15/01/2019

Seven Golden Rules For Happy Pugging

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while now. If you're a long-time reader of the blog or have watched some of my YouTube videos, you've probably caught on to the fact that I'm very fond of doing group content in pick-up groups. At the same time I know that these same pick-up groups generally have a bad reputation, not just in SWTOR but in other MMOs as well. And while it's true that you'll sometimes get people being jerks no matter what, I think that a lot of pugs' bad reputation is somewhat undeserved.


In fact, I'm becoming more and more convinced that people who feel that all their pugs are toxic are at least partially bringing it upon themselves. Not necessarily by being toxic themselves, but due to attitudes and expectations that make it easier for things to go bad when they really don't have to, or that cause the player to perceive the situation as worse than it is.

Two things in particular have served to cement this belief in me. The first was a YouTube channel I follow. I still watch a WoW YouTuber called Preach Gaming, and he has a series called The Daily Preach in which he will do something like pug a dungeon and provide a bit of narration throughout the process - sometimes it'll be something educational actually related to the content; other times he'll just tell a random story throughout the run. Like me, he's quite fond of pugging and most of his runs go quite well. His viewers, who mostly seem to think that pugs are hell, always find reasons to explain his success away and to excuse why that particular run of his wasn't terrible - if only he had tried queuing for a different dungeon/on a different character/at a different time! But then one day he uploaded a run where literally everything went wrong and which ended in horrific failure - and while he did swear at the camera a lot, he was also laughing throughout, and the most upvoted comment on the video simply expressed wonder at his ability to have a good time no matter the circumstances. That - to me - was a prime example of how your own attitude matters more than anything.

The other event that gave me pause was a Boarding Party run I did with a guildie and two pugs. We were already several pulls in when I suddenly noticed that one person still hadn't even entered the instance. My guildie asked if we should kick the guy and I was simply horrified by the extreme escalation his suggestion implied. I told him no and typed in chat: "[Name], are you coming?" The latecomer replied in the affirmative, apologised for the delay, and a minute later he was with us. When I pressed my guildie about his trigger-happiness in regards to kicking, he said that he himself had been kicked from groups for less than that. I believe him, but two wrongs don't make a right, do they?

Anyway, both of these things inspired me to think about and write down the most important factors that I believe are responsible for me enjoying most of my random group runs. If your pugs often go bad, maybe there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of that happening in the future? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. But for now, without further ado: My seven golden rules for happy pugging, in order from least to most important.

#7 - Be good at what you do. I put this one at the bottom because I don't want to sound as if I want to discourage casual or new players from pugging, but let's be honest: Being good at the game yourself and knowing what you're doing helps a lot when it comes to making a run a success, and successful runs are more likely to be happy runs. If you know all the fights you can give advice to the less experienced; if you're good at your class you can compensate for others performing poorly to some extent; and if you're knowledgeable about the game in general you'll be better at reading your group as a whole, being able to tell who's performing well and who might need a helping hand in certain situations.

#6 - Be ready for what you're getting into. This is kind of one step removed from being good and more about expectation management. I'm not saying you should be expected to know all the fights in advance (I always thought the idea of people being supposed to read a guide before they even step into a dungeon for the first time was ridiculous), but you should at the very least have an idea of what you're signing up for in general terms: How long does this sort of content usually take? If you run out of time and have to leave halfway through, nobody wins. What's the difficulty? Is it at a level you are comfortable tackling or should you maybe start with something easier first? Is there a minimum gear requirement? Are there any fixed role requirements (tank/healer)? If you don't at least know the basics, odds are high that someone will be in for an unpleasant surprise.


#5 - Communicate. People often bemoan that players in modern MMO groups don't talk much. To be honest, with content that's tuned for a group of random strangers there often isn't much to talk about, and I don't think that's necessarily a problem. However, if there's something you want or don't want (such as killing the bonus boss), or something that the other players should really know (such as that you're new to the flashpoint and will need some help), make sure to let them know. It's not a guarantee for success, because sometimes you'll get people that don't read chat or just ignore it. However, from my experience most players don't go into these runs with strong opinions on anything, and if you ask for something most often the reply will simply be something along the lines of "OK", "sure" or "I don't mind". But people aren't mind readers, and if you don't say that you want to do the bonus boss or watch the cut scenes, you don't get to moan about not being accommodated by default.

#4 - Try to see the funny side. Now, in fairness, I think this is something that you can't force and probably has a lot to do with what kind of personality you have, but maybe you can still influence your attitude by making a conscious effort? Basically, sometimes things will go wrong; there's no two ways about it. And in the heat of the moment, I may well get angry about it too, but in the long run I prefer to see the funny side. How the hell did we just wipe to this trash pull? I didn't even know that was possible! Well, you learn something new every day. Or: I can't believe what that guy just did! I've got to tell my guildies, that will make for such a funny story. Again, I'll admit that this one's easy for me simply because I'm easily entertained. Other people may be mortified by something such as accidentally sending their entire party to its death, but to me that particular incident was simply hilarious.

#3 - Be humble. One of the #1 annoyances in any team-based game is the guy who immediately tries to blame every failure on someone else. These kinds of people are particularly common in PvP, but you can run into them in PvE too. You can't entirely avoid running into others doing it, but you can strive to not do it yourself. So don't be that guy. I don't care if you're the best player on the server and that noob got himself killed five seconds into the fight. Chances are that the noob actually noticed it themselves and is feeling quite embarrassed as it is. If they repeat their mistake or seem confused, you can politely (!) explain what went wrong, but shouting at them is more likely to turn them off the game than anything else. And anyway, if you're that awesome, how about you think about what you could do better on the next attempt? If you're as good at this as you think you are, maybe you could have used one more cooldown and downed the boss even with the healer dead? Personally I love it when I manage to turn a bad situation around mostly or even entirely by myself. So focus on improving your own performance, not that of others. Even if your intentions are good, a twenty minute flashpoint pug isn't really the time and place to lecture anyone about the intricacies of how to play their class.

#2 - Treat people with respect. Similar to the above, you can't entirely prevent people from treating you like a faceless NPC, but you can treat them like real people and hope that they'll return the favour. If you want to do things one way but the rest of the group prefers to do it a different way (e.g. on the question of whether to do a bonus boss or not), accept the majority vote. It's not all about you. Be polite in your requests, not imperious. (*cough* people who yell "SKIP" repeatedly and in all caps when they don't want to watch a cut scene *cough*) By speaking up early in a polite manner, you set a bar for the rest of the group and they'll be less likely to assume bad things about you or your other team members. How about you try addressing characters by their names instead of their class/role for example? I don't exactly consider the latter offensive anymore, but it does add a personal touch to use someone's name and shows that extra willingness to engage with them on a human level. Finally, always give people the benefit of the doubt. If you're communicating in writing and with very few words, it can be easy to come across as rude or uncaring without meaning to. Always assume that they didn't mean it that way and even if you don't like someone's tone, it's best to just let it go. Which brings us to...

#1 - It's just a game. I'm actually in two minds about this phrase because I've seen it get abused way too often to be dismissive of gaming as a hobby. "Why do you care? It's just a game!" So let me clarify right away that this isn't what I mean. I'm not saying that you shouldn't care. What I am saying is that when things don't go well and you find yourself getting angry or frustrated, it helps to keep things in perspective. Gaming is supposed to be fun, and if it at any point ceases to be enjoyable, you are allowed to get up and walk away. I think I'm generally pretty good at not getting worked up about things in game, but I'm not immune to getting riled up sometimes. There have been times when my pet tank has had to sternly raise his eyebrows at me because I was yelling at my screen, usually over something that happened in a PvP match. But the thing to do when that happens it not to start typing angry things into chat and start arguing with people. It doesn't even matter who's right or wrong at that moment. Nobody's playing this game to get into fights. Honestly, you're better off just getting up and taking a break. Both you and the rest of the group will be happier for it.

14 comments :

  1. Great post and great advice. I agree with all of it. I don't do much pugging these days but I've done a ton in a number of MMORPGs over the years and it's fun way, way more often than it's horrible. I have always found that if you talk to people in PUGs most of them turn out to be pleasant company. Not all of them - sometimes there are complete jerks you never want to see, let alone group with, again - but mostly people just want what you want - an enjoyable, successful run.

    I think the thing people who don't like pugs miss is that other people are entertainment. No-one likes being abused or belittled and that can happen, so it's not a risk-free enterprise, but all the other wacky behavior, from healers who refuse to heal to dps who insist on tanking is potential comedy gold.

    Where I did find it too frustrating was in FFXIV, where progress through the main storyline was repeatedly gated by completion of specific dungeons. That put just too much pressure on each run - every failure meant you knew you *had* to go again, if not immediately then at some point, which I felt took away my agency. Under those circumstances, incompetence or quirkiness cease to be very amusing. In most MMORPGs, though, I haven't been doing anything on a PUG run that I *had* to do. If it didn't work out then really, so what? So long as I had a few laughs, what did it matter if we wiped horribly?

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    1. Heh, I'd never considered thinking of people as entertainment, but it's definitely a big reason for why I enjoy pugs. After all, even my enjoyment of re-running content I've already seen only goes so far... but with a never-ending supply of new and strange players to populate it, things stay interesting for much, much longer.

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  2. I feel I do have a much bigger problem grouping in other games than WoW. Horrible experiences with WildStar's really hard dungeons didn't really help there.

    #7 - even after 4 years of not playing I think I'm still better at my WoW Rogue and Warrior than after recent months of playing PowerTech.

    And yeah, it doesn't help that I never liked small group content, not even with guildies where I basically enjoyed the run.

    That said, spot on. And yeah, at some point in the near future *cough* I'll try to heal a few runs in SWTOR :P

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    1. That's interesting that you still feel more comfortable playing your rogue or warrior. With how often WoW has revamped its classes by now, I'm pretty sure that if I logged into my old priest today her abilities would be completely unrecognisable to me, while my Commando has stayed largely the same for the last seven years, with only a handful of changes.

      To be fair, the best way to practise your class in SWTOR is by actually doing group content. With how much solo gameplay has been trivialised over the years, it's hard to find opportunities to practise things like your damage rotation or when to use cooldowns in a meaningful way while playing on your own. Even an easy veteran flashpoint makes for a better training ground.

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  3. Nice to read a positive take on PUGs for a change :) I pug FPs regularly and have positive experiences almost all the time. I’ve become a better player by learning from some of the people I’ve been grouped with, and tried to pay it forward when I ran with less experienced players. My most memorable run saw me on my max level main teaching three very low level toons the ropes and clearing one of the Czerka FPs. It wasn’t a quick run, but it was really satisfying to see them getting better and down that final boss!

    I agree that the attitude you bring can make a big difference. The other day I was in a group for the bug WB on Ossus and we kept wiping. I couldn’t believe it because it’s a fairly easy fight, and every other group I’ve been in had no problem. It took several pulls for me and a few others in the group to get everyone to deal with the mechanics correctly, but all I kept thinking was “wow, killing these adds over and over is completing the galactic rampage conquest objectives really quickly” :)

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    1. Fortunately I've never wiped on any of the Ossus world bosses, though I've had to redo the bug a couple of times because it didn't give credit for the quest (even after the patch). And yes, I also keep thinking that at least all those adds are great for the rampage objective. :P

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  4. Unsurprisingly my overall experiences with pugging were mixed too. To be honest though, whenever I can avoid it I will.

    Like Bhagpuss I lost any desire to pug in FFXIV pretty quickly.
    Not only is one run per dungeon mandatory for progressing the main story, the dungeon roulette system ensures that dungeon groups are always full of people who want to be finished right. fricking. now.
    My GF was unceremoniously votekicked once just 5 minutes in because she was tanking too slowly for the other two. Why someone can even be kicked by two of four people is beyond me, but needless to say I had a few rather rude words for those muppets and then left too. That was the last dungeon we ran in that game period.

    So while I don't disagree with your advice per se - quite the contrary - I still feel there are far too many people out there that I don't want to do a dungeon with under any circumstances. Hence it's either 'find a nice guild' or 'eschew group content completely' for me nowadays.

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    1. One thing I didn't touch on in the post is that communities and what's considered acceptable behaviour can be different among different games, and it's quite possible to enjoy pugging in one game but not another. If you seemingly always have completely different goals from everyone else you get grouped with, no amount of good attitude is going to make the experience more enjoyable. I had that problem with WoW's rush-rush culture. But it didn't turn me off pugging, it just turned me off WoW. XD

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    2. I get where you're coming from, and I indeed tend to think that FFXIV is worse than other games in this regard.

      It did surprise and, to be honest, shock me at the time though, because that game's community is generally praised to the skies whenever MMO communities are compared.

      Anyway, I guess I just have to accept that I get upset easily. I hate bad encounters with others, so once I've had a couple of those in a particular game I usually choose not to put myself in situations like that anymore.

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  5. I'm so fed up with pugs. They lie straight up to your face, when you asked them, if the boss mechanics are known. And after the first wipe or even after the second wipe they say "it's been awhile", "maybe you can recap the mechanics".

    Just two rules:

    First...don't pug before 8pm. Most of the kids are in bed. Grown up are more likely to speak up. Adults are more likely to follow instructions.

    Second...don't pug on weekends. Weekend players are the worst. Playing only two weekends a month, two hours at most, and respond to an Brontes HC call on fleet. Do less damage than the healer, etc...whole group is annoyed, but they "have fun". "It's just a game. Relax. We are here to have fun". Yeah right. I'm glad they don't q for another two weeks when this run is over.

    The worst...in two weeks they can show the achievo…"i've done this before".

    We totally need legacy igno...it's not good for both sides to run any kind of content together.

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    1. I don't think I recall ever being outright lied to in a pug. (People not responding to a question either way isn't the same thing.) In the example you described, following my own advice, I wouldn't assume malice but rather that people genuinely overestimated their knowledge of the fight. Great opportunity to teach them how to do it properly! :)

      And I've done plenty of pugging on weekends with no problems. I can't disagree that late nights bring out a particular kind of player though - from my experience people who tend to play late at night are usually a bit more chill about things and less rushed.

      Not sure what "HC" means but after a quick Google search I guess it's German shorthand for either veteran or master mode? Either way, those are not intended to be done with randoms, so in my opinion trying to do so is foolish to begin with and not really a strike against pugging in general. Also, maybe the rest of them really did have fun. :P Sounds like a case of mismatched expectations to me.

      Honestly, your comment sounds to me like you could increase your enjoyment of pugs a lot by taking points 1-4 of my post to heart. ;)

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    2. And since I realise the previous comment sounds maybe a bit aggressively cheerful/teasing, on a more serious note: You may have missed it, but your comment really is a very good illustration of the phenomenon I described in the post.

      You come across as quite seriously annoyed/angry, which runs counter to what points 1 and 4 are about. You talk about how other players suck compared to you (point 3). And while I don't know how you talk to people in your groups, the way you described your pug mates here is rather derogatory (point 2). You get out what you put in. Just some food for thought.

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    3. I guess for me the time is over, when i took this opportunities, and taught pugs somethings.

      If you see a Scoundrel DPS in Master Mode Flashpoint Rishi Standing in max-range and firing his auto attack all the time...no...just no...you can't educate this kind of stupid. Even if you tried.

      And no...i'm polite. But when i ask -and this is a direct quote- "you do know the scoundrel is a melee class?" and the only reaction from them is "player left the group". Was this to harsh? Tell me.

      Why is it my responsibility to make sure, the pug run is going smooth, when this pugs sabotage the run on purpose the second they q for Master Mode FP?

      All i want to hear is at the beginning of a pug run "i need instructions". And not after they wiped the group twice, joined starparse with 2.5k dps on a veteran mode ops boss fight. Dead last behind two healers. It is their responsibility as well.

      And this attitude is bothering me big times. I'm offended by that, and that makes me angry. Yes.

      And when i tell them, that their performance is not enough for veteran mode ops, suddenly i'm the bad guy for pointing it out? Six other players went silent after he joined starparse, nobody has the guts to tell him. And yes...when they start to discuss things, at this point i don't play nice anymore. Then they need to know that they suck. Big time.

      Don't pug in the afternoon, don't pug on weekends. People will deliberately work against the common goal to finish things smoothly.

      And yes...i should take Points 1 to 4 to heart. And i really try. When a healer forgets to cleanse. No biggy. Happens. But when you use Groupfinder for Master Mode FP, just capable to hit your auto attack, than i don't have to treat people with respect, cause they are disrespecting me.

      You said it yourself "You get out what you put in". When they go Master Mode FP without knowing their class, without knowing the bosses and (this is the main point) in addition without informing the group, they get, what they put in. A big pile of shit.

      Again...we absolutely need legacy igno. I don't want to see them ever again, and if they knew, what i think of them (most of the time they don't, cause most of the time i'm baffled and just quit), they don't want to see me again.

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    4. Funny you should mention auto-attacking. I remember one of my pugging episodes featuring a Vanguard who was doing nothing but hammer shot in Traitor Among the Chiss. The run eventually fell apart, but I thought it was hilarious! Yes, I wanted to complete the flashpoint (and I requeued for it later), but ultimately my main goal is entertainment, and wiping in a spectacular fashion can be funny too, so it's a win either way.

      I think expecting everyone in a pug to be good at the game is just setting yourself up for failure from the beginning. Sometimes people just need to learn, including very basic things such as that damage matters and that sometimes you wipe. It's not as if just playing through your class story will teach you that these days. To be honest, it always makes me kind of happy to see people just that clueless because it means that the game is still attracting plenty of new players even seven years later. When the only people queueing up anymore are all hardcore, it's a sign of a dwindling population.

      And yeah, I don't disagree that it would be nice to know in advance when someone's new. But sometimes people are so new at this they don't even realise the kind of questions they should be asking, and more importantly, regardless of what other people may be doing wrong, you're not making the run any better by getting angry about it. It just means that you go from having a run with a bad player to having a run with a bad player and an angry player, lol. I feel bad for the other group members! The only way to make a run better is to be better.

      And if you find yourself annoyed by someone causing a wipe by doing too little damage but the rest of the group is still having fun (for whatever reason, maybe someone's teaching their friend how to play and they are having a laugh, you can't always know), the thing to do is to say: "Sorry, but for me wiping because of low damage simply isn't fun, good luck" and remove yourself from the situation.

      Nobody goes into a run actively wanting it to fail, but I think you underestimate just how varied people's motivations for pugging are. Like Bhagpuss says in his comment above, just playing with other people can be entertainment in itself. So no, you're not responsible for teaching people, but they aren't responsible for providing you with exactly the kind of run you want either. If the degree of randomness you see in pugs just infuriates you, you're probably better off finding a guild with similar goals to yours. Means you can cut out the step of having to add a hundred people to your ignore list just to find some you enjoy playing with. :P

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