The experience of grouping

A lot of people  have lamented the lack of grouping in an MMO, but to be honest I wonder if they have done such recently, and are just being nostalgic.  I wanted to post my history on grouping in FFXI to show why it’s not so cut and dry.

-the newbie experience: I played at ps2 launch, so there always were lots of people wanting to group, enough to not get the downsides of long seeking times.  With the game being full of other ps2 newbies, we tended to overlook or deal with things like sucky parties, camps, and other aspects of the game.

-the midlevel experience: I started to get my first job to 75 in a time of serious change. Right as we hit level 70ish, the TOAU expansion came out, and players suddenly discovered that it became hard to impossible to tank without a DD build at those levels, and impossible at all past 74. I was a tank, and a newbie one, and simply couldn’t afford the neccessary build.

I argued very much against it, but the mechanics were correct. However, that wound up making me solo instead of group, since I felt I was gimp and couldn’t contribute. I soloed about two levels till 75 on weaker mobs.

-the endgame experience:  I started doing beginner endgame in FFXI, which at the time was sky and dynamis. Both required large amounts of people and a lot of time spent per day. I did it for a bit, but it wound up being too much like a real life job, because of the need to group and the schedule.

While I leveled other jobs, my experience as paladin wound up making me gravitate to solo jobs, simply because I didn’t want to have to deal with the problems the TOAU experience had. I leveled dragoon, which was  a party/solo hybrid, and beastmaster, which was pure solo.

The problem is that grouping affected even those. FFXI’s penalties are actually mitigated in a group because of the ability to crowd control and heal-solo jobs can eat a large death penalty and die with a single weaker link just because of the grouping-friendly design. In FFXI, you usually cannot fight two tough mobs simulatenously except as a holding tactic briefly, and partying is killing a single mob one at a time. At endgame meriting, it’s just a lot faster, with mobs being staged to be killed with little time in between.

The group friendly design made soloing very much a pain because of that. I soured on it after beastmaster, and went back to levelling party dependent jobs. However, even levelling corsair which got to cap absurdly fast wasn’t fun, and eventually that led to me quitting.

That’s just a personal play history. There were mant, many other problems. Inever got a lot of quested weaponskills because i felt bad about asking people to help me do something which could take many hours yet give them no reward. My jobs mostly had good party invites, except for BST. A lot of other players couldn’t get many at all, especially DD’s. My best friend in game wound up doing strong endgame, and he started to grow weary of spending his whole day doing it.

Grouping isn’t bad at launch, and that really disguises the problems with it until its too late. Once players start to theorycraft seriously, you begin to see excluded jobs and playstyles. TOAU killed black mage as a party class due to theorycraft finding out that it was quicker to meelee colibri than to traditional party on regular mobs. Killed it dead, now black mages solo for their entire career.

Without solo aspects, players won’t be able to deal with change over time. FFXI didn’t change until it was too late, IMO. They enabled campaign and fields of valor to give solo xp, but they were still too hesitant, and it gave much less rewards.  They were worrying about people not wanting to party at all, but they didn’t realize that people already were not partying and needed to be able to solo because they would never or rarely get invites. So they gimped the solo aspect except at lower levels, making it crap exp return compared to a party, and just let other jobs solo for about as much a beastmaster could exp per hour-wise.

When you combine that with endgame being party only, you are causing players that become solo-oriented to leave, and so I did. I really could do nothing except be less efficient: endgame is locked for soloers, and solo play almost always is much less efficient and more riskier. Grouping also had problems which prevented a lot of us from liking it, and some of us had bad memories from the times when the community’s attitudes forced us to level another job or solo.

There’s a lot of hidden negatives you really only see when you go beyond theory and look at actual gameplay, which is why I am very skeptical about grouping fans.

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