Reflections on the Dungeon Finder

What does it take to be a leader?

As regular readers will know, my approach to leadership tends to be fairly structured, strong-handed stuff.  I’m not a hardass, I just have little faith in people to self-govern themselves in an environment driven primarily by personal acquisition.  But leadership can be subtle and sublime.

Hopefully you’ve all had a chance to spend some time with the new dungeon finder tool.  From a technical perspective, it’s one of the best changes made to WoW in the time I’ve been playing.  Even with the early Northrend dungeons, I’m getting into group after group on an alt.  Most of the time, I mark myself as being an experienced player.  Sometimes I don’t, and what I’ve learned very quickly is this: many people who think they can lead have no idea what it entails, and successful leadership (even for a group whose lifespan will often clock in under a half an hour) doesn’t require much effort.

All you need is a light guiding hand – there’s no need to bring out the iron fist until things have really started to get out of hand.  Most people are pretty good at falling in line behind an assertive leader.  At the same time, most of the groups that I’ve been in have been pretty crap at following the lead of someone who doesn’t assert themselves.  The biggest problem seems to be people stating that they can lead when they aren’t experienced at all the dungeons the tool might match them to.

I’ve also seen both extremes of assertiveness – someone who says nothing, assuming that the group will sort itself out, and people who take the “I’m the party leader and you will do what I say” approach from the get-go.  The former only works if everyone has performed their given role in the specific dungeon before, while the latter really doesn’t have a place in PUGs, being better suited to groups where people have chosen to make someone their leader rather than having the game select for them.  Even when things start to go downhill, a firm but calm voice can go a long way towards re-focusing everyone.

The best groups I’ve run so far have been those where the leader does a quick check that everyone knows the dungeon, then gives a quick synopsis before bosses if anyone isn’t familiar.  I also find it refreshing when the party leader marks groups when the tank refuses to do so.  As an aside, why do some tanks think that the need to mark means the group isn’t good enough?  The days of planning pulls is coming back in Cataclysm – getting some practice while misplaced marks won’t wipe a group is a good idea.

The new DF tool has added an additional social aspect to the game – a lack of long-term accountability.  You’re now automatically matching from a pool around twenty times the size of the one you used to match from manually.  Screwing up massively in a cross-server PUG has little chance of haunting you, or preventing you from getting into heroics in the future.  Screwing up massively on your own realm could get your name called out in trade and have more than a few people add you to their “do not group” list.  If  “Integrity is doing something right even when nobody is watching”, then the difference between good and great cross-server groups are that the great ones do things right even though they may never run into you again.

As a Recruiting Tool

Not surprisingly, the traits that stand out in great groups for me are the same ones that would draw me to a raiding guild – effective leadership, setting a pace that matches the group’s capabilities (and with that, the ability to eyeball a group’s capabilities quickly).  Unfortunately, my prediction that the DF tool might prove to be a source of recruits for guilds trying to entice people to server transfer doesn’t seem viable.  With Emblems of Triumph dropping in such quantities, everyone will soon be in iLevel 232/245 or better.  Mobs just don’t survive long enough nor do mistakes impact a group enough to get a good feel for someone after just one run.  Since there’s no way to coordinate a second run with someone promising, you’ve got one shot to make such a stellar impression that the recruiting talk moves outside the game, or you’re likely to never see the person again.

Lessons to Take Away

Are there any lessons for guild leaders and guild members to take way from the dungeon finder and the experiences it leads to?  Sure:

For guild leaders: a gentle guiding hand usually works better than an iron fist, but some times you just have to step up and make a decision.  The amount of decisions you need to make ahead of time is directly proportionate to the expected lifetime of the group.  When things go to hell, a calm but firm voice can help to bring things back into focus.

For guild members: just because nobody’s watching, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your best.  But remember that your “best” includes fitting into the group -if your tank is lesser geared, nobody’s going to respect your dps when you keep pulling agro over and over.  You may be used to running with the same crowd every time you play, so you don’t have to adjust your playstyle much.  Running random dungeons will force you to attenuate or boost your damage and healing to fit the other players in your group.  The ability to discern and adjust will make you a better raider, so don’t throw the opportunity away.

Overall, I’m still really impressed with patch 3.3.  Par-for-the-course server instability aside (which will surely subside after the holidays), the content looks to be really good.  I’m a bit less impressed with the community and their nerdrage on the official forums – I can’t imagine how this will end up with the player base in a better position than we have been in the past, but there you go.

What about you?  Have you gained any insight into groups and players since the patch dropped?

Until Next Time