Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Raiding and unintended consequences

I spoke over the Summer about the unusual pattern of Malaise, often called the “Doldrums”, that set in a bit early this year. In years past the pattern was very predictable, but not this year. This year the pattern is unusual with people starting their doldrum early, and some not even coming back in the Fall when we would typically begin to see those players again. There also seems to be aspects to the equation that weren’t present in years past. I’ve been in favor of Blizzard’s actions to make raids more accessible to the general WoW player-base, but most of the older raid guilds have taken diametric stances. Some of the best raid guilds from previous years – like Death and Taxes of Korgath fame have folded entirely, citing the dumbed down raid content. Ensidia has also often posted very publicly about their disdain for it as well. And while my own server, Kargath, is by no means a bastion of raiding power, our own top raiding guilds are having many of the issues with current content that the more well known raid guilds in WoW have spoken about. But the problems go even further than simply disagreeing with how raid content is developed and presented. Because many people feel raid content is simply too easy there seems to be a relatively wide-spread dis-interest in raiding. If not dis-interest, then lets simply say that the level of drive that I think most raiders had up to BC is no longer there. People raid, but I don’t think I see the fire there any more. And that plays out in new and unexpected ways on many servers.

One unexpected consequence is that in years past the better known raid guilds on a server would have a queue of applicants as long as someone’s arm. It was a well known fact that the larger raid guilds ate the younger or smaller raid guilds. Meaning a lot of people would guild hop. Many players would level up in a guild, and get somewhat decently geared, then app to a larger, more advanced raid guild in order to get into content their present guild had no chance of getting to. It was something that was complained about bitterly by many, yet it was simply an extension of human nature. People are out for themselves, first and foremost, and they looked to their best interest over their present groups. However the masses complained that raid content was too difficult and many players objected to paying the same price as anyone else, but effectively being denied access to in-game content. There is, and was, a certain point to be made there and Blizzard heard and responded to what we currently see in WotLK. Blizzard changed the paradigm, instead designing content that was “accessible” to all, and enabling levels of content within the same raid dungeon through “hard modes”. By doing this however, they’ve brought something similar to WoW that we see in the NFL during the present age where talent is spread across the entire league, instead of being concentrated on a small number of teams that can then dominate. Where in years past you effectively had a funnel for raid talent, that talent now is spread across the entire realm. Like on many realms, the larger raid guilds on my realm are having trouble recruiting to replace the players dropping out of raiding these days. One of the best known raid guilds on my server recently decided to stop raiding all together, which is a monumental hit considering it was the top progression guild through BC. And it’s hardly in a unique position.

While the larger raid guilds are having problems recruiting, so are the smaller guilds. Yet they’re probably in worse shape overall because they simply don’t have the greater concentration of hard core raiders than the older, larger guilds do. The smaller guilds are more apt to have what would typically be talked about as casual raiders, meaning they most likely don’t raid every raid evening each week and generally have less experience than someone who does raid every raid evening during a week. While these smaller guilds might slog through raids, they probably have little chance of getting into hard-modes. And for the raid content that is more akin to what we would see back in BC like the Yogg fight in Ulduar, those smaller guilds are probably as bad off now as they were in BC. Which is to say that most smaller guilds still haven’t completed Ulduar. Especially now that TOC is out. TOC is easier than Ulduar overall, and most guilds I know on my realm have stopped running Ulduar, in order to concentrate on TOC. A smaller guild might struggle for a bit in TOC, but eventually they figure things out and get to a point where they can clear it in 40-60 minutes. Then what? Do they go back into Ulduar? If most guilds are like mine, the answer is no. When the guild leader in my guild posts that we’re going to go back into Ulduar to finish off Yogg we suddenly find people are unavailable. It’s the same thing on those nights where we’re going to attempt Heroic TOC. People are suffering from lack of challenge but because there is less concentration of talent in most guilds, they have little opportunity to get to the levels of content in a raid dungeon they haven’t yet seen. And they speak with their gold purses by opting to not participate on those nights that are undoubtedly going to be more expensive for them. It’s the classic catch-22.

Unfortunately in a lot of cases people get to a point where they just give up and quit WoW. We’ve had a rash of that in my guild recently, where I would expect from years past that the Fall was a very fertile raid period. I’m expecting that patch 3.3 will bring about something similar to what we saw in Ulduar. Ulduar was vastly more difficult than Naax was, and I’d expect Icecrown to be vastly more difficult than TOC is. Whether we get to the same point toward the end of Icecrown that we find our self in right now, and toward the end of Ulduar is something to be determined.