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.

Bring out your dead: Profiting from the demise of other guilds

otters

In which we pore over new recruits from dying guilds like otters waiting for their fish.

It is a sad day when a guild or a raid community dies. Not just for the players involved – although by that time, many of them will probably be relieved to be free to find new homes – but for the wider community and even the game itself. A guild can represent so much combined effort from so many people. It isn’t just an in-game identity, it’s also a virtual home. And when a guild fails, all that effort goes to the wall.

Some guilds have an actual end day when everyone ceremonially leaves and the (ex)guild leader does the equivalent of falling on their sword and dismantling the guild. Others simply fade away over weeks or months of fewer people logging in, fewer events being organised, more raids being abandoned due to lack of interest, and players drifting off to join other, more active communities.

On a tight knit server, others outside the guild will notice the loss too. Some well known guilds spawn long, surprisingly sympathetic threads on realm forums where other players (including past members) voice their memories. A long running, well known guild is simply a part of the server history, a history that could be measured in the rise and fall of guilds, with all the associated drama ….

When my first raid guild in WoW split up, I was gutted. I was an officer at the time, and a class lead, and I’d ridden through both the high and low points with the rest of the guild. But by the end, I was so very tired of it all. I asked if the GL at the time minded if I left my character in the defunct guild, while I took a break from the game. When I logged in several months later to take stock, I had several whispers from people who just wanted to reminisce about my guild tag even though many of them had never been members themselves.

So when a guild dies, what happens to the now homeless players? If players had been very invested in the guild, it’s a time of grieving. Some will transfer servers to be with other friends, others will look for other guilds on the same server, and still others will spend some time as free agents, or even take a long break from the game altogether. Occasionally new guilds spawn from the ashes of old ones, but it’s never quite the same.

Good news everyone! Applications are looking up!

In WoW at the moment, things are winding down towards the next expansion which will not be for several months (no, we don’t yet know the release date). Many raid guilds are struggling for numbers as players get bored and decide to take a break until Cataclysm.  The ennui is hitting guilds which I had thought to be immune. Maybe things are really worse now, or maybe just older guilds have hit the point where the game itself has changed so much from when they were created that the leaders don’t want to keep changing with it. Or in other words, they don’t much fancy the idea of raiding in Cataclysm anyway if it carries on the way it has in Wrath.

In any case, we can tell that other raid guilds on the server are breaking up because we get an influx of new applications. And since the hardcore raid guilds on AD are … well … more hardcore than we are, those applicants are generally well geared, well disciplined, well spoken, and any raid guild would be delighted to have them.

It feels like a reward for hanging in there, because we’ve also been struggling for numbers but (much credit to all the comm members and to the long suffering raid leaders) have still managed to keep raiding and keep the progression just about going. But raiding has definitely slowed, and if we take on some of these guys, it would be a shot in the arm.

It is a risk also. Can someone who was a mainstay of a hardcore guild really be happy to raid on a more casual basis?  Maybe they can, if what they really wanted was a virtual home.

One thing is for sure, whenever one raid splits up, many other struggling raids will suddenly get an injection of much needed raiders. They died so that others could live.

The meta-game of MMOs

Given how much extra work and hassle it can be, why DO people bother leading raids or leading guilds in MMOs?

I have been thinking recently about why I’m so drawn to raid leading in games, and in particular to leading casual raids rather than PUGs (although I have done that also).

Being a successful raid or guild leader definitely feels like a much more satisfying achievement to me than being random dps #12 in even the most hardcore guild. Not only that, but raiding itself becomes a more satisfying and immersive experience when you’re the one who is setting the goals for the raids, making the calls about what went wrong, and deciding what strategy to try next.

I also think of building a successful guild or raid as a meta-game that exists inside the MMO framework.  As a challenge, it’s definitely up there with anything the devs are capable of throwing at us, and maybe that’s part of the appeal.

If you can do it, the rewards are great. As well as more control over your gaming (for example, you can make sure raids always happen on days/times that are convenient for you), it’s a relatively high prestige position to hold in game.

If such things matter to you, people do also respect successful guild or raid leaders. It’s for the same reason that my cat loves and respects me – I am the provider of food (epics), entertainment, and cuddles (ie. positive feedback when appropriate).

But those I think are side-lines to the actual appeal. And if prestige is the only reason you take on a leadership role, you’ll likely be miserable and frustrated.

Build it, and they will come

OK, so leading is a role with higher challenge and potentially higher rewards than following. However, it’s also a lot more work and commitment.

But the reason I describe it as a meta-game is that it doesn’t end with raids. If you plan to run regular events, then your goal is to build up a core of players who:

  1. will keep coming to the event
  2. will get on with each other
  3. will provide a good enough mix of character classes/ roles to allow the event to work
  4. are skilled enough to run the event

So your game revolves at least as much around other players as it does around the game. And your challenge? To build a lasting, stable social construct within which happy players will run regular raids.

Because of people being people, this goal has the capacity to be endlessly entertaining and endlessly frustrating.

All over the web, you can read about excrutiating guild dramas, ninja looters, fascist raid leaders, and all the various amusing ways in which it can all go so badly wrong. Guild leaders write sad messages to each other on how to avoid troublemakers, what to do when people just stop signing up for raids, how to deal with burnout among core members, and so on.

But if you have never had to worry about avoiding troublemakers, struggling to get enough signups and dealing with other people’s burnout then you’re missing some of the big challenges of the meta-game.

It’s not that fretting over recruitment is fun in itself. But beating the challenge of getting a guild or raid together and helping to forge them into a working team is a fantastic feeling of achievement.

My point is not that everyone should go lead stuff. That’s silly and it isn’t fun for a lot of people (including many who do it). But it does add an exciting layer of challenge to an increasingly moribund genre. PvE may not be able to surprise you, players definitely will.

Feeling more involved in the strategies

Think you know the raids and instances well? Try it when you’re keeping an eye on what everyone else is doing, to help pinpoint where things are going well or badly. Try it when you’re figuring out the healing meters despite not playing a healer. Try it when it’s your call on what strategy seems to work best for your group.

I’m not advocating that one sole person does all of these things. In my 10 mans, everyone chips in with ideas. But I love that I feel more involved in the encounters when I’m leading. I can’t just ignore anything the bosses do that doesn’t directly affect me. For example, as a tank, I wouldn’t normally care if the boss was throwing curses around because it’s never my job to decurse. As a raid leader, I better know which bosses do it so that I can make sure there’s a decurser handy and remind them about it beforehand.

In the same way that going through progression wipes on a boss will teach any player more about the encounter than just coming in when it’s on farm and looks easy, leading through raids just gives you a deeper understanding of what’s going on.

I find that tanking is more involving than dps for the same reasons, and because tanks usually control the mobs in a raid fight. You need to really understand the positioning as a tank, especially if the boss needs to be faced a certain way, picked up at a specific time, or kited in a special pattern.

Feeling more involved is the way in which I have more fun.

It’s like those RPGs where you get to build up your own team, level them up, gear them up, and work out their strategies. But with real people who will bitch at you on TS if they don’t think they’re getting enough raid time.

Why w0uld that not be fun?