The Myth that One Raid Endgame Fits All

scrusi posts today about why he thinks the Lich King endgame leads to boredom, and underused raid instances. I read this, and I think about the TBC endgame, which also led to boredom and underused raid instances. (Ask anyone whose raid was stuck in Serpentshrine for most of the expansion.)

I suspect that all raiding endgames, when stretched out over months or years, will lead to … boredom and underused raid instances. The only difference is who gets bored, how quickly, which raid instances are underused, and which guilds feel most of the pressure.

So what is the ideal?

  • Raids become a regular hobby. The raid group becomes like a sports team with scheduled games, et al.
  • You should always have something to do, and something to aim for both individually and as a raid group.
  • Your group should be able to replace any members who leave so that it can keep raiding.
  • If you come late to the expansion, you should be able to join a group of your friends.
  • There should be enough new or varied content that people in your group don’t get bored.

To my mind, the big issue with raiding endgames is that players have to balance up group progression vs individual progression. If all raid content consisted of PUG raids with relaxed gear/ ability requirements and there was a lot of solo (or small group) content where players could go for progression, then we could have a setup in which one endgame fits all. It might be that newer games try a version of this model. It’s probably easier to support and would make a lot of players much happier and less stressed.

And yet, progressing as part of a group can lead to a deep and rewarding gaming experience. For a lot of players, it’s key to why we enjoy MMOs, because we can play alongside team mates and friends for weeks, months, or even years. If all players started at the beginning of the expansion and progressed alongside their raid, then they’d be able to take on the content when it was introduced. Given enough difficulty sliders, they’d get through it somehow at an appropriate pace. But this doesn’t always happen. Some players start playing later into the expansion. Some change groups for social reasons, scheduling reasons, or play style reasons. Maybe you want a more hardcore experience. Maybe you decide you would prefer to raid with your mates. Maybe something comes up iRL and you need to switch from raiding four nights a week to one.

There are no easy answers. Either progression is less important, so newer players can catch up easily with established groups. Or else progression is king, players are forced to raid with other people at a similar progression level, and guild hopping returns as the recommended way for people to ‘jump a few tiers.’

Accessibility means that Blizzard have prioritised letting newer players gear quickly and raid with their friends in Wrath. Those friends have no need to go back and run older instances again, and (more importantly) they don’t generally want to because they already burned out on that content.

In TBC, recruitment posed a different type of issue to guilds. It was harder to just gear up the new alt or new player and let them join. Guild hopping was recognised as the best way for a new player to manage this, which probably suited some people but made others a lot unhappier. Ultimately, forcing progression raiders to go back to older instances to gear or key new recruits certainly didn’t help with avoiding burnout for them. Using less progressed guilds as feeders to more hardcore guilds (ie. they recruited new people and trained/ geared them, who then left to join more hardcore raids) also gave them a demoralising level of turnover. It wasn’t a better raid system, it just hit a different group of players more harshly.

We know that players can be enticed to run content by suitable rewards, but that adds an extra element of pressure into the game which won’t suit some groups. (Imagine if the rewards for running Naxx, Ulduar, and TotC in the same week were so high that competitive raiders felt pushed to do as many as possible.)

Weekly raid quests have been fairly successful. PUGs form quickly. But it’s not really the same experience as running those old raids when they were new, with a bunch of similarly geared people.

For all that some people complain about WoW’s lack of innovation, Blizzard have tinkered a good deal with the raid game, and how new content is introduced into the end game in general.  They’ve made changes during Wrath that would have really eased pressure in TBC. For example, being able to extend the locks on a raid instance means that even raids on a very casual schedule aren’t pressured to clear everything in a week before it resets,

So why don’t new players form new raid groups?

So if people who aren’t burned out on the older instances still want to run them for fun, what is stopping them?

The answer is, because you need a group. And because a lot of people don’t want to organise one, especially not with other new players who they may have to teach. Only at the very start of an expansion do raids start from the beginning (and even then, a lot of them will be full of experienced raiders from other games or expansions.)

Logic says that raid progression is an old and outdated mechanic. The type of progression that groups can earn via rated battlegrounds will probably work much better for WoW. Gear matters but good play and tactics mean that a skilled team can work around it while gearing new members. But that’s PvP.

And yet, some of the best experiences I’ve had in MMOs have been watching entire raid groups grow and learn together. Very soon, I suspect, we’ll rate these experiences alongside waiting 17 hours for a boss to spawn or crippling death penalties: memories of an earlier and more hardcore era.