With all the excitement about the expansion and the discipline system, an (in my eyes) pretty important piece of news about next week's patch has largely slipped between the cracks from what I can see: the group finder will return to 16-man mode.
When this change was originally announced for 2.8, I was cautiously optimistic about it. Of course, then we all had to learn that Bioware had coded the new 16-man functionality in such an inefficient manner that people actually trying to use it crashed the servers, so that the change had to be reverted in an emergency patch.
Being faced with the feature's imminent return, I have mixed feelings about it. For one thing I'm obviously a little apprehensive. While Bioware wouldn't be redeploying 16-mans if they hadn't worked hard to fix the problems they caused last time, the issues were of such a scale that I'm a little worried whether whatever changes they've made to the system will be good enough or if we have more technical issues to look forward to in the near future.
However, even if everything goes down without a hitch I'm not entirely happy about this change. The introduction of conquests has taken the group finder from something that mainly existed to help people pug more efficiently to something that also serves as a way of accumulating conquest points for guilds. Doing operations through the group finder is one of the repeatable objectives that awards a good amount of conquest points every week, no matter the specific event, and it's a good way of getting guild members involved that might otherwise not be that interested in conquest. My little guild has been running several group finder operations a week since conquests began, and it's been a nice way of revitalising the guild and getting people of different skill levels to play together.
The problem is, this has only worked for us because the group finder is limited to 8-man groups. We don't usually have enough people on at a time these days to put a 16-man group together, so once the group finder changes over, this source of conquest points and social fun will suddenly run dry for us, or at the very least present us with problems. Sure, we could still queue up with however many people we have online and hope that there are enough players in the queue to fill in the gaps, but we'll basically be at the mercy of the right pugs a) being online and b) being competent enough to make the run a worthwhile endeavour. Not to mention that we'll suddenly have to worry about things like loot rules, which are generally not an issue in a full guild run.
Don't get me wrong, I'm by no means against pugging. All you have to do is check the pugs tag on this blog to read all about the (mis)adventures with random strangers that I've willingly subjected myself to in the past. However, I think that injecting pugs into what is supposed to be a focused guild run with a set objective is a lot less fun. Not to mention that large guilds won't have to put up with this problem, thereby gaining another advantage over smaller guilds in regards to conquest.
I'm trying to see the bright side: maybe semi-pugged group finder operations will be a fertile ground for recruitment - after all, what better way is there to advertise your guild than to have people tag along for your guild runs, allowing them to see first-hand how awesome you are? I'm a little worried that this may just be wishful thinking on my part though. As usual, we'll have to see how it pans out on live.