I kind of glossed over it amongst all the other WoW news, but let’s talk about Dungeon Finder, aka LFD.
Wrath of the Lich King Classic is coming. What is being intentionally left out is the Dungeon Finder, a feature that debuted at the tail-end of the expansion. According to Brian Birmingham, this was done for reasons:
“We know that the Classic audience is more interested in long-term social engagement, that feeling that comes from reaching out to people, talking to them about how you’re going to group, trying to coordinate, who’s going to do what role walking to the dungeon together, trying to figure out how you’re going to get to the dungeon, who’s going to summon, maybe run into a PVP fight on the way,” Birmingham says. “And then you finally get in there and you have friends that stick together with you.”
Did anyone read that paragraph and actually go “Yeah, that’s exactly what was missing in my life”?
I do not necessarily want to get into the semantic fight of what is Classic and what is not – Blizzard has tinkered with the formula of what is “classic” from the very beginning, and it’s a fool’s errand besides. But I do feel like this decision and the reasoning behind it is firmly in the “tail wagging the dog” territory. Which is funny, considering the lengths the retail WoW devs go to to specifically ignore player feedback on their many disastrous designs. Perhaps the Classic devs are more acutely aware of the temporary nature of their work if that playerbase evaporates.
That said, Dungeon Finder is indeed a conundrum. As Wilhelm succinctly puts it:
I have been down the “where does classic end?” path before, but I think you could make a very strong argument that Dungeon Finder is the dividing line between “classic” and “modern” World of Warcraft. Yes, Cataclysm changed the world, making Azeroth a different place, but Dungeon Finder changed how we played.
I will agree that Dungeon Finder is the bright red line between when classical WoW turned into retail.
Or to put it a different way: Dungeon Finder represented the democratization of WoW.
I did not start playing in vanilla, but I experienced the full depths of despair that was pugging in TBC and early Wrath. What is missing from the Brian Birmingham quote above is the 40+ minutes you spent in Trade Chat forming a group, the next 15 getting everyone through the door (“I was waiting for a summon” “Oops, I left my reagents back in the bank”), and finally having the entire run ended abruptly when someone left or got fed up. Back in 2008 burning two hours to maybe finish one heroic dungeon was okay. It certainly wasn’t going to continue being fine for long either way though.
Maybe that wasn’t your experience. Maybe you were privileged enough to have joined the game with IRL friends, or got a guild invite at the right time and place to meet people willing to routinely run dungeons with you. In which case… the Dungeon Finder should not have negatively impacted you at all. The only people it would have “hit” would have been GearScore tryhards lording over Trade Chat, or perhaps extroverts looking to hook up with randos. Thing is, both of those types would be just at home in a guild anyway. So again, no loss.
Dungeon Finder opened up the game to solo players. WoW has always had a reputation as being solo-friendly compared to its peers, but within the game itself there was a rather abrupt progression stopping point at the level cap. You could grind reputation dailies for blue gear and… that’s it. It’s fine to say that MMOs are better with friends, and to encourage the fostering of friendships within the game, but this was all stick. It also made for some questionable design considerations when 80% of the design effort went into content that only 20% of the playerbase ever saw.
Did Dungeon Finder affect WoW culture? Sure… in a roundabout way. You cannot exactly type “GOGOGO” in a hand-picked TBC pug nor can operate in radio silence the entire time. And it is certainly true success rates of Dungeon Finder groups is dependent on the difficulty of the content in question, thereby putting downward pressure on (default) dungeon difficulty. See: the Cataclysm LFD Disaster. But as the esteemed Rob Pardo said back when Dungeon Finder was released:
The other piece is that the WoW playerbase is becoming more casual over time. People who were hardcore into MMOs, they joined us first, but the people we’re acquiring over the years are casual. They heard about the game from a friend of a friend, and maybe it’s their first MMO – maybe it’s their first game. The game has to evolve to match the current player.
This was from the lead designer of vanilla and TBC, not some random intern or junior B Team dev. And this was from when Dungeon Finder was first released, so it wasn’t that it caused the playerbase to become more casual over time. Rob Pardo actually went on to say: “To be completely honest, [the Looking For Group tool] is a feature I wanted in the game when we launched the game.” Dungeon Finder was not an accident, it was not a concession to some casual boogieman. It was intentional! Which makes its removal from Wrath Classic such a contortion. What is trying to be preserved technically never existed. This is a do-over attempt with a self-selected group of purists. Which is cute – I hope Blizzard eventually releases dungeon completion rates.
Perhaps the devs did come to regret the Dungeon Finder inclusion and/or unintentional consequences over time. Certainly they felt that way about flying as the years went on. But warts and all, the Dungeon Finder saved WoW for me and presumably millions of others. What was “lost” was never really desired by me in the first place, e.g. ingratiating oneself to strangers to complete a 20-minute dungeon for badge loot. If you want a static group and a sense of accomplishment, join a guild and raid something. Opposition to Dungeon Finder is even less rational these days as the devs have included scaling Mythic difficulty to dungeons for several expansions. Hard group content never went away.
The only thing that did disappear is the dependency on social networking skills… for low-tier group content. If your guild/friend group fell apart because everyone could now get their dungeon needs met with anonymous strangers, chances are that the “bonds” were not quite as strong as you perceived. Sorry, champ: if they really wanted to play with you, they would be playing with you.
Ultimately, I suppose we will just have to see how this all plays out. Maybe the Classic community will love spamming LFG and/or Trade chat to fill the Pit of Saron group for the 50th time. My guess is that Blizzard will end up putting in Dungeon Finder by the time ICC is released, or else they are really going to need to tinker with the badge and loot economy.