Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 24, 2009
 
Raid encounter classification

By design every raid encounter is different, as players would get bored quickly otherwise. Nevertheless it is possible to find certain similarities in the underlying design between the different raid encounters, which allows us to set up a raid encounter classification, making discussion of what is good design and bad design easier than if you talk about specific encounters not everybody knows. In this post I'm proposing such a classification system of raid encounters, based on *who* is challenged in the raid, independent from how hard the individual challenge is. With that system, I classify raid encounters into three groups, type A, B, and C.

Type A: Challenging the Strongest This type of raid encounter is characterized by the individual challenge not being the same for every player in the raid. A typical example would be the simple tank'n'spank raid boss with lots of health, lots of damage, and few or no special abilities: In that case the challenge falls hardest on the tank and his healers, whose skill and gear is essential for success. In a type A raid encounter, at least some players have a large margin for errors. If somebody makes a stupid mistake and dies right at the start, that doesn't necessarily cause a wipe. In fact the raid encounter is beatable with less than the maximum number of players in the raid, so everybody else is just an extra. This allows the raid group to bring weaker members to gear up, or even sell raid spots.

Type B: Challenging the Average In a raid encounter of this type, the raid as a whole has to come up with a defined level of performance. A typical example is raid bosses with an enrage timer: The raid has X minutes to deal Y million of damage to kill the boss, or they wipe. Thus you can easily calculate the damage per second that the raid has to deal on average. That does not mean that everybody has to deal the same damage; it is possible for some very good players to compensate for the lower damage of less skilled or geared players, or even a single early death. Nevertheless a certain minimum performance would be recommended from everyone, because several early deaths or complete incompetence from too many players would make it impossible for the raid group as a whole to get to the required level of performance.

Type C: Challenging the Weakest In this type of raid encounter special boss abilities are used which result in errors of any player causing a wipe. Usually this is done with some sort of debuff, which requires a fast reaction from the victim to not hurt the whole raid. As the debuff is random, the raid group cannot afford to bring anyone not likely to react fast enough, as that would cause a wipe for everyone.

Note that players generally consider that the overall challenge of a raid encounter goes up from type A to type B to type C. But in fact the difference is mainly affecting the weakest players in the raid group. For the strongest players there is no inherent difference in the degree of individual challenge in the three types.

That has important social consequences. Some players will of course say that type C encounters which challenge everyone equally are the best. But for the strongest players that isn't automatically the case: They have a huge influence on the outcome of a type A raid encounter, but will frequently fall victim to the errors of other players in a type C encounter. The wide-spread anger and hate of good players against weaker players can be explained by this type C sort of encounters: Nothing is more frustrating than if you did the best performance humanly possible, and your raid is still getting wiped repeatedly because the same few people repeatedly underperformed.

The natural reaction of guilds to this problem is to try to kick out the underperformers (or at least not give them a raid spot), and try as much as possible to gather a raid team of equal performance level. Unfortunately that often results in other problems: Groups naturally have a hacking order, with leaders and followers, and several levels in between. Social cohesion in a team of superstar prima donnas is often a problem, a fact well known in sports teams. Taking the best players from various soccer clubs for example to gather them in a national team isn't always resulting in the expected high level of performance.

So for a typical guild with some people more dedicated than others, more skilled, and often better geared due to more frequent raid attendance, and others less dedicated, less skilled, and less geared to varying degrees, type A or B raid encounters are probably preferable. Don't think of them as permitting leeching, think of them as preventing the weaker players from wiping your raid.
Comments:
Social cohesion in a team of superstar prima donnas is often a problem, a fact well known in sports teams. Taking the best players from various soccer clubs for example to gather them in a national team isn't always resulting in the expected high level of performance.


For 99% of all guilds this comparision is wrong. What they do is kick the guys who don't want to work for the team and try to attract more who do.
 
For 99% of all guilds this comparision is wrong. What they do is kick the guys who don't want to work for the team and try to attract more who do.

How is that different from what I said, except for me stating it in more neutral tones and talking about degrees of dedication, instead of using derogatory terms like "kick the guys who don't want to work for the team"? In any case you end up with a selection of the most dedicated players, most eager to advance, and most annoyed about the others when anything goes wrong.

As you can't get into a top guild with a freshly minted level 80, most players in those guilds have been working their way up through several lesser guilds to get the gear and basic experience required to be accepted. So the comparison with lets say a national soccer league is totally fitting.
 
So really to change an encounter from normal to hard mode, you might want to add components to switch it from type A to type C. Interesting.
 
Hmm, as a raid leader, I really like this classification system, let me try classifying ToC.

Northrend Beasts -

Gormok the Impaler: Type A. High damage on tanks, tank rotation on boss, lots of raid damage to be healed.

Jormungar Twins: Tougher to sort out due to lots of mechanics where a player can kill themselves easily, but probably still type A. Lots of raid damage and tanks need to play well. Again, no enrage.

Icehowl: Type C. If a player cannot move away from the wall the boss will have an enraged phase that can kill tanks, as well as NOT having his weakened phase of taking extra damage.

Lord Jaraxxus: What do you think of this encounter Tobold? Tanks need to pick up adds who need to be quickly killed by DPS. No enrage timer. I've wiped before because of Type C like mechanics (GET OUT OF THE FIRE!) and healers must also deal with a lot of raid damage, as well as a unique debuff that has to be quickly healed or it will become a bomb that blows up the raid. I'm inclined to classify it is Type A, as weaker players can theoretically be carried here.

Faction Champions: Type B, no enrage timer but everyone has to do their job adequately in terms of CC'ing the enemy Champions, kiting, DPS, raid healing like a PvP situation. If someone doesn't do their job and it takes too long to get the first kill, the raid can wipe. This fight was nerfed by Blizzard this week and feels much easier now, the damage output they stack on random raid members is significantly reduced.

Twin Valkyr: Classic Type C. The Twins require an intimate knowledge of specific mechanics to the fight, to get a black or white aura, when to change auras, catching or avoiding the balls of energy which cause large AoE damage if the wrong color hits a player. High DPS to break a bubble and interrupt a heal, if 2 heals are missed the boss will often reach an enrage timer.

Anub'arak: Also Type C due to instant kill mechanics in the kiting phase, if people die during this phase than their won't likely be enough damage in phase 3 to kill the boss.

Malygos is really a Type B fight I think due to the DPS requirements, as you discussed in the past. I think final boss fights are most often Type C and wipes can happen quickly and feel quite unforgiving, such as Kel'Thuzad.
 
The chance of error grows from type A to type C. In type A you have maybe three men who can screw up. In type C you have maybe 25 men who can screw up. The risk goes up a lot.

And yes, type C encounters can be frustrating. You'll eventually notice that it's always the same people who for example can not run when they are going to explode in a few seconds. A few bad guys are holding up the rest. Kicking is the correct thing to do here but often they've got friends and it's not that easy to just kick them...

As for type A & B. It is taking leeches with you. But people won't mind as much as in scenario C. You can still continue, just at a slower pace. But I still hate to be in a guild where I'm doing double or even triple DPS then those "DPS" at the bottom. If people were all on the same level you could do the same instance in half the time. And continue to do the more difficult, C type encounters.
 
I beg to differ.

A simple tank 'n' spank boss with lots of HP is not a challenge for the strongest. The margin for error in this kind of encounters is highly dependent on the gear of the main tank and the manapool of the healers. So the stronger or better geared these essential avatars are the less challenging it actually gets.

The so called "simon says" encounters in which you have to reasonably do your ingame job and hop in circles on your left leg with one finger in your nose at the same time are challenging everyone mo matter how "strong" or "weak", because it's simply more complicated that mashing the same buttonsa over and over again. Furthermore these kind of encounters determine the strength of the players according to their skill and not according to their gear, which is a much better way. (Fort some people shutting up and listening is already a challenge.)

Finally I would like to point out that both kinds of strength: gear and skill are not static. In time every raidnoob will be better geared and more comfortable with the raid environment making him/her a better performer. On the other hand guilds usually lose their "best performers" to "uber guilds" or real life/burnout/boredom if they are the top guilds.

Therefore putting up with and training "underperformers" instead of kicking them is essentially a neccessity.

Kyff
 
So really to change an encounter from normal to hard mode, you might want to add components to switch it from type A to type C.

Fully agree. And I do think that "hard mode" is the ideal place for type C encounters, because there is good justification to not allow any weaker players in hard mode.

Finally I would like to point out that both kinds of strength: gear and skill are not static.

Yes, I was using "weak" and "strong" in that sense. A strong player would be somebody who not only knows how to play his class, but also put sufficient effort into gathering gear, and who has fast reaction time in situations where he "needs to get out of the fire" or similar.

The so called "simon says" encounters in which you have to reasonably do your ingame job and hop in circles on your left leg with one finger in your nose at the same time are challenging everyone mo matter how "strong" or "weak", because it's simply more complicated that mashing the same buttonsa over and over again. Furthermore these kind of encounters determine the strength of the players according to their skill and not according to their gear, which is a much better way.

Here I think you are using a too narrow definition of "skill". I know players who know their class extremely well, and are able to make excellent tactical decisions on what spells to use in what situation, but who do have slow reaction times, and in consequence die more often to effects that require you to react quickly. I wouldn't call those players "unskilled", they are just slow. Reaction speed is not a pure skill, it depends a lot on natural factors as well.
 
As you can't get into a top guild with a freshly minted level 80, most players in those guilds have been working their way up through several lesser guilds to get the gear and basic experience required to be accepted. So the comparison with lets say a national soccer league is totally fitting.

Which is exactly what I am saying: 99% auf all guids are not top guilds :)
 
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Here I think you are using a too narrow definition of "skill". I know players who know their class extremely well, and are able to make excellent tactical decisions on what spells to use in what situation, but who do have slow reaction times, and in consequence die more often to effects that require you to react quickly. I wouldn't call those players "unskilled", they are just slow. Reaction speed is not a pure skill, it depends a lot on natural factors as well.
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I feel yourself may be using to broad a definition of skill.

I think there are 3 primary factors to a well played character. They are not all of equal importance and as you've illustrated some fights require some more then the other.

1) Gear: This is the easiest to get, and with the exception of tanks usually doesn't make a tremendous difference on a players overall performance.

2) Knowledge: This covers everything from fight mechanics, to knowing the correct skill rotation to a deep understanding of your talent trees and game mechanics. I'd argue this is the most important factor for the vast majority of fights. Its harder then skill to acquire, but anyone with dedication can achieve it.

3) Skill: This is your ability to physically act on your knowledge. Your knowledge might tell you that standing in the fire is detrimental to yourself and the raid, your gear may provide enough hit points to survive in the fire for a few extra seconds, but the bottom line is that if you do not get OUT of the fire, you are going to die and the raid is going to regret bringing you.

Of the above three, skill is the hardest to acquire because it exists beyond the game. You can grind badges to get better gear, you can read up on your class mechanics or watch fight videos to gain more knowledge but nothing short of a lot of practice is going to get your more skilled. Then we have to consider natural limitations on skill. Not everyone has the same reflexes, and never will. Its possible that you practicing 24hours a day will never bring you up to the level of someone else.

I think this is interesting as this is where MMORPG's have started to stray greatly from their origin as RPG's. In an RPG the actions of your character were meant to be judged by your character. If your character was skilled enough to hit a goblin with a sword, the he hit. MMO's have become increasingly twitchy in an effort to appeal to wider audiences but at the same time their alienating others.
 
"Therefore putting up with and training "underperformers" instead of kicking them is essentially a neccessity."

I tried that..didn't work. I spend about two years training always about 5 underperformers at once because all good players were already taken. In the end they all categorised themselves into two categories:
Type A: Is so amazed that he does a good job now that he gets arrogant and applies for a top guild right away. You will only hear from him again when he is over his guilty conscience and wants to show you that he is better equipped than you are.

Type B: He stays a little longer. But when he is finally in full epics he doesn't understand why anyone would want to do hardmodes or do a higher raid instance. Why replace epics with epics if even the lowest type of epics will let you have an easy time in 5-mans? He will show up less and less often. If you keep pestering him he will first make up excuses ("I'm very busy at work right now") and later leave the raid ("Real life is more important to me at the moment than some game"). You will probably hear from him when the next addon hits and he is in greens again.

There is probably a mythical type C who turns into a great asset after you train him, but I never saw that happen in two years. It is easy to make someone hit the right keys at the right time, but the necessary mindset builds much slower. Most people care too much about purples when they do their first raids. In many cases that gets ugly. They will do it better at their next raid, but thats too late for you. It also is hard to teach someone that even that small enchant on his boots and that one hastepotion each fight will make a difference. I took me quite some time to learn it, how can I be surprised if my pupils aren't faster than that?
 
2) Knowledge: This covers everything from fight mechanics, to knowing the correct skill rotation to a deep understanding of your talent trees and game mechanics. I'd argue this is the most important factor for the vast majority of fights. Its harder then skill to acquire, but anyone with dedication can achieve it.

3) Skill: This is your ability to physically act on your knowledge. Your knowledge might tell you that standing in the fire is detrimental to yourself and the raid, your gear may provide enough hit points to survive in the fire for a few extra seconds, but the bottom line is that if you do not get OUT of the fire, you are going to die and the raid is going to regret bringing you.


I think there is something missing in between those two, something which I would call tactical skill, which is why I don't like using "skill" for only the reaction speed part.

In vanilla WoW as a healer I still needed a lot more of that tactical skill. It wasn't enough to "know" a spell rotation, or to have the "skill" to keep casting heals while moving out of the fire. You needed to take tactical decisions every second, on which spell to use on which target, taking into account both speed, overheal probability, and mana efficiency. Unfortunately Blizzard removed the mana efficiency part of the equation, so tactical skill counts for less now.
 
There is probably a mythical type C who turns into a great asset after you train him, but I never saw that happen in two years.

So you were born with an epic spoon in your mouth, were never the underperforming part of any raid, and already always knew everything without anyone ever training you? I would have thought that the very existence of good raiders proves that your type C player who turns into a great asset must exist. Everybody had to learn raiding at some point.
 
"So you were born with an epic spoon in your mouth, were never the underperforming part of any raid, and already always knew everything without anyone ever training you? I would have thought that the very existence of good raiders proves that your type C player who turns into a great asset must exist. Everybody had to learn raiding at some point."

Yes, but that learning takes time. Way more time than just learning when to push what key. I can show any player how to dish out damage like a pro in days, but it takes month or even years to turn that guy into a valuable raider. Most people who are good raiders today didn't have some teacher who showed them how to play and from that day they were great, they were bad players, got experience, got gradually better, learned from their (sometimes harsh) mistakes and finally, perhaps a year or even two years later they are good raiders. My point is that becoming a good raider takes time and you can't bypass most of that time by telling someone how to play. Someone taught like that will do a great job with his character but won't understand whats the sense of raiding besides loot, will cause lootdrama, won't understand the need to show up at least a bit regulary, will mistake gear for skill and all the other things we learned the slow and hard way.
 
Why is there no Self-Adjusting Boss-fight, with a standard difficulty and gaining health and perhaps even new abilities based on the everage (or sum of the raid's) item level, for example. That way, a blue group can fight an appropriate boss, whereas the full T9 group can as well fight the same boss but a perhas totally different encounter.
 
There is probably a mythical type C who turns into a great asset after you train him, but I never saw that happen in two years.
*raises hand*
*points at everyone in sight*
We all started somewhere. Some higher in personal skill than others, but no one was 'born' in WoW with every achievement linkable and full epics.
 
Thanks for the post. I had been wondering whether it was possible to make a more casual-friendly game by making raid groups require a spectrum or variety of skill so that less-skilled friends could contribute in easy-to-play roles. But now I see that is handled (somewhat) by raid design.
 
There is so much excellence in this categorisation. I was thinking about it a lot today.

You could have classified content by its mechanics and the strategic response to it (tank/spank or tank-swap-taunt etc), but classifying by the locus of pressure is another more useful dimension, I think.
 
I'm an officer in a guild that started very raid casual and improved steadily to the point of becoming borderline hardcore. Part of the job of a trainer/officer is to instill the right mindset in their team members. It starts by being stern and clear about what is expected from before the player ever joins. Too many leaders also avoid forcing hard consequences onto players for behavior that hurts the guild. (The player who leaves should expect to never return. The player who disappears until the next raid comes out should expect no raid spot and no loot for quite some time.) Finally, players need to understand why attendance and homework and personal improvement are so important. This requires constant communication with everyone involved and management of the guild's identity as a whole. If you only show a player the 'right' talents and abilities, you're not teaching them how to fish. You're giving them a free lunch. Just my opinion, obviously.
 
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