Ever thought you might find some people in your random groups that might become your friends so you would then know what to expect?
Of course there’s always a chance that out of those random forced groups you end up finding someone compatible with you. That’s not the point. The point is: the execution is forced. How many of your long-term relationships started out of sheer randomness? I would venture to guess, not many. Most of our relationships started as a measured choice: we initiated contact with another because we noticed some similarities between that person and ourselves, we noticed from afar they seem fun to be around, etc. We as people, rarely just jump to a person and strike up conversations and interact with strangers (maybe in bars/clubs when we see some attractive person but that too is a measured choice). In fact, when we do interact with strangers, it usually is forced and unwelcomed (ie group projects).
I’ll include another example that most readers will be familiar with. Ever have your mom meet up with one of her friends when you were very little and that friend also had a child that was similar age to you? What is expected in that situation? Both moms expect the children to behave and act like friends. Sure, in the long run those two kids may end up friends but just because you put them together doesn’t mean it will happen. In fact, a lot of kids get annoyed having to play with someone they are unfamiliar with.
PROBLEM with many group oriented games is they force you to group with strangers because your friends all tend to have more or less free time than you do and thus forge ahead of you or constantly struggle to catch up.
If you take level out of the formula, then you can group with friends more often and end up having a more enjoyable time.
And no, I don’t think levels are a big determent to grouping among friends especially in games like City of Heroes and even EQ2 where there are systems to alleviate the level disparity.
Levels, skill points, etc are always a factor in MMOs. And those factors are always determined by the amount of time you spend in the game. Can that change in the future? Possibly. But so far, no one has come up with a solution to this problem while at the same time give the player a sense of progression (other games like FPS have no real levels/skills but there’s also no progression or development of the character). If you are having problems keeping up with your online friends and their activity in a MMO, then most likely you are not compatible with them in the game (that doesn’t mean they are not compatible with you in other areas). The difference in levels/skill points are just a tangible reminder that they play more than you and there will always be some issues with grouping.
I think MMO companies need to think of ways of pooling similar minded players together thus allowing them to have a better chance at grouping. In terms of strict game mechanics, I don’t have anything concrete but in a roleplay aspect, I do have an idea and it can be adjusted for non-rpers as well.
After so many hours of playing a game at the beginning (like 1-10 levels in a traditional MMO), a player should be assigned to an in-game faction, kind of like the computer run corporation in EVE (this exists right? I thought I read it somewhere). But there’s more to it than that. The first few levels our hours, the character is set off in a series of solo quests that require the player to make moral/faction/background choices, similar to what Bioware does in their games. Once the character completes the quest chain, they are part of an in-game faction/guild but they can leave it if they so choose.
The point is, once they are in that pre-made faction, they automatically start with a pool of other players who are like-minded with them. That will help people to integrate themselves within that faction. Some of the randomness has been removed. From there, the players can even get more specific and create guilds for those they find are even more compatible.
For non-rp stuff, the questions and choices can relate to more game mechanic ideas like raiding, min-maxing, economy, crafting, how much they play in a week…etc but the choices are answered through decisions within the quest chain. Heck, incorporate some questions from the Bartle test.
There would have to be a ton of ready made factions though but I don’t think it is impossible. Imagine if your character went through the quest chain and at the end you found out you developed a roleplay character who is lawful good, raids heavily, crafts on the side, generally plays late at night for roughly 12 hours a week and that there was a faction filled with players who play just like your character. Immediately you have a starting point to group with like-minded people and if you think you are still being forced, you can always leave.
I suppose you could just have every player fill out a questionnaire before creating a character but it would be so much more interesting and fun if the designers created a quest chain that answered those questions for you using a series of puzzles, dialogues, scripted events that veil the true intentions of the quests, which is to assess what kind of player you are and what kind of character you are making. The beginning quests can even be a mini-game of sorts for many players. It’s kind of like running through the same game over and over again to discover how to find the alternate ending…
Again, those who wish to solo can do so without penalty but this type of matchmaking system will also help groupers form communities between like-minded players. To me, a MMO is not about grouping. There’s more to a MMO than finding a group to kill a mob. To me, a MMO is about a new form of social interaction and community development. People can be part of a community without having to group.