Monday 13 June 2011

Raiding - the bad and the ugly

In my last post in this series on end game raiding I talked about the positive sides of raiding. Now I'd like to look at the other side of the coin - the problems with the current raid structure.

It's divisive. It's divisive in a number of different ways and all of these are negative.

It divides people simply by being a different game style. Many players who are perfectly competent to raid simply choose not to - it's a playstyle not to everyone's taste. When raiding gets introduced at end game not everyone wishes to switch game styles.

It's exclusionary. The game design parts friends. This can be truly appalling as when Larisa of the Pink Pigtail Inn felt she couldn't continue with her guild. Her account of it made uncomfortable reading even though the rift was healed. And even though the rift with her guild was healed she ceased blogging not long after, these things take a toll. It's important to note that in this case it was not raiders being elitist jerks, the natural way to progress in the game is to pressurise players in your raid guild to improve and Larisa's story will be widely repeated because it is an inevitable result of the way the raid game is designed.

The other side of that is that sometimes someone who could get a strong guild stays with an underperforming guild because of real life attachments. This is a subtle way of poisoning people's real lives outside of gaming - "not only do you never do the washing up but you also stopped me from raiding with the server firsters!"

It's a team game where you "win" by succeeding on an individual level. While raiding is clearly a team activity for most raiders real success is measured personally, particularly by the acquisition of loot but also for some players by topping damage meters. This contradiction means that raids often feed on themselves. For someone to get loot everyone else has to miss out. One of the earliest player modifications of the game design was to introduce DKP systems in an attempt to smooth out a deeply flawed mechanism but it doesn't go far enough. There will always be times in a raider's life when he or she feels bitterly disappointed that a coveted item went to someone else in the raid instead of his or herself. Built-in disappointments are a bad game mechanic. It's become unusual for players to support their team over their character - would you rather your guild killed two bosses and you got nothing or that they killed one boss and you got an epic? Most raiders would pick the second choice. This is a trend that has markedly increased over the years, guild shopping and server transfers are becoming routine. From a certain perspective if your guild is stuck at 5 out of 13 bosses guild-hopping to a 9 out of 13 raid guild is progression for you. And that's becoming quite common in WoW.

It's judgmental. Not only do we get judged but we also get judged on partial or faulty information. A healer who pads his meter score by healing other healers' assignments may beat them on the meter while letting his tank die. Who gets blamed? The schmuck who came bottom of course!

It's attendance-based. Raiding requires a commitment that doesn't exist in other parts of the game or in most other competing entertainment. This is a real downside. No one thinks that TV on a broadcaster's schedule is better than TV on demand or TV you record and watch at a time that suits you. What are you doing next Sunday at 7pm? If you collect minipets in MMOs you don't need to worry but if you're a raider you may need to arrange that.

It's deeply vulnerable to churn. Losing players can be devastating to a raid guild. Many raiders actually spend their game time in a succession of canceled raid nights and getting stuck on old content because recruits aren't as good or as geared as the people who left.

It's afk-unfriendly. It's considered very antisocial to afk and leave 19 other people waiting for you, bored. For many people though they may play for 4 hours but that will include time spent cooking or minding children, they don't want to be utterly shackled to the PC when playing.

It multiplies failure. In most of the game if I screw up I'm the only witness and the only one to suffer. If I fail a task and wipe a raid everyone suffers for my incompetence. Is it fair on 19 people that they wipe if I make a mistake? And is it fair on me to put me under that spotlight?

It encourages players to bully other players. For many players driving underperforming players away by being horrible to them is a perfectly valid method of game play. It's no surprise that the most visited raid theorycraft site is called Elitist Jerks. The irony of Elitist Jerks is that their name is utterly unironic.

It encourages mudflation. It's become an industry standard that each raid must have gear miles better than found anywhere else to attract people to the new content. The only thing this is good for is the egos of the Live team. Imagine a WoW where the content that gets released didn't supercede the old content. So you could go anywhere to any instance for roughly comparable loot. Would you prefer to upgrade your gear in UBRS or Karazhan? Outdating old content is an abomination of game design that only crept in because of terrible project management. It's downright ridiculous that a game such as WoW which has created so many great raids over the years has only 3 viable raids which most players are rather bored of. Mudflation also creates other problems such as the breaking of the mana system in WotLK and the subsequent failed attempt to fix it in Cataclysm. Another downside of mudflation is that gear stops mattering when you know it will get outdated soon.

It's gimmicky. Each boss has a different gimmick to wipe you and some of them are lame. One may have an enrage phase where the tank has to run away because the boss does too much damage. Then mudflation happens and people tank it through the enrage and get called face-rollers. A lot of the gimmicks are silly or too similar. There are many variations of "don't stand in fire" and most of them simply change the colour - it's brown and the gimmick instead of "don't stand in fire" is "don't stand in sludge." These gimmicks are annoying to some players - Tobold refers to raiding as Mario.

It's too much to learn. When we tried Kael'thas in Tempest Keep our raid leader gave a pre-fight lecture that lasted 40 minutes. I had to take notes and refer to them during the fight. It was a 5 phase fight and each phase was highly complex. This boss was arguably the most difficult in WoW's history - he's the only boss that no one killed before the next Tier went live. One of the worst experiences as a raider is to join a more progressed guild. I remember joining one such guild and we did Blackwing Lair. I knew the first 3 bosses. We galloped through the raid on what was a farm raid to everyone else but a nightmare to me as I made my first impression on my new team by dying on every boss (even the ones I knew). Every single one. I did better afterwards but that was a truly horrible evening. Now it's even worse because the new content comes so fast. In Rift I'm just about clear on Greenscale's Blight and Gilded Sanctum in that I know my job but would like more practice to feel comfortable; I'm still somewhat at sea in Ros in that I've killed a few bosses but some I haven't seen and I'm not 100% confident of knowing what to do on the ones I've killed and we're about to get Hammerknell too. It's too much too fast, it's hard to remember them all and I feel like there's no farm content I can relax on and just have fun while gearing up.

It relies on third party amateur work. Now that's worked ok for WoW with EJ, Tankspot and the addon community but as more games come out designers need to realise they are dependent on getting lucky here. Also this type of effort is only likely to be done for the top game. In Rift even though it's current number two there's a lot of bosses no one's done a guide for yet. If part of your raiding player base is guide-dependent then they're boned without Ciderhelm or someone like him. Another problem is that anyone who doesn't use the right third party sites may not measure up to the raid's standards.

Conclusion: there's a lot wrong with the modern raid game. So much that this area is simply crying out for a creative re-think. I do like raiding but it could become so much better than it currently is.


  1. One thing I will say about raiding, it did make me grow up a lot and get much better about working in a team.

    Even the constant in-and-out of recruiting for a raid team has a lot in common with managing a team at work (although hopefully people burn out more slowly iRL.)

    My view (and am sure I have said this before) is that it was a mistake to tune raid content for the hardcore. It worked better as a more inclusive social event.

    But at the same time, I think it was part of an era which is rapidly fading now. An era where people did expect to commit to a single character in a single game as their main leisure activity.

  2. So... what is the heart of "raiding"? As Jeromai asked over at my place, what exactly is the gameplay supposed to be? Maybe start with what we'd want raiding to be and do for players, and build around that?

  3. @Spinks yes, there's a lot of good about raiding and it's certainly become too restrictive. It's part of an era that seems to be fading only because it's badly designed and unplanned within the larger picture. Raiding done right would see a resurgence, the hayday of raiding (ie when most people actually raided) was late TBC and WotLK.

    @Tesh At the heart of raiding is large groups, challenging PvE and superior loot. It has its roots in our myths of dragon-slaying it is meant to be the most heroic activity of a massively multiplayer PvE game.

  4. Interesting read for sure, personally I think "raiding" has become somewhat streamlined if you will.

    You show up with ure consumables etc, you do your job and if ure lucky you get a piece of loot. I kinda feel that I'd like for it to be a little bit more varied. I'd like for the game to challange people on a daily basis.

    I know that's gonna be hard to achieve but at the end of the day it's just wishes anyway :)

  5. I can sum up a couple of reasons why rift specifically is losing an extreme amount of players, especially from the raiding scene.

    Priority lists: Warrior dps, all done with smashing 1 macro(1 to finish 1 to build). Rogue dps, 2 macros (1 to finish 1 to build). Mage dps similar, 1 spell and 2 debuffs. Cleric dps 1 macro. Mage healing 1 macro. The only dynamic classes in terms of gameplay at the moment are rogue tanks, cleric healers/tanks. Even warrior tanking can be done with a macro! And thats it. Every other class is literally "hit the biggest off cooldown button." And people get extremely bored of it. The fights inevitably are all some variation of "move out of the fire" or "you have a debuff run/stop!". Trion have a lot to prove with Hammerknell, they NEED to show they have learned from these mistakes.

    Another part is the encounter design. Trion is incredibly good at building encounters which go -> simple stage simple stage simple stage (7 minutes gone) -> EXTREMELY HARD STAGE. forcing you to waste time on a load of simple stuff and then die near instantly because your senses have been dulled by the easy bit and you get hardly any practice on the hard bit. Johlen is a great example of this, so is Greenscale.

    Quitting Neph was an awful feeling for me. I built it from the ground up, I started small in my own guild, and through a series of merges collected some fantastic people. But the rate at which I was collecting good people was less than the rate I was losing people. Trion are at fault in a number of ways including bad design.

    Being stubborn and refusing to admit they need servers merges is a big problem with Trion. They don't want the game to look like a failed launch and so they refuse to do server merges. There is literally NO recruitment pool on bloodiron, not for the raiding scene at least and this is the very reason you see continuously spammed recruitment messages from any of the raid guilds. I mean, Neph was recruiting having cleared all bosses but 1 in the game. And we had maybe 3 applicants in 2 weeks? If you were in the same position in WoW recruiting, you would have 20 applicants in a single day! The fact is server population needs examining before players give up waiting and leave.

    Bleh, I'm rambling. Split, signing out.

  6. This was a fantastic post. Really sums up a lot of the reasons I think raiding is a broken end game mechanic. Grind a raid to get better gear so that you can start grinding the next raid is not my idea of fun, and never has been.

    The best endgame I've seen in a PvE game was pre-Moria LoTRO. There were raids, but you could get gear roughly on par by crafting and doing PvP (PvMP as a freep). In fact, to get the perfect e-peen hardening set of best in slot gear you needed to at least dabble in all three.

  7. A problem I have with end game in Rift is it radically changes from the leveling game. You can level with extremely low barrier-to-entry content, then WHAM the need for organization hits fully. I found myself in a guild that just didn't have the organization to get anywhere at that point. And now, there's no guild spamming recruitment anymore on my server. Are they dead, or just full? I fear the former.

    Ah well, when I started I mentally gave Rift 3-6 months before it fell apart, so it's not really unexpected.

  8. With raiding we have to remember that there are actually two completely different types of advancement in current MMOs: levelling progression and gearing progression. For some - like me - the gearing progression is so artificial that the raiding holds no interest to me anymore. Added to that it has become very exclusive and hard to penetrate.

    If we start looking for new approaches in raiding, we should also start looking for new approaches to advancement of the player character. Why have the levelling route in a game anyhow, if the main route is gear progression? If levelling is the way, then so it should be: leave the gearing progression away.

    Richard Bartle held this excellent speech in GDC in 2010 about the whole concept of MMO design based on his experience in designing the basic concepts of that first MUD. Much of it still applies and that progression/main reason of the game is one of them.

    The problems are deeper than just the exclusive nature of the MMO end game we take as standard. They start from the basic design question "Why?" as in "why is this feature/concept in the game" and so on.

    Because raiding in WoW is so exclusive and other content so trivial, one has to come up with ways to utilize the trivial content in ways which are fun, like the threesome bashing of normal 5 man instances, or by bringing up (levelling!) a total pacifist character. Whatever it takes to have fun within the MMO, really.

    C out