The Path of Least Resistance

Posted: June 14, 2007 by Kendricke in Everquest 2, General Game Concepts

When the Splitpaw Saga came out for Everquest 2, players spent entire levels in the single player dungeon of Harclave’s.  I believe I gained at least 3 or 4 levels in there myself.

Eventually, the design team pulled back the rewards a bit, and cut back the amount of time you could spend in Harclave’s (failure timers and could only complete the dungeon once per level).  Eventually, few players bothered to go to Harclave’s anymore and even today, Lower Splitpaw is a veritable ghost town.

But there was something to that which spoke volumes about player desires.  Even before re-entry restrictions were applied, rewards in Harclave’s were dramatically reduced.  Yet, even so, players continued to spend hours in there.

It wasn’t the rewards any longer.  It wasn’t any anti-social streak.  I think it’s because of an old maxim I learned years ago:

People are like electricity.  They tend to follow the paths of least resistance.

Problem:  Finding groups in most MMO’s is an excercise in patience.  Not only do you spend time finding players for your groups in the first place, but you then have to spend time getting everyone in the same place, on the same quest, and then sticking around for the amount of time you need to do what it is you formed the group up to do in the first place.

The paths of least resistance:  Don’t form groups.  Join existing groups looking for just one or two players, and solo while waiting.

Problem:  Not enough solo content at certain level ranges.  In games such as World of Warcraft or Everquest 2, the early levelling curve is fairly easy.  Most players can blow through the first 20 or 30 levels in a week or two, even without groups.  There’s a ton of solo content at the lower levels, and (at least in Everquest 2), you’re outlevelling quests faster than you can complete them all out.  But the well starts to dry up pretty quickly in the higher levels, though.

The paths of least resistance:  Switch to another character.  Stop playing.  Try to find a group, any group.

Problem:  Pick-Up Groups have dubious or inconsistent quality.  In most modern games, expecting to find a good pick up group is, at best, a pretty optimistic endevour.  Reputation simply doesn’t have the stigma it once did, and most players would rather deal with a stranger who isn’t necessarily a great player than to wait till a good player actually comes into the group.  Add to that the difficulty in even realizing who is or is not a good player in most modern MMO’s, and how much time is spent just forming groups to begin with.

The paths of least resistance:  It’s easier to just take the group you’ve got, rather than waiting for the group you want.  It’s easier to ignore group chat/actions than to get involved in drama. Finish your goal, then drop group.
 
Problem:  In a group, you have to share.  Many players play to advance.  Most players who only have a certain amount of time to spend in the game would rather spend that time advancing themselves, than some stranger.  Let’s face it, we play first for ourselves most of the time, especially if we’ve only got a short amount of time to spend online (while waiting on dinner to finish, or that load of laundry to complete, or while you’re waiting for a raid to set up, etc.).

The paths of least resistance:  Soloing means never having to say, “declined”.  Soloing means never worrying about someone else dying.  It’s easier to solo than to deal with sharing (loot, experience, time) with other players.

The list goes on…

It’s a form of compulsory design, really.  If you want X, you must group.  The problem is that grouping isn’t always an option, and even when it is, it isn’t always easy. 

The solution for most game studios is to eventually put out a more involved “LFG tool”.  This invariably puts the issue’s responsibility firmly in the hands of the players once more. 

Don’t ge me wrong.  I’m a fan of additional tools.  I’m a big fan of LFG tools.  I use them all the time.  However, most of the above issues mentioned aren’t suddenly alleviated by an LFG tool, now are they?

There’s fundamental design issues at work here that stretch back decades.  CIS students working on MUD’s back in their dorm rooms 10 or 15 years ago had the same basic design ideas:  make content hard to complete without other people and they’ll group out of necessity. 

The problem is that the “requirement” was added without paying enough attention to the path of least resistance.  In my mind, this is one of the (many) reasons World of Warcraft is so appealing to so many casual gamers and why Blizzard managed to expand the market into so many non-traditional sectors.  It’s also why I think you see games such as Everquest 2 essentially redesigning entire chunks of existing mechanics and content around easier soloability.

Personally, I love grouping.  I just hate forming groups.  Tools such as the LFG tool are a workaround to my issue there – not a solution.  The LFG tool is nice, but it’s not intuitive enough.  The basic mechanics in Everquest 2 (and World of Warcraft, for that matter) simply aren’t built around forming groups, in my opinion.  Oh, the content’s designed around groups forming up – but not the mechanics sure aren’t.
 
Personally, I’d like to see hubs getting away from the cities.  I appreciate the idea that Qeynos and Freeport need to feel “alive”.  However, when I’m forming groups, I get tired of forming them around players who are two continents (and 20+ minutes) away.  Teleportation helps, but it’s not always readily available, and certainly players don’t immediately rush to get to where your group is forming up. 

Besides, if you only have an hour online, spending 20 minutes forming a group is just ridiculous – it’s easier to just try to find something to solo for most players. 

I’d like to start seeing hubs based around docks and frontier villages.  Imagine a banker set up at Butcherblock docks…or a broker…or just some tradeskilling equipment, for crying out loud. 

Imagine special NPC’s in Somborn Village who give out random, repeatable, quick solo quests that can be worked on while groups form up for Mistmoore Castle. 

Imagine solo content (instead of heroics) on the steps leading up to Mistmoore castle which gets progressively harder as you advance to a new plateau. 

Imagine a glowing tag or icon which appears over someone’s head when they start forming up a group.  Imagine an option which allows to turn the icon off completely, or to set it to show only when you yourself are looking for groups.

There’s a hundred little things that can be done to make it easier to group than to not group.  All we have to do is remember those paths of least resistance, and work to encourage activities…rather than attempting to force them. 

Then people wouldn’t be so…well, resistant.
 

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Comments
  1. I think you hit the nail on the head with this post… IF you are talking about a class based game. In a skill based game, things are a bit different. Since I don’t want to rear off topic to the OP, I’ll focus on class based. I’m only 45 in WoW, so can’t speak to higher levels than that, but I’ve yet to NEED a group to do any questing. I can solo everything. The only thing I can’t solo is instances, which is where the group pains come in. However, the instances I want to go in typically have something to kill around my level or questing around my level, so unless you’re just running Ulda for the 100th time, there are typically SOME things to do.

    SWG had a great quest terminal system where it generated quests for your level each time you accessed it. If you had a group, it’d make the level higher so it would be a challenge to those involved in the group. I loved this aspect of it (although their storyline questing model sucked monkey balls.. but that’s a whole different topic).

  2. Finding groups has always been an area of contention in MMOs. It’s not just finding a group that’s difficult, it’s finding the right group. I remember, very well, trying to find a healer in the days of Everquest, or more recently, trying to find a tank in Everquest 2. You can make do with nearly any class, but the experience and rewards are slower. If you have that golden hour to play, spend 20 minutes finding your group, then have to slosh it out with what you have, it’s not nearly as productive. It ends in frustration and burnout.

    I would love to see some of these ideas implemented and a concentration on solo content. If you didn’t have to wait for that golden group, your time online could be much, much more enjoyable and productive.

  3. Xeavn says:

    Interesting write up, and I have to agree with you for the most part Kendricke, players do tend to pick whichever option is the easiest to achieve thier goal. The thing I think you missed though, is that sooner or later the goal becomes a hard enough objective that the player is forced to group.

    This may be a guild group if the guild has enough players on and bored, or on and needing the same objective. It may become a pickup group if it isn’t.

    The thing I think that is most important is for the game to set goals for the players that can’t be done solo and then reward them for achieving those goals. This is in a sense what instances and raids do. The developers make a dungeon, and if the rewards at the end of the dungeon are good enough for the effort that the players have to put forth, then they will usually form the groups and go. If the rewards for a really hard and long quest are good enough, poeple will form groups and work on it.

    Let me give a couple of examples. The Claymore Quest, the end result was pretty good, and so poeple would form groups and work on it. The bad part? It basically was 50 steps all contained in two different dungeons, with a lot of tedium involved. You loathed Sanctum of the Scaleborn and Palace of the Awakended by the time you were even halfway done with the quest. Even worse it was hard to grab someone on a different step and both work on your quests.

    Second example – Swords of Destiny Quest, not sure yet what the end reward is, (and it would be more intincing if we knew) but the assumption is it will be pretty good. The Idol step, another 50 things to do, but this time designed better. Its all one step, so no one has to worry about if you have gotten the previous three idols that they just grabbed when taking you along. Even better the idols are all over the lands, so you don’t spend 20 hours in one instance, you spend a little time here and and a little time there. Plus a good number of the idols can be gotten solo, so while you are waiting for a group to form, or trying to form one yourself, you can still work on it.

    In the second example I would say that the developers have made it easier to group for this quest, and thus it provides less resistance to grouping for that quest.

  4. ogrebear says:

    Well if you play a certain MMO for a while, and start to make friends with good group players you people start looking for you. I know it not the path of least reisitance, but it leads to one. I Now normally will get a tell with in 15 mins of logging in to the game asking if i want to join a group, most of these player asking have grouped with me and i took the time to become there friends in game.

  5. kendricke says:

    Or you just just run a large, successful guild for many years and just order all your players to group with you, as I do. They find their path of least resistance is to simply accept my invites, because the alternative is a night of Guildmaster whining and hassle. 😉

    In all seriousness, the article wasn’t written for my own personal nightly jaunts, though there are rare times when I log in and find myself annoyed at realizing that my guildmates and friends are either not on or already involved with a group.

    At that point, my own personal path of least resistance usually involves switching characters, unless I feel like soloing named in Mistmoore Catacombs again…but that’s all a story for another day’s bloggingings. 😀

  6. Wilhelm2451 says:

    Well said. Almost all of my best EQ2 (and EQ) experiences involve groups, often pick up groups. The actual act of finding a group can be annoying and time consuming. I would much rather use my limited time actually advancing my character in some way.

    As for the days of MUDs… there was a strong sense of trying to make the players play the game the way the developers thought it should be played back then, a vibe that found its way into EQ. I think the solo alternatives in WoW and now in EQ2 represent a welcome divergence from that past. Group content has become a fun feature of these games as opposed to a requirement.

  7. Tinman_au says:

    Great points Kendrike.

    I enjoy most guild groups I get in cause I know them and play a lot with those that I get along with, but PUG’s are a two edged sword, you can get to meet some great people and have a lot of fun, or you can end up in “PUG hell” if you end up with the “wrong” people.

    I wonder how feasible it would be to add a personality/experience questionnaire to a MMOG’s sign up and have the game effectively just throw the compatible types together (pre-pick a world for “like types”, auto-add them to a “types” world channel or auto-add them to a group/guild or something) when you log in?

    I can just imagine people going “OMGWTF dude, your talking about dating software!!”, and I guess I kinda am in a way, only instead of “looking for someone that loves long walks on the beach” with the object being marriage, it’s “LFM to kill Nagafen” for phat lewtz 🙂

  8. Loredena says:

    The other issue with forming PUGs, is that many players, and I include myself in the number, won’t join a group two continents away. In fact, I’m generally surprised when I get such a tell. This again points to the need for hubs that are ‘out in the field’ so that there are reasons for players to move out from the cities more. On the flip side though, I wonder if it might actually increase the probability of players being on the ‘wrong’ continent at any point in time, as more choices mean more scattering….

  9. […] wrote about these ideas nearly two years ago in an article here entitled, “The Path of Least Resistance“.  Though I still believe the general aspects of that post, I think that I’ve gained a […]

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