The 5 Stages of Grief in MMO PUGs

Puggin' Ugly. Seriously, that's what it is.

I tried to run an 8 player instance today. "Tried" being the key word.

Long story short: a DC Universe Online GM threw down a gauntlet after first back-handing me with it. So on my livestream, I ran 8-man raids to see if they were even able to be finished in PUG's. The results? 75% completion rate. This is so unusual that even the viewers were asking "Did the GM's throw a switch or something?" I've been playing the same raids off the stream, and those are currently at 0% completion rate. More testing is needed, and I'll detail out my experiment at another time with a PUG explanation.

But in these off-stream raids, I see patterns emerging. I hold that "disband group" creates a "quit culture" within the game. Going into an instance there's a feeling of dread, "Are we even gonna make it past the first boss?" Every wipe brings that uncertain feeling of "it's all about to fall apart." This is pressure to perform that makes these things un-fun.

The main pattern I see emerging is the "Kübler-Ross model," better known as the "five stages of grief." And it either runs at a blistering pace, or it can be long and drawn out. And here is how it breaks down. Basically.


This is usually the silent stage, where a group hits a boss and fails. People start looking at the scorecard and DPS meters, seeing who's to blame. They inspect other players to see who's got "bad gear." It's always someone else. Always. Even if it's you, it's someone else. When they start chatting about the other players gear, it graduates to the next stage.



This stage is punctuated with helpful advice. Advice like "L2P," "UR gear SUX!" "bad heals," "OMG U ALL ARE N00BS!" and my favorite "IF u don't know the fight by now, uninstall and kill urself." The above example is tame, and probably the only one I can post without warning people about content. Things usually end here as the player in question just leaves in what's lovingly called "Rage-Quit." But sometimes, they want to finish the mission. This is when we get to the next stage.



This is a little different than a normal stage of grief in that this is the part where people try to explain the fight and what you're supposed to do. This, to me, is the funniest stage in that you'll often see several people bickering on how the "right" way to do something is. I've been told, in the same instance, to both kill and not kill mobs, focus on and not focus on the main boss, and spread out but stick together. You also get "helpful" advice, usually from people stuck in the last phase.



This is where people start to give up hope, and they start to ask to be excused or they just leave silently. They also start openly saying "this will never happen." It drags everyone down, and groups usually fold shortly after people start saying things like this. It makes the group question if they even can do it, and every failure reinforces the idea that they can't.



And finally, this is when the group decides to just give up. Not everyone hits this at the same time, but for the most part, after the depression stage, it's really easy to get a group to just throw in the towel. And because how the mechanic works, and since the game punishes you for wanting to finish the fight, if the majority wants out there's no point in staying.

Suffice to say that this gets tiresome to watch time and time again. It's gotten worse with the "Disband Group" mechanic in that they can pull everyone's mood down with their own. So, what do you think? Seen this in your MMO's? I'm curious to see.

Featured Contributor

I'm a gamer. I'm a reality junkie. I'm a cynic. I'm a dinosaur. I'm a writer. I'm so much more than a paragraph can say. You want more? Ok. I started a video game show on the internet some time ago. See, I've played video games since Intellivision and Atari 2600 and PONG back in the day. Retro-gaming doesn't really fire me up as much as seeing how the community ticks. And after seeing way too many "I'm too young to have played this game when it first came out but it MAKES ME SO ANGRY" reviewers who would happily eviscerate my childhood for lulz... yeah I tossed my hat into the ring. the quickly scooped it back up, I'm told I have a bald spot that needs...more »

Published Aug. 19th 2013
  • Doc Morie
    Interesting connecting the stages of grief and how people handle groups in DCUO. I find it very intriguing how social interaction happens in DCUO compared to other MMOs I've played.

    My points of reference are LOTRO, SWTOR, DCUO, and some Rift. I also played various MUDs back in the day (non-graphical, text only MMOs). I find that the nature of group socializing is notably different in different games.

    SWTOR I found to be nearer the DCUO end of the spectrum in people's behaviour, while LOTRO is vastly different. In LOTRO I find that people communicate with each other way more often, and with more patience, both typed and spoken. Actually, in DCUO pugs 99.9% of the time nobody ever speaks at all, and typed communication is limited to things like: Hi. Lets start. Thanks all. If the run goes badly you will also see abrupt rudeness like: Noob. He sucks. /Kick. And that's about the full extent of interactions.

    In contrast, in LOTRO people talk a lot. People welcome each other. Laugh and joke around before, during and after content. The goodbye phase after some content is not nearly as brief. In DCUO everyone leaves within seconds. In LOTRO groups are more prone to talk a little afterwards. In LOTRO you also will see a lot of discussion planning how each person will handle the upcoming encounter, with strategies, and clarifications, and leadership. DCUO basically never involves explanation before a fight. Every encounter is handled the same for the most part unless there was a couple of wipes and someone takes a second to make an angry remark saying people need to move out of the way of x, or what have you, but the information is very limited, and if there's any questions or discussion people lose patience incredibly fast and may even start quitting.

    The lack of communication is I think has a major influence on various elements of these games: the enjoyment of playing; the formation of friendships; the friendliness/hostility of the community; the ability for groups to handle variation in tactics required, and success rate with the content, especially in pick up groups.

    Another factor that I think notably changed people's behaviour towards each other in LOTRO vs DCUO is the Scorecard. LOTRo doesn't have any sort of in-game measure of other people's specific performance, whereas DCUO gives a constant count on total damage, heals, and power given by each person. On the DCUO forums people will aggressively reject any suggestion that the Scorecard be removed, and will insist that it is necessary to know who sucks so you can kick them out... And that is precisely the problem. There is a constant glancing at the Scorecard and unless everything is going not only smoothly, but as quickly as each person is accustomed too, then people will straight away look at who has lower numbers on that Scorecard and will /Kick them out. It doesn't matter if people said hello nicely, and spent 40 minutes helping each other accomplish something. The moment something goes wrong someone will be kicked out of the group without so much as a goodbye. Even from the vantage point of intelligent group play, the Scorecard is a disservice, because the pressure is always on to simply keep up with the other people's numbers in the same role. While people will rudely mock those who "chase the scorecard", they will also instantly kick out anyone who falls slightly behind. In terms of playing the game in a smart way, this means that as a DPS for example, you can't take the time to move around too much, even if it would get you out of harms way, because he time taken to move will make your numbers on the Scorecard fall behind. You also can't take time to revive your fallen allies, or conserve power and allow more of it to go where needed, or to simply do the most basic things like let your Tank go in first and hold off on damage a bit so they can establish aggro. Nope. Instead you are forced to leap straight into every single encounter as fast as whoever the other DPS players are, and if you don't you are going to be spoken to rudely and Kicked out, almost guaranteed.

    On the other hand LOTRO has no such device for tracking other people's contributions by the numbers, and you see a vastly different story. People are not only far more respectful and kind towards one another, which itself makes the game a totally different experience, but people are leaps and bounds better at handling complex strategies. People don't just go guns blazing constantly. Instead you have a lot of attention to working as a team, and making smart decisions with what to do in each moment. People pay attention to positioning, buffs, debuffs, reviving, healing, (even non-main-healers will heal when needed), aggro management, crowd-control, power usage, etc... not to mention the myriad variations on strategy in different encounters in LOTRO.

    Yes, sometimes you do find that you have someone in group with you in LOTRO who isn't quite up to the task at hand, but people will take much more time before jumping to this conclusion of blame, and will be helpful towards each other clarifying the strategies needed, and will be friendly in how they go through this process, and will virtually never kick someone out. I mean in 5 years playing that game I recall maybe one time when someone was actually kicked out, and it was a little kid who had intentionally wiped the raid group several times before he got kicked out, and with a lot of discussion trying to be helpful and respectful beforehand. Normally though if after several attempts and variations on strategy a group finds they cannot proceed, then the person who is least ready to handle the content will graciously excuse themselves, and people will thank them, and speak in friendly ways before that person leaves.

    The overall result, I think, of better in-game communication, and the absence of a Scorecard in LOTRO, is that you have a vastly more war, welcoming, friendly community, who form much more substantial relationships, AND at the same time are far more capable of handling advanced and complicated tactics.

    Not only is that a much more enjoyable experience as a players, for the game designer it means people are more likely to keep coming back month after month, and it means hey are freed up to create much more interesting content.
  • [[Deleted]]
    I've found this to be a growing trend in all games over the past few years, not just MMO's.

    Gone are the glory days of FFXI (for me anyways) where your group would spend 5-6 hours trying to beat a really tough dungeon boss(s) trying different skill and class combinations until you found something that worked, there was no anger, no whining, no rage quiting just, ok... that didn't work lets try this...

    Now it seems that as soon as one or two minor things go wrong, its "Thats it, you guys suck, im outta here", or just you know up and leaving without a word.

    Honestly I think part of the problem lies in the near-instant gratification model games have taken up, there always seems to be a quick way to level up, or gather items now, and it makes the expectation that nothing should be difficult or take multiple try's.

    I'll use my FFXI experiance as an example, when I first started playing you had to get a balanced team of 6 together, just to kill monsters worth experience points, dungeons were level capped and usually required 12-18 people and overall the entire point of the game was to group up and venture the world together and you could expect it to take a year of casual playing to get to max level, however their was tons of things to do at lower levels so it wasn't like you had to miss out.

    Then the game introduced EXP bands, rechargeable rings that granted bonus exp for a set amount of points or time, whichever came first. Then came exp books, set on various maps that granted bonus exp for killing certain sets of monsters, you also got other points to spend on buffs like regen, bonus mp gain during rest ect. After that was level Sync, and furthermore auto-repeat of the book quests... now instead of forming a solid party and going and killing really really tough monsters, you know have 18 people slaughtering easy kill monsters in starter areas using just the repeat bonus xp to level. ... Top that off with new areas where you get all that plus bonus xp per kill for killing the same type of monster over and over... and well... now you can level in a day or two, without going through anything really hard... without having to actually understand the class your leveling...

    I think its this kind of thing, that makes it so that party's just don't last long as soon as things go the slightest bit sideways.
  • TygerWDR
    Featured Contributor
    I think a lot of the mentality comes from the casualness of dungeon runs. I got into WoW just before they introduced "random dungeon finder" so I remember how difficult it was to get a group together. You had to yell in in "LFG" for hours to find 5 people, then actually travel to the location (before flight, mind you), summon the other party members, and then do the crawl. So with all the difficulty involved, people would stick around to make it work.

    Now it's "FAIL GROUP!" "hearth out" "LOL deserter debuff! I'll be in another instance before they replace me."

    It sounds like FF was the same way, in that it was an effort to get a group together. It also sounds like the emphasis was the journey, not the destination. Now, the game focal point is on the endgame content. Hell, there's one place that sells a guide that "Guarantees" you'll reach endgame in 5-7 days. That's.... ridiculous.

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