Tobold's Blog
Monday, September 24, 2007
WoW raid lockouts

Alcaras has a passionate article on raid lockouts and arena charters in World of Warcraft, features which he accuses of making it harder to play together. Raid lockouts certainly caused a lot of problems in the Burning Crusade, when guilds started raiding Karazhan in two or more groups of ten, and on the next days were stuck with two half raids they couldn't combine. While raiding itself is in no way trivial, the challenges of beating raid bosses do in no way explain why the raiding population is so small. The main problem that keeps many people from raiding is a logistical one.

Nevertheless I don't agree with Alcaras that Blizzard put raid lockouts into the game only to "Prevent people from getting loot too quickly and burning out of the game". Raid lockouts are based on a simple design problem of instances in a persistent world: If a mixed group enter a raid dungeon, whose members range from people who haven't been there at all that week to people who already nearly cleared the place since the last reset, then how should the instance look to them? Should the instance reset to all mobs being alive, or should the players who advanced furthest determine which bosses are already dead? It is easy to see that there is no good answer to that question. Whatever solution you implement, somebody will be unhappy. Some raids would like to be able to beat the first and easiest boss repeatedly each week for maximum loot farming, other raids would prefer to get as far as possible.

Forcing people to stay in the same raid group for several evenings certainly has its disadvantages. But on the other hand it makes some of the social problems of raiding easier to solve, namely loot distribution. Raids by their very nature give out a small number of very good rewards. Thus some raid members get nothing, while others hit the jackpot. This inevitably causes tensions, which guilds try to fix with all sort of DKP systems or other loot distribution schemes. But all these rely on "you help me today, I help you tomorrow", which depends on more or less the same group of people going raiding tomorrow. A system without raid lockouts which would make pickup raids far more feasible would have serious problems with trust. Trust is already the main issue when forming pickup groups of just 5 people, everybody fears ninja looters or players not pulling their weight. Raid lockouts hold raid groups together, and by raiding together repeatedly build trust.

If you want people to be able to raid together without raid lockouts, you need to completely redesign raiding. You need to split up a raid dungeon into several wings, which can be visited separately, finished in 2 to 4 hours, and which reset every day. And then the boss mobs should not drop epics, but give every participant some sort of token, a number of which can be exchanged for tokens. Harder bosses could either give more tokens, or a different kind of token for better rewards.

But for the social structure of a game like World of Warcraft such a changed raiding system would be a blow. We already have a game in which people solo more than they group. Removing the need for guild organization to participate in raiding effectively removes the need for having guilds in the first place. WoW doesn't have any other guild projects, like the player-built and controlled cities of SWG, or building pyramids together in ATITD. Alcaras wants people to play together more easily, but removing all restrictions like raid lockouts also makes people more fungible, easy to be exchanged and replaced. That helps your group or raid right now, but isn't necessarily the best solution for the long term. There must be incentives not only for playing together one evening, but for staying together and making compromises for each others needs.
I read both Tobold's and Alcaras' posts, and I find much of truth in both. By this I mean that I agree on many points of both of these posts.

As to the solution side, as people are soloing the game, I would propose to enforce guilding. Make the raid groups guild based, and lock the guild progress on the raid. Or let several raid groups to merge for additional raiding if need be.

The raid token system might do it, too, but the rewards wouldn't feel like won after receiving a handfull of foozles from a dead Naxx...

I really loved the passage of Alcaras, where it stated: "Don't worry about the content consumption rate of the bleeding edge -- they will always consume everything you put out. Instead, worry about the content consumption rate of the vast middle -- maximize the player participation rate of content. If most players aren't ever going to see your newest content, figure out how to make that new content accessible to them"

Taking into account how little part of the wow subscribers really raid, plus where the money really rolls' in for Blizz (or any other game manufacturer), this is incredibly neglected train of thought!

There could be also a DKP system which is in the game, making the division of loot a minigame itself... why not a round of poker over the much famed Sword of Uberness?

Perhaps if people could "drop" their registration. So if I want to go with a different group, I should be able to drop my current registration and join their raid. I would lose my current one then and not be able to go back in with my original group. (they might have progressed since then)

Whole groups could then drop their registration, which would result in a new instance, basically a "reset".

This might even result in a side business for raid group that have advanced. Have a problem with a certain boss and just need to get past him? Hire them to drop the one boss for you! They leave and you could do the rest. etc.
augh I wrote it wrong, my idea was you could go back with the original group if you drop your registration again. even if they have progressed. Since so what if they've progressed if they invite you again.etc
We ran into this problem yesterday when several newly keyed players entered Kara in a Raid with Guildmates who'd cleared up to The Opera earlier that week. Somehow we found ourselves in two separate Instances.

After disbanding and regrouping a couple of times, we found the key was a prior Raider had to be doing the inviting AND they had to enter the Instance first.
yunk, I agree with what you are saying.
Sometimes our guild has 2 Karazhan raids running a week, and quite often one of the raids will not be able to complete, because someone can't make it to a second day.

Occasionally both raids end up being 1 or 2 players short, which means neither group can progress on a second day, even though there are 17-18 players wanting to.

Having the ability to transfer to the other raid would solve this problem.

If Blizzard are worried that you could get too much loot by doing this, then it would be easy enough to make it so that if you killed the same boss more than once during the week, then on the second kill you would be ineligible for a loot drop.
Thanks for posting the link to my post, Tobold.

Regarding the lockout/persistence question, one can solve that via: "implement a system to let players select which instance version to zone into (instead of locking them into just one, offer them a choice!)"

Alternatively, everything could be 2-4 hour wings, which would be viable for a future MMO working from the design level up.

Regarding loot distribution woes under my proposal of easier raid grouping, an in-game DKP system could be a big help, though that has its own design issues. Master loot, however, now that it is not buggy any longer, can solve a lot of the trust issues, since typically there's a small core of guildies organizing and running the raid. Everything you mention that builds trust still works in the non-lockout system, and I'd imagine people would want to raid with good raid groups repeatedly.

Fundamentally, I think a lockout-less system of raiding would enhance WoW's social structure. Guild-centric behavior would not go extinct, in fact, it'd be easier to build good guilds/raid groups, since the opportunity cost of getting locked out of a potentially better raid group would be gone.

I agree that "there must be incentives . . . for staying together", but I think those incentives are already there without raid-lockouts. Raiding with a good group of people that is cohesive and fun is more than enough to attract people back again and again. Forcing lockouts makes it harder for people to find and join these groups, since the barrier to entry is so much higher because of the demand of exclusivity.

The distinction is best illustrated by comparing clubs and jobs in the real world. Jobs are exclusive, clubs are not. Joining the Chess Club will not preclude you from joining the Science Fiction Society. But working full-time for Microsoft will preclude you from working for full-time for Coca-Cola. I seek to make it possible to raid as a "club" more easily. Right now, as I see it, raiding is very much a 'job' sort of affair. That won't disappear under non-raid lockouts and I don't want it to disappear. I merely want to see a diverse selection of raid groups, ranging from club to job possible. Let every play style have its due.

That argument of making the game accessible on multiple levels also works well with arenas, which were hampered by a charter designed with a 'professional e-sport' in mind and not just a group of friends having fun. Once again, the job/club exclusive/non-exclusive distinction comes into play.

Thanks again for your post, and I look forward to reading more of your readers' comments!
The lockout system is really there to hinder instance farming so in a sense Alcaras is right, "Prevent farmers from getting loot too quickly".

If you were allowed to reset your raid instance or enter with other groups it would be a farmers field day in there with the BC instances requiring less man power, time and coordination to enter than the old world.

Lockouts are a necessary evil.
Kara is the starter raid. Why does a ten man raid need a lockout/reset timer? UBRS didn't. I know the loot in Kara is better than UBRS loot was proportional to the endgame at that time, but it's still the case that everyone ran UBRS to get ready for MC. Guilds didn't break up over 15 man UBRS raids not being able to progress because 3 people didn't show up, they just got three other people.

25 man raids are the main raid attraction now, those should have lockouts. Ten man raids shouldn't.
Here's my suggestion:

Allow each player to delete their own raid-IDs after it is at least 3-days old. The regular weekly resets would stay in-place.

An experienced raider could clear say, Karazhan on Tues/Wednesday/Thursday and reset his/her raid-ID and go with the more casual weekend group.

At the most, this only doubles the amount of loot you could get, so farming isn't a big issue. It should be easy to program (I think...) Since its under the player's control, there's no issues with depth vs. breadth. Overall, it would add more options for players and guilds, so there shouldn't be (much) whining.
It's very interesting though: Look at lockouts in Vanilla WoW:

40-mans on 1 week lockout. 20-mans on Half-week lockouts. 10-man no lockout (can do multiple UBRS runs per day).


Everything if 10-man or 25-man is on week lockout. 1 day lockout on 5-man heroics.

(So yeah it does look like lockouts protect epic loot from being too frequently accessible, because UBRS had non-epic loot)

Half-week lockouts for Zul Gurub and AQ20 were very accessible and a great design decision.

Basically Karazhan was poorly designed. It should have had 2 parts, each short enough to sensibly live on a half-week lockout.

To this day I do not understand why they designed Karazhan the way they did. It may be the most raided instance but it's also the least well designed in terms of lockout timing, trash volume, content difficulty, and sheer clearing time.

I'm curious about Zul'Aman and if Blizz did learn a lesson about making their low man instances not also poorly designed for the logistics of the more casual raiders...

Lockouts are indeed bad if they are too long. Especially if multiple groups of related people try to go there in parallel as will obviously happen with 10-mans. A 1 week lockout on 40-mans isn't a problem as noone runs two of them in parallel and then has to contend with cross-lockouts. This cross-lockouts is a new phenomena that raid groups that are sized for 25-man content face trying to do mandatory 10-man content... why exactly did Blizz have to make a 10-man instance (a) long (b) on a long lockout and (c) mandatory for larger raid groups? I have never seen any sensible answer to any of these questions really.

Frankly I think there should be some 10-man content that is on a 1 day lockout, which is still more than UBRS ever had!

Content accessibility is really the main TBC blunder and it's weird in how many places access got worse, when Blizz designers themselves praised how accessibility was the key to success.
i w@nT free epix
@urofseron: then go buy some!
Yep I want the epics about as free as they were in Vanilla, roughly 1 1/2 years worth of raiding 3+ nights 4 hours a night minimum. Tihi.

At 15 dollars a month that's roughly 270 dollars... almost free really. Dirt cheap for sure!
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