Heroic dungeons, and what is the optimal length for an instance anyway?

I’ve been reading an increasing number of blogposts from dedicated WoW players recently who are finding that the current Blizzard model of instances just isn’t working for them.

Understand also that it’s hard for someone who’s been so tied to a game to start criticising it, and trying to understand why it’s not so fun for them any more.

Kaozz writes:

Last time I queued I waited 40 minutes (as dps) for a normal instance and logged before one popped up. While they want to take the pressure off healers for ‘covering’ for other people by flinging out tons of heals- it still falls on the healers as they sit OOM holding the group up. Even if the dps was too low they will still get blamed in many cases. It’s not a fix. It’s not fun. It’s not harder, its wasting time.

Here’s the dirty secret of heroics this time around. A lot of people don’t enjoy them. It’s not just the difficulty, it’s the time and focus that they require and the fact that you can add quite a lot to that time if you have someone along who doesn’t know the place.

If you always run heroics with your guild and you’re all well geared, you’re probably thinking this sounds inane. Because they are quite smooth if everyone is well geared and knows what they are doing. This however is not the PUG experience.

And once you add really long queues for dps into the mix, it’s not surprising that people start to fret. Telling them all to play tanks or healers is AN answer but for all you know they might have tank/ healer alts and just want a break. I’m not sure how easy it is to organise runs on trade chat at the moment either, I hear people doing it so presumably it must work ok. So there’s one option.

Joining a larger guild is another option, but some people enjoy smaller guilds for reasons other than gameplay. It worked well in Wrath to be able to be guilded with RL friends and still run instances whenever you wanted via LFG. People, understandably, don’t want to be forced out of that mould.

lonomonkey adds his voice to the mix:

We’re all very casual, playing when we feel like it and when time allows. We’re not out for epics, achievements or guild levels. Yet, we do like the occasional raid and we do want to progress our characters with heroics for example.  We can’t do that anymore in Cataclsym since we’re a small guild that doesn’t always have five member ready to run heroics.

I suspect that Blizzard had something fairly special going in Wrath with the combination of quick instances and LFD. Maybe in a few months time the Cataclysm instances will be like that as well, but right now they aren’t. And once you have burned people out on a game, they may not be in a terrible hurry to come straight back.

Or in other words, the model of “start hard, and then nerf” is just going to lose casual players who happen to be in at the start.

The perfect instance length

In college, we’ve always been told that 45 mins is about the right length for a lecture. Longer than that, you can’t concentrate. Shorter than that, you won’t learn as much. If ours go on longer, we always have a 5 min break at the 45 min mark. So I think 45 mins should be the upper bound on instance length, even allowing for a few wipes. Possibly with some exceptions, marked clearly, for people who want a longer run and longer instances could have save points along the way.

But how can you measure the length of an instance? A well geared, well drilled team will demolish just about anything in a smooth run. A first learning run will always take longer than a farm run. Even Wrath heroics  took awhile when we were first learning them.

It is an interesting problem. But one thing is clear, there’s a demand for shorter easier LFG-friendly instances right from the start of an expansion, rather than halfway through …

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44 thoughts on “Heroic dungeons, and what is the optimal length for an instance anyway?

  1. I just wrote a post on this same topic. I hate how long it takes to wait in the queue and then do a full dungeon run. It makes me want to play something else, where I can jump in and have a great 30-45 minute play session immediately.

  2. The thing is that there *are* shorter, friendlier LFD instances available: the normal modes.

    But the normal modes are too far from the edge. You need to do heroics to gear up for raids.

    My contention is that the current difficulty would work well if there were no raids. People would do normal modes, gear and rep up, and then tackle heroic modes as more endgame challenge, rather than a means to an end.

    • Or normal would be required to gear for heroics and raids. And then heroics themselves would be an alternative to raids requiring “the same” effort and rewarding “the same” gear with the same amount of time investment.

      • I like that idea. And I also wonder if they should have not introduced heroics at all until the next tier.

        Maybe hardcore raiders would have been bored, but they’d have raids to occupy themselves with.

      • I think what they have going right now is perfect, to be honest. Other than the long queue times for dps, but like what was already mentioned there are alternatives. If you don’t like long queue times and if you don’t want to join a larger guild, perhaps you’re asking a bit too much. Wrath was the same way when it first launched, except there was no dungeon finder. It could take you close to an hour just to form a group. Before the LFD tool, people were forced to search out for people on the same server to run dungeons with. At first, this took a bit of time and effort. After time, for myself anyway, I collected a large friends list of players I knew from running those dungeons. We didn’t have to be in the same guild, but we were acquainted enough to know how well one another played.

        This was actually how I recruited for my raiding guild and it has been a bit harder to find good players on my server since the release of LFD.

        Perhaps the answer just lies in not using the LFD tool and finding other players to friend on your server to run with.

      • I always run with somebody I know when doing Heroics, disorientguy. Even if it’s one person. And this has a few benefits.

        1) It cut’s down que time…especially if a person(s) you know is a tank or healer.

        2) Increases knowledge pool where you can stratergize better. Making the run likely smoother.

        3) Decreases the chances of Vote Kicking abuse to you…and other forms of harrassment, so making mistakes as we learn is much more forgiving.

        4) And it’s always nice to have good company. Perhaps a placebo effect…but it makes the Heroic experience more enjoyable.

        Whether is cut’s down on the dungeon time itself remains to seen. And as Spinks has pointed out, it’s likely dependent on where you and the other person or persons you know that you are grouped with are at.

  3. For me, the root issue is that WotLK drastically changed the approach that everyone took towards instances. Before WotLK, an instance was something that I and my friends specifically set time aside for. We knew it would likely involve an hour or two or three to complete an instance. I’ve been in the same guild for five years now, and we actually used to do sign-ups for instances.

    Then came Wrath, and the shorter, easier instances, and then later the Dungeon Finder. Instances turned from something you set time aside for to something that you did over and over, mostly with strangers. My guild wasn’t exempt from that, we all turned into chain puggers.

    Right now, I am at the point again where I set aside time for heroics. In order to get raid-ready, we have set times where we run guild heroics. It means that during the week I run very few instances, because I don’t have the time to dedicate. It doesn’t bother me at all, I keep busy, but I can understand that people who started playing at a later time and are used to the Wrath state of things, how that’d be a problem for them.

  4. Personally I think a Teo hour daily is too long! (40 minutes q and 80 minutes if your lucky dungon).

    I would have liked to have all dungons set at three bosses initially then once it’s faceroll new bosses be added with an additional aspect to make it challenging.

  5. “It is an interesting problem. But one thing is clear, there’s a demand for shorter easier LFG-friendly instances right from the start of an expansion, rather than halfway through …”

    I think the problem is, that they did not change the name of heroics.
    In wrath, a heroic dungeon, was at about the same difficulty as a normal Cata dungeon.
    So players that did not pay much attention, assumed that they should throw themselves into heroics asap.
    Thing is, heroic dungeons are now, heroic.
    If they had gone the route of “heroic” then “super-kaplow” dungeons, then the confusion would have been removed, and people would have run their heroics like they did in wrath, and their “super-kaplow” dungeon, like they where intended.

    There are plenty of the dungeons you are asking for, they are just called normal dungeons.

  6. Good post. The only good thing about the long queues (me being a shadow priest) is that I jump on my static bycicle while waiting. At this rate I am going to get over fit. WOW is a much better exercise than videoconsoles like Wii…

    I really think they need to make the dungeons shorter but not easier. The sense of achievement will be gone.

    Yesterday I joined Vortrex Pinacle and was very easy compared to a few days ago (the boss with tornadoes now is cake and I think the trash mobs health have been lowered, or that is my impression!). The run took us around 50 minutes while last week was around 2 hours. And the feeling at the end was worse than previous time.

    They should leave the difficulty as it was and increase the rewards

  7. This remains an issue of have too wide a target audience, and not being capable to balancing for everyone. If the instance takes my guild group 45 minutes, then it’s too long for a pug. If it takes a pug 45 minutes, then it’s too short for my guild group. If the heroic requires people to know what they’re doing the guild group enjoys the challenge, but many pugs can’t handle it. To make an instance truly pug-friendly requires making it so forgiving that it poses no challenge for a competent group.

    And on top of that Blizzard just can’t fix the queue. Too many people play DPS and not enough tanks/healers (and more power to them!), and it sucks, but it’s just not something they can fix.

    Making instances easier encourages more people to play their offspecs for shorter queues, but then we go right back to instances being too easy. Naturally people are less inclined to do this when there’s a higher chance of failure (and blame).

  8. You raise an interesting question; it’s hard to measure the time a 5man really requires. so many factors play into it that you cannot answer the question to suit every type of player.

    while losing some more casual gamers early on, I think you risk the same thing longterm if you make instances too easy; they lose their appeal way too fast, the items people were after have been acquired way too early. that leads to monotony and boredom rather swiftly and causes people to leave the game due to ‘lack of content’ just as much, as opposed to ‘too hard content’. the only difference then is probably the timing of when you lose those players…

    I wonder if developers can only ever choose between those two options, or whether there would be a the ‘perfect’ way of doing it, that motivates players both short- and longterm. I’d dare to say that there is not.
    and with the harder 5mans I see at least one advantage and that is that a challenge might still keep more players in the game (hoping it gets better soon or waiting for nerfs) than the other way around. if you burn through content too fast, you definitely won’t hang around – whereas in the opposite case, you still have something to wait on.
    so from that PoV Blizzard has chosen the lesser of two evils.

  9. Realistically, the “perfect length” is commensurate with the time frames a person has to give in the first place. A person who only has 15 minutes here or there would benefit from a 5 minute time frame so they have some wiggle room to definitely get at least one run in. One hour is more like 20 minutes, however if you had say 3 hours the shift to measuring in hours would suggest an ideal time frame of 2 hours. Ergo, there is no platonic right length for an instance.

    I strongly suspect that Blizz is suffering from the “players really suck at tactics” effect. As a designer, tactical difficulty looks very enticing, it goes outside the math, makes things more interesting, and it sits nicely between puzzle solving and hit it with sharp sticks. Problem is, most people are rather terrifically bad at tactics. They don’t see what was wrong with the suicide charge at the end of Avatar or how it could have been done better. To many people there can be no other answer than “hit it with a bigger stick!” And this is as much because they never really spent all that much time learning about themselves, and what their own character was really capable of. This isn’t something new blizzard introduced, it’s just something they stopped selecting for by allowing gear and other factors to remove the necessity of self-awareness.

    Now if that worked for them before, then they’ve started to build expectations. Expectations that are now being soundly smashed. The most unfortunate part of unexpected tactical difficulty, is that it only takes a little to completely * people up.

    @Syl
    Of course there is a perfect middle road. You just can’t get there from where WoW is. You’d have to back up and rethink what an instance is, what levels mean, what gear is for, and primarily how you divide people. Of course once you’ve changed all that, there’s no guarantee you’d have any players to care whether your content curve was perfect or not.

    • Perfect for whom though?
      I think from that PoV you can never find the middle road. if you assume that the majority of WoW players are casuals for example, they don’t want a middle road – OR rather, their middle road is a totally different one from let’s say myself who raids in the average 25man guild, or a more hardcore 5days/week raider. you will always have to ask yourself ‘perfect for whom’. and who are the loudest on blizzard’s forums usually, there’s another good question.

    • I think this is a good argument for short instances. So people with longer timeslices can just run them multiple times.

      But are there any good arguments for longer instances. Is it more fun to run a single instance that fills your timeslice than to run multiple short ones, for example?

      • Like I said, it depends on the time slice. For an inherently short time slice, you have to deal with organizing it, introductions, meshing your group into a unit. In my personal experience, even well organized groups can never really get rid of that process. So a short bit allows the group to incorporate the first run as part of the meshing process, just like a counterstrike pub team will spend the first round of a map just figuring themselves out.

        When you have a fairly long time though, this isn’t as much an issue. If you can afford to spend 30 minutes just getting everyone ready to go in, and get everyone basically functional by the first boss or so. In this case it’s better just to have one long instance so that people don’t quit out of boredom and force everyone else to go back through the organization process.

        @Syl
        But that’s all part of the gating process. Those 5 day a week raiders will naturally out gear everything relatively quickly, while the casuals will naturally fall behind and actually have to work harder in the long term than the other people since they can’t just overcome poor tactics with better equipment or enhancements. So of course the curve of content difficulty over time looks completely different between the two player groups. If gear didn’t make much of a difference than the two curves would overlap a fair amount. Remove both level and gear gating and now everyone moves commensurate with their interest and skill. Simply have a decent curve, and everyone will naturally fall along their point within it.

        But that wouldn’t be WoW, so nobody would play it.

  10. I think Kadomi has the right of it. I think the shock to the system for people are mostly those that are used to Wrath heroics. If you were sitting at top level in BC and not raiding (well we were raiding, but only Kara and later ZA) heroics were still not something to zerg.

    Like someone mentioned above, in BC we used to have guild heroic night with signups and everything and you set aside the evening to do 1 (maybe once you were better geared 2) in one evening. And you definitely wouldn’t be running one every night.

    In Wrath I geared up a couple of alts in purples from chaining heroics almost from the point they dinged 80 and getting gazillions of badges.

    I am not sure why they went from one end of the spectrum to another and back again and if I am perfectly honest, I now look back on the Wrath heroics with a bit of longing.

    If I want to commit several hours to one run, I will go to a raid. If I want to be really challenged, I will go to a raid.

    I assume that the difficulty level of the heroics is tuned the way it is to provide a kind of gating – if you do less heroics then you get less gear and less points, which means it will take you longer to overgear them (and need to go to raids for upgrades).

    I can see both sides of this one and there are upsides and downsides with both ways of doing it.

  11. I’m not even 85 yet, and I have only run a couple of instances when guildies have bugged me. I just am not interested in dedicating the time and effort.

    I’m not sure what PvP is going to be like at endgame either. I get the impression PvP, with the emphasis on pre-mades, is much less casual friendly as well

  12. You wrongfully assume that heroics are meant for mindless farming.

    No! Heroics are the ENDGAME for casual players and they should handle it the same way (though for a lesser extent) as raiders handle their raids. So set time, read up, prepare. If he wants to run a heroic with his friends, set it up on the calendar.

    If heroics would be nerfed, the casuals would have no content at all after they farmed heroics. In WotLK you could go to /trade raids, even the most obnoxious idiots could do 4/12 ICC. Now the raids are back where they belong.

    • No! Casuals should not need to dedicate a set time, read up and prepare for a heroic. If they did all this, why wouldn’t they just raid? The beauty of Wrath was being able to log in, run a random daily, and log off in less than an hour. Every one had fun. When I wanted to play longer, I looked for a pug raid, or something organized.

  13. Here’s the thing – last night we did an HoO run with guildies and we had all melee dps. Except for Rajh – we one shot the bosses [skipped a couple of the upper ones because of time constraints] yet we wiped repeatedly on trash [yup, we were moving out of bad].

    It was our healer’s first heroic and one of the tank’s first as well [hubby and I got cast as dps despite being main spec tanks]. We wasted so much time dealing with the same trash pack 10 times over that it was ridiculous. That’s not “heroic”. That’s repetitive time-consuming nonsense.

    • Maybe you should just stop calling them trash. Sure getting killed by the non-boss mobs sucks, but isn’t it just karma for arrogantly calling them trash when they’re actually presenting you with a proper challenge?

  14. The problem with Heroics are the trash. The idea is that trash mobs teach you how to kill the next boss. However, that’s not the case anymore. Now trash is just annoying and time-consuming.

    I’m going to be in the minority here, but my favorite raid is ToC. No trash, all bosses. A good group clears it in 45 minutes. A shitty group wipes all night. No mindless trash, just boss mechanics.

  15. How many wrath dungeons had 5-7 bosses? I think only Gundrak had 5. Hard is fine, it’s the # of bosses and trash packs that turn a 30 min run into an hour or more. I thought I was going to go insane my first time through heroic deadmines… it just seemed to keep going and going, topped off by a long (albeit cool) final boss event.

  16. “In college, we’ve always been told that 45 mins is about the right length for a lecture”

    Almost all my graduate level classes – about 60 over a 25 year period – were 80-90 minutes in length. Day and evening lectures.

    I strongly agree with Sara Pickell’s opinion; the “perfect length” is commensurate with the time frames a person has to give in the first place.

    • The maximum effectively length is 20 minutes. The research I have seen showed students will “absorb” just as much material ina 20 minute lecture as with 40 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes, etc.

      But this is why you take notes. Lectures do not really “teach,” they hand you the material in a slightly different format than simply handing you the textbook. It is still up to you to do the learning.

      • I have heard this. I think the argument was that if you allow people 15 mins or so to settle down and start paying attention, you then have 20 mins of full attention in which to teach them, and another 5 to wind down. I suspect that’s the kind of thinking that leads ours to 45 mins.

  17. I’d like to see a huge increase in OOC mana regen. If the healer goes OOM every pull, fine, as long as no one died they are clearly meeting the minimum standards. Let them stress out about their lack of room for error. But that shouldn’t hold up the rest of the group.

  18. I have to agree with Gevlon that assuming Heroics are just stepping stones to raid and should just be an aoe fest is just plain wrong. Raiders could use the same argument to nerf normal raid modes since they are not the end game, or even nerf all heroic bosses except Sinestra since they are not the end game boss.

    Yes they can tone them down just a little bit but bringing them down to Wrath heroics by the end of WOTLK when we are just about a month or two in the expansion is just plain silly. People will be able to ROFL stomp through heroics again, now is just not the time.

    I understand the not Pug friendly state of the heroics but you don’t really need a full guild run, you can get away with 3-4 or sometimes 2 if you can carry them. Also I think its not about being “PUG friendly”, its about heroics not being frienly to players who cheat Ilvls, doesnt know the mechanics of the fights, who are lazy to farm the normal modes first cause they are sooo above normal lvl 85 5mans, and those that doesn’t use all the tools of their class.

  19. Pingback: The Cataclysmic WoW disease « Screaming monkeys

  20. Heroics right now are back to where BC heroics/early Wrath heroics were: they take time, dedication, knowledge, and a decent group set-up. In addition, some “casuals” still haven’t run every single heroic and can’t do the encounters blind-folded with one arm tied behind their back.

    However, I’m not personally sweating it. People are going to run heroics/instances more and more. In addition, people are gearing up more and more. Soon enough, heroics will gradually become easier and easier, as familiarity and gear increase (you can see this now – think back on a regular run a week after Cat and a regular run now).

  21. I really feel that the gripe over difficulty at present is the consequence of entitlement in the last year of WotLK. We spent an entire year in 3.3, with T9 available from heroic emblems. That’s two tiers above the first raid of WotLK. Add onto that the access to BoAs and BoEs from mains, and fresh 80s were outgearing the bottom-tier Heroics in no-time. For some reason, people didn’t grasp that using gear that was multiple tiers above the content they were doing would make that content easy. It was no surprise to me at all that I could virtually two-man most of the content with my warrior and a healer; when I was healing, I spent most of my time DPSing because there was nothing to heal. Steamrolling that content would be an understatement.

    We were using iLvL 232/245 epics to take on content that rewarded iLvL 200 rares. I.e., we were 20% ahead the curve.

    Now, we’re using iLvL 325/333 rares to take on content that rewards iLvL 346 rares. I.e., we’re 5% behind the curve.

    Even with skill (of which I’ve seen plenty, both from my guild and pugs), this content should not be trivial. Of course it’s challenging – we’re barely meeting gear requirements in some cases!

    A few fights still feel overtuned to me in my mix of 346/359 gear (Beauty without full CC, for instance), but just as many feel undertuned (Lord Walden, anyone? Red Light/Green Light + dodge shards, profit). That’s a great balance in my mind. Trash packs also require some thought, but I find myself using less and less CC with my current gear. Wise cooldown rotations can mitigate the opening burst, and control isn’t too difficult for me to maintain (healer mana rarely seems to be an issue either, though I happily take a break when I see it drop).

    All in all, I’ve loved the design. I also feel that, when T13 releases and we all have T12 from justice points, that daily heroics will be steamrolled just as they were in WotLK’s T9. This sense of entitlement to super-easy instances directly off the bat is foolish. If we burn the content so quickly, there’s no challenge to the game anymore. I have TV and books when I want entertainment without challenge – nerfing the gaming experience to that level would be disappointing.

  22. It’s hard to gauge what the perfect instance length should be. But I do think it should be much shorter than than that of what a raid would consist of.

    The line seems to be blurred when it comes to ‘trivial’ and challenging content. Raid vs group. I’ve always thought group content to be more so casual and something that shouldn’t tie you down for too long.

  23. Variety in instances ought to be the key. Have a set of them that are tuned for lower performance and a set that are tuned more tightly. Let people queue for each tier of dungeons according to their ability and interest. This is somewhat done with normal and heroic modes plus level 81+ or 83+ instances but the queuing mechanism is rough, there aren’t enough instances at any one tier and the upper end is limited.

    Of course the other variation on this theme is dynamically tuned instances. Blizzard could design instances that take 45 minutes for almost any group. If you get a group that’s struggling, the instance itself could adjust content to make it faster/easier. Likewise, if the group is steamrolling it, the instance could become harder. Things like how long it takes to kill a boss, average player gear levels, group class composition, wipes, reasons for death, healer mana pools, tank health pools; all of these are known to the game. A smart game could take account and adjust boss HP, add/remove optional mechanics, add/remove trash, swap one boss for another, adjust damage/duration of special abilities, add buffs/debuffs to the group or individuals, show or hide rooms, etc. A very smart game could nerf bosses as you wipe on them so that every boss is able to be killed with enough effort; only the combat experience is different.

  24. One of the things I don’t understand (not having reached 85 yet) is why Normal mode is completely unacceptable.

    I mean “heroic” is supposed to be hard isn’t it? Not everyone is a hero.

    Is the gap between heroic and normal loot so wide that it’s better to have a horrible night of wiping and waiting for replacement rather than breeze through 3 or 4 normal mode dungeons feeling uber?

    • This is exactly what I would suggest, except: there are only three level-85 tuned normal dungeons. There are two level-83 tuned normal dungeons that can be accessed at 85 still, but those are really easy (with less than stellar rewards for 85’s).

      Also, everyone thinks they’re a “hero” in this game, and in a certain way they are entitled to have that power fantasy. It is a game after all – it should have that fun factor. People just have that WotLK mindset, though, where “Heroic = AoE grindfest for lolepix, amirite?”

    • It’s down to progression.

      The game is set out so that if you aren’t progressing, you are probably wasting your time. So once someone has the gear they need from normal instances, they’re not actually getting anything useful after the first instance of the day (because that gives extra badges).

      ie. there’s no reason for people to keep running normals, no rewards for doing it. And grinding instances in itself isn’t fun enough to keep people at it.

      If they gave out heroic level gear for normal instances, people would happily run them, I’m sure.

      • Yeah, there was one valid suggestion I saw that said the normal-difficulty dungeons should always reward some JP. It obviously wouldn’t be as efficient, but it would be one way to keep gearing up without breaking your back in Heroics. Then again, just 70 JP for a 45-minute normal dungeon can feel pretty grindy, too.

    • - Most normal dungeons don’t reward reputation, only the 85 ones do.
      – They reward less reputation then heroics which is your most important source for gear at the moment.
      – You can nearly deck your char out in 333 gear from quests and the justice points you saved from WotLK. There are no upgrades in non-85 normals and very few in the few 85 ones.
      – The queue for DPS is much much much longer.

  25. Wrath didn’t have any secret formula for making the queues shorter. In Cata dungeons and heroics because more challenging for DPS and some of the class mechanic changes to healer and tanks turned off some people.

    Sounds weird, but it’s true.

    I loved my Hunter in vanilla, TBC and into WotLK but after the class changes (right before Cata release)? Meh. I liked it less and switched over to tanking with my DK. That required learning how that class worked for tanking as I was running it as Unholy and using it as my enchanting/alchemy ho. hehe

    So my guess is the queue time is big for DPS because a lot of tanks/healers said, “F this.”

  26. When actually playing the instance, almost any length is ok. But when not… most of then take too long, because they block “my” tank/healer and there’s nothing else to do than stupid farming. ALL “progress”-quests done.
    Fast char switching could be the answer: quequeing one and leveling another…

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