Saturday, January 31, 2009

Open Sunday Thread

Another opportunity for you all to discuss, ask questions, or propose subject for blog posts from me.

Comments separation

As consequence of the blog layout discussion, I added a background color to comments, clearly separating them. Tell me if that works better for you.

On the issue of some people preferring the text to not use the whole width of the screen, I can only recommend making your browser window less wide if the text is too wide for you. Unfortunately Google Analytics tells me that my blog is read by people using anything from 320 pixel to over 2000 pixel wide screens, and telling the blog to use "all of it" is the only viable option.

[EDIT: Color changed to that of the sidebar, and added a border and padding. I also added a max-width of 1280 pixels, based on usual screen resolutions of people viewing my blog as reported by Google Analytics. Unfortunately that max-width works on my computer only when I use Firefox or Chrome, not with IE7. The preview works with IE7, but once I save it, Internet Explorer just ignores the maximum on my computer.]

Friday, January 30, 2009

Blog layouts

I get a lot of mail from people asking me to have a look at their blog or link to them, something which I'm happy to do, if I find something interesting. But today I want to talk about a thought that struck me when reading We Fly Spitfires: Hey, finally a blog with a readable layout! So my apologies to the author if I'm not discussing his post on the success of WoW. It's a good post, presented on an excellent layout, and I'll talk about the layout here.

The majority of blogs people ask me to look at suffer from one or both of two fundamental flaws: Bad color scheme or bad use of space. I have to look at far too many blogs with tiny fonts, in dark grey on black background, or in some shrill colors that make my eyes hurt. And quite a lot of them seem to have been designed for a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels, with a fixed width of about 600 pixels for the main text. If you watch that on a 1680 x 1050 wide screen monitor, you still get the main text 600 pixels wide in the middle, with the two sidebars now taking up 1080 pixels. And that 8 pt font which was still readable at 800 x 600 becomes far too small on that 1680 x 1050 screen where it only takes up the middle third of the space. I'm not a HTML guru, but I know you can either fix the sidebar width and let the middle part get wider at higher resolutions, or you can make all widths a percentage of the resolution, keeping always the same aspect. And you can make the font scale too!

So please, if you have a blog, try to look at it once on a high-resolution wide-screen monitor from 2 feet distance and check readability. If you want to get your ideas across, the first condition is that your visitors can actually read what you wrote. There is a lot of good advice on readability and layouting on the internet, if you want to do all the designing work yourself. But your blog hosting site probably offers a wide range of premade templates, and you could just choose one based on readability. Looking fancy is not always the first priority!

50 ways to roll a druid

Well, actually just 3, but I like Simon & Garfunkel. :) So I've been listening to some commenters telling me that if I thought druids were overpowered, why didn't I play one, and decided that playing one might be just the thing. I do value flexibility, being able to change from tanking to healing to damage dealing roles, especially if I'll be able to outperform specialist classes in each of those aspects under some circumstances. So the only question was how. What would be the best way to make a druid?

One option would have been character recustomization. I have an old level 34 female druid on my account, a surplus character of my wife, which we moved because she didn't play him any more, but didn't want to delete him either. Using the new Blizzard service I could have changed that one into a male druid, changed the name too, and have an instant level 34 druid. I ended up deciding against that, because I wanted to level up a druid from the start, to better learn the class, and to revisit some places I haven't been for a long time.

Then I was considering the recruit-a-friend option. I could make a second account (third actually, if you count my wife's account), get a zhevra mount for my main, and dual-box with triple xp, powerleveling the freshly created druid by putting him on autofollow behind one of my high-level characters. After looking at that option closer, I noticed it doesn't work that way. If you group a high-level and a low-level character, the low-level character only gets minimal xp. I tested that out with mine and my wife's account, made a level 1, who got 50 xp from killing a level 1 mob, but only 1 xp from killing the same mob when grouped with a level 80 character. The triple xp only work well if I wanted to level up two characters from 1 to 60 at the same time (triple xp stop at 60). But even then the "triple" xp ends up being only 50% more xp than soloing, because grouping 2 characters stupidly halves your xp in WoW (which is one reason people prefer to solo). The only advantage of the recruit-a-friend option would have been the possibility to gear up quickly by running myself through dungeons. But there are other ways of twinking, and those don't require me to pay for another account. And again the disadvantage of powerleveling would have been that I would neither really learn the class, nor really adventure.

So in the end I stuck with the third option: Just plain simple roll a level 1 druid on the same server and faction as my other characters. I just played him a little while last night, and already got to level 3. It's been an eternity since I last quested in Mulgore. Of course this is the slowest option. But I'm just 1 emblem of heroism away with my main to get the heirloom bind to account leather shoulders, which would give the druid not only a nice stat bonus, but also 10% faster xp gain. And I have various crafters to make gear, and tons of cash to buy gear or anything else the druid might need if ever I feel he levels too slowly.

It's a fun little project, but I'm not ready to ditch my other characters for the druid yet. I'm still raiding with my priest, and getting my warrior up to level 80. But I like having some other projects in WoW, because I think patch 3.1 is still months away, and the Wrath of the Lich King endgame risks getting boring after a while.

The importance of healing meters

A week ago greedy goblin Gevlon posted why he thought that healing meters are important to measure a healer's performance, to violent disagreement of the healers in his comment section. Of course he was talking about an ideal healing meter, which would take all of a healers actions into account, including things like decursing or shielding. Unfortunately such a healing meter doesn't exist, and there are good arguments why it isn't even technically possible to build one. The real existing healing meters can be gamed, which is the subject of a famous post on how to top the healing meter; that post is extremely funny for a real healer, because it shows how by maximizing your position on the healing meter, you are actually minimizing your real worth as a healer. The worse you heal, the higher you score.

Nevertheless healing meters are a problem, because they exist. People look at them, and judge you according to them, often not knowing how little they actually tell you. Thus when I let Recount run for a whole 25-man raid with 7 healers (2 druids, 2 paladins, and 3 priests) and the three priests ended up on places 5, 6, and 7, I was't happy. How can a class specialized in healing end up bottom of a healing meter, behind the druids and paladins?

The answer is easy: The positions on the healing meter not only depend on the performance of the healers, but also on the performance of all the other classes, and the difficulty of the encounters. If your raid is going somewhere really hard, is somewhat short on healers, and the tanks and dps are undergeared or otherwise underperforming, all the healers can heal to the maximum of their capacity. In that comparison holy priests score quite nicely on a healing meter, and even discipline priests do well, in spite of the healing meter not counting their shields. But if you are in a farming raid, with more than enough healers, and the tanks and dps just rolling over the enemies, the nature of healing changes. There just isn't enough damage to heal, and healing becomes a competition of who heals the fastest. In that situation shorter casting times and heals over times easily outperform slower, more mana-efficient heals. Thus druids and paladins top the healing meter.

The danger is of course that if a raid leader realizes that he has too much healing, he will be tempted to invite one less healer and one more dps. And if he isn't very well versed in healing mechanics, he might well cut the guy at the bottom of the healing meter. Which explains why healing meters are taken so seriously even by people who know that those meters can't measure real performance. Even a damage meter isn't perfect, but at least there is no limit to how much damage you can deal; healing is always limited to how hurt the raid is, and "avoiding overhealing" is often neither possible nor even desirable. So when Ghostcrawler announces "We have some exciting changes planned for priests", I sure hope that these changes make my priest score higher on the healing meters. Not because my *real* performance can be measured that way, but because other people will judge me by that. Getting kicked out by Mr. Stupid from a pickup raid for underperforming hurts, even if it was just him being wrong.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Usefulness of professions

I've been pondering the professions of my three level 70 to 80 characters, and how useful these professions are for me. By far the biggest success in that respect is my warrior, who is herbalist and alchemist. Herbalism not only supplies me with the herbs I need, it also gives me a self-healing ability (Lifeblood). Alchemy gives me Endless Healing Potions (as well as regular ones), increased in effect by 40% through the alchemist's stone trinkets. It also gives Mixology, which increases the effect of flasks and elixirs by up to 50%, and doubles their duration. The combination of Lifeblood, Endless Healing Potion, and Enraged Regeneration means I can normally keep myself up to full life without using any consumables, which is quite nice. In addition to the use for himself, the alchemy also enables me to make flasks and elixirs for my other characters cheaper than as if I would buy them. And I'm making some money from the daily transmute, turning cheap eternals into expensive ones, sometimes getting several due to transmutation mastery. And of course herbalism would be a great money-maker, if I wanted to farm herbs.

My priest is doing mining and jewelcrafting. Mining gives me Toughness, increasing my stamina by 50, useful, but not the most important stat for a PvE healing priest. It is also a good farming skill. Jewelcrafting has probably the best daily quest in the game, as you can exchange the token you get for a Dragon's Eye. Those sold for up to 500 gold earlier, but dropped to about half that now. The other option is to make epic rings, which are also selling for much money, but slowly. The other option of course is to spend the tokens on jewelcrafting recipes, or use the Dragon's Eyes for yourself. That gives you the best gems in the game, although you are limited to 3 of those prismatic gems overall. Another nice bonus of jewelcrafting is the Sapphire Owl Figurine trinket, which not only boosts my stats, but also has a useable ability to restore mana. The only downside of jewelcrafting is that there isn't much of a market for gems. Patch 3.0.8. ruined the last of it with the introduction of a way to turn cheap uncommon gems into rare gems, and the prices for those are in free fall. It seems like a waste to spend 3 tokens on a jewelcrafting recipe for a worthless rare gem cut. Nevertheless it is nice to have jewelcrafting to supply oneself and all alts with gems, when needed.

The least happy crafter is my mage, who has tailoring and inscription. Tailoring is okay, I guess, providing both the mage and the priest with cloth armor, now that crafted epics aren't bind on pickup any more. The spellthreads are also useful, and the flying carpet is at least funny. I tried making money from tailoring by buying cheap spellweave, ebonweave, and moonshroud, and crafting epics from them. But that business is slow at the best of times, and recently I even lost money from it, when the AH price for a spellweave robe dropped from 1750 to 750 gold within a week, with plenty of competition and nobody buying. Inscription I'm not happy with at all. The self-only shoulder enchants aren't must-have. And learning all the glyph recipes takes a long time and much money for snowfall ink. I managed to break even by turning the ink of the sea you gain at the same time into armor vellums, and selling those. But the glyph market is incredibly slow and fragmented. On my faction and server there are two people selling basically all glyphs, and so low is the demand that they can supply the whole market demand. Prices are already low, and when I try to break into the market, prices drop into the loss zone. Milling herbs into pigments and inks is profitable, but the pigments and inks rarely sell, and so you need to turn them into other things, all of which sell slowly. And then there is the big lottery option: Transform huge amounts of snowfall ink and other ingredients into Greater Darkmoon Cards. If you get nobles cards, you make a nice profit. But if you get the other three types you barely break even, or lose money, especially on the chaos cards nobody wants. But the worst aspect of inscription is that you never make anything you need yourself. Like everyone else I set my glyphs once and then forgot about them. There is no good reason to change them, and unless there are some new uber-glyphs, I'll probably just stick to the ones I have until the next expansion, and maybe even beyond. So now I'm at a loss whether I should keep inscription, or drop it and learn something more useful. But what?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Zero on programmable henchmen

Zero, not the Punctuation one, started a blog, and posted an interesting idea for WoW henchmen: What if Blizzard not only added them, but also made them programmable, like the Gambit system in Final Fantasy XII? Basically there would be building blocks for small AI programms, blocks like "if I'm under 50% health" and "cast healing on me", which put together would tell the henchman NPC what to do.

Of course that would be another big step towards World of Warcraft's solofication. But the henchmen shouldn't be so good that you could do heroics with them, so for most people the choice is doing normal dungeons with henchmen or not at all, because for many of them there are no groups to be found. So I do think that henchmen would be a good way to revive old group content, and to give players some ideas about group play much earlier on in their career.

Trivial adventuring

In the last open Sunday thread somebody was asking what the use of private servers was. He had a spoof video on YouTube making fun of the fact that on private servers you can often get levels, gold, and gear just by clicking on an NPC, with no actual playing involved. On some you can even run around as level 255, soloing everything. That might be fun for 10 minutes, but then quickly stops being entertaining. There is no challenge, and no real reward. I certainly wouldn't want to play on such a private server.

But then I noticed that among my friends and in my guild there were several people going for achievements like being exalted with 40 factions, or the loremaster title. To do that you need to do low-level, grey quests. Hundreds of them. To me that is about as exciting as cruising WoW with a level 255 character: There is no challenge, no reward, just a pure grind of trivial tasks. If I wanted to do those quests again, I'd rather roll an alt, and do the quests at the appropriate level, where there is at least *some* challenge to it. But obviously that isn't an opinion shared by everyone.

How do you feel about trivial adventuring, doing grey quests, farming grey mobs? Does it have any lasting fun for you beyond the initial rush of feeling super powerful? Is it worth doing for hours to get some achievement and title?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Interview at the MMO Experience

Danshir from the MMO Experience had some questions for me, and posted the resulting interview here. It is good to see many people setting up MMO blogs, and keep the discussion rolling. I found another nice one over at Rob Wild, although that one is more WAR-centric at the moment.

More than just target dummies

World of Warcraft 3.0 has target dummies in the cities, where players can test out spell rotations etc., although you also need some damage meter addon to make full use of that. But is that enough? One of my readers wrote me with an interesting idea: Why not make a training "raid dungeon" as well? A place with various challenges similar to raid boss encounters, where people could train not to stand in the fire, and move to the right position at the right time. For example there could be a Heigan dummy, where you have to go through a flame rotation three times back and forth. Or a Sartharion dummy with flame waves. If you get hit, you don't die, but there is a display how often you got hit. If you manage a certain time without getting hit, you get an achievement.

And while we are at it, why not a similar place where people could train things like healing, tanking, or aggro management? The healing challenge would be similar to the The Balance of Light and Shadow epic quest. The tanking challenge would require you to hold aggro, while the dps challenge would be about doing a certain damage without grabbing aggro from an NPC tank. The problem with World of Warcraft is that you can very well arrive at the level cap without ever having played in a group, and without ever having seen a raid encounter. And learning all this group play and positioning and timing stuff during your first raids risks to get you and others killed. So if Wow is so solo-centric, it should at least offer a solo option for training group and raid encounters.

Hybrid envy

Of Teeth and Claws, a WoW druid blog, takes up my analysis of hybrids and dismisses it as hybrid envy. As I said before, you can't really very well separate emotions from rational analysis when discussing class balance. Of course the specialized classes are more likely to be for nerfing hybrids, and the players of such hybrids are against it. Nobody believes his own class is overpowered.

Nevertheless I would like to respond to Teeth and Claws' argument that flexibility is a fallacity, quote: "99.999% of the WoW population decides upon a spec before a raid/instance run, and does not change it until well after that run has completed."

My comment to that one was: I think you underestimate the value of flexibility. If you enter lets say Naxxramas with a typical 10-man raid groups with 2 tanks, 3 healers, and 5 dps, there will be *some* encounters where this is exactly the perfect mix. But there will be other encounters in the same raid dungeon where lets say 1 tank was enough, or 2 healers were enough, and the surplus tank or healer would be better used doing damage. A druid tank, switching just gear, not talents, deals a lot more damage than a warrior tank. A druid healer deals a lot more damage than a holy priest. That flexibility has a value for the raid, and increases the chances for such a flexible class to be invited over a specialized class.

So what do you think? Is flexibility completely worthless (and I'm not just talking druids here, also for example the added flexibility of a death knight off tank), or does flexibility have to be considered when looking at class balance?

Hard caps, soft caps

I noticed from various Warhammer Online bloggers and friends playing WAR that very few people seem to have reached level 40 in that game yet, even less PvP rank 80. Personally I never got further than level 20, but already at that point the leveling speed had slowed down to a crawl. It appears that it is much faster to level up a WoW character to 80 than a WAR character to 40.

But when I thought about why that would be so, I noticed that of course in World of Warcraft "level 80" is not really a hard cap to your character development. Yes, gameplay changes at that point, but by doing raids and gathering gear your character keeps getting stronger. And if somebody already has the very best possible armor he can get from Naxxramas-25 and the other raid dungeons, he'll be able to further grow more powerful as soon as Blizzard patches in Ulduar.

In Warhammer Online, there is a lot less character power growth through gear after the level cap. If you reach level 40 and PvP rank 80, and buy all the gear you have access to from that, that is more or less it. Which makes sense, because for a PvP game you *want* to have a hard cap, at which all players are equal in power.

Of course Mythic could have designed the game in a way that you reach the level cap much earlier, giving everyone the opportunity to do PvP at equal footing. But they know how motivating making your character more powerful is. It isn't proven that RvR alone is motivating enough to keep players subscribing. So instead they devised a system in which people could play PvP in spite of level differences, and keep on gaining PvE and PvP ranks for a much longer time. Good idea, but it only postpones the inevitable: At some point in time the majority of players will be level capped, and the cap is harder than that of WoW. I wonder what will happen then.

Note that adding raid dungeons and gear progression afterwards to a PvP game doesn't work, and it was Mythic themselves with the Dark Age of Camelot expansion Trials of Atlantis who proved it doesn't work. Mark Jacobs has been very explicit in expressing that he wouldn't do that again. I get the impression that Mythic plans to expand the game horizontally, by adding more classes, and ultimately new race combos. I doubt we will see an expansion raising the level cap. But Mythic's marketing has been sending out hints that soon the slayer and choppa classes would be added to Warhammer Online. It will be interesting to see how in the long term a game with horizontal expansions fares against the vertical expansion model of World of Warcraft. And personally I think that WoW could use a bit more horizontal expansion instead of just adding new raid dungeons and 10 more levels at the top.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cost reduction at Blizzard?

With World of Warcraft having more subscribers now than half a year ago, plus Blizzard making wagonloads of money from selling millions of copies of Wrath of the Lich King, one would assume Blizzard to be in great financial health. Unfortunately Blizzard is not a stand-alone company, but part of Activision Blizzard, whose share price dropped by half in that timeframe, from $18.80 to $9.40. That could very well have to do far more with the general financial crisis than with the company itself, but companies don't tend to take such drops lightly. While we heard from Mythic and other game companies reducing staff, there have been no news of people fired at Blizzard. Nevertheless we have to ask ourselves whether Blizzard isn't in the process of reducing cost.

The most visible indication for cost reduction is that obviously World of Warcraft doesn't have enough server capacity right now. People can't enter instances because there are no instance servers available, and many raids suffer from lag. Yesterday our raid group had to give up on Heigan, because we had about 3 seconds lag, and it was just impossible to avoid the flames, as where you thought you were and where the server thought you were turned out to be rather different places. Other players report problems with being frequently disconnected when in instances.

And as strange as it sounds to have "Blizzard" and "rushed" in the same sentence, Wrath of the Lich King is still obviously missing some development time. If you look at the expansion critically, you'll find that Blizzard shipped it without any major new raid dungeon. There are a few one-boss dungeons, and one raid dungeon recycled from 2 years ago, and that is it. How hard raid content is doesn't matter as much as how much there is of it. The current version of World of Warcraft also has obvious big problems with class balance. And I'm not talking about subjective feelings of underpowered classes, but of facts of classes being boosted in one patch, just to be "nerfed to the ground" in the next. Several classes have seen their power level yoyo all over the place.

If we look closer, the year 2009 doesn't look all that good for Blizzard financially. There will be less subscribers at the end of this year than there are now. That isn't a prediction of doom, but just the natural cycle of subscriber numbers, that peaks shortly after a new expansion, and then slowly falls off. And unlike 2008, there will be no new expansion to sell at the end of 2009.

So, is Blizzard foreseeing all this and already started to reduce costs? If they count on there being less players soon, they could well decide to not add all the hardware needed to make World of Warcraft run perfectly smooth during peak times now. They might not have fired people, but how many did they move to other projects, like Diablo III or their next MMO? So, is Blizzard treating WoW as a cash cow to finance other projects, while investing only the strict minimum into it?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Open Sunday Thread

It's Sunday. Here is a thread. And it's open for your comments, questions, and suggestions. Need I say more?

A new kind of raiding?

Another reader post, this one proposing a solution to having always enough challenge for the hardcore raiders:
"A rift in the maelstrom has opened and an (Old God/Titan/Ancient Demon/Giant Murloc) has appeared! Adventurers are invited to take a boat from Tanaris to challenge him on his magical purple floating island.

Of course, the boss would be ridiculously hard. Upon engaging the boss, any new boats that head to the island are rerouted to a circular path around the island, preventing griefing from players not in the raid. This would create the sometime-asked-for spectator-mode for instances/arenas, while preventing the griefing that occured with Kazzak.

Actual mechanics of the fight are up to debate. I tend to lean towards any battle system that requires perfect "know your role" playing, along with a musical-chairs type event that will result in the gradual reduction of the raid, one member at a time. I would say whoever didn't get "seated" in time would be taken out of the battle, not killed but unable to help.

It doesn't really matter how hard we make the fight, though. The hardcore guilds will defeat the boss in a day or two. Upon his defeat, he will grant a buff/title/mount or some other useless but cool trinket. Maybe everyone in the raid will become an Elite? Anyway, each time the boss will also drop a crystal/vial/coin that will unlock his second difficulty available the next week.

This process of "upgrading" the boss after each defeat would create a new challenge ... ultimately upon the 8th (or whatever number you choose) incarnation of the boss he should become "unbeatable" according to Blizzard. This is the key to this challenge. I believe Everquest did this with some dragon or something, they didn't intend for the boss to be killable, but it was.

Here's the second key part. The boss should be tuned in a way that he is only defeatable at his easiest difficulty if everyone in the raid is in full Tier-whatever. This way, when guilds beat their chests and proclaim that they've defeated the 3rd-Crystal Giant Murloc (or whatever he ends up being) the rest of the world knows it is due to skill, not gear.

This boss would have no trash to clear, and would be relatively simple to implement. It would provide a severe difficulty curve at the very apex of raiding ... a challenge that would keep the most hardcore guilds busy with a goal, but wouldn't provide a massive time-sink on the part of Blizzard.
So, what do you think about it? A boss with several difficulty levels, from very hard to unbeatable, giving out highly visible status symbols as loot, not gear. Does WoW need an ultimate challenge?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Should battlegrounds be rated?

Reader Verilazic sent me a mail pointing me towards a very long discussion on the WoW forums about rated battlegrounds. Would it be possible to determine how skilled a player is in PvP before he joins the battleground, and then automatically match him in some sort of ladder system against players of similar skill?

I don't think this is possible, because of the larger size of battleground groups, up to 40. Even in a 10 vs. 10 battleground the coordination between the players has a much stronger influence on chance of victory than individual skill. Thus to rate battlegrounds, you would need to have registered teams, not just single players, and with Alterac Valley I don't see how that could possibly work.

The other, more fundamental problem of ladder systems and ratings and matching players equally is that inevitably the better you match them, the longer players have to wait. The same discussion about better pairing players ran to hundreds of posts on the old Magic the Gathering Online forums, talking about leagues, and the problem is still not solved in that game or any other game. You need a rather large number of players before you can match players both fairly and quickly. WoW, even with putting several servers together in battlegroups, simply doesn't have enough PvP players all of the time to make good matching take an acceptable time, even if a system could be found which fairly rated players.

Anonymous commenting disabled

I was toying with the idea to take up the challenge of one of the anonymous idiots and demonstrate that if I stop blogging you'd be losing more than I do. But then I realized that this would hit exactly the wrong people, because the trolls would just carve another mark into their keyboard and go and hassle the next blogger.

So I decided to take a different step to preserve my sanity, and improve the quality of my comment section by disabling anonymous comments. From now on, if you want to leave a comment, you must be registered *somewhere*. That can be Blogger, Google, Wordpress, OpenID, or any other system on the dropdown menu. You don't have to leave your real name, but at least we'll be able to follow who is who among the trolls.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Emotions and entitlement

Corrections to class balance, more commonly called "nerfs", are a deeply emotional thing. There is no such thing as absolute power in a MMORPG, your power is always relative to that of the monster you're fighting or to that of other players. Thus a nerf, defined as a change which leaves your class/build comparatively worse off, is affecting the victims deeply. It doesn't matter whether that nerf is really making your class impossible to play, or whether it just makes your class slightly less likely to be invited into a PuG that doesn't know better. We all invested hundreds if not thousands of hours into our characters, so even a small relative diminishing of our powers feels like a catastrophe.

This has two consequences for this blog: One is that I'm exactly as emotional as the next guy. If the class / build I'm playing gets nerfed, I'm getting exactly as angry as everyone else who gets nerfed. The other consequence is that whenever I discuss the possibility of nerfs to some other class, the commenters on that thread who play that class will react angrily. The most used search term for my blog last month, after "Tobold" was "death knights overpowered". And every single death knight posting on that thread said of course death knights aren't overpowered, while every single other class which in some way is in competition to death knights said of course they are overpowered.

Emotions, whether they are mine or those of other people, make some readers who aren't emotionally involved in that subject feel uncomfortable. That is normal, especially since the demographics of MMORPGs and thus blogs about MMORPGs is centered around young males, and dealing with emotions is a weak point for that audience. So my advice to you is to simply skip those posts. Trying to fight emotions with rational logic is doomed to failure (which is something you might want to keep in mind if you ever get married). Rationally I know quite well that my priest is still perfectly playable, but that doesn't make me any less angry.

But what I'm totally sick and tired of is people with a strong sense of entitlement, which is all too common on the internet. People telling me they have been subscribing to my blog for some time, and think that because of that I owe them something. WHAT? You've been consuming content for free I worked hard to create, and I owe you? Sorry, if anything, you owe me. Thus if I read comments like this one: "Way too many of these posts seem like a description of the bloggers emotional state atm. If you had a bad day at the office and need to vent, can you use your wife/kids/colleagues/shrink instead?" it makes me want to come to Anonymous' house and give him a piece of my mind. This blog is mine, mine, mine. It's my place to vent, it's my shrink. If you don't like it, get the fuck out of here, I'm not going to miss you at all. I'll even refund you all the 0 dollars and 0 cents you paid me for your "subscription". And yes, that is me being emotional again.

Purple is the new blue

My warrior has 5 level 80 epics in the bank. They are in the bank because my warrior is only level 77. The moment he hits 80, he'll be wearing a good number of purple gear. And that isn't just me having too much gold, it is an environment in which you can get kicked out of a pickup group for not wearing epics. A commenter recently said on this blog that "purple is the new green". Not quite, but there are sufficient arguments to make the point that purple is the new blue.

The "color inflation" has two reasons. One is the fact that raids are easier. But the other is that crafting is now much better. There are complete sets of great tanking and damage blue armor (level 76 to 78) from smithing, which are extremely cheap. I assume the same is true for letherworking and tailoring. And all these professions can make affordable bind-on-equip epics, for around 1,000 gold a piece if you count the cost of materials and have friendly crafters in your guild. And that is just what you can get before even hitting level 80, afterwards you can get more epics easily enough by doing PvP if you are solo, or by running heroics if you can find groups.

On the other end of the scale that means that green items are now vendor / disenchant trash. I haven't worn a single green item through all of Wrath of the Lich King leveling with either priest or warrior. A blue item that is better is always within easy reach, and at level 80 you quickly acquire epics. The main disadvantage of that color inflation is that quest items are still green for any quest that isn't a group / dungeon quest or the end of a long quest chain. Thus gearing yourself up by doing quests has become a rather rare occurence.

With everyone wearing epics, of course they don't feel "epic" any more. I'm sure that in the harder raid dungeons to be patched into WotLK in the future, there will be more legendary items, orange becoming the new purple. Makes you wonder at what color the loot in the next expansion will arrive.

Is patch 3.0.8 a disaster?

I think WoWInsider is exaggerating. Wintergrasp and arenas being down for a few days, and there still being the same lag problems as before the patch, don't make patch 3.0.8 a "disaster".

You might have noticed ;) that I'm personally unhappy with the nerf to holy priests, because it reduces the number of viable talent trees for priests from 3 to 2. And I'm pretty certain that hunters aren't happy about the 3.0.8 nerfs either. But I do recognize that class balance is a weak point of WoW since patch 3.0.2 (just ask Warlocks if they think their class is well balanced now), and the various nerfs and changes are Blizzard's way of trying to improve the situation. That is good, even if it is a hit and miss affair.

A lot of other changes in patch 3.0.8 are minor, but positive. Some icons have been spruced up, some timers for clicking on clickable stuff have been shortened, some bugs have been removed. Some of those minor changes have bigger effects, for example the fact that pulling with a non-damaging ability now tags the mob will fundamentally change how some classes pull in overcrowded areas.

So, apart from personal and subjective anger over being nerfed, the worst thing about patch 3.0.8 you can say is mentioning the things it didn't do: It didn't fix lag and server problems, it didn't add another raid dungeon, it didn't introduce dual spec, it didn't fix class balance, it didn't cure AIDS, and it didn't bring world peace. Calling it a disaster tells you more about people's unrealistic hopes than about how things really are.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hybrids and class balance

I'm worried about class balance in World of Warcraft right now. My guild put up a "template" of required classes for a 10-man raid, and the first five spots look like this: Druid tank, random tank, druid healer, priest healer, random healer. Oh great, warriors are now "random tanks", and priests aren't a top priority any more. Instead we *require* two druids per raid, top spot for both tanking and healing. And of course they also qualify as random tank, random healer, and for the two random dps spots, so we wouldn't mind taking 6 druids with us to Naxxramas. There is no other class we would take more than 3 of.

When looking at class balance, classes aren't so much defined by what they do best, but by what they *can't* do, or rather by what they can't do reasonably well. We can argue for hours whether druids are really better tanks than warriors, or whether they are really better healers than priests, or really as good as dps as all the dps classes. But the very fact that you can hold all three of those discussions points to the problem: In the current design philosophy of Blizzard, hybrids have no fundamental weaknesses, and are thus better than specialized classes. Warriors can't heal, priests can't tank, mages can't do either. Why play one of these specialized classes if a hybrid class can do as well in your specialization *plus* can do as well as any other class in their specialization?

10 druids could easily clear Naxxramas, 10 paladins could do it, but it would be a bit harder. 10 players of any single other class can't do it. There are 8 classes in the game that can't do everything, and 2 that can, and that is not what I call class balance. Hybrids *must* have some weakness, otherwise they make all the more specialized classes obsolete. In spite of there being only one race per faction that can roll druids, the class is now one of the most popular, especially among level 80 players. That is simply bad design. Either you make every class be able to do everything, which is obviously silly, or you accept that choosing a class means choosing something you can do well, and something you can do less well.

Naxxramas lag

So last night we got 25 people together for a guild raid, and did our second Naxxramas heroic run. Cleared out another wing, spiders this time, everything fine. But lag was really bothersome. Previously, on 10-man runs, we heard a lot of people from the 25-man runs complaining about lag, but in the 10-man raids there barely was any. Now, our own 25-man raid was a horrible lagfest. I press a button, nothing happens for 2 seconds, I see my spell animation, nothing happens for 2 seconds, and finally my spell lands. And as we just discussed, having your healing spell land 5 seconds too late is a killer. So instead of trying another wing, we went to Sartharion instead, which was less laggy.

I hear Blizzard is blaming Wintergrasp for the lag, but that can't be it. Since the patch Wintergrasp battles are disabled on our server. So I think the problem is that, on that particular evening, there were over 300 Horde players in Naxxramas, and as there are pretty much exactly twice as many Alliance players than Horde on my server, probably over 600 of them, for a total of nearly 1,000 players in a single instance. Who would have thought raiding would ever be so popular? :) Obviously not the guys who designed Blizzard's raid dungeon server architecture. :( Not sure though why the 25-man version lags so much worse than the 10-man. Heroic lag for added difficulty?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The fundamental problem of healing

  • If I heal 1 second too early, my spell is wasted.
  • If I heal 1 second too late, we wipe.

Why play another fantasy MMORPG?

I've read an interesting post a Download Only Gamer about MMOs offering other forms of reward than just loot: escapism, relaxation, achievement, social contacts, and a sense of belonging. And that reminded me of a different thought I had recently: If the fantasy MMORPG you are currently playing offers you all that, why would you want to quit and play a different fantasy MMORPG instead?

Whether you are playing World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, an Everquest, or any other major fantasy MMORPG, you have probably found a home by now. What could possibly make you change?

One major problem here is that even with all the different details and features and different focus, fantasy MMORPGs are all very similar to each other in gameplay. In all of the games I mentioned there are quests giving xp and levels, character classes, divided into tanks, healers, and damage dealer archetypes, spells and combat abilities triggered by pressing hotkeys, and so on. Yes, there are big differences between games, but the basic gameplay is often surprisingly similar. So if you changed from one game to another, you could play a different character class, do different quests to kill different monsters, learn different crafting skills, and at the end nothing fundamental has changed. You need the same set of skills, the same brain cells, to play any of these games.

So why not just stick to one game, and for variety try something completely different? I'd rather play a Puzzle Pirates or A Tale in the Desert or other non-fantasy MMORPG, or even some single-player games, instead of doing the same activity in different games. How about you?

Holy priests nerfed in patch 3.0.8

You probably already knew this, but I decided to make an extra post about the subject: In patch 3.0.8 Circle of Healing acquires a 6-second cooldown, which nerfs that spell "to the ground", turning it from a staple healing spell in raids to something barely useful. Druids suffer the same fate to their Wild Growth. There are several aspects to that, all negative:

Raid healing overall will go down. Bosses which damage the whole raid will become a lot harder. A typical healing analysis of my guild's Naxxramas raids showed between a quarter and a third of all healing from holy priests and druids coming from Circle of Healing or Wild Growth. That will be reduced dramatically, and there is no replacement. Priests don't even *have* any other raid healing ability, their other multi-target heals are group only. So overall raids will become harder, because there is less healing.

The holy spec for priests loses much of its reason for being. Up to now you had the choice between being discipline and single-target healer, or being holy and raid healer. Now by choosing holy over discipline you just nerf your overall healing, and only get the Spiritual Guardian panic button to show for it. I expect many holy priests to respec to discipline, as this is now definitely the better healing spec.

The patch is otherwise completely void of goodies for holy priests. Unless you count the ability to cast Levitate on other players, which is more of a gimmick. The handful of other priest changes are for shadow priests. The "best" feature for priests in patch 3.0.8 is being able to pull with Shadow Word Pain without getting killstealed, but that isn't even a change particularly done to help priests.

Before Wrath of the Lich King we had a healer shortage and a tank shortage. Blizzard addressed the tank shortage by adding the death knight tank. But there has been nothing done to address the healer shortage. Healing priests still suffer from the same problems they had in the Burning Crusade, being the worst build for soloing and PvP, and being reduced to eternally blamed healbot in group PvE. Where is the love, Blizzard? Why would you want to nerf a class you said yourself there aren't enough of? 10 druids can raid Naxxramas together, 10 priests wouldn't even get past the trash mobs. At least as far as you can measure it by healing meters, druids heal better than priests, with more overall healing done, more heals per second, and less overhealing. Plus druids can do great dps or be a great tank. Do you really want everyone to roll druid alts because those are just plain better in everything than a priest is?

At the very least the other healing spells for priests should be boosted. Spells like Prayer of Healing should be turned into a "smart" healing spell, working on X of the closest raid members, not just the priests party in the raid. Priests should also receive some other goodies making them more useful in solo PvE and PvP when in holy / discipline spec. So many other classes got boosted by so much in Wrath of the Lich King, why did priests got left behind?

WoW patch 3.0.8 today

... or tomorrow if you live in Europe. WoWInsider has patch notes, which are far too huge to copy to here and comment in detail. So lets just say this is a balancing patch, adding no new content, but trying to improve class balance and similar issues, as well as fixing bugs. I can only hope that Blizzard will not take several months before releasing patch 3.1 with the next raid dungeon.

I love Wrath of the Lich King, and find its quality level far superior to Burning Crusade, but there is definitely a lack of raid content. There is only a single multi-boss raid dungeon, and that one isn't even new, it has just been recycled. If the next raid dungeon isn't coming in early spring, a lot of people will feel they already "finished" WotLK, which can't be good for subscription numbers.

Achievement systems

As promised, here are my thoughts on achievement systems, specifically the World of Warcraft one, but most of the comments would apply to features like Warhammer Online's Tome of Knowledge as well. Of course the subject has already been discussed on other blogs, but I'm not trying to simply praise achievements or condemn them as useless, but rather to look at what their function is.

I classify achievements roughly into three categories: The first category is achievements which just pop up while you do what you would have done anyway. For example there is simply no way to maximize your fishing skill in WoW without getting a bunch of "caught so and so many fish" achievements. The second category is about going that extra mile, and for me those are the most fun achievements. If you are an explorer, you probably already visited most of the places of the world map, so why not collect the few remaining ones and get a nice "the explorer" title? Or you're questing in a certain zone anyway, why not make sure you do *all* the quests and get the achievement that you finished that zone? The third category is the extreme one, where you are asked either to do a huge amount of something, or do something in a particular stupid way on purpose. You would need to spend a large amount of time to get 40 reputations to exalted, or to get the loremaster title for doing nearly all the quests in the game with a single character. And many of the heroic dungeon achievements are just silly, like asking you to make your life harder at Kel'thuzad by pulling a bunch of extra undead. In WAR there are a bunch of particularly counterproductive achievements like that, asking you to do various dangerous things while being naked. Of course that can get annoying if one player decides to do battlegrounds naked and by that contributes to the other players losing the battle.

So what could the purpose of all these achievements be? The first category, the automatic achievements, are just a gimmick, the game giving you a pat on the back and telling you "well done", although you didn't do anything special. The second category encourages players to use the content already provided to a greater extent. You're more likely to do something if you have a "shopping list" of things to do, and a title or pet as reward. The third category extends that to the point where the achievement is faking additional content. A heroic fight with the specific purpose of reaching the achievement for it will be playing somewhat differently than the standard best strategy to beat that boss. Thus without adding a new boss, the devs fake a new boss encounter.

Not everyone loves achievement systems. But in the case of WoW I can't really find anything very negative about the system. If you don't like it, you are completely safe if you just ignore it. All the rewards are just fluff, like titles or non-combat pets, there are no achievements where everybody would feel he would have to do those to stay competitive. For those who like achievements a little or a lot, the system provides a guideline, a list of proposals for activities you could do in the game when you have nothing else to do. So to some extent achievement systems are designed to overcome boredom and burn-out. Of course the interest of Blizzard in that is that achievement systems are cheap to implement and if they encourage some players to not quit the game quite as early as they would have otherwise done, the payout can be pretty good.

I like achievement systems with invisible achievements, like the WAR one, a lot less. You end up having to look up how to get achievements on some third-party internet site. But on the other hand the WAR achievement system has a huge advantage over the WoW achievement system in that it was in the game from the start. Adding an achievement system to a 4 year old game has some disadvantages. *I* know that I've done all the dungeons of the old world and the Burning Crusade, or that I raided Molten Core, BWL, ZG, AQ, and several TBC raid dungeons. But WoW didn't remember that. So somebody who killed Ragnaros at level 60 when it was relatively hard does not have the achievement for it, while somebody who does it in a silly raid at level 80 does get the achievement. And I don't know how much of the current instance server load is caused by level 80 players soloing low-level dungeons to rack up achievements that really don't mean anything.

So, in summary, achievements can be fun if you take them as simple proposals for what you could do in the game. They can turn into a grind if you get caught in a "must do them all" mind set. And some achievements that can only be reached in a group have the risk of some player who is trying to get the achievement inconveniencing the other players who just want to do the normal content. Ultimately achievement systems are just a cheap way to simulate additional content. As long as that works for some people and doesn't hurt the others, why not?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Community Chest

In the open Sunday thread a reader posted a question about what I thought of the quality of the WoW community, compared to other games' communities. Not an easy question that, because there isn't just one WoW community, there are thousands. For example the community on the official WoW forums is fundamentally different from a server community, or the communities formed by a guild.

But in general we can observe two major trends weakening the WoW community, compared to other games: Size and soloability. There are so many WoW players, even on one server, that tracking them all becomes impossible, and people behaving badly can disappear into anonymity (not to mention the possibility of changing server, name, and look). At which point we are back to John Gabriel's Greater Internet Dickwad Theory. And as you can do major parts of the game alone, and aren't forced to rely on other players, cooperation is basically limited to the endgame.

So if you compare the WoW community of 2009 with lets say the EQ community of 2001, there are huge differences. In EQ you couldn't even level without a group, and a wipe could cost you weeks of progress. Thus there were server forums with "black lists" of people behaving badly, and somebody who had already left 3 guilds just would never have gotten into a 4th one. Being forced to rely on other players has its drawbacks, but it sure improved loyalty and community spirit.

World of Warcraft is a much more selfish game. There are even lots of bloggers singing the praise of selfishness and everyone for themselves. Funnily it is then usually the same people who complain about players in their raid group being less skilled or not dealing enough damage. If you consider the system of WoW, of guilds, of loot, and social dynamics, it quickly becomes apparent that the optimum way to improve your gear in the fastest manner is being the *least* powerful player in your raid. If you are undergeared compared to the content you are beating, your chances of getting an upgrade are the highest. Both because other players might already have that gear and pass it to you, and because you can use every drop. So to maximize progress for yourself, you would need to leech of better equipped or skilled people.

Obviously that is a tragedy of the commons type of problem. If everyone maximizes his self-interest, it doesn't result in maximum overall good. Communities which involve some selflessness can fare better overall than those in which everyone just looks out for himself. And that is something that happens even in WoW, in sub-communities, for example some of the more friendly guilds (mine included). Completely selfish guilds not only suffer from a lot more strife and guild drama, but also experience frequent throwbacks in progress, when the most powerful members do the rational selfish thing and go leeching of a more advanced guild, instead of having others leech of them.

As soon as you accept other values than pure self-interest, values like loyalty and friendship, suddenly the weaknesses of WoW turn into strengths. Suddenly you aren't dealing with leeches any more, but with people voluntarily helping the less advanced guild members, giving them a leg up. Which in turn not only strengthens community values, but ultimately lets the whole guild progress at a faster pace. A selfish guild is constantly rejecting people coming from below who want to profit from the others in the guild, while losing people to guilds above, and that process costs the guild as a whole a lot of energy and is unpleasant. A more selfless guild accepts differences in time spent and skill, and by making the best of it loses less energy to guild drama, enabling them to concentrate on overall progress. And we shouldn't forget that World of Warcraft is a game, a form of entertainment, so the relative values of harmony and getting ahead aren't necessarily the same as lets say in a work environment. What good are those purple pixels to you if they came at the price of lots of shouting, backstabbing, and guild drama? Would you rather log off at night having had a lot of fun, or would you rather log off angry and stressed, but with another 1% gain to your stats?

So, community values in World of Warcraft are definitely under pressure, but the battle isn't totally lost yet. Everyone still has the option of avoiding the most ugly aspects of the community, for example by choosing another game forum than the official one, or by choosing a friendlier guild. But those who prefer a dog eats dog environment, can choose that one too. The problem becomes one of carefully choosing one's company, which is not necessarily a game design problem.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What to reward

I'm working my way towards a post about achievements, as requested in the open Sunday thread, but before I get there I'd like to discuss something which touches on both achievements and other sorts of rewards: What exactly does a player have to do to "achieve" something or "deserve" a reward?

Many people like to pretend that rewards and achievements are given out for "skill". But if we are brutally honest, we have to admit that this isn't the case most of the time. It takes only negligible amounts of skill to level to 80, catch 1,000 fish, collect 50 non-combat pets, or become exalted with 40 factions. You can even get a complete set of PvE or PvP epics with very little skill, if only you can find a powerful group of people you can leech from. If that requires "skill", then its more social skills than gaming skills. If you happen to have gaming skills, it helps, and might get you the reward or achievement faster, but it isn't absolutely necessary, except in very rare cases.

So what exactly do most MMORPGs hand out rewards for? Most of them reward you for time spent in game, doing some reward-related activity. Farming and grinding will get you nearly anywhere. In PvP only some arena rewards are out of reach for the unskilled, most of the PvP epics can be obtained by simply doing PvP long enough, win or lose. Many achievements are extremely grindy. And of course you gain levels and xp by doing hundreds of hours of killing monsters and doing quests, for which you need only very basic skills. Ixobelle even proposed to simply hand out a fixed amount of xp per hour, so people wouldn't have to look for the best way to gain xp, and simply do whatever was most fun for them. Unfortunately that wouldn't work, most people simply would log on, alt-tab out, and play another game in the background until they reach the level cap.

An alternative to rewarding time spent in game is to reward real time, time you pay subscription for. World of Warcraft already does that with daily quests, crafting recipes with long cooldowns, or achievements it takes a full year to complete. You often have to do a lot less for these rewards and achievements, but you can't get them without paying for the game every month. The most extreme case is EVE Online, where you earn skill points based on real time, which leads to some people basically playing EVE Offline.

The last thing MMORPGs often reward is just plain luck. Kill a random mob, and find a bind-on-equip epic worth thousands of gold. Be the only paladin in your raid, and see half of the epics dropping being plate with spellpower. Walk around a corner a see a rare named you need to kill for an achievement. But of course luck is also somewhat related to time: The more often you do something, the higher the overall chance that one day you'll get lucky.

Of course there is a good reason why most rewards and achievements in MMORPGs are related to time: The game company wants your subscription money. If you could get all the best rewards and achievements in a month or two, you would be less motivated to pay them for years. And in a way that is a win-win deal, because you of course are interested to get many hours of entertainment. But it wouldn't hurt if there were more rewards and achievements in the games that actually required more gaming skills, and not just grinding.

Kel'Thuzad down!

Not that I think it'll impress anyone, but tonight me and my guild cleared Naxxramas on normal, for the first time. Kel'Thuzad down, and two achievements earned, one for him, and one for clearing everything. Afterwards we still killed Sartharion twice (10 and 25), who dropped the T7 gloves for me. That solved my problem whether I should spend my Emblems of Heroism on those gloves or to replace my blue belt. So all in all a pretty good raid night. :)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Open Sunday Thread

How fast the week goes by! "Raid difficulty week" on Tobold's blog is over, and we can concentrate on other subjects now, although I'm sure the issue will come up again in the future. So tell me, what do you want to talk about next week?

Raid leading

Many people who do not work in a management position think that being a manager is a great job: You get to order people around to do all the work you don't want to, and on top of that you get paid better. In reality simple economics tell you that companies wouldn't pay somebody more money, if they didn't expect him to do something not everybody can do well. Management is hard. And being a raid leader is a management position.

I was reminded of how hard raid leading is last night, where we had the usual chaos setting up the second raid night of the week. Some people have IDs, but not everybody who was present during the last raid turns up for the next, and you don't necessarily have exactly the right number and best class composition available to get everyone into a raid. Last night was especially bad, how do you raid with 18 people? And the raid leader trying to sort through this apparently was bombarded by some of the less mature guild members with various requests, like some guy not wanting to raid with a specific other person, or similar nonsense. And at some point he just cracked, threw in the towel, and left the raid. We still managed to get the raid together, and even did the guild's first Sapphiron kill, but the mood was definitely strained. Although I was more lucky with loot this time, and got the token for the T7 chest, I found the raid less pleasant than the previous one, where we all were just having fun and didn't get any epics.

You need quite a thick skin to be a raid leader or manager, and there are lots of soft skills involved getting it right. You *can* manage a herd of unfocused individuals into a focused raid, but it isn't easy. As I do manage people at work, I got a bunch of training courses, and read lots of books; all of which helps, but in the end one needs some natural leadership as well. A typical raid leader might or might not have the natural leadership, he probably didn't get any training to do the job right, and he usually isn't even paid for the work he does. Rather lousy job, if you ask me. So here I'm shouting out a special thanks to all raid leaders out there, who are doing their best to handle lots of difficult situations to get their guilds to advance through the raid content and make everyone happy. It isn't easy, and your hard work is appreciated, even if you probably don't receive enough thanks for it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Darkfall delayed to February 25th

It is very hard to decide whether Darkfall is a very elaborate and cruel joke of vaporware, or whether it is just a game from a small company struggling to get everything right. Thus the announcement that the release of Darkfall is delayed from January 22nd to February 25th is greeted with various responses from laughter to concern. I still think that Darkfall might be released this year, but I also think it will be an extreme niche product, with less players than Age of Conan. Your opinion might differ on that.

Raid difficulty - The business case

Yeah, I know, lots of posts on the same subject this week, but A) having a theme week isn't bad, and B) I rarely get as much feedback on other subjects than on this one, both by comments and by mail. I'll promise to write about other stuff next week. :)

So, we had lots of people argueing raid difficulty this week, and there are commenters who find the current World of Warcraft raid difficulty too easy. But of course the use of the word "too" is already a judgement. And I have the impression that this judgement is a subjective one, that is people are complaining that WoW raid difficulty is too easy *for them*.

So I think at the heart of the discussion is the old battle for content. In the last expansion the casual players were complaining that the devs didn't make enough content for them, now it's the hardcore players turn. If Blizzard had put in not just one major raid dungeon (plus a couple of one-boss ones), but five, in increasing levels of difficulty, there would have been a lot less complaints, even if the first one was as easy as Naxxramas is now.

But unfortunately we suffer from Blizzard being slow to add new content. So if we look at the issue from Blizzard's point of view, who at one point decided that they didn't have more resources available to make more than one big raid dungeon for the WotLK release (and a recycled one at that), did they make the right decision in making that one easy? In absolute, business, dollars and cents terms, not in subjective "what is good for me is good for WoW" terms?

Imagine that you today had the power to change the difficulty level of the current raid dungeons, mainly Naxxramas, plus decide the difficulty level of the next raid dungeon, Ulduar. And you would receive 1 cent for every player who is subscribed to WoW in 6 months time in North America and Europe. Would you make the raid dungeons significantly harder? Or do you think that, even if in your opinion the less skilled players don't deserve those epics, they will be subscribing to WoW much longer if they have this easy raid mode available, and a somewhat, but not terribly, harder Ulduar after that?

Personally I think that easy entry level raiding adds to the longevity of Wrath of the Lich King. Ulduar should be a noticeable step up, not a brick wall, but requiring full Naxx epic gear. In the Burning Crusade lots of players quit the game after a few months, because they had leveled to 70, and found that there wasn't enough to do for them at that level, raiding being too hard for the average player. In WotLK raiding is not too hard for the average player, in fact many people find Naxxramas as it is still fun and challenging. Throw in a harder next step, Ulduar, and many, many players will have months and months of raiding fun ahead of them. Yes, the other side of the coin is that some players are bored now, will beat Ulduar in a week, and might well decide to quit soon afterwards. But as the extreme hardcore are few in numbers, there is a strong business case to be made for catering rather to the average player, not to the top. So, did Blizzard get it right this time, from the point of view of their business managers?

Deleted my Twitter account

I kept getting mail about new people following me on Twitter, although I had stopped updating that about the time Wrath of the Lich King came out. So as I wasn't using my Twitter account anyway, I deleted it, to not disappoint people waiting for me to say something there.

I made the Twitter account to test it out, but found that it wasn't something I really enjoyed. I can't express my thoughts properly in less than 140 characters. Plus I have a personal aversion against services that lead people to reveal too much of their private lifes. "Got up", "brushed my teeth", "had toast for breakfast", etc. is an extremely boring, if accurate, way to record our daily existence. And when people try to hide how boring their life is by posting half-naked drunken photos of themselves on Facebook, they only manage to destroy their chances when applying for a job later at a company with a tech-savy human resources department.

Build-specific loot

I was in a great raid last night, where my guild performed significantly better and faster in Naxxramas-10 than before, and we managed to kill 10 bosses in 4 hours. But I was a bit annoyed about the loot. Not just that of 22 epics I ended up not getting a single one, that was just bad luck. But about us having to shard several epics because they were specific to a single build of a single class, and nobody needing them in the raid.

In our case we had neither holy paladins nor resto shamans in the raid, and of course got lots of drops with plate and mail armor with +spellpower. If we had had a tankadin or enhancement shaman, he might have gotten the epic for "off spec", but we had no paladins nor shamans at all, so the epics ended up sharded. And that in a raid group where lots of people were wearing blues and could well have used some Naxxramas epics.

What did strike me was the contrast with some other epics we found, for example a ring with intellect, stamina, and spellpower. Half the raid needed that. And I also noticed that while some builds and classes do have specific raid loot, that only they can use, other builds of other classes have absolutly nothing specific for them. Healing power has been removed from the game, so the typical cloth armor piece my priest could use is typically needed as well by all the mages and warlocks, not to mention priests of every other build. I refrain from rolling need on items with +spell hit, but dps casters don't necessarily refuse rolling for cloth armor just because it has spirit or mana regeneration on it.

So I'm wondering why Blizzard designed it that way. Wouldn't it be better if either every class / build had specific loot to avoid too many people fighting over it; or if every piece of loot was useable by several classes and builds. If Blizzard can combine healing power and spellpower in one, then why not combine other stats in one as well, so that no class / build has loot that is only useable by them?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The psychology of exclusivity

A reader wrote me with an interesting insight on Naxxramas: "I think the core of this casual raid vs hardcore raid debacle that WotLK is turning into lies with the age old Gear vs Skill thing. Hardcore raiders prefer to attribute their success to skill. Rather than better geared than casuals, they are better skilled, and the gear is only a symptom of that. The reason that people are reacting so violently to easy Naxx is that it is making it plain to see for all is that gear is really the ONLY thing that matters in WoW.

Naxx at 80 has all the same skill requirement as it did at 60 (Plus or minus a very very few changes). You still have to get away from anub'arak, stay out of the slime and behind the boss on grob, change sides on thaddius, dance on Heigan, be smart with healing on Loatheb, and get behind the Iceblock on Saph. If you aren't "skilled" enough to to those actions, you can still fail in naxx. The ONLY real thing that has changed is the gear requirements (From "Have to have perfect gear" to "You can get by as a fresh level capped character"). Wow is and always has been about the gear treadmill."

I found that definition of skill a bit too narrow. "Skill" isn't black and white, either you can dance at Heigan or you can't. In most cases there is a penalty for failing to "get out of the fire", but if you have enough health and your healers enough healing power, you can just overcome the penalty. Thus if you do Molten Core at level 80, you don't need to run if you are the bomb at Baron Geddon (which is another argument why training for raiding in lower level raid dungeons doesn't work). Another example is crowd control at Moroes in Karazhan, which was extremely important in the original version, but after patch 3.0.2 most raids just gathered all the adds on one spot and aoe'd them down.

So I do think it took more skill to do Naxxramas at 60 than it takes today. But his comment is touching on a different issue, that of exclusivity. The human mind is tribal, and automatically thinks in terms of "us and them". We have a basic human *need* to belong to a group which is different, and in our minds "better", than another group. Thus people sort themselves into Democrats and Republicans, or into fans of different sports teams, and both sides look down on the other side.

So pre-WotLK there was this nice group distinction of you either being a raider or not. The raiders could look down on the casual players who didn't have the "skill" to kill Moroes in Karazhan. And the casuals could look down on the raiders who "obviously" only got there due to their gear. Now with Wrath of the Lich King comes Naxxramas, and suddenly everybody is a raider. Blizzard is starting to have instance server problems, with lag in Naxxramas, and "no more instances can be opened right now" error messages, because every evening Naxxramas and heroic dungeons are simply packed. And not only is everyone a raider now, there are also less distinctions between top guilds and mediocre raiding guilds. Instead of just having one or two guilds per server that were able to beat Sunwell, suddenly a dozen raid guilds can do the hardest available content. There is no "us and them" any more, only people who don't want to raid don't raid. There is no exclusivity.

Turning the clock back and making Naxxramas much harder, excluding a lot of people from using it, would be something that Blizzard would have problems doing. It would cause a huge wave of protest of all those average players who thoroughly enjoy now being able to raid. So the devs decided to go only part of the way. Blizzard *is* making raiding harder, by nerfing healing in patch 3.0.8: If you have a healing meter like Recount and check it after a typical raid with druid and holy priests healers, you'll see that typically 30% to 40% of the healing by them is done with Wild Growth and Circle of Healing. Both are currently instant spells and can be spammed as fast as the global cooldown permits. And they are both "smart" heals, searching automatically for the wounded raid members, thus minimizing overhealing. In the patch both spells will have a 6-second cooldown, and raids risk losing a quarter of their healing, which should make raids in general harder.

But the other part of the solution has to be adding harder raid dungeons. Ulduar *must* be significantly harder than Naxxramas, so the hardcore regain a sense of exclusivity. They'll have to live with the fact that the limit between "us" and "them" is not whether somebody can raid at all, but whether he can raid Ulduar or not. The casuals have nothing to complain, because the *can* raid, just not everywhere. And the hardcore have nothing to complain because they *do* distinguish themselves from the less skilled players.

Ready check sound

Anyone here a technical expert on WoW? Since Wrath of the Lich King, whenever the raid leader does a ready check, I get the window popping up, but no sound. Only very rarely is a sound to be heard, most of the time the window pops up silently. I'd really love to fix that, but I have no idea how. Can anyone here help?

Why is Sartharion with 3 drakes so unpopular?

I must say I'm thoroughly enjoying the heated debate we are having this week on various aspects of WoW raiding. It is obviously impossible to agree with everybody, but I'm certainly learning new things and understand better certain points of view. To improve that understanding, I'm asking for your help to explain to me something which surfaced repeatedly in comments, but which was new for me: It appears that the more skilled raiders consider boss fights with optional added difficulty as an unnecessary gimmick, or artificial obstacle, not a valid challenge. Why?

I have killed Sartharion only with all drakes killed, so I don't have personal experience of how it would be with 1, 2, or 3 drakes up. But obviously with drakes it is harder. And I checked the loot tables, and killing Sartharion with drakes up is well rewarded with additional and better epics. So we have optional higher challenge for higher rewards. Why isn't that more popular with people who are complaining about a lack of challenge in the current environment?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ulduar - The Trivial Pursuit raid dungeon

As witnessed in the Tribunal of Ages event in Halls of Stone, Ulduar is home of something that can only be described as an ancient computer, built by the titans, and storing all the knowledge of the world. Based on that lore, Blizzard just announced a huge surprise: The raid dungeon Ulduar to be introduced in patch 3.1 will be have elements of the Trivial Pursuit board game. Blizzard bought the rights to use the full catalogue of nearly 1 million different questions from Hasbro. The Ulduar raid dungeon will have six wings (Geography (blue), Entertainment (pink), History (yellow), Arts & Literature (brown), Science & Nature (green), and Sports & Leisure (orange)), with 3 bosses each. The bosses have none of the usual special abilities, and are tank & spank, but at 75%, 50, and 25% of health, every raid member gets a window popping up with a Trivial Pursuit question, and three possible answers. Every player in the raid will have to click on the right answer to his question inside of 5 seconds, or he'll explode, die, and deal a serious amount of damage to the players around him. You can heal through one player getting it wrong, but not several. The first boss of each wing has the easiest questions, and the last boss the hardest. The timer is designed short enough that googling the answer would take too long, and as every player gets a different question, and there are so many of them, knowing the answer beforehand from some strategy site will be impossible.

Blizzard commented that for years players had demanded that raids be more skill-based, and the new system would obviously favor the most skilled and knowledgeable players. Also the 25-man version would automatically be more difficult, as frequently requested, because of the higher likelyhood of somebody getting a question wrong and hurting his fellow raid members in the explosion. The explosion mechanism prevents less skilled players to leech of more skilled players. So Blizzard feels that this is exactly what raiders have been asking for.

Relax, of course I'm joking. But like all of my jokes, there are serious game design questions behind the preposterous proposal. Because while Blizzard is extremely unlikely to design raid boss encounters on Trivial Pursuit questions, the interesting thing is that it would be totally possible. Lots of people would hate it and protest loudly, but others would start the race to be the first to beat Trivial Pursuit Ulduar, and some people would even like it more than the regular raids. The serious question is what extra skill exactly are raids demanding, and would there be other possibilities?

The question arose from the quote from Melmoth I linked to in the previous post, where he compared raiding to playing Super Mario Brothers. He was commenting particularly on the Sartharion encounter, where you need to look whether the flame waves come from the left side or the right side, and position yourself accordingly. But he could have said something similar about the Heigan encounter in Naxxramas, or other similar encounters where it becomes important where you stand. But fact is that in World of Warcraft you can level to 80 and get a good enough set of gear to start raiding without ever having worried about where to stand. Positioning becoming important is exclusive to raid bosses, and a few level 80 dungeon bosses. And as Melmoth so correctly said, this additional required "skill" for raiding successfully is something many people picked up by playing other video games, especially platformers.

The reason so many people would complain if Blizzard really introduced Trivial Pursuit Ulduar is that this raid dungeon would require a completely *different* set of skills. Somebody who is good at staying out of the fire in a current raid encounter would not necessarily be good at answering Trivial Pursuit questions correctly in 5 seconds. But other players who have problems with the video game skills required by some of the current raid bosses could possibly do much better when general knowledge were the required skill to kill a boss.

So, if quick positioning isn't part of the pre-raid game of World of Warcraft, why is it a part of raid encounters? And apart from that and Trivial Pursuit, what other "skills" could we design a raid encounter to require?

Raid discussion in the blogosphere

While there has been a lot of lengthy raid discussion on this blog lately, I noticed that several other bloggers had some excellent comments on raiding on their blogs which were significantly shorter than mine. No surprise really, I tend towards the verbose. But I'd like to link to some of the recent highlights:

Melmoth from Killed in a Smiling Accident has a Thought of the Day: "Raiding these days is like trying to play Super Mario Brothers with twenty-four other characters on the screen at the same time. All yelling at each other."

Rohan from Blessing of Kings has a far more practical approach to people not knowing how to raid: Build a website to teach them. Quote: "It's a wiki, so if anyone wants to contribute, feel free. The important part is to keep things simple. The intended audience is not the people who can do 3000 DPS and are trying for 3500. The intended audience are the people struggling at 1000 DPS. After they master the basics, they can go to Elitist Jerks and delve into the deep theorycraft." Very laudable!

Zubon from Kill Ten Rats has a simple formula for game developers to improve their game: "I have discovered the problem: you are not doing enough of what I like. Your game would be much better if it were made more for me. Also, because that would make your game better, other people would like it more, so you would make more money. Developers, please fix that!"

And finally, but not directly on the topic of raids, Relmstein reminds us in his 2009 predictions that "People will grow tired of Wrath of the Lich King in the summer". I completely agree. And nothing, absolutely nothing, that Blizzard could possibly change in the raid difficulty of either Naxxramas or Ulduar is going to change that. It just might affect who exactly quits WoW first.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Petition to Disney

Dear Disney,

I'm 6'3" tall, and I'm writing you to petition that you should change all the "must be this tall to ride" signs on all the fast rides in Disneyland, Disney World, and Euro Disney to a minimum height of 6'. People who are smaller than me and my friends simply don't deserve to be allowed on the fast rides. You're current height requirements of around 4' have turned the Disney theme parks into easy mode, it just isn't special enough to be allowed on those rides.

I've put a lot of effort into getting to the height I am, eating all my vegetables all the time, and I feel that Disney should reward that effort by reserving certain content for me and people like me. By letting the morons and slackers who don't even know how to eat right on the fast rides, you are devalueing my achievement. How do you want me to consider the photo that gets shot at the exit as epic if nowadays basically everyone can get one?

Furthermore I feel that the lesser Disney park visitors need role-models to look up to, literally. By limiting the thrill rides to tall people, you encourage the smaller ones to get their act together and grow. They will see the tall people strutting around the elite exclusive rides, and want to be like that. I dismiss the argument that smaller visitors pay the same entry fee as taller visitors of the same age, and thus should be allowed to use the same content. The slow rides like the Alice in Wonderland tea cups, or It's a Small World, are good enough for them.

As I'm taking Disney theme parks more serious than the casual visitors, I should be entitled to lots of exclusive content. So please, Disney, reserve all the thrill rides to those elite customers of yours that are over 6' tall, like me. We deserve it!



[Author's Note: Before this is taken out of context and causes a storm of outrage among Disney fans, let me state that this petition of course isn't real. It is a parody on those people who demand that only players that play as much and as well as they do should be allowed by Blizzard to participate in raid content and get epics. Disney was in fact more intelligent in realizing that excluding a majority of your customers from the most fun content wasn't a good business model. Blizzard just came around to that realization in the last expansion, causing the previously "elite" to complain.]


It's already a couple of months that I'm planning to write a comprehensive post about rewards in MMORPGs. But the more I think of it, the more I discover links to related subjects like player motivation and incentive structures, and it is hard to really cover the whole of the subject. So now I spent some time to boil all those ideas down to something which gives a good overview of the function of rewards and the different possible reward systems, but is limited to my core ideas, without becoming a complete dissertation.

Playing a MMORPG provides the player with many different forms of rewards: Intangible ones like fun or social contacts, and tangible (in the virtual world) ones like various points, currencies, and items. In this post I will concentrate on items, especially "epics", but I'll include the special tokens ("emblems") that are given out as an alternative way to get epics. As I'll mostly use examples from World of Warcraft, concentrating on epics means I'm basically skipping the whole leveling game, and go straight to the endgame. The reason I am doing that is that I found that rewards aren't necessarily the driving factor for what people do while leveling up: Much of the leveling up game is non-repetitive, and has strong elements of exploration and discovery of new zones and stories. Just like a book doesn't need to hand out rewards to encourage you to read it, the entertainment value of the leveling game is often high enough so that the rewards aren't really all that important. In the specific case of Wrath of the Lich King, on leveling from 70 to 80 by doing quests, you will vendor around 99% of your quest rewards.

Once you reach the endgame, the level cap, the entertainment value of playing a MMORPG diminishes, because it becomes more repetitive. Even Blizzard, with their $1 billion revenue per year, cannot produce enough non-repetitive content to keep most players busy enough. So instead of seeing new zones and hearing new stories, in the endgame you do the same daily quests, the same heroic dungeons, the same raid dungeons over and over. Wrath of the Lich King is not even two months old, and already more than half of the players online are level 80, and busy with this sort of endgame content. Being repetitive extends the lifetime of a MMORPG, but diminishes the entertainment value. So the less players are driven by the motivation to see new content, the more you need to motivate them by something else: Rewards. And in World of Warcraft the typical form of an endgame item reward is called an "epic", recognizable by the purple name, but otherwise not fundamentally different from non-epic gear rewards. The main function of epics is to make your character stronger, but there is a secondary purpose of bragging rights, related to the difficulty of acquiring those epics.

Now rewards in general can be handed out in different ways: You can give somebody a steady stream of minor rewards, or you can give somebody the occasional big reward. In WoW 1.0 epics were nearly exclusively of the occasional big reward variety. You went raiding with 40 people, among whom on a typical raid night only a handful of epic items was distributed. With a bit of bad luck it could be weeks before you got your next reward. Not everyone likes that sort of system. But the random big reward system has certain advantages: An occasional big reward produces a stronger emotional response in the player than a steady stream of small rewards (which is why people buy lottery tickets). And the random loot drop system for epics is self-regulating: The more epics you already have, the smaller is the chance of still finding an upgrade. Character development is asymptotic, that is your character will always only get stronger, but the rate in which he grows steadily decreases until it is zero. At one point, hypothetical for most players, you have the best possible equipment in the game and can't get any more rewards.

Of course the random big reward system also has disadvantages: You can be plagued by bad luck and not receive any reward for a long time, and as the diminishing returns are built into the system, the motivation from rewards also diminishes with time. So with patches and expansions World of Warcraft started to mix some steady small rewards into their reward system. First you could get PvP epics through patient accumulation of honor points. Then you could get epics through exalted reputations, or through crafting, both of which required a lot of grinding. And finally a system of "badges" or "emblems" was introduced, so that every heroic or raid boss kill was worth at least one of these tokens, and you'd need to collect a number of them to buy epics with. A special currency, just for slowly but steadily gaining epics.

Giving out rewards at a steady rate solves the problem of bad luck, but doesn't solve the problem of there being a point in time where no further improvement is possible. Blizzard can only push that point in time further into the future by adding new raid content including new sets of gear to collect. But what they also did was to allow to divert rewards from the character who acquired them to another avatar of the same player, by introducing hereditary items. You can now spend your emblems on gearing up your alts to not-quite-epic "good blue" level. Which on the one side sadly removes the item gathering part of gameplay from your alts, but on the other side solves the problem of having to go to dungeons for gear and not being able to find a group.

So the current system in World of Warcraft is a mix between different systems to hand out loot. It still isn't perfect, but it is a good compromise. You will get *something* on every successful raid, some emblems which you can accumulate and use to fix holes in your equipment, or gear up your alts if your main already has everything. But you also have a chance to get the occasional random lucky loot drop, for a quick shot of happiness. The overall purpose is to get you to play the same content over and over, to extend the game's lifetime, or rather your subscription time. That is proven to work to some extent with most people. How long it can work, and whether it will work less and less with each expansion, remains to be seen. But up to now, rewards are one of the strongest incentives to keep people playing MMORPGs for years and years. It is easy to criticize people for "running after purple pixels", but nobody has invented a better system of incentives yet.

Morons and slackers

I have a problem with some commenters calling other people "morons" on my blog. Normally, because using insulting language is against my Terms of Service, I would just delete the offending comment. But as in this case the comment is rather revealing of a typical attitude, I prefer to deal with it in a separate post. The attitude I'm talking about is some people believing that everybody who raids less well than they do is a "moron and slacker". Two particular examples given were somebody standing at a place where he shouldn't be standing in a raid encounter, and somebody doing significantly less damage than other dps classes. Are such people "morons and slackers"?

The term "slacker", while unnecessarily insulting, at least has some truth in it, if you use it in typical MMO lingo context. You just define a "slacker" as somebody who hasn't played "enough" with his character. Take any number of WoW characters, and plot them on a graph with the time /played at level 80 on the X axis and the dps done on the Y axis, and you'll get a cloud which definitely points upwards. There is a clear correlation between playing more with your character and doing more damage (or healing). Part of that is practice, I still learn new tricks with my priest, and part of it is gearing up. Only of course the definition of "enough" is completely arbitrary.

The term "moron" is just plain wrong. Do the same plot with people's IQ on the X axis and their dps on the Y axis, and you'll find no correlation at all. Very intelligent people can play a WoW character badly, especially if they haven't played that class very much. And very stupid people can be at the top of a damage meter, because frankly, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to push a few buttons in the right order. I've heard stories of 5-year olds outperforming their dads when playing with their characters. If you could deduct a person's intelligence from his damage output, then following that logic the person would become more intelligent if you gave him a bunch of epics. Ridiculous!

Things like "do not stand in the fire" is also something that comes with time, not intelligence. Nobody does for example Heigan perfectly on the first try, it just takes some practice. Some people are better at that sort of thing, having faster reaction time than others (I tend to be mediocre). But there is no correlation whatsoever between reaction time and IQ. It would be very easy to imagine somebody who is autistic being a very good WoW player, because focus is a lot more important than intelligence in raids. The only thing that does require some intelligence in a raid is figuring out how to kill a boss given his specific abilities. And nearly everybody just skips that part and looks up the strategy on the internet instead of bothering to try to figure it out.

People who feel the need to call somebody else a "moron", just because he is playing a video game less well, do have a problem. This behavior is indicative of deriving one's self-value from that video game. That is not healthy, especially not with games in which performance is linked to time played. Thus the "moron" will usually reply by calling the guy who plays better a "no-lifer" which isn't necessarily true either. Even worse, there are a lot of people who throw insults in both directions, people who play less are "morons", and people who play more are "no-lifers". Or as my favorite quote on that subject says: "Ever notice how anyone who plays more than you has no life? And anyone who plays less than you is not dedicated enough to deserve epics? It's amazing how you managed to hit that perfect balance."

Why can't we just accept that in a game like World of Warcraft there are people who play more, there are people who play better, and there are people who play less, or less well, without having to resort to being judgemental or insulting? In most cases playing less and less well is a personal choice somebody made, completely unrelated to his intelligence. Whether it is spending more time with family, or spending time in the game to level alts instead of improving the gear of your main, those are all valid choices. No player has the right to define his personal level of performance as being the one required to deserve epics. Most of the people throwing around insults of "morons and slackers" are not really the best possible players, and would be quite furious if Blizzard designed the entry level raids to be just too hard for them. So why should they be allowed to determine that anyone playing less well than they shouldn't be allowed in a raid?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How heroic are heroic raids?

As I mentioned, Friday was my first "heroic" 25-man raid to Naxxramas. And I was a bit surprised that on the first try we already cleared the plague wing. While we definitely advanced slower in the 25-man version than we usually do in 10-man, the encounters themselves didn't appear to me all that much more difficult in heroic. So where is the "heroic" part?

It turns out that the real heroes in pulling a 25-man raid off are the guild officers and raid leaders. Very few guilds consist of people who are 100% focused all of the time, and raid leading in many cases resembles herding cats. The more cats, the more difficult it becomes. But the most difficult part is assembling the raid. You'd need to be very lucky if there are exactly 25 people turning up, and they have exactly the right class mix for a 25-man raid. That is especially true in a guild that does various activities, like heroic 5-man dungeons, heroic 25-man raids, and normal 10-man raids. Unfortunately taking five 5-man groups, or two-and-a-half 10-man raid groups, does not make the perfect 25-man raid group. You basically would want more than 5 healers, and less than 5 tanks, in the heroic raid.

I can understand why some top raiding guilds would be disappointed that heroic Naxxramas isn't much harder. But then I can also see the advantage of it being only slightly harder than 10-man: The average guild spans a wide range of players with different raiding skill, experience, and gear. Getting 25 people together at all isn't trivial for most guilds. Expecting that those 25 are all the world's best raiders would be asked too much, unless you run one of those guilds where everyone who isn't 100% focused immediately gets /gkicked. If you decide on a 25-man raid, you necessarily take those 5 players with you which with some justification wouldn't have made the cut if you had organized just two 10-man raids. I'm saying that in a total non-judgemental way. Actually I'm happy that large raids give a guild the opportunity to do something together with people that aren't necessarily all prioritizing raids in their virtual lifes. So ultimately it was probably a wise choice of Blizzard to tune the 25-man raid difficulty to allow for a few undergeared or less focused people.

What do you think?