This week, Blizzard created quite a stir in the raiding world by releasing two previews—the first pertaining to dungeon lockouts and the second on the new “badge” system. And although both of these releases still seem to be more philosophy than refined goals, the stir they have created has had the community drawing a plethora of lines in the sand. Personally, and as you no doubt have noticed, I tend to approach these sort of announcements with a good helping of caution for the simple fact that announcing an idea is a lot different than locking it into Cataclysm release. I don’t claim to have a grasp on the WoW community as a whole, nor have I been involved since WoW’s onset to witness the affects of the various changes Blizzard has made over the years. (Heck, I doubt that most people who have been involved since Vanilla Beta would even be able to summarize the global impacts of the structural and philosophical changes executed over the course of the game.) But what I do know is this … the end of Azeroth as we know it, might bring some good things along with it.
The Price of Logistics
By now, you’ve likely heard about Blizzard’s intentions for Cataclysm raiding—that both 25 and 10 mans will share the same Raid ID and, thus, the same lockout. Heroic and Normal modes will remain a boss-based toggle, effectively removing the 4 dungeon repetition we tested in 3.2 with ToC10, ToGC10, ToC25, and ToGC25. Come Cataclysm, the multi-prong raiding model is getting shelved in favor of one all-purpose raid. Offering more clarification, Bashiok went on to say that Blizzard is entertaining the idea of letting a raid toggle between the 25-man version and 10-man version within the given lockout period. But what caught my eye most of all was his answer to a subsequent question:
When we say “25 should drop more loot,” we’re just sharing a philosophy. You shouldn’t assume that this means that 10-player modes will drop 1 item or that 25-player modes will drop 6 items, or whatever. We haven’t finalized how much loot will drop, but our general goal is that 25s should drop more to help make up for some of the logistical cost. (Emphasis added)
To me, this seems to be the heart of the issue and it is something that Blizzard will vitally need to address as they move ahead with this raiding model. Over the course of 2 xpacs, the reward for the logistical cost of 25-man raiding has shifted multiple times. In BC, with its reduction of raids to 25-man and 10-man segments, the reward for raids’ increased logistical cost was heavily tied to gear and progression. There were no BT or Sunwell 10man runs, and likewise, Badge of Justice gear (which could be gained strictly through 10s and heroic raiding) was limited to an ilevel below the offerings found in BT, even when Sunwell was in place. And while ZA offered a tangible reward for “harder” content, which really was unobtainable for players not in high end raiding gear, there was really no reward to be had for electing for smaller sized raid portions.
In WotLK, the model changed, this time offering equal content portions to both 10-man and 25-man teams alike. While the reduced quality of gear remained in effect for 10-man teams, they could now explore and vanquish the same encounters that the larger raiding teams could. Awards, in terms of achievements, were normalized and everything that was handed out to the larger raid team, with the exception of legendaries, had a smaller team counterpart. In addition to the reward model, Blizzard also introduced in Wrath a tuning system (scalable difficulty encounters and then “Heroic” modes), which allowed more players to experience content instead of being “cockblocked” by difficulty halfway into the instance. So by removing the progression component of the coordination reward, Blizzard placed even more emphasis on the reward value of loot.
Addressing Opportunity Cost
In Cataclysm, the proposition is to remove this remaining vestige of the raiding reward model and replace it with something else instead—increased cash and prizes, possible reskinned reward models, and more gear drops are the current ideas on the table. From a preliminary perspective, I have to say I’m having a hard time getting on board.
Let’s address the last idea on that list first—more gear drops—because I think of all of the proposed rewards it ties in most to what the large majority of players value. (It’s worth noting here that valuing loot is not synonymous with raiding expressly for the desire to see yourself decked out in 277 gear and/or at the top of WoL’s ranking system.) In introducing a system in which the logistical cost of 25s is rewarded with *faster* loot that is indistinguishable in every valuable way from the *slower* loot, Blizzard is attributing value to the speed at which a raider attains gear. And while faster gearing may in fact be a motivation for some raiders, the problem with the “faster loot” value is that it degrades much more rapidly as a result of its premise. The raiders’ enjoyment of the benefit is limited only to the time in which their reward is more visible than the rewards earned by small team players. Additionally, it has a negative side effect in that it ensures that a player who values gear is able to reach their gear goals faster and thus, are sooner faced with the prospect of raiding with no tangible reward.
In terms of the toggle option, between 25-man and 10-man modes, my feelings are even more divided. While I do think it is a solution to the ever-present issue of raid attendance, I’m not sure it is the solution given that the potential to shaft a significant portion of your raid team is huge. If for example, you’ve cleared ¼ of an instance and come raid time on a subsequent night find yourself missing a couple people or the right makeup you have only two options: 1. Postpone the raid, or 2. Toggle to 10-man and ask 1 to 15 players to take a seat on the bench. That means, if composition was your issue and you did in fact have 25 people or more online, your bench will be larger than your raid team. I simply can’t see players being willing to withstand that sort of kiss-off for very long without quickly becoming mutinous. And while the counter on issue #2 would simply be to let Raid IDs be splittable (so that your 25s team could split into 2-3 teams and finish the instance if they so wished) I think the potential for abuse there would be significant as well.
But what happens when a player doesn’t value loot very highly? To me, loot isn’t a primary motivation in raiding. And despite being called a liar every time I make that statement (good lord I love it when self-centered pricks judge you by their own cynical standards), the fact remains that loot is simply a means to an end. That end, from my perspective, is besting the hardest encounters in game; the primary reason I raid is for the challenge. And the performance challenges to be had in small versus large teams are incredibly disparate.
So in addition to addressing the reward for the logistical cost of 25mans, Blizzard will also need to play a careful balancing act with encounters themselves—ensuring continuity between the two raid sizes while also ensuring that the level of complexity is appropriate for the increased raid size. In tank-and-spank fights, this might simply equate to more boss health and/or debuffs, but in more complex encounters this could be an incredibly difficult undertaking indeed.
In the end, I think it comes down to what order of priorities Blizzard has when it comes to raiding. As they have expressly stated, their goal for Cataclysm is to allow people to choose 10s or 25s as a matter of personal preference . Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that “preference” plays a large part into anyone’s decision of what scale of raid they prefer; I think it has more to do with opportunity cost. And if the gain for increased logistical cost isn’t enough to balance the gain from the smaller/easier 10s team, then Blizzard may well face a community in which 25s are no longer the raiding guild norm.
Going almost hand-in-hand with their announcement on raiding refinements, was Blizzard’s statement of intent for the (near) effort-based gearing system in Cataclysm. Taking pages from the past gearing successes of honor/arena points and badges/emblems, the intention in the next xpac is to introduce raiding points which accrue in a similar way to badges, but which allow for more tuned point rewards instead of the binary badge option. In addition, the two-tier point system will allow Blizzard to “roll over” points from the last tier, eliminating the pesky 5 tiers of badges that are current in game and making new content transitions easier on the entire point-earning player base.
As I mentioned before, I wasn’t an active raider in Vanilla so I can’t speak from experience about the availability of loot then. But from what I do know from conversations with those old and grizzled raiders, items were incredibly hard to come by. Not only were drops limited in quantity, but the specificity of itemization made drops applicable, in most cases, to only one or two classes. In addition, instead of the grouped tier tokens that we have now, which were introduced in BC, tier items themselves dropped from bosses, and thus, entire tier sets were exceedingly hard to come by. (As a result of this high investment system, raiding and raiding gear were established as gauges of the players’ eliteness and dedication. I think this formed the basis for the problems we’re encountering these days with the general sneering about “catering to casuals”. The velvet rope was torn down; but that’s something for a different post …)
So, we’ve seen over the course of two xpacs, that Blizzard has fleshed out and distinctly defined a relationship between effort and reward. Honor in battlegrounds, the first introductions of loot rewards independent of bosses, rated arenas—all of them provide a real and non-RNG based system in which players can see a direct output of their effort. And while “badges” have significantly changed the ways in which players can further the stats of their characters, they did not allow for the flexibility that Blizzard has currently with Honor and Arena points. (A model with a range of values from 0-70,000 will arguably be more nuanced than one with a range of 0-90, thus lending more opportunity to throttle players’ gearing efforts.)
… one of the problems we kept running into with the current badges was granularity — you can’t offer half a badge the way you can offer 1, 3 or 5 points. Depending on your perspective, you can argue that your character “earning” valor for defeating an enemy makes more sense in the game world than the dragon having all of these badges on its corpse.
In contrast to my skeptical perspective on the raiding adjustments, I can solidly stand behind the switch to a PVE point system, because it isn’t changing the net result (gear for effort); it is simply making the gearing system easier to understand and operate within. And although I may not like the idea that someone can AFK in AV and earn PVP or PVE gear, I do think that the effect of a “you choose your reward” system is a positive one indeed. (And it should be nice on those dragons who needed to schlep around thousands of badges for all of the raiders who came knocking on their doors.)
A Raiding Outlook
This week, I think, was a mixed bag for raiders. While some view the increased recognition of 10s as a viable raiding path as a good thing (there will be no need to distinguish “pure” 10s guilds from the 25s who “farm” them for gear), I’m in the boat of skepticism with a number of other 25s devotees who are loathe to see our guilds collapse beneath the weight of “faster” and “easier”. But like I said in the opener, I do think change is a good thing, and its benefits shouldn’t be overshadowed by a few of us old curmudgeons who want to stay in the rut we’ve become accustomed to.
The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions. ~Ellen Glasgow