Raiding Philosophy and Game Development

You will have noticed how far the game has evolved – from a rather geeky ” king of the hill”  type MMO, where only the absolute cream of the crop raids, and only continuous PvP awards you with rewards – into a rather mainstream and adaptive environment combining social media, E-Sports and an immersive storyline. Even when you focus on only one aspect – the philosophy behind raiding – you will find a massive shift from just a few years ago. Let’s look a bit more into details.

The Classic Raider (TM)

Some of these are still around, grizzled old veterans of times when raiding was considered to be something so exclusive, that it was worth sacrificing a lot for. You had to grind equipment sets, food was rather restricted in its benefits unless you had extravagant recipes, and flasks were extremely expensive and could only be made in a rather difficult 5-man dungeon. If you wanted to have any chance at completing your epic class quests, you probably needed to be a raider to have the gear to make it manageable.

These were the days when a raid had a ” main tank”  and only warriors were really optimized for tanking. Protection Paladins were laughed at, Druids were shoved back to healing, and Death Knights were nothing but a promise in the Lich King’s loins. Times were pretty tough actually, and alting was rampant simply because there was a ceiling you could not pass. And this was fine back then.

Raiding took such an amount of time, that it required a tight schedule. People (mostly tanks and healers) burnt out rather often and you’d have to replace them. Raiding gear was so special, that most raiding guilds kept them close to their chests, awarding it to main healers/tanks and officers.  This was the reason the DKP (Dragon Kill Point) system was introduced, to allow people to get loot based on their performance and attendance. Thanks to previous experience from Everquest, raiding guilds were quick to formalize loot rules, behavior and were the driving force behind fledgling addons like Omen and Recount.

To be able to join a raid to a higher-tier dungeon, you first needed to have completed the lower tier ones. This meant often returning to lower raids in order to attune new raid members. At peaks of turnover, every other raid might be for the benefit of attuning members to the ever-expanding chain of attunements needed to get to the raid of the day. That, or gearing them for the latest raid, if it didn’t have an attunement but required top gear just to be doable.

The Burning Crusade – Wrath of the Lich King

Here, the first signs of change appeared. Normal dungeons awarded reasonable gear (you could raid with it) but there were also Heroic versions of the same dungeon. Essentially mini-raids, they trained people in basic raiding behavior (not getting into fires, various mechanics from bosses, behavior towards tanks and aggro) as well as providing gear only slightly less powerful than raiding gear. They were also purple – coveted epics dropping from a non-raid!

One thing that did not change (at first) was attunements. You needed reputation with various factions for the keys to enter heroic dungeons – which often entailed doing normal dungeons a lot first. And to enter the raids (Karazhan, for example) you needed to complete a long questline which included various dungeons and even quests inside the raid itself to complete fully. The good thing was that you didn’t need to kill all the bosses to proceed. There were a few required (Moroes, Chess) and a few completely optional (Netherspite, Aran, Illhoof) which still were tempting because of the loot they awarded.

A new feature was added to help people gear up their alts or prepare their mains for raids: emblems. By completing heroic dungeons, you could earn currency to trade in for gear which was relatively on par with the latest defunct raid – and sometimes shockingly superior even. This allowed more people to raid, but to allow those who were made of sterner stuff a challenge, awards were given for timely execution (such as the Zul’ aman bear run). This way, those who showed above-average quality and skill were awarded.

Raids also had a fixed number of players – 25 man raids being the norm, with smaller raids (Karazhan and Zul’ aman) being 10man to allow raiding to guilds which did not have the manpower to complete a large raid. This was based on the fact that most server populations had difficulty fielding 40-man raid teams, and this also caused a greater turnover. With smaller teams more people would also be tanks, which would fuel the rising star of the Heroic Dungeon Farm.

In Wrath of the Lich King, this progressed to its peak:

  • Raids available in 10man and 25man form, for smaller and larger raid guilds
  • Introduction of achievements to tally exceptional skill and to provide challenges for raids weary of the same encounter weekly
  • Raids from Trial of the Crusader on came with Hard Modes, providing even more challenge for hardcore raiders
  • Normal mode raids were made slightly easier, so that more people would be able to raid
  • Currency system in full swing, with currencies for every tier of raiding and their respective 5mans to gear up alts and new mains
  • Dual-spec introduced to make swapping roles in raids (or for PvP/5mans) easier, meaning less people are benched
  • Flasks and various food buffs are made much more cheap and available, while others are removed (weapon oils) for ease of play
  • Ease of play also sees the death of little-used abilities, a streamlining of the talent system for the coming Cataclysm
  • At the end of WotLK, currencies are unified into Justice Points and Valor Points – and caps are added

Cataclysm and beyond

Cataclysm saw the great conflict between the Elite and the Casual. Here’s what it boils down to:

  • Casuals say that the raids are hard, and take too much time. Farming for them take too much time.
  • Blizzard’s response is to eliminate unusal buffs (like weapon oils), make buffs cheaper and even without reagents, and make standard raids a little easier.
  • Elites say that the raids are too easy (even if they had not completed it) when a top-5 world guild downs a boss.
  • Blizzard includes achievements which are moderately hard to achieve for the dedicated casual or the average hardcore
  • Blizzard includes hard modes which give better loot
  • Casuals complain the achievements/hard modes are too hard
  • Blizzard nerfs old content hardcores don’t really care about anymore
  • Blizzard adds a PvP-area boss that drops PvE and PvP loot for people who want to make the switch
  • Elites complain that Blizzard nerfs contents and caters to casuals

As you can see, it’s very hard to please everyone. But see how our favorite game has transformed?

You can counter boredom in your raid group by doing speed runs, achievements or hard modes. You don’t need to farm for weeks to get resistance sets crafted or people geared and attuned. Quest gear leads to normal dungeons, normals to heroics, heroics to raid. And if you want it even quicker, you can have epics crafted or buy them from the AH. The interface has greatly improved, learning lessons from talented addon makers

If you are really, really casual (and I know some who are) there are a few daily quests, weekly quota of heroics and randomg battlegrounds. For mid-level casuals there are the normal-mode raids which can be attempted with a pick-up group from Trade (at least a few bosses). Dedicated Casuals or Attempted Hardcore people can complete the recent raids (perhaps after a nerf). Hard Modes are available to those who are average-hardcore raiders, although maybe they too will need to see the content nerfed before they can clear more than one or two hard mode bosses.

And the world-class hard core guilds? When everyone else starts the hard modes, they completed it all, on hardmode and back twice a week. But then, those are the people who raid like the game was back when the first raids were released. Tenacious, dedicated, incompromising. I am glad I am not hardcore like that, but I sure respect the effort and challenges that are required to make it happen.

Conclusion

Raiding used to be the highest-level of achievement in the game. Your gear was colored purple and your guild was probably one of three guilds on the server that managed the current content. But now, there has been an enormous dilation between levels of skill. From the most casual of the casuals to the most hardcore of raiders, the activities and the difficulty of achieving your goals has been spread out across the entire game population.

People will still complain, because people don’t want to be called Casual, because they don’t want to miss out on cool stuff. This is good to a point – because nothing motivated people like desire. Sometimes, Blizzard is right to make content easier, to allow more people to access it and counter the onset of boredom. Sometimes, their timing is a bit off, too early with it. But the way Blizzard handles it, everyone has something to do, goals to aspire to. And although they are hand-me-downs, content nerfs allow you to see wondrous things that raiders see on a daily basis.

In my opinion, people who are casual yet want to clear hardmodes are deluding themselves and don’t know their capabilities. Those who are hardcore and fight content nerfs are petty, and don’t see that others simply want to experience what they did, even if it is months later.  In the end, you see it all – whether the game downgrades to your ability to invest timeand effort or you rise to meet its challenges.

A game for Everyone hatched from the egg of elites.

Sounds really successful when you add it all up, wouldn’t you say?

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