The lifecycle of a [WoW] guild

Scott Andrews wrote a very good column in WoW Insider yesterday, discussing how guilds die.

I was particularly taken by his experience of his own guild, because I think this mirrors the experience of a lot of players.

First the guild is born, possibly with a core of players who know each other in real life. Then it grows. The game is still newish but by the time the original founders get to max level, they find out about raiding and decide that they want to do it.

So, initially as a social guild, the guild starts organising raids. Many find they aren’t able to keep up the constant attendance from an appropriately geared, motivated and varied set of classes. The ones who do keep going, possibly recruiting extras as needed. At this point they usually are still trying to hang onto their social ethos and avoid doing things like stacking classes (ie. benching raiders for being the wrong class) and give everyone a chance.

Some raiders will become more hardcore than others. As soon as the social guild starts to slip behind progression, the more hardcore players will switch to more hardcore guilds. Strong leadership from the guild with well organised raids and tendencies towards progression can put this off for awhile.

Eventually the stresses start to show, particularly on officers and raid leaders. And all it takes is a couple of weeks off raiding, or a couple of failed raids before remaining hardcore raiders drift off to form their own raids, or join other raid guilds. And once the core is gone and the officers are too burnt out to rebuild from scratch, the guild dies.

It’s not inevitable this happens to all guilds. Many thrive without being hardcore raid guilds and still offer raiding (mine has a good compromise, but even so, the raid group has been tending more progression focussed with every expansion.)

What does it mean? It means that WoW (and it is specifically WoW) is teaching players that the only smart way to play in a goal oriented way is to join an individualistic bunch of people who share exactly the same goal.

A game which encouraged more broad based guilds would teach instead the values of negotiation, co-operation, and getting a lot of different people with different goals  to pull together.

I’d be curious to know if anything has any thoughts about the typical lifecycle of guilds in other games.

Thoughts on LOTRO FTP

So, I’ve finally started to pay attention to LotRO again seriously since the European game went free-to-play and we actually have some new content to muck about with. Not only new content in terms of land-mass and quests, but also newly-scaled instances, new barter items to grind and a little class revamp for those of the Captain persuasion (which is me, naturally).

New specs – no problem. I can see the benefits of having some more viable speclines available to me, even if I still don’t like many of the individual traits it’s been interesting to toy around with them.

New quests – Enedwaith is pretty. I like the varied land, the quest hubs, the flow of the story. The epic book wasn’t too bad, shame it didn’t have any group content in – even if it had been done skirmish-style, like the Mirkwood book. I miss some grouping in epic books – often it helps make them feel more… epic. I am, however, taking the questing quite slowly and progressing at a much slower pace than I’m used to. I’m kind of enjoying that, despite feeling slow compared to my more ‘hardcore’ buddies. There’s a LOT of repeatable quests for barter items and reputation also. If you’ve not done the quests the first time, you don’t get to do the repeatables (fairly obvious), but I should, eventually, get some more of those done. I probably do a few more than many, but nothing like the hardcore playstyle I used to favour. Sometimes I feel bad about this, like I’ve fallen off some wagon. Other times, I remember I’m just doing other things instead.

Newly-scaling instances. Fun, distracting, a bit like skirmishes when they first came in, but with better reward structures. Have so far done Ost Elendil, two of the Barrows instances, and a couple of runs in Helegrod. I’d possibly have done more, but I’ve had a busy couple of weeks.

So I was reading about the November update, where Loremasters do very nicely (one day, Captains will receive some proper love from devs, honest!), and where class consumables get introduced (the summary linked to from mmorsel is the best out there). First thought – seriously, NOTHING for tailors again? Second thought – we can craft them or buy them from the store? Third thought – some of these look pretty essential for raiding performance, others not so much. Now, right now the better versions of all the consumables are crafted. That’s good. But the next tier down can be bought…

…so far, I think Turbine’s implementation of free-to-play has shown a great deal of thought. We can buy stuff and I’m sure they’re making a lot more money than they were, but nothing yet that I feel I have to buy. Although I was told this week by a fellow raider than anyone not buying stat tomes is an idiot. Colour me idiotic then, because I managed to raid with my ‘rubbish’ stats last week and truthfully since f2p came in and people bought stat tomes, we’ve done worse generally! I probably will spend my points on stat tomes eventually, and I do resent them more than anything in the store – but hey, there has to be some blatant money-making in there. Class consumables makes me want to watch the store more closely and I wonder how long before Turbine pushes the limits. Will we ever be expected to spend actual money to keep up enough to raid? Will that be a neat excuse for me to drop raiding? I only have a rubbish craft (ie. tailoring), and I find it difficult to get people to craft stuff for me. I make money and I end up spending it on tokens, scrolls, potions and I guess I’ll do the same for consumables in the future. But if I didn’t raid, I wouldn’t have to do any of that!

Tempting!

Thought for the Day: What happens when people get bored of raiding?

I think that raiding as a preferred playing style in MMOs  is on a long downwards spiral. There’s really no trend to show that people are dying to spend more time in tight knit raid guilds with regular weekly raid nights, far from it, the trends are towards more solo and casual play.

And although more people than ever before have been able to raid in Wrath, that just means that people who hadn’t seen raids before might now be able to decide, “Well, that was OK but never again.” Especially if opportunities for PUG raids or casual raiders are reduced in the new expansion, which is likely for the first few months at least. (10 man raids are more sensitive to people being able to commit to regular weekly raids, not less because they’re likely to have fewer people ‘on the bench’.)

Rohan commented recently that he sees issues with the new rated battlegrounds too, and I think he’s right on the money with this one. I particularly like his categories of transient vs extended group content — eg. a PUG is a transient group which forms for a single session, and a raid group is an extended group which forms with the expectation of regular weekly/ daily assaults on extended raid content.

So what are the casual players to do if they aren’t able or willing to commit to something as long term as a regular raid group or battleground group? And how about people who are bored of raiding because they’re bored of the regularity of the whole thing, what can they do to break up the tedium?

I think that WoW, for better or worse, is tied to this form of endgame and will continue to cater to it until the last server is turned off (ie. possibly not in my lifetime!) but people tiring of raiding is an opportunity for some more agile developer to ask, again, what is an MMO really all about? Is it just PvP over territory again and again and again or raiding? Is it just adding more solo grinds? Or could it be something else?

Or perhaps people will just dip into more of the F2P games, play a bit until something else comes along, and endgame as such will be only for the ultra hardcore. (As opposed to just the hardcore as it is now.)

Bad News, Good News, Cute Cat

Not too unhappy!

Last week I discovered my Dragon Age save files  have become somewhat corrupted, so I now can’t be bothered to finish my second playthrough, and I was relatively near the end (at the Arl Howe stuff).

I’m bummed, I preferred my second character, and got so far with it, but now I’ve shelved the game until Dragon Age 2 is out. I hope for less issues and I will be starting a new character anyway. Means I didn’t get to play quite a bit of the DLC (which I found not really to be worth the money) nor the expansion. I’ll live. One day I’ll go back to it. Perhaps.

It put me off gaming last week, since I sat down all ready to lose a day to finishing the game. Bad News.

On sunday, I dragged myself to the LotRO kin raid to Barad Guldur where we actually made progress in our fight against the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur. It’s been a while since I honestly thought we’d made any good progress, and more importantly I didn’t wipe the group once, so I have a little more faith in my ability to pay attention, even when I hate a fight. So that was my Good Luck in gaming. I know it sounds self-deprecating, but the fight is so annoying on a micro-management level, and includes (for me), healing, running around to try and hit a fell beast but moving out of range of its tail and mouth, watching for fear on others, watching for yellow and/or purple eyes on me and reacting accordingly – and all later in the evening than I would like, concentration-wise. So while I’m glad the group, as a whole, made progress, I’m more happy that I managed to hold my attention the entire however-many-attempts we had. I think, now, that we will be able to down him. But I still have no love lost to Barad Guldur and will be glad when we can go to Helegrod again!

(and in secondary good news, I get to play Deathspank for the PC roday after pre-ordering my first ever game on Steam!)

Thought of the Day: On welfare epics, workers, and the industrial MMO economy

Once upon a time, in the pre-industrial age, life was simpler and easier to understand in the MMO world. People quietly got on with their own game and formed into like minded guilds, mostly for social reasons or to work on shared tasks. Some took a hardcore raiding approach and were somewhat respected as the server elite (by some people at least). But there was very little pressure on players to stress over their gear and play if they weren’t in one of those guilds. Raiding society put a lot of emphasis on which guild you joined, but outside this circle it was mostly unimportant.

As raiding became more accessible, there was a lot more pressure on regular players to buy in to the system. A system which defined players by the progression of their current guild and forced those who were deeply concerned with their status to put in more and more time, and keep jumping to more and more progressed guilds.

You could imagine raid guilds as being like production lines. The pressure on players to conform and gear and play to an approved style (with the use of external metrics like gearscore and damage meters to enforce) was like the work ethic that was imposed on pre-industrial workers in the real world. Lists of meaningless achievements replaced meaningless production goals set down by management, which in turn replaced meaningful individual goals from the pre-industrial MMO which people defined for themselves.

And the welfare epics? Well named, perhaps, because just as in the real world, welfare picked up some of the slack in that there were more workers than there were jobs; more players who wanted to be part of the endgame than there were guild spots.

So if that’s the industrial cycle, what happens now? Are we drifting into a post-industrial MMO age where raiding might become optional again, or at least less of a defining factor in how a player sees themselves?

When a man is tired of raiding, he’s tired of … MMOs?

I don’t know about any of you but I’m just not as into raiding these days as I used to be. I still enjoy the social side because I like the people in my regular raids a lot, but I know that I used to … care more.

When I first started raiding properly in WoW I’d happily plonk my character outside BWL for hours at a time, just in case my raid needed a substitute. Sure, I was reading or browsing the web while I waited but I was still excited just to be there and to be part of a big 40 man raid guild. I look back now as if it was a different person – how mad do you have to be to log into a game with all your raid preparables, and just wait for 4 hours??

Is it pre-Wrath burnout? Could be. I’d like a break but I don’t want to let my raid group down, especially as at least one of the other tanks can’t be there right now. And since it only takes one night a week it seems churlish to make an issue of it, I still enjoy our raids.

Is it because ICC has been so dull for tanks? I’m sure this is part of it, ICC doesn’t have many cool tanking fights. This in turn doesn’t make me enthused to tank any future raids, unless I see Blizzard acknowledge it and say that they want to do better. If I sign up to tank in Cataclysm, will I hate it? Is this the shape of things to come?

Is it to do with the way 10 mans worked out this expansion? This is probably part of it. I don’t have a regular 10 man raid, and many others in my 25 man raid group do. Coupled with the fact I can’t make one of our regular two raid nights, I feel increasingly pressured when learning new fights because half our raid already has practised them several times and is bored when I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on.

Or is it just that raiding in MMOs has run its course for me? It’s been loads of fun and I have brilliant memories but … do I want to keep doing this?

All I know is that I am increasingly wondering how much I’ll want to raid in Cataclysm. More people in Wrath have gotten to raid than ever before in WoW, many of them in PUGs but plenty of regular organised raids have also found traction that couldn’t before. And I wonder how many of them now think ‘yup, that was fun, but I don’t want to do it again.’

Maybe it’s just that the structural side of progression raiding doesn’t suit my temperament or circumstance any more. Raid groups require you to sign up with one class/ spec and stick with it for the whole expansion (or until you swap guilds), and commit to a raid schedule for a similar amount of time. It’s a big commitment, even for one night a week. And if you are the sort of person who loves their alts or tends to get bored of a spec after you’ve played it for over a year, it will start to drag.

As MMOs become more accessible, perhaps fewer and fewer people will want to make that sort of regular commitment. Or in other words, maybe it isn’t (just) me. Perhaps Gevlon has the right of it, and it’s his style of PUG guild which is the best model for the future.

And I also know that part of the excitement for me in Wrath was being able to raid tank for the first time. There was a lot to learn, and  I am the poster child for Raph Koster’s theory of fun – I enjoy games the most when I’m learning new things and trying to master them. Next time, it won’t be so much of a thrill.

Ultimately I’m considering organising some casual 10 man raids for the guild in Cataclysm. If all works out, they’ll be more flexible in terms of who has to be there and what class/ role people play. I think that might suit me better.

Is anyone else wondering whether they want to keep raiding in Cataclysm?

Transferable skills: Raiding in LOTRO

bg_lin1 Note: I am going to be discussing raiding as it is now on EU servers. We don’t yet have the latest F2P patch with the associated rules changes, new content, and so on. We don’t yet have a date for it either.

I now have enough radiance on my gear to be able to set foot into Barad Guldur (BG), which is the big Mirkwood raid instance. It is a change of pace from Moria with more animated suits of armour and fewer mushrooms; but there are still plenty of orcs. The end boss is (dah dah DAH) a Nazgul, and I’m not sure what happens if you kill it but if we find out I’ll let you know.

Me being there at all is only possible because of an infinitely patient raid group which is also in need of warm bodies. I have in fact given up trying to understand how raiding works in my kinship. They are all very nice, but I feel as though the newbie raid group threw radiance gear at me and now  don’t seem concerned whether I raid with them (I have always assumed previously that good raid etiquette was to raid with the guys who geared you). So I’m thrown in with the big boys and girls, into proper LOTRO progression raiding! They have all been remarkably nice about having a noob on board.

So how does LOTRO raiding compare with WoW raiding

Raiding in LOTRO reminds me a lot of raiding in the later raids of vanilla WoW. Obviously we don’t have 40 people, these are 12 man raids, but there are several similarities:

  • Trash mobs need some strategy. The pulls are carefully planned, tanks allocated to mobs, kill order required and use of raid marks and assists widely used.
  • Endurance boss fights. The LOTRO designers like longish boss fights so typically, once you have figured out what to do, your raid has to continue to do it flawlessly for several minutes.
  • There is plenty of movement and interaction in the actual boss fights. This is why I’m reminded of the end of AQ40 or parts of Naxx40, rather than earlier instances. The end boss of BG in particular is an extremely demanding fight which gets significantly harder if even one person dies.
  • Lots of abbreviations. This is probably standard for any MMO, but the LOTRO raids have abbreviations for the different instances, different bosses, different class abilities and talents (I fled to the net when someone gave me advice on how to spec so that I could decode it) and people will expect you to know them if they are mentioned mid fight.
  • The designers aren’t concerned about making fights that favour either melee or ranged to a great extent. But melee seem to get the shaft more often. Maybe this is inevitable in boss fight design but it does my head in to be standing and just watching an entire phase of a boss fight without being able to do anything.

The picture in the screenshot above is a trash fight in Barad Guldur. In this one, the raid pulls a group of wights. Each wight will focus on one player for a set amount of time (20s or so) and follow them around before switching to someone else. So the goal is for everyone to run away from their wights whilst killing everyone elses’.

If this sounds like mad fun, it is. And as an extra spice, imagine a UI which doesn’t announce who is being followed. You just have to keep an eye open.

Here’s some ways in which LOTRO raiding really struck me as different from WoW:

  • It takes a long time to recover between wipes. Between death debuffs (which can be removed) and time to run back into the instance, it’s not unusual to have only 3-4 tries at a boss in a session. Admittedly, we don’t raid long stretches of time, but it’s still very different from a WoW setup. This does however give people much more time to chat.
  • Repair bills hurt. LOTRO allows tokens from daily quests to buy potions and consumables but those repair bills can be fairly pricey. I’m not entirely sure how people make loads of cash in the game but I think I’d be farming a lot if I was raiding more heavily.
  • No boss mods. This is the big one, you have to actually pay attention to spell effects and boss shouts to figure out what’s going on. People are great about calling effects on voice chat but what you will not have are big wodges of text in the middle of the screen telling you exactly what to do.
  • Limited information. This is probably not such an issue now because BG has been live for at least a year, so there are plenty of websites where you can find out about the fights. But it is still a game in which each raid group has to figure things out for themselves. I do feel for the more hardcore EU raiders, because that will all have been done in the new raids by the time we get the content patch.

So does being a raider in one game transfer to the next?

The answer to this is yes and no. The only reason I’ve been able to transition so smoothly to the LOTRO raids is that I have been able to apply playing skills from other games. Once you learn what the fire looks like in the new game, you already know how to get out of it.

And when I say smoothly, I don’t mean that I’m some kind of amazing all-star. I just mean that I can follow basic instructions without wiping the raid. It’s only the lack of damage meters which mean no one can really compare performance easily.

The skills which do transfer best are situational awareness and being able to figure out what is going on in a fight by watching it (or particularly, what went wrong in a failed attempt). Those that need to be relearned are UI dependent – like watching for debuffs or checking the chat for boss shouts.

But one thing to bear in mind is that I’m playing a melee/utility class in LOTRO. I don’t have to wrestle with the default raid UI for healing, or the clever Warden/ Runekeeper mechanics. For those classes, this really is like raiding in hard mode.