Removing Grouping – Part I

Before anyone freaks out, no, I’m not advocating solo play, nor am I actually suggesting that the grouping mechanic be removed from games.  This is simply a thought exercise.  This and the posts that follow in this series will take a look at aspects of what grouping bringstechnologically and if we can retain it while removing the mechanic of forming a formal group unit.

Note: Please keep in mind that all discussion that follows is from my own experience, so if I mention that some game did something first, don’t yell at me because some game I never played actually did it first.  Who did what first is actually irrelevant to the discussion.

The first element that comes to mind for me is communications.  Joining a group in most games provides you with a group only chat channel.  At one time this was necessary because it grew out of the design.  Some games originally only had two forms of communication: local and whisper.  Local would be just saying things and the people in range (in the room or on the screen) would see it.  Whisper was something you said directly to another player and only that person could see it.  Occasionally, games would have yelling or shouting, allowing people in adjacent rooms to see; and global, usually used by GMs to inform the entire game/server of something.  But onceEverQuest came out, and local became distance limited and shout covered only the single zone, and the game had a formal group object, they needed a way for group members to talk to each other across zones without using masses of whispers and relaying information.  Since then, most games now have the ability for players to create their own chat channels for any reason at all.  With that, rigid group chat isn’t strictly needed anymore.  Sure, its nice to have a channel you automatically join when you join a group, but since part of this is to eliminate group joining, we’ve established that the communications, if needed/desired, can be handled without the formal group.

In fact, to some degree, players don’t seem to care about group chat anymore.  When it comes to raiding or even guild chat, many people (though certainly not the casual majority) have moved over to 3rd party voice chat like Ventrilo.  This contributes to games becoming more “silent”, in my opinion, as members of your group may be happily chatting with their friends while they button push their group role with you.  I’d say this, on some level, is borne out by the recent LFG tool implement in World of Warcraft.  In that tool you can easily, almost instantly, get a group and go run a dungeon.  However, those players may be from different servers, so social interaction becomes less important beyond the dungeon and the combat happening “right now” since you are not likely to play with them again.  That is, unless they love playing with you so much, or you with them, that one of you decides to pay to move their character to a new server.  Given this, WoWcould remove group chat today and replace it with a Wizard 101 style of menu selectable phrases (“Thanks!”, “Help!”, “Kill this [insert target monster]!”, etc) and most people wouldn’t be adversely affected by the change.  They might even welcome it since the silence of a group could simply mean that everyone knows what to do and how to play, and not that people are being anti-social.


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