6 August, 2015
Blaugust, day 6
Next up on the Bartle chart, Socialization! I often rank high on the Socializer motivation, so being social in my MMOs is important to me. I play both FFXIV and DDO with people I know offline, so the social dimension is a little bit interesting for me.
Random dungeon finder!
As I mentioned before, I play FFXIV because a friend of mine in California bought me a deeply discount copy on Amazon before I moved across the continent. I knew he played, and I wanted to stay in touch with him; I’m often terrible at keeping in touch otherwise. I’m in a small free company (the game’s name for player-run organizations) with him and a small group of others. The free company occasionally runs content together, but I’m more often solo or grouped only with my friend.
FFXIV offers a way to scale character level with content. In some over world events called “FATES”, if you are above a certain level you have to press a button to scale your level down. In dungeons, you need to be a certain minimum level to enter a dungeon, and if you are over a maximum level you will be scaled down. The scaling works about as well as it does in other games, but when scaled down you are always a little more powerful than the typical player. One big issue is that as you lose some of your high level abilities, your gameplay changes drastically. For example, a Black Mage has a certain casting rotation: you cast Fire III and then cast Fire I until it triggers an ability that lets you cast Fire III for free, and cast Ice III once you get low because that increases your mana regeneration. Well, you can lose the ability that lets Fire I trigger a free cast of Fire III, so in that case you might just want to cast Fire III all the time. Or you might lose the ability to cast Ice III, so you use an ability called Transpose to get MP instead. Or you lose the ability to cast Fire III at lower levels, so you’ll cast Fire I all the time and then cast Transpose. It’s easy to build up muscle memory for casting which is completely invalidated when you’re in a dungeon.
This means that you can often run dungeons with friends, but since there is only limited scaling outside of dungeons you can’t really do open world content together if your levels are very different. It’d be nice if, like in EQ2, your friends could change their character levels to help you out. But, when I first started playing the game, I played almost entirely solo because my friend who bought me the game was much higher level at the time. Although given the advancement system, you could exclusively play a certain class with a friend, assuming you have the patience.
FFXIV also has a dungeon finder system. You can queue for a dungeon, sometimes as a group, and run a dungeon with other random people. I’ve written about the perils of random grouping before, and most of that applies here. Most of the time people invest very little into any sort of social niceties, although people are rarely outright rude to others. The dungeon finder does have a commendation system, where sufficient commendations gets you some cosmetic stuff. But, it’s rare that you make a deep connection. Although, one time I did have a really great social experience in a dungeon. We were doing well, and we started to chat. At the end, we hung around quite a while, just talking about the game, our characters, and being social. Yet, when the dungeon ended we went back to our individual game servers and are unlikely to ever run into each other again. I would have loved to have been able to group with those players more often!
The random dungeon finder also makes it hard to find good people to recruit into your organization. As I said, our free company is pretty small. We’ve talked about recruiting, but how to you do that? Stand around spamming advertisements in public areas? But, it’s hard to find out how well your new recruits play, so you’re at the mercy of the luck of the draw.
Static groups meeting once per week
DDO is different, but not necessarily better. Since DDO keeps close to the tabletop version, there are not very many levels to advance through. This means a single level of advancement is pretty significant in terms of overall advancement and sometimes in power, and this can cause some problems when playing with friends. The game system also penalizes “power leveling”, where having someone in the dungeon much higher than you will reduce your XP. Likewise, if the group is too high for the dungeon, you’ll take an XP penalty; and group level is determined by the highest level character in the group. This means that if you’re doing level 4 content and everyone is level 5, you get 100% of the XP. But if someone takes level 6, everyone will only get 90% of the experience when running level 4 content.
The upshot here is that if you’re going to play with friends, it’s best to play together all the time. Getting out of sync can cause problems with XP gain. In the two groups I play with, we play the characters almost exclusively with the rest of the group. Tonight, in fact, I’ll be playing DDO with 3 others in a static group, including my significant other who is the party tank. Of course, there are still ways to get out of sync, such as the 10% XP bonuses that subscribers get. But, for the most part, a static group works well.
But, this restriction can harm socialization, because it’s hard to incorporate new people into your group. Sometime starting later has to work up to your level. Even if you reincarnate your character back down to 1st level, reincarnated characters need more XP to advance, so the new player might advance much faster than your character will. And, since there is no scaling, if you don’t have a character around the new character’s level, it can be hard to play together with them.
On the other hand, I found that it was pretty easy to get into a pick up group (PUG) if you want to play a character outside a static group. As I mentioned before, I have a lot of alts and I would often get into PUGs with them to complete quests with my other characters. Sometimes you have a bad experience, but for the most part DDO isn’t for the super-casual or faint of heart, so the vast majority of people you’d group with are competent. There were only a few times I found myself in bad groups, or with people who were impatient with me.
Which do I like better?
Honestly, I’m not fond of either system entirely. Both make it hard to meet new people and play with them. But, I’d have to give a slight edge to FFXIV for having at least limited scaling mechanics. I wish they allowed characters more freedom to scale down so you could play easier with friends, but you don’t always get what you want.