Monday, June 9, 2008

Is raiding doomed?

In the open Sunday thread Albatross said: "It's interesting to me that raiders (or "hardcore" as most raiders have been previously labelled) seem to be drying up as new, easier routes to gear upgrades have been put in place. You don't hear the casual vs. hardcore arguments any more. The casual side of that argument won. Daily quests. Badge rewards. Arena gear. Easy alternatives to the time/gold/effort that raiding takes. So people continue to talk about raiding as the end game, but there seems to be a very visible shift that nobody is talking about. There are less people raiding and more importantly there are less people HOPING to raid.

Now with the announcement that all raiding instances in WotLK will be able to be visited by smaller groups for different rewards, I predict that raiding as we currently know it will die completely. Currently the only reasons to raid are to see the content and to have a feeling of accomplishment for beating the content. Gear is no longer a tangible reward. As of the expansion, seeing the content will not be a tangible reward which will leave raiders with the very arbitrary feeling of accomplishment. To me, that spells doom."

I can understand that raiders are currently in a bad mood. This isn't a good time for World of Warcraft: Summer is here, where people play less. Age of Conan "shipped" (not sold) 1 million copies, which probably took a bite out of WoW's 5 million US/Euro customers. And WoW itself is in a long dry spell between the last content patch and the next expansion. Server populations are going down, and the first one to suffer are the more tightly organized raid guilds.

But what Albatross points out is a deeper problem: Raiding is hard. Hard to organize, hard on time requirements, and hard to keep people motivated when you know you need to wipe ten more times on that boss before you got the strategy down perfectly enough. There are some people who enjoy this kind of gameplay, because finally overcoming some frustrating challenge feels good. But another part of the raiding population isn't there for the challenge, they are there for the loot. So if equivalent loot can be gained by easier ways, this part of the population doesn't turn up for raiding any more.

Is that a bad thing? I don't think so. I think this gives WoW a unique chance to improve raiding substantially: Instead of forcing people to raid for gear, the people who would prefer to get their gear by other ways are allowed to do so. And if it is done right, on the other hand raiding can be opened up for people who would love to raid, but couldn't jump the organizational and time hurdles. Ideally the 10-man raids of WotLK would be shorter and easier than Karazhan was when TBC came out, but would give less good gear. There shouldn't be a big gap between being able to run a level 70 dungeon and being able to raid the easiest raid dungeon. Raiding can be fun for many reasons that don't involve loot: hanging out in a larger group, overcoming strategic challenges that go beyond tank and spank, seeing the kind of content that used to be reserved for the leet. The difficulty would then increase towards the harder 10-man dungeons, with the hardest 10-man being somwhat more difficult than the easiest 25-man dungeon. And then the difficulty could go up further up to the hardest 25-man dungeon, which could well be as hard as Black Temple is now. Fewer people will mind not being able to beat the hardest 25-man dungeon if at least they got a good shot at being able to see the same place in its 10-man version.

As Albatross said, the important thing is the number of people HOPING to raid. But if it is done right, these players would hope to raid because raiding is a fun activity, and not just because it gave the best rewards. If there are other alternatives for getting the best rewards, it could even improve raiding; the loot whores aren't exactly adding to the fun of the rest of the raiding population, and they won't be missed. By offering a wider range of difficulty levels for raids, everybody could find the kind of raid which is challenging for him, but not frustrating. If Blizzard can make more people enjoy the fun of raiding, instead of just bribing them into it, raiding itself and the whole game would gain a lot.

So I don't think raiding is doomed. There is a good chance that raiding will look significantly different post-WotLK, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'm hoping that Blizzard will make raiding more accessible and less of a must-do activity for people with purple fever.

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