Fixing LFR – Rewards and Social Dynamics

Fiannor over at Misdirections had an excellent post up talking about the issues surrounding gameplay in LFR, particularly the social aspect.

I’m going to try to keep this short because I think it is a topic I could go on about for a while, but has a short, succinct problem statement and a few answers.

So, let’s begin!

Why Don’t More Players Play in LFR?

Metrics on LFR suggest it is pretty popular, and yet, most of us know people who don’t touch it, or who only seldom bother with it. I am one of those people – I’ve queued for LFR, across 16 characters who have been max level at some point in the last 3 expansions, about 10 times total, and never as a tank.

I think the core issues I have personally with LFR is that it often feels completely unrewarding, at least in the modern game. It offers gear on par with world quests (of lesser value than emissary cache gear, at a certain point!), gold and runes that can be obtained in other ways, and Azerite, but not enough to be really worth it. It also offers a slow trickle of crafting materials (you’d have to do 20 full wing clears of LFR to get as much Breath of Bwonsamdi as I got last week!). However, some of that perception is also on me, as someone who raids Normal and Heroic – I’ve seen the fights and completed them on more difficult modes, so LFR offers nothing new to me personally.

However, there is a broader issue that I think plagues LFR and gives it a bad reputation – the players. Now, I think most people who do LFR are good players and people and don’t set out to cause trouble for anyone. However, the social dynamic of the modern game has given rise to a troubling phenomenon – the silent party. Question for you, reader – how many groups have you gotten for a 5 player dungeon in the last year where anyone has talked at all?

I’ll answer for me – in over 1,000 random runs, I’ve had maybe 5 groups where anyone said anything. I’m not even throwing shade here – I often don’t say anything unless someone offers a greeting or talks shit about our progress. Dungeons cultivate this group play environment where conversation isn’t needed and doesn’t matter, so people with that same mindset come into LFR. No one explains strategies, no one sets expectations, and no one usually even breaks the ice. A group of 25, silently rolling in to a raid, silently pulling trash and killing bosses. LFR is even designed, partially, around this – Opulence on LFR requires no synchronization of golem kills, because they share health and always die together. It is important to note that despite this, LFR is not friction-less. LFR bosses are designed to minimize social friction – to reduce the likelihood that players will have to, in the moment, call out an assignment shift, a stop or slow DPS moment, or to call for a burst of damage. The fights are built to make this mostly unnecessary.

But fight strategy is still needed, and people can and do wipe in LFR due to poor planning or lack of mechanical understanding.

And this is where LFR tends to break down. If someone tries to communicate strategy, they might be shouted down or ignored. If the raid fails, toxic players might speak up about how a lack of planning set them up to fail, or just pick a target for blame – the tanks sucked, the healers couldn’t keep up, these 5 DPS players are riding the bottom of the meters, etc. It is easy, unfortunately so, in these situations, for a pile-on to begin, and one player being a jerk to the tanks becomes 5, and now the top DPS player is calling the lower-end players names, and everyone is mad and people are leaving and the raid is sitting in front of a boss and some jerkass hunter just right-clicked the boss for auto-attack and now you have 1 tank and everyone is typing in caps and you think, “why am I even doing this?”

That run-on sentence has been a non-zero occurrence for me in LFR, and has happened on more than one occasion. The point of this is merely illustrative of a larger issue – the social dynamic of World of Warcraft is fundamentally broken, and many aspects of the game suffer for it.

So what kind of things would I like to see in order to remedy this? Well, it’s going to take a mix of player action and Blizzard intervention, I think. The core issue is that the game mechanically caters to low-interaction with your fellow players. If you want to talk to people, the game is designed assuming that means you will find people on your own – a guild, a static raid group, a Blizzard Group, etc – some community that will offer that for you, rather than solely the game itself.

But let’s talk specific fixes and ideas!

1. Reward Competent Group Leadership – The stock WoW random queue tools already assign a leader – did you know this is an option you can set too? However, while the game has the framework to offer that as an option, and forcibly assigns it to someone if no one has selected it (question for readers #2 – did you know this was a thing, and if so, have you ever selected it?), it doesn’t actually mean anything in reality. There is no expectation of what that person will do, and the game UI has no meaningful way for that person to, well, lead – short of standard game tools like raid warnings, markers, and the like. Those are probably enough, but how often do the designated leaders in LFR use them? Most groups I’ve been in, the tanks are not marked as leaders but tend to anyways, as the weight of social obligation in MMOs always drops leadership into the lap of your tanks.

What I would like to see is a meaningful designation of leader – that person can place raid markers, use raid warning exclusively, and can mark delegates who can use some of those privileges (so tanks can mark targets, hit RWs, etc). At the end of that run, every boss killed in one pull nets the leader a small bonus (could be a standard matchmaking reward cache, could be some gold, could be a Seal of Fate, something) and a portion of additional gold or reward for following instructions that is given to the rest of the raid. Maybe you would need a voting or commendation mechanism to ensure the leader actually facilitated that easy clear, but I think giving people a strong incentive to lead and help the group through the raid in one piece is a critical first step to making LFR more meaningful and fun.

2. Take some pressure off the higher-stress roles – Tanks have it pretty rough in general, and it takes a lot of people time to work up enough nerve to tank with friends, much less with strangers. I’ve played WoW since June 2005, and it took until mid-2009 for me to even try tanking, and then took until late-2015 for me to become a main tank. Tanks deal with a lot of stress and struggle – they’re often expected to lead the group, dictating the pace with their pulls, the route through the dungeon, and smoothing their own damage intake enough to ensure the group can keep focus on their own roles. However, this often translates into blaming the tank for not knowing how certain things work. I’d love to see a model with a bit more forgiveness for tanks – better attack telegraphs (even if they’re giant Final Fantasy XIV orange telegraph spots), guidance on routes through the dungeon (whether emotes or even just LFR-specific arrow signage to push you towards the next objective, and some better way to coordinate assignments with a co-tank.

Also, healers can use a bit of love here too. You often get, as Fiannor put it, “superstar healers” in LFR who can carry the group’s healing needs on their backs with ease. That’s fine, but it would be nice to have more interesting mechanical design to allow different healers to shine. One of the things that has  stood out to me in BfA is that Druids have relatively few options for rapid group recovery, as nearly all their AoE healing options must tick a heal over time effect to reach their full potential, which is often sniped in LFR by a healer with a more immediate toolkit (as a Holy Priest loving guy, I’ve probably done it myself. Sorry Druids!). I’d love to see a better mix of mechanics that would balance between the strengths and weaknesses of all the healers and remove the emphasis on superstars, or at least make it look less like the lower-tier healers aren’t working, since they often are – they’re just losing out to someone with awesome gear and faster spells. Such balancing would also help higher difficulties be more accommodating of these less-utilized classes and specs.

3. A Sense of Social Obligation – I get it – LFR players aren’t your friends and so it can be difficult to muster a degree of concern for their play experience, but here’s the trick – if everyone plays like they don’t care, then you will lose. A system of player commendations – acknowledging players who performed well and were polite and friendly – could go a long way to help the social dynamic. You could use them as currency even, to buy other things. Such a system exists in FFXIV, and it works to curb some of the worst behavior you might see in a matchmade gameplay environment. I’ve seen someone kicked from a raid only once in that game, because they weren’t following the strategy 3 pulls in a row, and I’ve never seen anyone leave a group mid-stream. Not to suggest it doesn’t happen, but anecdotally, that has been my experience. Chat is generally friendlier and now that I’ve leveled a job of all three roles, I can also say with some assurance that even DPS players can get commendations, and with no (easy and TOS compliant, at least) way to get a damage meter in game, it isn’t due to raw numeric performance. My experience has been this – in FFXIV, I’m more likely to have a positive group experience with friendly chat or at least a moment at the beginning where everyone says hello, and the group is more likely to stick together through a wipe or two in order to finish the dungeon or raid, and even on mechanically complex bosses like Thunder God in Orbonne Monastery, I’ve generally seen fewer issues and more progress even on multiple wipes (without boss mods, mind you).

4. A Better Sense of Reward – LFR giving out worse gear than a world quest emissary sucks, no way around that. I don’t think LFR players should have cutting edge gear, but I do think they should be able to get something of an upgrade from LFR, rather than a few pieces here and there that they can replace doing world quests. I actually think the answer to some of the complaints about the iffy economy and huge gold sinks in BfA would be to add gold acquisition to LFR – a full clear of a wing could be worth over 1,000 gold, and a reward cache should have something like 3-5k gold in it. Runes should flow more plentifully from LFR as well. Maybe that also means more gold acquisition in Normal and higher as well – I think that would be fine, since the weekly reset would prevent the worse excesses of farming behavior, or you could even limit a wing-clear gold reward to one per wing per week, regardless of difficulty.

5. In The Meantime, Change Starts With Us – If you join LFR, you can help influence others towards a better community experience. Say hello! Provide a strategy if you have a good one! Play to the best of your ability! Keep a positive attitude through wipes! All of these things are minor, but each reduces the chance of negativity creeping into an LFR run. If even half of the group are like this, the group as a whole will have a harder time descending into pile-ons, trash talking, or poor play.

While I mostly identified fixes I’d like to see come from Blizzard, ultimately, the core issue with LFR is community interaction, and it is a case where enough positive influences can make a difference. Ideally, we’ll see additional fixes to make LFR (and other matchmade groups or even LFG tool groups!) more palatable by incentivizing not just the content, but also the social interactions that will help the game thrive.


9 thoughts on “Fixing LFR – Rewards and Social Dynamics

  1. Something I try to do any time I run LFR, or even queue for a random dungeon.

    Say thank you.

    It takes a few seconds to say, and it doesn’t hurt you to say it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Even when I’m feeling anti-social, if I do a random run in any MMO, I always try to say hello at the beginning and thank you at the end. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and even though impressions don’t mean much in a cross-server, everyone plays together world, I’d rather have favorable opinions than not. If at least one other person says hello, it tends to be a much smoother run, because you can tell people are even slightly more engaged.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. While I do like not having to spent all night getting a raid group together, I do feel like the toxicity has skyrocketed after cross-server groups became a thing.
    Back in the days, where you only grouped with people from your own server, you couldn’t be an asshole without very quickly getting a reputation as someone no one wanted to invite.
    Now, you’ll most likely never see the people in your group again, so idiots think they can behave however they like. It’s the main reason why I’m playing multiplayer games less and less, and instead turning to single-player.

    I do miss the old WoW community, though 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s such a big problem to tackle. Intuitively, pulling players away from local community accountability does enable the worst in people and disables some of the old countermeasures like blacklists and forum shaming.

      On the other hand, I think that being able to get a group easily and quickly is a good thing for the sake of the game and is a huge net benefit to the game.

      I miss knowing players on my server and having strong associations with people from prior raiding or dungeon groups – I do more dungeons now but they are less engaging because you know the odds of seeing any of those people again are so low.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Exactly 😦
        I probably wouldn’t do many dungeons or raids at all anymore, if I had to work as hard as I did in the past to get a group together, because I simply don’t have as much time to dedicate to a single game. But I just don’t enjoy grouping with people anymore.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. LFR has always been my preferred raiding mode, and for a bunch of reasons. First, you just queue and do anything else meanwhile – so it doesn’t impede your personal routines. Second, you can go into raid with any alt you feel like and whenever you like – not having an assigned raiding schedule is important to me, and also doesn’t slow down other players’ progress if it were an organized group.

    The toxicity is little in the first week or two after the raid opening – people do understand that we are learning. But it blooms further, and for a reason. You start to expect people learning the encounters, so the one who would go and wipe the raid by resetting a boss, or by bringing a lethal bomb into the melee squad, or by ignoring the pool meant to be covered – you obviously get angry. It is the responsibility of those who are way behind to read about the fights before stepping into the raid not to spoil the smooth clean for the rest of the group. It is ridiculous when a tank would wipe a group at Fetid Devourer by standing behind its back all the fight, players ignoring Vectis’ pools, or aggroing dangerous and lethal trash in dozens – when a raid has been up for 6 months already. A player which will cast Time Warp on Jaina’s pull the THIRD time in a row after he’s been updated about it three times deserves every toxic behaviour and a kick.

    Tanks are toxic targets for a reason. When playing in DPS, you are free as a bird. I may be picking my nose, drinking tea or watching a series during my DPS runs (performing my rotation and following mechanics at best at the same time) – I know that my possible minor mistakes are not vital. Healing requires more concentration, but once you realize that you can’t pull off the gravest players’ mistakes – you simply lack the utility – it becomes not so stressful. You can shrug off the situation where half of the raid stood in the fire which kills in 4 ticks – there’s nothing you could do (but of course there could be your hero moments).

    Tanks are the reasons to wipe a raid – more often than not. Lack of swaps, mindless positioning, pulling more trash than could be pulled – this all will mean the encounter would start killing the raid. In a less organized group a tank must come prepared more than ever. It’s the only role that I read about in advance (healer and DPS encounter mechanics could be learned on spot, experience helps). You are supposed to sustain a good pace, and not only survive, but lead the group through the encounter in the least harmful way. As a tank, you must align your cooldowns with the most stressful mechanics, split or stack boss and adds if needed. You need to know why melees hate when you’re always driving the boss around the room with no reason, and what will happen if you hold the boss at this or that place, and where you’re leading the group in general.

    Mind you, if a tank acknowledges his mistakes after a wipe, he never gets a rant upon his head. In my vast LFR experience, players kicked are those who: 1. Come unprepared 2. Don’t communicate about their failures between pulls and 3. Continue to make the same mistakes even after being explained what to do. And if you come as a tank for “shorter queue” reason, unable to learn from your wipes and largely ignoring your role – well… who’s to blame?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lots of great points in here – thank you for providing the LFR main perspective!

      I always wonder if tanks needing to know so much prior to playing is a problem – even when I was the raid leader for my guild, I didn’t tank, and I had to know the full fights for everyone in order to explain them. I’m not sure how that would be fixed – it probably helps to have some DPS and healer mechanics that require some attention, like the recent trend of healing absorb debuffs that apply prior to a big raid AoE, or things that require DPS to pay attention, like Gigavolt Charges on Mekkatorque. The armchair game designer in me wants to say the problem is that most mechanics designed for DPS or healers are too easy relative to those for tanks, since tank mechanics can often quickly kill a tank where the stuff DPS and healers manage cause problems over a much longer timescale. Definitely agree that tank failure is easiest to see, although the example on Jaina for DPS is also a good one – the challenge it illustrates for me is that you can target a tank a lot easier to see what happened, but knowing which of the number of people that can cast Bloodlust/Heroism/Time Warp often takes add-ons or a lot of questioning after, so that person might be more likely to get away with it.

      I think Blizzard has not really made large-scale LFR changes since the loot system change after its introduction in Cataclysm because it is difficult to know what to change when there are so many moving pieces. Even things like the no tier sets change in Warlords of Draenor were reversed pretty quickly and never spoken of again.

      I’d like to see LFR be a thriving game mode that draws in more players who all want to see the group succeed. For a player like me, I tend to think of rewards being a good way to do it, but I’m sure there are a great number of other ways to do it!


  4. I wish there was more communication in LFR. The nice kind. People are so mean towards tanks these days (because the mistakes of a tank is easier to spot than that of a dps) I always say Hello and wish everyone luck, trade out gear (I even have an addon that tells me who would benefit from an item I loot, that I do not need). I just go about, hoping my act inspire just a single one in the raid, and that that person will do the same next time.

    Liked by 1 person

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