Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Looking into my crystal ball

Yeah, I'm posting a bit late today. Big whoop. Wanna fight about it?

So it's been a little over a day now since Blizz announced the upcoming changes to the raid structure in Cataclysm, including lockouts. If you haven't heard the details yet...well...um...read some blogs other than mine. I'm not the only one out here. Just the best. *cough*

No, seriously, though. If you haven't heard about them, you can get the lowdown from WoW.com.

Let me just say that I think this is a much needed change for the game. While the BC method of a moderately tough 10-man intro raid leading into more challenging content that required 25 people wasn't quite right, at least there was a clear path. The only way to overload your raid schedule was to hit a brick wall in your progression and end up trying night after night after night.

The problem was that it was punishing to a lot of guilds. Kara wasn't hard, hard. But it wasn't Naxx. You had to work your way into Kara, and once there it took some work to get through. Not everyone was able to do it. You didn't have to be awesome at WoW, but you couldn't face-roll through it either. Then it just got harder from there. And if you didn't know 24 other people who could make that cut, then that's where you stopped.

Wrath came along and made the game a lot more friendly to those of us that didn't have the time, patience, or connections to wrangle with the beast that is 25-man raiding. (Yes, I know it's not 40...but it's still not easy.) We could run any of the content in the game with just 10.

The problem came in that the 10- and 25-man versions of the raids weren't equal. 25-man raids dropped better gear and more of it. Plus the fights had extra mechanics that often weren't seen in 10-man raiding. It created a stigma that guilds that preferred to or could only do 10-man raids, for whatever reason, were inferior. To run with the big dogs, you had to hit the 25-man content.

And if you could do the 25-man content, there was additional pressure to also split up and tackle the 10-man content. Both for extra practice and for faster gearing.

The inequities and the pressures aren't really something that are healthy for a game like WoW and the new solutions are definitely a step towards addressing those. Will they accomplish it in the way Blizzard hopes? I don't know. Time will tell.

There's another side to this story, though. It's the side that belongs to guilds like mine. We want to be a 25-man raiding guild. And we want to be a 25-man raiding guild that gives anyone who wants to raid a chance. We don't impose strict limits or any kind on our raiders. What this means is that we can't reliably field a 25-man team (no attendance requirements). And when we do field a team, there's no guarantees of how successful it's going to be.

Some of our members are very good, though. They enjoy raiding, they enjoy pushing themselves, and they enjoy the mini-game of trying to get the most out of their gear that they can. While they're willing to hold themselves back in 25s to allow others to have a chance to enjoy raiding, they use 10-mans to get their fix for pushing progression at their own pace. It's hard to find enough time to do that, all the time, though. We try to rotate people into the 10-man teams sometimes. Partly to help people experience more content--especially when our 25-man teams are significantly behind the 10-mans, if they're running at all. Partly to silence the nagging voice in the back of our head that says we're being exlusionist pricks.

It's a delicate balance, but it works for us. At least, it works well enough.

The new changes are going to be a death-knell for a guild like ours. It's going to force us to sit down and make a hard decision. Do we want to continue to strive to be a 25-man raiding guild, or do we want to focus on 10-man content?

Either way, there's dangers.

Yes, the new structure is going to push people to raid with their guilds. It's safe to assume the raid pugging scene is going to all but disappear. This means more incentive for the people in our guild to raid with our guild.

But is also safe to assume (based on the coming re-emphasis of CC abilities and de-emphasis of LOLAoE pulls) that the difficulty curve will be getting steeper again. Maybe not BC steep. But steeper than it is now.

It means that, in order to run a 25-man raiding guild, not only will we have to be able to regularly assemble 25 raiders on our scheduled nights, but we'll have to assemble 25 good raiders.

Even using that word ("good") I feel...elitist. But the only other word that comes to mind is "competent" and that's even worse.

I hate to say things in such a way that suggests that at least a small number of the players we fill our current raids with are neither of those. It's not fair. Whether they lack time, attention, maturity, dexterity, drive, know-how, or whatever...it doesn't mean they're bad or incompetent. It just means...well...that they have to be carried a little bit. Which is fine with me. I get my "challenge-myself" fix in 10-mans. And a lot of the more progression-oriented people in our raids feel similarly.

But if the progression-oriented people don't have that extra out for progression when our 25-mans stall, they're going to get frustrated and leave for places where they can get their progression fix. This, in turn, will leave the rest of us short(er).

So what if we decide to go 10-man? Well then there's going to be an exodus of people that feel they're not being included enough in those runs. And there will be those people. I couldn't blame them.

That all said, I want to be a 25-man guild. Yes, it's logistically harder. Herding 10 focused people is much, much easier than herding 15 focused people and 10 semi-focused people. It's the reality of the beast. But 25-man raiding just feels more...right. More epic. Spells flying around from every corner of the room, a mosh pit of axes and swords and claws desperately trying to hack a boss down...it's just more impressive. And it's more satisfying when it ends well. Plus, at the end of the day, it's getting to play the game with that many more people I enjoy playing the game with.

Regardless of how things change for our guild, there's no question in my mind that things are going to change. There's going to be tough decisions. I think we're going to lose some people no matter what path we go down. The question is which some, and why.

It's a sucky decision to have to make. These people are more than just players who happen to be in the same guild. They're friends. How do you make a decision that you know is ultimately going to push some of those friends away?

But it's a decision we're going to have to consciously make lest we run the risk of inadvertently losing everyone.
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