Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My fascination for group dynamics in WoW

Gevlon is running a campaign trying to prove that progress and success in WoW hasn’t got anything to do with social aspects and the ability to create a well functioning team. He has also set his mind to pug his way through the game in a strict, effective businesslike manner. I’m honestly a bit sceptic to the idea. It may work on the not too hard raid encounters that Blizzard currently offer us, but if Ulduar will turn out to be the challenge we hope for, pugging will probably be quite frustrating. But I’m not afraid to admit I’m wrong, so good luck in your mission Gevlon; it will be interesting to follow. Maybe you’ll invite a concept for successful pug managing that others can copy.

Group dynamics
If you ask me, the social aspects and especially the dynamics of developing a well functioning group is one of the things that make WoW so interesting. I can’t imagine living my days in Azeroth without it.

Strangely enough this idea doesn’t seem to be so widespread. Generally the websites, blogs and forums about WoW deal with game mechanics. If you want to find information about how to make the optimal spec, spell rotation, gear, raid setups and boss strategies you’ll find a wealth of knowledge. What you often forget is that you can be an expert in all of those areas and still fail miserably at creating a guild or a raid team that will work in the long run. There are exceptions, of course. Matticus has had quite a few posts where he discusses the development of a group from a management perspective. But I still think there’s a lot more to be said in those issues.

I think the lack of awareness of the lifecycle and mechanics in a group is one of the reasons why so many guilds will fail and disassemble. Often they have spent ridiculous amounts of time on underlying unresolved conflicts, stealing energy and focus, resulting in a lack of progress. Seeing the stagnation members will leave and the guild will be thrown into a downgoing spiral, where the constant exchange of members will be a hindrance of getting back on track again.

I wish I had some miracle cure to offer those suffering guilds: do like this and everything will turn out well. Unfortunately I don’t think there is any. But just acknowledging that social skills and the ability to be a teamplayer are just as important – or more important – than the positioning on the dps charts – is a good start.

FIRO theory
Some ten years ago I attended a week long leadership course, which was mostly inspired from a theory about Group Dynamics called FIRO. The course had been developed from a concept used in the Swedish army and was very demanding, to say the least. Twelve complete strangers were put together in conference centre in the middle of Nowhere, completely cut off from the world (no cell phones allowed). We experienced the process of developing a group, going through all the stages within a few days.

I often recall what happened there. We started out on a tea party level – small talking, but hardly an effectively working group.

From that we entered the next stage, the one of conflicts and role seeking. Who was in charge? Did we all feel that we belonged to the group and were counted on or was anyone excluded? What different roles did we play? It’s very much possible to actually get stuck in this phase. Dysfunctional groups tend to do that, which clearly will show in their results. We managed to get passed it though.

By giving feedback, saying things aloud, bringing the conflicts to open daylight, we could sort them out and enter the lovely phase three, the one of mutual dependency. We were back to the friendly atmosphere as in the first phase, but with the difference that it now wasn’t just superficial. We all knew where we had each other - everything had been exposed. Now we could focus on the task, knowing that everyone was to be trusted and that there were no hidden motives to fear.

The week with this group changed my views on groups and my own role in them forever. Of course it was pain to work our way through the conflicts. But I learned that it isn’t such a big deal that we make it to, that there’s no reason to fear it. It’s a natural step in the progression of any group – not the least to a guild. Once you’ve made your way through it the group will turn into something else. It becomes like a living organism, an unstoppable force, ready to climb any mountaintop in the world.

Far from easy
Now, improving the efficiency of a group, to understand the dynamics of it, to work actively with tools such as frequent feedback and open communication is far from easy. It takes skill and intuition and a lot of situational awareness. I think that in WoW the challenge is even bigger than in real life, since the turnover of members often is much bigger. Easy come, easy go. People vote instantly with their feet and don’t have incentives like a salary to motivate them to hang around and live through the difficulties. And every time an old member leaves or a new one comes to the group, it will be thrown back in its development. The risk is big that you have to go through the role seeking once again. A comforting thought though is that the process usually goes much quicker the second time if you have a previous experience of being in a group in phase three and know what it’s like.

I’ve worked in leading positions in real life for a few years, but I still feel like an apprentice when it comes to the management of groups. There’s always more to learn and I think that WoW is a very good sandbox to test your tools and abilities. I can’t give you any easy how-to-do-it recipe to follow. A good beginning is probably to put on different glasses, to try to see things from a little distance and understand what really is going on beneath the surface in your officer team, raid group or whatever group you have.

In my two years of WoW playing I’ve changed guilds a few times, every time for a good reason. I’m not a guild hopper in its true sense, but I’ve made too many switches to be really happy about it. It takes a while to fully get to know a guild and become incorporated in it, rather than a temporary guest. Hopefully my restlessness will change in the future.

The other day I realized that I’ve never been as long in a guild as I’ve been in my current. I joined last summer, I’m still around, I have no plans of leaving and as far as I can tell the guild is stable, healthy and will remain active for a long while more.

I think that we as a group has passed the first polite small talking phase. Sometimes we mess around a bit in role seeking, but often we actually jump into phase three, at least for a while. I must say that I’m really looking forward to the journey that lies ahead of us, struggles as well as victories. It’s a dimension of WoW that I wouldn’t like to miss for anything.

How fun is it to defeat Sartharion + 3 dragons if you haven’t got any friends to share the sweetness of the victory with?


Dw-redux said...

I don't believe you can PuG any hard content the same way and as fast as you can with a guild or friends.
The first reason I can think of, is the fact that you need to know players for certain encounters.
Healers need to know how they react in different situations; say druid X tends to go after the one with the lowest health, whereas priest Y tends to throw hots around - both of theese things where not the assigned jobs, but just something they tend to do when sh*t hits fans. So you need to know theese people, to know how to react correctly, so you dont get 5 healers on the same tank because that tanks healer didnt move out of fire.
This is something, that in theory can be manageable to work out. making 9-8 alternative options if various events should happen.
the next is not; when people who play well together, and are in a guild together, and work for a common goal, they will also be a lot more forgiving about a lot of things. Things like loot, player mistakes, slacking ect ect.
If everyone knows that a hunter in the grp is having a hard time at work, his eruption over TS is forgiven. Not to mention when loot drops (a certain youtube vid comes to mind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_23ENznBgU&feature=related)
When you are in a stable group, you will back down from an argument, you will not roll/bid on every item you need, and most will be looking at "the greater good" rather than themselves.
When was the last time you ever heard one of two of the same class say: "i pass for her, she needs the item more" in a PuG?
Ive heard it once. The player was 12 i think and threw a hissie-fit when the favor was not returned.

Fish said...

I personally find that it is the people I interact with on a day to day basis that makes the game more worthwhile. I could run around slaying mobs and crafting things but the people in my guilds really make the experience more enjoyable.

Santyn said...

Ultimately, I think Grevlon will fail in his goal. When I read his post on it, it appeared to me that what he was seeking was basically a hardcore raiding guild, without the binding ties of a guild. He more than likely wastes an hour or better every time he puts a raid together performing his Patchwerk test of players.

He would be better served to form a guild based on the principles he holds his PUGs to. That way he would have consistent players who he knows will perform in a business-like manner.

A guild is not about friendship, emotion, fun, ect. A guild is a group of people who share a common goal. That goal can be anything from no-nonsense progression to virtual drinking buddies.

I think the goblin has locked himself into a single-minded definition of what a guild is. He needs to step back and re-evaluate his thinking.

SolidState said...

Santyn is dead-on, 100% correct.

Generally the websites, blogs and forums about WoW deal with game mechanics... There are exceptions, of course."

Another good example (except for Matticus) is wowinsider's officer column, where they answer officer related questions.

Dw-redux, in the long run, and for random PuGs (which is 99.999% what people join when they PuG) you are right. However in theory there is nothing really stopping you from putting together a group of really good players and tackling a specific instance, assuming you can get such good players to join your PuG. For example see my personal account of an OS+3 PuG I was invited to.
You could however argue this isn't a real PuG. The difference is that in this group, every player was invited because he was personally known by a player already in the raid. In other words, only guild members or people in the friends lists of the people in the raid were invited. The LFG tool, global channels such as /1 or trade channel were not used at all, vs. the usual method for joining a PuG.

kyrilean said...

@ Dw-redux - Could a PuG of complete unknowns do the content as fast as a hardcore raiding guild as soon as the content is released? Probably not, but I think PuGs at this stage can and do move faster than a good number of guilds. So it depends on when.

@ Fish - exactly. Although they can make it less enjoyable too. :)

@ Santyn - I know guilds that sometimes waste 2 hours in AFKs on a 5 hour run.

Not exactly defending Gevlon here, but I think he can prove his point because of the time frame we're in. Most people have seen Naxx and a good majority have run some part of 25 mans. So it isn't terribly hard to put together a decent raid group.

I do think that if Gevlon was running this experiment 2 days after the release of Ulduar, he'd fall flat on his face. If he does succeed it's because he's using people he's built a repoire with now which imo nullifies his entire argument.

Fulguralis said...

I think one of the reasons bloggers tend to stick to game mechanics and specs and such are that those are so much easier to grasp and relate to others. It's very difficult to nail down "general rules of thumb" when it comes to forming a successful group. The truth is, you just have to find the right mix. What may work for one won't work for another. Specs and mechanics are generally consistent across the game (until Blizz changes them and then we all freak out, that is).

I, for one, would really like to highlight more of the human aspsect of the game, but find that it is something that's really tough to get a handle on. You do a wonderful job here, btw. :-)

Larísa said...

@Dw-Redux: That’s definitely another aspect of it. Not only do you avoid wasting time on unnecessary conflicts if you have a steady, well functioning team – you also get to know each others playstyle and decisionmaking. Sometimes you need to predict what the others will do without having to ask them on TS or in the raid chat, since there isn’t any time for it. Telepathy ftw!

@Fish: Yeah, I agree. There clearly are two ways of seeing it. I actually don’t think that I can convince Gevlon to change his mind. But that isn’t what the debate is about either. I think it’s interesting to see things from the point of view of others, to sort of get into their head. And to let him into mine. Hopefully it leads to that different player types will understand each
@Santyn: I think there are different sorts of guilds. There definitely are guilds that are only about friendship and that lacks common goals. I wouldn’t be happy in such a guild but I think there are other players who will. There also are guilds that are only about goals, where you don’t bother the slightest about the persons behind the toons, what they think about you, how well you go on together, as long as you get your loot and boss kills. I wouldn’t be happy in that kind of guild either. But they still are guilds.

@Solidstate: yeah, the definition of a PUG in my opinion is something pretty randomly put together. If you pick them from your friends list it’s something else. It’s an organized group, though without a guild tag.

@Kyrilean: I’m as curious about the outcome of Gevlon’s experiment as you are. We’ll soon see the answer!

@Fulguralis: thank you. And yes, I think you’re right. Sine it’s such a complex thing it’s really hard to give out general rules and advice. I remember that my conclusion after my life-changing group development course was: “WOW, I never realized leading people and developing a group was such a hard thing! It’s like being a concert pianist. You have to have a special sort of musicality to know exactly what the group needs in every moment. Some people have it. Others are more or less deaf.”

Gevlon said...

No one said I want to PuG ulduar on the first week. I'll have about 3 months to do it before the next content patch.

This group dynamic post was really interesting and inspired another post. Will come on Friday morning.

Larísa said...

Gevlon, thanks! I'm looking forward to read your friday post. Nothing beats a good exchange of thoughts.

SolidState said...

Nothing beats a good exchange of thoughts.

"Except for a nice MLT, a mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe. They're so perky, I love that."
-- Miracle Max, The Princess Bride

I don't know why but that just popped into my head when I read your response :)