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 burnout in MMOs and how to avoid it

via I was reading about Nick Yee’s idea of the five-phase player lifecycle in a game.

This can be paraphased as:

  1. Starting out. Everything is new and exciting.
  2. Ramping up. You know the basics, now you’re setting more long term goals.
  3. Mastery. This includes being settled in a social group for endgame as well as mastering your character, for whatever type of endgame you decide to do.
  4. Burnout.
  5. Casual/ Recovery.

The first thing that strikes me is that many players (probably the majority) don’t ever go through the  mastery and burnout phases. They hop straight from ramping up to casual, possibly even skipping the ramping up phase if the game offers that option.  (There should probably be a “6. Bored/ Distracted by new game or hobby” phase too.)

This means that casual guilds potentially attract a mixture of ex-hardcore players and never-will-be-hardcore players. Or in other words, our definitions for casual need  more work because some people will play a game casually but still be far more invested in it than others who play similar hours.

The other thing that strikes me is that ramping up is often seen as a noobish phase. It’s the part which the elite players try to rush or even jump, and everyone else is encouraged to short cut it by making use of offsite guides, videos, and other player generated tutorials.

And yet, if you ask players which their personal golden age was in their favourite game, often it will be the one where they had the longest time in the first two phases. Usually the first MMO they played, or the first one they were invested enough in to master.

So the pressure to master a game quickly might actually be encouraging players to have less fun, and get them to burn out faster too.

Another thought is that if people keep playing similar games and then picking similar classes, it will mean that they master a new game more quickly. Sometimes that’s even part of the appeal. If you anticipate a lot of competition in the role or an aggressive playerbase, it’s a confidence booster to know that you have previous experience with a similar class.

Once enough people do this, there is no one for the ramping up people to play with. We see this happen in older games. Starcraft (original)  is a good example, people have been playing that competitively for over 10 years. How many of them do you think are still ramping up or might be fun to play with for a newbie? Eventually, designers don’t bother with much of a tutorial. They assume the majority of players will be familiar with the genre. You see this a lot in shooters at the moment.

And people who pick a similar class because they just love the playstyle will still master it more quickly. That means that sometimes, playing the games and classes you love is a fast track to burnout.

I suspect this is part of the reason why post-WoW style MMOs have struggled to maintain long term subscriptions. The hardcore players mastered them fast because they were so similar to existing games, and it’s very difficult for a new game to instantly ship with enough content and depth to keep the hardcore interested for several months. Yet at the same time, casual players checked the games out and decided for whatever reason that they didn’t want to make a longterm commitment.

Burnout can be a mental health issue

If you type burnout into google, you won’t get a bunch of gaming links up top. You’ll be directed to mental health websites.

Here’s a definition which I picked from one of them:

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Being burned out on a game is very different from just being bored of it. This is why burnout is so strongly associated with hardcore players, who make the most commitments and feel the most stress.

So if you care at all about your own health, you really should act if you feel that you are burning out. Why? It will make you happier and less stressful in game and, perhaps more importantly, can show you how to cope better with burnout in real life if you should ever face that.

There are two types of player, those who burn out and those who don’t

And yet, there are players who do play similar games or similar classes for years at a time without ever seeming to get bored. They either find challenges in tweaking the playing style they love, or they enjoy the ease which familiarity gives. Or maybe they mostly know how to skip happily to the casual phase of play without ever worrying about mastery.

So what are the secrets to avoiding burn out?

  1. Recognise the signs of burnout before it hits. Unfortunately you probably need to have burned out on a game at least once to do this accurately. If you start hating the thought of logging in on a specific character or to do a specific instance or doing so puts you into a bad mood, then that’s a fairly good indicator.
  2. Is there one specific issue causing the burnout. One instance that you detest, some players in your guild who are driving you nuts? If so, can you find a way to minimise those?
  3. Diversify your game. Try a different character or a different spec. Join another guild with an alt and get to know new people. Try a different server.
  4. Play less on the character/ playstyle that is burning you out. This can be tough if you have time commitments to a raid guild, but you won’t be any benefit to anyone if you burn out. And no decent guild leadership would pressure  you to stay if that was the case.  (If they do, it’s a sign that you need to find a new guild anyway.)
  5. Diversify your hobbies. Putting all your free time into one hobby may help in mastering it, but it can help a lot with burnout to look at doing other things too. Getting more sleep also can’t hurt.
  6. Step away from or minimise stressful commitments. If being a guild leader or raid leader is stressing you out to the point of burnout, find someone to share the job or step down. Yes, it’s hard but this is a game. Also, it won’t help anyone if you burn out. It is sometimes possible to find ways to delegate or reorganise guild management so as to put less stress on one person, look into those. The bonus of recognising the signs of burnout is that you can do this before it is too late.
  7. Talk to people. Make new friends. Friends and communities in game can be surprisingly supportive, even just by being there. If your community is not supportive, it’s time to find another one. Spending more time with friends offline can help a lot too, it just resets your perspective.
  8. Know your limits. If you have X hours per week to play a game, don’t mimic a playstyle that really requires X+1. Don’t rush to be as hardcore as possible if it’s just not practical. Stress between life/ gaming balance will make burnout more likely and may make the consequences way more severe.
  9. Redefine your notion of success. In WoW at the moment, a hardcore raider might see hard mode Lich King as the only achievement worthy of note. And yet, many casual guilds are rightly proud of their normal mode kills. A casual player with no guild might be just as proud of having gotten a character to 80 and earned enough emblems to buy heirlooms for alts. So who is right?
  10. Consider whether you want to make the shift to a casual/ recovery playstyle. I’ve mentioned a couple of times the possibility of switching guilds or reducing responsibilities in game.
Enhanced by Zemanta

How to stop worrying and love the RNG


Ah, loot. Where would we be without these small objects of desire? These pointless, insignificant, virtual items which have the power to make us so happy, or so furious?

Obsessing over loot is one of gaming’s simple pleasures. My partner still gets excited about every single piece of loot he acquires, even if it’s just a random green item to disenchant. I’m not quite at the point of being able to list every epic I’ve ever got with a whole backstory … but I could come close. The trinket I only won because both the other main spec tanks were away that week. The sword that we all thought was never going to drop, which finally came into the grasp of my cold, dead hands long after I no longer needed it. The drama! The excitement! The tears! The stories! The shinies!

You have to care about the game – if you don’t care then why play? – but it doesn’t have to take over your life. But it’s so easy to cross the line and care just a bit too much. No-one needs to stress like crazy over a game. You can have fun, obsess to a reasonable amount, not freak out any time someone in the game does something with which you disagree, and learn to play nice with others. It doesn’t have to be a fraught, stressful experience. There is another way.

(And by the way, it’s a constant struggle to keep a balance between caring too much and not at all. It just happens to be a very very useful balance to learn and will help in other aspects of life as well as gaming.)

My loot philosophy was driven by PUG raids

I first came into contact with loot drama while playing DaoC, which not coincidentally was my first MMO. Nothing there was BoP, but people had got into the habit of only rolling for things that they needed.

I’d been to a few public raids and noticed that the raid leaders spent a lot of time distributing loot. This was because most raid leaders at the time were very keen to be fair, and to make sure loot went to deserving players who were going to use it. ie. as opposed to people who would give it to their alts. So there was always a lengthy interrogation about what gear people had, what alts they had, and what they intended to do with loot before it was passed out.

I was nervous of leading a public raid, but wanted to try anyway. But the horror of loot distribution kept looming before me. (These raids often had upwards of 100 people turning up.) I realised quite early on that I really could care less who got what loot – my main concern as RL was that we had a successful raid. Anything after that was gravy.

So when I set my first raid up, I decided that my goals for loot distribution would be:

  • As little stress as possible for the raid leader (this was the main criteria 🙂 ).
  • Should be fair to all raiders, or at least equally unfair to everyone.
  • Should be simple, quick, and easy to understand.

I informed raiders at the beginning that anyone could roll for anything they could use. I didn’t care if it was for a main or an alt. There would be a limit of one item per person. I noted that I would prefer that people did not roll on stuff if they just wanted to sell it.

This was a very different tack to other raid leaders on the server. But there wasn’t a revolution. There were a few murmurings of discontent, but people shrugged and got on with it. After the first successful raid, I never heard any complaints about the loot system. I like to think that people understood that whether or not they liked the ‘system,’ it was equally fair to everyone who turned up, and was a lot faster (and with less drama.)

Not only that, but they weren’t bound by the raid leader’s notions about who was most deserving of loot.

Plus even the guys who were most outspoken about only letting people roll for their mains enjoyed being able to get stuff for their alts after their mains were geared up. Or bringing their alts who needed master level raid quests, and rolling on items for their mains. (From my point of view, the loot system encouraged experienced raiders to keep turning up and helping, which was a bonus for me and my raids.)

I still think those loot criteria are pretty smart.

You can’t fight in here! This is the war room!


One of the great things about the random number generator (RNG) is that it can settle all disputes uncontroversially, if players will only allow it to do its job. You can’t argue with “whoever rolls the highest wins.” It’s fair. Everyone who rolls has the same chance to win. It’s very silly to complain that someone else stole your loot when you had an equal chance to win it and they were just luckier on the roll.

Or in other words, the RNG is not your enemy. It may not be your friend either, but it is neutral. The more you use it, the more that the lucky vs the unlucky rolls will tend to even out. Perhaps today you’re not lucky, but maybe tomorrow will be that day. So when you lose a roll, shrug and move on and accept that you DID have a fair chance to win, you were just unlucky.

People also tend to convince themselves that a drop is more significant than it really is. Especially when you have been unlucky and not seen it for awhile, or feel that you have put in a lot of work (i.e. lots and lots of dungeon runs) and never seen it at all. On the first run, you’ll be chilled out and uninclined to care if someone else wins because you know that it will drop again. On the 40th run, you just want to never have to go there again ever and things get a little more heated.

Just remember, the RNG doesn’t care about that. Be like the RNG. Let things wash over you. You’ll have another chance to roll some other day. Move on. Think zen thoughts. Don’t stress unduly, it’s not that important.

The only time when it really gets my back up is people rolling ignorantly, on items that aren’t actually upgrades for them. And in a WoW world in which items can be traded whilst inside an instance, it’s easy enough to explain this to someone and ask for a trade. And if they refuse? Enh, shrug and move on. That’s the price of random groups.

Kallisti! For the Fairest!


There are two types of loot distribution system: the ones where you have to all pretend that you care about who most deserves the loot, and the ones where you don’t. The ones where you don’t are much less prone to implode under stress.

This is not to say that a loot council can’t work, it’s just more work and more stress for the loot council officers. And there will be times when you ask yourself how much it really matters whether some loot item goes to the feral druid who will use it 33% of the time, or the rogue who only turns up once every three weeks anyway. (The answer is – it matters a lot to the players. Which is why it’s so stressful for the staff.)

My personal philosophy is that I really don’t want to waste brain cycles on caring about who deserves what loot. And especially not in a 5 man instance which people can run five times an hour if they so wish. Just roll, stop whining, and let the RNG sort it out. Random rolls ARE fair.

Some people will always feel that they are most deserving for everything that ever drops. Every single piece of loot, however minimal the upgrade, is a matter of life or death to them. Whereas others are more chilled out, or shy of speaking up, even though the loot itself might be just as big an upgrade. Just roll, stop whining, and let the RNG sort it out. The RNG does not care who whined most loudly. It knows that quiet, shy people might want loot too.

There will be cases where that isn’t the best way to go. In a regular raid, the loot system needs to encourage regular attendance and RNG doesn’t do that as effectively as DKP.

But even there, every DKP system, for example, uses some fairly mechanical method to reward players with points. The more complex the DKP system, the more work for the poor officers who are tasked with maintaining it. And frankly, simpler systems work just as well for getting the loot distributed with the least possible fuss. Trying too hard to be ‘fair’ to everyone is a doomed enterprise, because people won’t agree on what that means. Is it fair to reward people who show up more frequently? Is it fair to reward people who play better? Is it fair to give an extra reward to the raid leader? Or to reward people for providing raid consumables?

The answer is: the fairest thing for a raid is to reward whatever will most benefit the raid in the long run. So that means incentives for new players to improve, experienced players to keep coming along, everyone to work together happily and with minimal drama and no one to feel that this is unfair. And it also means explaining patiently to people that yes, the guys who attend most frequently will gear up faster and that no amount of DKP is going to force the item you want to actually drop (*coff* warrior tier tokens *coff).

There is no Off-Spec, there is only Dual-Spec

I have heard an argument that people should always queue as the role on which they wish to roll for loot. I don’t see any good reason to do this, the global benefits of encouraging more people to queue as multiple roles are just too high.

Or in other words, why should I pretend that my character has half of it’s actual potential just to make you feel better? I realise that you don’t want to share, but I’m happy to come tank or heal or dps your run and all I ask is a fair shot at the loot I want. Which I intend to use. If I don’t win, I’ll congratulate you. (It’s particularly silly when dps do this, because they should be used to sharing by now. Tanks/ Healers are more cosseted by the system because there’s usually only one per group.)

If I really do want or need some item then I’ll aim to run with a guild group and agree the loot beforehand. But jumping into a random group and making grand demands just makes you look like an arse. Trying to bully or abuse people into not using the RNG is even worse.

The best and fairest loot distribution you can possibly hope for in a random group is a fair shot at any loot via RNG. So don’t complain if that’s what you get. And don’t pretend that common loot won’t drop again, everyone knows that it’s histrionics and it will make you look stupid and whiny. People in your random group probably don’t care if you have to run the instance again every day for a week. And nor should they have to.

Dealing with Loot Doldrums

The last thing about loot is that it is always miserable to lose a roll on something that you really wanted. Especially when you feel that you deserved to win, or that the winner didn’t. It’s only human. And it’s because we care about the game and are emotionally engaged in it.

But. Sometimes you have to just suck it up. If this is the only thing you ever learn from playing MMOs, then they’re worth all the time and effort poured into them.

Finding the game to suit your mood

Over the last couple of weeks, my patterns of game playing have changed. I’m still playing the same games as before we had a death in the family, but I have noticed that I am playing them in different ways.

I’m enjoying the social contact and escapism in my MMOs, but I also have a lot of other things to do in real life. I find that I’m reluctant to spend too long in game. Sometimes I solo — more than usual. I’ve started low level alts with sisters and friends, on a very no-strings-attached understanding.

I’ve also been avoiding in game stress. I’m looking for a more peaceful and less challenging experience right now. Maybe it’s part of the grieving process, or a way of escaping from real life upheavals. I’m not entirely sure. Either way, I’m not enjoying progression raiding in the way I had in the past. I can live with it — we have such a light raid schedule that one night a week isn’t going to hurt — but right now I can’t honestly say that it’s fun for me.

I would normally stop doing things if I decided that they weren’t fun. But in this case it’s only one night a week, and I enjoy the company and being able to keep my hand in. I’m hoping this phase will pass soon and I’ll be back to gleefully comparing my repair costs with the other tanks as usual. (In case anyone was wondering what we discuss in the tank channels.)

I also find myself retreating towards familiar things. I would love to spend more time with EQ2 but somehow in spare moments I still drift back to WoW. I think this is down to the low barriers of entry to a game you know very well. Also, I already have a couple of characters who are geared for endgame there and a social circle,  and I’m familiar with most of the current content. It’s very low stress for me to hop into WoW, run a couple of instances with friends or PUGs, and hop out again. A large part of this is because the heroics are easy, I’m overgeared, and I probably could run them blindfold.

EQ2 isn’t high stress by any means, but it takes more time and energy to go and learn a new game, explore, make new friends, and figure out new content and mechanics. And energy, as much as anything, is what I’m trying to recharge at the moment. For the same reason, I bowed out of trying any of the new releases this month. It’s not the right time, and I’m not in the right mood.

Back on the DS, Galactrix has been seeing a lot of play, probably because I’ve spent a lot of time on trains.

I love it more and more with every session, despite the game’s  huge sucking flaws. Yes it spends a freaking aeon saving and loading itself all the time — it has more load screens than EQ2 in open beta. Yes the screen manages to be sensitive when you want it to be forgiving, and vice versa. For all that, I love how it plays and I love what they were trying to do. I’m finally discovering the main storyline, and trekking around the galaxy unlocking stargates, fighting baddies, discovering rumours, making new items, mining, trading, and unlocking my latent psychic powers. I am also impressed at how many variations there are on a simple “match three colours” game.

Some game to remember, some game to forget

Today’s post is dedicated to anyone anywhere who has trouble or pain or miserable things going on in their real lives, and who finds an occasional welcome escape via gaming.

Escapism gets a raw deal in the media. We have so many examples of people who took things too far, maybe even got addicted, and abandoned RL responsibilities. But there are worse ways to deal with life’s problems than to lay down your burden for an hour or so and go kill some orcs (or write a blog post about it 🙂 ). There are no problems that benefit from being fretted over 24/7.

In my case, my father (and arbitrary’s) has recently died after a long illness. It wasn’t unexpected, he was surrounded at the end by people who loved him (including me), and I’ll miss him greatly. I have a lot of things to organise and a lot of feelings to work through – but I know for a certainty that taking a little time during the day when I’m not busy to write or play is helping me, not messing with my head.

Have you found that gaming helped you through difficult or stressful times in your life? And to anyone who hasn’t (which I hope is most), you may have been helping people through difficult times without ever realising it, just by being there.

What if we have our group and solo content the wrong way round?

I was pondering the other day why raids can be so stressful in WoW.

There’s pressure on players, and there can be crazy amounts of pressure on guild officers. You could say that there’s pressure because of the difficulty but sometimes it feels as though the whole raid guild social structure is on edge for all of the time. You cannot really grok this until you have been a guild officer in a failing progression guild and seen people leave because the progress wasn’t fast enough, and held your head in your hands (metaphorically speaking) wondering where the heck you’ll find another ‘class of choice’ so that you can keep the schedule going … so that more people won’t leave.

And I know I have played games where the whole raiding experience was just more fun. I mean, for the organisers as well as participants. So I don’t think it’s a given that raids need to be so hard that they cause stress fractures in guilds and it’s accepted by the player base as the cost of entry.

So I’m thinking, surely it’s possible to design fun raids that aren’t going to cause all this massive stress? Raids should be appealing to social players whether they’re hardcore achievers or not. Because they get to hang out with other players in a scheduled event. PvP raids, for example, are not so stressful.

Here’s the way things stand in WoW-type games at the moment with regards to challenge and difficulty.

Note: I’m leaving aside PvP, which generally sets its own level in terms of difficulty. So really it’s by far the most balanced way of introducing difficulty into a game. Also leaving aside the economic game which is a form of PvP.


The levelling experience contains a mixture of solo and group content. It is generally easy.

The solo sections are particularly easy because they need to be accessible to a large cross-section of players and classes. Solo parts of the game are quest based and story based –- the stories may not be great but they’re supposed to be entertaining ways to get levels, not brick walls. Also some games have sufficiently poor class design that solo challenge varies strongly between classes. (Yes I went there.) In games like that, it’s very difficult to design solo content that’s challenging for the hunter but still accessible to the resto shaman. Or vice versa.

If a solo player wants more of a challenge then they can try higher level quests, or think of additional personal challenges (i.e.. solo a lower level instance, pull more mobs, etc).

Group content while levelling is reasonably easy. It is accessible to players who are still learning the game. So a lot of the implicit challenge is just learning to play your character in a group.


Solo content is repetitive and easy. People can still think up their own personal challenges but there aren’t many new goals in terms of character progression for them.

Group/ raid content can vary from straightforward to bitching hard. The most stressful things you will ever do in game will be in groups or raids. You do have options to make things even harder by undermanning group content or attempting hard modes.

What if the raids were easy and the solo content hard?

So here is the thought experiment:

What if the raids were relatively straightforward? Make them into mass entertainment in terms of fun encounters, gorgeous scenery, cool vehicles, and so on. Let people ride on dragons, sink battleships, conduct orchestras, shoot each other out of cannons, blow up fortresses, play on ice slides and have a good time. Raids include some of the most entertaining content in the game, and the best stories. They should need tactics but let them be quite forgiving. Rewards can still be good, but few. So raiding becomes a fun night out with a small chance to win a good item.

Sure, it’s the gaming equivalent of going to the cinema to see a summer blockbuster but heck, why not?

And what if it was the small group and solo content that contained more of the challenge?  Give them the tricky puzzle-pulls that need to be worked out in advance. The smart bosses that adjust themselves to player tactics. The NPC group that uses PvP tactics to focus the healer first. The heart-thumping stealth instances where you get to do the Mission Impossible thang. The in game experiences that are actually more powerful when you are solo or with a small group and every single person makes a difference. And make rewards smaller but guaranteed – maybe badge based so that the solo player could eventually buy equivalents to raid loot.  So if you follow the solo or small group path, you’ll have a more difficult game but loot is not a lottery.

Would you play that game? I know that I would.

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?

The stress of new instances

Arbitrary at Nerf the Cat writes an impassioned post about how miserable she felt when being rushed through a dungeon that she hadn’t seen before.

We’ve all been there. I know I have. That moment when the initial euphoria of ‘Yay! I have a group and am going to a new instance’ fades to the mild panic of, ‘Where did everyone go? Wait, what’s that? Why did none of these tossers tell me that add had to die first? I’m lost, oh shit. I hate you all! Why am I so rubbish?’ etc. I remember feeling a bit stressed out the first time I went to Gunbad because people were running off and not explaining what was going on and I was struggling to keep up and process it all. And that was with friends, just not at my pace.

This isn’t just a gaming issue. It’s very easy in any new situation to tip the balance between learning how to do new stuff and feeling panicky and out of your depth. It happens any time you end up in a new job and it can be down to daft things like not being able to find the stationary cupboard or accidentally using the wrong mug for your tea (some people are … uh … surprisingly proprietorial about random inanimate items).

Just in games you have to deal with other players and they’re often impatient and lame. And the thing is, it’s just as frustrating when the rest of the group is too slow for your pace too. I have run in groups where the tank took several minutes before every single pull — maybe because they were a bit nervous (which is fine), or maybe because they were a TOTAL CONTROL FREAK and wanted to give everyone else detailed instructions all the time (less fine).

It’s not been such a big deal for me in WoW because,

  1. like Arbitrary, in this game I run new instances with groups of friends/ guildies and we stop to talk about stuff when we aren’t sure what to do. I’m also very familiar with the game and its conventions (stuff like aggro ranges, being able to avoid casters by getting out of their line of sight, spotting a void zone from 20 paces, etc.)
  2. In WoW, I play a tank. So I set the pace. Also, I have loads of armour and a shield and a healer who is supposed to be healing me so I’m set, dunno about the rest of them  🙂

I was thinking about this the other day when one of my guildies, who also plays a warrior, asked me if I ran the level 80 instances as a dps spec to learn them before I started tanking.

I didn’t, but I understand where that comes from. I had the advantage of levelling at the start of the expansion so when I was learning the new instances, so was everyone else. She was feeling a lot of pressure from PUGs to know those dungeons as well as someone like me who’d been running them for a few months already. Or rather, some of the PUG guys had been in groups where the runs went very smoothly and brought that expectation to her too. Except she’d never been there before.

That’s pretty darned stressful. And it’s common enough in WoW that it’s easy to understand why people like to lean so heavily on walkthroughs. I’m pretty sure we looked stuff up too for the bosses when we went though the first time. It’s not the same as really learning from scratch but no one likes to keep wiping. Thinking about it, it’s one of the fun things about non-WoW games when they are new. You really do get to learn the fights without the social pressure to just look it up.

It is true though that you can truck through instances as a dps and most of the time, it won’t matter if you know the place well or not. Stuff will be marked for you to kill, if you mention that you don’t know a boss someone will give you instructions. It isn’t like tanking (or healing) where to make the run smooth you need to memorise every pull and every patrol. I don’t mean that a savvy dps who knows an instance backwards can’t be amazing to have along — just my experience on my widgy warlock is that no one really cares. I can just tag along and DoT stuff, and as long as people see my pet and get their buffs (well, soulstones/healthstones in this case) no one will ever stress me out.

And in the worst case, if you die you’ll just get ressed afterwards and it won’t be a wipe.

Having said all that, there’s a point where you just have to put on your big girl pants,  go tank the new instance, and have confidence in your ability to handle anything unexpected that happens due to you not knowing the place.

As a healer though, you’re stuffed, and most players are not good at briefing new healers (as a tank, people will at least tell you where the patrols are if they remember). The only way to really learn where the heavy proactive healing is needed is either to get it wrong at least once or be on a class that can switch it up with some emergency heals. Knowing this, I do try to check that my healers are OK with the pace if it’s an instance they don’t know. I try to be aware of which mobs hit me the hardest so I can let them know, because walkthroughs won’t always mention that.

And as for my guildie, I told her to grab her tanking gear and I respecced dps to do the run with her, so I could let her learn to tank the place but give some helpful pointers from the easy seats.