Classically Classic

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.

Posted on April 25, 2022, in WoW and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Dungeon Finder represented the democratization of WoW.

    Crux well nailed. And many people seemed to hate it for that very reason. Not because the content it served hugely mattered, but on almost-political principle. The ‘good’ are no longer sifted from the ‘bad’ and all that unhappy stuff.


  2. I actually don’t have strong feelings on the dungeon finder debate as it pertains to Classic Wrath, as I think a case can be made either way, but saying that LFD didn’t impact people with friends or guilds is just BS.

    The thing is, before its introduction, having friends and running dungeons was synergistic, but post LFD, the best way to get into a dungeon was to put yourself into the queue the moment you logged in, NOT to wait for your friends to come online. I remember my guild would suddenly have ten people online, all in different pugs, precisely because of this.

    And saying “well, then they never really liked you/each other” is overly simplistic. It means that when being given the choice between a *guaranteed* dungeon run with strangers in 10 minutes and *maybe* running a dungeon with friends later, many people choose the former. That doesn’t mean they don’t like their friends, but that they are responding to the game incentivising going without them.


    • There wasn’t a “game incentive” to PUGing instead of using your friends list/guild chat – there was a social one. Specifically, finally being allowed to not have to socially engage unless you wanted to. Those people are demonstrating that at the end of the day, they really just want that daily dungeon to be done and they don’t care who it was done with. This undoubtedly frayed some social bonds in the process, but only because those (pre-LFD) bonds were ones of requirement and obligation.

      The people who just liked to hang out together killing bosses could continue doing just that.


      • How can you say it wasn’t a gameplay incentive to get a guaranteed dungeon spot in your preferred role within mere minutes of pressing a button? LFD made it sooo much more efficient to get things done by solo queueing than to put a group together manually, even with friends, meaning that the only people not doing it were those who absolutely loathed pugs. My point is that even as someone who’s primarily a socialiser I chose to pug more back then because I was in awe of the efficiency. It took a while for the side effects to really kick in…


  3. Dungeon Finder was probably a mistake. As annoying as it was to find PUGs in BC I met a lot of people through them, especially when you repeatedly grouped with the same people. After LFD the most efficient path was to solo queue which killed all of that. It was great for alts though.


    • Would you not have joined a guild or attempted raiding at any point in your WoW career?

      I was someone who did end up meeting people while tanking for them in Scarlet Monastery (as Alliance!), and the relationship started that day continued for 15+ years. That wouldn’t have happened with LFD. It also wouldn’t have happened if I started playing that day 1 hour later, or played another game that night, or any number of potentialities. Auchindoun-US was a small server with an even smaller Alliance population though, so it’s entirely possible we would have eventually crossed paths in the raiding environment anyway.


      • > Auchindoun-US was a small server

        And that’s the key to server communities and social interactions. They already fucked that part up in Classic with huge servers, phasing, server transfers, and boosting (payed or by mage – which “didn’t exist” in Vanilla).

        This time around there’s nothing to be destroyed by a dungeon finder.


      • Every raiding group I found was through pugging. It isn’t impossible to meet people or find guilds without them, but other means of doing so are much more intentional. Pugging was a more natural process that led to you repeatedly seeing people out in the world, noticing they are actually competent, and going from there. Unforced socialization, in other words.

        It’s true that any number of arbitrary factors could prevent you from meeting the right people at the right time, none of those factors are baked right into the game design. LFD killed pugs dead. It wasn’t that you would miss the opportunity, but rather that there were no more opportunities to miss.


      • @Matt

        Not sure what was “unforced” about PUGs pre-LFD. You had IRL friends or you PUGed, or you simply did not participate in any endgame PvE. Raids had attunements from dungeons in TBC, so it’s not even as though you could PvP for passable gear and skip some steps by going into raiding directly. I suppose it was less forced than FF14, but there wasn’t much for the average player to do at level cap otherwise.

        In any case, I would say that guilds beat PUGs by a wide margin in terms of player retention, and while you could get your foot in the door via a random trade chat dungeon PUG, you can just as well apply on their website/forum/Vent server/etc and get in that way.


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