Cameron at Random Battle posted on the topic of the LFG functionality in MMOs, and I had a few thoughts and ideas I figured I’d post over here instead of eating up a MB or two of his space…

I’m largely not going to go into related but still tangential concepts such as soloing vs. grouping, encouraging guild membership, the fragmentation of population caused by having rigidly defined “roles” and wildly disparate levels of power, and so on.  Just the core topic… why aren’t people using the built in LFG/LFM functionality more heavily?  Why does using the /broadcast channel or sending direct /tells generally become the preferred method of building groups, especially pick up groups?

As I see it, there are essentially three or four core reasons why the typical LFG/LFM interface is largely shunned.

  • It is passive instead of proactive
  • It offers very little in the way of feedback
  • It is cumbersome, even to the point of interfering with play while in use
  • It is relatively generic, lacks an ability to provide the details of the situation

Passive

One large advantage of the /broadcast, and even more so, the direct /tell method of building groups is that it is highly proactive in nature.  The player is essentially forcing the question on his/her fellow players… are you level 17-20 and looking for a group?  Do you need a level 40 emp defender, a 27th level Warrior, a 10 rogue with +22/+19 devices/locks?  Spamming the broadcast channel, sending multiple tells… you at least have some confidence that people are seeing it, even if you get no responses.

The LFG screen, on the other hand… the player sits and wonders, is anyone even looking at it right now?

Feedback

This is related pretty heavily to the first item above, but it is a separate item in and of itself.  Broadcast and direct tells are likely to generate at least an occasional response, even if the answer is negative.  Even a shout of “shut up, moron, obviously no one wants to group with your noob a!%$#^!” is an indication that someone actually heard the request.

By contrast, LFG/LFM screens rarely provide much, if any, associated feedback.  No indication of how many people have viewed the posted request, usually no method of eliciting any kind of response that doesn’t essentially take the user right back to using /broadcast or /tell anyway.

Cumbersome

How many LFG/LFM interfaces have you seen that did not basically fill the screen, largely blocking the user from continuing play?  I can think of…. none.

In contrast, /broadcast (and to a lesser extent, /tell) largely utilizes the everpresent chat window functionality, tucked off in one corner, and instantly available for review and use with a mere glance…

So what exactly are you looking for/to do?

Most LFG/LFM implementations of late do incorporate at least some limited means of providing a clue as to what type of situation you are looking for.  In CoH/CoV, for example, there are multiple options when setting the LFG flag… looking for any team, looking for missions, looking for task force, and so on.  Most LFG screens also have a limited size but dynamic area for putting some sort of descriptive text as well.  “LFG Booty Bay quests, PST first,” that kind of thing.  DDO has functionality that allows you to post LFG/LFM for a specific dungeon/quest.

These can still fall short, though.  “I’ve only got time for 1 or 2 before I have to log, is that ok?”  “Are you a healer or a buffer?  We really need a healer…”  and so on…

My proposed version: LFG

I would suggest re-designing the LFG/LFM functionality to be far more integrated into the normal play interface, as opposed to the current prototypical pop-up window.  I would actually provide somewhat separate, tho similar, interfaces for the two situations, as well.  The LFG portion would implement as follows.

Before a PC has joined a group, the LFG functionality would be accessible in the same location/subwindow as the typical group status display, via a button or other indicator on the normal interface.  CoH is a good present example of this: activating the group window when not in a group brings up the option to change your LFG status, add/change the comment that displays in the LFM list/pop-up window, and/or bring up the LFM pop-up to start building your own group.  My implementation largely builds on this base example.

In addition to the functionality in the CoH design, my LFG subwindow would also automatically display, perhaps via an auto-scrolling list or similar interface element, a list of all the current groups actively LFM for which the character fits the established search parameters.  A separate option might be offered to widen the list to show all groups for which the character falls outside the parameters in one particular way: slightly above/below level range, not of a listed class, etc.

This scrolling list would remain active even while the player continued play, visible as long as the LFG subwindow was open.  New groups appearing would be highlighted for a minute or two after first being added, as well as generating an automated system message in the chat window, to assist the player in both noticing them, and in distinguishing them from older listings.  A similar effect would occur if/whenever a group’s search criteria changed.

Clicking on a group in the list would bring up more detail in the subwindow about that group: number of current members, time since initial formation, perhaps the current locations of the members, stated goals and criteria, etc.  (Some of this is dependent upon the specifics of the game: member counts and current locations would be a no-no in a FFA PvP game, for example.)  A button allowing the player to send an automated request to join, similar to current DDO functionality, would be part of this view/tab, as well.  Once a request was sent, or if the detail view was canceled, the view would return to the scrolling list, with indicators added to that group’s entry to remind the player that the group had been viewed and/or contacted.

If a negative response was received to the request to join for some reason, this would be indicated on the scrolling list as well, and any provided reason would be tracked for future review (for example, if the group had just filled, the “denied” indicator should be cleared if/when the group reappears later on; if the player was denied due to being blacklisted by the leader’s guild, on the other hand…)

A similar indicator would be added to a group’s entry if they were to send the player/character an invitation to join.  Periodic reminders of the existence of pending requests and invitation would pop-up in the player’s chat window as well, prompting further action as warranted.

Alternatively, depending upon space, a separate list of pending join requests and/or invitations received might be useful, as opposed to having them mixed in with the larger list of actively searching groups.

A positive response to the request to join would automatically add the PC to the group, and notify any other groups with pending requests to join that the PC was no longer available.  Logging out, or using a potential “cancel all join requests” option, should perform the same automatic “cleanup” task, of course.

The LFG window should also constantly update and display the number of groups that are being actively shown the PC as a possible group member at the present time, to give some reassurance that the PC is at least being noticed and considered.

My proposed version: LFM

If the player decides to go the route of pro-actively creating a group, the interface should change to facilitate the additional needs of the group leader.

The LFM subwindow will need to be in a slightly different location than the group status subwindow, since they will need to exist simultaneously on screen.  One possibility would be to extend the group status window, make it larger to accommodate the additional information/functionality.

Similar to the LFG subwindow, the LFM subwindow primarily consists of a scrolling list of potential new members (or similar interface element), showing all PCs in an LFG status that fit the group’s current search profile.  Viewing the particulars of any LFG player would be a matter of clicking on their entry in the list.  Sending an invitation would be an action accomplished thru a single button press from that display.

A second alternative to send a blanket invite to all LFG players meeting current criteria that did not have pending or denied invites might also be provided. 

Setting the search and invitation parameters for the group would be a matter of dealing with a pop-up window, I believe. An ability to define specific classes/skill sets, level ranges, goals, and so on should be included here.  The specific text to be sent as part of the general invitation to join could also be edited from the window.  Once the desired parameters were set, however, this window could be closed to allow play to continue… monitoring for potential new members would occur in the group subwindow.

The leader should have some options to delegate and/or distribute responsibility for finding new members to other group members as well.  Two possible models come to mind.  First, members could simply be allowed to send invites from their own view of the LFM window.  They would be allowed to view, but not change, the group’s search parameters as well.  Alternatively, group members just might be allowed to “recommend” PCs to the group leader via their view of the LFM window, instead, which would show up as a highlighted indicator next to the recommended PC’s entry, as well as in the detail view of that PC when reviewed.

Again, a constantly updated numeric indication of the number of people currently being displayed the group’s information via the scrolling list should be incorporated as well, to reassure the group that the request is being noticed.

Additional considerations

It might also be helpful to have some sort of “system ticker”, similar to a stock ticker, that constantly scrolls relatively inobtrusively on the normal play window.  While this is potentially useful in several ways, in relation to this discussion its use would be to display a brief blurb, as often as possible, of all of the different PCs and groups LFG/LFM, restricted to those near the character’s skill range/level/location perhaps.  This ticker could be located near the top of the chat window, perhaps?  Other information on the ticker might include notifications of player/group successes (“Samuel’s group has defeated Chief Kragon’s war party and saved the villages of North Chesterton!”); reminders of upcoming events (“Double XP this weekend; don’t miss out!”); notifications of special/recurring opportunities (“Feral wolves have begun terrorizing the townfolk in Greater Farhaven!  Adventurers needed, substantial bounties offered!”); and so on.

One situation that seems to commonly arise in play is to have several players actively LFG in the same level range and area over several minutes, but no one steps forward to actually form a group.  The system might be able to detect such a situation and occasionally prompt such players to take the plunge and group together… although the specifics behind that situation would need to be reviewed in detail before such functionality was added.

There’s probably a bunch more that could be written here, but my bout of insomnia seems to be about over… sleep is calling me.  Forgive any misspelling and worse, if you would… I’ll review and edit in the morning.  Comments on the above?

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