The Raiding Bubble

29 March, 2011

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.


The Odyssey of Borsk: I’m still here, and I’m recruiting.

17 March, 2011

…I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back. ‘Til things are brighter…I’m the man in black. -Johnny Cash

The brief story of the trials and tribulations of one guild leader, a raid on the edge something great, and his best efforts to push his team over that edge.

It’s been too long

2/21/2011

That was the last time I’ve posted something here, my (somewhat) brief take on the strategy of Al’akir. Why such the long time between posts? This blog has always been more of a raiding journal for me than anything. A little place to collect my thoughts on a raid week or disperse some knowledge or advice for a specific fight. Those little things you only learn after a few kills that trip up everyone.

You can find raid strategies at better places. There are shaman out there that do a far better job of breaking down mechanics than I ever can. I’m not interested in commenting on the ever-changing PTR, or the latest hot-fixes. You can find that news anywhere and reacting to it is the epitome of premature chicken counting.

Most of the content I would normally write here, I end up talking about on the Matticast with my good friends Matt and Kat.

So in a nutshell, that is why you’ve seen no updates here, our raiding progression stalled. Why report when there is nothing to report? I don’t like to complain in print. I voice any issues with my guild before anyone (as it should be).

In the past month I’ve had to take my free time (and not-so free work time) and devote it to my guild 110%. Blood Red Moon is a group that I am incredibly passionate about. It isn’t all about raiding for me and for our members. We’ve had folks in guild for 6 years, this is their home.

Why are you complaining?

Looking at our progression, one would assume I would be elated, thrilled to be in a guild that regularly clears Tier 11 (with some hard modes) on 25 man, every week. And I am. We can get jaded at times and forget the amount of effort and skill that our raiders possess. I’m more guilty of it than most.

Where the frustration creeps up is in unused potential.

You can see it. It’s right there. It’s inside that glass case. The only way you unlock it is a key made of pure confidence. To say our raid group lacks confidence would be to say the Sahara lacks an abundance of lemonade stands.

Confidence is an easy thing to lose, and it’s even harder to get back. You see it in sports. The one guy on a 9 game streak with no goals. He finally pumps in an empty netter and the goals just keep coming.

That is where we are. Through a combination of raiders leaving, raiders lives abruptly changing, and a lack of new blood, we’ve hit a wall. That wall isn’t in gear or untuned mechanics. It’s in the 6 inch space between our ears.

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Months Later, Questions Remain For 25 Man Raiders.

10 November, 2010

This topic was prompted by Beru, so all the credit goes to her. I was going to leave this in the comments section, but I want to share her article as well as my comments/response. Here’s a brief excerpt.

Exactly How Are These Raids Going To Be Equal?

As I was ranting a bit to Brade, one of the biggest points I was making was that I honestly see no way that these two raid sizes are going to be equal in difficulty. I just don’t think it’s even remotely close to being in the realm of possibility. I mean let’s take a simple mechanic like needing to spread out. Unless they shrink the size of the room – a 10 man raid is going to have a significant advantage and greater ease with this solely based on the fact that there are only 10 of them. How are they going to equal that out in a 25 man setting?

Let’s take a look next at some of the healing spells available – such as WG, Echo of Light (new priest version of effloresce), CoH, Efflorescence, Holy Radiance. All of which apparently now only hit 6 targets at full strength. Now let’s take a fight with constant raid AE damage, and oh yes…they still exist, and a 10 man raid now has another significant advantage over a 25 man raid. Those spells will heal 60% of their raid while in a 25 man raid those spells will only heal 24% of the raid. How is that remotely close to being equal? How can you design an encounter with those mechanics that is “equal”? Sure a 25 man raid will have more healers, but the difference a single healer will be able to make in a 10 man raid vs a 25 man raid is hugely disparaging.

CLICK HERE READ THE FULL POST

These are questions that I approached some months ago when the changes were announced. Those in my guild were not very optimistic and neither was I (frankly). There are so many points that are left unanswered and glossed over that it’s almost negligent at this point.

A) The “split into two raids” hand-waving. It’s not that easy: on a logistical and “attitude” level. The chance of having 6 capable healers and 4 capable tanks in a raid that is already “short players” is 0%. Compound this with the A/B team and what happens if one of the team fails or stops or doesn’t do as well as the other team.

B) Blizzard’s other fallback of “people who like 25 man raids can still do them!” The drive for most players is the reward of raiding along with the social interaction. It’s a delicate balance.

If there’s no reward, social interaction starts to mean less. If you’re put on the bench for a few bosses, their lockouts will remain open but it puts the onus on you to seek out a PUG to kill that boss at some later date. Let’s not even start on the heroic mode restrictions.

The further “ahead” you are, the more trying to “makeup” a boss kill becomes a problem. How often do you see trade chat advertisements for ICC25 with the last 3 bosses up? My guess is “every day.”

C) Connected to B: there are droves of players, good players, that like 25 man raiding. Hell, I love 40 man raiding! I love 72 man EverQuest raiding! But…do I want to raid lead a 72 or 40 man raid. Hell no.

The death of the 25 man format will not come from the raiders. It will come from officers and raid leaders of 25 man raiding guilds that just don’t find the effort:reward ratio no longer worth it. There is a dedication investment that players in leadership roles make. You become responsible for the rest of the raid and are in control (somewhat) of their leisure time.

10 man raiding requires no loot system (/roll), it requires no (formal) attendance tracking, little/casual recruitment, and no rigid guild structure. Is that a put down? No, it’s just a simple fact of numbers. Identifying a problem, a weak link, or trying a new strategy is simpler. Players that end up on the fringe of your respective raiding skill level (get swapped or sat often) will drop off and it will be difficult to keep that extra player buffer.

Do you get geared up a little faster? Certainly, but at some point both raid options will become gear-saturated and that advantage disappears. Speed of gearing means nothing. More gear helps with farming, it doesn’t really help with progression anymore, especially when the difference is so tiny (one or two pieces of gear).

It is far more likely that you will clear the tier before becoming gear saturated (either mode/both difficulties).

Put the rope down…step away from the railing…

Let’s not keep it all doom and gloom, there is a very large positive in all of this for 25 man raiders. The fact that you can only take your main character to one type of raid per week means that your raiders will be hungrier to get back in the saddle every Tuesday. The pressure to run extra 10 mans for more gear to keep up will be eliminated.

The players that do raid on off days with alts are the ones that want to do that and can control their “burnout” level. If they raid too much on an alt, it’s easy to dial it back with no impact to their guild’s raids. That is what is keeping me the most optimistic heading into Cataclysm, and I hope it works out for the better. A larger group generally means better group think and a larger group to rally around. Older guilds are built to handle the rigors and logistic of large-scale raiding.

Only time will tell.


HHM: Recruitmentface

24 March, 2010

A guild should accept a recruit as a body accepts a transplanted organ: Full rejection or full acceptance, becoming a contributing part of the whole

Hidden Hard Modes (HHM) is a series dedicated to those bosses you see outside of the game. The bosses you need to kill just to make it into an instance and before you even kill one boss. This feature will be archived in its own page for easy access after it runs its course. Previous entries: Attendancegut.

Recruitment is one of the most talked about and debated guild relations topics out there. Nearly every guild is recruiting someone. So if everyone is doing it, how do you stand out and/or be effective in pulling in quality players? Guides on the details of making an “effective recruitment post” are only useful to a certain point. Sure it’s always a good idea to present your guild information in an intelligible way and be truthful about your needs, but there are so many recruitment threads out there. When a recruit pulls up a realm forum or recruitment thread he’s looking at the following parameters:

  1. Minimum progression: Anyone that is looking to move to another raiding guild has some sense of where they want to be and what they’re capable of (if only subconsciously).
  2. Raid Times/Attendance Req’s: Does their availability match with yours?
  3. Potential Raiding Chances: What is the likelihood that they’ll get into raids?
  4. (On Server Only) Friends/Family: Often if a guild disbands or a player is looking to move, he’ll go to the guild where most of his on-server friends play. It doesn’t matter if the guild is at the top or bottom, they’re looking for a familiar place with familiar faces.

That’s it. Anything else like handing out free repair bills or double coupons up to $0.99 are just nice little perks. If the potential recruit does not think your guild can meet the above three parameters, it doesn’t matter.

Recruitmentface

This doesn’t just mean bumping recruitment posts and spamming trade chat, it also means properly managing your raid roster for various compositions and full tank/healer coverage. The night you can’t do Blood Queen because you have no +hit buff available is a wipe on Recruitmentface.

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HHM: Attendancegut

22 March, 2010

“It’s a reliable source of information. 50,000 unstoppable watts”–Clutch

Hidden Hard Modes (HHM) is a series dedicated to those bosses you see outside of the game. The bosses you need to kill just to make it into an instance and before you even kill one boss. This feature will be archived in it’s own page for easy access after it runs it’s course.

It’s 7:55 PM.

You left work in a frenzy, frantically closing windows and sending out the last two emails of the day. Your computer just wouldn’t log off and…ah damn it! security patch, this will be another 5 minutes. Every single light on the way home turned red just as you got there as old ladies get in front of you for a near flawless execution of stalling glory.

The front tires of your car hit the driveway and you’re already unbuckling your seat belt. The paper is still sitting on the front porch, the mail still in the box with the flag up. Your dog is barking it’s head off because you left him in his crate by mistake

There’s no time to spare, invites are in 5 minutes. We’re going after the Lich King tonight!

Everything is in order. The dog is fed and let out, you have your drink, your dinner, you’re ready to kick some ass and take names. You’ve probably never entered your authenticator code this fast in a long time. The character select screen pops up with your Night Elf staring back at you with the look of “where the hell have you been? Let’s go kick some undead ass!” But wait, there’s probably a new version of DBM out, so you go and grab that real quick so you have no reason to log out unexpectedly and miss your invite.

Finally, you get back into the game and pick your toon, anxiously watching the loading bar fill up. That last twinge of adrenaline shoots through you as you hear the sound of your character logging in.

It’s time.

But there are only 19 people logged in.

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