I have a secret. I don’t share it very often, because it’s the sort of thing that gets me odd looks. This is the kind of secret about which teenagers scream to their parents, “You just don’t understand!” before slamming the doors to their rooms. I am going to share this secret with you.
Are you ready? Do you promise not to laugh?
Do you at least promise to keep reading after you’re
Okay. Here goes.
I like PUGs.
You all know what I’m talking about. The dreaded Pick-Up Group, bane of repair bills and I-only-have-two-hours-to-play players everywhere. Five people (or more!) who have never met, heroically pooling their talents to conquer the dread evils of an instance in a Light-forsaken bog or enemy fastness.
At least, that’s the theory. More often than we’d like PUGs are just, well, p-ugly. Did I ever tell you about the
PUG where the priest committed suicide because he fell asleep at the keyboard, and the two hunters decided to start the
event without him? And then died because they didn’t get out of the first tunnel in time despite me
at them to run for it? And
insisted that the two remaining party members, at half health, with no pets, no tank, and no healer, could still finish the event? Yeah, that happened to me. The run went downhill from there. We’ve all learned through hard experience that if you sign up for a PUG, you (and your durability) are signing up for a beating.
Still, I love PUGs. This may be a surprise coming from the tank of Malgayne’s
static group. But it’s true.
The "M" in MMO
WoW promotes itself as a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game. But what does the “massively” part mean, in practice? I play on PVE, non-RP servers, so most of the time my servers are really little more than glorified
lobbies. It may sound good on paper to have thousands of players available at any given time to group with. But in reality oftentimes they’re just extra resources to pull in for a particularly difficult task, or stand-ins for the people you
wanted to play with. And what’s the point of even a massive pool of faceless expendable resources if nobody actually
to group with them?
Players avoid PUGs for good reason. The reason is sometimes articulated as a lack of coordination, sometimes as a lack of skill. I submit that the real issue is a lack of
I contend that groups run on trust far more than they do on skill. The tank has to trust the healer to keep him alive. The healer has to trust the DPS to mitigate what damage they can on their own. The DPS has to trust the tank to maintain aggro. And that’s only scratching the surface; there are a dozen other things the group has to trust its members to do—in some encounters, even more.
Guilds and static groups come with a healthy dose of trust built in. When I’m running with the Furious Five, I rarely even
at my health bar. I know my healer will keep me alive. The DPS unloads full-bore the instant I start the pull, because they know I will keep aggro. We don’t even use voice chat. Having instanced together for fifty levels, we can operate as a well-oiled machine in near total silence.
PUGs don’t come with this reservoir of trust, and you might think the result would be a more hesitant gameplay style. Sometimes it is; these are the groups that take six hours to complete the most basic instance. Oftentimes, though, when people don’t trust their group-mates, they unconsciously try to pick up the slack. I call this Lone Wolf syndrome. You’ve all seen it. The DPS tries to tank. The healer tries to DPS. The tank is a paragon of virtue and discipline (can you tell which role I play most often?). Ten wipes and two pulls later the group disbands in disgust, vowing never to do a non-guild run again.
Lone Wolf Syndrome
The prevalence of Lone Wolf syndrome in WoW is no surprise. After all, WoW is not a game about being one legendary hero in a world of ten thousand legendary heroes. Even though the world is
full of ten thousand legendary heroes, the
is that you are one legendary hero in a legendary world. It’s no surprise that when things start to fall apart people’s first instinct is to try to do everything. They’re trying to play the hero. It’s endemic to
multiplayer games, even the ones like WoW that strongly reward team players. Back in my
days, more games than I can count were lost because everybody wanted to be a hero. Never mind that nine times out of ten it resulted in humiliating and frustrating defeat, or that we were all playing
it was one of the first large-scale team-based games you could play on the internet. Mere game mechanics cannot conquer Lone Wolf syndrome.
taught me how a PUG of Lone Wolves can be turned into a lean, mean, killing machine. One particularly memorable run saw my group wiping nearly every pull, under the “guidance” of a particularly incompetent tank—until about halfway through, when somebody thought to ask the poor fellow, “Have you ever been the main tank in an instance before?” The hapless warrior answered, “No.”
Now, at that point a lot of groups would have thrown up their hands and reached for their hearthstones (Stratholme is not an easy introduction to tanking even now, and this was long before The Burning Crusade). As luck would have it, the group declared it was willing to stay on if our tank was willing to be taught how to perform his role. I taught, he listened, and people started to play their assigned role instead of trying to be one-man tanking/DPS/healing machines. It was a struggle, but with careful communication and some patience on the part of the group we successfully downed Baron Rivendare, completing the second half of the instance in half the time it had taken to do the first half. After the run, the other group members whispered me, thanking me for saving the run.
That run opened my eyes, and since then I’ve had a lot of experiences “saving” disorganized PUGs. Let me tell you, I have known no triumph in WoW greater than this. My first epic, my first raid clear—nothing compares to standing over the corpse of even a lowly five-man boss knowing that the group succeeded because of
Not because of your 1337 skillz. Because you
A Recipe for Averting Disaster
We’re human beings (yes, even WoW players). We build trust through interaction far quicker than we do by watching some hotshot prove how good he is. Here are some of the ways I’ve found to save a failing PUG:
Know the three roles in a group: tank, DPS, healer
. No amount of talking will save a group if you don’t know what to say! You don’t have to be an expert in every class. It’s fine if you can’t tell a hunter how to optimize his shot rotation. It’s
fine if you don’t even know what universal qualities make a good DPSer, or why groups benefit from tanks.
It sounds obvious, but if you’re going to get a group of strangers to trust each other, you need to be willing to put yourself out there and talk!
. Remember that you’re
trying to get people to do what you say, even if you do know best. Your goal is to get the party to
each other. Calling somebody a n00b or telling the party they suck probably isn’t the best strategy for building trust.
. Oftentimes when PUGs fall apart the other members of the group are
for somebody to step up and take charge. Sometimes just the relief of knowing that somebody is “in charge” can work wonders. This is often informal—I rarely ask PUGs to elect me "PUG Leader for the Duration" or anything like that. Simply being the calm voice of reason will often do it. I find that complete sentences, with proper grammar, go a long way here. I don’t care how good is your gear, or how high your pvp rating—the instant I see 1337-speak in your chat, you’ve lost credibility with me. If you don’t
trustworthy, you aren’t going to be able to promote trust in your group.
. Things are not going to get better in a failing PUG if you just speak nicely to people and smooth ruffled feathers. Take the time to explain, politely and completely, what you want people to do and why. Try to identify the assumptions you make about execution and lay them out. For instance, if you say, “Hunter, chain trap square,” you’ve only yourself to blame if the hunter does it wrong or doesn’t know how to chain trap at all! Better to ask, “Hunter, can you chain trap square?” or “Hunter, do you know how to chain trap?” The point is not that you need to tell everybody how to do their job—the point is for everybody
to hear that the party actually does know its stuff, and is going to deploy its skills according to some sort of plan. As trust builds amongst the group you can shorten pre-pull communications and maybe even dispense with them altogether, but to build the necessary level of trust it’s important to talk things out rather than just assume everybody knows what they’re expected to do.
. Remember that your leadership is not magic. You cannot instantly eliminate all of a group’s problems. But if the group is showing progress, stick with them. If you want people to trust each other, you can’t bail at the first opportunity.
Be willing to teach
. More often than not the individual members of a PUG have all the skills they need to pull their weight, but sometimes they don’t. If somebody is open to hearing what you have to say and you think you can offer good advice, be willing to do so! 90% of the skills that make a great instance player are not taught by Blizzard. We all learned from other players; don’t get frustrated if you have the opportunity to pass on what you know.
It may take a while to get everybody to calm down, listen, and form a plan. But the results are often worth it. For one thing, it’s often the difference between a complete run and hours of wasted time. For another, it will make you feel incredibly awesome.
And for another, it’s a chance to form a genuine human connection, however brief, with real people—turning those faceless expendable resources in the glorified lobby we call a WoW server into fellow players and adventurers.
Don’t get me wrong—I love my guild, and I love the Furious Five. But when I run with them they might as well be the only people on the server. Playing with them is merely playing a Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game. PUGs—and especially saving failing PUGs—are often the only time I feel like the
aspect of WoW actually matters.
Has anybody else had experiences like this?
When do you feel most connected to the people on your server?
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