Casually Classic: In defense of a good ‘looking for group’ tool in World of Warcraft

I'm sure it's a coincidence.

While World of Warcraft certainly made a number of questionable design decisions over the years, for my money one of the absolute best moves Blizzard ever did was institute the looking for dungeon tool (or LFG tool) back in Wrath of the Lich King. Players who found it too frustrating or stressful to get into dungeon groups now had a highly convenient tool that would let them queue for instances and even teleport them there when they got to the front of the line.

Casuals loved it. I loved it. But I won’t pretend that it didn’t put a burr under the saddle of purists and the hardcore community, which decried the “death of server communities” while pontificating on how great things used to be in ye olden days before such a travesty arrived.

WoW Classic gave this segment their pre-LFG system its dream world back, but in so doing proved how essential such a system is to the health of the game as a whole. Today, I’m going to defend the LFG system and explain why Blizzard should (as is rumored) be working on a functional tool for Burning Crusade Classic’s launch.

The haves and have-nots

While opponents of the LFG tool will whip out the usual litany of “random PUGs decrease socialization” and “LFG kills bonding that happens in guilds and on servers,” I see the actual issue that of establishing a pecking order between elitists with loads of time and everyone else.

The original version of World of Warcraft was built on the old model of DIKUmud that emphasized dungeon and raid progression above all else. It was built, as was EverQuest before it, to give the best stuff to those with the most time to spend on a very limited range of activities.

But as I see it, WoW then undercut its own design by opening the door to casuals by making the game far more player-friendly than many MMORPGs that came before it. Perhaps the hope was to convert that casual crowd into hardcores (which happened, to an extent) — to train them to love raiding as much as established raiding guilds and developers already did.

What I don’t think Blizzard entirely anticipated was that a good segment of these newly welcomed casuals wanted to remain casual, even as the game tried to herd them onto the rails of raid progression. So many players weren’t plugged into dedicated communities that were focused on getting raid ready, and so they were also denied regular access to the dungeons that they would otherwise have liked to run. This, then, created a game where there were haves and have nots where casuals weren’t given any reasonable route to attaining better gear.

Another path

That’s why I’ve always felt that the furor over the LFG system came strongest from the hardcores who resented accessibility and power that they already had, thanks to strong guild and raid communities, being shared with casuals as well. Ours wasn’t as fast or as powerful a path to getting better gear, but it was another path.

Getting away from a high-level historical overview, I have always felt that LFG tools make sense to all types of gamers except those who have been brainwashed by earlier MMO design. Players still have to run the content to get rewards, but with these systems, they have a much more straight-forward and convenient method of getting into groups for that content.

Honestly, I don’t see how spamming the LFG channel and pestering guildies for runs is any more or less “social,” because once you get into those groups, you ain’t going to be doing much talking anyway. But having these tools takes away so much stress and anxiety over trying to find groups, not to mention shaving off non-productive time of sitting around waiting for groups to form.

While I’m willing and have the time to run the occasional dungeon, I can count the number of actual runs I’ve done in WoW Classic on a single hand because it’s simply too annoying and time-consuming to fuss with dungeons (and I don’t really like pre-TBC dungeons anyway, but that’s another column).

It’s why I do indeed hope that #somechanges with Burning Crusade Classic does include better LFG functionality — even if we’re not going to Wrath’s dungeon tool quite yet.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match

There are indications that Blizzard is looking into making a better middle ground between both the pro- and anti-LFG tool mindsets with some sort of “LFG matchmaking system” in Burning Crusade Classic. This is a topic that I’m following closely, because I truly hope that we do get something far better than the wonky and mostly unused system that the original expansion brought.

Even assuming that such a system doesn’t teleport us to dungeons, that’s less of an issue with Outland, as we’re all on the same tightly packed continent anyway. I simply would like to be able to queue up with a role and have the game match me with people from my — or other — servers to form a group for a dungeon or elite task.

It’s not betraying any sort of sacrosanct original design to do this; it’s a sensible organizational tool that lets people do more playing and less chat spamming. It’d help players of all types — aspiring raiders, dedicated dungeon delvers, or the occasional munchkin — by bringing people together instead of keeping them apart.

If you can’t bear to march forward with an LFG tool, well then, the Classic Era servers will be there (and, I suspect, greatly unpopulated). But Burning Crusade was when I really started to do and enjoy dungeons in WoW, and a good LFG system should help make this a reality once more.

Stepping back into the MMO time machine of WoW Classic, Justin Olivetti offers up observations and ground-level analysis as a Gnome with a view. Casually Classic is a more laid-back look at this legacy ruleset for those of us who’ve never stepped into a raid or seen more than 200 gold to our names.
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