Stick around the WoW community long enough, and you’ll see the same topics rear their head again and again–the recent fuss over LFR is certainly no exception. But whereas previously I shrugged off the ties of LFR to raiding, this time around I’ve been following the blue posts, forum discussion and blogs a bit more attentively because the quality of my time in game has, since the start of the expac, become more of a focus for me (a post for another day, perhaps). And, integral to both my own evaluation of my time in game and the ongoing discussion about raiding is this idea of something being “required”. You see it thrown about quite frequently:
- “Dailies are required to get gear”
- “LFR is required to raid”
- “Why am I required to PVP to get upgrades for PVE content?”
Reading through the requirements as defined by this thread alone, it would be easy for someone unfamiliar with the raiding game to envision a spiderweb of compliance requirements so dense that the raiding population struggles to ever find their way into an instance, nonetheless clear it on heroic difficulty. But, as we know, that really isn’t the case. So why do we maintain that there are so many requirements to raiding?
Constraints, Rules and Choices
In order to wade through what is a very dense and interconnected topic (it took up the whole of a dinner AND pre-/post-movie discussion this weekend!), I think it’s best if we start off by establishing some definitions about the game world, beginning with two very basic concepts—game constraints and playstyle choices.
For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to define a constraint in a video game as a prescribed action or threshold that you, the player, must meet in order to advance to the next step in the scripted progression path. (We could call them “gates” or “conditionals” or “hurdles”; all convey the same idea). In WoW, game constraints can be things like ilvl requirements to queue for dungeons, a specific amount of experience points needed to advance to the next level, or a multi-part questline. Constraints are different than rules in that constraints represent gates in an activity sequence. A rule, for example, would be a cap on the total number of valor points you can have at any given time. The rule has no conditions to satisfy it and no implications beyond what is stated in that rule.
When you’re looking at PVE content, specifically max-level raiding, I can think of a few important game constraints that govern your experience:
- You must be max level to participate (this may not be as important to you later on, but that 20-hour gaming session you did at expac release is a testament to how important this constraint is).
- In order to beat an encounter, you must do a certain level of raid damage such that your group is able to reduce a boss’s hit points to 0 in the allowed time frame.
- Also in order to beat an encounter, you must do a certain level of raid healing such that at least 1 player is alive when the boss is killed.
- Advancement to the next boss in the progression path is predicated by the defeat of the preceding boss (most times).
- You cannot fight Hard Mode bosses until you have killed all Normal Mode bosses in the same instance.
Constraints essentially set the bar on what we are being tasked to accomplish, without rigidly defining the steps to get there.
Thus, if constraints set goals, then playstyle choices are the choices that a player makes in order to meet those goals. The WoW IronMan Challenge is a great example of a playstyle choice because it actively debunks something that players often regard as a game constraint—that increased stat levels are requisite to killing higher level mobs. Likewise, you make a playstyle choice when you choose to gain experience points via LFD instead of questing, because the ultimate constraint that you are trying to meet is the amount of experience points needed to advance to the next level.
So if we take this concept and apply it to max-level raiding, we can see the following as being playstyle choices:
- Collecting Valor points through dungeons (instead of raids)
- Raiding with 25 people (instead of 10)
- Opting to use a higher number of melee versus ranged dps
- Choosing to CC the adds in Will of the Emperor (instead of dpsing them down)
These choices (and many, many more) are what fill in the space between constraints. WoW isn’t going to tell you how to get to max level in order to participate in raids, only that you need to meet that threshold. Likewise, the game isn’t going to give you a boss strat or a raiding lineup with which to defeat an encounter and it won’t even tell you the DPS and HPS levels that you need to achieve; that’s up to you to figure out (and IMO, part of the joy of participating in PVE content).
Rewards and Advantages
But, we’re leaving a number of things, which are being highlighted lately as a major cause for complaint, seemingly unaddressed. Where do dailies, reputations, valor points, justice points, honor points, conquest points, BoE’s and LFR fit into this picture? When you look at the two definitions—game constraints and playstyle choices–that I’ve set up, it’s clear that the aforementioned game elements are not game constraints. Which, would put them in the category of playstyle choice. Or, more specifically, as an array of rewards (advantages) associated with playstyle choices. Think about it: dailies, reputation gains, valor/honor/conquest/justice points, are all ways of providing value to a player’s choice about how they want to play WoW. You like to PVP? As a reward for that choice, here are some points that can be used to gain an advantage in PVP content. You like to do quests? Here are some points that reward you for making the choice to do quests.
And none of these, none of them, are required for raiding. There is no daily requirement to enter a raid instance; no one collects Charms of Good Fortune at the door. A specific level of reputation with Pandaria factions is not necessary to gain entrance to Tier 14, nor is there even an ilvl requirement for NM or HM raids (you could do them in greens if you so chose). The constraints that players are misrepresenting when they say something is “required” are Constraints #2 and #3 above, which specify that your raid group do a certain amount of HPS and DPS in order to kill a boss and advance further.
“Ah-HA!” you might shout, “They are required because we can’t advance without some greater level of stats!” Okay, I’ll concede that point partially (*cough IronMan cough*), because mathematically it’s not possible for a naked level 90 to do the same level of damage per second as a player in raid-level gear. Gear does afford you some advantage in meeting a certain threshold of performance . What the game doesn’t specify is how much of an advantage is necessary to meet those constraints. Is the difference between success and failure +300 food instead of +250, an epic leg enchant, several pieces of valor gear or an entire wardrobe of epics? Is that advantage more or less than you would gain from upgrading your internet connection, using different keybinds, changing your rotation, or using a different strategy?
The truth of the matter is, you don’t know. Which is why you hedge your bets and afford yourself the in-game advantage of trying to overshoot the boundaries of a nebulous constraint. The result of which is that you look at a field of advantages, of playstyle choices, and you choose them all. As Zarhym so succinctly put it:
Do you want every advantage possible in the game? ‘Cause you have to put in extra effort for that.
… So then you go full tilt.
But there’s one more problem to throw into this sticky web of raiding “requirements” and that’s time.
Raiders, for better or for worse, inherently subscribe to the idea that faster is better. We support it every time we look at WoWProgress as a definition of success and whenever we define a kill based on a relative US or World ranking. When we talk about “time efficiency” there is the implication that we want to get the maximum benefit out of the time we invest. Even Blizzard (*pointed look*) encourages this philosophy through Server First titles and its promotion of 25-mans as being a “faster way to gear”.
It’s quite an odd valuation when you think about it, because none of the game constraints that I set forth in that first section have any associated time requirement, nor do any of the rewards given for making certain playstyle choices (with rare exception). Gear doesn’t decay the same way that points on WoWprogress do. Achievements aren’t less shiny if you get them on Day 1 or Day 100. The legs that you can purchase with 2250 Valor points on Week 3 are still the same cost at Week 13 with the same stats.
But, in the raiding world, time taps you on the shoulder and encourages you to think about how behind you must be, how all these unspecified advantages are passing you by. Like the person who can’t pass up the 5-gallon jug of olive oil because it’s “such a good deal!”, raiders struggle to let an advantage fall by the wayside. There’s this idea that by not doing LFR, or by not doing dailies, or not using your Elder Charms of Good Fortune at the most optimal times, you are devaluing your and your raiding teammates’ time in game by presumably extending the time that elapses between the start of content and your progression. And while that’s very likely true, it’s important to recognize that that’s a distinction and a valuation that YOU and YOUR GUILD are making. Your progression timeline, whether it’s 2 weeks or 5 months, is yours to define and is still the result of your own playstyle choices.
Further, this idea that “competitive” raiders, which extend from World #1 to …. World 5000(?) 6000(?) 20,000(?), should all subscribe to one set definition of what is required and what isn’t, is ludicrous. There is no way, let me repeat that … NO WAY … for a guild outside of even the top 25ish World to match the time investment sustained by the likes of Vodka and Method, who literally devote the maximum number of hours in a day to afford themselves every conceivable advantage, because time is that important to them. “Keeping up with the Joneses” simply isn’t possible at that level, because the differential between someone who raids as a hobby (which is, believe you me, everyone outside of that club) and someone who raids to the exclusion of all else, is massive. (I’d give you yet another sports / professional simile here but you can likely fill them in for yourself).
If anything the efforts of top guilds and their valuation of time only serve to underscore the range of playstyle choices that can be made in order to meet the game constraints put in front of us all. But again, it’s critical for players to understand that the “requirements” that they see being put out in front of them are there because of their own choices and not Blizzard mandate.
But why are we having this discussion (again) now?
I remember sitting at Blizzcon last year and listening to someone on the Blizzard team say, at one of the panels, something to the effect of: we want there to be more things to do in-game at max level, outside of raiding and PVP. (In fact, it’s one of the expansion goals as stated on the Blizzcon blog … I guess those Blood Legion folks behind me weren’t as distracting as I thought!). At the time, I didn’t think much of the statement, since I am a progression raider at heart and thus oftentimes blissfully ignore the world outside my little raiding bubble. Why would -I- want stuff to do outside of raiding?!
And when Mists hit, and I found myself neck-deep in reputations, grinds, farming, fishing, and valor capping, I still didn’t think much of that statement. I was too busy whining to my S.O. that Blizzard wasn’t thinking of everything that would be required of hard mode raiders at the start of the expansion. “Woe is me, I have all this to do and not enough time to do it in. It’s like they didn’t think how ridiculous this would be!”, QQ, etc. etc.
It wasn’t until this past weekend that that statement I heard at Blizzcon found its way out of my foggy memory and smacked me upside my head. It dawned on me that the reason that of all of this discussion over game requirements, LFR, dailies, reputation and gearing, came to a head now is because of that one innocuous and overlooked goal—more stuff to do– which Blizzard delivered on in spades. In Pandaria, Blizzard has given us a world of possibilities and then told us that our time is ours to define and do with as we please.
And therein lies the problem, and the source of all of these “requirements”. The metric stick, the one that allows us to check things off a limited to-do list, one which served us well in Cataclysm, Wrath, Burning Crusade, and even other games, is ill-suited to the world of Pandaria. Pandaria is an expansion about choices—I choose to do as many dailies as I want, I choose to increase my chances at loot, I choose to do PVP to supplement my PVE or visa versa. I can even choose to fritter away hours upon hours on mini-games, achievement hunts, and lore elements, if those sort of things float my boat. Just like I choose how I’m going to raid, when I’m going to log on and what I’m going to do.
We have a multitude of playstyle choices in front of us, but along with them, we also have the tough decisions associated with once more being in control of how we spend our time in game. And with that we need to remember that this game isn’t a checklist of requirements made by some faceless game company, it’s a choice that I control. This game isn’t a quicktime event, I don’t have to press “X” to continue, and I don’t have to do anything I don’t damn well feel like doing. And I’m going to thank Blizzard for giving me that option.