My Rift guild Serenity is no longer a raid guild. We managed to kill Duke Letareus, the first boss in Greenscale, but after that attendance went down, our best raiders started talking about leaving, one of them did leave and the people gearing up and leveling up were doing those things very slowly. I've seen this stage before in a casual raid guild and it's usually a slow drawn-out painful death. So I called it, sent the raiders to a more progressed raid guild and told everyone else that Serenity will continue as a social, expert-running and pvp guild but that we wouldn't raid again.
We had at our peak about 80 level 50 players so why were we not able to field 20 for our progression raids?
The simple answer is that most people in the guild simply didn't play the game as raiders in the sense of researching their characters, optimising, using consumables to boost performance and so on. And because they are almost all veteran MMO players who get what the raid scene is about they preferred not to raid rather than to turn up and raid poorly. What's frustrating for me is that we could have beaten these bosses had people shown up, the bar is lower than people think it is. You don't need 1000 dps to beat bosses in Greenscale, the Rift entry raid, you need people to turn up, to learn as they play and to pay attention.
I think I know why so many MMO players make such bad raiders and the roots of it are in psychology.
Harvard Prof Robert Cialdini told a story in his excellent book Influence about a woman acquaintance who was selling gems. She left a note for an assistant to half the price of a slow selling stock of Jade. He mis-read the note and doubled the price. Suddenly these gems that no one wanted sold out. She asked Cialdini why?
Most people have no clue about what makes a good piece of jade. Actually we have no clue about lots of things but our brains have evolved a mechanism to cope. What we do is we take mental shortcuts. In the case of jade we look at the price.
Jewelry is a very personal present. We tend to buy it for someone close to us - a wife, a daughter, a mother. A $25 piece of jade is a bit too cheap for most people to buy as a present. A $50 piece of jade is just right. It doesn't matter that it's the same piece of jade in both cases, we equate quality with price a method that works 99% of the time.
Raiding is considered something the hardcore do. People who are not hardcore avoid the trappings of raiding. I had an experience recently with my raid team just as baffling as Cialdini's jade-selling acquaintance. One of my guildies, having played every evening while leveling and doing experts told me rather indignantly on the night of our second raid that she puts her family before the game and wasn't going to apologise for that. I was left thinking "what?". We had two optional raids per week and I'd stressed that people didn't need to come if they didn't want to. How had this person got so flustered? Why did she go from playing every night to never logging in once we started raiding?
The very notion of raiding threatens a lot of people, so much so that they see an enormous baggage of mandatory attendance, intensive theorycraft and high pressure gaming right from the start.
Raiding has become a closed club. I know of no raiders in Rift who weren't serious raiders in WoW and other games. And Rift isn't unique, I think most MMOs are getting raiding wrong. It has become a closed club.
It's just too hard for people who aren't used to raiding to adjust. In my guild I saw massive non-attendance and drop-out for fear of having to play a high pressure game. Ferrel writes from the other side, about the frustration raid leaders feel with "wilfully ignorant" players.
What's wrong is that too much changes at once for players. They go from a comfort zone of running 5 mans to a blame game of screwing up in front of 19 other people. This leads to several undesirable outcomes:
- non-attendance. The best move if you can't raid competently is not to play.
- "willful ignorance". People who are suddenly out of their depth in a game will generally become more conservative. This is especially troubling because the correct solution is to adapt. However new raiders aren't adapting and the reason they aren't adapting is that they're out of their depth. When you're out of your depth you stick to what you know.
- anger. People who "get it" get increasingly annoyed at new people who are lost in the complexities of raiding, seeing them as freeloaders.
- deception. New raiders sometimes try to bluff their way in, claiming experience they don't have, agreeing to things like flasking for every boss they aren't going to honour.
- division. Is it any wonder with all this going on that players start to despise each other? And of course if your non raiders start to see raiders as no life nerds as a defence mechanism then they shut down their ability to receive guidance from them even as the game steers them into hardcore raiding when they run out of other things to do.
I'll continue this with a look at design solutions and player solutions. For now I'll leave it here with the conclusion: almost everyone is reasonably smart and is behaving in a way that makes sense from their point of view. Of course even the smartest human approaches life by means of a self-devised system of shortcuts and abbreviations, the guy who doesn't pay attention on Teamspeak is using a system that worked fine in every piece of pre-raid content and hasn't managed to adapt when paying attention is suddenly vital.