Scheduling the PvE Week

I think that raid schedules are both the best and the worst thing about raiding.

On the good side: You can slot your hobby neatly into your leisure time. All you have to do is pick a raid guild which raids whatever hours you want to play, make sure you have a bit of spare time to sort out any associated activities (like farming up gold for repair bills and enchants, sorting out consumables etc) and you’re good to go.

Not only that, but when you do log in, you have activities already organised. You know there will be other people around, and what sort of fun you can expect to have. It is predictable.

Of course, things don’t always go according to plan. Maybe half the raid falls sick and can’t make it. Maybe you log in to find that you’re benched that night. But that’s life.

On the down side: You’re working to someone else’s schedule. You can fake a dreadful illness if you really aren’t in the mood one night, but the whole deal can seem awfully like work. You have hours that you need to keep and other people rely on you being there to do your job.

If you can’t find a raid guild that raids on your preferred times, but still want to raid, then you’ll either be relying on PUG raids or feeling forced to log in when you would have preferred not to. The former is unpredictable (although a dedicated raid leader can build a fairly predictable raid up from PUGs if they don’t mind running them every week at the same time) and less likely to result in success. The latter is going to make you miserable and mess up your work/life/gaming balance.

Predictability per se is not always a good thing, but IF you want to fit a  hobby neatly into your leisure time, it’ll increase your chances of not sitting around all night feeling bored and waiting for something to happen.

In fact, I think the predictability of the PvE raiding week is one of the factors that has made WoW so very successful. People with limited time, who needed to be able to organise their fun in advance were able to turn it into exactly this kind of hobby. Doesn’t work so well in a non-instanced raid model where everyone turns up only to find that some other raid sniped the boss. Doesn’t work so well in a sandbox PvP model when everyone turns up to find that some other guys from your realm already took every keep a few hours earlier.

Don’t get me wrong, unpredictability is tons of fun and will always keep you on your toes. It probably even staves off burnout. But it also makes it way more difficult to control your online experience and schedule it in advance.

So – how do you organise the raid week?

OK, so let’s assume that you have enough raiding for several nights of entertainment for your guild. At least one encounter is still on progression, you haven’t yet completed it so you want to make enough time for several learning attempts. Some of your guys can still use upgrades from the raids that you do have on farm. You know which nights you raid on. So which nights do you schedule in for which raids?

The traditional (logical) approach:  Fit in the farm raids at the beginning of your raiding week. That way, people have the chance of picking up some gear upgrades from old bosses which may help when you do the progression raids. And in a new fight, any edge that you can get can help.

By this logic, you’d schedule your progression raids as late as possible in the week as you can. It gives raiders more time to improve their gear by any means possible before you throw them at the hardest encounter.

Progression is King approach: Focus people on the progression raid and  get them in there while they are still fresh (and not tired or bored). You also want plenty of time for learning wipes. So schedule the new stuff in right at the beginning, and keep going until it’s done. If that means taking more than one night, then you do it. And if that means that there isn’t time to fit in the farming raids too, then so be it.

It’s not ideal to lose a week’s worth of gear upgrades but if people’s gear is basically good enough then some of the more hardcore raid leaders figure that easy laid back runs can be a reward for completing harder content, not a statutory right.

The casual raid approach: Another take on scheduling is that in some casual raid groups, different people can only make specific week nights. So one goal of the raid leaders is to try to let everyone get a chance to fight and kill every boss. That means raids will get switched around in the schedule from week to week. It’s not always easy to do this. It’s an extra complexity that more hardcore guilds don’t have to deal with. But it should mean that even though progress may be slower, more people get to learn the fights and you can schedule the progression raids in whenenever you like.

The motivational approach: Late in the raid cycle when people are getting bored and have most of the gear they want from raids, it’s harder to get them to turn up. In some casual guilds, it’s also harder to get people to turn up to progression raids because a lot of players prefer the guaranteed loot and easy ride of the farmable instances.

So the schedule may not always be announced in advance. Raid nights will be given but the raid leaders might decide which raid to do on the night itself.

I’m never sure how successful it really is to not announce destinations in advance. I think people do like to be able to plan their week around the content they actually wanted to do.

We tend to the more casual approach and raid leaders tie themselves in knots to try to make sure that raids get swapped around so that everyone gets a chance to kill the bosses they need AND see the new content. I honestly can’t imagine how complex a scheduling job that really is. It’s a nightmare and we’re honestly lucky that they’re so dedicated.

How are your raids scheduled?

When good enough is Good Enough

If a PvE challenge is too tough, you can go away and do something else and come back later when you’re tougher and have better gear. In Japanese-style RPGs (which let’s face it, is where most of the quest based play was taken from) you can do this by wandering around and killing random monsters that turn up just for that purpose.

So you can control your own difficulty by deciding just how overpowered you want to be when you take on that fight. Think of how many times you’ve gone back to a lowbie area to one-shot some annoying mob that made your life hell a few months ago. Just because you can.

At end game, this doesn’t work so well any more. There are limits there on how much more powerful it is possible to get. And it also takes a lot more time and effort to pursue end game gearing. So an end game challenge can be genuinely difficult in a way that means it can’t (yet) be beaten by being outgeared.

You  balance how hard you want the fight to be with how long you want to spend preparing for it. Or in other words, you have two resources to balance: your time, and challenge difficulty. The more time you have, the easier it gets.

So what does this have to do with being good enough?

I’ve been reading blog posts recently discussing the concept of ‘good enough’ with respect to raiding. Gevlon argues from a pragmatic point of view that some people are too competitive for their own good and as long as you are good enough to pull your weight and do your job, it’s enough.

This is very much where I stand also. If you’re good at assessing what sort of challenges you can take on at your current level, then you can save a lot of time and effort. Why put in extra work when you don’t need to?

This attitude can be interpreted as being lazy, or being satisfied with being mediocre. It isn’t necessarily either of these. You’re certainly saving some time, but whether or not it’s lazy depends on what you do with the time that you had saved. (This is aside from it being just plain weird to accuse people of playing a game lazily.)

I value my time, and leisure time not spend grinding instances is time that I can spend with my spouse, hanging out with family or friends, time to catch up on BSG DVDs, time to blog, or just time to catch up on housework. All of these things are more important to me than having best in slot gear when I know I’m already good enough to fill my role in the raids we run.

From this perspective, ‘good enough’ is all about balancing out resources. My time, my fun, my in game goals. Fun is an odd quantity, not necessarily at odds to the other two, but it’s worth mentioning because ultimately games are played for fun and if you aren’t having enough fun, you will burn out (or realise that you aren’t getting your money’s worth and go play something else).

As an aside, I do wonder if we’d value our time more if we had to pay by the hour rather than use a subscription model. I’m not sure any RMT games use this model but for any that did, I’d expect the player base to be very focussed on efficiency.

This sense of ‘good enough’ is important to project managers and raid leaders also. Groups (both in game and at work) gain morale from successfully completing tasks. Time is always a limited resource. So is manpower. iRL, budgets are also an issue. And as a leader, you have to make the judgement call, ‘Are we good enough with what we’ve got now?’

And if you get it right, then it’s a success for the whole team. Not a lazy success, not a mediocre success, but a smart and efficient success.

Efficiency, the best efforts from the least time

One of the things that marks out the real hardcore guilds in game is their dedication to efficiency. Not to doing crazy stunts just to prove how hardcore they are, but to achieving the best results in the least time.

It isn’t necessarily the 5 raids a week guys you should be looking to for true hardcore. It’s the guys who keep a disciplined 2-3 raids a week. And are able to clear content with fewer hours invested into the raids.

This is not a blog about being hardcore, since I’m not. But I appreciate the challenge of doing the best you can with the resources that you have. It doesn’t mean that you can’t improve, any good raider will always be striving to do better, and if you aim for efficiency then you want to make every minute count. But at the end of the day you have to ask: Did we succeed in our goal? Was it fun? Did I stick within my time budget? And as a raid leader, you really don’t want to make people stick around while you wait for that last perfect person to log in if there’s someone else around who wants to come who will make the raid possible.

Oh yes, sometimes good enough is absolutely Good Enough.