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Michael Bitton: Taking out the Trash

Column By Michael Bitton on October 17, 2012

Let me come out and say I’m not an expert raider by any means. I have fairly few traditional raiding experiences to speak of in my MMO history, and I certainly wasn’t one of the many gamers who took part in World of Warcraft’s hefty array of raid content. Still, in my limited experience, I’ve had the unpleasant privilege of dealing with what has been aptly called “trash” by fellow MMO gamers.

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For the uninitiated, trash mobs are often high HP throwaway mobs that players must defeat on their way to each boss encounter of a raid or dungeon piece.  When I initially heard the term many years ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what my raider friends meant, and I just didn’t really find the idea of “trash” to be a big deal. Since then, I’ve learned to hate trash mobs almost to the same level of some frequent raiders. Star Wars: The Old Republic, in particular, really annoyed me with its trash mobs in Operations. For a long time, trash was literally just about pointless to kill. The trash mobs just felt like filler used in order to pad out the actual interesting bits of the Operation encounters, the boss fights.

To BioWare’s credit, though, it looks like the SWTOR team is interested in improving the value of Operation trash going forward. BioWare’s Jesse Sky explains:

“Q: Have you been surprised by the shortcuts and tricks and such that allow groups to skip large amounts of trash and/or bosses? Is skipping trash mobs something you agree with and go along in groups?

Jesse: In my experience, skipping trash carries a risk of making wipe recovery a lot more painful, so I don't really have a strong opinion about whether we should take strict measures to prevent it. It only really annoys me when groups go to ridiculous lengths to avoid a few seconds of combat, because at some point it becomes self-defeating. When I see a group doing that, I just start pulling encounters to save us the headache.

My preference would be to provide more incentives to engage trash. For example, in Terror From Beyond, all the trash has a chance of dropping Artifact-quality crafting mats, and one specific encounter drops a hefty amount of credits. So that's the sort of thing we're looking to do more often, but philosophically we've also gravitated toward tighter play-spaces and less trash overall.”

Some might argue that trash is an important aspect of raiding, since clearing trash can factor into part of the challenge of the overall raid experience, especially if these mobs respawn. Trash can serve as a deterrent to zerg tactics, for example, since players will have to fight through them once again (assuming they respawn). Players can sometimes skip trash mobs, too. Again, this will punish them if the raid wipes, as Jesse explains above.

Funcom made the decision to just do away with trash mobs in The Secret World’s dungeon content and I honestly found the experience refreshing. It’s nice to be able to mainly focus on the bosses themselves and perhaps a bit of puzzle solving on the way.  I simply feel that the traditional approach to trash mobs is a pretty dated design idea. If you’re going to include all these mobs between boss fights, they should probably consist of more than just a bump in the road. Perhaps a solid mix of mini-bosses with guards interspersed with puzzles in between each boss might be a more interesting alternative. Or what about layering some dynamic element to the ‘trash’ experience of any particular raid?

I just don’t think players should feel a sense of resentment towards part of the content they’re doing, especially if they’re repeating it. Knocking out the bosses shouldn’t be the only desirable part of the experience. Each and every bit of a raid or dungeon experience should be rewarding in a meaningful way, whether it’s completing a puzzle, or dealing with a smaller side encounter.

How do you feel about trash in raids? Should trash be eliminated outright as Funcom did in The Secret World? What should it be replaced by? Let us know in the comments below!

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