One of the banes of MMOs would appear to be, from scanning forums all over, the Pick-Up Group. More commonly known as a PUG, these are the random people you end up grouping with trying to accomplish goals in the MMO of your choice.
World of Warcraft has had the biggest impact of group expectations that I have seen due simply to the fact that when it comes to grinding experience points and other general gameplay every player can always say “Screw you guys, I’m going to go solo.” The only situations where that really isn’t true is most instances and raids. As a result, because every player has the viable option of soloing, they put up with less, but they also don’t try as hard.
Back in the age old days of EverQuest, where grouping was practically required because only certain classes could solo well and even then not everyone could do it (it made me weep sometimes to watch druids repeatedly screw up kiting), a player just couldn’t tell everyone to go away and run off by himself. You had to make the group work, or you had to find another group.
The good side of that is that the community on an EQ server was, in my opinion, much tighter than your typical WoW server. Forced grouping compounded with non-trivial travel and no rest bonuses for exp meant players tended to stick in one area for long periods and group with the same people again and again. Doing my tenure in Velketor’s knowing people meant that they understood I was a monk, a monk who knew how to pull, and capable of joining a group pretty much anywhere. When I went to look for a group in zone, it rarely took long at all for someone I’d previously grouped with to see me, invite me, and the fun would begin.
The bad side is that sometimes it was necessary to yell at people (or rather, to type at them furious in all CAPS). If you put together a full group at the front of Karnor’s Castle, proceeded inside to set up camp, and only then discovered that your bard was a spastic mental case, you might be forced to just suck it up and deal with him because even though he was crappy at his job, a crappy crowd control class was often better than no crowd control class. However, given that the spastic bard needed the group almost as much as you needed the bard, compromises would be met, adjustments to play style made, and the exp would again begin to flow.
City of Heroes is an example of a game that has tried to make the solo and group experiences equally fun. Almost any mission in the game can be done alone, but if you bring along five or six friends the mission will scale upward in a fairly predictable fashion. But, since the game goes largely without item drops and other things some MMOs depends on, CoH is actually able to provide a weird dichotomy between the two: solo play is much much more reliable for progression, you know your own class and you can go at your own pace; in a group, classes mesh together to provide new strategies but due to the size of the scaling encounters are usually more chaotic and “exciting”, providing a different rush than solo play. In both cases, you can flag your character or group to adjust the difficulty up or down to fine tune your experience.
Overall though, despite all the frustration bad groups gave me in EQ, I’d still prefer them to the eternally disbanding groups of WoW. CoH was a nice middle ground but might not mesh well with the item-centric design of other games.
What do you think about Pick-Up Groups?