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.
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.