Tuesday 28 November 2006

Of guilds and raiding

What finally motivated me to start this blog was Tobold's post "Guild management in World of Warcraft", and the comment in reply to it:

"I don't raid in WoW to make friends. I'm here kill new bosses and get new epics. I expect everyone else to be putting out as much effort as I do."

(so I'll now copy and paste my comment on the comment...)

I guess that's why raiding is so utterly alien to me. (Not saying that quote is representative of every raider/raiding guild by any means, but I don't think it's a small minority view.) I get enough of work at, er, work! I don't need administration, performance reviews, office politics, all that stuff, when I finish for the day.

I started in City of Heroes as my first MMO, played with a small group of people for a bit, then most of them drifted away. Browsing around the forums, I found a supergroup recruiting, and joined up. Never looked back. Through pure luck, I guess, I found a bunch of people who were generally cool, laid back, didn't take things too seriously, and had a blast playing. The game itself helps a lot; death means very little, you can team pretty much any class with any other class/combination of classes, and the sidekick system allows disparate levels to group far more easily than anything else I've ever seen. The flip side is that there's not really much to the game itself, as Tobold notes when he talks about it; basically, instanced mission after instanced mission, over a few different tilesets. But the people kept me playing.

When WoW came along, quite a few people headed over there, set up a guild. But it wasn't quite the same; where in CoH you'd just shout and see if anyone was teaming, in WoW you'd try and work out if you had the same quests, in the same areas, whether the other people would have finished them by the time you flew over there, ran there, got the ferry there... You couldn't just run an instance with whoever was kicking around (CoH missions scale according to the level and number of people in the team, and almost any class combination works), you needed exactly five people, and you needed your tank and your healer and your DPS. Loot started getting divisive; in CoH there isn't really any loot to speak of, "money" hardly exists. In WoW, x was jealous that y got the roll on the UberLewt of Niceness. Some people would offer loot to the guild for nothing, others for vendor prices, others would keep quiet and list it on the auction house to make a bit of money. I got to level 60, ran a few late game instances (it was difficult as there were an overabundance of damage dealers compared to other classes; usually it would end up as a Raid, no quest completion, tiny chance of a decent drop which seldom happened), but then what was there? As a "hardcore casual", as I think someone else termed it, I play quite a lot but can't commit to x hours on night y so raiding is out. 5 man instances in a good group were fine, but good groups were rare and raid-zerging the same thing again and again and again for a 10% drop? No thanks. The guild was more or less finished by then anyway; the raiders had moved onto raiding guilds, others to new games, and the general "hanging with friends" vibe had never really been the same for all the previously mentioned reasons. There'd always been more "drama" than in CoH, and if there's one aspect of online communities I really hate, it's "drama". Sure, it's inevitable that people don't get on, but where in CoH you needed a pretty colossal personality clash for everything to kick off, WoW had all the additional niggles. Do you, as a guild, try and legislate and have strict guild rules enforced by officers? Or just say "play nice, kids"? It's a sort of mass prisoner's dilemma.

When City of Villains came out, I went back to that, and put the WoW account into hibernation, and to be honest, never really missed it. I flitted around various betas and/or initial months of other MMOs since, but always came back to CoH/CoV for the people, never found another guild/group like it anywhere else. Then, a while back, I got together with a bunch of friends, and they were all talking WoW. Some had been playing since launch and kept going as raiders, some were inveterate game-switchers and had been dipping in and out, and they'd ended up with various combinations of mains and alts around the same level. I'd been thinking about coming back for The Burning Crusade, but got so nostalgic for it that I reactivated my account right then. And I've been really enjoying it since, just playing with close friends; we're fairly similar levels, and happily have synergistic classes, so can team up pretty well in most combinations. We all get on, so there's no drama over someone getting better loot, or someone else getting that place in the instance. We're not actually in a guild, as there's no point, we just use the friends list and a custom channel.

I don't know if I really had a point or was just rambling... I guess a "guild of friends" is possible, even for raiding, as brian shows in the comments, but it's a pretty rare beast compared to groups of people held together by DKP rules and the desire for epics. I'm hoping the Burning Crusade will have enough to keep me going for a bit in my little group. From what I've been picking up, it *sounds* like it's moving in the right direction for me (winged instances you can do in "bite size" chunks, more emphasis on turning in tokens to get class items rather than praying for that 6% drop chance from a certain boss, variable difficulty instances (in my case, so hopefully you can run the instance for not-too-bad loot without agonising over optimal group make-up, rather than ramping up the difficulty for uber-items)). But we'll see.


Melmoth said...

Degrees of separation.

It is obvious that there exists a gulf of epic proportions between the hard core of players and the casual set when you look at end game content for many MMOs; the two groups seem as disparate in their style of play as they are irreconcilable to one another.

But do MMO developers do anything to alleviate this situation, or are they forced - in having to provide challenging end game content - to cater to those players who are willing to dedicate a large part of their lives to the game?

It's certainly a tricky situation: make the content easy enough that the casual gamer can tackle it during their more moderate play time, and you lose a lot of the more zealous players who will have completed the content in short order and moved on to other things. On the other hand, make the content challenging enough to keep the 10-hour-a-day gamers coming back time and again, and the casual set will move elsewhere through utter frustration at not being able to achieve anything.

Is it possible to tailor content to suit both groups? Or even more ambitious, allow the two groups to cooperate in some manner in their own way, whilst working towards a higher goal. Solutions need to be innovative but not overly ambitious since they have to be based in the reality that these games are made by companies so that they can turn a profit; MMO developers try to appease their often frothingly vocal player base not through some form of divine altruism, but because doing so keeps the players playing, and the developers in business.

The thing many players of MMOs need to understand is that the game can change for the better, but it will not happen unless it provides an improvement to the big picture, to the experience of a large proportion of the playing community. Players need to think about how they can improve the game for the many, not for the conterminous few.

Reduce the degrees of separation between one’s world view and those on the other side of it, and you may be able to improve the whole for the whole.

pjharvey said...

Perhaps the reason why there are so many raiders with the attitude of wanting to 'work' for the kills and loot is because they don't actually work for a living, for whatever reason. Most people that I know that raid have jobs and commitments and have created a raiding group that is based around doing what you can and having the right attitude to everyone else.

A part of it is also because being the 'best' in WoW, whether it be raiding or PvP, is (or was, for PvP) down mostly to how much time you can dedicate to the game. If it takes several hours of grinding consumables and then hitting the same raid instance for hours each night to get the first server kills then those who have the time to dedicate will get there first. Skill can seem like such a small part of the game when a lot can be made up for in equipment.

Nevertheless, there is skill involved in the game, and it is obvious when you see it. It's just more difficult to encounter it when you have 40 people in a raid group all with highly specialised roles, which essentially can come down to doing the same thing again and again, which the rest of the people in your class are doing. It is much different when you are limited to 5-man runs in an instance, where you may not even be able to balance the classes the way you want, so you have to adapt to your foes and your weakness by focussing on your strengths and relying on people to be skilful.

It looks like Blizzard are moving away from the large raid instances and making more 5-man instances in their Burning Crusade expansion. This will allow for more people to experience the high-level content, as you won't need to synchronise the diaries of as many people at a time to get in to an instance, nor dedicate as many hours to be incorporated in to a group. It will also force people to be better players, as the individuals' skills will become far more important than mere coordination of a large group.