Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The rush to raid slots

Famously the first guy to hit level 70 in the Burning Crusade after release just took 28 hours to do so. But now, two weeks after release, seeing a level 70 character isn’t something exotic any more. But the progression towards level 70 isn’t even; you can see every level from 60 to 70 in Outland. And the distribution isn’t depending on player skill but on available time, as always in level-based MMORPG. I wonder how much of this rush is motivated by people trying to reserve a permanent spot in a guild's raids for them.

Raiding guilds might have some problems, because it is likely that many of them are actually too big now. Raiding guilds tended to invite enough players so that with the average participation rate to raids (which varies from guild to guild) on any given evening enough people show up to fill a 40-man raid. But in the Burning Crusade two effects come into play: the participation rate goes up, as people are more interested in the new content, and the level 70 raid size shrinks from 40 to 25.

In the coming weeks the typical raiding guild will for the first time have 25 level 70 players with a reasonable class mix online, and start their first raids. In that case the selection of who gets to raid is easy, because there are just enough people around to fill a raid. But as time progresses, more and more guild members reach level 70, and then the problems of raid slot attribution will start. Even if there are 50 players online, it is more likely that the guild forms one raid with perfect class distribution and the other 25 people don’t get to raid, instead of trying to form two sub-optimal raids. Predictably there will be some hard choices to make, and a lot of potential for guild drama.

What I am afraid of is that the speed to level 70 will have some effect on the distribution of raid slots. The most extreme example would be a guild’s main tank, who is often selected based on gear. The first batch of tanks reaching level 70, and getting a head start in raiding and endgame solo grinding will always have better gear than tanks arriving at level 70 later. So the temptation is there to invite the better-geared tank more often, or even exclusively when available. Of course that leads to a vicious spiral, where the better-geared people get to raid more often, improve their gear even further, and the gap between them and the less-well geared is continually growing. Similar considerations could be true for other classes, where gear also has some effect on things like mana pool or dps.

Ideally raid slots would be distributed as fairly as possible between people reaching level 70 earlier and later, to keep a large number of people well-geared. The reason for distributing raid slots, and therefore raid gear, evenly over the guild is to minimize the effect of people leaving the guild. In the weeks and months after the first raid the excitement will cool down, and some people will most probably burn out. If you favor the “first to 70” group of people when handing out raid slots, tempting as it is, chances are that it is exactly these people who burn out first, because they go raiding most often. The best equipped tank leaving and having to be replaced by somebody who rarely was allowed to participate in raids sets back the whole guild raid progress significantly.

But chances are that guilds will confuse fast leveling either with skill or dedication, neither of which is really true. In the short term inviting always the same 25 people to all raids of course speeds up raid progress. But in that case the people coming late to the party find that they never get invited. They might leave the guild, but even if they stay they aren’t really good replacements in case any member of the original hard core burns out, because they lack the gear and experience. Distributing raid slots among a larger number of people is the better long-term strategy. Sooner or later raiding guilds will shrink, by splitting or people stopping to play, until they are of the right size to regularly support 25-man raids. But the process to get there could be more or less painful, depending on how much value the guild puts on fast leveling progress.

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