Tobold's Blog
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Free epics! - An essay on MMORPG difficulty

Have you ever played a platformer, a jump-and-run game? As the name suggests a major part of the gameplay consists of running towards a ledge, and then jumping at the right moment to reach the next ledge. Jump too early or too late, and you fall to your death, or to a point where you have to run back and try again. For the players that appears to be pretty much binary: Either you make the jump or you don't. For the game developers the matter is much more complicated. Because the run-speed is fixed, the game developer has to define the earliest point at which the jump doesn't fall short, and the latest point where you can still jump. And the length of that window of opportunity for making a good jump determines the difficulty of the jump. Everybody can make such a jump if given over a second of time. But if the window is only a couple of milliseconds long, most people will miss the jump and will need many tries before finally succeeding. This isn't binary at all, the developer can basically choose any value from 1 to 2000 milliseconds. But if he chooses a value that is far too short, the game will be too hard, and people will give up in frustration and spread negative word of mouth on it, reducing sales. If he chooses a value that is too long, the game will be too easy, and that isn't fun either. He could program a bridge between the ledges, so that you don't have to jump at all, but then there wouldn't be a game and there would be no interest.

Difficulty of MMORPGs is pretty much the same, only that the parameters you can tune are different. And again some players fail to understand that, considering for example the difficulty of a raid as a given constant: You either succeed with the raid or you don't. These players are mostly the successful raiders themselves, and as they raid mainly for the epics, they torpedo any discussion about raid difficulty with the completely false "you just want free epics" argument. Even the most casual player can see that "free epics" wouldn't be a good solution, as there wouldn't be any raiding game left if there was absolutely no challenge. That doesn't mean that the current difficulty level is the only one possible, or the optimal one.

Another frequent false argument is comparing the raid game with a competitive sport, like football or baseball or golf. Of all the millions of people who play golf, only a very small elite selection is allowed to participate in the PGA Tour, only the very best. That makes sense, because this is a spectator sport, and the money comes from people paying to watch, or advertisers paying to display their ads to the people who watch. Obviously a golf tournament between the world's best players draws more spectators than a golf tournament between a bunch of average Joes. A MMORPG isn't a spectator sport at all, and it isn't the people watching who finance the whole thing, but the people playing. So if you only give access to a small elite, you only get a small number of paying customers.

The genius of World of Warcraft, and the root cause of its success, was that the developers understood the importance of accessibility for the early game. So they made World of Warcraft considerably easier than previous MMORPGs, in spite of all the criticism from hardcore Everquest players. It only takes a quarter of the time to reach the level cap in World of Warcraft than it took to reach the level cap in Everquest. Furthermore in World of Warcraft you can reach the level cap just by playing through solo-content, without ever joining a group, which was impossible for most classes in Everquest. At the same time the developers of World of Warcraft managed to tune the difficulty that it was still interesting and challenging enough for the average player. WoW is "much easier" than Everquest, but far from "trivial". World of Warcraft also introduced a revolutionary quest system, where you are basically doing quests all the time, and the sequence of quests is designed to guide you and point you in the right direction. Thus players who would otherwise have been a bit lost in the open-ended gameplay of a MMORPG now had a guiding thread to follow. By being so much more accessible, World of Warcraft attracted nearly 20 times as many subscribers as Everquest had in its prime.

The criticism that has been directed at World of Warcraft already since the first wave of average players hit the first level cap, and which intensified with the Burning Crusade expansion, is that this principle of moderately difficult content accessible for the average player has not been continued in the raid end-game of World of Warcraft. There is a noticeable and significant break in difficulty level between the last quest you do to reach the level cap, and the first raid dungeon. You can fill that gap partially with 5-man dungeons, but there is still a big remaining gap. How big the gap is exactly, and how many people exactly are able to raid is a matter of much dispute. But I think it is safe to say that more than half of the players of World of Warcraft never got to see Ragnaros, the final boss of the first level 60 raid dungeon Molten Core. And more than half of the players of World of Warcraft will never see Nightbane, the final boss of the first level 70 raid dungeon Karazhan.

A major part of the difficulty gap is that playing in a group is inherently more difficult than playing alone. Imagine that a particular action needed to beat an encounter has a 80% success chance, making the encounter pretty easy. But now you design a raid encounter for 10 persons, where every one of them has to succeed in this 80% success chance action, and the raid wipes if only one of them fails. Then the total success chance drops to (0.8^10) or about 10%, meaning you need on average 10 attempts before getting it right. If 25 players needed all to succeed a 80% success chance action, the total success chance would be (0.8^25) or about 0.4%.

This is a design challenge. If you wanted 25 players all to have to participate in a raid group action, each one being equally important, and you wanted the whole raid to have a 80% success chance, you would need to make each person's action to have a success chance of over 99%, thus being pretty much trivial and uninteresting. So what developers of raid content do is design it in a way that not everybody needs to succeed for the whole raid to succeed. There is some slack in large raid encounters, especially those with 40 players. A sub-group of key people needs to do their piece exactly right, and the rest just adds to the damage done or to the points healed. It is a lot easier if 10 people together need to do 100,000 points of damage in 1 minute to succeed, than if each of them has to do 10,000 points or fail. Maybe somebody can only manage to do 9,000 points of damage, but if you allow that to be balanced by somebody else doing 11,000 points, the raid encounter still succeeds. The disadvantage of that solution is the possibility of resentment from those players that contribute more to the raid success towards the "slackers" that contribute less.

By making raids smaller, The Burning Crusade eliminated much of the slack. Especially Karazhan, the first raid dungeon of the TBC raid circuit, hasn't go much room for error. If one of the 10 players either makes a stupid mistake, or just gets unluckily disconnected, the raid usually wipes. And with fast respawn rates, recovery from wipes isn't that easy any more, often you need to clear a part of the dungeon again that you already did. This has the advantage of making every individual player in the raid more important. But the disadvantage is a large degree of exclusion, because if every fault can wipe your whole raid group, you can't afford to take anything but the very best players available.

Reasons for not taking somebody on your Karazhan raid are many, and most aren't even based on the real skill of that player in playing his class. One major problem is class balance, and the difference in popularity of various classes. If a raid encounter is designed to be only moderately difficult, and has some slack, the raid group gains a lot of freedom on what classes to take, and what talent specs the raid group members can have. The harder the difficulty, the less freedom. A friend reported from his guild that for Karazhan they even have different raid compositions for different boss encounters, taking more of one class for this encounter, then kicking them out after killing that boss, and taking more of another class for the next encounter. The distribution of classes in the general population isn't equal to the optimal distribution of classes in a raid, which already automatically gives some players a better chance on a raid slot than others, just based on their class. Another important reason to exclude somebody is the way that raidIDs work. If your guild organizes two Karazhan raids on Monday, and on Tuesday only half of each raid group turns up for the second part, you can't just throw the two halves together and continue. People able to attend raids every night won't have that problem, and of course they will learn the specific raid encounters faster through more playing, and thus be preferred when selecting players into a raid group. The "you're my best mate, but I won't take you on a raid with me because (you don't play well | you have the wrong class | you have the wrong spec | you play soccer on Tuesdays)" dilemma is the source of much guild drama. And the root source of that problem is raid difficulty.

Just like the jump-and-run game, the design difficulty of a raid encounter or the whole raid dungeon is completely arbitrary, and can be choosen by the developers in a wide range from trivial to impossible. And it is perfectly possible to make a series of raid dungeons where the early ones are much easier than the current World of Warcraft raid dungeons, and where the difficulty then goes up with every encounter and dungeon. There is nothing wrong with having a series of 10 raid dungeons where only the best 10% of players can reach the final boss of the final dungeon, as long as more than 50% of the players are able to kill the final boss of the first dungeon. If you want raiding to be the "end-game" of your MMORPG, you better design it in a way that most of your paying customers can at participate in the early stages. You don't want to give them "free epics", but you do want them to be able to experience the content and special play style of raid groups, without them having to neglect their family or ditch their mates. The proposal is not to make raiding trivial, but to dial down the difficulty to a level where the average player can have some success, even if his raid group hasn't got the optimum class mix or the very best players in it.

Note that these considerations aren't about abstract concepts of "good" game design. The game design principle of accessibility wasn't invented as a counter-theory to "the Vision". Accessibility by clever choice of difficulty level is simply good for business, the longevity of the MMORPG depends on it. If players hit a wall in the game, where they don't see how they could possibly advance any further without making major changes to their lifestyle, they tend to cancel their accounts. You can't keep players in your game by adding another high-end raid dungeon that they will never see, the pulling power of that is just too small.

Curiously it is World of Warcraft itself that still has the best chance of providing this accessible raiding game. There is no game existing or announced that plans to do anything like that. The end-game of Warhammer Online, for example, will be dominated by PvP, not PvE raiding. Lord of the Rings Online's plans for any sort of end-game are still nebulous. And many newer games are going for a more action-oriented gameplay, which isn't really strategic enough for large-scale raids beyond simple zerg rushes. While WoW's The Burning Crusade expansion raiding end-game turned out to be less accessible than classic WoW one's, at least the intention for more accessible raiding was there and was announced. And recent steps that change the current end-game go in the right direction. So there is hope that in a future expansion Blizzard will get it right, and make the raiding end-game accessible for the majority of players. Wouldn't that be great?
Great post. Prepare for an onslaught of criticism, however :)
Enjoyable post that.

I would like to see scalability. WoW already has semi scalable 5 man instance with the heroic mode. Perhaps the entire raid progression malarkey itself could be made scalable. Have the same content, but have multiple and selectable levels of difficulty. At the lowest level a mixed group can do well, at the highest you need a focused group of good players and a balanced class/talent mix.

All then you need to do is appropriately scale the rewards so the hardcore get better and cooler equipment.

Net result - all players can get a chance to see all the content. Hardcore guilds can still brag about beating instance so and so on HARD mode and wave their uber swords about in town.

Personally I think this mechanic, with some modifications by seasoned game designers, would have a lot of appeal to all but the real hardcore minority that wouldn't want to "share" content.
That was a great post, and gave me some insights into raiding that I never thought of (especially the whole 10% success thing).

Thank you for writing it. :)
But I think it is safe to say that more than half of the players of World of Warcraft never got to see Ragnaros, the final boss of the first level 60 raid dungeon Molten Core.
That's indeed very safe to say ;)

See PlayOn's Raid Content Use article from march 2006:
wivelrod, I think that what you are suggesting would take an enormous amount of developer effort, one perhaps better spent on new content (both raid and solo/group). But I could be wrong.

Tobold, I think you're doing Karazhan an injustice. On the whole it is a well balanced raid instance, comparable in my eyes to MC. My guild is a very casual raiding guild, we're still doing Karazhan only, not Gruul and beyond. Still, we managed to beat most bosses so far, with the exceptions being the 2 dragons (and Nightbane's turn is coming soon :)). Of course with 10 people you have less slack than with 40, but it is not as unforgiving as you seem to make out, certainly not on trash, or we would never have gotten as far as we had. For a nice balanced review, see for example Coriel's notes over at:

As for an easier ramp-up, I think mostly the problem is how slowly gear improves vs. how hard some of the Kara bosses were. But with recent nerfs of Shade of Aran for example, I think the last bosses of Kara are now much more doable.

My main problem with The Burning Crusade is that it seems to step after medium-hard 10-man Kara raid right to very-hard 25-man Gruul raid, with nothing in between. Since there are no trash and no loot between the entrance and High King Mulgore, your only place to advance in terms of gear and rep is in Kara. Leaving all advancement to just 1 instance is not so good IMHO. I liked pre-BC where we could go MC, ZG and AQ20. I imagine if we had only MC followed by BWL and I shudder - I can't tell you how many times we wiped on BWL's first boss, I stopped counting after 50...
I hope that the upcoming 10-man raid (Zul'Aman) will provide a much needed new "medium-hard" instance for us to grow in so we can get ready for the harder 25 man raids.

The topic kinda is to complex to sum it up like this, cause encounter design in general changed, as well as how difficult it becomes when you have highly specialized but limited skill-based classes like in WoW.

The problem is, that WoWs encounter design run into a dead end with how to increase difficulty but keep it accessible. EQs way to make bosses hard for a almost 4 years, was to just let them hit the tank for more and more damage. This was the way to scale difficulty in ancient raid content and this should be the way for WoWs playerbase, consisting of millions of player who never ever touched an MMO before.

What WoW did with AQ40, Naxx and now in BC is kinda designing an endgame for people who had years and years of experience, people who can not be tricked by a boss hitting harder. Then someday a brilliant designer came up with the idea of simple but important generic tasks to beat a raid encounter: movement and clicking in particular - exactly what the first 25s in BC try to teach. No longer needed healers not only heal, no longer needed DPS to make damage but everyone became a second or even third role to do. The first raid i ever experienced this was in EQs "Gates of Discord" expansion. Think ahead and the element of generic tasks became the single most important element for todays raid endgame.

Now this isn't a problem for people who raided for many years, for someone who started with WoW it is. Your average player never learned to do many things at the same time, cause they never had to, now all of a sudden they have to, with spot on precision. It's no wonder that every single WoW guild now raiding Black Temple consist of more than one former EQ player. Players with 2, 3, 4, 5 and more years of endgame raiding experience, this kind of player is served from Blizzard right now, anyone else is forced to adapt.

Somehow this show heavy flaws of todays combat mechanics in MMORPGs. Generic tasks, lifted from any class role is the way to scale difficulty to infinity, cause designers are finished when it comes wo make primary class roles more difficult.

The essence will be that you can not cater to all players with such a different experience in raiding. The player who started with WoW can not instantly be as effective as somone killing virtual dragons for the last 8 years. Blizzard has to focus one player group, right now they do focus the wrong one. Will the 2nd expansion bore the hardcores and enjoy the casuals? I really really doubt that.
As many people have said before, but I'll gladly repeat it, difficulty settings would be the best way for Blizzard to make content more accessible yet keep the instance from being nerfed into the ground repeatedly. Most guilds would probably start out with the normal version and either scale up the difficulty after killing a few bosses or adjust it downwards if they keep wiping on trash.

Heck, give the ultimate difficulty setting an attunement: do the hard version in under 2 1/2 hours and get attuned for the insane level.

4 difficulty settings would do the trick methinks: easy, normal, hard, insane.
karazhan rocks.

altho it's a bit steep when you first enter it, it's actually tons of fun and you can live in it.

you have npc's in them where you can repair.
you have npc's that will transport you to the library, less walking ftw!
you have a side-entrance to bypass a lot fo content
you got the opera which rocks and is real good fun. 3 different bosses
you got the chess event, chesspix for free
ack, forget the most important part.

dungeons should be scalable yes, but not with easy,hardcore mode, but more a sum of the people and their items.

there should be a min/max of people allowed to enter, otherwise it would be horror for the devs.

take into account:

- how many ppl
- how many epics do they have
- what classes
- what lvl are they
- some more i forget.

scrumble that into the magic-ball and you will get randomized mobs/bosses.

the more epics, the more tougher the instance get
the more ppl, same.
Terrific post. I know that adds no value, but it needed to be said.
To be honest - what's so wrong about the concept of heroic dungeons? I cannot judge raid content of TBC but I definitely think, that for non-raiders like me right now is much more content with the chance to buy epics than before TBC.

Just figured it's time to point that out as well...the concept of challenging heroic dungeons is good. At least for me :)
Actually the "gap" you describe between the final small group content and the first raids is why I think you cannot have a raid end game and any other type of end game in the same MMO. Raiding requires more work, therefore needs better rewards in order to provide an incentive to do it. Therefore the hardest small group dungeon simply must have lesser rewards than the easiest raid dungeon, otherwise no one would go to the raid, perhaps even if that small group dungeon is harder.

This means if you don't enjoy raiding your progress is capped. It is not a casual/hardcore argument, it is simply a necessity of providing incentives to do harder content: people will minimize their risk/reward ratio as much as they can.

Note this is not about loot, all games have rewards even if they aren't loot. And if your game provides rewards it must provide better rewards for raiding or no one will go on raids.

The only ways around this all have their own problems:
1. provide "tracks" where the gear you get is not usable in other tracks. In WoW arenas and resilience gear goes a little way towards this, but not enough. This can end up being rather silly though.

2. provide long grinds (in WoW this is reputation) to get gear. This is not only boring but susceptible to botting and using RMT to get around them. To stop that WoW made a rule you can only do one per day on some quests, but this is more tedious than a difficult challenge.

3. offer more incentives to work together. Someone suggested RvR ala DAOC was a way to get people to be nicer to others on their own server and work together to help each other. But this is just a way to get more people to raid, not a fix for the problem that if you don't raid your progress is capped. And some people like me, found nice people to raid with, but in the end just didn't enjoy it.

I have reached the point where I think you simply can't have raids and have any other end game. Since it's not about adding "more" content, but allowing people to progress their characters. And in order to provide incentives to raid, i.e. giving more reward for the greater effort before you even enter the instance, all other endgame tracks must be capped.

This is why I quit WoW: there was simply nothing to do. Blizzard did add a lot of small group and solo content, but my character could not progress: the rewards were all sideways, not better, so there was no point.
It's a brilliant post Tobold. But the hardcore raiders are, simply put, too stupid to understand it.

These are people who do nothing but play WoW.

They don't focus on school, sports, relationships or any other sort of real life activity.

They just play WoW in every spare moment. They are losers.

They have effectively stunted their physical, mental, and social growth.

So when they read something like this, they simple don't have the brains to understand it. But they have enough IQ to understand that in some way their play style, their only source of self-esteem is under attack. So they respond with the laughable sorts of responses you see from these "people". I say people because a fatty playing a game in every spare moment is far from a normal sort of person.

The ultimate problem. Tigole is a hardcore raider, and he's in charge of endgame. But he's starting to get unwanted attention from upper management. Hopefully they'll analyze the situation and put the folks in charge of 1-70 in charge of endgame as well. WoW would be unstoppable then.
Your friends guild needs to get better at teamwork.

Our Karazhan raid usually consists off:

1x Mage
1x Warlock
2x Rogues
1x Hunter
1x Shadow Priest
2x Paladins
1x Prot Warrior
1x Feral Druid.

While we have not done a full, continuous clear of Karazhan in 1 sitting, we have killed every single boss with this group composition. We are aided in some ways (Lock is Nether Protection specced so ideal for Illhoof, Feral druid (me) can shift cat for more DPS focused fights like Aran).

To be honest, get a good group with decent gear, there is no reason to swap people in and out for particular boss fights.

Very very good post however.
Good post, one nitpick.. choose another day than monday/tuesday, since the resets always happen on tuesdays :P
Unless it's a european standpoint...
>> Curiously it is World of Warcraft itself that still has the best chance of providing this accessible raiding game

EQ already does. There's so much old content dating back through the years when the level cap was 50, 60, 65, 70, that pretty much any group of players around these levels can find *something* at their desired level of challenge.
I agree with a lot of what you said, Tobold.
I think the big problem with TBC is that there are a lot of people who have mostly levelled from 1 to 70 without playing a lot of instances (or have completed them when they are much higher level than the recommended level), and then they suddenly have to learn how to play in a group at Lv 70, or quit.
Our guild is mostly made up of people who played Lv 60 end-game for a long time. Hence when it comes to Lv 70 end game, we can do the normal instances, we can do a lot of the heroics (not all of them by any means), and because of that we have been able to get hold of a lot of decent loot.

With that loot, we ae able to go to Karazhan, and we don't find it too hard. Yes, we have struggled on the Shade and the Prince, have not even tried Nightbane, and yet we are having fun and not acting like a bunch of elitist hardcore players.

Each week we have a completely random selection of people going to the instance.

Yes, we specify a certain number of tanks/healers/melee dps/ranged dps, but that might mean for example 3 mages one week, 2 hunters and a warlock the next.

At the very least, most groups (dare I even say PUGs) should be able to take down Attumen, and he drops some very nice gear.

Maybe Karazhan was a lot harder before all the nerfs I have heard about, but I really think you can compare it to UBRS when we first started going there, and definitely a lot easier to get into; how many people do you know who have/had the UBRS key?

I agree with solidstate, in that Gruul and Magtheridon are probably beyond our guild at the moment. Getting rid of the SSC and BT attunements is a bit irrevevant when we can't take these 2 on.
Maybe when we have sufficient loot form Kara we will be able to manage it.

On a side note, I wonder how many people ever completed Manic Miner on the Spectrum. One of the first and toughest platform games ever made!
On a side note, I wonder how many people ever completed Manic Miner on the Spectrum. One of the first and toughest platform games ever made!

Now you scared me, Vlad. I had actually planned to write a paragraph on Manic Miner, and how I ended up hacking the code to give me infinite lives to finish it, because otherwise I would never have seen the later levels. Are you reading my thoughts? With a name like Vlad you could be able to. ;)

I wouldn't compare the UBRS key to the Karazhan key, because you only needed 1 player with the UBRS key to open the door to all others. And how hard UBRS was depended on when you played it, in earlier days you were still able to do UBRS with 15 and Strat/Scholo with 10 players. Talk about adding slack! Strat/Scholo were often run by 8 players in a PuG "class run", one player of each class, so loot distribution of the dungeon set 1 loot became unproblematic.
Blizzard will not be making raids easier in terms of difficulty. They are far to proud/arrogant of how difficult they have made the encounters and they won't risk upsetting the 'elite' raiders of the hardcore ranks.

The only possible change I see them making to the raid encounters is toning down the respawn rate.

No, what Blizzard needs to do is design new content OR game systems that cater to the casual crowd. Entirely new game concepts or ideas, games within games (kind of like how crafting is). Problem is, rarely does Blizzard take risks like these. I look at Blizzard as an evolutionary company not a revolutionary one.
It took me about 2 weeks via various PuGs to get Karazhan attuned.

But I had my heart set on getting an UBRS key back then, and it took me forever. Nobody wanted to run LBRS, ever. When I did get groups, I'd lose rolls on gems, or ones I didn't need would drop. Granted, not everyone needed a key, but getting it was tougher for me.

When I started playing WoW, dragged into it by a buddy, I'd been a console guy. I thought 5 mans would be the biggest party I'd be in, and I had no clue what a raid was. I was pretty disappointed when I learned what I'd have to do to see Ragnaros, but I did it. It sucked me in, for a while.

I used to tell my friends I played with, this would be more fun if it were just the 5 of us, and all these bosses were doable by small parties, even if they were really hard still. The logistics of raiding were what made it too hard for me to sustain for any length of time. I never minded dying alot, for weeks on end on certain encounters.

Arenas have been a great alternative for me. I can play with my perma 5 man group of friends, win some, lose some, but still make tangible weekly progress towards character progression. And getting 5 people together at the same time for something is much easier, and has made the game really fun again.
TBC endgame is a moving target. Complaints about consumable cost, instance / raid difficulty, and attunements have been addressed (to varying degrees of satisfaction). More adjustments are sure to follow, just as they always have. Zul'Aman may address the issue of casual raiding accessibility. But it's quite likely that overall raid participation will continue to tick upward as more toons and guilds get attuned, get geared, and get into Kara.

IMO, one thing that seems to have been overestimated in TBC expansion was the ability of the player base and guilds to adapt to an environment of leveling-up, attunement ladders, and hardcore-tough new content (initially, anyway) after a long status-quo.

Vlad's comment hits upon two factors that, IMO, are critical, but ultimately out of Blizzard's control: A good raiding guild (with a sufficient number of people raiding at about the same pace), and earning proper gear (or the converse, understanding one's gear limitations). IMO, just having those two issues under control will allow a person to progress* in the endgame.

(*Definitions of "progress" will differ; one may have to learn to manage one's expectations. Your mileage may vary...)
raiding = skinner box

Seriously, South Park pretty much nailed it.

It will be interesting to see if the next WoW expansion is tailor made for casuals - just like TBC was tailor made for hardcore raiders,
I have to disagree with the "Kara is great" comments. It's 90% trash, gear is ususally a sidegrade and for some a downgrade, (guild bank is flowing with DE'ed items), the logistics required is insane for smaller guilds and it is in no way an instance worth the guild drama it creates.

I don't think I have ever participated in anything as anticlimatic in this game as Kara.
Nice going for the core of the topic and the one that one gets shouted down the fastest. Difficulty. On the Elitist Jerks forum the thread that made the 90%*members-failure argument initially got eventually locked down too even though they are generally rather good at frank discussion.

I love all the info that I hadn't know about like the PlayOn study of in-raid instance percentage (thanks Cupster).

@solidstate: Karazhan is in a way MC but really it isn't people could enter MC with no raid experience and fairly random gear and succeed quickly. You could lose many people, in fact early on you could out-of-combat res using pala/priests prolonging the fights by a lot! There was lots and lots of leeway. Tobold is right that in Karazhan raid setup is tight and one DC (disconnect) has a very good chance of inducing a wipe. In MC you could take DCs from almost anybody but the main tank and move on. You can sensibly low-man a lot of bosses too. The link you give makes this point too actually:

"One thing about Karazhan I've noticed is that it really likes a balanced raid. One of each class plus a DPS off-tank is pretty much the ideal setup for going through Kara from start to end. In fact, the more your raid deviates from this setup, the harder many fights in Kara become."

which is exactly Tobold's point. Lack of flexibility is bad really. So today's signup isn't perfectly balanced. Hmm, bad luck. It's not good design that you need a perfectly balanced raid. It's tight design and not very accessible.

@stonebreaker,wolfhusky: I agree difficulty settings is the way to go. Funny enough, Blizz has this in TBC but uses it wrong. The heroics concept is brilliant, but it should be a purely optional flag for the bleeding edge, who in turn can get some extra loot or extra rewards (tokens :P). Now it's used as gate-keeper to exclude folks (well not anymore thanks to the recent attunement change but anyways). Diablo II had this right. Have a nightmare mode after folks had a chance to see all content at normal mode. This is good concept. Sure it will tick off some exlusionistic folks because "not everybody should see everything" but it would serve two population at far less than twice the content building effort.

@siaer: Agreed that this group doesn't need switching. Problem is that if someone doesn't show and you have to sub you may be in trouble. Try subbing your shadow priest for a resto druid for example and try Moroes or Curator for fun. And your particular setup just happens to have loads of interrupts for Aran too which a more randomized group may not have.

Tobold's post says that Karazhan is too tight, not that you have to swap for each encounter. Basically he says that his friend's raid group swaps for encounters. Lots of bleeding edge guilds have reported doing that early on and my raid group would do it, if that wouldn't totally alienate our members (benching people is a basic no-no). Instead we just wipe more when the raid ends up being imbalanced by the way signups have turned out. We never forced specs (all the way into Naxx), but we had to for Karazhan. Unfortunately that alienates them as well, so it's a lose-lose situation for us really.

To me TBC raid design really feels like the driving fear was that the bleeding edge might just bypass some content and race to the final price too quickly. Hence why so much 5-man content is tied into the raiding game, and hence why the whole thing used to be so linearized. But I think in retrospect the right thing to do is to allow people to bypass content that is meant for casuals, or rather have some soft links (resistance gear drops etc) in casual content, so hardcores farm it for gearing. Karazhan really should have been as nerfed if not even a tad more than it is now at least 3 months ago and it should have been purely optional content with very light attunement and mild pre-gearing requirements. It certainly should have had more of the fault tolerance that Tobold talks about early on. Casual raiding would have been much happier in TBC for sure. Zul'Aman should have been added by now as well, instead of Black Temple as Tobold correctly said.

@doeg: I agree that TBC is a moving target. But frankly not even the bleeding edge liked the pot situation or the Gruul tuning. The pot and tuning situation was a messup for any playing group even the bleeding edge. The accessibility issue was a messup for loads of raiders and still is to some extend. The problem with the moving target and forcing players to adapt their expectation is exactly that. The expectations were set by Blizzard themselves in WoW 1.0. Leveling up was fine, but players indeed expected to sensibly be able to continue raiding at the level they raided at in WoW 1.0. I know not a single raid group that hasn't had to step up their commitment levels (or disbanded) in WoW TBC. In part you just can't wait 2-3 months to fix core design blunders like the consumable situation and raid tuning and the lack of entry level raiding for non-experienced raiders.

I disagree that the accessibility is out of Blizzard's control. We raided successfully for most of WoW Vanilla's life-span with a very heterogeneous group of rather very hardcore to very casual raiders with a very wide spread of time commitments (call it "friends and family") and we raided with no structural problems. In TBC raiding is tight so you can't raid with friends and family anymore, because dad may have less time (holding down a harsh job) and your friend just got a baby so needs a 2 month break. Blizzard forced homogeneous time commitment on the raiding game and that is a design flaw and not inevitable. It wasn't inevitable in WoW 1.0. So your friend comes back after a 2 months baby break? No problem, the day he returned he'd join to do the raid you were currently progressing in (and yes this actually happened twice to us, with people taking a break in early MC and returning for mid Ahn'Qiraj). Only thanks to the attunement change is this not a problem of TBC up to Hyjal anymore. But up until just this week it was a real problem for people to take any considerable raiding break at all. There was no guarantee that blizzard would ever fix the access problem, in fact given that they added Vashj scrolls it seemed like they wouldn't. And it is totally in Blizzard's control how they allow access and how tight they tune stuff.

It a simple design limitation: Real friends and family don't necessarily play a game at the same pace. How do you still allow them to play together in a multi-player collaborative game? This isn't impossible at all, Blizz designers just overlooked this when designing TBC raiding.

Take the Vashj scroll drop solution. So someone took a break mid Karazhan and returns as your raid group has all bosses down but Vashj. You cannot bring your friend to raid the day he returns. You have to make sure to get him through early Slave Pen heroic, then get him into raid slots for Gruul and Nightbane kills and then he can join you. This is a world of a difference and used to be the _fixed_ access design for TBC. For heterogeneous groups that was still no real help. The current access change is good but loads of people scream bloody murder over it (noone complained that AQ40 was open access though, so I don't really understand).

But in the end I think Blizz doesn't have to choose to serve bleeding edge versus casual. I really do believe they can serve both, but it does seem to me that we do see learning how to do this on the fly. Certainly there hasn't been an MMO in previous history that spanned such a broad and large player base. Not surprising that there are still loads of lessons to be learned here.
It really does come back to a consistent linear endgame design in 2.0. The irony, to me, is that in a gear comparison, in 1.0 the non-raid casuals basically got a gear dead-end at level 60, the PvP-ers got a linear pyramid gear grind, and the raiders got the best gear with a non-linear track!

In WoW 1.0 raiding, you could bring someone extra along and basically carry them -- that, one might say, is the "easy epics" of the original title in Tobold's post.

Now? Well, no, you can't take a 2 month break and jump right into TBC raiding with pals anymore. Welcome to linear endgame design - no shortcuts. Attunements and raids with no fudge-room. Bad design?

Let's say a group of casuals running a static party gets to level 20, and one of the group drops out for two months. He comes back and the group is level 40, and he's level 20 with a full rest bar. Sorry, Charlie.

But raiders want a pass for the same thing? Sorry, I just can't buy into that. Frankly, I thought that WoW 1.0's non-linear raid endgame was not a good design decision. Seeing that a person could land a ZG endgame raid epic in a 40-man PUG-ish multi-guild mishmash on a whim on any given Saturday night convinced me that the 1.0 endgame gear-grind was broken, since non-raid casuals had no such opportunity, and PvP-ers had to grind for many weeks up the rank ladder for this first shot at an epic.

But to each his own opinion.
This post reminds me of WoW in the pre-MC/early MC days. At that time, end-game was essentially what you described. Most everyone could raid Scholo/Strat/*BRS and have a chance at getting some decent gear (which I suppose the dungeon sets were). I still remember my little brother running UD Strat repeatedly and thinking how tough the place looked, and marveling at how awesome it'd be to have a piece of Devout... ;)
I don't get your point frankly. If non-raid casual had no options, then the right thing would have been to add more non-raid content.

Really Blizz should release a new 5-man instance every 2 months or so, to serve those that can't raid...

That would save non-linear access for semi-casual raiders, because it was great. But I do understand that some people don't want people like Tobold or myself to have sensible raiding access because we want to play and raid with our friends and we want RL interruptions to not screw us over.

Linearization doesn't serve anybody. And about dragging people along and them getting gear. What's the problem (beside envy?). I never bought into the PVPers now get easier gear than raiders. Because even if they do, I couldn't care less. Frankly that's not the game I play. I don't watch how others get stuff. I want to have fun with friends... why can't we have that?

But as discussed in an earlier thread, there are different Bartle MMO player types... I'm not about collecting loot, I'm about seeing content (explorer) and playing with friends (socializer). Only question for me is not if achiever or killer types agree with this, but if Blizz designs the game in a way that my playing style is in principle possible. You can go collect items all you want as far as I am concerned, just don't lock me out of the game for it.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again...

Casuals who raided pre-TBC assumed they'd be able to walk into Kara as soon as they hit 70, because they saw the hardcore crowd doing it.

Smart casuals maxed out their gear from 5 mans, heroics, crafting, and rep rewards. Smart casuals are now waltzing through most Kara encounters. They have appropriate gear that hugely lowers the difficulty of the instance. And they can run with all the weird, wacky, and flexible group makeups they like.

Again, it's just about the timeline and trying to skip fundamental steps in your character's or your guild's progression --> do all the quests; farm the 5-mans on normal to gear up; do most of the heroics several times for gear; and suddenly 80% of Karazhan will become a walk in the park.
The point is that the current design expectation is that gear is linear. And that raid bosses drop gear upgrades. I really shouldn't even have to point this out -- an early complaint about Kara was that the drops weren't clear upgrades over the heroics.

Actually, endgame-design-wise, flattening the gear progression makes sense. Then the raid difficulty can be flattened, too. And then the guy who lays-off for two months can jump in with minimal impact because his gear isn't so out-of-date! Unfortunately, we already know that people raid for gear - otherwise, they'd be running old raid content at their own pace for fun, and wouldn't have raised a fuss that prompted Blizz to make the gear progression steeper in TBC endgame. Ironically, the steeper gear progression probably means that now people want that gear even more -- and yet also fall behind even faster if they lay off!

And having PvP-ed heavily at times, most assuredly my concern about linear gear bleeds over into game balance. What happens is that the easiest-to-obtain great PvP gear is obtained through PvE. And I question the validity of a gear progression model in which the PvP-ers have to raid on Friday and Saturday nights in order to be competitive in the battlegrounds Sunday through Thursday...
What attracted me to WoW when it first came out was that it seemed to have a very defined end-game: the level cap. Back then, Blizzard was very clear that when you hit the level cap there won't be much for you to do. Either you roll another character or you move on to another game. I found this to be a very fresh attitude compared to other MMO's at the time that were shamelessly coming out with hastily prepared expansions to try and sucker the players to keep playing for a couple more months.

Its seems to me that Blizzard is still sticking to this attitude with the exception that they have found a niche group of players (the raiders) that have focused on to try and keep playing. Keeping the raiders happy is cheaper than keeping non-raiders happy (I presume).

As long as Blizzard focuses on keeping the raiders happy and recruiting new players to replace the non-raiders that are quitting they will probably continue to dominate the MMO market.

My preditction is the next expansion will continue to focus on raiding as well as new exciting things for entry-level players. WoW is starting to become an 'older' game so Blizzard has to put some new bells and whistles for new players to make it seem 'new and improved'.

re: Kevin's comment: Devout is still one of the best looking priest sets. Certainly the best in WoW 1.0 and better looking than dungeon 3. I am not crazy about any of the later tiers either.

Warlock sets, OTOH: teh sexy.
Baroo, the problem with that was that you have a group of 60+ people coming down to 50 (through natural attrition), which is the number to eventually raid 25 with a heterogeneous setup. If you now spend a lot of time in 5-mans your group cohesion suffers badly... in fact that's what happens for us.

Those that gear faster want to raid and those that gear slower resent being pressured and feel left behind.

Of course if you just play with people who play at one pace you don't get that issue, but RL bonds don't imply equal pace.

No the first raid instance has to be designed so that people hitting level cap can sensibly enter it. MC almost fit that bill. Karazhan really didn't.

It shouldn't have been surprising that people who raided for almost 2 years prior to TBC as a group want to maintain that group activity somehow.

See the cool thing about raiding is that it is a large group activity. Things that loads of people can do together. Farming 5-mans to eventually get to that group activity isn't great.

It was much more acceptable to hit 5-mans for gearing for MC than doing the same for Karazhan, because simply groups were forming afresh. You didn't have a ready group who had a taste for raiding then. Now it's different and Blizz thought the old recipe was right. It really wasn't.

The same reason why sticking 5-man heroics into the progression for TK attunement wasn't great. It again fragmented and paced the groups. Bad idea because you get the same "wanting to push ahead" vs "feeling left behind dynamics" that rips heterogeneous groups apart.

This is completely avoidable while keeping a fun and challanging raiding game.

Wow Vanilla didn't force anybody to channel the raid group through tough 5-man content to enter AQ40. That was good for group dynamics.
I think blizz also designed classes too much on their DPS capabilities..

What if instead of havingt to kill bosses for instances, you simply had to survive them? Classes that are underplayed like tanks and healers and hyrbrids would all of a sudden be extremely usefull and Ideal for those places... and dps classes get left behind just like tanks/healers/hybrids are now.

Ive never been a fan of the tank/spank scenario to beat mobs. It makes a very complex and utility class such as a paladin into a single very boring F1 heal spammer. Also, why is soo much importance put on tanks in WoW? it is a very challenging task to be a perfect tank, however in contrast it is a very simple task to be a max dps or healer class.

Among many other design/balance issues WoW should be free if your playing solo/questing and cost $ if you are going to raid/pvp imo.
Abel, you make a lot of good points.

I would argue though that most people have some rose-colored glasses when they look back at Molten Core. Most casuals spent many months at the level cap before stepping foot in there. I remember taking my casual guild in there 5 months after release, at a time when the bulk of us had been 60 for about a month, all decked out in greens and the odd dungeon blue. We got crushed... couldn't even down 1 of the first 2 fire giants after a couple of hours of wipes. That is a whole lot like taking 10 casuals to Kara who hit 70 yesterday.

I suppose my argument is more directed against the oversimplified doomcasting "TBC killed raiding for casuals" statement that seems to be an oft cited subject on this blog. It didn't kill it. There are casuals tearing through Kara right now. The same way they adapted to what was once considered a ridiculous task of finding 40 other casuals to run a 5 hour raid in Molten Core, they have adaped to the different constraints of TBC raiding.
baroo, I've seen many people do what you say, but I wouldn't categorize it as casual/hardcore. More like lazy/conscientious, or maybe mature/immature.

I spent quite a few months at 60 gearing up before entering MC, and saw a lot of other people just try to get into a guild that was already progressing in MC as if as soon as they hit 60 they had a right to raid. This drove me crazy when I saw it, esp when they copped an attitude.

But a lot of these people were the self-described "hardcore". And spent hours and hours in the game and wanted to progress as fast as possible. A lot of these people made it into the guilds that got farther along in 1.0 than my casual guild coalition did. But I would not for one second say they worked harder, just more hours per week, while we spread it out.

Doing the grunt work is the part no one wants to do. I agree that refusing to gear up is the cause of much complaining about difficulty in TBC, I just see the hardcores doing the same exact thing: refusing to spend time in the boring early dungeons until they are ready, thinking their "skill" or buffs will make up for it. After all, the more casual players, even the semi-casual like me and Tobold, weren't even inside Kara yet to complain in the first place.
The main issue with raiding in TBC is not the dungeons, it's the fact that choice of who you take in with you is now pretty much locked out.

I have watched guilds tear themselves apart trying to re-organise for Karazhan, and have the arguments descend into bickering and name calling.

Quite frankly, if this was a corporation, over x% of your team that got your company to the success it has now would end up being fired for being "redundant".
Baroo, I know quite well how MC was. We entered in blue/greens with no raid experience, and yes we wiped the first time on the first two giants, even on the first pull. A week later we wiped on the dogs. Why? Not gear, but having learned how to coordinate tanking/DPS/healing in a raid setting. That's not jaded memory. I remember full well that we wiped on MC boss for a long time, that wasn't a problem.

But regardless, this never was my argument. My argument was that you can't launch an extension like you launch a fresh game. Because let me repeat, we had no raid group when we hit 60. We had a large group of people who wanted to continue raiding at 70. In fact the problem with Karazhan was not only its difficulty but also its size. Instead of going down from 40 to 25 we had to go from 40 to 10 (or rather 20 trying to run two groups which is hard due to lockouts etc) which additionally caused loads of friction and leaving. There should have been an accessible _entry level_ raid dungeon at both 10 and 25 size and it should have been a choice! Maulgar was managable though by no means easy (they nerfed his damage output too, we beat him pre-nerf though), Gruul wasn't when we reached him (pre-nerf).

Maulgar is certainly harder than any MC boss. Take another 4 add boss, Sulfuron. We actually killed him on our second pull on the same raid in which we killed Geddon and Shazzrah for the first time! (This is how hard MC was). Maulgar hits way harder and handling the adds requires more situational awareness /position management than Sulfuron adds. I think it took as three weeks to learn Maulgar. That's for a raid group with loads of experience and full of veterans and properly geared at that point. The first MC boss (Lucifron) with no raid experience and lesser gear took us two weeks and boy did we know nothing.

I for one never said that "TBC killed raiding for casuals". I'm just describing what happened to me or other people. My raid group still exists and raids. They just had to go more hardcore and lost people like myself (I was former raid leader) who couldn't increase their time commitment.

Non of my RL friends raids anymore. We all are in the semi-casual category and would raid if we could but our time commitments are diverging which doesn't work so well in TBC anymore.

I'd guess on my server the number of raid groups is roughly the same as before TBC, but the interesting part of this is that a number disbanded, and roughly equal numbers formed. But in total that's 15 less raiders per group. Nothing killed raiding. It's just that TBC didn't succeed in making raiding more accessible at least on my radar and that this has specific reasons. Your server/radar may be different.
There is nothing wrong with having a series of 10 raid dungeons where only the best 10% of players can reach the final boss of the final dungeon, as long as more than 50% of the players are able to kill the final boss of the first dungeon.

Perhaps you are looking at this from the wrong perspective, and are seeing the 'end game' as being only raid content.

Instead, look at raid content as being the last 50% of the end game content, and the level 70 dungeons and heroic dungeons being the first 50%. You then have end game content accessible to everyone, with the level 70 dungeons, and quite a few will get in to the heroic dungeons, and many will see the raid content.

With far more quests available for a player to complete than is required to level from 60 to 70 in Outlands, there is plenty for a level-capped character to do. And if the player has levelled up mostly by going in to dungeons, there will be the heroics open to them.

If you define 'end game' as 'raid content' then you are setting yourself up to be disappointed if you are not a raider. If, instead, you look at the content available to a level 70 character, particularly after the recent 2.1 patch, there is a vibrant end game available.
Just a quick remark: Gamers never look at a game from a wrong perspective. Only question is, does the game succeed to attract and serve the player or not.

The gripe as I see it is that WoW 1.0 served a certain raider playing style while WoW TBC at least for the first 4 months didn't.

That certainly isn't a fault of the gamers.
Oh, I think it is certainly possible for a gmaer to look at a game from a wrong perspective. To argue that the gap between solo questing and raid content can only be 'partially filled' by 5-man dungeons is overstating the importance of raid content to the point of making it seem like the only goal of the game. It simply isn't true that the maxim of most gamers is 'I game, therefore I raid'. There is a significant amount of content available for the non-raiding level 70 player in WoW. Those who complete all the dungeons on normal and heroic modes are probably the ones who will also raid. Those who do not still have that content to explore. On top of that is the revamped PvP system, with arena teams.

There is content, and it is accessible to the 'casual' player, to the point of being able to complete it. Blindly accepting that the ultimate goal of any player in the game is to raid ignores the changes Blizzard made to end-cap content.

As for your other point, I agree that the raiding style changed when BC was released. This was more a reaction to complaints and comments more than anything. If BC had been released with more 40-man dungeons only, there would have been an outcry that they were just producing 'more of the same' instead of trying to make the game more accessible to a greater number of players. As it is, changes were made. As more complaints and comments come in, Blizzard try to modify the system to be suitable for more people. So what's the problem?

From my point of view, it seems that many people dismiss BC as not catering to them solely because of the raiding content that they won't see, whilst ignoring all of the work that has been done to be inclusive of more players.
Elf, as said, I used to raid with a group of friends. 5-man content doesn't work if your social circles are bigger from prior raiding.

The new 1-5 man content is no substitute for an inaccessible raiding game. In fact prior the 2.1 the problem indeed was that I logged on between raids and the question was: What to do? Either farm motes, or farm heroics :P After all quests dried out there was almost no interesting solo content left (except for grinds).

I do believe that players have a quite sane perspective on the game. People will look for things to do, not stick their heads in the ground and complain... at least I won't.
One might speculate that in the design phase of TBC, Blizzard foresaw that a new level cap and new 5-man content would break many of the ever-fragile guilds, and so took the opportunity to change raid sizes to a more small-guild-friendly 10- and 25-man model.

Think of it this way: If in WoW 1.0 a guild decided to all take their level-50-ish alts and level them to 60 to raid 40-man content together, could that really be pulled off? Probably not by most guilds -- yet that is analogous to the "problem" of TBC endgame.

After all, for all of the post-release objections to TBC endgame, one has to remember that TBC was in open Beta for months, and therefore the guilds and players with friendship ties had months to plan their path to the new endgame. One might suppose that raiders are the most organized players in WoW. Did the guilds have a cohesive plan? If not, then I'm not too surprised that they drifted apart. Unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable.
I would disagree that the content is "vibrant" just because there is a lot more for a 70 to do than there was for a 60 to do in WoW 1.0. I certainly appreciate it and realize Blizzard is trying.

But, the problem is your character cannot progress. All the improvements you can make are sideways, once you are able to go to Arcatraz and Shattered Halls a few times, there's no way to improve. Reputation rewards are pretty crappy compared to dungeon drops, there's not a single epic rep reward that's worth anything to me. Once your crafter makes primal mooncloth there's not much.

Heroics were supposed to be the small group end-game track, but the rewards for that are marginal at best, and from what I've heard no one is doing them.

It's not about just having more content, but being able to progress our characters if we don't like raiding. Why should I bother going to see all that 5 man content if it does not progress my character? My character's power is capped. I'm stuck. I can go see it once and say "neat" but then what?

I am not partial to arenas but as I understand gear requirements are quite different, and that does at least provide one alternative for advancement.

That is not really just a problem with WoW but in any game that tries to mix large group and small group pve. How to allow a small-group pve player to progress without taking away incentives to raid.
I would disagree that the content is "vibrant" just because there is a lot more for a 70 to do than there was for a 60 to do in WoW 1.0

You will agree that there is far more for an end-capped level 70 player to do than an end-capped level 60 character, though. That's why I would call the current, non-raid end-game as 'vibrant'. It may not be perfect, but, then, neither is the raid content.

It's not about just having more content, but being able to progress our characters if we don't like raiding. ... I can go see [the 5-man content] once and say "neat" but then what?

And what does raiding solve in this case? It just means you have to run the same content over and over again for many weeks, until you are long past the time of saying 'neat', because you only have a small chance of getting the drops you need to advance your character. On top of that, the gear you get from raiding is also incremental, albeit with greater eventual advancement.

My point is that if a player thinks raiding is the only viable end-game then it is easy to lose sight of what actually is available to the player. If you ignore the raid content for being non-viable and step back to see what is actually available for a character to do, I believe there is more than most people assume.
Doeg, that makes no sense. Noone certainly not semi-casuals or casuals but actually also not hardcore should need to play an open beta not to be railroaded by a new design.

I don't get your analogy either. We had loads of alts in raids. We had ZG and AQ20 raids that were mostly alts. My pala successfully healed in MC and BWL in just ding-60 blue/greens. Hmm.

The problem with TBC is not leveling from 60->70 and keeping people together. The problem is with the way content is organised (in terms of accessibility and difficulty). A thought: Assume Karazhan has no attunement and is optional content (ala ZG and AQ20). Attunement to SSC just requires a Gruul kill and tuning of Karazhan and Gruul's lair would always been like it is now if a tad easier. Instead of releasing BT, Blizz released Zul'Aman. Suddenly all symptoms disappear.

No the problem was with the way content was organised by blizzard, not the way guilds organised themselves.

Imagine a TV show producer that sees declining viewer numbers. Will he say: Look the viewers just didn't adapt to our new story line? Well maybe in a post mortem he might, but the fact remains that if they changed the story in a way that viewers didn't like, the producer made a mistake, and not the viewers. Viewers shouldn't _need_ to adapt to the whims of producers, producers should take care to please the viewers if they want to retain them.

I find these arguments so strange. The core complaint is simple: Blizz made raiding less accessible. I really don't get why people argue that people failed to adapt, because it in no way addresses the complaint that stands unaltered. No , raid groups should not have to play open betas to not run into social quagmires, the game company needs to plan the game for the gamers or they lose them.

TBC flaws were perfectly avoidable. In fact some can be undone, as we have seen with consumables change, repeated boss nerfs, item retunings, class bug fixes and rebalancing and now attunement changes. These were all design flaws that could have been done right initially and immediately and none of these were flaws by the gamers, but by the designer.

It's inevitable if a game designer makes a game more exclusive, that they will narrow the people who feel served by the game... that argument actually makes some sense to me and describes what happened in TBC. But that was up to Blizzard.

And yes we tried to prepare for TBC as best we could, I'll happily admit that we were just about as wrong about TBC as any group. Most raid groups thought going 40->25 would be a problem. It wasn't. Going from 40->2*10 with week long lockouts, high difficulty and no flexibility was. But even guilds who tested beta didn't report this prior to release. Gruul in his release shape was untested. He was killed on beta when he had far less hitpoints. Basically Gruul, just the second 25-man boss was totally out of tune when released. The gamers fault? I think not. Inevitable? Not at all. Just plain misdesign.

And if there is a question who failed to adapt to a new scenario, it was blizzard. This is a game with a broad player base and varied expectations that were set by WoW 1.0. Blizz failed to give casual and semi-casual raiders the kind of content that they previously had and failed to keep keying efforts low which also helps casuals and semi-casuals. They failed to understand that heavy linearization, while no problem for homogeneous groups, is a massive problems for social groups that are heterogeneous.

Blizz failed to adapt correctly. In fact they probably missestimated what was most important. Giving the bleeding edge guilds content that smoothly continues at late Naxx difficulty and increases from there should not have been a priority, and pacing them down shouldn't have either. Keeping raiding accessible for the playerbase that previously raided and possibly even broadening that base would have been the right move. Now after the fact they adapt now, seeing the impact of the stuff that they have put out (declining active players, stagnant raiding scene prior to 2.1 etc).

Did Blizzard have a cohesive plan how to serve different playing styles? I'm not so sure. Certainly there was no indication that they planned for the consumables revamp, or the dropping of attunements the way they ended up doing it.
You made a great point in saying that pre-BC, probably half of the people who play WoW had never seen Ragnaros. Of those people, how many do you think had never seen MC at all, or had only seen the first boss or two?

As has been stated and restated here and otherwise, end game is tailored towards high end raiding. But it has also been pointed out that there are - literally - millions of customers who aren't interested in that. There are countless small, non-raiding guilds made up of more casual players.

Pre-BC, with the major raids requiring 40 people, there were plenty of guilds who simply couldn't field enough people (or enough interest) to try and progress through MC, BWL, Naxx, etc.

So let's think about these people for a minute. If they haven't done the WoW Vanilla endgame raids, their experiences are probably mainly focused around the old world 5 mans - Strat, Scholo, DM, etc. Some of them probably have some rather limited experience with either ZG or AQ20.

Then along comes the bright, shiny expansion, promising smaller raid endgame instances. The BC five mans are decent training as they level, but then they hit 70. Of course, they want to jump into Karazhan as soon as possible -- only 10 people needed, and epics for all! Right?

Then they get hit with the rather complex attunement quest. Still, assuming they have done these places before, more time consuming than anything else (assuming they get over the hurdle of Black Morass without too much trouble).

They get through that, and jump into Karazhan - and bam! Suddenly, they are spending quality time with the floor. The bosses cannot be simply dps'd down. They cannot stand in one place for long. Respawn rates are up. They get flack from friends/guildmates who aren't with them due to raid size or makeup.

What it really comes down to, I think, is that a lot of people did not take Karazhan seriously. They looked at it as the new UBRS, and acted accordingly. And then had several messy wipes because of it.

I am not currently in a raid guild, but I do a 'casual' Karazhan run with the alts of some of the top guilds on my server. The first time we were in Kara, we were cautious. We used pots (not flasks, but normal potions and elixirs), we made sure we were fully buffed and ready before pulls, we were on Vent.. etc.

We had never been in Kara before (or at least, the few that had, had been playing other classes at the time). We were reading strategies on WoWWiki on Vent before each boss. We 9-manned the Huntsman on our first try our first night in there. After that we took each boss down in two or three shots on the first night we attempted them, up until Aran (which admittedly took us a couple weeks). We are now working on Nightbane, and have downed everything else.

I'm not trying to say 'zomg Kara's ez lawl' or something along those lines. It's tough. But going in there knowing that and treating it as such really makes all the difference, in my opinion.
That's not my concern at least. We were raiding veterans and killed through Opera House the first night. We killed Aran the first raid we got there. I still think Karazhan is out of tune on the hard side.

Yet with a bad raid setup, Moroes or Maiden or Curator would hand our backsides to us, even though we are veteran and focused raiders. Not enough interruptors at Aran, no cookie. Yes we wiped on these "farm" bosses, not because we weren't focused, but simply because we didn't have the right raid composition online due to RL circumstances. And a DC would mean wipe.

Karazhan is a challange for veteran raiders who are careful. Does that make sense for an entry instance? Also it is tightly tuned. If you don't have a good class setup (and RL can dictate that) Karazhan gets much harder on top its usual already high difficulty level.

Yes if you want to succeed in Karazhan you need to treat it seriously, but that's not the point. ZG when released wasn't easy and neither was AQ20, but there one DC wasn't disaster, and precise raid makeup wouldn't make or break certain bosses.

ZG and AQ20 were on shorter (and hence more management friendly) lockouts as well. People being locked into another ID is a big pain when you try to get a second raid day together especially when you have to run parallel runs because you actually have enough people for 25-man content.

You needed to take ZG seriously as well or AQ20.

The point is that even if you take it seriously it's tuned to be a challenge for a top guild, not a fresh guild.

The point you make about Karazhan pretty much just affirms that it's not really a great entry level content. As you say you go there with a top guild on your server, I assume that means plenty of raid experience. Now translate that to dedicated newbies who have a heterogeneous group and no experience in chain pulling, strategy planning, raid composition and stacking etc etc. No, Karazhan is too hardly tuned to be entry level raiding.
@ abel

I agree with most of what you said. I guess in my experience, when running (and especially while learning) ZG and AQ20, yes, they needed to be taken seriously - but not AS seriously. And I believe that this is mainly (though not only) because of the amount of people involved. Just like you said, if one person out of twenty DC'd mid battle, or if a couple of people were unsure of what to do and got killed right at the offset, the rest of the raid could still - more or less - pull through it.

With Karazhan, you just don't have that liberty, because of the stress placed on each individual.

Just as you said, for experienced raid groups, this can still be a challenge due to class balance and other factors.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that your theoretical group of 'dedicated newbies' are going to have a more difficult time due to lack of experience, but that this would be the same for them no matter what the instance is. Way, way back before Scholo and Strat were nerfed, they were considered very challenging in their own right, and yes, one person pulling an extra pack or doing something they shouldn't could definitely wipe a group.

It's the act of learning how to deal with group/raid encounters and their own role in them, how to prepare, and how to move and react quickly in the heat of the moment that the 'newbies' will need to wrestle with.

The main difference between 'Vanilla' WoW and post-BC WoW is that before, a majority of those skills were learned in 40 man raids that not everyone had access to. In the Burning Crusade, I've seen Kara PUGs recruiting in every city. A lot more people are trying this part of the endgame than before. It therefore leads to a lot more people getting used to something a bit different than what they may have seen in the past.
It has been claimed that guilds should not have had to research and prepare for TBC. I find that claim quite surprising, since raiders are known for researching raid content in advance, even to the point of watching videos of the encounters -- note the comment above in which wowwiki was consulted real-time as a group moved through Kara. "Railroaded by a new design?" IIRC, Tobold was blogging and theorycrafting on the new endgame design impacts on guilds long before TBC release, so I don't think that claim holds any water.

And I'll stand by my analogy of If in WoW 1.0 a guild decided to all take their level-50-ish alts and level them to 60 to raid 40-man content together, could that really be pulled off? Probably not by most guilds -- yet that is analogous to the "problem" of TBC endgame.

The point wasn't alts raiding, or whether a raid-geared guild could carry a new 60 on their backs though ZG* in WoW 1.0. The point was the question of whether a guild could have pulled off the sort of patient coordination and teamwork that would have been required of 40 level-50 toons having to all reach level 60 and begin raiding together. Could they have endured 10 levels of questing, grinding, and 5-mans in WoW 1.0 -- and still emerged as a cohesive 40-man unit at level 60? More likely, some would ding 60, see that the laggers were still only level 55-ish, and jump to a guild where they could raid right now.

*As I recall, in WoW 1.0 people on my server might tolerate a level 56-59 in a ZG PUG -- but it was next-to-never that PUGs would take a 56-59 into Scholo or Strat. Think about how broken that was in terms of difficulty-versus-reward...
Kat, problem is I'm not talking about hypothetical people here. I talking about people I know and for whom things fell apart in TBC. Adaptation really wasn't the issue.

And also not that people had no experience raiding. The fact that you chain wipe on a Karazhan boss just because RL dictated your raid setup and the drama that ensues after is totally new and bad encounter design in Karazhan. There is no equivalent in Vanilla. While Scholo may be challanging, it never was at a level as Aran is. Not even close. Noone wiped on Scholo bosses for weeks. At least noone I know.

The people whose guilds are struggling and disbanding, however, are people I know, so this isn't a detached and abstract issue.
Doug, sorry I just don't buy your analogy. And it doesn't fit my situation. Our group did make it to 70 and stay together. So that's not the debate, so why that analogy? Our group however, did wipe on Karazhan "farm" bosses like Maiden, Moroes, Curator and Aran even though the encounters were already researched and put on farm. Why? Because RL dictated a bad raid setup.

None of the argument here is about people not willing to do research. Or wanting as Tobold's title suggest "free or easy epics". The whole point is accessibility.

And to bring this back, if RL dictates some class fluctuations, this shouldn't make some bosses virtually unkillable in the entry level raid instance. This is not accessible design.

However, using open beta is way more than most raid groups do for their research, so I'm sorry that I don't follow your standards for preparedness... I certainly don't.

It misses the point too. The troubles with TBC raiding wasn't really something that you could prepare for. Stuff like 1 week lockouts and running parallel groups to accommodate your groups that is large enough to kill Maulgar. There is no strategy guide that helps you through A-team B-team bickering or that has people not feel left behind if they come a tad later in attunement quests or can't yet get into heroics or that you consistently have to bench your best friend because he happens to have the wrong class to make a Karazhan run viable.

But I sense we are on completely different pages here. WoW 1.0 raiding was great and that 56-59 pugged ZG (something I have never seen on my server) is no issue for me at all. I rather have too many people have access than too few.

I have raided into Naxx in Vanilla, but TBC raiding was inaccessible for me. It's obvious that this point isn't really possible to get across because the factors are so many that debating just one detail misses the big picture which is the sum of tuning, raid content size, linearization, long attunements, strict pacing (think heroic access), the role of consumables (still, because chain mana potting isn't really accessible either) etc etc. All of this together makes the pain that is TBC raiding even for someone who prepares for every raid there is (I was raid leader and class leader with 1.5 years experience before I quit raiding, but I grant you I want to raid with friends and not with people who just happen to have equal pace as me).

The moment it because too difficult to raid with my friends I quit. The thing that mattered was made too hard by the way TBC content was set up. I fully grant you that others, who have other priorities may have no problem at all with Karazhan or TBC raiding or non-raiding. But alas that all I'm saying. Stuff that was possible in WoW 1.0 isn't anymore and it hurt folks like me.
@ abel

Ahh, I didn't realize you were talking about specific people that you knew (and not theorycrafting, which I fully admit I was).

My apologies. =)

I am not questioning what actually happened to your guild group. That said, I think we're talking around each other. From my vantage point, it appears that you are extrapolating from your set of experiences. There is nothing wrong with that, but your conclusions in doing so obviously do not match the experiences of many other casual player groups who are successfully and happily raiding in WoW 2.0.

My point in theorycrafting was to project back to WoW 1.0 days and see if TBC really blindsided everybody with a broken design, and whether it was unusual for Blizzard to release a patch, then tweak and tune to vocal dissent from various quarters. My own conclusion is that this is not really anything new to anyone who has played WoW for a while, except for the magnitude of the changes in PvP, raiding, and gear progression (some of which were introduced in the pre-BC 2.0 patch). And like always, for a raid guild broken and quitting there is a new raid group born. Is WoW broken? It depends on who you ask...

Is WoW dead or dying?
From what I can glean about user statistics (which are hard to come by), those voting with play-hours and subscriptions are saying with their time and money that WoW 2.0 is better than WoW 1.0. TBC is following a typical expansion trend of a spike in players followed by a decline of about 5% over the first several weeks (but still about 5% *above* player numbers in Dec. 2006).

Blizzard was never going to release TBC with Zul'Aman in place on February 16 (or even in patch 2.1) as a 40-man raid with no attunement and epic top-tier gear -- and I'm becoming convinced that when Blizz made that decision, for better or worse they lost a lot of the old-school raiders.
Will Blizz try to woo them back?
Studies show that it's easier to win new business than to win back dissatisfied customers. But I'd guess that as TBC matures, Zul'Aman is likely to become the "new ZG", once a critical mass of players is deep enough into raids and Arena to make potential gear imbalance a moot point. Who knows? Maybe there will even be a questing alternative to Zul'Aman gear...
Doeg, we are certainly not talking about the same thing. Frankly I don't even quite know what point you are trying to make.

Let me repeat mine again if it wasn't already clear: What design decision had what kind of impact on what kind of playing styles and could that have been and still can be done better? Or to bring it back to only one dimension: Was TBC raiding tuned well in terms of difficulty? (The topic Tobold originally posted)

Instead we seem to be fighting over one or more strawmen, which is "Is WoW broken?" For me this never is or was the topic. Hence sentences like "see if TBC really blindsided everybody with a broken design" make no sense because that neither matches my argument direction nor the topic matter nor the discourse I care to have. I was quite specific what kinds of playing styles (not "everybody") got impacted. Folks like Tobold and myself but I know many more folks. Does that mean that I try to extrapolate for everybody as you suggest? Not at all. I think it's legitimate to wonder what kinds of setups WoW TBC raiding supports and when the structure and the difficulty gets in the way of things... but I do realize that this is very difficult, too difficult maybe because the very topic seems to tick people off (again see Tobold's original post).

I know for a fact that many people are happily raiding in TBC, if there was any doubt about that matter... I thought that's obvious enough to go without saying.

Another triviality that I never brought into discourse (neither did Tobold) is "Is WoW dead or dying?"

The trivial answer is: Obviously not. Yet one can still muse about what might be the next MMO. Because actually, that's a completely independent question, because the answer may just be: WoW. Or, if one dares to be flexible, it may be somthing else.

I certainly don't find it worthwhile to argue that the WoW player base "just" dropped to Dec 2006 levels. Even if WoW player base hadn't noticably dropped at all or had risen I still would make the same points I have made above... oddly enough (in fact I have made these points elsewhere long before the player base data was released and long before I ultimately stopped raiding, in fact I have been trying to discuss the impact of attunements, linearization and entry level raid difficulty as early as late February). Because again, going back to Tobold's post. It's not about attacking or defending WoW or drawing bleak pictures or that stuff (fanboi, anti-fanboi arguments). In fact one could see it as the opposite: How to make WoW as good as it can be for as many people who enjoyed it in Vanilla and those who are newly joining?

(For example there is lots to be said about 1-60 leveling but it's a different topic so I won't).

I find it bewildering how hard it is to discuss such things because of the undercurrent assumption that if one dissects, analyses or criticises, it's only to put down. No, dissection, analysis and criticism can actually be helpful. But it takes too much effort to cut through the defensive stances that shoot up the moment one says: "This could have been done better and here are suggestions".

Of course some get all contrarian simply because they actually don't want social group raiding to be possible anymore. But then there is no grounds for discussion. Those people simply deny my right to participate, so the whole argument is done.

I read so often arguments, how either "people don't look the right way" or "people were leaving anyway", or as you said "it was inevitable". Unfortunately all these proclamations preclude analysis, prevent understanding of the situation and don't really lead to a way to actually make the thing better next time, because after all "nothing ever was (or will be) wrong and hence worthy of improvement" (the underlaying message).

Or as you say "this is not really anything new to anyone who has played WoW for a while" something I completely disagree with (having played WoW for a rather long time). There is lots new and different things going on in WoW TBC and I have actually written many of them down already. But I don't see us getting eye to eye on that one as well.

Unfortunately on the matter of how to keep raiding accessible for social raid groups (friends and family) the question I was really interested in we haven't gotten anywhere, because we have been arguing strawman topics instead... I think it may be worth just letting it be with this.
You really should fess up to being a social and/or solo gamer that is unable to play competitively.
Greedy B*strds !
Sorry ;)

It's not about good loot and rewarding boss fights. It's about the entire game.
If in the middle of the game you could find the best gear and PvE Raiding Epic Boss Fighting. then it would be frustrating as hell to even 'accidentally' by pass it ~because no one stays at that level~


If 'End game' raiding were 'accessible' what would be 'inaccessible'? and when you cleared out those dungeons and did all you could conquer, where would you go then?

thank blizz they saved illidan for the end.

When they added the semi raid content to diablo 2 nobody complained at all.

The reason people didnt complain is because everyone or nearly everyone has participated in the endgame that played(farming lewtz, doing bossruns are honestly the fun part). Adding the new content (ûbèr bosses) was a great way to compliment the populace without alienating the players as they still had a reason to drag their friends along for the grind.

Take this scenario and Copy & Paste ontu WoW, it could work very well however there are some things preventing it from being widely appreciated. It is a terrible change of pace to go from vanilla WoW(where u and friends always had a reason to grind/raid/do something together) to TeHsucKCrusade where your class and gear are the only reason people take you with them (friends or not, you may as well be a npc bot). I notice that regardless of how well people know how to play, they still get the fun parts of the game taken away with the wow2.0 progression.

The tiered progression and the anti-social trend of making your char better are the bane of WoW. A simply change Blizz could do is to make simpler and funner raids somehow a part of the progression for endgame content.

IE.. scholo/strat/DM giving tokens(only spendable on lvl 70' core raiding gear)(~10 runs to be able to get all your gear neccessary for higher lvl raids)to make it easier to keep people on the same page. ...Miss out on a scheduled kara run? well now you have the option to run some lower lvl clannies through a scholo/strat/DM run to stay on pace. This would give a much needed option towards "falling behind" and also compliment the players who miss out on the new dungeons by giving them a fun faster paced old dungeon choice.
You just want free epicz.
I agree man. It does seem that the end game raiding is a bit harsh.
I do find this a little funny, since I wrote something very similar in my own (rarely-updated) blog some months ago.

I do think that the accessibility in the game needs work. There's a lot of factors in accessibility, and while Blizzard has done a good job with some of them (fewer people needed = good), they have tightened other requirements and still left it somewhat unused.

Part of the problem that I see is that the end-game for non-PVP content is pretty much funneled into raiding past a certain point. The raiders will often complain that if other parallel avenues of end-game progression become available, nobody would raid. As a designer myself, that simply indicates to me that raiding is not inherently enjoyable to most people who do it, and is rather simply a chore they tolerate to continue playing the game and to get what they do like doing - seeing their characters hit/heal for bigger numbers.

Obviously, not everyone is in the same boat. There are players who will raid for the joy of raiding, who would do so even if there weren't the best rewards in the game from it, simply because they like the large group dynamic. There are more than enough of them to warrant the continued development of content for the raid playstyle, because it's good business. It keeps them happy, and gives them a reason to keep giving Blizzard money.

However, what bothers me is that there are those few who somehow believe that their chosen playstyle is somehow more "deserving" of rewards than other playstyles, because it is "harder" or "more challenging" or whatever. Like you said, Tobold, difficulty is an arbitrary value and can be adjusted to any level the designers choose. Difficulty in any scripted encounter is the same way, be it a script for a solo encounter or a 100-person encounter.

Sadly, these elitist-types are completely against the parallel paths of advancement because it puts them in a position that they are not the "better" players than the people who did not choose the same playstyle. And it also doesn't help that all players are competing for the commodity that matters most in a MMOG: Developer time. Even Tigole said it himself... "The irony is, what the raid comminity (sic) wants is easy access to all raiding for *their* guild and for everyone else to be months behind =P"

Personally, I always thought that most players will gravitate toward whatever style of play they enjoy, and should be allowed to continue doing what it is they like to do. By doing so, they should continue advancing their characters.
The idea of smaller raid sizes was specifically geared to make them more accessable, Blizzard stated so many times. The decision to make these smaller raids also aggitated people in larger guilds creating drama and eventually destroying the guild. I know it killed the raiding guild I was GM of, and players from then still live with animosity in their hearts towards each others, placing a blame that doesn't exist.

The real reason TBC hasn't yet met the goals is becuase it was late and it was rushed. Many heroic modes felt like the existing mobs were just turned way the heck up with no play testing or balance. TBC launched with The Eye MIA and SSC not complete either. Of course the content had to be hard to keep people from hitting the end cause it wasn't done! Now they have breathing room they are going back an retuning the content, but the damage may have already been done.

For those who got used to the old Heroics, the new ones are barely a challenge. Karazhan feels like a simple romp with only a few bosses needed a high degree of paying attention.

One thing Blizzard can do is continue to add Heroics (perhaps even revamping old lower level instances to over a lvl 70 heroic mode) and offer more token rewards, continually expanding on them as they are with the Arena gear, introducing new items as raiders progress further. Additional 10 mans would be nice too.
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