Has LFG ruined World of Warcraft?
I remember the introduction of the Looking for Group tool for World of Warcraft very clearly because I was in the middle of trying to get a group for The Old Kingdom for my Death Knight. It went from pestering people in my guild to run the dungeon for the fifteenth or so time and getting nowhere, because of course no one wanted to run that dungeon again — it’s not the Oculus, but come on. Suddenly, I no longer had to keep bothering anyone, because there was a whole new feature added to the game. With LFG, I could simply queue up for the dungeon.
The world before LFD
The new LFG feature would assemble a group of five players who all wanted to run that dungeons, across multiple servers, and literally port you in at the start of the dungeon. No more needing to prove to someone sitting in Dalaran that you had sufficient utility for them to deign to bring you to the dungeon, or that you as a tank were viable enough to AoE tank an entire pull without it. You were signed up as DPS or a healer or a tank? The LFG tool would put you in a queue and select you for the group when there was an open slot for you. It was a breath of fresh air for DPS players that didn’t have a Sap or Polymorph, or tanks that weren’t favored by the forums, or healers who just wanted to go to a dungeon without having to explain why Chain Heal was, in fact, a great group heal for the sixteenth time.
So how is it, in 2019, around a decade after World of Warcraft introduced the feature for the first time, that we have so many players complaining that LFD — Looking for Dungeon, the original group finding tool that predated Raid Finder and the later Group Finder for assembling custom groups — ruined the game?
It’s indisputably true that the landscape of server communities changed forever when cross server play came into existence, and LFD was the first major measure of it. The LFD tool isn’t locked to a specific server. It looks to assemble groups across all the servers in a region — so if you play in the EU, you could be grouped with any player in that region. (I’m oversimplifying because we’ll be here all day if I don’t.) When people began to be able to get groups without needing to be social engineers — without having to go to a major city and hit up Trade — it definitely had an impact on the concept of Server Community.
Which is fantastic because wow, did I hate Server Community and boy howdy am I not even remotely interested in going back to it.
But Matt, what about all those nice people queuing up to get a quest objective in WoW Classic? You might ask me. Doesn’t that prove that server communities are good, that players forming a social experience helps elevate World of Warcraft beyond a simple game? I’m sure a lot of players who played in Vanilla can tell you stories of great moments they had back in Vanilla. Stories of awesome PuG dungeon runs, of making friends from groups assembled in Shattrath to run Shadow Labs because this healer was so good they had to friend them, or of their guilds and raiding alliances they formed to tackle 40 man content. I remember when I joined my first real Burning Crusade guild — I had not been raiding at all that expansion and suddenly I was thrust into tanking just as Zul’Aman came out in a set that still had greens in it just to hit the defense cap. My new guildmates still had me tanking the Firehawks in that raid, in crappy gear, and kept me alive through it. It’s a great story.
So why do I not want to go back to that?
We lived in smaller ponds
Because I remember the night and day difference of Wrath of the Lich King. I remember going from struggling to get groups outside of specific hours of the day, or having to try and convince a group that yes, Warrior DPS was viable and we didn’t always have to tank, to suddenly not having to deal with any of that. Server community is just made up of the same people who ultimately make up any community, and it is inevitable that said communities contain people whose idea of fun is radically different from yours. I think spending so many years as a tank class before the coming of LFD meant that my experience in the PuG scene was, by and large, pretty negative — players refusing to wait for threat to be established, barking at each other over loot, complaining if the group didn’t have enough crowd control, complaining if the group used any crowd control.
Yes, WoW Classic currently is a brand new experience for a lot of players and they’re approaching it in a spirit of camaraderie and that’s great. But that’s not proof that cross realm play or easy dungeon matchmaking ruined WoW, it’s just proof that it changed the game, and for some players those changes were negative. For others, those changes made the game possible. If you were a player who simply didn’t have six hours to stand in a city looking for a group, you now knew you could still run the major form of content available to players at that time — you could queue up for a dungeon, and you’d even get an estimate of how long it would take to get you in there.
Did it magically make groups succeed at that content? Nope.
Did it magically make players act nice to one another? Nope.
Did it have an impact on how server community impacted people’s play experience? Yes, absolutely it did. You can see the way servers go from tight, sometimes stifling and sometimes welcoming small microcosms of the entire world to almost perfunctory.
The ponds got bigger
I remember the way the servers I played on in Cataclysm seemed entirely aimed at raiding, because until the end of that expansion there was no way to raid cross server — if you wanted to raid at all, until Dragon Soul you had to raid with people on the same server as you. Raiding guilds were still very much a server affair, and even today with LFR and cross-server outside of Mythic raiding it seems to have stayed a fairly server-cenric affair. Today most of the raiding I do is in a guild alliance, although that alliance is not confined to one single server, it’s basically two smaller guilds coming together to raid.
You can argue that anything introduced after November of 2004 ruined World of Warcraft, and it’s quite possible that it did… for you, anyway. There are players who absolutely loved the anarchic, uncontrolled chaos of PVP before the Honor System or Battlegrounds were introduced and who never really adapted to those changes. There are players who were absolute social butterflies who could work a group of people to put together dungeon runs and who were made obsolete by LFD. There are players who got so angry at seeing nodes wink out of existence due to phasing that they made long forum posts decrying its very existence. And those players weren’t wrong — the game had changed in a fundamental way that they didn’t enjoy.
The trade off in an MMO is always going to be to try and maximize enjoyment for as many players as possible. Did LFG tools and cross faction grouping change the servers and their communities? Yes. For some players, it ruined them. For others, it set them free. I actually got to run the occasional dungeon as DPS for the first time the day after LFD dropped, and I’ve never viewed it as anything but an overall good thing. I no longer had to tank everything, I could actually take the occasional dungeon as something else, if I was willing to wait for the queue to pop. Considering I was used to waiting hours to assemble a group, it was a good tradeoff for me. But it wasn’t for everyone.
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