Raiding, The Virtual Theme Park: Where we’ve been, where we’re going.

The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept. — George Carlin

Like the last ride of the day, Wrath of the Lich King is going down the final hill to the station as Cataclysm is still under construction with its gates opening later this year.

It’s been just over a year and a half since many of us stood outside our favorite nerd outlets. We waited anxiously for the clock to tick over midnight so we could get our hands on the eagerly anticipated expansion starring Arthas and set on the frozen continent of Northrend.

Before we knew it everyone was in, running everywhere trying to take in everything they possibly could. It all seemed like too much.

Look at all these quests! There are so many zones to visit, raid bosses to kill, and achievements to check off. Take a trip to Six Flags or Cedar Point and you see the same thing. Kids and adults alike bursting through the gates and running as quickly as they can to their favorite rides. The faster you go, the more you can do!

I stood looking down at Naxxaramas a mere 40 hours after installing my copy of Wrath, eagerly anticipating the coming raiding season. An instance I had never been able to conquer to start off an expansion where I would look to lead a guild at the forefront of progression.

Like walking through the tunnel under the highway into Kennywood, too much to do, so little time.

Everything Old Is New Again

Theme Parks are the epitome of old fashioned. They are packed with rides and attractions that have been around since the early 1900s. It doesn’t matter where you go, all of the rides are the same. You have your swings, your log flume, your raging rapids, your tea cups, and of course your scrambler and swinging ship.

Everyone knows this, yet we gleefully stand in line and wait to get on to chase that same feeling, the feeling of invincibility one can only feel with a safety check and a lap bar. We chase that feeling inside the game and inside raids. Our characters are powered up unlike anything we’ve ever seen! Getting those numbers higher, ratcheting up the difficulty, and achieving something grand is something you can’t match. That euphoric feeling of seeing the achievement window flashing up, the receipt of congratulations, all play into the experience.

It’s a similar feeling to getting off a really intense roller coaster. You get on the lift hill and climb, anticipation building, until you crest over the first hill and take off screaming into a tangle of steel and g force. The ride takes you places you expect and small changes in the track may jolt you more than you even realize.

What’s the difference between the swinging ship at one amusement park or another? Nothing. What’s the difference between Blood Queen and Patchwerk? Nothing (virtually).

Is this a bad thing? I guess that’s really for us as players, the p(l)aying public to really decide. Why do people continue to go to theme parks where really only one new ride pops up every year (or 5) at best? Simple, an engine, a single design can only take one so far. It used to be that the only coasters out there were wooden. Rickety, heavily greased, and jam packed with fun.

The expansion to steel and the various cars and track types have made new, unique thrills. Does WoW need to discover it’s own new attractions? More than just…more of the same?

What do we really want?

Is what we have good enough? Do we want something more?

There is still one element that I left out from both the raiding and theme park discussion: community. You don’t go to a theme park alone, you go with a group of friends. Many of the above repetitions stay fun and fresh because when you’re out having fun with your closest friends, every experience is truly unique. Raiding is no different.

Many raiding careers were forged in the fire of Molten Core.

The stories we remember can never be experienced by anyone else. Though many players move on to new guilds and to new games, we still remember those memorable moments. Everyone can reminisce about even the most mundane events. It was the 20th time you killed that boss, but this time Bob showed up drunk and just killed (in a comedic sense) the entire raid. We could barely keep people alive because we were crying from laughter.

Many of us are looking for that challenge, looking for new limits to push and more worthless stuffed animals to throw in the corner of our rooms. When we look at the huge purple bear sitting there, we don’t wonder “what’s the point of having a stuffed animal, it doesn’t do anything, and it doesn’t even match my decor!” We remember that you won it after your buddy bet you $5 you could never knock down all the milk bottles.

You collect trinkets from the duck pool and glass framed photos of your favorite athletes just to show that you were there, that you had fun.

Forest For the Trees

Drink it in, forget the loot. Forget why someone got a piece of gear over you or why you can’t seem to get those last couple battleground achievements. Don’t focus on the fact that this raid boss is the same, but with a new trick. Focus on having fun in the game, on making it interesting.

It’s easy to get bogged down in spread sheets and dkp management, but in the end just have fun. Grab your ticket, run in the gate, and just mix it up. If you went to a theme park with someone who just complained about the lines and how everything costs 3x more, you would be pretty pissed even if he was the only that was willing to go on the new coaster with you.

This is still why I think many folks will gravitate to 10 man raiding in Cataclysm. The focus shifts from the details, the management, to the most important part of the game: multi-player, social interaction. Many of our fondest memories in WoW were formed at it’s earliest stages, when the game was simple (or so we thought) and the only way to get anything done was with a guild.

Now with the insides of the game turned out for everyone to see, it’s all about getting the absolute most out of your character coupled with the opening of the raid game to relatively unorganized groups of raiders. That dedication and joint commitment has been de-emphasized in favor of a smaller social circle, much like console gaming.

Semantics?

With that being said, with raids being trimmed to 10 players, is WoW really still an MMO? When you go to the amusement park, there are hundreds (or maybe thousands!) of people there, but you’re really only interacting with the people you came with. You may give a passing nod or high five to a stranger, but for all intents and purposes, you aren’t there with them.

Thunderbolt, Legendary Roller Coaster

Most first person shooters have games that can include up to 16 (or maybe more) players. The difference is that people in those games join up in a lobby instead of Dalaran trade chat. Ironically, the largest source of multi-player action in WoW will be pvp as large scale battlegrounds will still exist.

I guess we can leave the MMO-Label on, but in terms of PvE it certainly won’t be “Massively Multiplayer” in the traditional sense. It’s a digital theme park we’ll travel to with a few friends to play some games, eat some funnel cake, and go home after a few hours.

Raids you can PuG are just carnival rides. Get in line, strap yourself in, and wait for the operator to press the “Start” button.

Get the season pass, it pays off after just one visit.

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One Response to Raiding, The Virtual Theme Park: Where we’ve been, where we’re going.

  1. Wugan says:

    Great analogy, because it made me realize some things that I enjoy about raiding that I didn’t even realize I enjoy. I agree that raiding is heading toward a 10 man focus because people want to share experiences with friends, and most of us do not have 24 close friends who play WoW. More accurately, it’s just hard to form close relationships with that many people, while 9 is doable.

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