Monday, April 26, 2010

The Future of Guilds and Raiding

It was announced recently that Blizzard would be reworking the raid lockout system in Cataclysm so that players would be limited to a single version of each raid instance. This means that 10-man and 25-man player raids would share the same lockout timer and heroic encounters would remain on a per-boss basis. Both versions would have the same loot tables though the 25-man version would reward more items and badges. Blizzard is hoping this will provide an incentive for guilds to run the larger raids when possible. Blizzard has also promised that the difficulty level between the 10-man and 25-man versions will be very similar though I personally think this will be a lot harder to implement then they realize. Overall, the changes aren't bad, but do reveal a strategy to slow down the time it takes for a guild to progress through a raid tier.

I know with Icecrown Citadel that Blizzard was a bit dismayed about how quickly the Lich King was killed in the 10-man version. This mostly occurred when guilds ran both the 10-man and 25-man versions each week and were quickly able to gear out a core team of players. Not every guild followed this pattern though. A lot of small guilds simply ran the 10-man version while allowing members to individually try to PUG the 25-man version. Larger guilds like the one I'm in would run the 25-man version for our mains and then use the 10-man version to gear up alts and new recruits. Unfortunately, this created situations where I sometimes ran through Icecrown Citadel three times each week. I'm already a little burned out on the instance and I know other players are in the same situation.

That's why I don't necessarily dislike having the different versions of a raid instance share a lockout timer. There is definitely an unnecessary push to do both versions of a instance when it allows your guild to progress faster. Still the jaded gamer in me says this is just Blizzard trying to make sure that raid content can be stretched out for longer periods of time. World of Warcraft is still no where near to having an expansion each year and the 5-6 month lull periods between new content kills any potential growth. Blizzard also is going to have to be very careful with combining the raid lockouts and I can already see some issues.

1. Difficulty Balance
Unique raid encounters are a lot more fun then classic tank and spank fights, but the mechanics of each fight can greatly change in difficulty based on the number of players participating. Simply lowering the damage done by an ability isn't going to cut it when trying to balance 10-man and 25-man versions. Some encounters in Icecrown Citadel like those in the Blood Wing use abilities which depend on players spacing out evenly at certain intervals. This is very easy in the 10-man version and a pain in the ass on the 25-man version. If Blizzard really is serious about equal balance between raid versions then they are going to have to cut back on this type of fight mechanic.

2. Reward Balance
It's no secret that players will min/max the hell out of a MMO given a chance. The 25-man versions must offer a noticeable difference in rewards to guarantee that larger guilds don't die out. Having the 25-man version drop one more badge and item isn't going to cut it when the ilevel is the same on both loot tables. Organizing 25 players and getting them to show up each week is a huge headache for guild leaders. Plus most high level raid encounters already have too many encounters where one player can screw up (or disconnect) and can kill everyone in the raid. If the new raid encounters are filled with similar instant death mechanics then it's going to make the 10-man versions much more attractive. I'm not sure if just increasing the number of rewards is enough of an incentive.

That being said they're a number of benefits to merging the raid lockouts.

1. Decrease Burnout Rate
I don't think anyone really wants to be doing the same raid instance multiple times each week. Maybe at first when the instance is new, but the law of diminishing returns quickly kicks in and it stops being fun. The decision to split each raid tier across several instances should also help out.

2. Decrease the number of days guilds need to raid
Most hardcore guilds should be able to cut the number of days they raid in half. While some players might dislike the notion it should encourage guilds to do other end game activities besides raiding. Don't forget there will be a new guild leveling system and it might be beneficial to organize a night when you work on gaining the next guild level.

3. Encourage guilds to PvP
Rated battlegrounds are going to be major change for World of Warcraft, but I think their success is dependent on a large number of guilds participating. Right now guilds tend to stick with either PvE or PvP content and there really isn't a lot of crossover. I'm hoping the new guild leveling system combined with the reworked raid lockouts causes more guilds to be involved in both parts of the game.

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