State of raiding, part 2

Last Friday I posted a few thoughts on what I see as major WoW environmental factors affecting raiding. I did this mostly to get my thought processes engaged for an examination of the current state of raiding in the game. I did some more research over the weekend, and I also note that a couple of bloggers are hard at it again this morning with the “Get rid of LFR!” And the “Keep LFR!” sides of a pseudo-debate.

I honestly don’t know where I stand on the question of LFR, but in my opinion the whole raid structure is in a pretty sorry state. So today’s post will attempt to describe that state and possibly lay out some paths Blizz took to lead us into it.

First, some references:

Back in May 2014, in the ramp up to WoD, there was a series of three Dev Watercooler discussions that went into Blizz’s philosophy on raiding over the years. The first two parts laid out the history and why certain changes came about, and the final part — written by Watcher — was about upcoming WoD raiding changes. If you have the time, they make for pretty interesting reading. (You can find them here — part 1, part 2, part 3.)

The other relevant reference material I found was specifically related to the introduction and first year of LFR. The initial concept, part of Patch 4.3 in 2011, is pretty well summarized in this patch announcement and in this Blizz Q&A. Within in a year, Blizz concluded that the gear awarded from LFR was not working, so in 2012 they announced this first round of changes to LFR. The final official info I could find on LFR came as part of Watcher’s conclusion to the Dev Watercooler series.

For those of you who don’t have the time to sift through the entirety of the data cited above, here are the major points I took from it: 

  1. Since the early days of the game, Blizz has made changes aimed at encouraging greater player participation in raids.
  2. Starting around the time of WotLK, raiding became pretty much gear-centric.
  3. According to Blizz, LFR was originally designed for

    … players who don’t already raid consistently. These are players who may not have had the opportunity to take part in raid content due to scheduling conflicts, playtime constraints, limited access to other raid-capable players, or a lack of experience with higher-end content. These players may want to experience World of Warcraft’s raid content and storyline without being able to commit to the additional time investment of a raiding guild. The Raid Finder is also a great way to quickly and easily gear up alternate characters without having to worry about raid lockouts.

  4. Interestingly, the second part of the Dev Watercooler series concludes with an expression of great satisfaction with the Mists final state of raiding — LFR and flex levels of raiding permitted broad participation both by friends and family guilds and by those who did not wish to be part of a standing team, and Normal and Heroic modes gave challenges to raiding guilds and hardcore raiders. Yet, in the third part of the series, Watcher elaborates on significant changes to this system that was apparently operating in the sweet spot Blizz wanted.

Fundamental issues. From my point of view, many of the historic and current problems with the raid system spring from three competing facets of the system: the goal to make raiding accessible to a wider base of players, the reliance on raiding as almost the entire end game goal, and the gear-centric nature of raiding.

Once a player reaches the end game, almost the only way to feel continued character progression is to continue to improve that character’s gear. The major way to improve gear is to participate in raids. Blizz encourages players who would not otherwise engage in raids to do so via LFR and also by making that activity the main path for character progression. Moreover, since Mists, LFR has played a major role in legendary quest lines.

Remember, Blizz never intended LFR to be a true stepping stone to Normal or Heroic raiding. It was designed strictly to be for people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to raid, and for rapid gearing of alts who also might not get a lot of chances to raid. But in order to “quickly and easily gear up” alts, LFR had to award fairly decent gear. In fact, the major changes to LFR have been driven almost exclusively by the need to tweak how/what gear is awarded.

Early in Mists, LFR gear was so high in level as to be better than the previous tier’s heroic level gear. This situation in fact made most serious raiders feel they had to run LFR to gear up for their regular raids, thus making LFR a defacto stepping stone for regular raiding, the thing Blizz had said they did not want to be the case. So in Mists, Blizz lowered the relative gear level awarded in LFR. In WoD, they went much further, not only lowering the gear level, but discontinuing LFR availability of tier gear.

The introduction of LFR and the fact that players could get upgraded gear from it also served to heighten elitist tendencies within the game. Some vocal types who were hardcore or wannabes felt that the existence of LFR cheapened their own lofty accomplishments. They disdained anyone who chose to run LFR as their primary end game activity, and they were not shy about heaping ridicule on these players.

On the other side, some of those who primarily used LFR began to agitate for better gear, as reward for what was often a significant time cost for the activity. The initial changes to LFR in WoD were a response to this — higher drop rate for gear, quicker run times, but no “real” tier gear (as a compensation to the elitist side).

The chaotic missteps in WoD, however, have skewed the entire raiding picture, to the point where:

  • LFR gear no longer justifies the time commitment for many players. Highmaul run times were less than half the per-boss run times of HFC, and Highmaul gear was perceived to be more useful because it was at the beginning of the expansion.
  • Boss mechanics in HFC are several orders of magnitude harder than the ones in Highmaul, even at LFR difficulty. Many guilds are struggling to complete Normal. Boss fights routinely feature a mechanic that a single player can make a mistake in and wipe the raid, even on Normal. This, combined with extraordinarily long fights, with Blizz’s failure to tune fights for small groups, and with the removal of guild incentives, has pretty much destroyed the concept of “friends and family” raids.
  • The main reasons to run LFR are for legendary quest items or for alt practice. This means that regular raiders rarely run LFR. Lack of players with raid experience in most groups only serves to heighten LFR frustration and cause group acrimony, not to mention cause the boss fights to get even longer due to multiple wipes.
  • As a result of increased difficulty even for Normal level raids, the remaining raiding guilds have become ever more demanding when adding either permanent or pug raiders to their team. Extensive interviews and tryouts are the norm even for non-hardcore teams, and group finder groups frequently require elite gear, experience, and/or achievements for even a “quick” normal HFC run. It is becoming harder and harder for a player to make the jump from LFR to regular raiding. As a result, the gap between regular raiders and LFR players is growing.
  • The player pool has shrunk due to player apathy over WoD and to diminishing subscriptions in general. Those who are left are pretty much the game’s die-hards, those least accepting of change. Unfortunately, this seems to be leading to the l33tists getting l33ter and the casuals getting “casualer”. Neither group is too interested in taking a chance on joining the other, or on accepting them.

I still don’t feel like I have any conclusions about raiding in the game in general, or about LFR in particular. I feel like the system as a whole was in a pretty good place at the end of Mists (long time between raid tiers notwithstanding), and that changes since then have made it much worse. It seems like Blizz also liked the state of affairs for raiding at the end of Mists, so I don’t know why they changed it. In particular, given their historical goal of making raiding more accessible to a greater number of players, I don’t understand why they have proceeded to destroy the “friends and family” mode.

I don’t understand the vehement opposition to LFR as an institution — seems to me if you don’t like it, then don’t participate in it. And to the whiners lamenting the sad state of affairs wherein players can actually *gasp* get semi-decent gear without weeks of organized progression raiding — get over yourselves.

Possibly the answer is to remove all gear as rewards from all raid levels, to make raiding once again social-centric instead of gear-centric. You raid at whatever level you want to for all the high-minded reasons you always cite — for the glory, for the teamwork, for achievements, for server bragging rights, for actual fun — but Blizz implements a different mechanism for getting gear.

I could go on for quite a bit more on the state of raiding in the game, but I won’t (okay, I heard that, who said “Yay”?). I will conclude with one prediction: Whatever Blizz does or fails to do to change the raid system in Legion will determine how long this game will last.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

12 Responses to State of raiding, part 2

  1. Jarnow says:

    “Possibly the answer is to remove all gear as rewards from all raid levels, to make raiding once again social-centric instead of gear-centric.”

    For practical purposes, Blizzard did this with dungeons – The gear available from heroics was worse than what you could get from the first wing of Highmaul LFR. And the response was that basically nobody ever ran the dungeons after the first month. I think the same thing would happen if you made raiding non gear-centric.

    I don’t know what the solution is (I wasn’t even aware of this particular debate till you wrote about it), but taking gear out of it wouldn’t help. The issue may just be that they need to design the fights better – go back to that Mists basis that you mentioned.

    • Fiannor says:

      Yeah, I think somehow Blizz has lost the “sweet spot” on gear vs difficulty for the various groups of players. No one wants it to be a big giveaway, but it also has to fit with the expectations of the group somewhat. For example, “friends and family” mode probably should not require weeks of wiping just to down one boss — as I have written before, those groups are NOT progression groups, and that mode was originally designed to be easier than what was then Normal, but harder than LFR. Mists pretty much had it right, but Blizz insisted on fixing something that was not broken.

      I am pretty sure that removing gear from raids would never really work (I just threw out the idea as a wild what-if), but the thing is, it seems to be the basis for every — usually bad — change Blizz makes to the raid system. What I do think is that there should be ways other than raids to keep players progressing (that is, improving their gear levels) in the end game. Hopefully, that is what Blizz is aiming towards with 6.2.3.

      If players who for one reason or another are not suited to or just don’t like raiding are forced to participate in it just to be able to feel like they have a chance at end game progress for their characters, then that is a game design flaw, assuming your corporate goal is to increase the number of players subscribing to the game.

      Unfortunately, Blizz gets huge backlash from raiders any time they try to design a path for non-raiders to get gear that is at the same level as, say, Normal or Heroic raid gear. That is why garrison missions no longer award gear one level above your character’s raid participation level. That is why tier gear was removed from LFR. In addition to feeling pressure to engage in these activities themselves to prepare for raids (apparently that is bad, but pressuring non-raiders to raid is not), raiders were incensed that someone could gear up without “doing the hard work”. As if it were a zero sum game, as if somehow that diminished them because someone else could get gear without raiding.

  2. Onwuka says:

    Where did you get the idea that early wow raiding was not about gear? You mention that it was about achievements and being ‘social’ in your first post – achievements were not added until 3.0.2. Raiding has always been about the gear treadmill, the only reason vanilla appears more ‘social’ in hindsight is that it required more players to fill a raid.

    There were two ways to progress your characters gear – climbing the PVP ladder and raiding. Both were highly linear and incredibly time consuming. The barrier to entry was much higher – which is why almost nobody outside of large, organized guilds ever saw the content.

    • Fiannor says:

      It was absolutely not about gear to the same extent it is today. Back when raiding was pretty much the purview of a very small number of players who reached the end game, they did get gear, but that gear was not a prerequisite to all other end game activities. Gear level was not really a concept, for example, thus it was not used as a gate to joining the huge raids that were the norm. Another example of the philosophical change is that certain gear was not required in order to facilitate a particular class/spec rotation, as is the case today with the tier gear near-requirement for MM hunters.

      Possibly the problem is not that raiding is gear-centric, but more that gear is raid-centric. Forcing people to raid — even if they are not suited for it — in order to feel they are progressing in the end game is just very limiting game design. And such design is not conducive to increasing a player base. Blizz is trying to increase raid accessibility in order to engage a larger part of the player base, but at the same time they are forcing raiding as pretty much the only way (in PVE) to get higher level gear, which in turn is pretty much the only path players have to feel they are progressing.

      I don’t disagree with you about very early raiding — clearly it was not solely social. But I do think it tended to be much more about the fun than about the gear. Because the gear was not nearly as crucial to every part of the end game as it is now.

      • Onwuka says:

        I don’t know your particular wow history, but it is clear that you did not raid in vanilla and some third party source is giving you these notions of what “it was like”. While it is true that easy metrics like gearscore were not yet around, the impact of gear on what you could and could not do was just as great then as it is now – and it was immensely harder to obtain. It was never “more about the fun than about the gear” – guilds didn’t slog it out for months on end in molten core because it was fun, they had to grind out the gear to make he jump to the next level. High Warlords didn’t log thousands of hours in battlegrounds for giggles – they did it to get the absolute best gear so they could (quite literally) one shot people in more pedestrian gear.

        What you seem to be describing came about in Wrath, but honestly I don’t believe that there has ever been a time in Wow’s history when progress wasn’t gear-centric. It is part of the game’s DNA – you kill stuff, you improve your gear, you repeat.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think a no-reward version of raiding would probably outright kill WoW at this point. But it would be awesome to see the rewards be something other than supercool gear stats. If raiding were about achievements, mounts, and transmog skins, that would be neat. Even neater if there were achievements for mentoring people new to a raid.

    Of course, these changes might lead to raids being less central to people’s play styles. Which in turn might lead to resources being shifted to some extent from raids to open world content, new events, mini games, and pvp. That would be great.

    Of course I might just be bitter because I haven’t been in a decent raiding guild since early days of Siege of Orgrimmar… Lol.

    • Athie says:

      Oops, didn’t mean to comment anonymously…

    • Fiannor says:

      Well, I am certain you are right that such a change would outright kill the game at this point. But I love your ideas about alternate rewards, which certainly could lead to resources being directed towards a broadened end game. Sadly, I don’t see that happening, either, but it is certainly nice to think about.

  4. Jaeger says:

    I was a Heroic raider back in Cata, but in MoP I just did LFR and some pugs. However in WoD, I’ve done just enough LFR to get the ring and nothing else… WoD has just felt like a disaster in so many different ways…

    Changes I would like to see for raiding/end-game:
    1. The return of Valor gear; Cata model where you could earn actual raid level gear and you got Valor from dungeons and raids. Actually raiding every week would still be a better way to get gear though. This would just be for slow continuous progression for non/casual raiders.
    2. The return of down-scaled raid gear in LFR. The rewards need to matter again. The LFR gear that’s available now is garbage…
    3. The return of MoP style World Bosses that drop useful gear and other rewards. Kazzak was definitely an improvement, but I’ve even stopped killing him. Whereas in MoP, I did most of the world bosses every week.
    4. Properly balanced personal responsibility in raids. Something that scales up in number of mechanics and down in allowance for mistakes. For example:
    a. LFR – N mechanics; screw up a couple times, you die; 1/5 people screw up, it’s a wipe
    b. Normal – N+1 mechanics; screw up twice, you die; 1/5 people screw up, it’s a wipe
    c. Heroic – N+2 mechanics; screw up twice, you die; 1/8 people screw up, it’s a wipe
    d. Mythic – N+3 mechanics; screw up once, you die; 1/10 people screw up, it’s a wipe
    5. The removal of RNG from gear drops: Remove Warforged, Bonus Sockets, and Tertiary stats. This is WoW, not Diablo… We can only enchant a few pieces now, so allow a few other pieces to have gem slots and leave it at that.
    6. The return of “reforging” or preferably the reduction of the importance of secondary stats. They tried to make gear more flexible by switching the primary stat but made so many specs heavily biased towards a specific secondary stat that people still want different sets of gear for different specs…
    7. The removal of trinkets/set bonuses that radically change the way a spec plays. e.g., MM’s 4pc as Fiannor mentioned.

    I could probably list more, but that’s already a decent list. I doubt any of that will really happen though…

    • Fiannor says:

      Every one of those is a fantastic suggestion. I especially like the “screw up scaling” and the addition of a mechanic with each raid level. Several of your others — 5 and 6 particularly — definitely touched on some of my pet peeves. 😉

      (I was a heroic raider in MoP and the first tier of WoD, but then both my raid teams fell apart, and honestly I have not been interested enough in either BRF or HFC to actively seek another raid team. I definitely miss it, but not enough to go through constant hassle of cajoling guildies to try just one more time on this boss we have spent 3 weeks on, to get them to actually show up, to scrape up 8-9 guildies and have to pug the rest, to have people just give up in disgust after RNG rewards them straight gold for like the 10th time in a row, etc.)

  5. Grumsta says:

    I can only speak for my experience, but the guilds I’ve been involved in WoD have found LFR and Normal a frustrating and challenging experience this xpac.

    LFR is way too easy as the first step to raiding: it teaches nothing except bad habits and poor grace. Until you hit Archie….. Arguably that does prepare you for raiding, but the other 12 LFR bosses haven’t prepared you for this fight. Frustrating, and poor design.

    The step up to Normal is way too big, and the scaling of mechanics for smaller teams (and therefore smaller guilds) is dire.

    Our guild is almost certainly at the back end of the ability bell curve, but we got through Flex okay in SoO. As detailed elsewhere here in this blog the design of Normal raids threw out the old Flex design where a small, reasonably organised group with voice comms could progress steadily, and prepare a solid 10 man team for Normal.

    The strong raid teams who’d have progressed quickly anyway still progress (and fair play to them), but those who find the learning curve just a little too steep quickly lose better players to better raid teams and get stuck in a rut. We have 6/13 Normal on farm, and we’re in a constant cycle of training and gearing up new players to see them quit the game or switch to other guilds.

    We have got 12/13 down on Normal, and 6/13 on Heroic, but that’s only when we teamed up with another guild who are 13/13 Heroic and wanted a Normal team to raid with to gear up their alts and new starters. So really we were carried, and that hurts because we used to be able to do this by ourselves in SoO. We were able to learn and overcome, now we just hit walls.

    The ability to increase gear levels that’s coming in 6.2.3 will help, as it’s effectively a nerf to the current content. It can’t come soon enough for us. It may well be too late though.

    I don’t want Blizz to pour resources into fixing WoD raids, I want them to get it right in Legion. But I honestly don’t know what the answer is that will please most people.

    For me all four raid levels are needed, and they (should) all serve a purpose. The audience is big enough to warrant multiple difficulty layers. It’s the way they’ve been executed that is at fault. Making better players feel like they’re being forced to play LFR is the root of the issue, and the proposed Valour system is fuelling that resentment.

    Players should only be in a raid because they *want* to be there. The mechanics should be set at their level. Valour points should be awarded regardless of raid difficulty, and even small, casual guild raid teams should be able to clear Normal in 3 to 4 hours with reasonable skill and coordination. The bottom rung of the ladder is set way too high currently.

    • Fiannor says:

      Wow. Very well said, you have described one of the key issues perfectly. The system jumps immediately from LFR ridiculous mode to Normal being too difficult for “small, casual raid teams”. And you really hit home with me when you talked about the “rut” small teams are in — average players get discouraged because of the difficulty of Normal and often just stop showing up, and the better players also get discouraged and move on. It becomes almost impossible to field a core team. That has happened to me in two guilds this year.

      I liked the 4-level raid system when it was introduced, I thought it covered all the bases for a wide range of players. I don’t want Blizz to get rid of the system, I just want them to make it work as they themselves have stated they want it to.

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