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.