Tuesday, June 5, 2007

How much do you owe a pickup group?

A reader asked me for an opinion on whether he as engineer in World of Warcraft was supposed to use seaforium charges, which cost 5 gold apiece, to open chests for a pickup group. As the content of the chest is then rolled for, he often ends up poorer if he does. It would be easy to pretend not to be able to open that chest, most people don't even think to ask whether somebody is engineer if there is no rogue in the group. Even sneakier you could leave the chest closed, stay behind when the group disbands and hearthstones out at the end of the dungeon, and then go back and open the chest for yourself. That is certainly not something you would do with a group of friends or guild mates. But is it okay for a pickup group?

Personally I'm always trying not to make too much of a difference between a group of friends and a group of strangers. As the old saying goes, strangers are just friends you haven't met yet. In WoW, pre 2.1 alchemy nerf, I sometimes got comments from groups when my warrior quaffed several potions to buff himself up, asking whether I was too rich or something. Apparently spending your own money to increase the chance of success of a pickup group is not something that is done very often. But then, I'm old school, I learned grouping in Everquest.

Everquest had forced grouping, that is after the newbie levels it was technically impossible for most classes to gain *any* xp while soloing. Every mob which was high enough in level to give any xp needed a group to kill. Thus getting invited into groups was important, and the better you played and the more effort you invested in a group, the better your reputation got, and the chance to get invited again by somebody that recognized you. Threatening to "blacklist" somebody for some offense like kill-stealing or ninja-looting carried a real weight; if you could arrange that nobody from your large guild ever grouped with that guy again, that could cause real problems for him. But if you went that extra mile for your pickup group, you could end up on the friends list of somebody, and end up getting more group invites in the future. You never knew who might be well connected, so putting in less effort into a pickup group than into a guild group didn't make sense.

World of Warcraft, with its ability to solo to 70, has much less strong social ties and worries about reputation. You group less often, spending more time soloing, and chances are that the people you group with today you'll never see again. So making an effort which costs you gold isn't easy to justify. If you use seaforium charges or potions, you risk paying more than the other group members, thus having less benefit than they do. And unlike EQ, where such a cost could be regarded as an investment in your reputation for the future, in WoW there isn't much reputation to gain. So in World of Warcraft, you basically spend that money only if you want it for yourself. If I *want* to spend money on potions and perform better, and don't mind the cost, that is okay. I can take pride in trying always to perform at my best. But I wouldn't consider that as a general rule of behavior. The majority of players only uses a pickup group to advance themselves, and wouldn't dream of spending extra money on it. So you shouldn't feel morally obliged to do better.

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