If individualism is king in MMOs, why do I get the best ‘highs’ from a good group?

Stubborn at SheepTheDiamond muses this week about whether different MMOs place a different importance to being part of a guild or other social group compared with taking care of yourself. So it’s about interdependence vs independence. There is a theory in sociology that RL cultures can be rated on various scales and compared according to how individualist or collectivist they are – Stubborn lists some of the criteria in his blog post. So for example: Japan is usually seen as a more collectivist culture than the USA.

(edited to add: Stubborn has collected links here to other bloggers posts on the subject.)

Incidentally, more individualist cultures have higher incidence of mental health issues like depression. It may well be that being part of a tight knit community with welfare safety nets is actually better for people, healthwise.

I have always enjoyed the frontiersman, independent playing style in a virtual world. But actual interdependence with real people also makes for a very exciting gaming experience. Your social skills will matter. And having other people being dependent on something that you can do does a lot to make a player feel ‘needed’. A lot of players enjoy this; for example I know I get a kick from being one of the few players in the guild who has some desirable craftskill recipe. (You could also argue that all types of interdependence are forms of power play, who has power over who, etc.)  Any game that involves co-op play can also offer a good grouping experience, based on interdependence in combat, and the greatest emotional highs I have had in online game have always been in groups. Admittedly, a bad group or a rude group can also be very miserable.

So I guess my starting point here is to recognise that humans are social animals and being a member of a group can potentially be a source of great enjoyment and satisfaction. An MMO can offer this experience better than just about any other genre on the market, because these games are based in persistent worlds, and the guilds can be persistent too.

Why guilds matter

One of the great things about MMOs is that players can experiment socially in a way they wouldn’t do iRL. For some people this means acting like a tit, for others it might mean experimenting with gender or roleplaying, with acting more confidently, or with being part of a hardcore guild.

So even if we don’t live in highly collectivist cultures, MMOs give us the chance to experience what that might be like. And it has some strong plus points. There is something very comforting about being part of a group where everyone helps each other, everyone wants to be there, everyone fulfils their obligations to the group and the group fulfils its obligations to members.  It models what families should be like, really.

In older MMOs, the earliest guilds I remember joining were all designed around this idea. We weren’t forced to tithe to the guild, but players tended to fall over themselves to give stuff to the guild bank or guild crafters. They still do – I don’t remember ever being in a guild that had a guild bank that wasn’t quickly filled with stuff players had donated.  It was a way of showing that you were a good team player and a way of ‘buying in’ to the whole guild ethos. Plus it’s only a game, you weren’t being asked to hand over your firstborn or your life savings.

So for a lot of players, we really enjoy the sense of give and take, of mutual obligation, of shared group identity, that comes with a good guild. Humans are social animals, and enjoy being in supportive groups.

Along with this, MMOs included content that needed a lot of people working together to overcome. This might have been big dragons, or complex quests that needed lots of people working together, or economic goals. There might have been group PvP goals, or faction PvP. So there’s your motivation to join a group over and above the social aspect. There might have been crafting aspects also – where no single crafter could make a finished item without input from other crafters.

A large part of being in a guild was around trust building. The player learning to trust the guild, and the guild learning to trust the player. The latter happens by the player being around and showing that they are keen to take part in guild activities and happy to play their role to whatever standard is needed.

The upsides: Access to group/ raid content. Access to better crafted goods and other guild amenities. Access to a social group, and possibly new friends. Being part of a larger organisation. Knowing that this group will keep their own guild/social rules (ie. be nice to each other)

The downsides: Guild events happen on a guild calendar, not your personal preferred dates/times.  Guild drama – this happens in any group in any hobby. Having to conform to guild rules, even if you think they are stupid. Having to socialise with guildmates (even if only on guild chat) even if you dislike them. Someone has to run the guild, this can be a lot of work. Finding a guild that suits your personality, playing style, and schedule.

For better or worse, being part of a guild is one of the core MMO experiences, especially if you are pursuing guild goals. No other type of game offers anything quite like it. The closest might be other online communities.

WoW – the game that can’t quite decide if it wants to be individualist or collectivist

WoW has wavered all over the place (in my opinion) with the individualist/collectivist trends. I think their goal is to leave choices open for players, but in practice it tends to favour individualist approaches. Even when you are part of a guild, there is a strong sense that WoW has mechanised ‘what do I get from being in this guild?’ via perks, rather than letting guild leaders make their own case. WoW’s raid model has also done more than anything to push players into taking an individualist view of their guild membership. I think they ended up with a very achievement focussed model, it’s all about the raiding and the guild becomes just a mechanism for organising regular raids.

There are still ‘social’ guilds out there, where membership means more than just being on the raid team. But it is in spite of Blizzard’s efforts, not because of them. WoW also fostered a guild hopping environment which was strongest during TBC, where progression minded players felt the best way to play the game was start in a ‘Kara guild’ and then progress by guild hopping as soon as they were geared for the next tier of raiding.

The traditional raid guild, by counter example, would progress through the content as a guild and players would normally be expected to stick with the guild. Obviously, as soon as guilds started haemorrhaging their more ambitious members whenever their progression slowed, this got a lot more difficult.

Blizzard has made noises more recently about supporting guilds. They did this by introducing the idea of guild levels, guild reputation, and guild perks. But one max level guild has the same perks as any other, plus the ‘fun’ of levelling is over for anyone else who joins. Also the LFR means that it’s easier than ever for a solo player to see raid content without being in a guild. I don’t think their guild focus was bad per se, but once the individualist cat is out of the bag, it’s hard to make guilds as appealing as when they felt more important.

Is a guild really more than a chat channel?

I have been in guilds in many different games. I felt that LOTRO was less gung ho on the individualist front – people were in guilds for the companionship and even the RP, as much as for raiding. Having a guild house also provided a good focus for events. Guilds in SWTOR are similar to WoW, many are raid focussed, some are PvP focussed, some are more social. I felt it was easier in SWTOR to make a multi-purpose guild, maybe the activities are that bit more accessible or the playerbase less hardcore.

Guilds in sandbox games like ATITD or EVE tend to have way more control over their purpose, not being restricted to dev provided content. Tale in the Desert is probably the closest I have ever seen to a true collectivist game. You could be in multiple guilds, and it was common for guilds to be extremely specific in their activities.

I suspect that the more power that a guild holds as a gatekeeper to content, whether it be high end raids or nul sec PvP, the more likely a game is to have strong collectivist tones. When the power resides more with the individual, you end up with individualism. That does give players more freedom and its not surprising that players tend to favour those games when they have the choice, but it comes at the cost of community and one of the more interesting types of online play that gaming has ever encouraged.

There has never really been a better time in MMO history to have your cake and eat it with individualism/ collectivism. Most games now acknowledge that players like to be independent and offer more soloing options. At the same time, being in a guild is still a very common part of MMOs so there are usually plenty of friendly guilds around for players to join. It isn’t the same as when guilds held more power and collectivism was more enforced, that was … definitely an experience to be a part of. But we’re not yet at the point of every man for himself either.

Also, increasingly people come to MMOs as part of an existing community, whether it be groups of friends who have gamed together before or large online forum communities. I think with GW2, especially at the start, we’ll see how powerful the pre-organised guilds can be in terms of PvP. I do wonder whether this will have a huge unbalancing effect on the game in general, and whether it will work itself out in time or whether initial biases will shape the game for the whole of its life.

What’s your one great wish for Blizzcon?

If I could see one dream announcement come out of Blizzcon this weekend, it would be that they have some ideas for an alternative to the raiding endgame. (Maybe influenced by public raids, dynamic Rift-like events or LOTRO skirmishes.)

And the second one would be an open Diablo 3 beta test.

How about you? Any interest in Blizzcon, any thoughts about what you’d like to see announced?

[Rift] The wonders of cosmetic clothing

“People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair. I don’t know, I’m never there.”

- Dolly Parton

riftloki

I thought I’d show off today a couple of my sets of cosmetic clothing on my mage in Rift. These are all made up of a mixture of drops which I thought looked cool, crafted gear, and PvP gear.

One thing you will also notice is how big a difference it makes to have access to dye because (da-da-DAH) you can make things match.

I like how the set with the red dress makes her look quite sweet and innocent, and the green set with the Loki-esque helm (yes that’s why it is all green) is rather more demonic. What a difference a hat makes!

I’m glad I decided to stick around with Rift after hitting 50. I know I’m not straight into expert dungeons like a more hardcore player would be, but I have hit rank 2 in PvP which gave access to some nicer gear, and been working on reps and the crafting (the horned hat is an epic one which I made myself.

PvP in this game is rather hit and miss, and there is a widespread belief that clerics are overpowered. I’ve been in warfronts where people explicitly said, “They have 5 clerics, we’re going to lose.” Valor, the PvP stat (think resiliance in WoW) seems to make a big difference to survivability as does going up in ranks which gives you access to more abilities from your PvP soul.

I find with my mage that I’m tending to pure CC in PvP because the healing just isn’t snappy enough, plus mages don’t have the inbuilt defences that clerics do. Although now I’m rank 2, I have better defences against being interrupted (interrupts are probably the most effective CC for mages because you can’t really do anything if you can’t cast, other classes have some melee soul options.)

But the main thing is that as long as I don’t try to run end to end warfronts, I quite enjoy them. I also like the general  level 50 channel which is very civilised and on which people do actively make groups for world content like rift raids as well as expert dungeons (of which I did one, since I somehow seem to have gathered enough focus on my gear from somewhere, but we didn’t finish it.)

My main reservation on raids and T2 instances is that I have no intention of switching my souls around, now that I have found a combination that I like. I actually don’t care if it’s way off the max dps, I don’t even know if it is anyway, and I don’t intend to run any content where that would ever be an issue. I’d experiment with better rotations on what I have but I’m not ditching the build completely.

And this in a nutshell is one place where hard tuned raids fail. If there is really only a small numbers of acceptable ways to play a character in them, what happens when a player says, “OK, I don’t fancy that, can I have some endgame content for MY build please?”

Dynamic Events: A funny thing happened on the way to the quest giver…

One upon a long time ago, I was one of the storytelling staff on a MUSH (think of this as an online roleplaying game). And we used to come up with weird and wacky ideas for cool plots to introduce to help players get involved with each other and with the overall story.

One of my fellow storytellers had a brilliant idea. What if there was a strange magical disease that people could catch?! It might give them nightmares or some other minor but eminently roleplayable symptom, and eventually symptoms would get worse and people would have to get together and find a cure.

“Awesome!” we said, “Let’s do it!”. (We used to talk in exclamation marks a lot.) And although some people loved that plot, the majority hated it. Why? Because it got in the way of whatever else they’d had planned in the game ; probably cybering or some epic romance plot.

Blizzard received the same reaction with their zombie invasion event before Wrath launched. A lot of players loved it, but a vocal subset hated it because it got in the way of their questing. Sure, they learned from the experience and the Cataclysm pre-quests weren’t as intrusive … but they weren’t anywhere near as cool either.

When dynamic events attack!

Here’s an interesting issue with dynamic events and static players: the people who are keenest to pre-organise their gaming sessions in advance can get very screwed around by dynamic events.

For example, imagine trying to organise regular raids if your raiders keep being distracted by dynamic events. “Sorry, mum says I have to miss Blackwing Descent because an awesome dynamic event ate my homework!”

So there is a dilemma for designers – if the dynamic events are awesome then players will want to do them, which means that players will eventually be reluctant to organise events in case an awesome dynamic event occurs at the same time. But if they’re not awesome then players will quickly get bored and disillusioned and ignore them. On the surface, you’d think that awesome dynamic events would be a good thing. Even for the players who like pre-organised fun, they’d just get a choice of which event to go to when they logged in for the night. Games are all about choices, so having more choices is good, right? Right! Unless you were one of the organisers of the player-run event (e.g. the regular raid or RP night) which gets abandoned in favour of the dynamic one.

If you look at things this way, dynamic events are in direct competition with static ones and with player organised events when it comes to attracting players. And the designers have the ability to skew these numbers by dropping loot and in-game rewards into the instances and dynamic events, which players generally can’t do for player-run events.

Maybe dynamic games need more dynamic players?

So are player-run events increasingly doomed as dynamic events look to be offering more and more options to bored players? It’s always been a struggle to get people to turn up for regular events even when there is some loot potentially on offer (eg. raids).

Maybe so. Or maybe players will adapt. Instead of having a fixed goal for the evening, maybe events will be more flexible. “Thursday night regular adventure evenings!” Where organisers are ready to shelve their backup plans should something more interesting turn up.

This pretty much modelled our Pirates nights where we just sailed around and did stuff depending on what showed up. But people who like their regular, predictable events may find that they get more than they bargained for.

Also, a gratuitous link for Thor fangirls/boys – does Thor look better with his shirt on or without it?

Thought of the Day: It’s so hard to talk about difficulty

The problem with discussing difficulty in games (and particularly MMOs) is that as soon as you comment that something is hard, you lay yourself open to loads of hardcore fanboys/girls leaping on your back and proclaiming that you are a noob and should l2p. Or else suggesting that you have no right to judge the game’s difficulty unless you’ve already completed it on the hardest possible mode.

Say that something isn’t hard and the reaction is likely to be the opposite – you might be labelled hardcore.

So it’s a discussion that can only really be had sensibly with mature gamers (note: this is not related to physical age), a category which is not in the majority on official bboards. It’s not that we can’t have these discussions, it’s just that there’s a lot of social pressure for MMO bloggers to pretend it isn’t happening.

Plus we should value the reviewers who are brave enough to say when they think some content is overtuned.

And fact is, particularly in games where there are difficulty settings, it’s very useful for gamers to get an idea of a) how much difficulty is most fun for them and b) which games have harder or easier tuning at different levels.

Think of it as like comparing clothes sizes in different shops. Some shops, a size 8 will be huge, and in others it will be tiny. And yet, if you say that M&S (or pick any clothes shop of your choice) cut their clothes on the large size, no one starts insulting you.

Anyway, for the record:

WoW heroic instances in Cataclysm were mostly OK for tuning, but some of the bosses were overtuned and Blizzard didn’t fix them fast enough. However the heroics were mostly way too long, and they still haven’t figured a way to stop people queueing for heroics before they have learned the normal modes so LFD was stuffed.

WoW normal raids in Cataclysm are not any harder than Wrath raids (eg. Ulduar, ICC). They may seem a bit harder for 10 man groups who used to run Wrath raids in 25 man gear.

Dragon Age: Origins was overturned in its normal difficulty mode. (Sorry Syncaine, but it was. See the comments in the link to follow that one.)

Torchlight was undertuned in normal mode.

Anyone else want to get anything off their chest about games they’ve played that seemed over or under tuned. (I don’t really include games like Demon Souls or Super Meat Boy that are sold on the basis of being hard and unforgiving.)

The big challenge in building in game communities

Everyone who plays MMOs knows already what the biggest challenge is in building in game communities. We have known it for years. And it is to do with what happens when you feel that you need to choose between playing with your friends, and playing for some other goal (like progression).

And it happens because endgame has tended to become so demanding that there comes a point where you have to decide whether to focus totally on that. And that has increasingly meant (in WoW) seeking out other people equally focussed on endgame and abandoning anyone else you know in game. MMOs never really used to be like this, EQ may have been, but other same-gen games like DaoC were really quite relaxed about letting everyone raid together in huge groups. As we know WoW took the EQ model and made a huge success of it. But could Blizzard be about to rewrite the rulebook for their next outing?

So let’s look at this as a design issue. Particularly if the next generation of MMOs (like Titan) is going to be keener to encourage people to play with RL friends.

If it is important that people should be able to play with RL friends then they will need ways to interact in game which don’t require them all to be equally hardcore or skills. In fact, having a couple of core players able to carry a group would be a good thing.

Or else an assumption needs to be made that the majority of players will have ‘gamer’ friends who are roughly the same level of skill. In actual fact, most MMO players probably do have MMO playing friends who are reasonably good players. Actually, any player who is able to look at their character skills, roughly figure out how they work and go kill some monsters is already ahead of the game. There are many groups who run fixed groups in lots of different games successfully who show this – mostly because they have no interest in endgame.

No the real problem is this elevation of endgame into a sort of quest for the holy grail where dedicated questors are expected to place progression as their sole goal. This is what forces people to join guilds where they basically have nothing in common with other players than a common interest in loot, and shared raid times. For some, this is enough. And if you spend long enough in a community with other people, some sort of a long term community will grow, particularly if people are able to meet up outside the game.

But friendships in these kinds of goal based communities can be very conditional. Miss a few weeks of raiding, or perform badly for a few weeks and see whether you still feel as close to the other players as before. Being a member of a community where your membership is so conditional is always going to be a hotbed for stress and drama. No one can ever really feel comfortable with their position. (btw this is not an attack on anyone’s raid guild – I just think that raid guilds in themselves tend to be unstable organisations. As the constant recruiting would imply.)

And what it certainly isn’t is a recipe for the sort of TF2/ CODBLOPS clans who happily shoot the breeze together every week, which I think is the model Blizzard would like to go for in Titan.

There’s nothing particular about FPS which encourages communities more than MMOs. And certainly my mate from work is very open about the fact that his clan (which he adores) are tolerant of him being a bit older and slower, and it doesn’t stop them all having fun together.

But what they do have is good voice chat outside the matches, the ability to work as a team (and gank enemies together) and the fact that they’re all more about having fun and shooting shit than about press button x when y happens and get out of the green flame and target add A and interrupt when I say but not before to within 0.00001% timing accuracy.

If I sound as though I’m saying raids are a dead end, that’s not the case. But I fondly remember the DaoC raids where there were no upper limits on raid groups. If you wanted to take the whole server into ML4.2 then you could do it. Rifts, in another way, offer a way for a random number of characters to play together and cooperate on the same objectives. There’s an element of the same ‘shooting the shit’ feeling.

And making playing with your friends an experience that is fun rather than stressful is going to be key to forming communities in the MMOs of the future.

There is a Lt that Never Goes Out…

…Well, until he does. Repeatedly.

To set the scene, the Lieutenant of Barad Guldur is the current final boss in LotRO. He rides a fell beast, and he’s /actually/ a Nazgul. Yes, we get to fight a Nazgul in Book 1, but not to actually kill one until the end of the Mirkwood content. It’s an unforgiving fight and we’ve been plugging away at Barad Guldur for at least 6 months – months that seem to have dragged for me.

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the design in Barad Guldur, though I’ve enjoyed all of LotRO’s previous raids (The Rift is awesome and you get to kill a Balrog, Helegrod has a massive undead dragon as a boss and is the only 24-man content in the game, Dar Narbugud has some interesting boss fights, through a multi-boss adventure). Barad Guldur has 3 boss fights. You can do all of them in normal or challenge mode. But that means instead of 6 bosses, you have 3 bosses that you fight twice in the course of conquering all the content in all possible ways. To me, that made it feel like it dragged on a lot longer.

We’ve also had a rotating raid group which doesn’t help with getting content down fast, but has been more sociable, for sure. So while I’m sure the length of time we’ve been bashing away at the content has suffered because of this – it’s just a fact of life for our kin and has only really impacted me because we don’t have many Capts so even when I want a night off, I tend to sign up to make sure the numbers are reached.

The start of Barad Guldur is awesome, a gauntlet you have to complete within a timeframe (it resets completely after 45m) where you rush up flights of stairs and get waves of Uruks, goblins and wargs. As chaotic fights go it’s awesome, and just the kind of content I like. But, after that, the instance falls a bit flat for me. The fights continue to be interesting, the first few times anyway, but they’re slow and repetitive. And, of course, because of radiance, you can’t just plough through bosses 1 and 2 on normal mode just to get to the Lieutenant fight.. no, it makes more sense to gear up the raid as much as possible with both normal and challenge mode armour drops. That definitely helped our survivability.

Anyway, back to the Lieutenant. The fight takes place at the top of the tower (and yes, if you wipe you have a stupidly long run up a zillion flights of stairs to go back to the fight). In the first phase, the group attacks the fell beast with the Lieutenant mounted upon it, and when it gets down to 150k health, the Lieutenant will dismount and the next phase begins. DPS is king in the first stage (without going into dull tactics), there’s a huge benefit to getting to the transition as quickly as possible. The second phase, involves tanking the Lieutenant and killing the beast and then the raid can concentrate on the final boss in phase 3. That makes it all sound so simple. It’s a very unforgiving fight and not much fun for melee, generally. There’s 10% power regen only throughout the fight. If anyone dies while the Lieutenant is dismounted, we’ve had almost certain wipes (though, I believe it’s not a certainty and there are tactics to deal with that, but not ones we’ve mastered).

So it’s taken us a while, and has felt like the longest slog in my raiding career. And yet last week we did it on second attempt, and this week we did it first time. It’s a relief sure. A pain that I’m top of the loot list and don’t especially want the armour drop (radiance is being got rid of next update and it’s not a great stats set for Capts), but I still think people should thank me for not being selfish and taking it anyway, cos I’m a total brat :-). But looting aside, it’s a definite relief and one that couldn’t have come soon enough. Not sure WHY we suddenly made this progress. We barely got the numbers to raid from the start of December till last week, to the stage the raid group almost fell apart. Without going too much into kin politics though, we really thought our chances were all over, until someone from outside the group suggested we might not go again – and suddenly sign-ups were up, we recruited another couple of possibles and last week managed to get locks for just the Lieutenant from the other raiding group in the kin (because not enough of us could make our initial raiding night when we’d traditionally do bosses 1 and 2).

Four-week break and not having to go on Friday seemed to do the business, though. But then this week we repeated the triumph after having cleared the first two bosses on Friday and then killed the Lieutenant first time. Obviously sometimes a break and a bit of a push is needed. Yes, we tweaked our tactics a bit, but not so much that I think any of us thought we’d have such a massive push of progress (previously we’ve killed the beast only 4-5 times, I think and then wiped within 30s). But, it’s all good and whatever it takes. Our kin is very good at killing the final baddie just before new content emerges, and we’ve done it again. Hurrah!

BUT.

TURBINE SUCKS.

Because there are no bodies to take screenshots of, they disappear immediately. And that SUCKS.

Dickishness? Or Fun?

Spinks’ post reminded me of something. Last week, during our Barad Guldur raid in LotRO I started laughing because of a conversation I was having with the other Captain in the raid. And when I decided to share my ‘evil’ thoughts with the rest of the raid, it exposed what might be called ‘dickish’ behaviour on my part. There’s a firey mob in the raid that, when it dies, does an AE burst of damage that can take people down fast. So, when it gets to 10k we all tend to run away and leave a sole tank in the vicinity.

Captains have a skill (Oathbreakers) that ups the damage on a mob by 35% for 15s that we can use every 5m.

Between Boss 1 and Boss(es) 2 (twins) in the raid there’s a fair amount of drudge-y trash mobs, so sometimes I chat tactics with whoever the other captain is (or general chitchat with anyone). Last week I simply commented that one of the things I sometimes do for fun is drop Oathbreakers on one of the firey mobs when it’s down to a third health and see if the raid notices the damage output is so much higher they need to run sooner. Most of the time they do. It’s never caused a wipe, I hasten to add… but I even felt bad while laughing about it.

I’m not a bad person, I just get bored and like my class skills to be noticed :-)

It’s oh so quiet… on voicechat

We’ve had a little flare-up on our LotRO kin forums over the last week, relating to how much chatter we have on our Teamspeak server while raiding. We can be a talkative bunch, many of whom raid to hang out with more kinmates and get involved in some kind of joint activity. Because of that we don’t always come across as a highly disciplined fighting machine – but we get things done, we’ve been very successful in our raids and we keep a nice, friendly atmosphere going. So when one respected kin member posted something about the chatter spilling over into messy fights, it caused a pause to think.

Now, I admit (and the person who posted knows it), my first reaction was ‘hell, if I can’t chat, I’m not raiding’, but instead of posting anything on a forum, I just let the debate unfold. We will never agree on the perfect mix of pure focus vs chit-chat, that’s for sure. But it also reminded me of things we’ve discussed before – how many of our kin aren’t native English speakers, how different people like different levels of talking and of course, on how often we veer away from the matter of the raid and could possibly distract from some of the fights. It’s compounded because Barad Guldur (our current final raid) isn’t the most interesting, especially during some stages of trash mobs.

Being quiet isn’t what I’m used to. I’m pretty good at multi-tasking, I know my class really well and I can listen, understand, and react fairly well to things. But I needed the forum post and subsequent arguments to snap me back to reality. My playstyle is NOT everyone’s playstyle. And for me to enforce it on 11 others is worse than anyone asking me to be a little quieter during key fights. We have people who need to bring alts to the raids, we have non-English speakers, we have those who don’t raid as regularly as I do, and people who are just plain quieter (I know, SHOCK!!). Why is it worse? Because I’d be doing it knowing all the above.

It also reminded me that forums, while immensely useful, really do fall foul of the same misunderstandings as any form of written communication. I went through a gamut of feelings reading the thread – all the posts being written by people I consider friends and second-family, and I am so so happy I chose not to take part in the discussion. And we all turned up to raid last night, not embittered by the argument, but able to joke about it. And not snide jokes directed at the person who’d raised the issue, actual proper and respectful jokes. In that moment, I was really reminded why I like hanging out with my kin and what great people they all are. I even renamed my Hope Banner to ‘Quiet’ because the game wouldn’t let me have ‘Shhh’ – my first choice as a librarian, naturally.

As it happens, we also did our best yet at the Lieutenant of Barad Guldur, so maybe there’s something to this focus lark!

So how is ‘bring the player, not the class’ working out for you?

One of Blizzard’s mottoes for raiding in Wrath was, “Bring the player, not the class.” Previously, Blizzard had attempted (with varying success) to encourage raid leaders to bring a variety of classes  — which mostly worked until one ability was so suited to a raid that experienced players were ditched so that alts or inexperienced characters of the optimal class/ spec could be fitted in.

The new strategy involved duplicating buffs and abilities more between classes. Raid leaders now had more options for assembling the optimal set of raid buffs, hopefully being now able to include the players they wanted to bring.

But how is this really working out in practice? Here’s some bullet points, based on what I have noticed:

  • Individual players don’t feel as meaningful. If there are seven different people in your raid who can provide a desirable buff or debuff, it doesn’t really matter that you’re there too. In fact, you may even end up arguing about who should provide which buff or debuff.
  • Non-optimal compositions have been really successful in normal mode raiding. (Whether this is because the buffs are spread out or because the raids are easier, I couldn’t say.)
  • Hard raids do seem to have more options than previously but some classes are still better than others. Shamans and Paladins would need to be nerfed to the ground not to be optimal in 10 man raids – they simply provide that many more buffs than anyone else.
  • If people aren’t being brought purely for one desirable buff or ability, then their base tank/dps/heal capability is the only way to stand out. I think this has tended to blur roles and make the tank/dps classes feel more similar. Healers are due to be more homogenized next expansion.
  • I still struggle to get raid spots on my dps DK alt. Maybe if it was an enhancement shaman or retridin …

Blizzard are evidently happy with the results of this policy because they’re extending it into Cataclysm. Shamans will be sharing bloodlust with mages. Death Knight and Warrior tanks will be sharing more buffs and debuffs. And there are rumours of yet more buff homogenization to come.

When it doesn’t matter what you play, does it actually MATTER what you play?