Friday 3 June 2011

Ignorant players or bad game design?

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.


  1. What we need is a raid for noobs that isn't a noob raid. I doubt this is nostalgia (I've checked), but it may very well be my frequent obliviousness to what is going on: MC seemed to fit this niche. It wasn't especially complex in most cases. It had a lot of space for noobs. But it was still a raid. If you were in MC maybe you weren't a good raider, but you were a raider; you could flip that identity switch.

    Then there was the otherwise-useless resistance gear, which you'd get only if you planned to or were raiding, so gathering it was a way to transition into raiding without having to make a sudden jump. Current heroic gear doesn't carry that same meaning, since while it may be needed or expected for raids, it is useful outside of raids as well. Attunements may have filled this as well.

    These allowed players to think of themselves as raiders before actually going on any raids, since after all that, the actual raid was really just a pesky detail, much like how in a wedding having a husband is just a minor detail that the wife sorts out ahead of time.

  2. Great article! I enjoyed it very much. I want to point out one minor thing regarding my point and yours. I didn't lump new raiders into my class of willfully ignorant. If you're learning to raid you can't really willfully big ignorant yet. You can be ignorant but that is different.

    In your example it seems some of these people went from their comfort zone and found themselves in a raid guild. Your examples of how they deal with it are exceptional.

    I'm more focused on the other class of people you mentioned. Those that have raided before and had an intention to raid again in Rift who're in an established raid guild.

    As an example. In Iniquity we don't have any at the moment. That said, we could. When we were level 1 we knew we wanted to raid in Rift. Everyone agreed that was our goal. There was no casual player contingent. Just a whole lot of raiders. If, now that we're raiding, we ask for a mere 550 DPS and someone is doing 200, that is willful ignorance. My article is really about how to deal with those people.

    I think your experience holds a wealth of information for people trying to go from casual to casual raiding. This is something a lot of guilds go through and your account is quite good (not in the sense you had call it, but more in how well you recognize the reasons).

  3. Now I'm idly curious what an "all raiding, all the time" game would do with this psychology. Forget the leveling game with its different expectations... what if you started out by raiding and just always raided? The learning curve would be something you travel *while raiding*.

    ...that might short circuit the cultural inertia and misconceptions.

  4. Meh, just wrote a long reply and had Bloger swallow it, so here's the short version:

    I personally don't raid because I'm a casual player (which does NOT mean 'incompetent' or 'stupid', but does mean 'time limited', 'unable to spend ages grinding best in slot gear', and 'erratic play schedule') Raiding in its current form is not amenable to players like me, which is why the smart ones recuse ourselves from raiding.

    Klepsacovic - MC was probably more "noob friendly" because it was a 40 man raid and didn't have any desperate DPS races, at least before Ragnaros himself. There was more room for a few players to be beginners or just plain less able.

    Ferrel - as you point out, there's a difference between those who aren't fully competent YET (newbies) and those who just aren't willing to put in the effort (the "wilfully ignorant", or as I call them "freeloaders"). Onse set represent the future rading cadre, the others are bad apples that you want chucked out of the barrel. I would caution that current raiding culture (at least in WoW) seems to often treat the former as the latter, which is not healthy.

    Tesh - an "all raiding, all the time" game would naturally select a player base that wants to raid, which would get around the problems Stabs has described... but only by chucking the baby (all of those players currently alienated from raidng) out with the bathwater.

  5. "What we need is a raid for noobs that isn't a noob raid. "

    Isn't that originally what small-group content was for? Training people in basic group dynamocs and teamwork, so that on a larger scale it wasn't so intimidating?

    It seems to me, that many MMOs have divorced everthing from below raid-level into a different category. It's now 'content for the casuals'. Not that it's too accessible, but that it doesn't require players to learn how to operate in a team in order to succeed. Therefore, you have people who are convinced that they are out of their league in a raid situation. Plus, the bashing of min-maxers doesn't help either, in that it intimidates people with an strict imaginary barrier of entry where people have to be 100% perfect or GTFO.

  6. Thank you all very much for your comments. I can see that basically I'm preaching to the choir.

    Over the next week or two I'll explore possible ways of expanding this very fun secret game within a game to a wider audience.

  7. You describe and explain a lot. As Tesh pointed out, I think the gap between ultra casual solo play in a world without any commitment and a raid where 10-20 people have to work together is a real shock for those trying to make the transition.

    In fact I wonder why in our modern MMO worlds where things like 95% LOTRO players playing the "skirmishes" scaling to group size rather solo rather than in a group happen (! MMO my ass).

    The solofication of MMOs is ongoing and stronger than ever (for worse, IMO), yet raiding remains tacked on top as the endgame. The mentioned process of training players and gearing them up in "5 man" dungeons or the equivalent of the game in question for raids no longer works either.

    I also can't help but I can't shake off the feeling that I am getting old and MMOs nowadays are made for a totally different audience that I don't understand. Given their in my eyes odd desires I wonder that raiding still exists actually.

  8. The 2nd paragraph is missing ~ "why raids still exist in such a world"

  9. 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?

    I understood this woman instantly: it is the implicit obligation that comes from being in a raiding guild.

    "You don't have to come if you don't want to" is a 100% useless statement. Imagine you are a party or picnic with a group of friends, it is getting late, and a group of people start cleaning up. "Oh no, you don't have to clean if you don't want to." What kind of person hears that, sees other people working, and then says "Oh, okay. Bye"? In the back of this woman's mind are the potential scenarios where you guys are 1 person short and she is online. Or she tries out, fails, and no people who liked her/are indifferent suddenly have a negative opinion of her (or could possibly have one). Or, hell, she tries out and is actually good it at, such that 19 other people come to rely on her, making this no longer a game but an obligation.

    Without obligation, there is no such thing as guilt. People will go far, far out of their way to avoid guilt. And who can blame them? If I log on to check the AH and my guildies want me to do a dungeon, and I don't feel up to it, suddenly I'm thinking maybe I should not log on just to do the AH (or check from an alt).

  10. Sounds suspiciously like :elitepvp: in Eve...

  11. Ignorant players or bad design? We have to pick just one? :P

    I don't find your guildmate's reaction all that surprising. Leveling solo, or in public groups, requires zero advance preparations and relatively limited thought - log in, accept all quests, and move towards the closest arrow on the map. That is actually not the same product as thinking about gear and specs, reading strats during non-gaming time, and, in many cases by design, having night after night end in failure because the content is actually tuned to make failure more likely than it is in solo, or even heroic/expert instance play. For her, this is not the same price for the same piece of jade - even though the monthly fee and the time investment are approximately the same, you've now moved your shop to an inconvenient part of town.

  12. "Why did she go from playing every night to never logging in once we started raiding?"

    Answer: Yes she played every night probably more than raiding. BUT "it was on HER terms" not a raid leaders terms
    In other words she can commit hours on unstructured play time to Rift... SHE WILL NOT commit even an hour where participation is manditory.

    It is not fair to her kids to say "mommy cant read to you because I have to heal"... it is not fair to the raid when mommy has to go tank baby aggro.
    Hence when even the slightest... "we need you..." starts all people with life commitments that may interupt structured raid time- tp start getting defensive about family time.

    It is not the baggage of mandatory attendence... it's the baggage of constant attention without interruption.
    People with kids can't garantee that there will be no interuptions.

    You can make all the "attendence is not mandatory" speeches you want.
    Mommy goes one time to comfort a screaming kid who woke up from a nightmare (oh and was tank healer)
    wipes the raid...then sheepishly says their kid had a nightmare... boy that's a raid morale booster!

    "It's just too hard for people who aren't used to raiding to adjust."

    Nah you got it all wrong... everybody adjusted fine it's the end game that failing.
    Look, if a raid were able to be played where a healer could go AFK and not wipe the raid... THEN you would have more raiders
    Mommy could take care of little joey and not cause 10 other dudes to die and waste time.

    BUT... no end game except Rift with it's expert and raid rifts (sort of) accomodate this.

    So you have 3 types of players

    Clued in but cant raid for life reasons

    As long as end games center around not letting the "Clued but have lives" raid your raider applicant pool will be small.

  13. AG: a better question might be, why would a keen player (and someone who plays every night and runs expert instances is likely not someone who is going to go off for 5 mins in the middle of a dungeon run to tend to family) not be able to grok the concept of two nights a week raiding with non-mandatory attendance.

    I'd suggest it's because she feels that a 'good' raider always attends when possible so however much Stabs tells people that it is non-mandatory that is not the message that they get.

  14. "Why did she go from playing every night to never logging in once we started raiding?"

    As someone who likes to play healers, I've been in many guilds where I clearly layed out upfront that I had Real life commitments and couldn't be a regular raider. Invariably I fill in for a missing healer, do well and then it begins, every time I log in people start whispering me to come to the raid. If I can't they get mad,or think I'm mad at them.

    Eventually I get the speech of "Can't you play just a little more. We need you."

    I don't know her exact history but she's probably been guilted into playing more than she should or been mocked or ridiculed for not being a raider and being a freeloader. The really sad thing is guilds that start out never intending to raid end up catching the raiding fever. Once that happens those that don't want to raid or can't get run off. It's a stressful thing to get run off by your in game friends because they suddenly have different priorities and see you as a liablility.

    I tell people what I think and move on. Most people just fade away quietly and are never heard from again. It's simply easier. Of course that freaks out the type A who want to know what went wrong and why so they can fix it or avoid it in the future.

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  16. Thankfully, Rift can provide some stepping stones to serious (aka instanced) raiding, that can help people slide into the whole raiding rythm and perhaps get some self confidence:

    a) Weekly Raid quests
    b) Daily Raid Rift quests

    Both of these are essentially noob raids, the equivalent of Molten Core. There are mechanics that people need to be aware of but in most cases it's something simple (ie move out of melee range when the boss emotes, don't stand in stuff). In most cases, if someone dies he can simply run back, rez and go at it again.

    So my suggestion to you is, replace raiding night with Rifting nights. Pick up as many people as you can, open up several crafting rifts in a row (tons of cash right there), do the daily expert perhaps and then go for the daily Raid rift.

    People will be much more inclined to join a "Rift farm night" rather than a "Raid night".

  17. Now there's a good idea. Raid/Expert rifting is a lot more casual-friendly* than a standard raid. You can take extra people along outside the main raid group, who will at least get standard rift rewards and can be cycled through the main raid group, and players with time constraints or family demands can drop in and out as they need to.

    * "casual" defined as "restricted playing time", rather than "incompetent".

  18. Perhaps MMOs will move more in the direction of on the fly content - When a certain number of people are in some place, then some cooperative content can spontaneously occur. Combine that with scaling and people can leave or join the action when they want. The only problem then lies in making your individual contribution matter in some way to your ad hoc group.

  19. Again, Rift has that with invasions.

    The kicker is that when a guild gets 20 people out in the open rifting (usually Shimmer or Stillmore) the chances of an invasion happening go up exponentially (due to the increased activity in the zone).

    On more than one occasion I was with my guild doing raid/expert rifts and an invasion popped up sealing all of them up.

    It spices things up and - in my opinion - is way less boring than an instance farm. Plus, isn't Rift supposed to be, you know, about Rifts?

  20. Rift does make spontaneous content to some extent. But, it's so repetitive ... and community doesn't form around rifting because the presence or abscence of individuals is of little consequence.

  21. VERY interesting, I have many times hoped that guilds would be able to have 2 crews, one cutting edge raiding and one training crew that does the older (easier or lower level raids) for themselves with some coaching and help from the Cutting edge crew. I see that as the only possible way of building a raid force that can develop and grow. In EQ2 I saw some guilds that was not even interested in gearing up their own members for raiding but instead told them to do PuR for gear, now that is an extreme example but it highlights the "exlusion trend".

  22. I don't really think the endgame(s) in MMO(s) has *become* an exclusive club; it has always been one.

    The scheduled play would be, I guess, one of the reasons for this. I have to be available to be called from work sometimes and I don't raid during the evenings so I don't wipe the group by forcing them to take an unscheduled break that nobody knows how long will take when I'm called from the work.

    Another reason is lack of pointers in game. Of course, there is a lack of pointers on how to play solo too but nobody minds you wiping at level 2 creatures in the newbie zone. In groups, however, if your performance is bad enough, you can stop the group from progressing. But there's nothing in the game to tell you that you failed and should have done "X" instead. The experienced players know they should visit an external website or get an addon to check their performance but how is a new player supposed to know? Unfortunately, there's quite a lot of players who want to be carried and many experienced players might get the two groups confused and snap at a newbie instead of pointing him to a resource that would make him better.

    The third reason is that maybe the raiders are perceived as an exclusive club so they eventually became one. I guess the old MMO players attitude towards the club was different; most of them wanted to become a part of it for the prestige that comes with it. Possibly many of the new players do not want to become part of the club for various reasons. That doesn't make them bad or lazy - using your jade metaphor, a person who buy a $25 jade over a $50 is not necessarily too poor for the $50 one - maybe they do not want the other person to feel the need to return the favor.

  23. Rift does make spontaneous content to some extent. But, it's so repetitive ... and community doesn't form around rifting because the presence or abscence of individuals is of little consequence.

    Depends. I understand your point about the predictability and I agree that a truly dynamic environment that scales with the population would be ideal. Let's hope GW2 will do this one right.

    I also agree that the individual is not important when you're farming expert rifts with a zerg. But it is supposed to be a casual experience, and casual gamers are just happy to be part of the group and perhaps get a tiny upgrade at the end of the night. The people that truly want the highlight will be pulled into instanced raiding.

    Besides, when you're Rifting, some allies tagging along are always welcome, become their presence doesn't drain your rewards. Finding hostiles is also welcome, because tension builds up and occasionally you end up spending the evening pvp-ing rather than what you planned.

    In both cases, interaction = sense of community. You really do learn the people of your server. I stumbled on my current guild while they were doing a Raid Rift in IPP. I was too low level to help, so I just stood on a rock and though "that looks pretty damn cool". About a dozen other questers had gathered by the time the rift closed.

    Their presence out in the open built community ties and I looked for them when I finally hit level 50.

    Rift is a pretty cookie-cutter MMO. However it's kinda sad that people will skip over the 1 thing that can set it appart from the competition and go for the instanced gear grind instead. I guess I always had a soft spot for world bosses in MMOs.

  24. What makes raiding exclusive for me? I can't sit at a the computer for long enough at a stretch to finish a raid. Hardness doesn't enter into it. I'm on 7 days a week, often 3 hours in a row. But I CAN walk away at intervals less than 3 hours for more than 3 minutes.

    I can't see how a newbie MC raid would solve any of this. If you can't be at the computer from the start of the raid until the end, I can't see how you can go. How about we convert existing raids into heroic instances to give people a chance to experience the old content?

  25. "casual gamers are just happy to be part of the group and perhaps get a tiny upgrade at the end of the night."

    What Bill said & I'm not sure there really is a large cadre of "casual" players. But there are very many people who don't raid because of the rigid schedule they can't commit to along with the unfriendly atmosphere that faces anyone trying to do it for the first time.

  26. "Roq said...

    Perhaps MMOs will move more in the direction of on the fly content - When a certain number of people are in some place, then some cooperative content can spontaneously occur. Combine that with scaling and people can leave or join the action when they want. The only problem then lies in making your individual contribution matter in some way to your ad hoc group."

    Innovations happening and you don't eve realize it...

    Trion needed that extra edge to put them over the top, why not just create an auto pilot button for players so they can walk away?

    I'm just kidding =P

    About the chick who didn't want to commit to raiding but could be on every night for randoms etc. I don't get it, even in my rapid assault achievement runs I was spending enough time to do Greenscale or RoS on the dungeons.

    I have a family, I'm a full time student, and an avid gamer. I don't know any other type of raiding besides hardcore, I make it work. Just like my wife relies on me to be here when the kids get off the bus, I rely on her to take care of "ish" when I'm raiding. Now I know everyone can't do this and thats when you have to make it abundantly clear that you WILL NOT be raiding as your life does not permit it, But it seems as though this chick was making every effort to get raid worthy. EVERY night running T2's isn't casual IMO. Everyone is talking about how "maybe she didn't want to be the downer for going to a raid, being good, and then having to tell others she couldn't raid on a schedule or whatever the case may be, but I see it a bit differently as I've see this same situation literally hundreds of times. let me explain.

    Sometimes players that KNOW for a fact that they can't raid (time, family, whatever) still refuse to be "left behind" and statements like this chick made are made to do 2 things.

    1. Let the raid leader / GM know his/ her position and where raiding comes on the list (Guilt and defense all in one).

    2. Get others siding with her because you know there are other people like me (with a family and a RL) who make raiding work, but can also relate with her (A complete breakdown of morale which makes the raid leader look incompetent, instead of making the raider themselves look bad).

    This is where you can't win. You will either be the dick who won't ever take her because she unreliable and certain people will feel disdain for you (which creates a bad mojo all around), or you look like the leader who plays favorites by replacing the guy who does show up every night and is reliable just so she can play....

    I'm just talking out of my ass but it sounds plausible to me....


  27. Sounds pretty plausible to me too.

  28. Thanks for an interesting post!

    The idea that raiding has (at times) more to do with its symbolic value, rather then the actual events it involve resonates strongly with me.

    I have been on both ends in this: as the raidleader frustrated with people not turning up, and opting out of raiding just to spend even more time on an alt.

    Raiding is very rarely 3-4 hours of "you cannot leave your keyboard under any circumstances". It has to do with feeling of letting people down if you are not committed.

    There are myriads of reasons why people end up going afk, even during bossfights. From bad internet connections, to nagging parents, to children to workcalls. It just seems to matter more to some people to be 100% dedicated :)