It is a topic guaranteed to bring players out in droves, some angry and scrambling to their keyboards to start fighting the good fight, and others simply just to witness the spectacle that’s created with two mere words: content … nerfs. I’m generally not one to weigh in on Blizzard’s nerf decisions because, firstly, they rarely affect me, but secondarily because I understand the position of wanting to see content that was previously inaccessible to me. But, this past Monday, when Blizzard announced their intent to nerf not only normal mode Firelands, but some of the heroic modes as well, I admit I found my feathers a little bit ruffled. And, as I’m coming to find out, I’m not the only one.
Today, I want to do something that I don’t often do at LiG5—I’m going to turn over the reins and put the neutral standpoint I try to cultivate on hold, and share with you a post written by someone almost as verbose as myself. (No, not Derevka, who *ahem* has an open invitation to guest post here.) I admit, the following post, which went up on WoW’s R&D forums on Tuesday, may ruffle some feathers out there and it may make others see red, but I think there are some amazing points to be made (some of which I echoed in two posts last year—The Argument for Elitism: Part I and The Argument for Elitism: Part II). So with that, I’m handing the mic to Ashunei, the Guild Leader of Pie Chart (who is now obligated to have my Resto Shaman in for all future end boss kills, nerfed content or not).
(To comment on the post on WoW’s R&D forums, click here)
(I’m not going to get caught up in rhetoric or nostalgia here. I will simply outline the largest issue with the nerfs that keep being rolled out for the remainder or end-game raiding content.)
Raiding has always been about the following things:
- To continue the traditional form of gaming in fighting NPC bosses and mobs.
- To fight these mobs at a much more “extraordinary” difficulty, that is to say, you cannot fight them alone.
- To give purpose to the MMO genre, by giving people the ability to play with one another for a greater goal.
- To provide a mechanism through which people will come together, cooperate, collaborate, and create community.
- •To give players who engage in this content the ability to continue playing after they have finished leveling.
There are, however, aspects of raiding that exist as co-factors for the creation and maintenance of successful raiding content. In the same way that co-factors allow your body to continue with its many reactions and processes that keep your body alive and functioning, these co-factors for raiding result in more or less the same phenomenon. When these co-factors are not met or are met with diminished effort, the raiding game itself depletes and deteriorates.
- The content is accessible and reasonably challenging for the players who are attempting it.
- Logistically, it is possible to maintain the raid group that you are attempting this content with.
- The content itself provides enough fun and challenge that it is attractive to the players.
- The content isn’t overly frustrating or discouraging for the players that are engaging in it.
- Completion of the challenging content gives the players rewards and awards for their efforts. Many could argue that this is part of the first list.
- The meta-game is a reliable system, allowing for players to comfortably expect and attempt it. If the raid sizes were to change each tier, if the difficulties were out of whack, etc. then players would be dissuaded from staying consistent.
Now, here’s the problem that I can sympathize with, for Blizzard. When Vanilla WoW launched, the players who engaged in the raiding game had for the most part either taken part in raid content before (i.e. played other MMO’s like EQ) or were completely new to the game and were still enthralled by the various things the game had to offer. As time went on, more and more players began to reach that level of the game and started to increase the demand for raid content.
I can understand this, I can sympathize with the conundrum this ultimately brings about. As a provider, as a developer, your goal is to make as many players happy as possible. It’s also to bring about as much content as you possibly can for the players, aiming to satisfy their goals, by giving them fun and interesting content.
There are issues, however, that arise out of the raiding meta-game, once it has been created as a system. First of all, there is the existence of various skill levels and goals. Players who commit themselves more to the system are going to do better, they’re going to try harder, than those who aren’t as invested or motivated. But it is bad customer service and game design to punish people who fall into the latter category. I believe, and this is the point of this post, that it is just as bad for customer service, game design, and specifically raiding meta-game maintenance, to punish the players who fall into the first category.
And that is what these inconsistent, untimely nerfs do. They punish the players who are critical in powering the engine of raiding. You have thousands upon thousands of players who want to do this content, but if you remove the competitive spirit, if you destroy the mechanism of raiding at the top tier, you will inevitably slow down and eventually halt the raiding scheme as a whole.
The simple reason is because by doing all of this, you move away from the single most important thing that a video game has always had to offer, that any game for that matter, has ever had to offer:
Competitive challenge–people play games to stimulate their senses, to achieve a rewarding sense of satisfaction.
If the goal isn’t difficult to achieve, then it stands to reason that the endorphin releasing, stimulatory sense of celebration is also diminished and inevitably, people will always be driven to find the greatest means of satisfaction. And if raiding ceases to provide this for people, then it also stands to reason that they will begin to turn away from this source of content.
Now I know that lots of players since Burning Crusade have flocked to whatever area of the game has provided the best gear for the easiest time investment. I doubt that you’re catering to them by nerfing current tiers of content. I’m sure that you cater to them by providing badge content, which is the most accessible form of gearing up a character these days.
But the raiding metagame is driven by the fact that you get to two major things:
- You get to attempt the hardest content in the game, in a raid setting which naturally means you get to play with a group of friends.
- You get rewards that are the hardest to attain, that set you apart and above the people around you in game.
Vanity isn’t something you want to cater to, but it is always going to be a driving mechanism. But vanity isn’t worth arguing about, because for the most part, it has been watered down in this game anyway. These days you can’t easily tell the difference from a person who has done badge content and the person who has raided substantially. You can get the same mount from Heroic Ragnaros by simply doing normal Ragnaros, if you’re lucky enough. Heroic gear at best, gives you stats and a little green Heroic tag. So vanity, as a driving mechanism, for the most part has been diminished.
But these nerfs do something more dangerous for your raiding meta-game. They discourage and dissuade the people they affect most negatively and most directly, from continuing to pursue raiding. The entire purpose of the Heroic tier of raiding was to allow for players to all witness content, but to do so at their own paces. The entire point of Heroics were to provide all players with the ABILITY to attempt the hardest content, the most challenging and most rewarding content while also maintaining the ACCESSIBILITY for all players to see the content of the game, regardless.
By nerfing Heroics, especially inconsistently, long before the next tier of content is even due to be released (November is the best guess at this point given Old Republic, Blizzcon, and 4.3 Beta testing, as well as 5.0), you are catering to the part of the population that is either only willing to do Heroics to get gear or isn’t willing to try hard or creatively enough to actually surmount the encounters therein.
This was never supposed to be the point, but even if you want to make content eventually accessible to all the players, you should maintain a degree of integrity for the players actually trying to do the content to the best of their ability, the players who are looking to celebrate when they overcome challenges with their friends, the players who even if they aren’t as good as the Paragon’s and the Premonition’s want to overcome the challenges of the games in earnest, the players who continue to play the game because there is a bar set, that is high enough, but achievable enough, that they have a goal, a standard to aim for, a certain level of expertise and skill to acquire.
You made content accessible by making two difficulty settings, by providing people with the ability to attain the same rewards in different raid sizes, and yet you are still damaging and undermining the players who play for a challenge, by nerfing their content early and unnecessarily. You have done your part in making the raid game accessible. But by making it “easy” when it need not be (since you already have Normal modes), you are removing a massive incentive for a larger group of players. Players who only play a video game for its inherent challenge to them.
What would I propose as a solution? The following:
Make nerfs consistent with a timeline.
About one month prior to the release of the next patch is when players should get the largest nerfs to any content. Even then, these nerfs should take into account that the biggest goal is to make sure the largest denominator can go from Normal Mode to Normal Mode. If Heroic Mode players are forced to go to Normal Modes, this is not an issue. The point of Heroic Modes is that they are optional for all, mandatory for none.
Do not do blanket nerfs.
If you’re going to nerf encounters, have the nerfs tiered and consistent with regards to timing. This means that a 20% health nerf is the worst thing you can do. Actually take the time with your teams and get diagnostic data on what stumps people the most on fights. Nerf the fights by adjusting details, like the damage of Ember Flare or the change to make Baleroc always Inferno Strike first.
Make the nerfs tiered.
Even as we near the end of the Tier cycle, instead of nerfing all 7 bosses on Heroic, it should be done with a few at a time, much like Ulduar. Nerf Shannox, Rhyolith, Beth’tilac. Then nerf Alysrazor and Baleroc and Domo. Then nerf Ragnaros.
Remember, at all times, that the thing that powers the engine of organized raiding, the creation and maintenance of the larger raiding community, is the top end of raiding.
I don’t mean the top 10 or 20 guilds. I mean the top 100, top 200 guilds. Your nerfs damage those guilds, your nerfs can demoralize those guilds. There’s a fine line between burning a guild out and keeping a guild running. Most of the time, burnout, however, stems from inadequate leadership, not overtuned content. But simply put, people are driven by their ability and interest to ascend. If people are allowed to reach the carrot on the stick, because the stick has been whittled down so low, then they will stop being interested in the carrot.
I could go on and on about all of this, but the point I’m trying to make is simple. You need to try and make the effort to do good by all of the players, but if you’re forced to choose, then choose the people who really attempt and pursue your content for all the right reasons, not all the wrong ones. You can’t go about catering to people who want loot, catering to people who aren’t willing to try harder and get better. I’m not saying that the need to play more than two nights a week, all I’m saying is that at most, all you are required to do is give people the ability to see Ragnaros, to see Deathwing. And that can be done with Normal Modes for those who can’t do harder content, or with 10 mans for those who can’t logistically find and field more players. Beyond this, by treading onto Heroic Mode ground, you take a huge risk by nerfing content for people who have little to no business trying those Heroic Modes. And if there are players on the fringe of this area, who would like to earnestly succeed at Heroic Modes, then you owe them the ability to try legitimately for as long as possible. They will never get better otherwise, nor will they ever feel satisfied if every time they try, they are handed nerfs to better handle the content.
Don’t nerf content to cater to the people who will dumb this game down. Nerf content to help prop up the people who will help to power the growth and stability of the community. Not the people who will flock to whatever gives them the best chance at having a higher ilvl.