Monday, August 24, 2009
WoW Plans: Raiding
I've seen from various comments on this blog or my guild that many people think that I'm back to World of Warcraft because of raiding. That would be rather overstating it. I might raid a bit now I'm back, but certainly much less than before my break, and it certainly wasn't the reason for me to come back. If anything, raiding was more a reason for me becoming burned out than to come back.
The principle problem of raiding, and other endgame activities as well, is that it suffers very much from diminishing returns. The further you get, the slower your rate of advancement. You're on what as scientist would call an asymptotic curve, which goes ever upward, but never actually reaches the top, because you get stuck at some point of infinitesimal rate of advancement.
In the specific case of World of Warcraft raiding there are added problems. One being a logical loop: You raid to get better epics, but the only use for these epics is to raid. My priest is wearing a nice set of Naxxramas epics, and I can't find a reason for him to want better gear from raiding, unless it is for raiding. For daily quests, 5-man dungeons, even heroics, my gear is good enough by far. For PvP, not that I'd be interested, raiding wouldn't help much, due to WoW PvP being so dependant on resilience. And even if the next expansion has only 5 new levels, I'm pretty sure that there will be some sort of gear reset again: At the latest once we start doing level 85 heroics and raids, we will have to replace our level 80 gear.
The other WoW raid specific reason is the conundrum that plagues guild raids as well as pickup groups to dungeons: The potential for reward is inversely proportional to your contribution. The more you contribute to the success of the group or raid, the lower is the chance of you receiving a reward which is still useful to you. In my current situation, with my guild having advanced through Ulduar, while I'm still wearing Naxxramas gear, I'd basically be a leech. As I know the encounters less well, and am less well geared than the others, my contribution would necessarily be below average. But as the others are already regularly disenchanting the kind of gear I'd still need, my chance to gear up would be extremely good. In the case of my guild that is something I'd feel uncomfortable with. I'd either be a leeching tourist, or I would have to decide to make up for the leeching by raiding more later, thus getting back into raids feeling like a duty, like work, with a high risk of burning out.
Without reciprocity, the sense that you owe helping the people that helped you earlier, you arrive at the situation of the pickup group, which is basically a version of the prisoner's dilemma: The overall group would profit maximally if every member was contributing the same, and the sum of contributions would be exactly good enough to beat the dungeon. But the individual would profit maximally if he found people stronger than himself to leech from. As a result you'll often get a group in which everybody, or at least too many, people "optimized" their situation by being weaker than the challenge they are attempting would require, with the inevitable result that the whole group fails.
Probably nobody noticed the irony, but what I was doing in the last paragraph was applying game theory to games. Which is funny, because game theory isn't really about games, but about social sciences, and behavioral economics. But as behavioral economics can explain a lot of things, closing the loop and applying game theory to games gives valid results if the game is a social one. Note that in this model a guild becomes a case of an iterated prisoner's dilemma, where because the same people group together repeatedly, they can arrive in the situation where they collaborate, maximizing the benefit for everybody. Behavioral economics and game theory in this case can explain perfectly well why a guild group is more likely to succeed than a pickup group, in spite of using the same pool of people.
I have noticed that Blizzard improved their looking for group tool further since I last used it, in that you can now flag yourself as tank, healer, or dps. And I hear rumors of a future patch adding cross-server instance groups, which would be great. But all of these improved tools don't address the prisoner's dilemma of leeching being the optimal strategy for the individual vis-à-vis a pickup group of complete strangers, and a group with too many leeches failing to succeed.
The result of all this, diminishing returns and game theory, is that I can't go to the kind of raid I'd love to play most. Being still a bit burned out with my priest, I'd rather go raiding to Naxx-10 with my warrior, who isn't even full epic yet. But with no Naxxramas on the guild event calendar, and me not having much confidence in PuG raids, I guess I'm forced to equip my warrior with other activities than raiding. And I'm not sure I'm willing to raid several nights a week with my priest any more. So raiding really isn't the reason why I'm back to WoW.