Friday, April 30, 2010

Cataclysm in name only.

So I’m thinking about how I personally will end up raiding in Cataclysm. I like to be optimistic that my 25-man raid will continue, but then I started thinking through the logistics on the ground, so to speak.

I’m going to add some personal context so you know where I’m coming from. If you really don’t care, cast your eyes downward to TL;DR.

My guild has never been a “hardcore” top tier guild, in my opinion, but we are in the server top ten for Feathermoon.

When I started raiding with them, they were working on Mimiron, and I had never been past Kolagarn. It wasn’t until about half way through ToC that my gear allowed me to show my ability in the game. The guys who had a 10-man after the main raid noticed my performance and I began to accompany them on a regular basis. I was there for our first 10-man Heroic Anub kill as well as our first Insanity achievement.

Those were my own glory days for 10-man raiding. After our main 25-man raid spent five hours a week learning the Heroic bosses, we would go in there and blast through Insanity [most weeks =P] in less than an hour.

Because as much as we try to keep our 25-man raid as professional as possible and weed out any players who don’t make the grade, there will always be a player skill curve. This seemed fairly evident at the time, since cutting the bottom 15 players loose apparently made the difference between success and failure in Heroic modes for us.

TL;DR -- The point I am trying to get at with this story is that I can very easily envision that once Cataclysm raiding hits its swing that the top 10 players in my 25-man raid are going to have to choose between wiping with the 25-man raid on whatever boss they happen to be up to, or unlocking and downing Heroic-mode 10-man bosses, for superior loot.

This choice is going to create social friction no matter which option is taken. It’s not hard to understand a quality player becoming resentful of their 25-man group if they feel like they're being held back. But the social pressure to stay with the group would be immense, as losing their ten best players to a separate lockout could spell the end of a 25-man raid team.

I’ve seen a lot of bloggers crying about this change, and I ask myself when I read their rants whether they have thought at all about what makes 25-man raiding worth saving in the first place. To me it comes from a concept people have in their heads, derived from the current loot model and apparent difference in difficulty; that 25-man is and should be the “real” version of the raid. They feel as though Blizzard is taking away their “real” raids, leaving them to swim with the 10-man kiddies in their easy-mode runs. EDIT: Since I wrote this, I’ve read that Zarhym basically said the same thing on the official forums, complete with quotation marks. =)

I don’t believe that this change spells the end of 25-man raiding, though I do predict a vast reduction in the number of players running them. The most likely outcome I can see happening is that 25-man raiding is going to end up as a “hardcore”-only option . I definitely can’t see the high-end guilds declining any kind of advantage to gearing their raid more quickly in the competition for first kills. What I am extremely curious to see is just how much of an advantage it will end up being.

The significance of this advantage is what is going to paint the line, so to speak, between any 25-man raid with a significant player skill curve sticking together or disbanding as the top ten players realise they can achieve more if they dump the other fifteen. The lower down you go in average skill, the more painfully obvious the skill gap between 25 players in a raid becomes, and the wider the gap, the more incentive there is to break away. Only the raid groups with strictest standards and the recruiting clout to keep to them will be able to progress equally in 25- as 10-man.

For the first couple of months of Icecrown Citadel, though our 25-man was progressing, to me just felt like a loot grind so I could do better in the raid that I cared about. 10-man was a blast. The fights were challenging enough to be satisfying when they went down, but our progress was streets ahead of the 25-man. Up to Blood Queen everything went down the week it was out, with the exception of Putricide, whom I maintain would have gone down first week had we not run out of raid time and been able to use our remaining attempts.

Which brings me to the thing that killed my ten-man group: time.

For us, Insanity was the perfect raid. We could go in there after the main raid finished [11pm server time] and blast through what was at the time the hardest ten-man content in the game in less than an hour. For the first couple of months, Icecrown was similar. We could do seven bosses and still fit them in after the main raid, but then seven stretched to nine and by the time Lich King was available we realised we were never going to get it all done without people falling asleep at their keyboards.

A few attempts were made to schedule another raid time continuation, but our geographical spread is about half Aussie, half North American, and no schedule seemed to suit enough of us to work. On top of this, we lost our main tank, one of our best players too, to burnout. Presently we’re sitting on a 11/12 continuation, just waiting for an opportunity when enough quality players are around at the same time to learn and then complete the Lich King encounter. I don’t doubt that the numbers would return once we unlocked Heroic mode and they had a gear incentive. [I will save that for another rant, though.]

TL;DR -- I am vehemently anti-grind. If I am playing the game it is to have fun. I tend to think there are few minor advantages or cosmetic frills capable of increase my fun so much as to make up for the un-fun time I spent grinding for it. So this is where I’m coming from when I say the second reason I believe the new system is an improvement is in time-management.

If you were in a progression raid when Icecrown came out, you had to run the whole thing twice, every week to get the gear you needed to be competitive. If you only had a regular 10-man, you still pugged the first few bosses on 25 every week for a chance at gear better than anything you’d see in your main raid.

The upcoming change forces players to choose one or the other instead of hedging their bets. Because, be honest, there’s only one raid you really care about. The other one you just grind for extra loot.

I guess here is where I have to say that if you disagree with me, tough titties, because I know this is where a lot of people have valid complaints. If you have only one raiding toon, this sucks for you because it will limit the number of raids you can do in a week and you have my full sympathy. [Roll an alt already, nub!]

But if you’re like me with multiple level-capped toons and the prospect of more before the expansion is over, this change rocks. The extra time gives you the option, instead of taking your main toon through a secondary raid, of participating in a second raid with an alt. And still be doing a challenging, progression-level raid. Again because you don’t need to spend the extra hours grinding to keep your alt raid-competitive. I have a sneaking suspicion that Blizzard has an overarching strategy of encouraging multiple alts over a single toon.

I can also really easily envision this alt-friendlyness actually feeding back into 25-man raiding. If you can get your progression from a 10-man raid, you might care less about the slower progression in a 25-man social group. And so we come full circle.

In conclusion, these changes and their increased focus on 10-man raiding will lead to some really positive improvements to the game:

- Easier to manage high-end raid groups.

- Less nubs carried through raids, since mid-level players won't need to fill 25-mans.

- Less grinding means you can focus on the raiding you care about.

- More opportunities for raiding alts.


And that’s my take. To be honest, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Blizzard does end up backpedalling on this decision if they judge the reaction to be too harsh, since it is such an immensely contentious one, even internally as Blizzard posters have admitted.

There is one thing that I am slightly worried about, and that is the difficulty balance. I will be sorely disappointed in Blizzard if the top guilds end up using the gear they accumulated quickly in 25-man raids to get first kills in 10-man. That would be a failure in my book.

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