The problem in the current environment is that raid design plays to the most casual or the most hardcore of players. Casual and hardcore, though, are a terrible dichotomy for MMO’s. The dichotomy conflates time investment and skill (a holdover from first generation MMO’s). There are people who have hardcore time commitments with passable skill and those with casual time commitment but quite significant skill.
Additionally, the dichotomy incorrectly implies that all players neatly fit into one of two bins. It’s more likely that those two bins are themselves the tails of a distribution wherein a continuous shift from the most casual to the most hardcore (time and skill separately) can be observed. In the modern MMO raid scene, though, the tails wag the dog and being in the middle of the distribution (not too casual or too hardcore) means you have to play towards a game system not built for you.
It’s really great to see the pickup, casual friendly aspects of massively multiplayer raiding re-emerging. But, for now, the step-off from that requires schedule synchronizing, fixed numbers and roles, and movement complexity of progression raiding. What about the players who like a semi-structured environment, but want to be able to include guild members who are good team players even if they are perhaps only average players? The end result is that “friends and family” guilds typically run content up to an expansion back and somehow that has evolved into “the natural order of things.” A better transition is needed.
You can’t talk about the state of any game system in MMO’s without giving homage to the 1000 pound gorilla in the room, World of Warcraft. Much of what raiding is today stems from design decisions originating in WoW and those systems have iterated a number of times in the past decade.
It’s hard, for me, to grasp that WoW turns ten in a few months, but there it is. Regardless of your opinions of the game or the company, ten years with millions of subscribed players is an astounding accomplishment in this genre. The number of player-hours logged into WoW across all its customer accounts has to be a staggering figure! The data geek side of me would love a few hours of unfettered access to those player metrics.
As Blizzard progresses towards their next expansion, Warlords of Draenor, they have become publicly introspective about their game systems. In a three part series looking at raid origins, the current state of raiding, and their intended direction for raiding in WoD they detail a number of the problems with old and newer raiding models. Their observations are very much in line with my thoughts in this column. More importantly though, where I draw on anecdote and observation, theirs is based on lots and lots of data. Their plan for raiding in WoD is an attempt to appeal to everyone along the casual to hardcore continuum.
Four raid difficulties starting with the pickup friendly raid finder, moving through normal and heroic difficulties for the semi-casual and structured, and on to the mythic difficulty for the hardcore progression types.
Flexible raid scaling for the first three difficulty levels. Any number from 10 to 25 people can attend. No sitting out if you are the eleventh person or the third tank, no concerns on how to bring in your newer recruits, and no worries if that one key person has to work late.
Separate lockouts by difficulty level. Further, the lockouts at normal and heroic are “loot based” weekly lockouts, not boss-specific weekly lockouts. You have room to run easier content as often as you want with no restrictions on your abilities to help or play with friends. Raiding made social, whoda thunk it? Mythic difficulty retains the boss lockout model commonplace in most progression raiding today.
Distinct loot by raid difficulty. This is more of a nod to the progression raiders, but gear at each tier will have different attributes and appearance. Moving up a tier has a visual reward and you can see what someone’s done at a glance in such a system.
These are really great ideas and ones I would like to see more widespread in instance based gaming. While the most hardcore raiding guilds live to manage schedules, lockouts, and gear levels, that doesn’t need to be the entirety of raiding. The flexible scaling and separate lockout systems really open the door for small to midsize guilds to get the whole gang together and just play. Flex raiding makes it a bit easier to work in a new recruit too, making it a bit easier to maintain guild livelihood.
This system is going to have problems and growing pains, without a doubt. There is already some dissension over the proposed itemization differences between the raid finder and normal difficulty levels. But, itemization issues are tweakable issues. On the other hand, though, a quick perusal of WoW forums notes a plethora of social guilds announcing, “we’re going to start raiding in the next expansion!”
The real challenge is going to be making the flexible raiding scale well and I’m sure some encounters will have a “sweet spot” where one more (or one fewer) person makes it a bit messier than a single incremental change would suggest.
It’s also unclear as to whether they can make Mythic raid difficulty, Mythic. Right now, the bandwagon seems to be pointing towards Wildstar for hardcore endgame raiding. While it looks like WoW has the casual to structured players accounted for, will Mythic difficulty on a ten-year old game appeal to top-tier raiding guilds (should it)?
This flex raiding system doesn’t get players back out into the world, but that’s not its design goal. WoW isn’t an open-world raiding game, but those do exist elsewhere. World based raiding is already out there at an easy access level, just not in WoW that I’m aware of. Changes to open tapping, personal loot, and dynamic content in RIFT and Guild Wars 2 already open the door for world based raiding. Similarly, on-demand “summonable” raid content as found in RIFT or with lair bosses in The Secret World provide another path to world based raiding. I don’t think we’re ever going to see a return to competitive, content-blocking, outdoor raid progression like we saw in Everquest. But, a return to more socially oriented raiding is very welcome.
I haven’t played WoW since vanilla. But if this is a sign of things to come, sign me up!
What are your experiences with raiding (present and past)? What do you hope to see in future raiding content? If you don’t raid, what’s the block and does this sort of a system address your concerns? Drop into the thread below and tell us what you think!
Ryahl / Ryahl is a columnist for MMORPG.Com. He is also the host and primary author for Eorzea Reborn and TSWGuides. He has played MMO’s where groups were larger sized than modern raids. You can follow him on Twitter @EorzeaReborn or just argue with him in comments anywhere he posts.