Tobold's Blog
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Learn2play - or the role of skills in World of Warcraft

An anonymous troll recently left a couple of comments on this blog, spreading his version of an argument which is more commonly quoted as "learn2play": The idea that the problems that casual and semi-casual players have with World of Warcraft and its latest expansion are due to a lack of skill and talent of said players. The troll's insults, haughty attitude, and empty threats caused several of my other readers to respond that WoW doesn't require skill at all, which isn't strictly true either. Time for a balanced view at the subject. Does playing World of Warcraft require skill, and would we all be happy with WoW if we just had more skill and talent?

Playing World of Warcraft reasonably well, especially in a group situation, certainly requires some skill. For example take my priest: I need to watch for the group's health bars, not only how full they are, but also how fast they are going down. Based on that information I need to make decisions on what spell to use to heal them, between instant or quick spells that waste a lot of mana, heals over time, and slower but mana-efficient big heals. I also need to keep an eye out for debuffs, of the disease and magic kind, where I have to decide whether I need to dispel them quickly or whether healing is more important. If there is nothing to heal or dispel, I should add to my small part to the damage output of the group. And for most of these decisions I only have split second to make the right choice and execute it. Clearly that takes some skill to get right, and clearly there are some people who don't have these skills.

But where the troll is wrong is in thinking that only the elite has those skills. Only a minority of players doesn't have them, as they are easy enough to learn for an average computer gamer. In fact in a MMO it is often impossible to tell the difference between an average player and somebody with excellent skills. This is due to the nature of online games, where the information that you pressed a key must travel to the server and back, around which MMO combat is by necessity designed. Having more skill in pressing buttons faster doesn't help you at all, you just can't react faster than your ping. Many players of the semi-casual crowd (to which most of my readers belong) are as skilled as any hardcore raider. My healing in raids is generally appreciated.

If it isn't skill that limits the casual and semi-casual player's success and enjoyment of the game, then what is it? The answer is simply that other factors than skill have a much larger influence on the success of a group than skill itself. For example, who would you choose to tank Ragnaros for your raid: The world's most skilled and talented warrior in tier 0 blue armor and no fire resistance, or some average guild tank in full epics and 350+ FR? Gear beats skill all the time. Another big factor is the opportunity to practice the same encounter with the same people. Raids learn how to kill one boss, but then wipe on the next one, not because the next one is more difficult than the first, but because it takes time to learn the next encounter by heart. If you know that Lucifron casts Impending Doom, and that it is important to dispel that instead of healing, and you even have an addon installed to tell you when the next doom strikes, then getting this right suddenly becomes a whole lot easier. And not all of that sort of knowledge can be acquired by reading up on the encounter, or being told, some you just have to learn by doing, often repeatedly. Now exchange half of the raid group with equally skilled people inexperienced in that encounter, and you wipe again.

So what most often limits the success of average players is time. The time needed to acquire better or more specialized gear (many raiders are currently farming primals for crafted arcane resistance gear for Karazhan). The time needed to practice the same encounter repeatedly until you know exactly what to do when. But most importantly the time to organize the perfect group.

The perfect group is far more than a time problem, it is often mainly a social, you could even say ethical problem. People make friends, and they want to play with those friends. Rarely is a group of friends organized to form just the right mix of classes, talent builds, and level of gear. Nobody wanted to play a priest or druid, so the paladin needs to be main healer; the second paladin tanks, because the warrior wanted to spec fury; and the rogue is running around in outdated green gear because his family life leaves him less time to play. That works well enough as long as the group of friends is doing just outdoor quests together, they can even beat most elite quests. But in the harder dungeons such a group is doomed to fail. And they shouldn't even think of going to a raid dungeon. Soon the difficult ethical question arises whether you should rather group with your friends, or with some people who are a lot less nice, having a huge epeen, but have all the right classes, talents, and gear. The hardcore players regularly choose efficiency over social bonds here. I've seen people get kicked out of raiding guilds for crimes like going on holiday for 3 weeks, or daring to respec to a PvP build.

Successful hardcore raiders certainly have something which casual and semi-casual players don't have. But it isn't "skill" or "talent". The most positive word I can find for it is "dedication". This dedication includes the willingness to spend more time in the game than the average player (to the potential detriment of study, work, and family), and the ruthlessness to select your "friends" based on their class, build, and *their* dedication and usefulness to you.

If by a miracle all players of World of Warcraft suddenly became highly skilled and would "learn2play", it would solve nothing. The too hard dungeons of The Burning Crusade would still draw lots of complaints from average players, because they still don't have the time to grind all the possible gear needed to beat them. They still don't have the time to wipe 12 times on each boss to proceed to the next, and don't enjoy doing so. And they still would prefer to group with their friends instead of with some jerk with a bigger sword, or a "better" class.

The solution, if there is any, is to make the normal dungeons just so hard that they are challenging but beatable by normal players playing with their normal inefficient group of friends. Karazhan should be doable by a pickup raid of semi-casual players. For the people who like to play hardcore, the exactly same dungeon should be available at heroic difficulty, beatable only by the best and with the best gear and practice, in a perfect group, and of course giving much better loot. So everybody gets to see everything, but the heroic stuff is "reserved" for the leet.
So true. The fact that I do have a real full-time life to live only leaves me a limited time for my "hobby" in the WoW. So, because of that I have only been in one raiding guild, I didn't enjoy it because I only had real life friend in it, and he never raided with the guild at all...Needless to say I didn't stick around too long, maybe a month, gave me enough time to realize that wasn't what I played the game for and I would rather spend my gaming time enjoying myself with friends finishing quests and helping them out with various quests.
I believe they are slowly but surely retuning the difficulty of the level 70 dungeons. I know some trash mobs in both Shadow Labs and the Botanica were nerfed this last patch.

Eventually any off spec group should be able to farm the easier dungeons and work their way up. The problem is they have to see how much faster the hardcore players are doing it. This is always going to gurantee strife between the two playstyles. In all honesty hardcore and casual players usually don't player the same types of MMOs but WoW was just so damn good when it came out that everyone joined up.
sorry to be anon... but I completely agree. I think that all dungeons should be doable by average people, look at the nurf/change to Scholo back in the day. And why was it changed? to make it more accessible to the average player... I would like to see Blizzard return to this strat thinking about the Average player rather then focusing on the self proclaimed "hardcore" player (there are alot less hardcore players then there are average players... and I would suggest to them that cater to the majority here.)
I think, more often than not, the "hardcore" are always going to outplay your content, no matter how hard you make it. They'll have it farmed faster than anyone. Blizzard would be certainly better served to reserve the truly epic encounters for the Heroic Modes, and leave the regular 5-mans accessible to those of us who don't have time to rinse and repeat 5-10 times a night before getting it right.
Totally agree with you Tobold, Relmstein and Bildo.

p.s. I love all your blogs :-)
Well, all I have to say is that my wife could not get past the first "boss" in the original Mario Bros.
But she has a level 50 hunter.
I have to disagree on the differences in skill. I think there is still a huge difference in skill that is different even between veteran video-game players. I think it really boils down to planning. In an MMO a lot of skill comes down to planning. It's about thinking ahead for mana conservation, positioning, etc. I think I really see that a lot in priests. You really have to be able to take in a lot of information and plan ahead, not just react quickly or hit buttons quickly.

It's one of the nice things about MMOs. You don't have to have quick reaction times as long as you're a quick thinker.
Oh, and as a measure of her skill:
Her Ulda group downed Archadaes in one shot, all five in the group level 45 and below.
Skill can overtake gear, but not when game mechanics are severly weighted in favor of gear.

Take those same two warriors and make one of them your tank in your dungeon grind group. Which would you take? The epic guy will take less and probably dish out more damage, but it will be much less than you'd think considering their gear. A skilled player will consistantly "outplay" their gear, asusming other mechanics (resists being a gerat example) do not exist to prevent that. And when you have an unexpected event occur, the player with more skill stands a much better chance of surviving.

I remember fondly being asked repeatedly how I could be a shadow priest and still heal so well. Although it took serious practice to get to that level.
Bah, spelling issues. "asusming" = assuming and "gerat" being great.

That'll be learn2type for me!
"Skill" for MMORPGs is all about time investment, or in many cases the purchase of the results of time investment (i.e. ebaying gold or characters). Let me illustrate with some personal examples.

Before BC came out I leveled a shaman on a new server that came up in October from 1-60 in about a month. I farmed 2.5k gold on her by early January, and very little of it through ingenuity or luck, but through sheer mindless mob grinding. I currently have 4k gold on my level 70 blood elf priest.

Is this skill or dedication? Obviously the latter. Now, I can turn my money into either buying a lot of expensive mats to craft epic gear for raiding, or into very high +stam gear for PvPing, and coupled with my research into priest builds and tactics for both activities, I could be considered a "skilled player." In reality, I just spent a lot of time grinding things, which means jack squat in terms of skill.

On the other hand, whenever I play and win turn-based strategy scenarios such as an AOW game, I feel much more in control of what I do in terms of my empire and resources, and none of it had to do with an extensive grind to acquire the things I'd gotten, and the end result is that it's a lot of fun. I'd call the things I have in WoW "accomplishments acquired through time," not exactly skill.
What about communication?

I've played with one, yes one, truly superb player (and a lot of very good ones). He was tanking a BRD run, and the entire run went smooth as ice, due to the fact that he had the best communcation and management skills I've ever seen in WoW. He kept everyone informed of everything that was going on. He boosted the somewhat fragile ego of our priest. He kept our rogue in check and on-message. He made sure everyone knew what was going to happen, what the plan was, and what we had to do to succeed.

That takes a hell of a lot of skill. I'm a professional producer (ie manager/communicator hybrid class :)), and I'm nowhere near that good.

I seem to recall he mentioned he was in the military. No surprise.

Anyway - that's one of the major skills of WoW, in my opinion.
I concur that skill really comes down to dedication and time investment, for the most part. One of the posters above made a valid statement - that a skilled player will often "outplay" their gear, which I wholeheartedly agree with.

Personally, I find that since I have very little contiguous time available for raiding (I usually play in 1-2 hour blocks on the outside, so running any kind of raid is usually out of the question), the PvP gear rewards are much more attractive. I can work at them progressively over a longer period of time, still attain my goals, and have a good time in the process.

High-end raiding tends to be reserved for the hardcore in WoW, and by hardcore I don't mean skilled, I mean those who have the time to spend (a) farming rep, (b) re-running dungeons over and over, and (c) organizing hours-long raids. I don't find much fun in that, but I play to hang out with my guildies.

My gear is mediocre, I still don't have a L70, but once I hit L70 and acquire some decent PvP gear, I'll be in good enough shape to hold my own by simply "outplaying" people in heroic dungeon gear with my so-so epic PvP set. :) (Well, hopefully.)

That should tide me over until Warhammer Online and Age of Conan come out, at least.
I cant think of any non-heroic 5 man that requires any specific group make-up or gear beyond greens. The only requirement is that your group have a healer.
"So everybody gets to see everything, but the heroic stuff is "reserved" for the leet."

Amen !
The pb I foresee with your solution Tobold is: as soon as you'll step into an heroic dungeon because the gear there is so much good, we will hear you cry again.

You can't make content for the casual that will expire in 1 month. This is how wow is balanced.

Oh an just a quick note: designing two level of difficulty is far from little work. Having normal and heroic for kharazan would be time consuming for devs. And moreover they would have to rethink the gear curve completly.

I like the challenge in WoW right now, there are only 3 things I find totally shitty: Having to respec for heroic, consumables, and the grind for reputation.
[the] same dungeon should be available at heroic difficulty, beatable only by the best and with the best gear and practice

It's funny how we're all conditioned to think that the end-game raiders are the best.

We've all seen bad players and we've all seen good players, there is no doubt that not all players were created equal, but end-game raiding is not the defining subset for good players. Indeed, I have played five man groups with what I consider to be bad players, yet they were wearing T2 epics. I have met exceptional players who had never visited an instance above Scholo. or Strat.

The mentality of players that are able to dedicate so much of the lives to beating instances also leads to them believing they are better than everyone else. No. Their character may be better than most other peoples', but it doesn't necessarily follow that they themselves are a better player. What's more, the superior player complex is compounded by the fact that more often than not gear wins the day, in PvE or PvP.

If you want to see a great player, spot the PvPer wearing Blues and Greens who is consistently trouncing people in Purple gear. That person is fighting opponents who are unpredictable and have a large advantage in terms of power.

This constant drilling in to people that hardcore raiders are the gaming elite of MMOs and everyone else is sub-par cannon fodder for these people in PvP, makes the 'l2p' taunt so effective. Raiders find it offensive because they consider themselves great players due to their ability to get in to a raid, casual players consider it offensive because they feel that, just because they haven't got the time to prove that they could raid if they wanted to, it doesn't mean they can't play their character well.

And what is 'skill' anyway? People have written scripts and macros to allow characters to play well enough to grind mobs for cash, and therefore you could get a character from level one to level seventy that way, if you so desired, so it's not determined by character level. How about raiding? Well, undoubtedly it needs some skilled people to learn the encounters, generate the spreadsheets and formulate the plan that everyone needs to follow to beat an encounter, but there are plenty of bad players who raid, who are able to follow instructions to the letter, but put them in an unfamiliar situation that requires improvisation and adaptability and they fall to pieces. PvP players do well against unpredictable opponents, but a lot of the time fail completely when it comes to working as part of a team. All areas of the game have their good and bad players, we all know this, so again, why are we conditioned to think that end-game raiders are the best?

So what defines a good, a skilful player? You can recognise it when you see it, but is it constrainable within defined parameters? Situational awareness, the ability to adapt and think on the fly, understanding how encounters work such that you can apply them to similar encounters to make them easier to beat; there are many factors that contribute to a skilful player.

All that I know is that the 'best' is not confined purely to the realm of those players who are covered in more purple than Violet Beauregarde.
Isn't it a shame that so much time went into designing cool Instances like Naxxramas or Temple of Ahn'Qiraj, the Mount Hyjal or (for the future) the Black Temple that most average time-dedicated players won't see in real (fortunately there is still video)? I think this is so very very disappointing.

I still try to get my guild motivated to rush through AQ40 now that we are lvl 70. Do you think anyone cares? Of a 100+ member guild I come up with about 30 people who are interested. Ok we manage to rush through to Fankriss and beat him but then time runs out. Similar, a try to get my folks into Naxxramas (we tried Instructeur Razuvious and Anub'rekhan before expansion) was similar unsuccessful.

So Blizz designed those cool encounters but noone really wants to see it except Guilds with members that require much more time than the average MMOPG player has.

I have seen casual gamers with excellent grasp of the playing concept and great reflexes and judgement (vulgo: leet skillz). It is just that these guys and gals lead a normal life (meaning healthy 8 hours sleep, and enough time to keep boss, wife & kiddos happy). Also, some people with a lot of time on their hand have really failed in their role in raids. So the general comment: "time equals skill" does not usually apply.

What I really, really dislike with raiding guilds is their egoism. They don't care how their new Main Tank got his shiny equipment or his Key to Karazhan, just that he has it. He is lured with loot into the guild and leaves a blank space in his previous guild where people worked in concert to equip him first. I get really annoyed when I see this kind of behaviour. Good news is that these egoistical people tend to quit MMOPGs after their individual "burn-out-period".

As usual, the casual-gamer approach keeps you interested in the game longer, I reckon.
We've all seen bad players and we've all seen good players, there is no doubt that not all players were created equal, but end-game raiding is not the defining subset for good players. Indeed, I have played five man groups with what I consider to be bad players, yet they were wearing T2 epics. I have met exceptional players who had never visited an instance above Scholo. or Strat.
If you want to see a great player, spot the PvPer wearing Blues and Greens who is consistently trouncing people in Purple gear. That person is fighting opponents who are unpredictable and have a large advantage in terms of power.

But there you are just replacing one flawed definition of "good player" with another equally flawed definition. As I said, training the same stuff repeatedly is a big factor, besides gear or inate talent. So I wouldn't *expect* somebody who trained in large raid groups a lot to automatically excel in 5-man groups or PvP. Somebody having done Scholomance a hundred times will be better there than somebody having done Molten Core a hundred times, even if the Scholo guy is wearing blue Scholo gear, and the MC guy wearing epic MC gear. Playing in a 5-man group is very much different than playing in a 40-man group.

And don't get me started on PvP, which is a completely parallel game, with its own set of rock-paper-scissor rules. Player A beating player B in PvP tells me nothing about A being "better" than B. Player A beating many different other players consistently in PvP still only tells me he is good at PvP, which doesn't mean I would want to invite him into a raid or 5-man group, because he probably lacks a lot of the experience for those places.
"...the exactly same dungeon should be available at heroic difficulty..."

This is actually how EQ2 handles a lot of it's instances - you get a little pop up list when you zone in, with '[Dungeon]', 'Heroic: [Dungeon]', offering the choice between a solo version or a group version in many cases.

Also GuildWars: Nightfall seems to have a number of places where 'Master' version of the quests and missions can be attempted if you're truly hardcore.

I don't mind not getting a go at the Purple Diceroll especially, but do mind never being able to have a look anyway.

Perhaps more set-ups like Anaraq 20/40 would be a good thing? Two or three swirleys, of varying difficulty.
what would a mmorpg be without whining.

i'm sorry but it's most of the time just plain jealousy of people. "i want what (s)he has"-attitude.
even casuals can get anywhere without a problem, only it takes a little longer yes, so what. are you enjoying the trip or not?

i call myself a hardcore-player with not much time. when i'm online i try to be effective as i can and do what i have to do. for example, it took me 3 evenings to get the grom'tor axe for myself.

i did black morass last nite with 2 warriors and i finally did it. my guild has a core of about 15-20 people which are all friends in someway and we manage. sure we don't get gruul on the first day, but in our own way we are getting there.

conclusion, no it isn't reserved for 1337 people, but don't get jealous if people are there first than you.
No-one has mentioned knowledge, which is all you really need to be successful in any MMORG.
I really don't see 'skill' as being so important.
My first DM run was very difficult, simply because no-one in my party had ever been to DM before.
When I recently ran an alt through it at the same level, it was so easy. The difference? I knew how the game works - ie aggro/threat, I knew what the bots would do, when patrols would turn up, how to pull enemies singly rather than in groups.
We still had some players in the group who didn't know how any of this, but because I had the experience/knowledge, and they listened to my advice, we got through without wiping.
Is this skill? No, it's knowledge, nothing more.
Same thing can be said for any instance - learn how the mobs behave, learn what actions you need to perform with each set of mobs/boss, and the only thing that will stop you getting through is your equipment, and inexperience.

Acquiring and applying knowledge is a skill.

There are those around who can't do this. Verily, they can be found in PuGs.
Knowledge is a big part of skill, but it takes more than knowledge to be good at what you do. The group may know to take down the Legionnaire first, but I've seen plenty who don't get the concept of focus-fire, even after I've explained it.

Skill, to me, is being able to react to something unexpected. A hunter manages to trap two adds you get: that's skill. A tank makes a bad pull, but instead of trying to run to the exit he uses Challenging Shout and manages to keep aggro while the priest dumps heal after heal: that's skill.

Showing up week after week to beat a boss with a how-to guide: not skill. Decked out in purples because you don't have a job or don't spend time with friends/family: not skill.
So what most often limits the success of average players is time.

I agree 100%. With more time, comes more gear, more rep, more experiences in dungeons with your character. Time is the currency of WoW, for which I'm severely lacking.

I do however believe there is a skill that comes in knowing what your class can do in a given situation, and more importantly how your class can augment the group's success as a whole. It's less about the mashing of the keyboard, but more on knowing when to mash what button on your action bar to get a desired result.

My guild is seemingly divided between those with tons of time on their hands, thus yielding better gear and more "skill" perhaps, and those with less time. I generally dungeon with the time-impaired-older-folks in the evening. Sure, we wipe a few times, and we're in the dungeon probably longer then the l33t folks, but we have fun doing it.
@Sean: "It's less about the mashing of the keyboard, but more on knowing when to mash what button on your action bar to get a desired result."

Ok, the line is a bit blurred between skill and knowledge. I agree with your comment about the hunter getting 2 mobs in his trap rather than 1.

My comment on knowledge rather than skill can be summed up in the following example:

eg You are throwing paper balls into a basket - you manage to get 10 out of 10 throws in, but your friend only got 1 in. I would say that is because you are more skilful than he is.

Pressing the shoot button on your keyboard will bring the same result whether you press it, or your friend does - the end result is not based on YOUR skill, but on game mechanics. KNOWING when to press that button is the dividing line between success and failure in the game.

"Showing up week after week to beat a boss with a how-to guide: not skill"

I agree, but most raiders would like to think because they ARE raiders, they are somehow superior to people who don't raid. Wrong!

Hi there!
Read your blog for a while now, and must congratulate on the excellent quality of both initial comments and responses.

I am very much a middle of the road gamer myself, not casual with my average 20+ hours each wekk, but very much an Explorer type.

I have to disagree here tho on your initial premise. Skill DO have a significant role in playing WoW. others have touched upon one skill, which is communication/cooperation in a group, raid or PvP situation. I will point at another skill, which is SPEED. I tend to emphazise this, because I suck at it myself. I can be beaten by a good PvPer 5 levels or more lower than me because he runs rings around me while I fumble with my brain-eye-hand coordination finding the right response. Same with me tanking in the 70-instances (yes I am a defesive prot Paladin), holding cc on 3-5 mobs is just beyond me at the moment. - I am sure with training this can be somewhat compensated for, and a good group (healer especially) and good equipment compensates for a lot, but the question is if I want to put myself and my unfortunate groupmates thru the pain this will take to get there.

So, IMHO people fall off the WoW instance (AND PvP) endgame from lack of skill as well as lack of time. Well, it is lack of interest it boils down to really. I just want to go explore in other games, rather than try to achieve in WoW, where there is little more story and lore to find.
The skill argument went out the window when 2.0 came out and all the raid groups suddenly got stymied just trying to finish MC without their addons. Where was their skill then?

Beating raid bosses is hard, don't get me wrong, but it's less about skill than paying attention and working as a group. It was hard to pay attention right after 2.0 since, without the addons, you didn't know what to pay attention to, your ques were the raid warnings, which were now gone. And acting as a group meant, it wasn't your skill, it was the other 39 other people paying attention, and running, or stopping, when the raid warning went off. That has a lot more to do with beating a boss than even gear or "skill" - just everyone memorizing their positions and executing correctly.

Add lag in, and add time (both time to get better items to be prepared as well as time to farm mats)

There is also a place for studying and learning how the game works. Downloading the right addons and memorizing move combinations to maximize dps. That's not so much skill as being detail oriented.

The only times I think of skill are: when someone pulls aggro, when we are trying to walk by an area and someone aggros (My one friend is notorious for aggroing everything in site, it's like he wanders about aimlessly in dungeons). Things like that, which are relatively minor.

What many think of as skill is, like i said above, being more detail oriented and willing to spend more time doing research when not logged into the game.

And while certainly i get frustrated with people making mistakes, it's just a computer game. That one "anonymous" guy seriously needs to stop playing, maybe see his doctor to see if he has ulcers, go play outside and get some socialization and learn what's important in life.
Double posting :)

Oh yes, certainly leadership and management skills can be developed through managing groups, guilds and raids.

And some made comments about reacting or doing the right thing when things go wrong. I suppose that could be skill. But note what is ironic: those are 5-man group skills, not raiding skills. In a 5 man you have a lot of influence on the outcome and people can cover for each other. In 40 man, well if I was running oom I could ask for help, but usually I was the one who never went oom. I was not skilled I just studied what I should do and developed strategies. There's not all much that can be done with 40 once things start to go wrong.

what is funny about people saying Scholo was "nerfed", I don't think of it that way. They made it easier but they also made the group cap 5, so you could not go in with 10. What became a mindless grind with lots of damage to dish out and to heal, became a more technical excercise where you actually had to think to get through. I think the "nerfing" of scholo was really a re-tuning that resulted in "skill" being increased in the average player, because capping it at 5 forced people to think more.
I don't know. For the most part I agree with your sentiment but not with what you're actually saying.

The thing we call 'skill' usually isn't, really, in the classic sense, but there's something there. Basically it's situational awareness and communication. Some people don't have it. Some people can't tank, some people just do 30% less dps with the same gear and experience, some people just suck. It's sadly true. By extension, there is skill involved. Take these same people and double their play time, and they still suck.

I have played with a lot of people better and worse than me, and it is only loosely corellated with playtime. If you want to say beating x boss or getting level y is mainly dependent on playtime, I'm totally behind you. But I simply don't agree that there is no skill in mmo's.
I never thought of it that way....
I think the biggest problem in the "casual" vs "hardcore" and the l2p argument is that people misunderstands what skill means in WoW... Skill in WoW (or other MMOs) has nothing to do with skills in many other video games/hobbies. I consider myself a good WoW player, but I would't dare challenge anyone in a shooter or any other type of video game :P WoW skills aren't about hand/eye coordination (yes, if you're a healer there's some of that, but it's not that big of one) or other physical aptitudes. It's about focus and ability to understand/give instructions and to act as a group. I've ran instances with lots of different kinds of players. The bad players will have you wipe in a matter of seconds while the good one will make the group very efficients. Bad players will aggro half the map, forget to heal, loose aggro as a tank, draw aggro as a DPSer, or just plainly stand there and do nothing. Bad players will also refuse (or fail) to follow instructions. The communication and personnal attitude skills (that's been pointed out by lots of people in this thread) are what "skills" means in WoW. This has nothing to do with the casual vs hardcore player debate. Gear also has nothing to do with skills. Yes, gear is extremely important in WoW, and it makes a huge difference. Altough, a bad player geared in epics will wipe you as much as one who's in greens. That's why it's so obvious when you're grouped with someone who bought his account.

Another skill that affects WoW is the ability to make the most out of your class. Playing a mage, I recently spent one evening making some maths and comparing different stats/builds in orer to figure out how to compare items and builds, to choose the better gear setup and build for my char, in preparation to Karazhan. The ability and desire to do that also affects the player's peformance in game a lot.

Now, about the time argument, time is IMO the only different between a casual player and a hardcore player. Now the "do not have a life" argument for harcore players do not always fit... I'm sorry, but it is possible to raid hardcore and still have a life, it's all about choices. I have a full-time job, a girlfriend and a life, and I still manage to be in a good raiding guild, and I"m pretty sure the average american spends most time in front of his TV in a week than I spend in front of my computer (while complaining that players like me have no life...) The time I spend in game makes me a hardcore player. I'm a good hardcore players, therefore i'm in a raiding guild. I know lots of people who spends the same amount of time than I online, and will never see the inside of a raid instance as they just don't have the skills for it(yes, I know, there are bad players in raid guilds too... There are incompetent people that manage to sneak out everywhere in life,it doesn't mean that every raider is a bad player). Does it make them less "hardcore"? nope... Less successful? yes.

Now, I still don't think that making all the instances available to any type of player is a good idea, especially not for blizzard's point of view. Quite honestly, there's no real point in continuing to play WoW except to see the content you haven't seen yet. Do not create content that only the best players will be able to see and you'll have a hard time keepin ga player base. Guild Wars come to mind about that... Iplayer guild wars for a while... About 8 months after I began playing I ran out of harder content to look forward to and switch to WoW... Even if only 10% of the WoW population manages to reach the high-end dungeons, the fact that theese dungeons exist and that there is a possibility to go there is enough to motivate a good proportion to continue playing in the hope that, one day, they'll be able to see it. And that day might just come for lots of them, in due time. I've had a good example of that recently when I brought a group of non-raiders through a Molten Core raid. Is Molten Core hard with a full raid of 70s (and about 10 experienced people)? Not at all... Where the people in my group happy that they finally got to see Ragnaros? Hell yeah... Would they have been that happy if that content would have been easilly accseissible since launch? I don't think so...

Anyway, just my two cents ;)
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