Perhaps a solution would be some sort of rating system. The game could allow you to rate other players with a simple thumbs up/thumbs down. Players with lots of thumbs-ups would be grouped with other thumbs-upped players, and players with worse ratios would have to deal with each other. The problem with this system is the potential for new players to get bad ratings from not knowing what they are doing, and I don’t think Blizzard wants to group new players with griefers, so this system doesn’t seem like it could work very well.
A second and more likely solution would be to add more social features. There have been plenty of times where I have “randomly” been placed into a group with a member of my (3,500+ member) guild. Why can’t the system be smart about placing me with people with whom I probably want to play? The system already will not place you with anyone on your ignore list, so perhaps the system could use expanded friend lists to find preferred members to group you with. There have been plenty of times where I’ve had a great experience with random players, and if they are from different servers, I currently have no way to play with them again. I’m sure that cross-server friends and groups are on the way at some point, and they will bring many benefits. However, consider the benefits of having a “white list” as well as a “black list” that you could make for dungeons. The ignore list and the friend list are currently both 50 people each, but what if you could have a 200 person white list of people you really enjoyed playing with, but don’t want on your friends list? If both of you are queued at the same time, it automatically groups you. Similarly, if you don’t like someone, add them to your black list to never be queued with them. People you are mutually friends with, as well as your guildmates, could be added to the people it will try to group you with. This operation doesn’t sound computationally simple, but Blizzard has achieved some amazing things, and the benefits sound amazing.
Imagine if this could be expanded to a guild-wide system. Guilds could add each other as “friends”, and members from friend guilds would have priority to be grouped together. Cross-server, this would allow players to group with like-minded players and form tighter communities and connections than a series of random groups. Top-tier guilds could friend each other and not have to worry about dealing with new/bad players. Guild “alliances” could be more of a reality, allowing multiple guilds to operate as one much easier. New and leveling guilds could group with each other, with standing policies to help each other learn. Becoming a member of a guild would carry a heavy benefit: you get to play with certain types of people, and guilds would have to be involved in making a community that represents themselves well. The best way to avoid griefers and people whose playstyle you disagree with is to find likeminded people to play with, and tools like this could make the process much more automated and simpler. Don’t like “cocky” tanks and healers who leave at the drop of a hat? This system could help you find people who don’t do that and hang onto them. Like tanks who know their stuff and rush through a dungeon? Friend them. Had fun learning a dungeon with someone? Add them to your friends list and do it again sometime!
Of course, queue times might get worse because of this. Imagine being pulled out of a long queue because one of your friends or guildmates queued as a tank. It would be fantastic for communities, but tanks and healers are much more likely to be experienced players and members of these kinds of communities. New players tend to be DPS, and if all the tanks and healers get gobbled up by small communities, it could leave new players high and dry. Of course, the less tanks and healers there are in a community, the higher incentive there is to try being a tank or healer. Many players are unforgiving if you don’t instantly know what you are doing, but with fast queues, you can quickly burn through players who have to weigh sitting in a long queue against working with a new tank or healer.
In the final part of this series, we’ll look at the built-in qualifications that players have to satisfy in order to queue for dungeons, how successful that system is, and alternatives.