Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Seeing the light

I would like to thank all of you who participated in the recent discussions about WoW raiding, which I personally found very interesting and even enlightening. We might never really agree on what a game like WoW is or should be about, but at least I understand the hardcore point of view a bit better now: It appears that the thrill for some players lies in the execution.

That explains the paradox I mentioned in various forms over the last week, that I couldn't understand why people at the same time were complaining that WoW was too easy, while simultaneously making the game even easier by using all sorts of addons and optimized strategies and theorycrafting. Thing is we are talking about different areas of "hard" and "easy" here. The "hard" I like is if there is some unknown element of surprise, and I have to figure out how things work, and what I have to do. But apparently other people prefer a situation in which there are no unknowns, and the "hard" is all about executing well-known moves with the right timing approaching perfection. Not my personal preference, but I totally get the concept, and of course it is equally valid. It boils down to whether you see WoW as a strategy / tactical game, or whether you see it as an action video game.

I just hope you can also understand my point of view, without having to want to play WoW like that.
I have to play the devil's advocate a bit here: "Perfection in execution" crowd (which I'm a part of) also has a very unpleasant extreme version: The Stop Having Fun Guy. The polar opposite of a scrub, but just as annoying.
I think the players have actually molded the game here to such an extent that having fun figuring out how things work just isn't really viable anymore because Blizzard expects that everybody and his dog will go and read up on everything beforehand. I would personally love to be surprised by stuff, but I think the game is now balanced around people not being surprised and figuring things out for themselves.

My idea of perfection would be randomized boss AI. It sort of got started with that instance in Dalaran that I can never remember the name of with random bosses, but I haven't seen any more of it.

I'd love it if you never knew what you were going to get and you had to learn and adapt.

Personally, I read strats because I don't want to be the only guy holding up 9/24 other players who know the fight. If I had the option of learning the fight from scratch with other folk who purposefully didn't read the fights beforehand, I would.

That's not the big decider for me though. It's the people who pitch up but don't prepare themselves in other ways that get to me. The DPS who hasn't bothered to get a decent hit rating expecting everyone else to carry him through. The guy who pitches up without buffs, enchants or gems. The guy who is always late and/or always AFK. I don't care if you call yourself hardcore or casual or how you like to play, but if you can respect other peoples time by being prepared and as effective as you can make yourself then you're the guy I want to raid with.
the "unknown" is lost since the start of the BBS (and got worse with the rise of the internet)
Another way to look at it is to take something like Martial Arts. Some people like tournaments and fighting, other people prefer the execution of the kata:

I'm on your side, Tobold. I like for there to be unknown aspects in my gaming, and to me its more thrilling when sloppy execution overcomes chaos for a win than to achieve perfect execution.
I believe you might be missing the point still.
For my guild the perfect execution is the fun part now because it's the only thing to do. We still very much enjoy getting our feet wet on new content and using our own strategy to defeat bosses that few have beaten. Sure there are the "the boss does this or that" but in this game how you defeat certain ones are open. Which is why we greatly anticipate Ulduar. In Naxx we learned how to play as a team again in lvl 80 content and honed our raiding skills. In Ulduar we will show our theory, leading, and strategy skills to show we're the best, at least on our server. Hardcore raiding for us is all about doing it better then the rest.
I, too, think you don't understand it, Tobold. Hardcore raiding is about trying to beat the content as fast as possible using any means necessary. If a game allows you to optimize the fun out of it, it is a bad game.
Reading Elitist forums is part of the fun for many people; there was a time when I spent more time reading and writing in these forums, than actually playing the game - and it was fun.
In Ulduar we will show our theory, leading, and strategy skills to show we're the best, at least on our server. Hardcore raiding for us is all about doing it better then the rest.

Hardcore raiding is about trying to beat the content as fast as possible using any means necessary.

So what about the PTR? I have the impression that the time from new content appearing to a generally accepted standard strategy crystallizing is becoming shorter and shorter with every year. And that by the time Ulduar is available on our servers, that process will already have been done completely on the PTR. How do you demonstrate having the best strategy skills on your server if the best strategy for every Ulduar boss is already known before Ulduar even opens on your server?

Among the top 10 guilds on your server and side entering Ulduar on day 1, how many different strategies to beat the first boss will there be? My personal guess is there will be only 1 strategy that all 10 use, with only minor variations, so execution (which includes leadership) will be the only difference.
My personal guess is there will be only 1 strategy that all 10 use, with only minor variations, so execution (which includes leadership) will be the only difference.

As I said: A game that allows you to optimize the fun out of it is a bad game. WOW, right now, is not the dream of a hardcore gamer - it's just the only suitable MMORPG there is.
Wow, unexpected but nice to hear it. The reason I follow your blog is more to do with the way you draw conclusions and inferences based upon data, and whether you are open to other interpretations of facts that arise in your comments, more than I am actually interested in the wow content. Hope you dont mind that I read your blog for that reason - even though I'm a hardcore wow player, I'm interested in your blog as a behavioural pychologist.

Btw, I've always allowed for the fact that you dervive fun from wow in an entirely different way than I do. That is as obvious as the sun. I just never understood why you insisted I should derive fun from the game in the same way that you do. Nor why you draw entire conclusions about the game, and the genre, based on the way that you choose to derive fun. But that's cool. Its just a blog, and you're not beholden to any standards whatsoever. Nor are you beholden to your readers because we dont pay you for it. But that's why I dont read it for wow insights.

PTR wise, they deliberately limited the testing time, and did testing at awkward times, to prevent people farming the place to death in advance.

I'm sure you've never tried hard bosses, but tbh if you're not working with accepted strats, you dont have a hope in hell of getting them down. You'd also have to be some extreme kind of pervert, living in the 21st century and playing an MMO, not to look up strats on the web. Can you imagine insisting to your guild that they dont look up strats?

The game would loose all its fun factor for me if - in some bizarre parallel universe that I cant imagine - we all went in blind, to say, Kil'Jaeden, week after week, month after month, wipe after wipe. Only a very few guilds are so good that they can create strategies for other people. Going in blind to slave pens is fine for me as a hardcore player. Going in blind to sarth3d is not my idea of fun. The unexpected in fights like these are the random elements: where did a flame wall come from? How quickly did the giant breaths come? How were void zones placed? Findint out who are our most excellent players, and who are our scrubs - even in a hardcore guild there are differences, so we can choose players for Ulduar. This is all in our guild charter, so noone can complain its not fair or anything like that. Working with performance and player behaviour even on farm content is a huge part of what I enjoy.

There's no bigger thrill in wow for me than perfect execution of a very hard fight with random factors that can kill, and random player factors too. You hit the nail on the head with that insight.
I'm sure you've never tried hard bosses

Not true, I got up to the end of BWL in WoW 1.0. But this is a general problem how people interpret what I am saying. People tend to forget that I am talking from an extremely personal perspective of what is fun for me. When I say that I wish we could do Ulduar without already knowing all the relevant strategies before the patch even goes live, that is just that, a personal wish. I know as well as you do that this isn't going to happen, not even in my somewhere-in-the-middle-between-casual-and-hardcore guild. And I'm not saying that people studying Ulduar before it comes out are doing something wrong. I'm just expressing a personal regret that WoW has developed this way, because the fun of developing boss strategies is now limited to an extremely small population of PTR players. 99.99% of WoW players will never even think about how to best beat this or that Ulduar boss, they'll just follow a canned strategy. I think the game is losing something because of that, and during the times of BWL we still had more strategy discussion on a guild level, something I personally am missing nowadays. But as I said, I understand and accept that other people don't share this sentiment, and like to concentrate on the execution, taking strategy as a given.
I'd probably be considered a hardcore raider, although I usually only raid 6 hours a week or so. A specific segment of the guild I am in has chosen to skip any strategy discussion on Ulduar, no videos, guides, etc. We're going on a 10 man run the day it launches with no previous knowledge. You could organize a similar group if you wanted to. Unfortunately, it doesn't make sense to structure a guild around that philosophy. The first time you do it, it is alot of fun. In 3 months when a new player joins the guild, 24 players don't want to wipe while the new guy gets his "first" experience. It works on content release, but not subsequently.

As far as guild culture goes, you can easily develop that into what you want it to be. Wanting more strategy discussions is as easy as starting a thread on your guild forums about a particular strategy for a boss. The raid leadership question is another touchy one, having run quite a few raids, the last thing I want to do after 3 hours of talking through the fights, I'm interested in relaxing. I think the leadership tasks should be spread around to those interested in doing it. If you feel strongly that individual players need some guidance, take them under your wing. Trying to force someone else to do it, when they're already volunteering to take on extra responsibilities with no compensation, is the fast road to burning out your volunteers.

Please dont forget that tuning is the bigger part of the picture here. Always has been, always will be. Regardless of how much time guilds spend on the PTR, it always comes down to how Blizzard tunes the fights, and if they throw in some kind of a pacing mechanism.

I expect Yogg-Saron, at the very least, to fall in 10-man the very day 3.1 drops. If not then, then no more than 24 hours after, and very very likely 25 man as well. If he doesnt, then the encounter is likely over-tuned. If players will remember correctly, they threw a pacing mechanism into Black Temple called Mother Shahraz, preventing people from steamrolling the place in the first week after release(I don't believe they are doing a resist based encounter in 3.1). But even with that pacing mechanism, Illidan fell less then 5 weeks after the release of 2.1. If you want to look further into the history of Illidan, they buffed him after the world first kill, but no one defeated him in this form though, and they ended up de-tuning him again to a more killable level.

Unless a pacing mechanism is in place, or encounters are overtuned to a fault, stuff will be beaten immediately. Lacking the aformentioned tuning or pacing mechanisms, what else is there to hold things back? If it's gear, that won't stop 10 man Ulduar from being defeated, as it's on par with the current 25 man content- gear wise. This time the top guilds will be going in with all the best in slot from the previous tier of raiding, and unless there is a gear check requiring gear from the previously cleared bosses in Ulduar to be farmed, I predict Yogg will fall in short order.
Blizzard seems to enjoy removing middle-men. Why not remove the middle-man of strategy sites and just tell us how to beat the bosses? Surely they know the best way, they made them. Why not have Blizzard tell everyone ideal DPS rotations too? Surely they can figure that out since they know exactly how everything works (excluding bugs).

For most players this changes nothing. They use canned strats anyway. All it does is save them a lot of bother of waiting for someone to figure out what to do.

That would be the death of WoW raiding. Raiding is a strategy area, a place to die and learn. Caring about nothing but execution, why not just play Guitar Hero? Or does that have too much strategy even?

"I'm sure you've never tried hard bosses, but tbh if you're not working with accepted strats, you dont have a hope in hell of getting them down. You'd also have to be some extreme kind of pervert, living in the 21st century and playing an MMO, not to look up strats on the web. Can you imagine insisting to your guild that they dont look up strats?"
Have you ever imagined that it is possible to figure out a strat? Die a few times, see what the boss does, see when things happen, learn. If all you care about is execution, you're missing half the game, and that's the half that requires you to demonstrate some amount of intelligence. Maybe this is the problem, people are too stupid to figure anything out, they need to be told what to do.
And Tobold again shows why his blog is awesome. :)

I'm part of the execution crowd, but I'm still looking forward to going into Ulduar without knowing the strats ahead of time. Both ways seem pretty fun to me. :)
Two things I want to bring up, Tobold:

1) "My personal guess is there will be only 1 strategy that all 10 [guilds] use". Well, the fact of the matter is that raid boss fights are, for the most part, somewhat choreographed and/or gimmicky, which in turn requires everybody to follow the same basic strategy. You really don't have much flexibility in how you execute a fight aside from working around your raid's class balance and basic positioning. More often than not, an alternate strategy requires being overgeared, and/or is cheesing/exploiting an aspect of the fight that Blizzard didn't intend (ex: Sarth 3D zerg, Sarth 3D void walker tank, etc), and they'll put a stop to it in a patch.

2) Patch 2.1's PTR was the beginning of the "MMO-Champion Era" of WoW, an era where every single iota of information about upcoming content in WoW is meticulously organized, analyzed, datamined, and published in a very neat and concise manner for public consumption. The element of mystery died in WoW with 2.1 and the advent of sites like this. I'm not saying the sites are evil or anything, I'm just saying they didn't exist beforehand. But a lot of people didn't care in TBC about spoiling Black Temple by reading about it because they were under the impression they would never get to it. That's not so much the case with Ulduar.

There's not really much Blizzard can do about this, aside from hiring 25+ internal testers that are seasoned raiders. Not testing it on the PTR leads to horribly bugged and/or overtuned experiences (strangely enough, these are the fights that people seem to look back on fondly even though at the time they were making death threats to Blizzard). Testing too much leads to people being tired of the instance before even stepping foot in it and one-shotting half the bosses the first night.

Blizzard tried to strike a happy medium by restricting testing to focused sessions. That limited how many people could actually test it, but at the same time the focused sessions made it easy for sites like MMOC to know when to host live-streams of testing, which in turn probably spoiled fights for WAY more people than just keeping Ulduar open on the PTR's.

Ultimately, all people ever remember is one or two boss fights from any given instance anyway. Yogg-Saron and Algalon are still largely unknowns, and I imagine will provide the biggest challenge for raiders. For all we know Algalon is the next M'uru, or Kael'thas, or C'thun, or other abbreviated fight that people claim is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Good post, I hadn't thought of it like that. Makes me a bit sad too, but there are plenty of other games which aren't analysed to death online. Just ... they're not as good.

I wonder also if people are still very willing to teach, but instead of talking to newbies in game they'll tend to write their lessons out and post them on a blog or bboard. I know in my raid alliance, a lot of people choose to write class and spec guides for each other (we have a board for that) even though they could just point them at some other guide.
Yes agreed, the reason strats are so similar is because there's no other way to kill a boss. On Lady Vashj - a very complex strat - you have to kite the long legged bugs, and you have to tank the warriors. You have to pass tainted cores around from one player to another because that's - well - the strat. The people who got there first were the ones who figured it out. Given that only a handful of guild's can be the first - in an age of instant global communication - doesnt spoil the fun for hardcore players. I'm no fan of pre-internet days, where you had to travel to a public library to learn anything...

Also, most successful hardcore guilds think about and discuss strats ALL THE TIME, at least amoung the strongest players. Different things work for different groups of poeple. I dont know where you get your ideas about us.

You also make hardcore raiding sound so trivial: "99% of people will never think what's best, they'll just follow a canned strat". I left casual raiding behind because I could not stand that level of uninvolvement in the game. If guilds do that, they'll wipe and wipe and wipe forever. And they did, believe me. If you were talking about casual folks, then fine, they dont think for themselves and they're terrible players by comparison. Whats new, definition of casual right?

There's no canning possible, since every raid is different. The best you can know in advance are the mechanics, the amount of damage done, and how other people have beaten the boss. Who you players are makes a massive difference to the strat that could work for your guild. As an example, we cant do sarth3d with a DK main tanking, because our perfectly geared & specced DK tank is just not up to it. Even though every strat in the world says DKs are the best tanks.

Our sarth3d strat - which I wont bore you with - is just one tiny example in a rich raiding life filled with endless discusssion, fascinatating experimentation and thoroughly thrilling hard boss kills. They result in that unbeatable sense of camaradarie in having accomplished something hard by working together with others.

Now, I'm wasting time, gotta get back to EJ to think more about the best gems for Ulduar, so I'll catch ya later :P
On one level the strategies are fixed but there's still a bunch to figure out for your own guild based on your exact classes and specs and gear and player skill mix. That's still fun and something the guild does together. How many healers do we need and which ones? Should the druid tank or the warrior? Do we need more ranged DPS on this? Should the shaman (or paladin) go respec for this boss?

It's not figuring out the boss from scratch but it's also not following a canned recipe. Even with it all spelled out the harder bosses can take several wipes to get right.
I think this is just simple psychology. Feeling good at something fundamentally depends on other people not being good at it.

It's not a question of how easy the game really is, what the distribution of skill in the user base is like. This is why you'll see people worrying from time to time that EVE is being "dumbed down." It's clearly not that the game is becoming easy, because there are tons of people who find EVE too difficult to play at all. The problem is that the "good" players see the "not good" players infringing on their level of achievement, or imagine that they somehow might.

So even though being good at a game, esPECially a pve game, isn't a zero-sum equation, it really feels like that to some people. For players whose only sense of achievement comes from doing things that other people can't do, making content that is accessible to everyone breaks the game.

Like so many things in game design, it's an impossible double bind. If only some of the players in a game can access certain content, that content is technically wasted for everyone who never saw it. If everyone can access it, the best players will quit in disgust, because their whole identity was based on exclusionism.

It's only really a problem because of the increasing level cap. If wow was still level 60, but with some really hard content, casual players would just now be getting to the hardcore content from the base game. Of course changing that would cause other problems of its own... These decisions can never be made in a vacuum. There's a butterfly effect for every one of them, but that's also why game design is an interesting discipline.

Most guilds have not been on the PTR and those that have, most have not attempted every boss, and those who've attempted every boss probably haven't done the Hard modes and not all bosses were on the PTR.

It's going to be a race at first to kill the bosses the easiest and fastest way possible. Once those guilds have done that they'll begin ramping up to the Hard mode encounters of the same bosses. I believe there is much yet to be learned on the majority of these boss fights. Certainly some have been figured out as well, but those are fairly limited to the opening Ulduar bosses.
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