Wednesday, 29 September 2010


Ghostcrawler, Lead Systems Designer for WoW, has sparked a blogoclysm with his comments about efficiency:

"Posts like this make me very sad. You're portraying yourself to be at the mercy of uninformed yet tyrannical raid leaders who are quick to judge your performance based on perceived "tells." I know you need some basis to evaluate potential recruits or even pug members. But I do wish there was some way to turn around this virtual phobia of inefficiency -- this terror of being WRONG -- that we have managed to instill in our player base. I honestly think it's one of the greatest challenges facing the game."

No Prisoners No Mercy take it with their inimitable Chicago style. Tobold suggests solving the issue by rock paper scissors design. Gronthe is sceptical about developers accepting the blame. And Larisa seems worried.

Let me explain why players do this, why it's a design element that can be solved by game designers and why WoW is unlikely to address the issue successfully.

Why do players do this?

When putting together a pug raid there are a limited selection of data elements upon which to assess people.

Sometimes you can judge people by their name. I'm a firm believer that people who call themselves Aggromagnet or Wipejunkie are always being utterly unironic and should never be invited into a pug.

Sometimes you can have a short conversation which shows the player to be a veteran raider who understands his class.

You can judge people by gems and enchants.

But by far the easiest is to judge people by automated processes: gearscore is one method. From time to time talent checker mods have been written by players such as this one:

Scrub - Raidmember talent scanner (was TalentShow)
Some conversations in EJIRC led me to write a mod with the purpose of scanning and analyzing raidmembers' talent specs. Also being bored at work.

Hence, Scrub. Simple little mod designed to:

-Scan the talents of all raid members within range
-Display raidmembers talent triplet and dominant spec in a compact fashion
-Redflag talent builds that are clearly bad for raiding (<11 assassination for rogues, no instant attack for warriors, etc.) -Yellowflag talent builds that warrant a closer look (>23 disc, hemo, etc - things that may not be total fail, but are atypical)

Now raid leaders do not go out, generally speaking, with a glowing ambition to make the world a better place for everyone. They specifically want to succeed and with the maximum efficiency.

By looking at talent specs a raid leader does not just spot that you missed 1% of your maximum potential - he also sees that you don't know or don't care how to play the game in a cookie cutter way.

Building a pug raid is an applied sociological discipline. Like most sociology it fails for individual cases but can be pretty accurate for large numbers of players.

If you have a non-maxxed spec you may be less likely to know the optimal rotation. Less likely to use food. Less likely to use flasks. Less likely to have prepared by watching bosskillers or tankspot videos. Less likely to have done the fight before. Less experienced as a raider.

There are exceptions but the correlation between players who min/max by picking cookie cutter talents and players who min/max on consumables, players who have moved into min/maxing as a result of many raids' worth of experience is high.

That's why you won't get raid groups if your spec is 1% sub-par. Because most players whose spec is 1% sub-par do 50% less dps than the guy with the cookie cutter spec.

How do developers design around this?

Crowds of players function differently according to community size. That's why in less popular games you often find nicer, more tolerant people. And people are less polite when they perceive anonymity and a lack of repercussions. Not only is WoW the most popular MMO but it has designed in a reduction of community over its life. Cross-server dungeons and battlegrounds. Less world pvp. Faster travel. All of these elements are quality of life improvements that have side effects of reducing community.

In other games you see different behaviour. In AoC pug raids are really popular and take 2 of each class. 12 classes, 2 spots each. This is because most loot is class specific and the community prefers to share the loot evenly. This mirrors behaviour in Vanilla WoW - the class raids to UBRS. If loot is focussed on classes and raid size approximates the number of classes or a multiple then you get class raids.

In EQ2 raids are built around group utility. 2-4 tanks, 6+ healers, 4-5 enchanters, 4-5 bards, rest dps. This means on average, of the 4 archetypes you get:
3 Fighters
7 Priests
7 Scouts (4-5 of them Bards)
7 Mages (4-5 of them Enchanters)
It's a lot more uneven than AoC and has more issues with classes being fun to play but being unable to get raid spots or conversely being horrible to level but highly sought after for raids.

Much as I'm enjoying EQ2 at the moment from a design perspective AoC is ahead of the others. 2 of each kind has worked well since Noah built his ark.

Both EQ2 and AoC have a much higher standard of player behaviour and civility. People will stick it out through wipes, politely tolerate afks, are considerate with loot. The players are parts of small communities where getting a reputation as a dick means you don't get to raid. (You can take paid server transfers or name changes but it's very much a last resort).

It's not just the size of the raiding community. WoW has tried to keep its raid community small by not allowing cross server raids. But it's an experiment that hasn't worked. The process of community is gradual and is built up of little incidents and perceptions - by making 99% of the pre-raid game either cross server or solo WoW is finding itself without strong communities.

I believe that WoW's designers simply weren't expecting this. Players' notions of themselves as part of communities are established before they reach raid level and don't change even though logically the same issues of reputation, blacklisting and guild finding exist. It doesn't matter that there may be only 4 good raid guilds on your server and that all the leaders talk to each other about trouble-makers. Players have already set their behavioural norms in relation to other players before they apply to raid guilds.

Why WoW won't fix this

WoW won't fix this because the measures that have fragmented their community are hugely popular quality of life changes. They can't put these back in their boxes without severely alienating their player base.

LFD, instancing, epic flying mounts, instant travel are features WoW is stuck with. It's not Elitist Jerks who make casual raiding horrible, it's fundamental design decisions that almost all players applaud.

The solution, should you feel frustrated, is to try a different MMO which has raids in. EQ2, Lotro and DDO are free to play now. AoC as mentioned has excellent raid composition by design. Vanguard might be quite interesting if and when it goes f2p, I don't think it will be much fun before that as soloing to max level was pretty horrible.


  1. That is a great analysis. It's honestly the first post I've read on the problem that I think completely nails it. Bravo.

  2. What if a game were built completely around raids, then? No leveling grind, no strong solo overworld, just a bunch of group-only raids without progression? Only player skill and interpretation of the system counts.

  3. Good question Tesh. I'll do a full blog post in reply soon.