Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pugging gets a whole new meaning

Reviving old content is a great way to keep your player base happily playing with a minimal of developing efforts. In the past WoW has seen the introduction of revamped dungeons such as Naxxramas and Onyxia. And now Blizzard has come up with a new way to extend the lifetime of their old content. The newest patch introduces a "Looking for Group" party across servers. This creates a much bigger player base to choose from when forming a pick up group. And they've added two new emblems for every successful random pug you run. So there are new items to be gained from running the old instances and it's easier to find a group for them.

There's also some real new content in the form of three more instances. Using the LFG tool seemed like a great way to try out these instances and the new LFG method. So I queued up for the first, new dungeon and after ten minutes I could join a group. I was pleasantly surprised to see the option to teleport to the instance. Once upon a time everyone would have to walk to the instance and the first one there could just sit and wait for ten minutes. Nowadays the time it takes to run one instance is similar to the time it takes until everyone reached the instance in the old days.

I somewhat feared to end up pugging the new, difficult instances with green geared tanks and healers. As it turned out most runs went fine. All the players in my pugs had epics which makes me relieved to see that there is some kind of gear check. It was a double feeling to see that the gear dropped in these instances is better than that I got from end game raiding six months ago. The top of the line axe I got back then from the endboss in the hardest instance is now being replaced by one I got in a five men run which took me twenty minutes. On one hand it gives me a reason to do a few of these runs so I can get those new items. On the other hand it shows just how quickly items get old. People often complain about how every expansion makes their gear useless but you get the same if you just stop playing for a few months.

Of course there had to be some drama in these runs. Should the tank be allowed to roll on DPS gear? Should we roll need or greed on bags and frozen orbs? Ideally these things are set in stone before the run starts. Otherwise the second the tank rolls need on that DPS item the hunter will be mad. Then we had one DPS getting the tank gear. When asked if he would trade the item he said "sure, trade me" after happily having teleported back to his own server. On another run I should have seen that the run was doomed after two minutes. The tank was asking if no one else wanted to tank as he didn't really like it. Hint: queuing in an instance as a tank to get in aafter 10 seconds instead of 10 minutes will backfire as you won't pass the first boss after twenty minutes.

I expected these problems but overall these runs went great. You won't make you any new friends using the LFG tool though. The average run took about half an hour and the chances are great that you'll never see the other players in your group again. In a way that's something I miss. In the old days you could run an instance with a few guys and ending up with adding them to your friends list next to other capable and friendly players. Having some good players to run instances is after all more important than having one more epic. These days it's all about anonymity. Which of course also lowers the barrier to behave badly.

The waiting times for the instances I joined as DPS were in the range of fifteen to twenty minutes. Add to that that you no longer have to travel to the instance anymore and you can just queue up, get a cup of coffee and enjoy a dungeon. It's even better for tanks and healers as they have waiting times in the range of seconds.  I'm not surprised to see the number of tanks and healers is still low. Tanking is scary after all and most people dislike taking on the responsibility needed to do these jobs. I'll give tanking a random pug a go one of these days, should be fun (and scary)!

Overall, I think the LFG tool is a great addition which will make sure that more people enjoy the existing dungeons. Especially the older instances now have a chance to see a pug visit them. We'll have to see if it's still as popular in half a year. Everyone is trying it out these days so it's to be expected that the queue times are low. And it also makes me curious which wonders Blizzard still have up their sleeve for WoW as implementing this feature must have been a technical nightmare.

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