Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Variable raid boss challenge

Did you ever have that conversation where you ask somebody about his raid progress, and he answers “not bad, we got that boss down to X%”? That is a more positive way of saying that they wiped all evening on that raid boss. In World of Warcraft and most other games which have raids, the challenge of each raid boss is binary: Either you are able to kill him, or you wipe. Wiping has become such a standard part of raiding that people actually complained when Blizzard tried to limit how often a raid could wipe per week in Icecrown. And I have to wonder why that is so, and whether we could have a more variable system of raid boss challenge.

Now the same raid boss already exists in different difficulty levels, as 10- or 25-man raid, as normal or heroic. That isn’t quite optimal, as whether you have 9 or 24 friends isn’t all that strongly correlated with your raiding skill, and heroic mode you’d have to choose in advance. So let’s have a look at that “we got the boss down to X%” phrase: It tells us that while the game only knows binary yes or no, the players are looking for a way to measure progress on a sliding scale. Couldn’t the game provide that? And what exactly happened when the boss was at X% and the raid wiped? In some cases the end of the raid combat is given by an enrage timer: If you haven’t beaten the boss after 10 minutes, he suddenly becomes super-powerful and wipes the raid. Time is part of the challenge, and killing a boss faster is obviously better. So why not make that part of the raid boss challenge design?

A very simple way to redesign raid bosses as a more variable challenge would be to remove the enrage timers, and instead have a timer which determines how much loot the raid gets from a boss. There would still be the possibility to wipe without killing the boss, but now not every kill is equal. If it takes your raid forever to bring that boss down, you’d only get a single epic, and only 1 emblem per player. And then there are two or three steps on the timer (preferably well indicated on the UI), where if you kill the boss inside this many minutes, you’ll get more rewards in the form of more epics and emblems, with possibly an achievement and title for the fastest step.

Such a design would help both the casual and the hardcore: The casual would get further into the raid dungeon, killing more bosses, but getting only minimal rewards for each. The hardcore wouldn’t be completely bored about having to kill the early bosses of a raid dungeon every week, but would have an additional challenge to try and do better. Another advantage would be that putting an emphasis on time as success criterion would somewhat increase the responsibility of the damage dealing classes, while in a binary kill or wipe system it is usually the healers or tanks that carry the most responsibility (or at least the blame if things go wrong). And best of all, the raid would not have to choose the challenge level before the fight starts, but would see how good they were at the end of the fight.

So what do you think? Should a raid boss give out better rewards if killed faster?

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