The Old Republic’s initial LFG system involved little more than a check box in the social window. Suffice to say, it was rarely used and even less effective. Fortunately, one of the major draws of Patch 1.3 is the introduction of a completely new, same-realm group finder. This advancement could not have come at a better time — thanks to the recent opening of server transfers, fleet stations are now teeming with people looking to team up for more difficult content.
This juncture provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the age-old question of whether a cross-realm or same-realm LFG system would be better for the game. It is important to discuss the major pros and cons of both approaches, with special emphasis on the possible repercussions to the community aspects of in-realm group content versus the convenience of cross-realm group content. Read on past the jump for more.
Rudimentary Grouping and Its Limitations
The strongest draw of the MMORPG genre is arguably the ability to form a group with other players in order to tackle more demanding challenges for greater rewards. This puts a great burden on developers to produce multiplayer content that is simultaneously challenging and enjoyable. Having great content is not enough, however. For this content to be accessible, it is also necessary for the game to provide a means for players to easily connect.
Up until now, TOR’s most common LFG method has been advertising in general chat channels. Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time attempting to form a group knows the limitations of channel-based advertising. Recruiting this way is extremely time intensive and is not guaranteed success. As a rule, many players simply ignore general chat. On top of that, general chat on the fleet does not reach people who are aboard their ships, doing space missions, Dailies, PVP or any other content away from the space docks.
Furthermore, population issues indirectly affect grouping. Prior to the recent targeted server transfers, many servers did not have populations that could support a same-server group finder with any real success. These struggling servers at times did not even have enough people available to fill even a single Warzone. It is difficult to imagine that another queue system for PVE content would be valuable without expanding the pool of players available, especially considering that that queue would be divided by player level.
BioWare has taken steps to resolve both of these problems. Targeted server transfers appear to have worked rather well. Many servers have had chat channels filled all week long about how excited players are about their new populations. For instance, a regular evening might have seen 50-60 Imperial players total on Mandalore the Indomitable. On its new destination server The Bastion, even a single planet like Balmorra will probably have over 60 players.
Group Finders and Server Population
Population boosts only indirectly aid player grouping, however. In terms of group finding, BioWare has opted to implement a same-realm LFG tool. As the name implies, same-realm group hunting is limited to individual servers. BioWare could have also implemented a cross-realm LFG tool, which would have allowed players from different servers to temporarily meet up and help each other in PVE missions. Both approaches have merit, but each are better suited to specific server populations levels.
For a high population server, a same-realm system should still be highly functional, with occasional wait times and perhaps a little less availability outside of the prime time hours. Overall access to cross-realm group content may enhance the pick-up-and-play aspect of the game at certain times, but likely would not have a significant impact on the gameplay experience for the better. However, cross-realm play could keep the server’s community from interacting with itself, which may lead to a greater sense of disconnection from the other players. Furthermore, there is always the concern that a player from another server could behave badly, yet never gain any ill-repute on their home server. Ultimately, there would likely be more lost to cross-realm than gained on these servers should it be implemented.
Standard population servers are where things might begin to be more of a toss up. There should be plenty of group queues still happening, but the potentially increased time waiting may make the system feel unnecessarily frustrating. With fewer people on the server, players would likely take a same-realm group quite seriously, as it would not be so easy to find new groups to play with if a poor reputation is established. On the other hand, it would be easier for a good reputation to be built up amongst the people you play with, as quality players are more likely to stand out where there are less people. Same- and cross-realm features would likely be most heavily contested here regarding their benefit to the servers.
Low population servers are definitely the servers that would benefit most from cross-realm servers. Even during prime time hours, group queues are long and infrequent on poorly populated servers. There may not be enough active players for reputation to really matter. A low population server would likely find a cross-realm feature to be extremely valuable, with the benefits of the same realm system almost completely ignored.
With the release of 1.3, BioWare and the playerbase will now be able to assess how successful the same server group-finder is on the larger servers that most have been transferred to. There will no doubt be improvements made to the system as time passes in order to enhance the multiplayer content of the game, with developers bringing about desired features from other games in the genre and implementing their own special touches.
TOR’s community has many suggestions toward making the game’s group finder both powerful and useful. Were cross-realm grouping ever implemented, a simple toggle between using same-realm or cross-realm for the LFG system would be one basic option, letting the player decide if they’d rather play with people from their own community or another. The implementation of achievement and character profile systems would even further enhance such an LFG system, especially if these features were accessible in-game as opposed to a web browser. This would also make grouping with the same people across different realms easier, while also allowing for communication between servers.
Even without these suggestions, the new group finder has a great deal of potential. With more of the TOR community playing together on larger servers, there will be a greater pportunity for players to make use of it. And regardless of what happens, remember to be courteous, make every effort to play your class and role to the best of your ability and avoid being too greedy on the loot. Ask questions when needed, and be willing to offer answers when you can. Always keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the group finder is to have fun with others!