The Reason Nobody Groups Anymore
The title of this post is full of lies. There are still people who play in groups in MMOs and I don’t really know the reasons as to why the others don’t anymore. What I do know is why I rarely play in a group these days if it isn’t a group of friends. My freshest experience in that regard is in Lord of the Rings Online, but many other games before have suffered the same fate.
The randomly thrown-in group quest
All of you know how MMO quest lines often work. You do a variety of rather easy single-player quests in a zone which will eventually lead to one or more quests that can only be completed in a group. More often than not, I will ignore those quests. For one, finding a group (especially in an old MMO) is a not-so-minor hassle for what might be a matter of three minutes of killing an elite NPC. You see, you never really know how complicated such a quest may be and how many steps might follow. I don’t really feel like waiting around for half an hour for a group to form only to whack one random boss monster for rather insignificant rewards. When I’m questing, I want to be able to continue doing so right then and there. I don’t want to wait around nor do I want to revisited an otherwise completed region once I finally get a group together.
I tend to collect these quests in my quest log for the zone with the intention of finding a group that sweeps through them all in one go later on, but that hardly ever works out. (That was different when I played in a decently large guild in WoW. There would always be an alt of an alt that still needed the quest as well or a high-level willing to help out real quick.)
It’s not worth it
Group content takes time and effort to do, yet the rewards are rather slim. Experience and monetary rewards are usually relatively slim (I assume that’s to prevent high-levels from pulling others through the leveling process at too high a rate or to prevent grouping feeling forced.) and the item rewards, while usually much stronger than what you can get individually, don’t really matter in the long run since they will be replaced soon anyway and are not really needed for leveling.
I have tackled this in detail here.
Is there anybody out there?
I’ve touched on the subject above, but it seems important to stress it again here. LotRO’s leveling zones are utterly devoid of people and the same goes for most other MMOs. Once most people are at the maximum level, you will be hard pressed to find people to play with. World of Warcraft’s dungeon finder actually went a long way to alleviate this issue (despite all the issues that it brings with it.)
In LotRO, my class quest currently demands that I go into either one or two instances (I haven’t really figured that out) but I have yet to see a group forming to go there. Unsurprisingly, really, given the other reasons for not grouping that I’ve talked about. Essentially, what we have here is a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Once people start ignoring group content it will be harder for those who still want to do it to find groups, which in turn makes it more annoying to try and do group quests at all, which then reduces the number of players available for grouping.
WoW solved this by turning a lot of the former group quests into single player experiences and LotRO gives you a buff these days that allows you to run the story-relevant instances alone. (This, by the way, makes them absolutely trivial and rather immersion breaking. But that’s a story for another day.)
What can we do about it?
That’s the question, isn’t it? I can’t give you a definite solution, but here are a few things that could help. First of all, get rid of all those random, five-minute group quests. This seems a no-brainer to me. Grouping for such a short time is such a hassle that you’ll be hard pressed to make them attractive in any way.
Instead, concentrate group content into larger chunks that are worth grouping for. Dungeons are one way to do this and not a terribly bad one – they just need to be made more attractive and / or grouping must be easier. Another way would be to introduce group-only zones with a combination of quests and grinding experiences with decent rewards. Players would come here looking to spend some time playing in a group, but would not be as committed as they would be on a dungeon run.
The grinding elements would make it so that even players who have already completed a quest might be willing to help those that haven’t. You could even go for WoW-holiday style quests, where a player can only summon a boss (or open a door or what have you) once but there would be interesting loot for many´. Here, others might be willing to join you on your quest for the opportunity of getting another shot at the loot while you yourself get your quest done.
People often reminisce of the good ol’ days of Everquest when you still had to group to get anywhere at all. There might just be an audience for that kind of gameplay still, but it is very hard to form a community and a tradition around it when group content is only seen as a brief interlude to solo gameplay. I think it might be possible to fit both into a single game, but the way that it is currently done is rather wrong.