run dungeons more easily. Coupled with other restrictions being lifted, and power inflation at the more mainstream player level is more pronounced. In Burning Crusade and early Wrath of the Lich King, you were limited to running each Heroic dungeon once per day, so your loot options were similarly constrained. With the Dungeon Finder removing that limit (provided you run random dungeons), you could run random dungeons back-to-back and have more chances at loot. Sure, you were at the whims of the matchmaker as to which dungeon popped up, but on a fresh level-capped character, that mattered less, and even when you were down to needing one last drop off a specific boss, you could queue the specific dungeon, get ported to it, run it, and fail, and then queue random hoping to get it, because if it popped up in the random queue even after getting locked, you could run it again for loot!

WoW in the day also compounded this by adding gear currency rewards that would allow players to save up and purchase a selection of raid-level loot from the lowest item level of the current tier, as well as building up the prior-tier’s currency to shore up weak points. I think this was actually great – FFXIV still uses a model similar to this today – but it did then create questions of the value of content and fiery debate raged on. (For the record, even as a raider, I think this was a net good and valuable for alts and increasing retention of casual players – which gave raiding guilds a larger recruit pool and increased the likelihood that a player would decide to migrate upwards in content to raiding.)

Reduced Sense of World: This one is a point I find quite often discussed and agree with. In WoW, one of the things that was cool is that the dungeons existed in the world, at least in a sense. You went to a portal and there was a sense of where the dungeon was, why it was, and how it belonged to the larger world and story being told. Utgarde Keep is so cool because you go to Howling Fjord and see the imposing structure looming over the zone from the center, and then you get to it, complete some quests, and walk up to a front door – a portal. You walk in and the dungeon now has this sense of place and belonging, and the bosses in the dungeon all make sense and fit the quests you just did.

Being teleported to the dungeon creates a disconnect – if you’re able to just be brought right into the dungeon without doing anything, is the threat within the walls of said dungeon actually…a threat? Over time, this also erodes the sense of place in the world – quick, WoW players, what zone is Necrotic Wake in? Okay, there is an exception for modern WoW, but we’ll get there – don’t worry! FFXIV, though, the dungeons have a similar dissociation problem, made worse by the fact that not every dungeon entry point is even mapped to the actual dungeon. A lot of the Shadowbringers dungeons added in the patch cycle have you clicking a portal in some other zone with the implication of a journey to the front door, but short of the initial MSQ and first run, you never get that sense of place. The dungeon could just as well be in space and it wouldn’t make a practical difference. Raids are even worse in that the core 8-player raid series are often all shared by a single portal, or one per patch. ALL of the Weapon trials for Sorrow of Werlyt are launched from the same spot, assuming you even go to it, because even in an organized group, the game never asks you to go to the entrance to actually do the content – you discover it through an unlock quest and then your entrance is, for all intents and purposes, is the Duty Finder menu.

This is a real shame too because artists might often make efforts to give dungeons a sense of belonging. Warlords of Draenor had each dungeon fully realized in the world to scale – the Iron Docks are a real place you can see and visit in the world, and all the other dungeons are either explorable to a point in the open world or have a proper sense of scale instead of just being a portal in a wall that seems to go nowhere. However, most players may never even notice that, because the game calls no attention to it and gives you no reason to even notice.

Rewarding Social Behavior Is Difficult: WoW has no meaningful way to reward or punish players for their behavior in matchmade content. FFXIV tries with player commendations, offering mounts and cosmetic rewards to players who receive a large number of player commendations from matchmade content (excluding players you group with prior to queueing from voting for you to keep it fair), but even that system is fraught with issues. Generally, a DPS will struggle to set themselves apart in a dungeon or raid and thus struggle to get commendations, while the default for a group is to give commendations to a tank or healer based on play. A DPS can get a commendation if they work beyond expectations – using resurrection abilities when applicable, being overly friendly and highly performing, or the like, but even a bad healer will often get commendations if the group just makes it to the end!

Fixing The Damage That Is Done

So I think I would personally land here – I like matchmade content and think it has a genuinely good role to play in games, including in MMOs, but it also has an undeniably negative effect on the social aspect of an MMO on both sides of the coin.

World of Warcraft has, for its part, recognized this, sort of. With the addition of Mythic dungeons in late Warlords of Draenor, there is now a higher end mode of dungeon play that does NOT allow matchmade groups. You have to get 5 people together, get to the portal, and zone in just as normal – even on the non-keystone standard Mythic difficulty. The problem is that much of the damage you could attribute to matchmaking is from a lack of server community, and because modern WoW does still focus on convenience for players, you can still assemble groups cross-server. Further, the game has a new LFG tool (well, “new” as in “since 2014” haha) and that tool allows players to find groups with relative ease and often without speaking. You can apply by role, and with a high-enough item level (or in the case of Mythic Keystone dungeons, Raider.IO score) you can still join a group wordlessly, say maybe 2-3 lines of total chat to one another, and then complete the content and disband. If you play poorly, there won’t be any real consequences, and if you play well, there’s no greater reward.

Alongside the role of Mythic dungeons and their grouping limitations and requirements, the WoW team has also de-emphasized the role of queued content, whether intentionally or not. Normal and Heroic dungeons kind of…don’t matter anymore? Normal is fine for leveling, and Heroic can be fun as a steamroll, but they are clearly not designed to be all that important – world quests and Covenant armor will quickly offer better gear more reliably. Likewise, LFR is in the same boat at this point – world quests beat the value of it, and the Covenant campaign will give you a full set of armor at a higher maximum item level and with an LFR weapon to boot! In Shadowlands, WoW’s matchmade modes of play offer far less value than ever before, and that seems like it won’t change much, as catchup mechanisms will push players to other modes of play that offer higher rewards, at least for dungeons. Raid Finder gains some small value as time moves on depending on design, but in patch 9.1, it seems likely that LFR will offer some power acquisition to players who don’t run Mythic dungeons or other raid difficulties, but the audience for these modes is continually rewarded with less and less actual value.

A big part of it is that you cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Players of the modern game value the convenience of these systems too highly to ever take them fully away – you can move to reduce the value of them, and make new modes of content that exist outside of matchmaking, but even then, the convenience of elastic servers with full regional playerbase access means that players have grown conditioned to expect to be able to find groups easily, with players from all over their home region, at any time of day with a minimum of waiting. WoW Classic is the remaining bastion free of this type of gameplay, and even then, it looms on the horizon – with TBC Classic coming in a few short days, Wrath Classic will be next, and the Dungeon Finder will be a hot topic.

The funny thing is that I would argue that I’ve still had a social experience thanks to Mythic dungeons. I’ve had to work more within my guild, learning more about the people I play with, them learning more about me, and us building on that to run content. Likewise, I’ve probably played with a larger base of players who I’ve said hello to and had friendly runs with – but at the same time, I’m unlikely to see any of them again and I couldn’t tell you most of their names. One Mythic Keystone group I joined invited me to their Discord and in-game Community to arrange groups, and that is great, but that also feels more like a convenience for getting a group and less like a meaningful social group with rewards and consequences for quality of play or manners. It was pretty binary – hey, we enjoyed playing with you, here’s an invite if you want it – and if I had been a prick or just bad at my role, I likely wouldn’t have gotten that.

But I agree with the sentiment that the Dungeon Finder and matchmade modes of MMO play has had some negatives, even as I also think it has been a net good from a pure gameplay perspective and I can’t envision what it would be like to play an MMO with group content that doesn’t have such a thing.

18 thoughts on “A Match Made In…Well, Somewhere: Matchmaking Systems and Social Breakdown in MMOs

  1. I guess it makes a certain sense that you’re playing an MMO because you like people. In which case it doesn’t really matter if it’s WoW or something that isn’t even a fantasy MMO, the guild just wanders around I guess.

    (that may be drawn from personal experience)

    Still, I can’t bring myself to cast a negative light on something that I’ve seen as overwhelmingly positive – people that would otherwise not been able to see content can at least see some of it in some fashion. Was I bitter at the end of TBC? You bet your sweet ass I was. Other than Kara nobody in my guild saw anything that required 25 people or more, short of some sad attempts at guild alliances and pugging. So, yes, I find it a positive that in Cata and later, when my guild was virtually nonexistant, I could still get into some of the big raids and see what the lore looked like.

    Sure, there are some issues. First being OTHER PEOPLE ARE HELL. You never know what you’ll get. But with a slight attitude adjustment, that turns out to not be a problem. There are always more groups in the queue.

    The alternative to people that aren’t part of big happy guilds and/or super social butterflies is to PUG it. And if you’ve never been part of that lovely experience I suggest you spend six months grinding Classic to see what that’s like.

    For me, the one and only real solution would be to drop LFD/LFR and make everything scale so that you could take as few people in as you wanted – including solo – in order to have access to what is locked behind instances.

    I doubt that it would fly because of epeen but hey, if they wanna be inclusive there it is.

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  2. I think one of the things people have nostalgia for the ‘old days’ is that they conflate their small social circle as being ‘the server community’. If you mapped out the social circles for a Vanilla or BC server it would be a bunch of small circles with very little overlap. It wouldn’t be this massive circle with a few outlying circles, here and there.

    Most players didn’t know the name of their Scarab Lord or who was a Grand Marshall, let alone interact with them, for example. The reverse is also true: those folks didn’t interact with people struggle to complete their Dungeon Set 1 or cap a tower in a random AV. They confuse the fact that their community has always been their friends list and their guild (if they have one), never the server. The LFG tool simply made this explicit instead of continuing to cater to the illusion that a server had a single community.

    For me, personally, anecdotally, the Group Finder has been a blessing across the board. My worst pug experiences, the ones I continue to remember are *all* from the pre-Group Finder days. People were much more of an ass back then than in any transient LFG setting. Yes, people in LFG can be toxic, but replacing them or switching to another group is a simple task. That limits the time you need to deal with their crap. In the pre-Group Finder days you were often a hostage to needing their toxic self.

    [Digression warning]

    Another issue, which I don’t think gets talked about enough, is how much the aging player base has affected these games. It’s one thing to have the time as a student or retired person, but as the initial population aged and accumulated more responsibilities elsewhere, all of those original systems became anti-player and either the games adapted or started to falter with a lack of player population. Yeah, Classic was a success because people knew what they were dealing with _and had a choice_. You could play retail with all the conveniences or play Classic knowing up front what the annoyances would be like. As a side note, it would be interesting if they added all the Classic Zones and quests/dungeons/raids (read Naxx 40) into Retail as Chromie time. Would that kill the Classic Era servers? How many people, such as me, would love to revisit the old zones with their Retail characters? (Some of mine are from Vanilla and I really do wish I could go back with them, not a copy on a different system.)

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    1. Some very good points; and basically, yes, the opportunities to be an ass in Pugs is amplified by the nature of the affirmation that those individuals get that they are, in fact, valuable and thus if somebody doesn’t like it, so what?

      As you say, at least in group finder you can drop out, do some fishing, and come back to hopefully a new group (and also /ignore the in-duh-viduals).

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    2. A lot of good points here, and I think I’ll be writing a follow-up post because the discussion is interesting.

      I was pretty active on my realm forums in WoW way, way back, to the point that I did know who our Scarab Lord was (Tregga from the guild The Sundering, which I still remember!) but I know that I’m an outlier. Even funnier, after making that point, I should make my position clear – I’m firmly for matchmade content. I find some arguments against it interesting and worth considering, but not to any extent such that I would remove said systems.

      There’s definitely something to the social circles point and I think that is a great breakdown. I wonder how much of the “modern MMOs are anti-social!” sentiment comes from people who are themselves anti-social and not making the effort to meet new players and expand their circles – asking instead for the game to force it upon everyone else. I have some rose-tinted lenses for Wrath of the Lich King, but at the same time, my rational brain knows that the maybe-3 times I had someone I remembered from a PUG ask for an invite and got to vouch for/against them was a rare exception to the dozens of times I ran other content with no recollection of people before or after.

      And to the last point, I am certain aging players has something to do with it. We know WoW isn’t a player-conversion monster anymore, so the game is played by the same people getting older. Many of my friends have had children in the time WoW has been out and have had sharply reduced playtime for it, or they have heavier roles at work. When I’ve been a guild or raid leader, I’ve found that managing the social expectations of a group of players can *feel* like a job, because it is one, and as I get older, there are elements of that which are less appealing such that I might opt to just play Civilization VI or something else over playing WoW. A lot of my friends want to run content that doesn’t have a matchmaker but also won’t just…invite people who express interest, because of the social pressures that creates.

      On the actual digression point, I wonder if that would be valuable. I think it would be cool to have the older zones and content in the game and rewarding, but Blizzard does a pretty poor job of managing legacy content in retail in the first place. On the other hand, Classic as an experience isn’t for me and it would be nice to have the ability to go back with ease, even if the retail gameplay experience is just fundamentally different mechanically (I’ve been spending a smallish amount of time goofing around on a warrior in Classic, and that feels quite different than leveling a fresh warrior on retail!). I don’t think having the Classic content on retail would kill the Classic servers, but it would be an interesting idea and one worth exploring (as a full-time thing and not just Timewalking, either!).

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      1. (And another try again because line breaks and WordPress aren’t getting along)

        A lot of good points here, and I think I’ll be writing a follow-up post because the discussion is interesting.

        I was pretty active on my realm forums in WoW way, way back, to the point that I did know who our Scarab Lord was (Tregga from the guild The Sundering, which I still remember!) but I know that I’m an outlier. Even funnier, after making that point, I should make my position clear – I’m firmly for matchmade content. I find some arguments against it interesting and worth considering, but not to any extent such that I would remove said systems.

        There’s definitely something to the social circles point and I think that is a great breakdown. I wonder how much of the “modern MMOs are anti-social!” sentiment comes from people who are themselves anti-social and not making the effort to meet new players and expand their circles – asking instead for the game to force it upon everyone else. I have some rose-tinted lenses for Wrath of the Lich King, but at the same time, my rational brain knows that the maybe-3 times I had someone I remembered from a PUG ask for an invite and got to vouch for/against them was a rare exception to the dozens of times I ran other content with no recollection of people before or after.

        And to the last point, I am certain aging players has something to do with it. We know WoW isn’t a player-conversion monster anymore, so the game is played by the same people getting older. Many of my friends have had children in the time WoW has been out and have had sharply reduced playtime for it, or they have heavier roles at work. When I’ve been a guild or raid leader, I’ve found that managing the social expectations of a group of players can *feel* like a job, because it is one, and as I get older, there are elements of that which are less appealing such that I might opt to just play Civilization VI or something else over playing WoW. A lot of my friends want to run content that doesn’t have a matchmaker but also won’t just…invite people who express interest, because of the social pressures that creates.

        On the actual digression point, I wonder if that would be valuable. I think it would be cool to have the older zones and content in the game and rewarding, but Blizzard does a pretty poor job of managing legacy content in retail in the first place. On the other hand, Classic as an experience isn’t for me and it would be nice to have the ability to go back with ease, even if the retail gameplay experience is just fundamentally different mechanically (I’ve been spending a smallish amount of time goofing around on a warrior in Classic, and that feels quite different than leveling a fresh warrior on retail!). I don’t think having the Classic content on retail would kill the Classic servers, but it would be an interesting idea and one worth exploring (as a full-time thing and not just Timewalking, either!).

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      2. When I discovered the concept of Dunbar’s number (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar's_number) that lead me down the path of thinking about guilds, guild sizes, and server communities. It’s been interesting to see how mechanical limitations on guild sizes work well with social limitations. While some folks want massive ‘warm body’ guilds (say the size of an Convert to Raid or AIE organization), those are actually bad at build real social structures. (The pressures get worse in a game such as Swtor where guild conquests push people to been the largest guilds possible. After seeing that, I’m really glad Blizzard removed the guild perks which were easier to get in a big guild.)

        I do think that if Blizzard wanted to increase the social cohesion or ‘player retention by social stickiness’ they really ought to invest in Guild *and* Player Housing. Letting Guilds have a way to show off their accomplishments gives the game a way to organically promoted guilded play. Add in the _option_ to allow people to link their player housing to their guild housing (via a portal or some such) and you start to create the sense of a guild community.

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    3. Just chiming in to say that I know my Classic server’s gong ringer as well – it was a paladin called Protagonist from . 😛

      I think people are too dismissive of server community whenever they personally didn’t interact with it. It’s not a binary that either exists or doesn’t, but more like a network… yes, most people will have most of their interactions with a relatively small circle of friends, but it’s enough if even one person in that circle actually also has connections to another guild for example… it’s how news get around and larger connections are formed, because even if you personally don’t know everyone, you’re likely to know someone who knows someone else and so on. It’s those connections that the dungeon finder severed in my opinion.

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  3. A pretty hard disagree here. M+ is a cesspool of garbage. Not having LFG is the same experience of trying to find a group. Wildstar and SWTOR major launch failures are around the lack of this feature (and others…)

    The WoW player base is overly entitled, and conditioned by the game to rewards with no effort. Then you get the giant wall of skill/attention and entitlement. How many max level players have never used a CC skill? Why would they? Its been an AE fest for nearly 10 years.

    FF at least attempts to train the players to use all skills…the player skill floor is miles higher than WoW, and you have incentives aside from loot.

    Pallais knocks out a ton of good points as well.

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    1. FWIW, I personally think matchmade content is a good thing to have and am glad for it in my gameplay – I’d veer the other direction compared to Blizzard and put more things into that mode rather than less.

      On the WoW points, in order – I think the idea of M+ as a whole as a “cesspool” is an anecdote at best. I’ve had bad experiences in every mode of content in WoW and a handful in FFXIV. In WoW, I’ve had worse experiences in LFR than in M+, but I don’t think it speaks to LFR itself being a cesspool. I do think that there are parts of M+ that can be worse (more elitist, certainly more subject to the whims of metagaming) but a lot of PUG runs I’ve had usually start out with greetings, end with “GG” and the run itself is a similar wordless jaunt through the dungeon.

      On the entitlement point, I don’t disagree – Blizzard gave up on alternate rewards long ago and has made gear the end-all, be-all, such that when they do use cosmetics as a fun incentive, there’s a portion of the playerbase that shits on it. On CC, I both agree and disagree. Most average content in the game doesn’t require use of CC skills, but there’s still a fair amount of it that happens as you climb the difficulty ladder. In M+, there are reasons to CC depending on the week or the mob – Inspiring affix incentivizes doing this to pull packs apart to reduce the effect of the affix. Hell, even Castle Nathria has a boss fight that requires hard CC to properly deal with an enemy, which will kill you if not CC’d. The game is definitely still an AE fest in dungeons, but that maps neatly to FFXIV, where wall-to-wall pulls are the norm in most groups and the constant go-go-go is a thing there too.

      Which brings me to the FFXIV point. I’d dispute that the game trains players all that well – it makes more of an effort compared to WoW, which simply adds mechanics and hopes you figure it out, but I’ve seen a lot of weird play there. Tanks who don’t use their DRs on trash pulls in dungeons, the healer design paradigm as a whole which isn’t really taught by the game but is rigidly enforced by the community (do damage), and the intricacies of DPS rotations and things like weaving oGCD abilities – all of these are things the game either doesn’t train at all or soft-peddles (don’t forget to use your damage reducers!). I’d argue that FFXIV play at the high-end trains a different skill set than WoW – FFXIV is planned and proactive, such that fights have patterns and you learn them over time and then mold your rotation and gameplay around that, where WoW is chaotic and reactive, and expects players to pivot at the drop of a hat to manage some new threat or randomly-targeted ability. I don’t think either is better or worse, just different, but I do think the point of the skill floor being “miles higher” doesn’t really track for either game – because I think both have iffy new player experience in terms of training to the endgame content designs. I certainly don’t think WoW is full of geniuses running around either, but I’ve encountered remarkable dipshits in both games.

      I do agree that FFXIV does a better job of non-loot rewards, though. The game places a much higher value on cosmetics, mounts, and minion rewards, mostly by making them things you can work towards instead of completely random sub-1% drops.

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      1. (Trying this again because WordPress ate my line breaks!)

        FWIW, I personally think matchmade content is a good thing to have and am glad for it in my gameplay – I’d veer the other direction compared to Blizzard and put more things into that mode rather than less.

        On the WoW points, in order – I think the idea of M+ as a whole as a “cesspool” is an anecdote at best. I’ve had bad experiences in every mode of content in WoW and a handful in FFXIV. In WoW, I’ve had worse experiences in LFR than in M+, but I don’t think it speaks to LFR itself being a cesspool. I do think that there are parts of M+ that can be worse (more elitist, certainly more subject to the whims of metagaming) but a lot of PUG runs I’ve had usually start out with greetings, end with “GG” and the run itself is a similar wordless jaunt through the dungeon.

        On the entitlement point, I don’t disagree – Blizzard gave up on alternate rewards long ago and has made gear the end-all, be-all, such that when they do use cosmetics as a fun incentive, there’s a portion of the playerbase that shits on it.

        On CC, I both agree and disagree. Most average content in the game doesn’t require use of CC skills, but there’s still a fair amount of it that happens as you climb the difficulty ladder. In M+, there are reasons to CC depending on the week or the mob – Inspiring affix incentivizes doing this to pull packs apart to reduce the effect of the affix. Hell, even Castle Nathria has a boss fight that requires hard CC to properly deal with an enemy, which will kill you if not CC’d. The game is definitely still an AE fest in dungeons, but that maps neatly to FFXIV, where wall-to-wall pulls are the norm in most groups and the constant go-go-go is a thing there too.

        Which brings me to the FFXIV point. I’d dispute that the game trains players all that well – it makes more of an effort compared to WoW, which simply adds mechanics and hopes you figure it out, but I’ve seen a lot of weird play there. Tanks who don’t use their DRs on trash pulls in dungeons, the healer design paradigm as a whole which isn’t really taught by the game but is rigidly enforced by the community (do damage), and the intricacies of DPS rotations and things like weaving oGCD abilities – all of these are things the game either doesn’t train at all or soft-peddles (don’t forget to use your damage reducers!).

        I’d argue that FFXIV play at the high-end trains a different skill set than WoW – FFXIV is planned and proactive, such that fights have patterns and you learn them over time and then mold your rotation and gameplay around that, where WoW is chaotic and reactive, and expects players to pivot at the drop of a hat to manage some new threat or randomly-targeted ability. I don’t think either is better or worse, just different, but I do think the point of the skill floor being “miles higher” doesn’t really track for either game – because I think both have iffy new player experience in terms of training to the endgame content designs. I certainly don’t think WoW is full of geniuses running around either, but I’ve encountered remarkable dipshits in both games. I do agree that FFXIV does a better job of non-loot rewards, though. The game places a much higher value on cosmetics, mounts, and minion rewards, mostly by making them things you can work towards instead of completely random sub-1% drops.

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  4. Dungeon Finder is definitely a mixed bag. That it is so highly used marks it as a success. But it does encourage specific behaviors, the primary of which in my experience is the “running tank” who is in a hurry to finish the instance in the quickest possible time. If you actually want to see a dungeon you had better have a pre-made group, because nobody in the DF queue is going to wait for you to listen to dialog or examine things. It is all run run run.

    There has also, to my mind, been an impact on dungeon design due to DF. Blizz was already moving away from the sprawling variety of dungeon formulas that we got in vanilla to a much more linear “3 bossed and done” baseline in Outland. But compact, fifteen minute or less experiences that only groups completely off spec and badly equipped might wipe on… and then a buff for those groups mid-dungeon if they do wipe… made non-heroic dungeons almost sight seeing tours in recent expansions. There is a very homogenized feel to instances now. The scenery changes, the boss mechanics change, but the whole thing feels the same… and doubly so when it is all you can do to keep up with the tank. And there is certainly no feeling that running non-heroics is prepping anybody for more advanced content. Blizz forcing players to run dungeon content to do things like advance crafting professions hasn’t made me any happier either.

    Blizz is never going to make anything like Sunken Temple or Blackrock Depths or any of the other sprawling, epic five person dungeons again. In fact, they had to dumb down and tear apart those instances with the introduction of the DF.

    Basically, DF provides a lot of convenience to players who want to run dungeons, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it also enforces a very limited experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Some great points here, starting with the pacing of gameplay – go-go-go feels a lot more common in matchmade gameplay, but I also wonder if that would have been the trajectory without Dungeon Finder. It feels like some of that is lack of difficulty (I can steamroll this and therefore I should) and if some of it is the increase in metagaming that modern players employ (I have a clear route through the dungeon and a strategy in mind so I will do this).

      The design of dungeons is probably the most interesting though, because you’re correct there. TBC had more linear dungeons, offset only by the presence of sprawling multi-path runs like some of the Zangarmarsh dungeons and Escape from Durnholde, which is still linear if you’re following Thrall but is also a huge map you can just explore to see things, including the Ashbringer Easter egg they tucked into that one! I’ve noticed that with Mythic Plus, there has been some attempt to bring back more open designs (Atal’Dazar springs to mind) but they’re still smaller spaces with constrained routes and not the epic labyrinths of a Blackrock Depths or Sunken Temple.

      I think there’s value to expanding matchmaking, but I would love to see Blizzard wrap their heads around the idea that higher difficulty content could be matchmade, both in terms of numerical tuning but also complexity of routes and ability to explore.

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      1. (Guess I need to figure out why the Reader comment option is eating my line breaks!)

        Some great points here, starting with the pacing of gameplay – go-go-go feels a lot more common in matchmade gameplay, but I also wonder if that would have been the trajectory without Dungeon Finder. It feels like some of that is lack of difficulty (I can steamroll this and therefore I should) and if some of it is the increase in metagaming that modern players employ (I have a clear route through the dungeon and a strategy in mind so I will do this).

        The design of dungeons is probably the most interesting though, because you’re correct there. TBC had more linear dungeons, offset only by the presence of sprawling multi-path runs like some of the Zangarmarsh dungeons and Escape from Durnholde, which is still linear if you’re following Thrall but is also a huge map you can just explore to see things, including the Ashbringer Easter egg they tucked into that one!

        I’ve noticed that with Mythic Plus, there has been some attempt to bring back more open designs (Atal’Dazar springs to mind) but they’re still smaller spaces with constrained routes and not the epic labyrinths of a Blackrock Depths or Sunken Temple. I think there’s value to expanding matchmaking, but I would love to see Blizzard wrap their heads around the idea that higher difficulty content could be matchmade, both in terms of numerical tuning but also complexity of routes and ability to explore.

        Like

  5. For me personally dungeon finder systems definitely brought a lot more bad than good.

    The only MMORPGs (not counting EVE) I’ve played lots and lots of (PvE) group content in are EQII, SWTOR and The Secret World.

    In EQII I had no guild at first and tried to do group content (which, at launch, was pretty much all of the content) with PUGs. It was pretty bad, and I’ll freely admit that the whole process of getting a group together and being ready to start took much too long, which was a big contributing factor to the experience being bad.
    Once I had a guild, though, doing group content was a blast and also a really great social experience.

    In SWTOR we did everything as a duo at first (which, with the help of companions, was already kind of a full group), joined a guild early and did all group content with guildies from then on. Again, great experiences all around.

    In TSW I’ve experienced grouping with dungeon finder and without. I can’t say I’ve had many bad experiences with the DF here, but overall the runs with handpicked groups tended to run more smoothly for sure.

    And then there’s FFXIV, where I learned to avoid doing group content whenever possible at all costs, for pretty much all of the reasons you (and Wilhelm in his comment) stated as the disadvantages of group finder systems:
    – The worst kind of gogogo-mentality I’ve ever seen. Fun? What fun?
    – The above also completely sucked the fun out of tanking for me, which is usually the role I like the most.
    – No sense of world whatsoever. The first time I wanted to enter a dungeon all on my own (as I pretty much always do in MMORPGs once I’ve outleveled the places enough) I felt so let down and robbed of any kind of immersion when, upon running up to the dungeon and clicking on its entrance, the Duty Finder popped up instead. Not to mention, as you said, that some dungeons don’t even have an actual entrance anymore.
    – Pretty much no way to deal with bad behaviour, and almost no reason actually to behave well.

    All things considered I really believe that we (or, at the very least, I) were better off without those systems.

    Like

  6. Ah, the dungeon finder… a topic I could talk about forever. I’m actually glad that I started my WoW blog just before its introduction, because it means I can go back to those posts about my early impressions of it and they are pretty wild to read. Like this one about the day the dungeon finder was released, or this one about going through a veritable conveyor belt of pugs during a run of the ICC 5-mans. I genuinely loved the feature at first, because I liked doing dungeons and the dungeon finder allowed me to do more of them! Turns out though that even something you like can eventually make you sick if you shove it down your throat three times a day for weeks and months…

    I do actually enjoy the manual group finding in Classic. Yes, it is inconvenient and there are days when I really want to get some dungeon quests done and kind of go “ack, so much effort”. But it also means that each dungeon run is much more deliberate and memorable, even when it’s not super exciting. Despite my casual play style in retail, I’ve probably run e.g. Plaguefall more times already than most Classic dungeons… but ultimately, none of those runs carried any meaning for me; they were just another daily chore to get out of the way with the press of a button.

    That said, my opinion nowadays is more nuanced than “group finder yay or nay”. As you said, it’s made its way into almost every other major MMO now, and… it’s not the same everywhere. I was crushed when SWTOR introduced its group finder because I felt like bad WoW features were following me everywhere, but to this day I feel that it doesn’t have quite the same negative vibes. For example it’s not cross-server, and while that doesn’t prevent people from being… awkward sometimes, it’s much easier to make connections. When I last levelled an unguilded character through flashpoints as an experiment, there were multiple occasions where I could have made friends or joined a guild for example. Immersion also doesn’t work the same way everywhere – e.g. in SWTOR every flashpoint entrance is basically a shuttle bay and the idea is that a shuttle takes you to the instance location, which is usually located on a different planet. Cutting that out and “getting a transport” directly from the UI is not as big of a leap as losing the act of travelling to a big bad’s castle in a fantasy MMO. More generally, I think people’s attitudes are also influenced by factors such as the difficulty of the content and overall population levels/queue times (e.g. being less likely to bail if they had to wait a while for their pop).

    Personally, looking back now, I think that the dungeon finder’s biggest sin was that it made too much of a leap too quickly – fully automating the group finding process, adding teleportation and cross-server functionality all at once. I’m sure things would have gone very differently if they had only added one of those features to begin with for example, but like you said, once it was out that genie was impossible to put back into the bottle.

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