The Raiding Bubble

Can nobody save us? Will anyone try? The pyre is burning, the severance is dying. And all along they say it. Help is on the way.” – Rise Against

Housing crisis! Gas prices! Unemployment! Tsunamis! Urban cobras!

This is about none of those. Despite the above topics not receiving nearly enough coverage in today’s reserved media climate, I’m going to leave them alone and focus on what is quickly becoming the latest hot topic in the World of Warcraft: recruitment, guild disbandment, and guild culture change.

Cataclysm’s Tier 11 and it’s consequences for guilds has resulted in the bursting of a “Raiding Bubble” that has grown and expanded like any other economic bubble. Let me take you on a quick journey through the history of raiding, and we’ll see how we’ve come to this point.

In the Beginning

From the perspective of a “lifetime” MMO gamer, and a player of this particular one since 2005, what has become of the raiding scene is unsurprising.

I tend to have long discussions with some of my fellow raiders about where we’ve come from, and what we’ve done in the long history of this game. Memories of spending hours and days and weeks inside of Ahn’Qiraj. Memories of spending hours and days inside of Tempest Keep. The list goes on and on.

Everything I do in this game is built on a foundation made of those experiences. Raiding on Zul’jin in the Molten Core days was different than it is now. You had about 6 or 7 serious Alliance guilds and 6 or 7 serious Horde guilds. All were doing 40 man raids, so everyone was ostensibly on the same “level” in a world where there were no heroic modes.

From Tier 1 to Tier 2 to Tier 3, those same guilds existed. Some fell only to see their remaining members take up with someone else, continuing on. They grew together and their cultures became established. Everything that runs Blood Red Moon today was the work of Guild Leaders 4 years before I ever came to be a part of it.

With the release of The Burning Crusade, we saw 10 man raiding appear, as well as the reduction of raid teams to 25. The transition was jarring but it was handled. The game grew in popularity, not surprisingly, and as a result more guilds appeared.

Blizzard’s internal goal as Burning Crusade went on was to make raiding a little less time consuming. It was clear that an extremely small percentage of their player base was participating in the lore-driving content of their game. Attunement quests were removed, the badge vendor appeared, and the use of tokens was expanded. Consumable use was drastically altered. Sunwell was the most hardcore raid anyone had ever seen and even it had the ability to trade spec-specific pieces (the beginnings of a reduced reliance on drops).

Raiding began it’s final evolution in Wrath of the Lich King. The second expansion was Blizzard’s two year long beta testing of raid content. Each tier of content presented a different feature to raiders.

  • Tier 7: 10 and 25 man raids, raiding meta achievements, activated hard mode available for one encounter, badge vendor as source of tier gear
  • Tier 8: Full instance of activated hard modes, essentially creating a Tier 8.5
  • Tier 9: Separate raid lockouts for hard mode vs. normal mode. Tier gear “trade up”.
  • Tier 10: Single raid lockout with hard mode vs. normal mode switch capability. Requirement of badges to get tier gear to start the “trade up” system.

The changes to the difficulty and creating so many incremental goals for players caused raiding to explode. All of the barriers of entry to raiding were removed. I had a different alt in each tier of this expansion complete the “Glory” achievements because it took no effort to make them “raid ready.” The arduous process of progressing through all the content no longer existed. Some may say that was a good thing. Some will say that it was a big mistake.

(Where you fall on the progression curve will determine your opinion)

Blizzard achieved their goal. Raiding guilds were popping up everywhere. Everyone was trying to get into a 25 or 10 man, even if it was a pug, to check out the big bad bosses. Whether you were cheering on vent for grabbing a server first Heroic: Anub’arak kill or elated that your new 10 man group killed Lord Marrowgarr and Lady Deathwhisper in one night, you got to experience the true greatness of MMOs: achieving success in a game as a team.

That rapid growth of raiding would not come without consequences.

Bait and Switch?

No one can really argue, even if you’re a so-called “Wrath Baby” that raiding has never been easier than it was at the end of Wrath of the Lich King. Including knowledge of the game, mechanics, and encounter difficulty. More people were running around in raiding gear than ever before.

The confidence of those raiders, some helped by the gradually increasing Icecrown Citadel buff, were enthusiastic about Cataclysm. Only one raid lockout. Same gear for everyone. Oodles of changes to the game such as guild perks, achievements, and a further simplification of gear? Bring it on!

What none of them (or me, or anyone) could have anticipated was how much Blizzard was going to ratchet up the difficulty of the introductory tier of content. “It must be just the gear and healing changes, we’ll work it out.” But it never got worked out, it stayed hard.

The difficulty focus in Tier 11 is on each and every player to play their class to the best of their ability. The strategies aren’t very complicated despite a large number of mechanics. This isn’t the difficulty I started my 10 man (or even 25 man in some cases) guild with!

The result? LOTS of guilds raiding. LOTS of guilds blocked and not progressing as fast as they think they should be. I know that we felt it in Blood Red Moon. It caused some significant changes internally that we’re finally starting to see come to fruition and help us out.

Whether you’re an established guild or one who just picked up in the recent expansion(s), you’ve felt the bubble, and now you’re feeling it start to burst.

Feel the Burn

For the newer players that didn’t have more experienced members to fall back on for support, they realize that maybe this isn’t what they signed up for. Bosses that die quickly and then get noticeably easier from week to week aren’t there. Each one takes execution until you over-gear. That means you are going to fill up a lot of raid days and spend (potentially) many hours inside a dimly lit castle staring at a smirking dragon that repeatedly smashes your face into the cold, stone floor.

How do you react to that? This isn’t fun. If I’m a raid leader do I know what I’m doing? If I’m just a raider does my raid know what they’re doing? This World of Logs thing says Duder the Mage should be doing 18k damage and he’s only doing 11k!

As a new guild, you may have never seen what happens when suddenly you lose a main tank or a main healer. Now you have to go looking for players. Lots of players. But you don’t find them, people get impatient because you just called another raid. Folks start to look else ware to raid or just give up and go back to watching every movie on the AFI Top 100 or some other hobby (I’m only at 51/100 by the way).

What had once been a rollicking good time is now you fighting with people to log in or hoping that someone decides to apply to your guild. You get your rogue to try tanking on his neglected DK, but it doesn’t really work out. You’re screwed.

Maybe you’ve been playing this game for 3 years, maybe even 6 years. Sitting around and waiting for folks to log on just isn’t something you’re interested in doing anymore. The recruitment crunch has hit you and your guild. You have no healing priests, and sometimes you are even running with less healers than you really should. The extra wipes are taking their toll.

This isn’t the first time that you’ve gone through this, but now it just seems like there is literally no one out there that is going to step in and be the tank, healer, or DPS you need right now. Your raiding core is starting to look at newer games like Rift, the latest console craze, or competitive games like StarCraft or League of Legends.

Not Enough Cooks

The refrain pre-4.0 in response to the 25 and 10 player shared lockout was that it would likely be the death of 25 man raiding. Who would put in that extra logistical effort when you can get the same loot from a smaller raid? Everyone has 9 pro-level friends right? Just take them, stop carrying the bads.

I feel the same now then as I did then: for guilds that have everything in place and have leadership that want to raid at the 25 man level, there will be 25 man guilds. I don’t have to raid 10 mans for better gear along with my 25 man raid. The raid week is 3 days, giving me tons of time to plan, administrate, and take some time to myself. WoW’s footprint on my calendar is ridiculously small compared to my 7-day Vanilla raid week (40 mans 5 days, 20 mans 2 days).

Blood Red Moon has players that are only interested in 25 man raiding. Whether it’s because of friendships, preference for the format, or just because it’s what we’ve always done, it doesn’t matter. We ran into the problems I detailed above, and we responded to them. The guild put the time in, and we’re starting to turn the corner back towards steady, consistent progression.

I’m in a unique situation in that sense. People want to raid and they have fun doing it. Most, if not all of them, have seen the down times that come with every raid group. This time around, recruitment is a completely different animal.

Going three weeks with literally no applications makes you seriously question everything that you do. Is it the website? What do I say in my recruitment thread that will make people want to come here? Applicants aren’t knocking on my door, hat in hand, looking for a home. They’re giving me notice that I’m one of four guilds that they’re looking at. You go from recruiter to salesman.

“Join Blood Red Moon, we have punch, pie, ginger ale, and marshmallows.”

It forced a significant overhaul in our approach to recruitment and our guild’s image. On Zul’jin, people know who we are, but folks that think Zul’jin is a weird drink based on a Ghostbuster’s character might think differently. They notice that bit of dust in the corner, and the typos in your responses. Are the other guild’s bad mouthing mine? Paranoia. Paranoia. Paranoia.

We’ve done innumerable things to help our guild image and recruitment:

  • Trade chat recruitment. Not too many apps directly from this, but it gets the word out.
  • Recruitment forums: Well worded posts with consistent bumping to keep them visible
  • Realm forums: Likewise. Same post, just bumped constantly
  • Social media: From Facebook to Twitter to just asking around to see if anyone knows anyone looking for a guild.
  • Overhaul of our application forums. We dumped all our old applications into an archive and are strict about who posts there/what is posted to keep it as on topic as possible.
  • Clear/updated posting of recruitment needs
  • Quick responses to apps with in-game interviews, vent interviews, and trial runs. Show me what ya got.

And many others that I’m sure I’m forgetting.

Recruitment is suddenly in favor of the applicant with literally dozens of guilds at various progression levels vying for your services. This is coming from someone that in the past has been asked “no one is recruiting, what do I do?” Full 180 degree turn from that. I’ve had recruits from 25 man teams and 10 man teams. All gave the same reason for leaving: we just stopped raiding.

What you are seeing is raiding scene bounce back to where it always was meant to be: for those dedicated to raiding and not just playing. I don’t think Blizzard wants it to be easy enough to pug everything, and they saw that at the end of WotLK. Guilds and the community they foster are very important to them. Needing a team that can work together and support each other in difficult content is not a bad thing and not a hardcore vs. casual thing.

It’s a team thing.

The Aftermath

Does your guild’s dissolution mean you aren’t a dedicated player? Probably not. In fact, I don’t blame folks that like playing the game, but want something else out of it. Guild and raid leading are not easy. Again, 90% of everything that runs my guild now is the result of over 6 years of progress. Nothing good happens without growing pains.

This expansion is very young, with raiding content just under 4 months old. Many of the guilds that have been created in the past year will likely go by the wayside. Those that do stick around through this content and continue to grow will be among the next class of, what Blizzard hopes are, long-term raiders.

What we have learned is that if WoW wants to have a competitive and difficult end-game, it cannot support an unlimited number of guilds. A lack of guilds with strong cores and dedicated leadership groups is bad for the game. However, raiding is a completely player driven feature. Blizzard can’t dictate how many guilds can be on a server or who or who should not be raid leading.

A balance will naturally occur between number of guilds vs. number of raiders. As more people realize guild leading is more than just asking folks to show up, less guilds will exist. When those in charge of some of the best guilds in this game decide that it’s time to hang up the guild tabard, less guilds will exist.

Blizzard claims that they are “ok’” with the current pace of raiding progression. The end of Tier 11 and Tier 12 will tell the true story about how they really feel. For now, 25 man raiding isn’t dying, 10 man raiding isn’t dying, and raiding as a whole isn’t dying. It’s simply balancing itself back inline with the difficulty of the current content.

Just keep on raiding. As Andy Dufresne said, get busy living or get busy dying.


10 Responses to The Raiding Bubble

  1. […] Borsked argues eloquently that raiding is back where it was meant to be in the game, only for the dedicated. And that the WoW player base is balancing itself to having fewer raid guilds. […]

  2. Rahana says:

    Great post and many points I can agree upon; however I do not think the raiding game is any harder than it was, even at the end of Wrath, especially speaking from 10M perspective (where our experiences differ).

    As you note, the difference step up actually adds up – be it healing changes, no nerf-zone-buffs making you overgear the place even in blues, welfare epics before entering raids in Wrath… all this adds up and creates more of a “mental” than real block imho. As much as we were convinced we want this “harder” content and that we are prepared for it, we weren’t.

    As far as recruitment goes – yes it’s pain in the ass right now; dunno why though, but my bet would be people are still settling down; many 25M Wrath raiders want to do the “easy” 10M for same gear, learning quickly the 10Ms aren’t actually easier and hitting the whole new reality of 10M progression raiding; this causes 25M raids loose players. Unfortunately 80% of these “bigshots” won’t stick with 10M and go back to 25M, unfortunately a bit too late for many 25M guilds already disbanded. It’s tough time to lead guild or raid right now, but…

    There definitely is the light at the end of the tunnel. As soon as 4.1 and definitely as soon as 4.2 hits, it will get back on track as it was on TBC. “Casual” guilds will progress a tier lower, outgeared content, “Raiding” guilds will stick to current tier and the “Hardcore” ones will breeze through HMs.

    There will be the pool of geared, somehow experienced players clearing tier below you looking for the step-up and while their “overgeared” tier experience won’t be exactly the same as progress experience, it’s close enough for them not to wash out.

    • Borsk says:

      The jump down from 25 to 10 for what appeared to be “easier content” was an expected shift that I think will also balance itself out. Cataclysm is a new animal in terms of what it offers to players and those growing pains are being seen in the movement of players/guilds.

      It will settle down as the expansion grows older.

  3. Paul says:

    I have no patience for the “meant to be this way” argument. What does that mean? That the designers mean it to be this way? Maybe, but that doesn’t make the choice good for your average customer. Sticking to a particular design vision is what led to EQ’s downfall, after all.

    Or is there some divine dictate that a real MMO should be this way? That’s really just begging the question.

    In the real world, MMOs exist to make money, not conform to some abstract notion of design correctness. Changing a game so that a large fraction of your players don’t like it is (by this standard) nothing other than dumb.

    From a business point of view, the changes in Cataclysm are looking more and more disastrous as time goes by. What the devs are hoping for, I think, is that those failing on this tier will be satisfied with raiding it after the next tier comes out and this one is nerfed. I predict this will be too little and too late.

    Fundamentally, the devs misunderstood why people play their game. It’s isn’t about challenge, it’s about ego gratification. Content that becomes easy for the very good players is a feature, not a bug. Complaints that the content is easy, far from being symptoms of design failure, are actually indicators that the persons complaining feels good about themselves (“look, I’m so elite, this content is easy!”) and that the game has served its purpose.

    • Borsk says:

      My fault in writing this post was that I didn’t emphasize the benefits to WoW’s “average” player as much as I should have.

      The elitist track is the easiest to take in this situation, and it’s the one that I am definitely not taking. “All you casuals, get out of my game” is not my mantra at all. Where the line, as you put it, exists is if you feel MMO’s should be considered as just another video game, or a more serious hobby.

      Raiding to me falls into that latter category. It’s one piece of a game that offers many options and playstyles. A natural progression already occurs in the game from leveling difficulty, to normal mode 5 mans, to heroic 5 mans, to normal mode 10 mans.

      Asking your players to learn the basics of their class and to work together with others in a team is not asking too much. That’s not a “learn to play noobs” statement. It’s simply asking you to progress your character. Blizzard has done tons with Cataclysm to give everyone as many resources inside the game as they can to do that.

      Could the raids be tuned at a point where anyone that picked up the game yesterday could succeed? Of course they could.
      In my opinion from the business side, that’s only a short term gain for Blizzard. I’ve been playing for 5 years because when I started I wasn’t good. At all. Not even a little. But the game offered so much in front of me to improve on, get better, achieve, build a team, and get even better together.

      Are you alienating your average players by giving them room to grow? (One can certainly argue how big that gap could/should be)

      If an MMO is to retain a player for that long, you need to have a carrot. MMO’s rely on that carrot heavily for subscriptions. Otherwise it’s just like every console game you have. Play it, beat it, toss it aside.

      Thanks for the comments, I don’t get a lot so I really do appreciate them. 🙂

  4. Vixsin says:

    Brilliant post, Borsk. I’m delighted to see some rational thought amidst the “raiding is dying” posts littering my feedreader.

    Ultimately, I think it’s easy for players to forget that guilds experience continual turnover, both internally and as a community. And when you experience such incredible growth in the number of guilds on a server, you will consequently see more turnover than you had in the past. It’s a cycle that just makes enduring guilds, like yours, all that more valuable.

    • Borsk says:

      Thanks for the comments, Vix!

      Some players have forgotten about the ebb and flow of expansion turnover and some are experiencing it for the first time. For those folks in the latter group, you can work through it and make it happen.

      Cliche of the week: Rome wasn’t built in a day.

    • Kae says:

      I’ve been absent from the blog-circle for a couple months, so I’m only now seeing the “doom and gloom, raiding is dieing” posts. Gotta admit, they’ve made me tilt my head in confusion, because there are a LOT of raiding guilds out there and a lot are pretty far into hardmodes now, whether on 25s or pure 10s. Naturally, not all will make it through the hard times that simply come with the mantle of leadership.

      Recruitment doesn’t feel any more difficult, for my own guild, aside from an increased number of apps that we straight-out chuck to the side. We were 10-strict in WotLK so those apps we did get tended to be like-minded people, and in Cata, we get more of the “general population” applying (and they don’t even bother filling out the whole app).

      Good post though, Borsk 🙂

    • Phoeblyn says:

      First of all, two of my favorite bloggers on the same comment. I can’t believe I almost ended that sentence with “…comment: #winning!” I should commit seppuku right now for thinking it.

      Also, I enjoyed this post and found it somewhat vindicating. Having been out of raiding for most of Wrath, Cata has been a bit of a baptism by fire to get back into the groove. I’ve been leaning on the advice of “pros” more than ever to merely survive let alone min-max with my gear. From someone who comes from a raid history of coat-tailing past-prime content, I’m being challenged, wiping a lot and getting a good level of satisfaction with each boss kill. That doesn’t sound like raid death to me, it sounds like evolution…at least for me personally.

  5. quori says:

    I would love to talk more with you Borsk about this issue. I’ve been playing 6 years since launch and honestly have done it all…end game pvp, end game 40 man, 25, 10, social, solo, raid lead, guild lead, just one of the hombres….etc etc. Honestly…nothing has changed about the game itself. Its the player expectations that have changed….and changed A LOT!

    The overwhelming majority of the player base has a “Fast Food” mentality. They think WoW is a fast-foodMMO. Blame it on the Wrath babies? perhaps…but I saw this in BC too. That was the change…Vanilla to BC. I have had people rage over not being included on a boss fight when they want an item that is in the loot list. My response is, “Everyone wants something on the list…and I am not making up the roster based on the off-chance YOUR item might drop.” They don’t understand the Vanilla raiding days of 40 people, 3-4 drops (maybe 5 or 6 on certain bosses – but not all tier gear either!!!). They didn’t have to spend 4-5 days a week in MC and BWL for 6-7 months and NEVER get their item, not because it didn’t drop (though that was sometimes the case) but because there were 4-5 other people in line for it too. So wether you did open rolls, suicide kings, dkp, whatever…you just seemed to miss out each time.

    That was the big change IMO. Honestly, I think Blizz does a great job of trying to appease the primary player base – which is of course 10 man casual raiding/pvping. Paragon, Vodka, and the like can claim they are at the front of the plane in 1st class, sure. But the majority of the seats are filled with coach class passengers, and they really covered the cost of the flight. I also think the issue you are seeing is guild cannibalization. People swap and leave because they think they can find better, or think they can do better! Guild stalled at Maloriak…well, the main tank isn’t going to blame himself and his inability to kite the adds, its all YOUR fault – I’m out! Can’t handle Chimearon? The healing core is not going to blame themselves….they’ll gquit and go elsewhere and say it was your fault for not bandaging during feud! When folks feel you as the GM or RL aren;t doing it right, they assume they can do better.

    And maybe they can, maybe they can’t. I don’t know. What I do know is that 40 man days saw far more patience and understanding of the player base. Everyone was still a little green, and had very low expectations. BC began the change to seeing higher and higher standards of tangible rewards. Wrath just made it worse with the wonky loot/tier system implemented. Cata brought the raid difficulty and committment back similar to Vanilla for sure; but kept the loot/reward system more like Wrath. Thats a bad combo in my book.

    We as a player base need to adjust our expectations. Not just in the game, but of one another.

    Hey, this would make a good blog post….think I know what I’m writing next on “Surviving…” 🙂

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