Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Idiosyncrasies, Dungeon 2 sets, Patch 1.10

I realize something odd about my playstyle today.

Whenever I get an item with a "Use:" ability, I drag it to the interface and make a button so I can use the item easily. I do this with every item I have except the hearthstone. For some reason, whenever I want to hearth, I open my bags and click on the hearthstone. In all my time of playing, it never once occurred to me to make a hearthstone button.

In other news, patch 1.10 came out yesterday. It contains the Dungeon 2 armor sets, which are replacements for the Dungeon 1, or Tier 0, sets. For paladins, the replacement for Lightforge is Soulforge. Soulforge is actually pretty sweet, and is possibly better than Lawbringer (Tier 1 epic armor from Molten Core) for general play. Lawbringer is better for healing, though.

I did the first quest, which was fairly easy, and obtained my [Soulforge Bracers]. I started the second quest and then realized that it requires player-made materials. So naturally the prices of these materials have skyrocketed. Good old Adam Smith. I think I'll wait for a while and finish up the quest in a week or so.

Patch 1.10 does look pretty nice. I *really* like the new griffon UI, especially as it allows the Alliance to bypass the Ironforge chokepoint. The reputation pane changes are interesting as well. I haven't seen any weather yet, but it should be neat.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Guild Karma

I was in a raiding guild for a while. It had just started up with a new server, and we had progressed quite fast through Molten Core (3 weeks to Ragnaros). One thing about this guild was that we had a *lot* of paladins. We had 14 paladins on the roster, and on one great raid we took 8 of them to Molten Core! Paladins were the one class that generally had excess people online when it came to raids. It was fun times.

The loot system we had was really good, where you could blind-bid DKP on items you wanted, with no class restrictions. Of course, most of us were new to the Core, so we saved our DKP for our set pieces and healing weapons. I did bid small amounts on crazy weapons, just in case the warriors were unwilling to spend DKP on them. By and large, I felt the system worked, and trusted us to make good decisions on gear.

I left the guild two weeks ago. We had just subdued Majordomo Executus, and were on our way to spawn Ragnaros. The guild leader (a DPS warrior) announced that any 2H weapons that Rag dropped would be exclusive to warriors, as they could get the greatest use out of them. I was very unhappy about changing the loot system in the middle of a raid, especially as I really liked the previous system, so I left the guild the next day.

Today I saw a post by my old guild on the realm message boards. They were trying to recruit paladins.

You reap what you sow.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Tools for End-Game Casual Guilds

I think that Blizzard needs to implement certain tools to help the casual guilds overcome barriers that prevent them from raiding. A few tools would go a long way to making the game more accessible to all players. All these tools can be done out of game, but if they were in-game it would be a lot easier and intuitive to accomplish. The fact that a tool is out-of-game is itself another barrier.

Also, these tools don't necessarily have to be very complex. The bare minimum should be good enough.

1. Allow guilds to form alliances

The biggest barrier to endgame raids is the lack of numbers and class balance. The easiest solution is to form guild alliances, where several small guilds team up to tackle the raid instances. An alliance would be created at the guild level, with officers or guildmasters being able to commit their entire guild to the alliance.

The option to form or join an alliance would only exist if there is a level 60 in the guild. Otherwise, alliances would be overused in the lower game, and you'd probably start getting 10 guilds of 5 people forming an alliance that would have normally been a guild of 50. Alliances are aimed at the endgame, and should probably only be available at endgame.

Guilds in the alliance would get a common channel, and share a common schedule (see suggestion 2).

2. Have a schedule where officers can post raids

Raids need to be scheduled. If there is one place in-game where the schedule can be seen, it will be a lot more effective than getting people to visit a website. A guild needs a common schedule, and a guild alliance needs a common schedule. It doesn't need to be very complex. Date, time, and event is good enough. The ability to do sign-ups would be amazing, but is not strictly necessary.

3. Have a base loot system with memory

Almost every raid guild uses a memory-based system to distribute epic loot (DKP, Zero-Sum DKP, Suicide Kings, etc.). I think that if Blizzard included a default system, that would be good enough for most guilds' purposes. If a guild felt that Blizzard's system wasn't good enough, they can always make their own system, as they do now.

I would suggest Spend-All DKP as the default system. Every time an epic drops, each player gets a point. The loot box that pops up has two buttons: Spend and Pass. If you hit Spend, and you have the most points, you get the item and lose all your points.

It's a simple and relatively fair system. Blizzard only needs to keep track of one additional piece of information: the amount of epic points that a character has. As well, the system would work across multiple guilds or guild alliances, as your point total is now inherent in your character, rather than tallied by the guild.

4. Have a guild bank

A guild bank, accessible by multiple people and with contents visible to the guild, would help guilds pool resources in order to accomplish goals. This would allow a casual guild to better work together. Right now, guild banks tend to be extra characters created by the officers. Such banks lack transparency which--in addition to trust issues--means that a lot of members are not aware of the contents of the bank, and are unable to take full advantage of it.

I think that these 4 tools would go a long way to enabling casual guilds to do raid content. Each tool lowers the barriers to entry for a casual guild, and makes it more likely that more people will experience the raid content that Blizzard puts so much time into.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Comment on the Difficulty of MMOs

Gitr posts a comment:

Yes, and that's what is so amazing about the people that suck so incredibly bad at an instance as easy as Deadmines.

Can they even tie their shoes? Have they ever played a computer game that requires using a mouse AND keyboard at the same time?

I think a lot of veteran MMO players underestimate or forget how unique the aggro mechanism is. Most non-MMO games (and real life, for that matter) use positioning instead of aggro to determine how fights work. I cannot think of a single-player game which really has the same concepts.

Most games: The dragon does not attack the priest because the warrior is blocking the way.
MMORPGs: The dragon does not attack the priest because the warrior has more 'threat'.

The first time you do Deadmines is often the first time you are really exposed to the tank-healer-dps trinity that is at the heart of current MMORPGs. Previously, you've been soloing, or fighting mobs where straight-out dps is a solid tactic.

I know that it took me a great while to truely understand it. WoW is the first game I've played that used aggro-based mechanisms. I played a warrior first, and the concept that 'threat' is different than--but linked to--'damage' was hard to really grasp.

Casuals Guilds vs. Raiding Guilds

There are two types of guilds in WoW: Casual guilds and raiding guilds. I believe that the WoW endgame is really only accessible to raiding guilds, and that players wishing to experience the endgame need to join a raiding guild. I also think that Blizzard needs to focus on this difference and, with a few tools, could make it much easier for casual guilds to move into raiding.

Here is a comparison of the main differences between raiding guilds and casual guilds:

Raiding Guilds:
  1. Are composed mainly of level 60 characters.
  2. Strive for a balanced roster, with equal numbers from each class.
  3. Aim for about 64 members. Enough redundancy to ensure that events happen, but few enough to allow everyone a chance to raid.
  4. Activities are scheduled in advance.
  5. Loot is handed out using a system with 'memory'. What happened last run changes how loot is distributed this run.
  6. Have formal mechanisms to pool resources to make necessary gear. Classic example is Dark Iron gear for tanks.

Casual Guilds:
  1. Characters range from level 1 to 60.
  2. Are usually not concerned with the class of members.
  3. Size usually varies wildly from ten people to hundreds. However, normally do not have a lot of 60s.
  4. Most activities happen on an ad hoc basis, depending on who is online.
  5. Loot is distributed using a 'memoryless' system, most often the random loot systems built into the game. Casual guilds generally are not concerned with what happened last run, except in a generally vague manner. People may pass because someone hasn't gotten something in a while, but it doesn't happen in a formal manner.
  6. Pooling resources is done rarely or on an ad hoc basis.

Raiding guilds are structured the way they are because that is generally the most efficient way to raid. A casual guild, in contrast, is not set up to raid very well, and these differences are often barriers that prevent casual guilds from really experiencing the endgame of WoW.

Hopefully my next post will explore some ideas that could really help casual guilds overcome these differences.

Monday, March 20, 2006

This Is Not Going To End Well

Analogy Update

From a thread in the WoW Raid & Dungeon forums.


Raiding is like playing in an orchestra. 5-man is like improvising jazz.

Amelia (60 Priest):

I think you badly overstate the skill required to do either of these things...more accurately:

"Raiding is like playing in a middle school marching band, 5-man is like open mike night at your local karaoke bar."

/bow Amelia

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Difference Between Casuals and Hardcore

In a comment, Maybe offers the following reason on why the hardcore "deserve" epic loot:

However, if your guild is entering a new instance like BWL, and nobody in the guild has been there before, then that is a different story. My guild took 2 months to figure out how to down the first boss of BWL (even after reading all the strats online). That's 2 months of 40 people coming to the instance week after week knowing that they will probably wipe a bunch of times each night, getting no loot or gold in the process and having to spend their own gold on repairs (which can be quite substantial). That kind of dedication defines a "hardcore" player, and I think deserves epic rewards.

I disagree with the idea that a casual player would not be willing to come to wipe after wipe. I think that this is a common misconception on the part of the hardcore. In fact, a lot of casual players would be more willing to come to BWL than many so-called "raiders". You see this reflected in many posts on the WoW Raid & Dungeon forums. It's fairly common to see a post by a guild leader complaining that attendance for Blackwing Lair--with its many wipes and little loot--is much lower than attendance for Molten Core, which has few wipes and lots of loot.

Casual and hardcore are two ends of a spectrum. We all have elements of both casual and hardcore. Some people lean more towards one end or the other. In my view, the difference between a hardcore player and a casual player has to do with the process vs. reward outcome. A hardcore player aims for the "optimal" outcome regardless of the process, while a casual player will settle for a "good-enough" outcome if the process is interesting enough.

For example, take levelling. A hardcore player will try to get to 60 as fast as possible, even if it involves just grinding away on the same mob over and over. Grinding is the "optimal" way to get to 60. A casual player will quest, even if questing takes more time. Questing is "good-enough" for them because it is more interesting than grinding.

The same perspective carries over to gear. If a hardcore player decides that Blackhand Doomsaw is the "optimal" weapon, she will run Upper Blackrock Spire over and over, until she finally gets the Doomsaw. The casual player will probably acknowledge that the Doomsaw is the best weapon, but will be satisfied with his Bonecrusher. The Bonecrusher is "good-enough".

This also carries over to time spent in the game. The hardcore spend vast amounts of time, because that's necessary for the "optimal" outcome. Just look at the grind required to become Rank 14 in the PvP system. The casual player may spend one night a week playing WoW, because that's good enough for them. On that one night though, they'd be willing to come and wipe with the guild on Blackwing Lair.

Another example is Molten Core vs Zul'Gurub. A hardcore player is more likely to want to do MC, because the rewards are so great. A casual player would prefer to do ZG, because it's more interesting, even if the rewards are less powerful.

[Edit: I'm not sure the above paragraph is clear enough. I'm basing it on a personal experience. The guild I was in did a ZG run and an MC run each week, while learning each instance. The ZG run was stopped--even though people liked running ZG--in order to concentrate our efforts on mastering MC (ie multiple attempts, trash runs for materials for Fire Resistance gear, etc.). I do not think a casual guild would have made the same choice. I think they would have been more willing to accept slower progress in MC, but keep the ZG run as well. I don't think the decision to stop ZG was necessarily wrong (we did spawn Ragnaros in 3 weeks) but it was a "hardcore" decision.]

A casual player who is in a raid guild will come to Blackwing Lair wipes (maybe not every night of the week, but whenever they play). The process is interesting enough. A lot of hardcore players will also come, because the rewards are so great. The problem lies in getting the casual player to join the raiding guild. The rewards are great, but the process seems so much more of a hassle than non-raiding content.

A casual player is not less willing to raid (and wipe) than a hardcore player. However, a casual player is less willing to join a raiding guild than the hardcore player. This may seem like the same thing, but I think there is a subtle and important difference. In my opinion, Blizzard would be best served to cutting down the barriers that keep casual guilds from raiding.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Casuals vs. Raiders, Part II

There was a post on the WoW forums where someone asked the question "Why do people raid?". In large part because of Scholo/Strath raids, a lot of casual players simply don't think that 40-man raids can be challenging. After all, people raid Scholomance with 10 raiders because it is easier than going with 5 players. If 10 people is easier than 5, surely 40 is easier than 10. There are also few raid-style fights in 5-man. In my opinion, you really don't understand what the attraction of raiding is until you actually try one. The only real attraction a casual player sees is that raiders get epic loot.

Raiding is like solving a puzzle. The attraction of raiding lies in figuring out the puzzle, coming up with a strategy, and executing that strategy with a large number of people. It does require skills, but different skills than a 5-man does. A 5-man is more in the moment, more about anticipating and reacting to unexpected events.

Raiding is like playing in an orchestra. 5-man is like improvising jazz. Both require skill, but the skills required are different.

Of course the question then becomes: why do raids deserve epic loot, and 5-mans do not? The answer is that raids are not necessarily harder than 5-mans, but they can be more intricate. To go back to the music analogy, with a saxophone you can do a lot of crazy things while improvising jazz, but you simply cannot have a violin solo in the middle as you don't have a violin. Similarily, you cannot make a 5-man fight that lasts longer than one healer's mana bar. You cannot count on there being more than one healer in the group. But a raid fight can be arbitrarily long, thanks to the existence of healing rotations, where one healer regenerates mana while another heals, with a switch when a healer runs out of mana.

However, I do think that WoW overly rewards raiders, at the expense of casual players. Molten Core is a bit too easy or simple for the quality and quantity of rewards that it gives out. However, Blizzard seems to be making an effort to improve the imbalance in 1.10, increasing the quality of rewards available from 5-man dungeons.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

OMG Epix!

Got my first epic from Molten Core today: [Lawbringer Gauntlets].

Friday, March 03, 2006

Upcoming Dungeon Changes

Heh, the day after I post about raiding the 5-man instances, Blizzard puts up the test patch notes for 1.10. Of special interest is the following:

Along with the new Armor Sets, the high-level 5-10 man dungeons have received some changes regarding loot. Many items have been improved in quality and use. In addition, several epic items, such as Headmaster's Charge and the Runeblade of Baron Rivendare, have had their drop rates significantly increased. In order to preserve the challenge of these dungeons, they have had their instance caps lowered. Stratholme, Scholomance, and Blackrock Depths now allow a maximum of five players inside, and Blackrock Spire allows a maximum of ten. [Emphasis mine]

Good work, Blizzard. With this move, Blizzard corrected a huge mistake, and made end game a whole lot more appealing. I seriously doubted that Blizzard would make such a big change with the expansion coming in a few months. I am really glad to see I was wrong.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Casuals vs. Raiders, Part I

There is a lot of debate and acrimony over casuals versus raiders in WoW. "Casual" players feel that Blizzard inordinately caters to the raiding players, rewarding them with better gear and interesting content. Raiding players, meanwhile, think that casual players just want epics handed to them, and are unwilling to put in the work. As someone who was a casual player for many months, before finally becoming a raider, I feel I have an interesting perspective on things.

Here are some points that I'd like to discuss:

1. Raiding looks harder than it is.

For a casual player, raiding is very intimidating. The raiding guilds force you to apply, almost like applying for a job. You hear horror stories of guilds expecting people to commit 12 hours a day. You can no longer just log on and do stuff. Instead, activities are formally scheduled. You don't get loot in a run, instead earning DKP which you exchange in some fashion for loot. The system used to give out DKP can be insanely baroque. The guild may demand that you spec a certain way, or play your character in an very specific way. You may be forced to download and install mods and accessories such as Teamspeak. The attitude of some raiding guilds is also very arrogant, as if Molten Core is incredibly hard, and you have to be an awesome player to even think of going inside.

Here's a big secret: raiding is not that hard. You go in, and you do what you've always done. If you can follow orders, you can raid. Most raiding guilds don't raid that much, and usually only in 3-5 hour increments. Molten Core is not very hard. If you can 5-man the endgame instances like Scholomance, Stratholme, and Dire Maul, you're more than competent enough to handle Molten Core. Raiding is not really about raw skill, it's about strategy. Coming up with the correct strategy for the raid as a whole, and then executing it well are the key points of raiding.

Scheduled runs are also more beneficial to the casual player than you think. If you know that MC is on Thursday nights, you can clear your schedule on that night. A hardcore player, on the other hand, is always online and really has no schedule to clear.

A lot of the problems with raiding stem from the player base. In many ways, raiders are extremely conservative in their approach. They are often unwilling to consider doing something in a different manner than the "established" strategy. You first encounter this when raiding Scholomance, etc. Often times, people looking for Scholo raids will demand a very precise make-up of the raid. You *must* have two priests, you *need* a mage, etc. Newsflash: You're already going in with twice as much firepower as you need. As long as you have the basics covered (tank, healer, dps), you'll probably do just fine.

Similarly, you don't need mods. Decursive is just laziness. The global cooldown gives you more than enough time to manually select your next target to be cleansed. CT_RaidAssist is nice, but is not really absolutely necessary. But the conservative nature of a lot of raiders insists that such extras be download and used.

Personally, I think that if casual players just gather enough courage to apply to the raiding guilds--especially ones that are just starting out--I think that they will find that they can raid just as well as the hardcore players. They may not be able to make every single raid that the guild does, but they will be more than able to contribute, see all the cool content in WoW, and get epic loot.

2. Raiding Scholo, Strath, etc. is an aberration.

I think the ability to raid a 5-man instance is a mistake for WoW. If the 5-mans were capped, people would be forced to do the instances properly. They would learn the skills appropriately, and be able to complete quests. The endgame content would last much longer, and you could properly bridge to the raiding content. I've been a 60 for months, and I still have a ton of unfinished quests.

In addition, I think the "raids" are a bad introduction to raiding in general. They really bring out the "loot" side in people. People raid just to get loot. These small raids aren't that fun, and are very easy. Real raid instances are more interesting and challenging. One of the great joys in raiding is having a plan and executing it well, something which is just not present in a Strath/Scholo raid. Instead it's pretty much pure firepower.

So a casual player who gets to 60 has a very distorted idea of what raiding is like. Small raids are an aberration, that really hurts the casual player's view of the end game in WoW.

3. Converting a casual guild to a raiding guild is hard.

A teaser for my next post. :)