Was going to leave a comment to Tobold’s most recent “Improving Pugs” post but it got a bit lengthy so I turned it into a full post here.
I think I generally agree with his 3 areas of concern: risk, reward and communication but would also have to add competency or skill to that list. Yes, to some extent having group skill or competency is derivative of the risk/reward/communication system, but I view it a bit a part as it really is based on understanding your class’ abilities in a group setting.
Lots of PUG stories abound about the dual wielding berserker stance tank or the DPSing shadow priest that “doesn’t heal, I’m shadow” and the over nuking mages, warlocks and hunters and on and on.
What is fundamentally lacking as WoW has continued to develop is a genuine way for players of any skill level to acquire basic class-specific group skills in a low risk environment.
PUG University: Group 101
The answer quite simply is a tutorial or tactical skills university for players of all classes. DDO actually does something similar where a player is able to enter an instanced tutorial space. The class trainer is a natural place to access these training spaces.
Each class would have a curriculum of class specific group skills to complete (and be able to repeat as often as they like to practice). Maybe there would be three levels of the curriculum (Novice, Intermediate, Advanced– you could come up with better cool names) which would all be level agnostic so they could be completed at any level.
For a warrior, for example, the beginning course would focus on the tank’s role in a group, explaining and practicing the basics of getting, holding and reacquiring aggro in defensive stance. The warrior could be paired with several other NPC henchmen (a healer and one or more dpsers) and the instructor to prompt and move the tutorial along. Complete a series of canned encounters of increasing difficulty this way and you earn a rank, title or certification indicating you’ve completed this course. This rank or title would be visible to players looking for group so the PUG could at least be assured that a tank would know basic group dynamics.
Lather, rinse and repeat for the higher level curricula. Good guilds do this to some extent, but many good guilds are also made up of the most experienced MMO players, so it doesn’t provide a realistic opportunity for the unguilded or mostly solo player.
The notion is that by giving solo players a chance to learn basic group encounter skills in an relatively socially risk free environment would increase the overall skill level of the player base and thus reduce to a large extent the need for complicated text communication. “Sheep left, OT right, FF on the spider”… No one would need 4 other people to be patient and offer advice on how to play a class other than their own.
There’s no substitute for learning how to play in a group, but there is a need for a mechanism for each player to acquire the basic skills efficiently, on their own time and without being chided by incessant “L2P N00b.”
The group v. solo balance and LFG issues noted still need to be addressed, but taking some of the skill pain out of the equation would make doing PUGs a lot more enjoyable.