Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Tyranny of Skill

In a lot of ways, World of Warcraft raiding is an extreme meritocracy.  The better a player is, the more highly skilled, the more weight her voice carries. All the guilds I've been in follow this general pattern. The players who are listened to are the ones who can perform the best. For this reason, it's very important that officers in a serious raiding guild be among the top half of the players.

In my experience, this pattern even holds in PuGs. I have never been treated badly in a PuG or LFR. It is really hard to argue with a person decked in high end gear, or topping the meters.

And yet, the high skill players are not always right. I mentioned in the previous post that:

There is a type of person who believes that all failure is caused by people playing badly. That skill is everything in this game. That the only response to any problem, any difficulty, is to tell people to play better, or recruit better people to replace the failures. That you must always take the "best" raiders you have to a raid to ensure success.
The people who espouse this view are always really good players. Of the players I've known with this view, the vast majority of them were far better than I am. Indeed, it is highly possible that they are this good because they hold themselves to this standard.

Not all of these players yell or are unpleasant. Many of them are nice and rational. They simply believe that all failure is a failure of personal responsibility.

A lot of the time these players are right. Enforcing standards makes people live up to those standards. Sometimes you'll encounter players who just will not live up to the necessary standards for the level you play at.

But sometimes these players are wrong. All my raiding experience leads me to believe that this style of play, where the only important thing is personal accountability, is brittle. When you get a good group going you can progress exceptionally fast. But sooner or later you lose people just through normal attrition, and have to recruit more and that leads to uneven progress. Or you hit a wall, and relations become acrimonious over who's failure it is.

But the problem is that all these highly skilled players just cannot see that. Suggestions that weigh any other considerations get met with comments that such suggestions are akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. That the only thing that will lead to progress is the individual players stepping up and improving their play. Or under-performing players being replaced by ones who can perform.

And because they are highly skilled, their voice carries a lot of weight. And that is the part that is very hard to combat or argue against.

Edit: Copying this response to Kalon in the comments, because it may make things a little more clear.

Or there's a third option - that you lose people through attrition and instead of accepting recruits that are perhaps subpar you always recruit for the best and do not settle.

But then you don't actually raid. Because you don't always have the numbers to raid.

Part of this--which I left out because I though it was tangential, may have been wrong--is that this style of play is very hostile to maintaining a bench.

If you are always taking your 25 best raiders to new content, then your bench doesn't get to raid. And quality players will not hang around a mid-Aristocracy guild if they only get to raid 1 of 3 days at best. Maybe they'll feel that's okay in a Royalty guild, but not at my level.

And to be honest, that's my main issue with this playstyle. Personal accountability is a secondary priority. The first and greatest priority is maintaining a full raid force, with a deep enough bench that you are always able to raid with a stable group.

Basically, the personal accountability folks felt that because people didn't perform, we didn't progress fast enough in order to attract quality recruits.

I felt that because we couldn't retain people (especially people who were on the bench), we couldn't put together a consistent raid in order to progress consistently.

47 comments:

Kalon said...

" But sooner or later you lose people just through normal attrition, and have to recruit more and that leads to uneven progress. Or you hit a wall, and relations become acrimonious over who's failure it is"

Or there's a third option - that you lose people through attrition and instead of accepting recruits that are perhaps subpar you always recruit for the best and do not settle. You force the culture of personal responsibility and accountability and make sure everyone is with that culture.

And as it turns out, once everyone is willing to actually analyze and quantify why they failed, it's a lot less painful to point fingers. Once you can accept that you screwed up, figure out how to fix it and do it again it's a lot less painful to be accused of messing up.

I do see your point that in mixed groups often you'll have to compromise simply because you cannot in any remote way rely on someone to do the most basic task. You do things like tell people to jump in lava in case they get parasites or whatever instead of doing the right thing because, well, they're idiots. Or you add 2 more healers to cover up the issue that your current healers are horrible.

But that's not the only way.

Rohan said...

Or there's a third option - that you lose people through attrition and instead of accepting recruits that are perhaps subpar you always recruit for the best and do not settle.

But then you don't actually raid. Because you don't always have the numbers to raid.

Part of this--which I left out because I though it was tangential, may have been wrong--is that this style of play is very hostile to maintaining a bench.

If you are always taking your 25 best raiders to new content, then your bench doesn't get to raid. And decent players will not hang around a mid-Aristocracy guild if they only get to raid 1 of 3 days at best. Maybe they'll feel that's okay in a Royalty guild, but not at my level.

And to be honest, that's my main issue with this playstyle. Personal accountability is a secondary priority. The first and greatest priority is maintaining a full raid force, with a deep enough bench that you are always able to raid with a stable group.

Basically, the personal accountability folks felt that because people didn't perform, we didn't progress fast enough in order to attract quality recruits.

I felt that because we couldn't retain people (especially people who were on the bench), we couldn't put together a consistent raid in order to progress consistently.

Vatec said...

Good soldiers don't necessarily make good generals. And just because you have good reaction speed and can get out of the fire quickly doesn't mean you're good at organizing a raid, developing new strategies, or dealing with people.

To put it another way: not everyone can be a brain surgeon or rocket scientist. Brain surgery requires intelligence and good memory coupled with dexterity and steady hands. Rocket science requires great math skills. Not everyone has the required abilities. And not everyone has the visual acuity to spot the pale green circle on the pale green floor under the pale green smoke. Not everyone has the reaction speed to avoid the incoming fireball or jump over the moving laser beam.

Personal accountability is a great concept. I wish more people would apply it to real life. But people generally play games for fun. And, quite frankly, this obsession with "achievement" and "skill" in, get this, an utterly meaningless activity that most people engage in for fun, can be rather shortsighted.

Anonymous said...

When I was raiding at a high level in Wrath, the RL would always choose the same 10-12 people, no matter what. This would usually be the tanks, and a few key dps and healers. The rest of the spots where up for grabs, usually rotated daily or chosen if a specific setup was needed for some bosses.

Our guild started to have problems in TOC, because we where going for Tribute to Insanity, meaning finishing the instance without a single wipe. When doing something like that, you cannot rotate, ever. You need the same people every time, as you cannot afford to bring new people that might mess up. Even good players will mess up the first time they try a new boss. This nearly killed our guild, but we finally got our server first achievement. The guild leaders made sure we always rotated and kept a steady roster after that, which made ICC much more enjoyable.

Unknown said...

"...

Or there's a third option - that you lose people through attrition and instead of accepting recruits that are perhaps subpar you always recruit for the best and do not settle. ...
"

Even if you manage to keep your numbers up enough to raid--see Rohan's reply--there's another point to consider: if you only recruit "the best" and "do not settle", eventually you will be the one that is holding the group back and cut in favor of a better player.

Skill elitism sounds good in theory, but ultimately everyone fails to consider that there is always someone more skilled than they are and the policies they promote apply to themselves just as much as it applies to those they consider lacking in skill.

Carson 63000 said...

Vatec said...

But people generally play games for fun. And, quite frankly, this obsession with "achievement" and "skill" in, get this, an utterly meaningless activity that most people engage in for fun, can be rather shortsighted.

Mmmm, to an extent that's true. If you were so obsessed with achievement and skill that you refused to play at all with people that didn't meet your lofty standards, that would be rather shortsighted.

But when you're engaging in a specific area of the game, i.e. progression raiding, which genuinely does require a certain level of skill from players, you can't really ignore that.

I've seen both sides of the coin - I've been in raid teams that were held back because we simply had too many people who didn't have the required skill. And on the other hand, I've dropped out of a team because I was the one who couldn't cut it - after clearing all the 4.0 content in normal mode, I had to say to my guildies "sorry, I'm out, my middle-aged reflexes were pushed to the absolute limit beating Twilight Council and Cho'gall and Nef, there is no way I can do this stuff on hardmode."

Vatec said...

@Carson 63000

Unfortunately, there -are- a lot of people who refuse to play with those they consider "noobs." And there are a lot who consider anyone to be a "noob" if they don't have the right reflexes or refuse to play a minmaxed build.

Honestly, I'd rather fail with people I like than succeed with people I don't.

And yes, I'm one of those people who voluntarily withdraws if it looks like my poor reflexes are going to hurt the team. DPS and rotations are not a problem: I'm a competent Rift theorycrafter and do a lot of research to fill in the gaps in my own knowledge. But given that my average reaction time is 400ms (twice as slow as the average person, as far as I can tell from Internet-based reaction speed tests), there are simply fights where I'm going to be a burden.

Newtonium / Protectorate said...

It's hard for me to react to a lot of this... I was excited when you came to my server, even thought about possibly joining but the times did not work out.
My wife and I PUG fairly consistently on LB and we have run into several Ad Infinitum members and some members of the guild you merged and demerged with. I have to say, we have never met someone we did not like from AI and we've never met someone we did like from the other guild.
I'm truly sorry that you had this experience. When it comes to players I think that the responsibilities lie with each individual member of a team to perform his or her best, and to live up to the standards set. It's the manager, or GM / Raid Leaders responsibility to put people where they need to be. If someone's not performing up to the standard, it's the managements responsibility to recognize and discuss it, get help if they can, and it's the member's responsibility to accept the offer for help or find help on their own to improve up to the standards.

If you've set a standard of the RL calling out every hour of twilight and someone dies when they forget to call it out, it's the managers fault. If the standard is set that each person is responsible for using boss timers and responding to them, then it's the members fault when they forget to hit that heroic will button.

It's a matter of guild culture. It seems like the AI friendly and helpful culture I've experienced is in direct contrast to the culture of the other guild.

Setbacks are difficult, and some guilds never get over them. I hope you do.

-Brian

Kalon said...

On not having the numbers to raid: again, it really depends a lot on how you recruit and who you recruit. If you recruit people with the belief that you will have 90%+ attendance and that this is the expectation set out from the beginning, you'll find that you don't have a lot of issues due to attrition. It'll occasionally happen, and it'll suck, but it's not the end of the world to raid with 23 people.

And yes, this style is completely antagonistic to a bench, but that's good. Benches suck. It's far better from a learning, cohesion and play perspective to have as shallow a bench as you can conceivably get away with.

You don't always have to take your 25 very best raiders to raid because (for starters) the difference between your 25th and 26th-best raider is incidental and often made up for by better comps. It's not like everyone groans when you take gimpy mcidiot; there is no gimpy mcidiot, most everyone sits at certain points and you work it out intelligently and reasonably - like whether or not people need drops or need achievements or VP on a given boss. For progression, you take the 25 people that are on at that time that you think will maximize your chance of killing that boss; that 25 is very rarely the same between boss fights. And if it is, you rotate people in.

Again, these problems that you say - things like shallow benches, taking the best people for the job - are also strengths if you recruit for it. You just have to be very, very good at recruiting. And that's hard - but it can be done. A shallow bench also means that you're very rarely sitting and you showing up to raid is Really Important. Taking the best people for the job means that you never feel like someone's not pulling their weight - and if you feel like you're not pulling your weight you'll almost certainly be the first person to bring it up and bench yourself because you don't want to let down others and you know others are able to take your place if needed.

I speak from some amount of experience - I'm still a member of skunkworks (also known as casually serious) which raiding all of WotLK and Cataclysm on two nights a week, 4 hours a night, and kept a roster of about 27-28 people with a high of 30. It's a US top 100 guild right now, and has had things like world 251 kill of HLK 25. There were tough times, we've had to replace leadership a few times now, but it's still been going strong. It can and does work - but the biggest thing to do is not compromise on recruiting.

Kalon said...

@unknown: you're absolutely right. If you're recruiting so that everyone you get is better than the average player you currently have, you will reach a point where there is some kind of skill discrepancy. Fortunately there are options there as well - retirement, learning, alts, different roles. I've seen them all. And yes, it happens, but it's not so horrible as you think; a lot of times by the time it does happen 3 years have passed, and that's about as much as you can hope for attrition's sake as you really can expect.

Kalon said...

finally - the tyranny of skill is better worded as the tyranny of skill inequity. When you have an imbalance - especially a large one - and those who are skilled, who have done their homework, who are busting their ass to get things to work the right way fail because some idiot didn't listen to directions or doesn't even know their basic rotation - yes, that is an issue, and at some point yes, it is that person's fault that guy with skill is failing. When everyone's closer to the same skill this becomes less and less of an issue. When everyone's about the same skill level the most disappointed person when someone fails is the failer.

Rohan said...

I don't know, Kalon. Maybe you are right.

All I know is that I saw the same pattern for three years. We recruited, bled down, had trouble getting 25 people for a raid, recruited more, repeat over and over. The people we recruited in the low times, when they could be guaranteed a raid spot, were always more reliable than anyone recruited during the high times. The bench guys didn't get to raid, and just faded away.

The times we had a consistent group always matched up to the time we had our best performances.

The other part that influenced me was that for a long time we had 3 Holy Paladins who to rotated sitting out. I thought that triad made things a lot more stable for the guild as a whole. There was a time period of several months where every single raid we fielded had two Holy paladins, who were all equally geared and comfortable with the entire guild. No other position could really say the same thing, and throughout that span I don't think we ever had significant issues with tank healing.

I just thought that trying to extend that stability to the entire guild would at least have been a worthwhile experiment. But instead we kept doing the same thing over and over, and getting the same results.

And I blame that on the "skilled" people I describe in the original post. The blind assertion that this was the only way, flying in the face of all our experiences so far.

Syl said...

What you describe here is the basic and very old dilemma of raidguilds, no? :)
ideally you want the "best players", but you also want to fill raids - very often you can't have both. that's why almost every guild compromises in recruitment and also why almost every raidguild lives to see the situation of removing players that "were once good enough" or recruits players that are actually not the desired standard.

it's the biggest crux of any raidguild I've ever been in. I'd say they all know it, unless you are really among the top 0.1% that can pick more cherries than you can ever use (=lotsa applicants all the time).

to deal with this situation asks for a lot of wisdom from a GM/leading team. more wisdom than one individual can probably handle. i've never seen it handled perfectly, maybe there is no such thing.

Jumina said...

"The people who espouse this view are always really good players." - wrong. They are bad players. They may have good dps but still they are bad players because they don't know what's going in the fight. Good player can distinguish if there is problem with bad performance or change in tactics is needed.

"If you are always taking your 25 best raiders to new content, then your bench doesn't get to raid." - if RL is doing this than he is an idiot. You have to have replacement in order to keep the raid going. And everybody must get its share of loot and achievments. Of course if someone can't keep the pace with overall performance you must replace him. To keep a player only as a backup is stupid. Either you can use him or not.

It works like a good company. You have employees/raiders. If the employee is good you give him the payment and try to keep him with benefits even if you don't have work for him right now. If he is bad you just fire him.

Of course there are players or officers who think the way you describe. But they are bad players and bad officers.

spinksville said...

"If you recruit people with the belief that you will have 90%+ attendance and that this is the expectation set out from the beginning, you'll find that you don't have a lot of issues due to attrition."

And if someone has a change of RL circumstances and can suddenly only make 70% raids, you drop them and hope you can find a replacement?

Well, it's one way to run a raid guild I suppose. But it does assume an endless stream of 'appropriate' candidates who all want to raid with you, which in practice doesn't exist (except possibly for very high end guilds -- and you can't ALL run very high end guilds for that reason).

Truth is, Rohan's classification of guilds into royalty/ aristocracy etc is flawed from my POV because it implies that the royalty are somehow better than (for example) a friendly casual guild which knocks out normal modes every week. They're not better, just more obsessed, and actually running the latter may well be more difficult. Imagine what a 'royalty' guild might look like for a social player (in the terms of: a guild that player would be queueing up to join) and it would be very different.

spinksville said...

Just to add: I think being overly results focussed can have detrimental effects in any organisation, not just raid guilds, and particularly when one of the results being measured is not "maintaining a stable, happy team."

sam said...

It's simple. Being highly skilled and professional doesn't = leadership. I see this dynamic in IT all the time. a group of very skilled, very smart people take over and begin to drive thier vision. Usually those highly skilled people have low EQ and bad people skills because they don't find these things to be important. As a result they almost always get thier goal in sight only to have everything fall apart before they can get there.

The dynamic you described destroys companies as well as guilds. the skilled become a click that eventually turns into groupthink and then it's just a matter of time.

Anonymous said...

The problem you describe is an age old dilemma for raiding guilds. A catch 22.

You want better players so you can make better progression - but in order to progress you must have 25 first (with an even class/role distribution). You compromise standards to get there.

Then you get the guy who is performing very well and desires progression above all. This guy is not involved in management and cannot see past "X stands in fire get rid of X." He does not understand concepts like being unable to replace the weaker player easily or tailoring a strat to accommodate the lesser player. Ultimately this guy leaves to join a further progressed guild - leaving a big hole in your roster and further slowing progression.

At some point you find yourself in the middle of the progression pack. The players you want to recruit wont want to join you because you aren't progressed enough. And you can't progress further quickly enough because you can't retain good players long enough - you are forced to accept weaker players who will take much longer to learn mechanics.

Phelps said...

I understand that the standpoint of the meritocrats leads to sometimes being unable to raid.

What I fail to see is where you have shown that this makes them wrong. By their theory, even if you did raid with subpar raiders, you are just going to wipe anyways.

spinksville said...

"By their theory, even if you did raid with subpar raiders, you are just going to wipe anyways."

The wrongness is self evident because many guilds with less hardcore players do kill bosses. So unless you're on bleeding edge heroic content, raids are succeeding without having this recruitment criteria.

The trick is in getting the more elitist raiders to be a little patient and agree to work with the raid they've got until they beat the boss, rather than ditching players immediately and trying (fruitlessly) to recruit replacements.

Vatec said...

Mandatory attendance = job.

Yes, it's one way of running things. But you =greatly= restrict your pool of candidates. First, you're trying to get the "best" people. Second, by requiring attendance, you're effectively requiring that your players be unemployed, college students, or have incredibly structured lives with little room for spontaneity.

To some it's worth it. They want to experience achievement in the game. They're willing to structure their lives around it, just as some people are willing to devote hours a week to Little League or varsity football.

Others are not willing to make that commitment. Neither side is necessarily "right" or "wrong." But you really, really can't mix them together in the same guild.

Rohan said...

I think this comment thread is indicative of the entire issue. Kalon is a pretty smart guy, and his blog is a solid and useful one. He is definitely more skilled than you or me. And yet he holds to the failure of personal responsibility line, and credits it for his guild’s success in the game.

This is the tyranny of skill. It’s hard to argue with someone like Kalon, hard to argue with his success. He spends less time raiding and is more successful than I am.

Is it so hard to understand the idea that players like Kalon might be right, even if it offends your sensibilities?

Vatec said...

It's a values thing.

I didn't play Little League baseball, either. I have no desire to waste my time seeking "achievement" in an activity that is essentially meaningless. I have enough difficulty finding "success" in the real world, thanks.

Kalon's approach is right for him. He finds value in the teamwork and the success. Good for him. But his approach is not valid for everyone.

Some people have different priorities. Some people would rather have fun in a casual way, without all the pressure and recriminations.

The good news is, most of us probably realize that and wouldn't dream of wasting our time, or theirs, by applying to a guild like Kalon's.

spinksville said...

"This is the tyranny of skill. It’s hard to argue with someone like Kalon, hard to argue with his success. He spends less time raiding and is more successful than I am."

You've defined success in a very narrow way, bearing in mind you just wrote a blog post explaining how that attitude pretty much killed your guild and enjoyment in WoW.

But sure, collecting a group of players who are able to be on at exactly the same times, all have exactly the same goals, and all play at a similar level is one 'solution' to raiding. There's nothing specially clever about it, although props to anyone who can manage the organisation and finding the right minded players.

But it's not a solution that can work for everyone because there simply aren't enough players to fuel a) the eventual turnover rate and b) who all want to play at the most unforgiving of levels (or as he puts it 'you force the culture of personal accountability' etc). So selling it as the solution to everyone's raiding issues ever is misleading -- the best you can say is that it can work for some people. Gevlon's various schemes are also often well thought through also -- like his current one with the really large guild where you just keep throwing random players against the content and don't try to keep a fixed roster.

But I think doing the best you can with the players you have and building an atmosphere in which people aren't always two failed raids away from quitting in a huff is also a form of success. And I'm more interested in guild organisation strategies that can achieve that.

Hardmode raiding, as you say, is a solved problem. I just don't find it an interesting one because I'm not that achievement orientated and don't want to play in that kind of guild.

Liore said...

What Kalon (and Rohan in the original post) is outlining works, and works well.. as long as the leadership is willing to hold the line all the way. You have two weeks of unexpected 70% attendance? No more promised raid slot. Not keeping up? Sorry, you're out. I honestly admire the heck out of a team like Serious Casual. You not only need a solid leadership with a strong vision, but 20+ other people who are okay with, say, missing a week of raids because you only recruit the best.

The problem most of us have with this -- I certainly did -- is holding the line. Beloved guildie who is usually very prompt is taking a night class and will be 15m late every raid now? Do I hold the line but face bad feelings and recruiting for that spot, or do I be nice and accomodating? Maybe it's because I'm Canadian, but for the most part accomodating won. And then six months later you look up and realize that you've had to make some kind of special dispensation for half your raid team and you are probably never going to be the tight knit juggernaut of time-limited raiding you once desired.

But that's okay. I agree with Spinks' comment: what does success mean? Serious Casual is certainly successful! For me, though being generous and playing with people I liked turned out to be more important than having a meritocracy. It's easy to fall into the teeth-grinding "must progress faster" craze and god knows I've done it myself, but what it comes down to is.. is it important enough to you to tow the line? To make the tough calls? To tell someone they're not good enough? To tell the team you're not raiding because you haven't found a good tank replacement yet? It's not a tyranny of skill, per se, it's.. we're creating our own subjugation by expecting things beyond what we're willing to do.

The Renaissance Man said...

Ultimately, it's less about skill than it is about unity of purpose. Problems arise when you have players who think that standard A is good enough, and a group of players who think that people should be held to the higher Standard B.

A guild that expects to clear normal modes within a month of content release is going to have trouble with a player who expects to clear normal content week one. Likewise, a guild that expects to clear normal content week one will have trouble with a player who performs at a level below that expectation.

People need to know their place. They need to have realistic expectations of their own abilities, the abilities of the other raiders, and the commitment of the raid group. The greater the gap between a player's expectations and reality, the more likely there is going to be a schism.

Phelps said...

To me, it all goes back to the bowling analogy. If you just like to bowl, then go bowling whenever you have enough people and feel like it. If you sign up for a league, though, then you are expected to make the game, on time, every week. There are 24+ more people relying on you to show up. Common decency requires it, if nothing else.

From there, it all depends on the team. If you are playing on a scratch league, they expect you to roll 200+ every game. If you are on a handicap league, then that is where you are, but your team is still going to get pissed when you roll 50 pins under your average.

Kalon said...

"And if someone has a change of RL circumstances and can suddenly only make 70% raids, you drop them and hope you can find a replacement?
"

Sadly, yes. And it happens all the time. And if it doesn't happen fast enough then the other members get pretty pissed off, because that person is effectively wasting 24-28 other people's time. In Skunkworks what usually happens for most raiders is this:

1. Lifestyle change in a 4+ raid/week guild forces you to stop raiding so much, but you still want to raid at a high level
2. Join Skunkworks, try the 2 raid/week thing.
3. Find out that lifestyle change is kicking your ass even more than it was before and then move on.

In a lot of ways, skunkworks is the halfway house of raiding - it's a step towards quitting altogether. Very few people quit Skunkworks and then go back to more hardcore raiding; I think I know of 2 in the last 2.5 years. But I know tons who are simply not playing WoW at all, including the GM, every officer I started with and every second-generation officer I started with save one.

As I said - this method of being completely brutal, serious and uncompromising on things like recruiting, attendance, personal performance and the like is one option. This means that if someone wants to reroll no matter how awesome they were as their prior toon you treat them as a trial at best (if they want to sign up as a tank, that might not be an option, frex). That means that if people need to take a break for a long while due to parental leave or a long vacation they may have to re-earn their raid spot back. Nothing is earned forever.

And that works when everyone buys in. When everyone gears to raid, cares a lot about progression and playing at a high level and doesn't want to spend time wiping because gimpy mcidiot doesn't know what the mechanics of the fight is.

However, it also doesn't work with couples. It doesn't work with friends. It doesn't work for a large chunk of the people who want to raid and don't care about looking at EJ to optimize their stuff.

It absolutely does not work for everyone.

I think this style absolutely can work for a lot more guilds than are currently doing things. I think a lot of guilds that raid 3 or 4 times a week could easily scale back to 2 and suffer no actual performance loss. I think a lot of guilds with a bench of 40 people could cut that to 30 and be better off for it. But it won't work for everyone.

For me, it's a no-brainer. I hate it when other people waste my time; my time is limited and if I dedicate a 4-hour block of time to play, I expect others will understand how hard that is on me and my family and will similarly be there. I expect that they will not need their hand held for every fight and will watch things. I expect that they'll shut up on vent when we go to srs bsns mode. I expect that we won't screw around on trash for 30 min because the tank went afk to smoke and his girlfriend tells everyone to wait on them. Those are the things that destroy raiding for me, personally.

I don't claim that it's the only way to do it. But I do claim that it's a perfectly good way for quite a few people to do it.

Brekkie said...

Obligatory Context:
I am a retired Royalty guild Ret Paladin. I was with my (now disbanded as of the beginning of Cata) guild from Ulduar (US 12th Firefighter pre-nerf, US 15th Alone in the Dark), through ICC (Heroic mode kills in World top 15, and culminating the tier with a US 15th Lich King). I was raid leader for FL through ToGC (US 8th Anub). FL Raided 5 days/week, typically maintained a bench of around 5-10 people, depending on the number of Apps, and was a progression-oriented guild.

Ok, now that's over with, and you have some insight into where I'm coming from...

There are two points I want to make regarding your viewing "the Tyranny of Skill" in a negative light.

1) This philosophy, like most, can be handled in both a negative/destructive, and a positive/productive way. Which effect it has is mostly determined by the attitudes and actions of the guild's leaders.
It sounds like your merged guild suffered more from the former, which is unfortunate, but doesn't tell the whole story.

There is a reason why a Personal Accountability mindset is so successful. If handled correctly, it starts a positive feedback loop, and your success (success measured in terms of progression as a group. Let's put arguments about whether that is the most important measure of "success" aside for now, because they only muddy the waters with arguments belonging elsewhere.) will increase exponentially. The reason it does this is because it provides a negative incentive for complacency, particularly when, as brought up by Kalon, there isn't a destabilizingly large skill inequality between the best players in the guild and the worst players in the guild. This is because no one wants to be the one to fail, and because a meritocracy encourages active competition, not only with peers but with yourself and your own previous performance.
In an environment where it is agreed that the strat is at fault, or the raid composition at fault, or lack of practice at fault, complacency is seductive, contagious, and addicting. It is a big reason why players who used to be by far the superior performer in their entire guild apply to a bleeding edge guild and find themselves completely out of their depth. They have spent months resting on their laurels and not challenging themselves or needing to challenges themselves. Even if they DID fail before, it would have just been viewed as evidence that there was clearly some other issue than personal performance, because CLEARLY if the guild's best player was failing it cannot be a performance issue!

Ironically, when a guild has a Personal Performance mindset, 90% of the time they are correct, and it makes the other 10% of the time when there genuinely IS a strategy or a composition or a familiarity issue MUCH easier to recognize and then correct because the signs become isolated from variables.

Brekkie said...

2) This mindset only works when the social mobility of players between guilds is enough that players of similar skill levels are able to congregate together at around the plateau of their capabilities. As a result, it was extremely successful up through Wrath, but many guilds which espouse it in Cata have been dying. The new features of raiding (10/25-man equivalency, Guild Perks and reputation, increased stratification of difficulty modes combined with increased content nerfing, etc) have all moved things in the opposite direction: towards discouraging upward mobility of skill, and encouraging groups of players who aren't necessarily well matched to stick together anyway and just try to make things work.
"Guild Hopping" was given a really bad rap, mostly by frustrated recruitment officers, and perhaps justifiably so back in the days of difficult attunements and serious gear barriers (neither of which existed in Wrath), but was ultimately healthy in fostering an upward trend in increasing player skill and enabling motivated players to be able to place themselves with like-minded people.
Now, meritocracies are failing because the recruitment pools have decreased steadily in quality over as part of a long trend. This means that losses need to be replaced by inferior stock, often widening the skill inequality gap and destabilizing the productive group dynamic.

The biggest lesson Recruitment officers in Royalty-but-not-world-first-level guilds have had to learn is that skill is not static, it can be taught. So you can compromise by simply identifying "potential" and then essentially using a sort of apprentice/buddy system to train recruits up. The Old Guard has been fading for a while, and since the game no longer inherently fosters upward trends in skill, guilds have to take responsibility for doing so themselves.

Vatec said...

Something else people need to recognize: sometimes skill =can't= be taught. Modern society fosters a rather naive belief that anything can be solved by the application of sufficient education. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case.

Is it worth =trying= to teach people? Absolutely. But the idea that if they fail it has to be their fault is simply inaccurate. Sometimes people fail through no fault of their own. As long as both the teacher and the student recognize this possibility, practical growth is possible.

Brekkie said...

That's where you are wrong. Skill CAN be taught.

Are there natural limitations everyone has where they plateau due to things like varying decision making under pressure, speed of reflexes, and the latency of their connection? Sure, but 90% of the time there are even things you can teach/learn to make the person more effective in those areas too.
Almost no one in the entire game of millions of players is able to actually reach one of the hard caps on their skill in a particular area, and no one caps everything that is under their control.

And the vast majority of the time the problem is more fundamental than that and can be solved with very basic coaching. Big examples include not realizing the min-maxing potential of various little-used or "I thought that was just for PVP/a different spec" class skills, or (this is a big one) having a self-sabotaging counter-productive UI/keybinding/mod use setup.

Skill can ALWAYS be improved, and empirically from the exponential skill rise from aristocracy guilds to royalty guilds to top 5 world guilds, in the case of almost every single person who will ever read this blog, it can be improved by A LOT, often by some very basic fundamental changes.

Are you a melee DPS or a tank and you don't use a key press/release inverter script? Boom, vast improvement.

Are you using windows and not using Leatrix Latency Fix? Boom, 200ms less latency.

Are you not binding /startattack to all your abilities? Boom, you are suddenly getting significantly more white swing damage on every fight with target switches, adds, or heavy movement.

The list goes on. And much of the things that make up high performance simply amount to knowledge and preparation, not having superhuman reflexes. The contribution reflexes can make is largely limited by the GCD anyway.

The thing that separates top world level performers from amateurs is mostly premeditated playstyle design strategy, practice, and a comprehensive understanding of every facet of their class and every other class and fight mechanic they interact with.

All of which is simply knowledge, and knowledge can be imparted.

It is rare for someone to fail through no fault of their own, and that can only happen if they perform every action they could have taken to mitigate and prevent that failure, which is simply hardly ever true in the non-bleeding edge level.
To believe otherwise is to not only accept, but to purposefully seek and invite mediocrity.

Vatec said...

Sorry, Brekkie, no amount of education will make someone who is bad at math into a rocket scientist or someone with shaky hands into a surgeon.

Similarly, no amount of practice or training will help you if you hit the wrong keys more frequently than most. There's a reason some people can type 100 words per minute but most people are limited to 40. No amount of practice or training will help you if you simply can't see the pale green ring on the pale green ground through the pale green smoke.

Granted, the vast majority of the "skills" involved in a game like WoW or Rift are pretty basic. And it's true that most people will be able to master them or find adequate workarounds.

But nonetheless, visual acuity, manual dexterity, and reflexes do play a part. And I can tell you this much: after twelve years of playing MMOs, I'm pretty darned sure exactly where my limitations lie.

To put it another way:

If every could do "it," they'd be doing "it." If they're not doing "it," you can either assume it's a flaw in their character, or you can accept that some of them are, in fact, doing their best and still can't quite do "it."

Dzonatan said...

You justify the problem of subpar peformance with problem of orginization. You didnt note more than just 2 types of skill-based players so its constantly hard to which players you are constantly reffering to. Please input much more details, much much more player types and much more plausible examples.

Trix said...

Im raiding with guild on pretty normal state ( 3-4 days week ). Our Raid Leader is very good player and skilled. He is really into theoryfracting and focusing to maxmize his dps. His attitude is spreading on our whole dps team. I think it is good for everyone when you can see it is possible to play better without high end gear and improve your gameplay.

PS. Sorry for offtopic but could you explain this?

Are you a melee DPS or a tank and you don't use a key press/release inverter script? Boom, vast improvement.

Brekkie said...

@Trix
The way most keyboards work is that they do not actually send a signal to execute an operation when the key is PRESSED, they send the signal when the depressed key is RELEASED.

What this means is you are having to do two physical actions instead of just one, you have to press the key, and then let go. And it also means that the extra time it takes to do so is essentially added to your latency and creating dead space in between ability usages.

When top guilds evaluate a parse, one of the biggest things we look for is number of skill usages divided by time. This tends to be the biggest thing that varies when you have two players who are doing their rotation properly and generally making all the right decisions, but who are of different skill. Squeezing as many abilities out as possible, and riding the GCD as nearly as you are capable, is a big part of performance.

So top players utilize a script which inverts this functionality of their keyboard. It makes it so that abilities fire when they key is PRESSED, rather than when it is press-released. This, combined with key spamming like you should be doing anyway, positively impacts output.

The higher-end "Gaming Keyboards" like the G52, etc, tend to have this feature built into them, and it is honestly their only real advantage.

You can find a script that will do this by just googling "Key press/release invert", or some variation of that.
It will be a script you run on your computer.

Brekkie said...

@Vatec

You are simply, empirically, wrong. I've never encountered a player who I coached and who was willing to TAKE coaching whose performance I wasn't able to dramatically improve.

There ARE variables in human ability, but unless you are working with players who are somehow physically disabled, they only come into play at the absolute HIGHEST levels. 99% of players simply are not playing well enough to come close to their natural human limitations.

The most useful question to ask is "Why is this person failing?"

Are they failing to notice and respond in time to an encounter effect? Chances are...
-Their UI is non-optimal, distracting their brain processes with extraneous information
-Their keybindings are non-optimal, requiring they devote more attention to their finger movements than is necessary, at the detriment of attention paid to their screen.
-Their rotation is not automated enough, which could be a design, a mod, or a practice issue, or all three, once again to the detriment of attention.
-They are not taking enough advantage of the warning tools available to them. Perhaps they are responsive to audio-cues, but only use visual warning signs because they think that is all their is because that's what is default and "what everybody else uses".

The list goes on endlessly. I'm only scratching the surface.
Any player willing to take coaching from a world class player could be taken completely apart and put back together and come out the end with a vastly increased level of performance.


Why do more people NOT do this?

People do not escape to a fantasy world where they roleplay an epic hero because they like finding out that they are doing it wrong. Most people buy into the social dynamic that, as long as I am not the worst person in my regular group or "the one holding the group back", I am doing just fine.
And on top of that, a lot of this knowledge is extremely specialized, uncommonly known, and many simply do not know it is out there or where/who to get it from.

It takes a very specific type of personality to never be satisfied with your own performance.
Most people do not have that personality. So they, like you, truly convince themselves that they are doing "their best", and leave it at that.

Vatec said...

@Brekkie -

I think we have a communications disconnect here. You're talking about WoW exclusively. And you may be correct, in the very limited context of WoW. I've never played WoW. I never could get past the cartoony graphics.

I'm talking about the concept of "education" in the grander scheme of things, which I believe =also= applies to MMOs, including WoW.

Tell you what:

You keep blaming it all on people not being willing to learn, I'll keep blaming it on people having unrealistic expectations of other people, and we'll both walk away from this conversation.

Because I simply have not had the same experiences with life, and MMOs, that you have had. And you very clearly have not had the same experiences that I have had. Be grateful.

Phelps said...

You keep blaming it all on people not being willing to learn, I'll keep blaming it on people having unrealistic expectations of other people, and we'll both walk away from this conversation.

I think you have hit on it, being that it is a social issue that transcends gaming.

We used to talk about a thing called "talent." Now, we only accept its existence for the purpose of cheesy variety/game show combinations. People have different talents. Whether it is a product of genetics or nurture (most likely both) it exists.

Some people are good at certain things with little effort. Some people will never be good at certain things, no matter how much effort they put into them. No matter how much I study, I'll never be a Bobby Fischer or Gary Kasparov. No matter how often I lift, I'll never be a world-class weight lifter (which doesn't mean I'm going to stop doing it or liking it.)

On the other hand, in my profession (obscure litigation niche), I'm one of the world leaders. I have a natural talent for it. Being clever, highly stress resilient and a knack for analogies has given me an edge up on others that no amount of education can compete with.

It's the way the world works. To feel better about ourselves, we like to act like talent doesn't exist -- it's all about the "effort" or "dedication" you put into something. I'm sorry, but it isn't. Some people are smarter than others, faster, stronger. Some people are below average in all of those. It doesn't mean that we should shame them for it or that they can't have a happy, successful life, but we shouldn't pretend that someone with natural talent isn't going to run circles around them.

And if you are doing something that requires high performance at all times, then you should always pick the talented and dedicated over the untalented and dedicated.

Brekkie said...

Well, naturally I was referring strictly to performance in WoW.

Trying to draw universal conclusions out of the point Rohan is trying to make is stretching things a bit farther than is really supported by evidence. And it is certainly a tangent that merely muddies the waters of the discussion, rather than being helpful in any way.

For the record, in addition to being a raid leader of a prior world-level raiding guild, I am also a US Marine with a highly successful career.
It has been my experience that the kind of person who reaches for success and demands personal accountability of not only others but from themselves is the kind of person who consistently is successful in EVERYTHING they do, not merely a single narrow field as would be the case if it was purely due to good fortune in "talent".

Does natural talent exist? Sure, but it's impact is overstated, and only really comes into play when you are already performing at the world-competitive level.
Of much bigger importance is motivation.

Vatec said...

On that we can agree, at least to an extent. Motivation is a very important ingredient for becoming the best you can be. And being the best you can be can have a very positive impact on your success.

Unfortunately, sometimes being the best you can be simply isn't good enough. Doesn't mean you shouldn't still try. But you're never going to be a great dancer if you can't hear the beat (I can't, BTW. The bass just sort of sounds like a blur, if that makes any sense.).

Part of being an adult comes from actually recognizing limitations when you encounter them. If you beat your head against the same problem for ten years, odds are you're not going to suddenly magically discover the answer. Sometimes you just have to accept that there is no answer.

Anonymous said...

As a relatively new player to the world of raiding, how do you recommend finding a coach? I've found that currently you (well, maybe just me) can only get so far in moving up the guild skillset before there's a big barrier. The next tier of raiders expects more, but seems unwilling to help. I'd love to be completely dissected and put back together and be able to contribute more, I just don't know how.

Brekkie said...

The best thing to do is make a friend. When you encounter someone better than you at your class, approach them with a genuine desire to learn. It might take a few tries, but by and large most people enjoy sharing knowledge because it makes them feel good about themselves as an expert.

When you've learned and mastered what that person has to teach you, find someone else, maybe who is even better, and then pick their brain too. And so on and so forth.

Brekkie said...

@Vatec

WoW is just simply not an activity where natural limitations come into play very much. If they do, it means you are sabotaging yourself by playing in a fashion which makes things harder on you than they have to be.

I know of a deaf woman in a top 20 world guild who gets along just fine. I've seen older and younger players, people who have played video games their whole life, and people for whom WoW was their very first game all reach a world-competitive level. And it was not due to some kind of innate talent, it was due to attitude and a critical mass of knowledge.

Unless a person is blind or somehow mentally handicapped (not intending this to sound as an insult), they are physically capable of improving their play to world level.
The only barriers are generally overcoming complacency in your performance, the drive to find information that will make you better, and possessing the humility to accept that you are meeting only a fraction of what you are capable of.


The people who complain that some people just don't have the talent for video games are the same people who generally claim that minor differences in class balance only matter for the bleeding edge. But you can't have it both ways. Both factors are ultimately so minor that they indeed only really matter at the bleeding edge, and class balance probably makes a bigger difference than reaction speed reflex time differences between human beings.

Rohan said...

You know, I rather think this entire thread illustrates my original point quite nicely.

Anonymous said...

What a very thoughtful and insightful blog. In Wrath I got a regular raiding spot in my guild's 2nd ten man team. We had a terrific RF and oddly we progressed much more quickly than the "A" team - full of all the best geared and more skillful guild members.

The only difference I could discern was that we had a very amiable group who genuinely liked each other and we had a blast. I listened in on vent to the "A" team several times and it was acrimonious and full of "people just need to pull their socks up try harder" sort of comments. My GF filled a free spot one time in the "A" team raid and was so upset with how everyone spoke to everyone else esp her - she never raided with the guild again.

Funnily, because the "B" team was progressing quite quickly - "A" team members pushed to get into the "B" team and the same sort of behaviours eventually poisoned "B" team and gradually all the inaugural "B" team members stopped turning up.

Again, thank you for such an insightful and intelligent analysis. Welcome to my favourites list :-)

Anonymous said...

I usually lurk here, but i am drawn to discussion. I dont find it completely either or situation. I am in a 2 day raiding guild that just finished with t13 on normal, and we are all happy with out progress.

However, we all show up in time if signed, our returns from wipes are quick (quicker then some guilds i was in that were more progressed), we all admit when we make mistakes and discuss what can be done better.

Not being in a top raiding does not mean you are raiding with idiot monkeys, which seems to be the opinion of some posters here.

However, it does mean you have to monitor some people closely, especially after patches, and that you have to read up some EJ threads for classes other than your own. It also means a lot of us dont use macros or have the skill to make them etc.

But we are happy with where we are (mostly), and the most important point, we are there to have a nice experience in a nice atmosphere, ie, shouting is not encouraged, discussion and suggestions are encouraged, comments like "you fail" or "if idiots could move" etc. are frowned on.

I have also been in guilds with same level of progression which also suffered from the blame sickness etc.

After my ramble, what i want to say is - pick what suits you and your guild culture, and try and draw people who are looking for it.

I personally cannot stand shouting and recriminations, im in a guild that discourages such behaviour.