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A Team Effort

Victor Barreiro Jr. Posted:
Columns The Devil's Advocate 0

The current phase of the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (henceforth noted as ARR) beta put me in a position I wasn’t normally accustomed to despite playing numerous MMOs for years now. As part of the level 15-20 story quests, ARR actually tasks players with entering and completing three dungeons in order to advance the story.

I’ve done grouped content before, and I’m lucky enough to have made numerous blogging friends with different communities in games. At the same time, I seem to have developed a particular negative perception to being forced to do cooperative content like dungeons in order to get back to my usual style of play, which is to enjoy the storylines of MMORPGs.

I’m certainly a strange one for enjoying MMORPGs despite preferring solo play, I suppose. Why not discuss it for bit with me, dear readers?

Now Versus Then

Back when I first really got into MMORPGs, I actually wanted to raid and be a part of a group effort in taking down Troll gods and Hakkar the Soulflayer of Zul’ Gurub.  These days, however, I’m more content in simply chatting with the people I’ve grown to care about through my gaming experiences - my gaming brothers and sisters so to speak - whether or not we’re tackling dungeons.

Obviously, there’s been a shift in my priorities. At the same time, I’ve previously argued (in the “On MMOs Going Solo” Devil’s Advocate piece, see links at end of article) that there’s been a shift towards solo-friendliness in online games. That shift is partly in order to provide people with the experience they seemingly want - to be a hero - and at the same time to avoid having to deal with the nagging thought that people want our company because we offer something to them in a grouping-utilitarianist sense.

One other wrinkle to grouping now that I wasn’t able to discuss previously is that there’s been a push to make grouping easier to do, but in a way that reinforces dickish behavior and the “I will use other people to get to the loot” mentality.

When DPS rushes through content to maximize time-reward ratios such that your tank feels useless or otherwise unable to learn the game. When a ninja joins a pick-up group and throws everyone under the bus for epic items that aren’t even for his class. When people berate healers for not healing when they’re clearly low on mana because someone Leeroy Jenkins’d his way into a dragon’s maw. My annoyance is pricked at the thought of these scenarios, because I’ve been through them all on various characters, and I’ve even been emotional enough over not getting loot in my early World of Warcraft days  that I once ninja’d an epic ring during a guild dungeon run and disconnected out of frustration.

Encouraging Thoughtful Grouping

Countering that stigma of grouping for dungeon or boss-level content as something that has to be rushed through and as something that is mindless is important. Getting to that point of creating more positive associations for group content in the minds of players like myself, however, is a tough thing..

It’s why I’m glad that there’s at least one company that’s pushing for it: Square Enix Currently publicized on Final Fantasy XIV fansites and social circles is a design document that Naoki Yoshida released regarding design decisions for ARR. While forced party content isn’t something I’m not generally fond of, his reasoning and the manner in which he’s created starter group content strikes me as a charming bit of rhetoric.

Yoshida writes,

As I have already mentioned, the party dungeons that will start from level 15 will not require you to worry about finding parties as we have prepared a feature known as the Duty Finder which will automatically form parties.... With that said, the only things you really need to worry about are leveling up to level 50 and dungeon difficulty.

The difficulty for the 2 dungeons from level 15 has been set you can get excited about your victory and not worry about wiping with the first party of players you meet. With the third dungeon there will be some special mechanics, and for primal battles within the scenario that take place after that, you’ll come to learn that for large boss battles you’ll need a solid strategy to win.

For the Legacy members who have done the end-game content up until the end of 1.0, as well as for players who are familiar with other MMORPGs, the content that you encounter while leveling up to the cap will be a walk in the park. However, the most important point here is that you can have fun and clear content as players with different levels of knowledge will be matched and grouped by the Duty Finder.

While the duty finder is likely going to be something akin to automatic party-makers for group content, the way he explained the reasons for the three-dungeon setup I was originally annoyed with at the start of this article was absolute genius.

He continued this by saying,

The difficulty will increase as the story progresses. Likewise, you role as a particular class will become clearer as you learn weapon skills, magic, and abilities, and the number of times you wipe will gradually increase in the event that you do not properly formulate a battle plan that involves the skilled use of abilities and attack positioning.

We’ve paid extremely close attention to the design of this content so that the balance and difficulty increases, the clear need for strategies to clear content, and the need for equipment can be easily understood. Similarly, this is also the biggest reason why we’ve also made the battle system foundation as simple as possible. The MMORPG battle system and the battle content design are one and the same.

By my understanding, he’s forcing grouped content and a duty finder system with the express intention of allowing people to both gain confidence in their roles within a group environment and also to further understand that each role has a particular battle strategy that can be utilized in battles. More importantly for people like me who have a stigma against grouped content, he basically spells it out for us: he’s chosen this route specifically to give players like myself a chance to grow into the roles we’re trying to develop for ourselves instead of rushing through the content without having any idea how to operate as a team player.

Of course, not everyone has the time to do group content like raids, which is a bit of a speedbump, but three 30-minute dungeons that you don’t have to complete in one sitting seems relatively reasonable in my mind as a more casual player. The alternative, of course, is  being a horrible damage-dealer at max level who stands in fire and always gets poisoned without bringing antidotes.

Transferring Experiences

Perhaps the strangest thing happened to me after I read Yoshida’s document in full. I actually grouped for a dungeon, and I went out of my comfort zone to ask in chat for willing people who’d want to join me. I found some people, and we actually had fun learning how to use our characters better... Heck, I even learned how to use tanking skills as a marauder instead of my usual DPS role instead of feeling like a left-out death knight who can’t get through Burning Crusade content without feeling like an idiot. Sure, we still wiped on that entry level dungeon, but I learned from that one wipe that dungeon delving wasn’t as bad as I remembered it.

Better still, that one good experience gave me the confidence to try being more open to other sorts of group-centric content, such as DPS in The Secret World. Transferring one good group experience, and sharing that good experience by being level-headed, understanding, and willing to teach others and be taught by other in return can increase the overall joy in online games. Perhaps it’ll make more leaders and followers out of group-weary adventurers like myself.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to try running and gunning in Planetside 2 as part of a team.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and ArcheAge columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and The Secret World columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.