Growing Up PuG

Life on the street.

It can be tough.  Really tough sometimes.  You don’t know whether you are going to survive, and you never know who is going to be your friend or foe. A steady stream of strangers passing through, never the same cozy little group of people whose habits, delightful or annoying, you know like the beat of your own heart.

It is kind of the same for a newer player in the PuG life. Each new instance could be an opportunity to meet wonderful new players across the game, winning their approval and gathering tips and recommendations and wishes for future success.

Or, it could be an opportunity for some 13-year old who can’t spell to tell you that you suck. And, in fact, you might.

This is my life in WoW.

The Limited-Play Life

Did I hope to grow up this way?  No, of course not. I am actually a fairly social gamer, and had a really super social guild for a while in my very first MMO, Pirates of the Caribbean Online. Schedule limitations are now the main driver. As a parent, my hours of play are generally limited to early mornings and late evenings, and sometimes they can be sporadic. My core guildies are similar, each with different schedules, some early, some late, hence we rarely have full crossover.

So, aside from a few serendipitous runs with friends, or the occasional guild run, it was up to me to get my own instance experience. During the old LFG days, it was rare for me to peddle myself in the channel, due to lack of confidence with my skills AND lack of time.  I found early on that, many groups could take at least a half hour to assemble, and then, with wipes, it could easily take several hours to run something to completion.  The time was much better invested in questing, for leveling, gold, and sanity.

During this time of leveling, I also found that, while I met a large number of friends, whom I chat with regularly, after the initial meeting point where we were at a similar place leveling, if they passed me by level-wise, there was little motivation for us to do anything together. The progression nature of WoW is so strict, and the benefits of grouping with lower level players to help them out are so nonexistent, that I was left with all of my friends basically saying “hurry up and get to 80, so we can run things with you.” Upon reaching 80, though, I fear that they will all be so outgeared and ahead content-wise, that the same gap will still exist.  I sure wish Blizzard could find a way to solve that issue, which is, I’m sure, like putting a Rubik’s cube back together.

Outland improved on the situation, with a ready pool of people, and lots of posting for Ramps/Blood Furnace runs. Other than those two, though, there was very little activity, so the majority of the Outland instances remain undone for me, and will need to be completed as part of an achievement run, prior to Cataclysm.

I was just beginning my quests in Northrend when the LFD tool was unveiled. After hearing some commentary from my guild leader (both favorable and unfavorable, but generally more towards the favorable), I decided I would give it a try.

Life-altering.

I still have fairly significant schedule limitations, and usually try to make sure that I won’t have a 5 year old tugging at my sleeve while trying to heal, but given the duration of most Northrend content, it is so much more doable, and I have actually obtained the Northrend Dungeonmaster achievement at this point.

As wonderful as it seems, though, it can be a harsh existence. You are entirely subject to the whim of the group finder, and your party-mates could be wonderful, or awful (in skill, communication abilities and general outlook on life). If you or one of your group make a tiny (or large) error, you run the risk of having half of the group drop, creating a wait, but thankfully very rarely as long as under the previous system. The horror stories obviously abound, and are the subject of many many blog and forum posts.

Harsh indeed, BUT, it has opened up a world of experiences to me and, I am sure, a host of other players who might have previously sat on the sidelines. The experience of getting into those first dungeons has motivated me to continue to improve my skill and prepare for even more difficult content. The guild is also working harder to try and schedule things together, and so occasionally we can get three of us together for random runs, which is really quite wonderful.

Blizzard’s Wisdom

I sense that a lot of very seasoned players are griping about the LFD tool (and the idiots they meet while in randoms), and now about the new weekly raid quests. There are a variety of reasons to complain, from being encouraged to group with potentially unqualified players, to being encouraged to revisit old content for badges.

I can understand how the experienced players feel, truly. Time is a precious commodity, and to have it wasted is, at times, painful.

However, I think that I can see the wisdom in what Blizzard is doing, with the LFD tool, and also with the weekly raid quests. In one respect, they seem to be applying the philosophy that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” By giving more players exposure to more content, ultimately, there will be more qualified players. Knowledge spreads virally, so the more people experiencing content, the more knowledge is spread, and the level of gameplay continues to go up. This pushes Blizzard to continue to develop new content, of course, which is a great cycle for them to be in, business-wise. I would love to be able to be a fly on the wall in Blizz operations meetings where they discuss play statistics, and how they’ve changed over the last few months.

With the weekly raid quests, if you think about it, the way the emblem system works currently, a new player leveling to 80 could easily just farm for emblems, never having raided, and then once their armor is of sufficient qualify, begin to try to do end-content raids.  However, what they are missing is the experience that all of the seasoned players have accumulated with fight tactics and general raid skills gained during the progression through earlier content. Weekly raid quests will help those of us in that category to “catch up,” while working on our gear to allow us into the ICC raid content. Personally, I need to start even lower than some of those weekly raid quests to just even get the hang of how a raid flows…..the thought of stepping right into Ulduar, which is this week’s quest, is pretty daunting, and I’m not sure if my gear would pass at this point.  But the basic point is, Blizzard is giving us an opportunity to work toward greater skill proficiency, and the hardcore individuals who really don’t feel comfortable supporting newbish types, can always run with their guilds or groups of friends whose skill levels they feel comfortable with.

Kurn at Kurn’s Corner, had some pretty awful experiences in PuG’s recently, so I really sympathize.  However, out of that negative experience came Kurn’s suggestion that Blizzard create some sort of in-game training modules, that would allow players to learn basic skills of their class, and how to use them in fights. I have long wished that there were training dummies for healers like the ones for the dps folks. I think that a boot camp tool for class skills, as well as for raiding would be an exceptional way for Blizzard to bridge the gap of frustration between hardcore and casual players, although it will never totally eliminate it.  Some folks won’t ever be motivated to improve their game play, and frankly, that has to be okay, because it is their subscriptions that pay for our new releases too. Others have suggested Easy/Hard mode realms, which is another great idea, too, although segregating folks might tend to squelch the viral spread of knowledge which will help more players to become better over time.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough, and bottom line is, while PuG life can be really scary and nerve-shattering at times, it is also something I’ve come to cherish in a way. The guildies are getting together more and more, which is great, and perhaps someday soon we’ll be decent enough to attract enough folks to start running some 10-mans, if we can figure out a time to do it, and that will be great.

But for now, I am content to pack up my hobo sack of shabby gear, potions, elixirs, scrolls and buff foods and take to the streets, to see the world and the players in it.


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