Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 13, 2014
 
A question for the hardcore

The hardcore vs. casual debate is getting increasingly ugly on the Wildstar forums. A lot of people who didn't think of themselves as "casual" made it to level 20, tried the first dungeon, and found out that Wildstar in fact considers them to be part of the unwashed masses not worthy to do group content. So they complain, and get shouted down by those who like the Wildstar difficulty as it is. But in all that discussion I am missing one rather essential point. And so I am asking it here:

Imagine that all what the hardcore players say is true, and that ultra-hard content and 12-step attunements and all that is good for the game. But what exactly would be the harm if we take all that group content and duplicate it, providing an "easy mode" copy with lesser rewards?

To me it appears that for a raiding guild to function, there needs to be a pool of potential candidates out there. And it would be much preferable if those candidates had already SOME knowledge and training in the content that the raiding guild wants to tackle. Furthermore one of the motivations of the hardcore appears to be wanting to be a role model that other players look up to. But a real casual player who is interested in decorating his house and his mount collection or whatever isn't going to look up to a raider strutting around in epics. Somebody who is doing easy mode raid content is much more likely to see a hardcore raider as a role model.

But most of all I consider the financial implications. If there is a large population who would like to do group content, but isn't able to, they are likely to quit Wildstar. It would cost very little of money and developer time to provide them with an easy mode copy of the dungeons and raids. And then they would stay at the very least some time longer, contributing more money to Carbine's ability to produce future content for the game.

The only possible argument I can see how easy mode would be bad is that some people would shy away from hardcore raiding if easy mode raiding was available. But honestly, is that really the sort of player you would want in your hardcore raid?

So I really can't understand why anybody would be against the *additional* provision of easy mode content, after giving the hardcore raiders all the ultra-hard raiding content and shiny epics they desire. If you know any good arguments, please tell me!

Comments:
But, but welfare epics!

It's all about little people that are unhappy with reality being able to lord it over people with real lives.

I've killed Arthas and Illidan - the guild I did it with were hardcore, but didn't act hardcore (#BecauseMaturity).

The people acting hardcore on forums, it's like being cool - if you have to ask, you aren't.
 
In any given context, if you ask the question of why not have more options/diversity/inclusion, the answer is always the same:

No good reason against it whatsoever.

Back in WoW I still used to think that one of the big downsides of allowing more casual or solo play was that it became harder for group-focused players (such as myself) to find a group. but the truth is, game design can't force you to 'correct' your playstyle if you have not the time (or in some cases not the skill). the solo people were never available to me - neither before not after 'casualization'. the only thing that happened was that they were excluded from certain content.
 
@Tobold

"So I really can't understand why anybody would be against the *additional* provision of easy mode content, after giving the hardcore raiders all the ultra-hard raiding content and shiny epics they desire. If you know any good arguments, please tell me!"

People are worried that

1. the casual population will be larger than the hardmode population. (I'm not using the casual/hardcore terminology because to me that implies time commitment, and what we're talking about here is difference in difficulty, not necessarily time)
2. People are worried that since the casual population will be larger than the hardmode population, that the devs will cater to them instead.

1 is a reasonable fear, 2 seems less reasonable at first, but if someone wants Wildstar to remain exactly as it is now, 2 is actually pretty reasonable.

Here's the thing about the (casuals are a larger crowd than the less casual crowd, so 'x' game should be changed to cater to casuals more'.) argument that you often make. There are 2 decent counterarguments to be made against it

A. Just because the casual crowd is larger, it doesn't mean that it makes business sense for every single game out there to be aimed at casuals. Some niche games should exist. Your argument doesn't include analysis of which games should be niche and which shouldn't, so you are overgeneralizing.
B. You are assuming that the only way to get huge casual numbers is to cater specifically to them. I don't think this is necessarily true.

@michael baker: "I've killed Arthas and Illidan - the guild I did it with were hardcore, but didn't act hardcore"

If 'acting hardcore' = 'acting immature' to you, as it clearly does, than your definition begs the question.

 
I left an important part out: "after giving the hardcore raiders all the ultra-hard raiding content and shiny epics they desire."

That's impossible, it has never happened, and it never will.
 
"B. You are assuming that the only way to get huge casual numbers is to cater specifically to them. I don't think this is necessarily true."


No he doesn't?
All he's saying is, why can't it have BOTH? :D if devs already go through that trouble of designing epic raid content, why on earth would they declare it hardcore only?

You can have both in MMOs and you can cater to both audiences - you don't need to be niche for niche's sake?
and more: if down the line this will show that the casual approach IS indeed more popular, you know what that means? it means that there is zero argument pro hardcore-only content from a business POV. none. :)

That's the beauty of it, all they gotta do is offer both and then watch their player base and let them decide what they truly prefer. I'm sorry if a couple of hardcores have a problem with that type of choice.
 
@Syl:

"No he doesn't?"

I'm not going to look through hundreds of thousands of words of prior blogposts to back that up; so we'll have to agree to disagree.

"All he's saying is, why can't it have BOTH?"

I'm not saying it can't have BOTH--as it obviously can. I'm saying that a game that tries to have both will inevitably make some compromises along the way--or, more accurately, every game I'm familiar with has done that. E.g.; Wow. It offers hardmode raids, but the solo and 5 man experience is all easy. WoW used to have hard solo and 5 man content, but now it doesn't. This is a concrete example of what current Wildstar players are afraid of; and most of those players probably experienced it first-hand. So, to recap, Wildstar players are against Wildstar offering easier raids, because it will lead to solo/5 man content getting nerfed, possibly, and they are extra sensitive to that possibility because it already happened in WoW, which is why they switched to Wildstar.

"if down the line this will show that the casual approach IS indeed more popular, you know what that means? it means that there is zero argument pro hardcore-only content from a business POV. none. :"

No it doesn't. Which is more popular, McDonalds, or Per Se? Does this mean from a business POV, there is no reason for Per Se to exist? No, it doesn't; therefore your argument is logically flawed.

"That's the beauty of it, all they gotta do is offer both and then watch their player base and let them decide what they truly prefer"

According to that theory, McDonalds should try to compete with Per Se, and Per Se should try to compete with McDonalds. That is not a reasonable theory.

"I'm sorry if a couple of hardcores have a problem with that type of choice."

Your sorrow is not required.
 
Easy-mode options are great in that it means you can tune your harder modes to be really hard and get more people enjoying the fruits of your limited resources. The only downsides are that you've got to get the reward/risk balance right and you are expressly telling half the population that they aren't good enough for hard-core.
 
The general idea, I believe, is that if you make the content available on an easier difficulty then content itself serves as less of a lure.

I've seen quite a few people who daydream through LFR and declare that they've beaten the latest raid. They simply wanted to see it in some form and see zero reason to "do it again only slightly harder." To them it's simply the same content.

Therefore by only having one raid difficulty you certainly lose out on people who have no interest in hard raid content but you get the crowd who just wants to do the content in SOME form. If it was a single player game it would be irrelevant if an easy mode existed but in a game where you need recruits you need some hook to get people into your difficult of content.

And you lose out on a lot of recruits when people don't need to do your difficult to see the content.

Now, is it possible that the overall population of the game and subsequently recruits becomes smaller by people quitting because they don't get into any difficulty of raiding? Yes, but obviously the hardcores you're referring to disagree with that argument.

Or, to summarize: said hardcores think seeing the content IS the reward and the necessary hook to attract people.

"I've killed Arthas and Illidan - the guild I did it with were hardcore, but didn't act hardcore (#BecauseMaturity)."

I run a two night a week guild that's full cleared heroics since Firelands. We're a collection of mature adults with busy schedules but by most definitions we're certainly "hardcore" due to that whole "killing all bosses on hardest difficulty" bit.

So I strongly object to your suggestion that "hardcore" people are immature -- especially given some of the things I've seen from self-proclaimed "casual" players.
 
Whoops. "difficult" = "difficulty."

3 AM, brain not working well.
 
@Balkoth
"And you lose out on a lot of recruits when people don't need to do your difficult to see the content."

I'll go out on a limb here and say this is a dubious theory at best (see my first comment above). Players that _cannot_ do hard content because reallife, time restraints etc. don't do hard content. they can't do it. so you're not losing them to easier content.

@Mike
You're making it sound as if there's a two-company scenario here that happily co-exist in some imaginary market. bottom line for any MMO: if I get more money catering to X than Y, I'll try get X onboard first (and Y too, if possible). there is only an appeal in being niche if being niche is your alternative to being nothing. EVE online is a successful niche because EVE would never make it as a mainstream title anyway, so they made a virtue out of necessity. but Wildstar has a very wide appeal imo and there's value in trying to reach that audience.

However, I'm trying to understand your main con-argument here, so bear with me:

The main fear of hardcore players is that their content gets nerfed too once the devs realize that the casual content is more popular. you base that assumption on WoW and other games - fair enough. I have two issues with this though:

- if we have to play 'either or', then taking the smaller group's side is both economically and socially questionable.

- just because WoW and others did it, doesn't mean WS has to. I agree it sucks to remove harder content altogether; if I argue for both, I'd like to see them keep both. but just because we've seen other devs do one thing doesn't make it a solid argument against something that could work fine in theory.

 
The level 20 dungeons are not that hard. A bit of timely dodging and some interrupts in the right place are all that's needed to defeat most of them. And, horror of horrors, collecting a few bits of healing/tanking gear as you level! Oh no!

The people whinging about the difficulty of a couple of level 20 dungeons are not casuals, they are idiots. At low levels, at least, the pug experience in Wildstar game is no different to Vanilla/TBC era WOW which was by no means "hardcore" until you got up to the higher tier raids. Those were the days when people used to actually talk to each other in pugs and the game gave real saitsfaction from working together with people to overcome a challenge rather than just brainlessly mashing a few buttons and collecting loot 15 minutes later.

Yes some people will leave, but I think a lot of people will learn to love it if carbine stick to their guns. The community in this game is by far the best I have played in a long time and I think that comes from players needing to work together.

The danger in catering to the idiots is that a few years down the line we will end up in a situation like WOW is at the moment where there is literaly no difficult small group content in the game at all. What the lack of any meaningful group content outside raids has done is not driven the hardcore or the idiots away but driven the well-adjusted mature players who want a challenge away. If wildstar can keep those players by offering challenging content of all types (quest, solo, 5-man, raid, pvp etc.) then carbine wont need to worry about the idiots or the "hardcore".
 
@Mike Andrade

I think there is a flaw in your argument. Imagine you arrive at the point where you have drive away the majority of casual players from Wildstar, and your hardcore population is larger than your casual population. But that will ONLY be true for your EXISTING players. In the outside world, the casual population will ALWAYS be larger than the hardcore population. Thus a developer who isn't making sufficient profits will ALWAYS have to consider attracting casual players to make more money.

In short, your worry number 2 will never, ever go away.

I do agree that "some niche games should exist". I don't agree that Wildstar is a niche game, or that the financial effort put into developing Wildstar is compatible with a niche game. A niche game is Darkfall, Mortal Online, or a Tale in the Desert. Already EVE Online is NOT a niche game, and it does have a larger casual population sticking to empire space than the hardcore population in null sec.

And I don't think that "the only way to get huge casual numbers is to cater specifically to them". I don't think adding easy mode would "cater to casuals". What it does is provide content for casuals, so they have something to do, and don't get bored and quit the game. What is wrong with that?
 
@Maz: Fair warning: If you continue to use words like "idiots" to people who play differently from you, I will delete your comments and kick you from this blog.

There is absolutely no correlation between your IQ and your ability to run a dungeon. Reaction time has nothing to do with intelligence.
 
But most of all I consider the financial implications.

Because why not sell out?

The thing is you're not seeing any particular merit in making a statement with difficulty. Maybe you'd rant if they had remade Romeo and Juliet but they happily get together at the end because that'd sell more movie tickets - maybe you'd think that'd undermine some integrity to the work. But with difficulty, you don't associate that as being another type of integrity - you think it's just about selling more tickets.

It is an integrity.

Granted, if there are the usual souless corp types in charge, they'll probably sell out soon enough. But it will be a sell out.

Also assuming ninja gaiden is hard or dark souls is hard, why not a post for an easy mode for them as well?

(note: Have not played wild star, just taking it that it is a difficult game)
 
@Syl: "You're making it sound as if there's a two-company scenario here that happily co-exist in some imaginary market."

I don't think that I am. I'm consciously using analogies to restaurants, knowing that there are many more restaurants than there are MMOs.

"EVE online is a successful niche because EVE would never make it as a mainstream title anyway, so they made a virtue out of necessity. but Wildstar has a very wide appeal imo and there's value in trying to reach that audience."

This is precisely the kind of argument that is usually missing from this discussion, bravo. I don't know if you are right, but you're at least on the right track.

"- if we have to play 'either or', then taking the smaller group's side is both economically and socially questionable."

Well, the smaller group is taking their own side, which seems eminently practical. The issue for the devs remains as above...is Wildstar, at heart, a niche game or a mainstream game?

"just because WoW and others did it, doesn't mean WS has to"

And the sun doesn't "have to" rise tomorrow, but it's reasonable to assume that it will. The assumption, that MMOs which attempt to serve multiple audiences will almost always make compromises, currently lacks a counterexample. I notice that you didn't attempt to provide one.

"but just because we've seen other devs do one thing doesn't make it a solid argument against something that could work fine in theory. "

I disagree, I think it is a solid argument that the thing which could work fine in theory probably won't happen soon. (where "it" is the proposition that it hasn't happened so far, and where soon is a relative term depending on how long the observations have been ongoing).





 
@Mike
"I think it is a solid argument that the thing which could work fine in theory probably won't happen soon"

hehe....and there's a good possibility you'll be right. I don't doubt that.

I haven't given an example because we both know that I cannot (although that in itself means very little). :D but that doesn't mean I can't keep hoping or wishing for an improved scenario in the future. right now, every Wildstar debate is full of WoW baggage and on both sides. I wish for them to prove us wrong.
 
@Tobold:

"I think there is a flaw in your argument...

In short, your worry number 2 will never, ever go away."

My argument is so correct that it's eternally true, and that's a flaw? May all my arguments be flawed forevermore, in that case.

"Already EVE Online is NOT a niche game, and it does have a larger casual population sticking to empire space than the hardcore population in null sec."

We'll have to agree to disagree on that one. I see nothing wrong with a successful niche game having more players than a failed mainstream game.--but let's not focus on semantics.

" I don't agree that Wildstar is a niche game,"

Well, I'm not personally claiming that Wildstar is/should be a niche game, I'm just presenting the argument from the perspective of those gamers who you've mentioned that seem to want to make/keep Wildstar niche. In the end, Wildstar's devs will make that call. Reading your post makes Wildstar sound fairly niche, though.

"What it does is provide content for casuals, so they have something to do, and don't get bored and quit the game. What is wrong with that?"

If Wildstar is trying to be a hardcore niche game, than that dilutes its focus, and so it would be wrong in the same way that Per Se serving cheap fast food would be "wrong". If Wildstar is not trying to be a hardcore niche game, than nothing is wrong with that. I don't personally have any investment in either choice; I'm just trying to point out that such a choice exists.

 
I think Balkoth has the right of it. Content in itself is a reward, so by having a lower difficulty setting you're giving out that same reward for less effort and making the higher difficulty less interesting.

To answer Syl's counterpoint, players don't exist in a binary state of "unable to do difficult content, ever" and "super hardcore". I know because I'm one of those in the middle myself. ;) By having just one difficulty, you funnel all those "middle" players into it because it's the only way to see the content, (hopefully) creating a healthy raiding population in the process. Letting them see the content for less effort than they are capable of starves the top of a lot of recruits.

As an example, many apparently consider Burning Crusade's raiding quite hardcore in retrospect - but I'm pretty sure that percentage-wise, more people did that content back then than there are people who do heroic modes now... simply because they wanted to see the content and that was the only way. (Feel free to prove me wrong if you have numbers... I couldn't find any myself.)
 
Because the hardcore wouldn't feel speshul enough if the casuals are doing it too! :P

All snark aside, I think the only good argument against more options/alternatives is how much additional developmental time/cost it may take the devs.

You may say that the maps and all are already there, but reducing difficulty is not just a matter of scaling down some numbers and praying. They have to test and tune and possibly scale back on the complexity of certain mechanics.

How reduced should the rewards be as a result, too? To make it attractive for casuals but not attractive for the hardcore to do it in lieu of the harder difficulty?

Players have a propensity to optimize, for one thing, and the solution may be, gear up with ez raid first for hard raid, which would then lead to whining from the 'hardcore' for being forced to do both. (Something I don't have much personal sympathy for, imo, if you've accepted that you're going to treadmill, there's little use protesting minute differences in how absurd one part of the treadmill is over another.) But maybe the devs would be concerned that they'll lose these players from perceived tedium.


 
Because why not sell out?
and
Reading your post makes Wildstar sound fairly niche, though.

I think there is some confusion here in the arguments. What you are having is an argument why or why not Wildstar should be designed in a way that appeals to a niche population. My question is a different one:

Given the visible quality of Wildstar (which makes it a triple A game in my eyes), and the probable development cost and cost of running / producing more equally high quality content, can Wildstar financially survive with a niche population of players?

I don't think so. I think Wildstar has a mass market cost structure, which is incompatible with a niche market design.


 
"Easy mode" and "hard mode" breaks immersion.

In WoW, there is no "world". I say that I killed the great wallbreaker beast all by myself. You say that you do it. Some third guy says we are crazy as the wall isn't even broken. If you want a world to EXIST, it must be the same for all players.

Players are Gods in WoW, with a click I can command a boss to become weaker or stronger. Wildstar doesn't want that.


 
@Shintar
"...players don't exist in a binary state of "unable to do difficult content, ever" and "super hardcore". I know because I'm one of those in the middle myself."

well, I'm in the middle myself :)
and that's not the binary scenario I think of, either.

to me, time/availability is an absolute constraint. maybe we define casual restraints differently you and I; if you have constraints that won't allow you to let's say raid 4hrs per night plus preptime or camp outdoor bosses for attunements, you don't stop having those constraints just because the game forces you to swallow that pill or leave it. Just like my friend Dave won't stop having to go check on his baby daughter once per hour while we do a dungeon that hopefully won't ever come with a timer ;)

The casual crowd I argue for isn't in 'the middle' after your definition. it's people who are never on the market for more hardcore content in the first place - just like those players who don't count towards "lost subscriptions" in f2p games because they would never have subbed anyway.

now, whether this group is big enough to factor in is a different question but if other casual games are any indication and if we also consider the aging MMO playerbase, well....
 
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@Tobold Arguments aside about whether it is fair or not to call people idiots because they can't grasp a fight with 2 simple mechanics within 10 tries (I think it is you think it isn't, fair enough), I am not convinced that the player demographic for mmorpgs actually follows the pyramid that most people seem to think it does.

Other populations follow a bell curve and I think it is likely that mmorpg players do too. Because of smoke and mirrors surrounding the number for different regions of Wow we will never know which version of the game was really most popular with the western mmo audience Wildstar is (currently) aimed at. I think most people would agree the most popular version certainly isn't the current one which provides little/no content for the majority of people in the middle of the ability curve. I think the gamble that Carbine are making is for the difficulty level of the normal Wildstar dungeons and adventures to hit that middle mark perfectly. Time will tell if they have got it right.

All this being said I really can't see a justification for the horrible time sinks they have put in for raid attunement. It's fair enough requiring the dungeon achievements as they are expected to be a step on the way to raiding but why the grind? And why the 6 hour raids? These are the things that are likely to deter the majority who have jobs, families etc. not the difficulty.
 
Copy/pasted easier content makes the harder content less desirable to complete.
After killing Garrosh on raid finder many people sure as hell won't try to beat him in an organised raid. They might have tried if there had been no easy version.

Nobody is against additional content - no matter the difficulty. But to add copy/pasted easy content is different.
 
Pretty much what WoW ended up doing.

During Vanilla, only a few thousand people saw the end of Naxxramas. On our server, there were 0 guilds that finished it. And that's with guilds playing 5 days a week, 4 hours an evening.

Blizzard figured out that there's no point in spending tons of money on content that nobody will see. So yeah, they recycled it. They added easier modes to content. Even going as far as a LFR.

And for the hardcore? Add some higher end rewards for doing the content on a harder difficulty. Everyone wins.
 
Copy/pasted easier content makes the harder content less desirable to complete.
and
The general idea, I believe, is that if you make the content available on an easier difficulty then content itself serves as less of a lure.

Good point. I might have to write a whole post about that. It completely reverses the perception that hardcore is something exclusive into a model where the hardcore players are actually trying to force the semi-hardcore to join them.

It also touches on the very core of what "being hardcore" means. Are you hardcore because you ENJOY 6-hour raids, or are you hardcore because you decided to join a 6-hour raid due to lack of easier alternatives that you would have liked more?
 
Copy/pasted easier content makes the harder content less desirable to complete.

Actually, this is exactly contrary to what is/was observed in solo games. In DOOM, completing as the lowest difficulty levels pushed you to try a harder one (they even added one more "hard level" later on). Not to mention all the stupid challenges like killing bosses with the chainsaw only.

 
Maybe multi-player games have different social dynamics to single-player games.

I'm with those who say that casualization will ultimately tend to erode the soul of any challenging content in a game. People tend to drift towards the easy options, the overall skill level drops, and eventually the challenging content disappears.

Some people want that. Some people don't want that. The rest is all smoke.
 
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Half the challenge should have reduced rewards. That takes time to implement. Not against it at all, but they did say many times they were aiming for a more challenging game. Something to be said about sticking to your vision, even if you lose people.


 
"It also touches on the very core of what "being hardcore" means. Are you hardcore because you ENJOY 6-hour raids, or are you hardcore because you decided to join a 6-hour raid due to lack of easier alternatives that you would have liked more?"

For me it has always been a measure of your determination to do the hardest content available.

So if you only doing it because there is no easier way of getting the rewards you want then I do not consider you really "hardcore".

One example of the "hardcore" approach is Gevlon's blues raiding group from WotLK. They deliberately handicapped themselves to make the content harder and see if they could still beat it.

 
"Actually, this is exactly contrary to what is/was observed in solo games. In DOOM, completing as the lowest difficulty levels pushed you to try a harder one (they even added one more "hard level" later on)."

See, this is the thing about having variable difficulty levels. It completely depends on the individual.

Others were content playing through the game once on easy or standard difficulty and then stopped. Which, imo, is perfectly acceptable, because there's no need to force these people to go onto harder difficulties.

Those who want to push themselves will push themselves to the next level.

I'm playing Path of Exile now, and it has the same idea of variable difficulty. The "endgame" is regarded as past the third Merciless difficulty and the hardcore folks were there long ago. Me, I'm at the last act at the second Cruel difficulty and discovering those first character bogged-down woes, but I'm formulating plans and ideas to get through it to the next difficulty because I want to.

Others may decide that they've already seen the main content on the easiest normal difficulty and stop. Or make alts that fit some build idea and have fun. And that's fine, there's no need to "force" them into a harder difficulty if they don't want to be there.

Sometimes it really makes me wonder what kind of mindset of scarcity the stereotypical 'hardcore' raiders have, that they are apparently threatened by others having what they have, or seeing what they've seen or that their prestige is somehow lessened, and yet somehow so insecure that they'll lack critical mass to do their raids that they have to force the less hardcore to join them to make up numbers. (And then proceed to lambast said individuals for not being good enough and spoiling their raid?)
 
Aren't you making an assumption that most people *want* to do group content? What if most people don't care about that? They just want to be able to chat, etc, as they work on their house and do other solo content.
 
I've never seen any of the hardcore players that I respect complain about the existence of Raid Finder/Flex.

I've seen complaints that Blizzard hasn't tuned 5 mans well enough, and didn't release new ones throughout Mists, but Blizz is trying some new things related in WoD.

I've seen complaints that LFR feels required, at least at the start of a tier, because trinkets and set bonuses, but Blizz is trying something different for that in WoD.

I've seen complaints that even heroic raids are not hard enough, but Blizzard is launching Mythic difficulty in WoD. Mythic difficulty is ostensibly the old Heroic difficulty, but since they're forcing 20 man raid sizes to run it, they said that is going to give them some freedom to be more masochistic.

Someone else mentioned that Wildstar has more to do at max level, and some of those things sounds great, but there are lots of other things to do in WoW at max level. To do the very hardest pet battles, it seems like there is some almost Sunwell level pet stacking required, for example.
 
@Rick - but if people don't want to do group content, the entire premise of the MMORPG is void. They might as well plays SIMS or like Farmville or something.
 
"It would cost very little of money and developer time to provide them with an easy mode copy of the dungeons and raids."

Just a side note: It's probably not as easy for the developers to do that as you make it sound. I would think it's more than just adjusting the health of the mobs. WildStar's difficulty is a result of all the dodging and moving and coordinated interrupts you have to do.

In any case Carbine might respond that the regular questing *is* the easymode version of adventures and dungeons.
 
Aren't you making an assumption that most people *want* to do group content?

No, I am making an assumption that most people want *content*. They would probably be perfectly happy with daily quests and loot pinata islands. The copy&paste dungeons into easy mode is based on "we don't want developers to spend time on actually making casual content" hardcore philosophy.
 
I want to draw a parallel to the Racing simulator genre, specifically Gran Turismo.

If you've played any game in this series, then you know it's difficult and that you often repeat the same tracks over and over and over until muscle memory is perfect and you can get the score needed to advance.

You could make the game "easier" but then you take away the challenge and a large degree of the fun.

The problem is that human nature is to solve for problems in the easiest way possible. Given the choice between easy and hard paths, our brains are hard-wired to take the easy path to see what's next.

BUT -- then we've seen what is next (i.e. the next race track/challenge) so there is little to no incentive to go back and complete the challenge again on a harder mode.

If you don't have the easy option, you must complete the hard route.

For hardcore players, the fun is in THE CHALLENGE. But they are still human and much like an alcoholic or smoker who chooses the short-term gain over the long-term benefit, they will choose an easy path if it's provided as an option.

Not having the option at all is very much like not giving the smoker any cigarettes. If he doesn't have the access, he won't choose them and in the end, that leads to a better experience.

This is one of the many reasons why games who try to develop for multiple audiences often fail. If the target audience for Wildstar is the hardcore, then there shouldn't be an easy mode. If it's the casual player, then there should be an easy mode and the assumption should be that most people will choose the easy option.

As I see it, the problem with Wildstar is that the lore (fluffy space bunnies) is incongruous with the expectations of a hardcore player.

I've been reading about Wildstar on your blog for months and the very first time I even felt compelled to try it was when you wrote that it was 'too difficult' but personally, I just can't get past the fluffy bunnies that seem more appropriate for my kids.
 
They would probably be perfectly happy with daily quests and loot pinata islands.

But I don't think that's what WildStar is selling. I think their "sizzle" is the hardcore raiding, but I don't think most people really want that. I think most people want to have various interesting content like auction house PvP, leveling alts, dressing dolls...err..houses, following continuing stories, etc. I think WildStar will offer plenty of this. We'll see a bit of this next week when they start the hype-train on the July content drop.
I think a handful of dailies and "loot pinatas" never cut it and never will.
 
"I'll go out on a limb here and say this is a dubious theory at best (see my first comment above). Players that _cannot_ do hard content because reallife, time restraints etc. don't do hard content. they can't do it. so you're not losing them to easier content."

As Shintar mentioned, it's not a binary situation.

At the absolute minimum you have the following three groups:

1. People that can't do "hardcore" raids due to time/skill/etc

2. People that CAN do "hardcore" raids but would rather do them on easy mode

3. People that CAN do "hardcore" raids and love it

People in group aren't afraid of losing group 1 (they're already lost), they're afraid of losing group 2.

"It completely reverses the perception that hardcore is something exclusive into a model where the hardcore players are actually trying to force the semi-hardcore to join them."

Precisely.

The hardcore aren't afraid of other people touching something sacred that they're not worthy to touch or something, they're afraid that easier difficulties will lead to less people willing to do the higher difficulties.
 
3. People that CAN do "hardcore" raids and love it

I would argue that this group almost doesn't exist and in a practical sense, it doesn't exist at all.

You see, even those that CAN do "hardcore" raids love it WILL choose the easier route. As I wrote above, they fall to the same short-sighted temptation to "see" the end before they are able to get to the end in a more difficult but more rewarding way.

The incorrect assumption you are making is that people behave rationally. There is no evidence to support that and it's actually quite the opposite. I would argue that most people, even the hardcore, take the easy route and then complain that content was too easy or was consumed too quickly.

If you are going to make a game hard, then know your audience and make it hard. If you want it to be accessible, then make it accessible but recognize that the diehards are going to burn through your content.

It's about knowing your audience. There is nothing wrong with having a difficult game as long as that's your audience and you make no apologies for that being your audience.

The issue is that Wildstar is incongruous. Is it a game for kiddies or a game for the hardcore? Because I don't believe you can do both well.

If they were going for hardcore, then, IMO, they missed the mark.
 
Haven't played Wildstar but is there open world content? If they put out an expansion, do they have to make two versions of that as well, one where the rats are catered to challenge the hardcore dudes while the other one just has plain rats?

Just thinking if that needs more servers or whatever. Dunno *shrug*! :P

Also that makes it painful for patches when you have to test and deploy them on two separate instances, but hey with enough cash why not.


 
"You see, even those that CAN do "hardcore" raids love it WILL choose the easier route. As I wrote above, they fall to the same short-sighted temptation to "see" the end before they are able to get to the end in a more difficult but more rewarding way."

I'm afraid you're 100% wrong on this for at least three reasons.

1, for that group the end is ONLY the hardest difficulty. We don't care about killing Garrosh on Flex or Normal, we're not done until he's dead on Heroic.

2, you HAVE to kill Garrosh on normal to even start heroics.

3, beyond #2, the main reason we kill any bosses on easier difficulties is because we need to farm gear. Heroic Garrosh, for example, was tuned for about the 570 ilvl range -- which is far above what you'd get if you literally only killed each boss once on normal and heroic and kept extending. Output checks are literally impossible without a certain gear level.

Especially sometimes with the introduction of Flex and WoD's loot lockouts we'll probably kill the bosses to help less skilled/committed friends but we never consider it "the end."

So it has nothing to do with wanting to "see" the end on an easier difficulty. By that logic no one would ever play a single player game through on the hardest difficulty first -- and I can assure you that I always do that.
 
"It's about knowing your audience." Well, that's the real question isn't it? What truly is the audience of WildStar? (Note that this is not necessarily the same as the target audience.)

At least one team at Carbine thinks it's hardcore raiders. However, others may think it's the housing addicts, just as an example. Only time will tell. But if Carbine has bet wrong, we can only hope they have enough time to fix it before the game goes under. (Which, despite the feelings of some players, is not the same as F2P)

"[A] game that tries to have both will inevitably make some compromises along the way..." I guarantee compromises have already been made in WildStar, just like every other group endeavor that didn't end in splintering of the group. As far as as selling out, hey, whatever puts butts in the seats and food on the table, right? We're not talking about a moral or ethical choice here; we're talking about pleasing enough audience members to keep the doors open on Nexus. Not just keep the doors open, to thrive.

 
I will continue to argue that raiding is an extremely niche activity that almost no one actually wants to do. Everything about it is a gigantic hassle for everyone involved, and the nature of it precludes the possibility of even moderate individual challenge (doing so would render any raid statistically impossible at the group level).

The problem is not that raiding needs to be made even easier yet. The problem is the non-raiding majority are offered nothing else. There's no reason MMORPGs can't offer challenging 3-man and 5-man progression content, but it seems none of them even want to try.
 
"the nature of it precludes the possibility of even moderate individual challenge (doing so would render any raid statistically impossible at the group level)"

And how do you figure that? I can safely say that kiting Siegecrafter's Laser through Empowered Magnet twice in a row was at least a moderate challenge.

Figuring out how to improve my play to squeeze out an extra few percent DPS was at least a moderate challenge.

Or are you suggesting that a "moderate challenge" means something you can NEVER learn well enough to do successfully 99% of the time?
 
What we would need is a game that does have hard raiding, but only rewards it with achievements and fluff (dyes, costumes, pets, mounts). All the epics come from crafting or questing.

If there were no epics as reward for raiding, how many people would still raid. I'd say they are the only true hardcore, and there aren't many of them.
 
@Balkoth

Mathematically, it simply is not possible in groups of that size. Let's say each individual raider had a 90% chance of success in any given run, hardly challenging. This still only works out to a 1.5% chance that a 40 man raid will succeed.

I did specify individual challenge. And I'm sure it is a testament to your dedication and perfectionism that you can repeat the same encounter time and again without mistake until none of the other raiders make one either. As a group, it is obviously quite difficult, or more people would be able to do it.

But you can hardly say that you personally are taking on a challenging task. Raids couldn't work if you could not expect every last raid member to succeed in nearly every attempt, until all raiders do together.

The challenge of raiding is in organization, not in testing your individual skill. My entire point is that isn't what most players are looking for.
 
@Balkoth/Tobold Let's not confuse rewards such as epics with the reward of doing something because it's challenging.

Very few people recognize that the challenge is necessary to make success more meaningful or rewarding. Balkoth, the person who does recognize that is so rare that from a practical perspective they don't even exist. Clearly they do, but the vast majority are after the epics and/or epeen of taking down a boss before someone else.

I enjoy challenge. It's why my personal preference is for FFA PvP games with full loot. When I win, I'm that much more elated because the risks and challenges are more significant.

Challenge is a good thing. The problem is that not everyone is universally OK with the same types or degrees of challenge.

The conclusion I've come to is that Devs should focus on specific audiences. If you try to build a game for everyone, you end up with something that's unsatisfying for everyone.
 
"All the epics come from crafting or questing."

How would gearing over time work in such a system?

One of the major principles of raiding is that each week the bosses get slightly easier due to more gear -- the largest benefit of this is that Blizzard can tune it ridiculously hard knowing that groups who merely exceptionally skilled rather than insanely skilled can still kill the boss with a few more weeks of gear. You see this each time a new tier is released -- world first kills manage to do it at X ilvl, anything past the top 25 world or whatever winds up killing it at x + 5 ilvl which is effectively like a 5% nerf to the encounter.

Hard to imagine something like that with your proposed crafting/questing system.

"Mathematically, it simply is not possible in groups of that size. Let's say each individual raider had a 90% chance of success in any given run, hardly challenging. This still only works out to a 1.5% chance that a 40 man raid will succeed."

Did you just not bother to read the last sentence of my post or something? Let me ask it again since you clearly did not:

Are you suggesting that a "moderate challenge" means something you can NEVER learn well enough to do successfully 99% of the time?

"But you can hardly say that you personally are taking on a challenging task."

Double kiting Siegecrafter Laser in the middle of Empowered Magnet is/was more difficult than anything in the hardest modes of Half Life, HL2 and Episodes, Mass Effect 1/2/3, DA 1/2, and several other games that I can think of.

Are you suggesting the hardest difficulty in those games doesn't pose at least a moderate challenge?

"Balkoth, the person who does recognize that is so rare that from a practical perspective they don't even exist. Clearly they do, but the vast majority are after the epics and/or epeen of taking down a boss before someone else."

If you're correct, why do plenty of people only play a game on the hardest difficulty the first time through? By your logic 99% of people should play on the easiest mode first to "see" the end.
 
"As I see it, the problem with Wildstar is that the lore (fluffy space bunnies) is incongruous with the expectations of a hardcore player. "

I find this quote above quite spot-on.

I liked the lore of the game but find the combat in general too frantic for my tastes. When almost every fight involves dodging and positioning then the value of that mechanic is diminished.

For me adding a story mode to dungeons won't change that fundamentally I'd get 'bored' of the action combat before I'd even leveled to the cap (as I did with Tera).
 
@Sid67 the problem with catering to specific audiences is that PVE MMO's require the rapid churning out of new and expensive content to keep the hardcore players satisfied.

Much of that audience had become accustomed to the regular releases of high quality AAA raids in WoW where 7 million players subsidise niche content for a few hundred thousand players.

When you remove the 7 million benefactors you will either see a drop in quality or frequency of said content.

Just ask Rift raiders who destroyed their own hobby by campaigning for a continuation of the TBC progression model (no catch up) and lack of a raid finder mode for casuals.

Ask them how often they get new raids or new recruits.

All the theories about casual modes deterring people from wanting to join organised raiding guilds was proven to be a myth as their pool of recruits dried up.

Casual modes don't starve raid guilds of recruits, rather it funds their hobby and keeps people playing. Those that want to do the harder modes will do it anyway, having an easier option doesn't hurt the organised raid scene.

The hardcore raid scene is more satisfying when the game is aimed at everyone. The problem is that members of that scene suffer from terrible levels of entitlement and want content that can only be afforded with the masses paying for it whilst not allowing the masses to use it.

As WoW and Rift found out, the masses have run out of patience and will walk. At least Blizzard acted where as Trion just let the raiders have their way and their hobby withered away.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
In addition to the social structure of raiding which we have seen in the preview video, Carbine has very firmly established a culture of hardcore raiding which carries with it the intrinsic prestige of exclusivity. In order to accommodate "casual" raiders, Carbine would essentially have to tell hardcore raiders that pride in their accomplishments - which Carbine to this point has cultivated in a borderline pathological manner - is now correctly experienced inclusively rather than exclusively. As you can imagine, this sudden change in culture would elicit very negative responses from the hardcore whose base power drives have been pointedly glorified; now they watch as this suddenly evaporates. The forums would decry this "slap in the face" and would chastise Carbine for allowing others to partake in the holiest of endeavors: super hardcore radical uber extreme raiding. Even the thought of allowing others to participate in the same activity may be disempowering for people whose inner theorycrafting powers have been dudebro'd onto a pedestal rather than thoughtfully cultivated and channeled in a community-friendly manner. Ideally hardcore raiding would be an elitism to which everyone is invited, but Carbine has already set the tone and this may be difficult to change without alienating the target demographic to whom they have been quite vigorously catering.
 
I think the pseudo-hardcore ( the couple of hundred actual world-first raiders don't mind LFR. it is the top 5% who think they are 0.5% who whine) don't like it when the "casuals" get content. In particular, it is an problem with f2p - if the developers are looking to maximize profits, there is no way they can justify near the amount of hard end-game raiding that MMOs provide. As soon as you start thinking you are spending 30% of your budget on content for 1%, it is hard to invest as much. So inherently the HC posters are against easier options.

Besides, how much can you really change a game once it launches? If they added easy alternatives, they wouldn't get many new players (all the big advertising and free PR happened when they were pushing big, long, hard raids) and would anger a lot of people who prefer a game with fewer customers. At this point, why not wait and see what the steady state is: if it is 175k and NCSoft (who killed a not-profitable-enough CoH) can live with that, then fine. If it is too small, replace some devs and do a NGE.

Hard niche games are for small games, e.g. Kickstarter. Once you get a AAA budget, there is a requirement for a large/mass market enough to pay for itself. If you think making games accessible to millions is selling out, then don't make AAA budgets or games.
 
@Balkoth

You and I would certainly find it very challenging to lift 300lbs, but a bodybuilder who normally lifts 500lbs would not find it challenging at all. That's not to say it isn't impressive, because obviously it IS, but for him it is not a challenge. Challenge is relative to the individual, at the edge of your limitations, something which you are not sure you can succeed in.

Raiding does not offer that. You know you can do your part, you do it successfully over and over and over. There is certainly a lot of work involved, as you need to practice the encounter many times until it is no longer challenging at all.

You can name off as many boss fights as you want, but the fact remains that all 25 people in your raid completed it simultaneously. You named some pretty odd games for comparison, I don't recall any of those being known for being challenging. A more appropriate game might be something like the old school NES game Mike Tyson's Punchout. Line up 25 players fighting Mike Tyson at the same time, and they all have to beat him on the same attempt. That is NEVER going to happen.
 
Well put, Samus. I agree on almost all points. WoW Raiding is what I refer to as the illusion of challenging. That is, it's intended to feel epic and difficult without actually being difficult. As Balkus pointed out above, it even gets easier over time as players gear up. So the challenge is in getting the gear rather than a true skill test.

There's nothing wrong with that if that's what your intended audience wants. Some people enjoy playing sports and others enjoy watching movies. And some people enjoy both.

 
Woody Allen said it best: "Why would I join a club that would have me as a member?"

Don't mess with my illusion that I'm better than most by making it too easy to compare myself with them.
 
In organised raiding the real challenge is in finding and complying with the schedules of other people that meet the skill requirements for the content.

In fact that represents 96% of the challenge in 25 man raiding.

Having the personal skill to meet the challenge is relatively insignificant (actually at 4% it is VERY insignificant) if you are on the wrong realm, work the wrong hours or have the wrong social/home life.

In fact your realm, work hours and social/home life are the most significant factor in terms of which raid mode you are able to participate in.

If you can afford realm transfers and are an unemployed person with no family/friends then these games are very flexible with regards to your personal skill.

As you go up the chain from Flex, through Normal and into Heroic the personal skill requirement increases. But the requirement to comply with the schedules of others increases by an even greater extent as you are dealing with a narrower pool of teams with far less choices to suit your life.

E.g. with RF and Flex you should be able to find a full-clear team outside of the peak evening period. On Normal mode many realms don't have full-clear teams operating outside that evening period so you might have to realm transfer. Once you get to HC full clear teams you are unlikely to find a team unless you can comply with a number of conditions that have no relation to in-game skill.

Sure there is always "that one guy" that claims he is in a realm first HC clearing guild and only raids for 30 minutes a week at 3am but we all know the reality is that it ain't happening unless you can commit to 3 or 4 nights a week for 3 or 4 hour windows during the peak evening period.

In before the strawman: no I am not saying you don't need skill. Just putting it in perspective.
 
I think Carbine made the right decision by not going the WoW route (i.e. limiteless accessibility).

(A) Balancing content when people don't even know how to properly play yet, is simply inefficient. Right now everyone, bar a small minority, is a massive noob. The same people complaining in the forums will be whining in a month that the dungeons need to become harder.

People will adapt and train themselves over time, as they level up. In TSW, the dungeons are amazingly harsh, but people learned over time to do them and now even some nightmare modes are considered 'casual'.

You said it yourself that people will have to practice before starting to raid - but if the content you are practicing on is vastly easier than your target, then you're wasting your time. It's like saying that doing LFR in WoW prepares you for normal raids, which is completely wrong because the easy content actually helps you form bad habits that can be very difficult to break when you do the 'real thing'.

(B) People not willing to commit to a long term plan - which is, learning dungeon mechanics and doing the attunements - are simply (no offense) not fit for progression raiding. If you cannot commit to learning a 5-man dungeon over a few days, how will you feel if you are wiping on a raid boss for months?

These kinds of players are NOT potential recruits for raiding guilds, so not including them in the pool of potential candidates has absolutely zero effect on the raiding population.

(C) The long attunement gives people a clear cut carrot to chase over the course of the following months. By not being able to zone into a raid the moment you hit the level cap, the rest of the content stays relevant for much much longer. This is an issue I have with WoW in particular, since you level up, buy some gear and drop into LFR on day 1. That means that if you're looking to advance your character, every other acticity is now obsolete.It feels very game-y and there is absolutely ZERO immersion. I did it recently with an alt and as soon as I got some upgrades from LFR, I was again bored to tears.

In contrast, I still remeber attuning myself to Onyxia during vanilla. And people still consider the Kharazan attunement as one of their greatest experiences in TBC. This is the stuff that can hook people longterm and apparently the devs are willing to sacrifice a portion of their short-term playerbase to build a more compact and loyar customer base.
 
The thing is, all game modes would draw their participants from the same pool of players. Imagine if WoW's raids had HC mode, normal mode, flex mode, LFR mode, 5 man mode, 3 man mode and solo mode. How many people would end up as HC players? I'd bet not many. First of all you'd lose a lot of potential "hardcore" players just from people getting bored of running the same content on different difficulty. Also, a lot of people just wouldn't bother trying the higher difficulties, if the same content was AVAILABLE in easy mode. This second part sounds kind of oppressive (if you want to see the content, get good at the game or gtfo), but I find it perfectly fair if that's explicitly what the game is about (as is the case with Wildstar).

The point is, the more game modes you have, the less people you will have in the hardest one. If your goal is to sustain a healthy population of HC players, scaling difficulty is, put simply, not something you can afford.
 
"But what exactly would be the harm if we take all that group content and duplicate it, providing an "easy mode" copy with lesser rewards?"

Are we talking about Level Dungeons or End Game raids? Because if we are talking about the Level 20 Dungeons, that alternative already exists in the form of Shiphands and Adventures. Shiphands seems especially targeted to players with time constraints. They scale based upon the number of players (1 to 4 I believe).

Everyone already has their path. Easy mode dungeons is a redundancy.
 
We can observe from WoW that the majority of players will feel like the 'beat' the content on the first difficulty (i.e. LFR). The only thing that is offered after that point is to redo the same content again, just harder for some marginally higher numbers, it looses its appeal.

I would love to see some detailed metrics on sub longevity. My postulate is that more casual players tend to game hop and stay subscribed for shorter continuous periods of time. I would anticipate raiders tend to stay subscribed for longer continuous periods of times.
 
unknown said: "The point is, the more game modes you have, the less people you will have in the hardest one. If your goal is to sustain a healthy population of HC players, scaling difficulty is, put simply, not something you can afford."

Pray tell us which Western MMO has the largest and most sustainable population of hardcore raiders...

Oops I see a major flaw in your argument.

The larger the population, the more people participating overall, the larger the numbers will be at the top of the pyramid.
 
I had an immediate and visceral disagreement with Woody's realm transfer option. I have one of every profession in any MMO, with a toon of the opposite faction for cross-faction arbitrage. So it could cost 300 or $400 to transfer my same experiences and conveniences to another realm. It is cheaper and more interesting to find another MMO.

Which brings up a point re WS server design. A solo-ish leveling experience is not that affected by server pop. But getting together an organized group is much easier on the newer "megaserver" technology than old school discrete realms with RL$ transfer fees. The math is such that the smaller the population it is increasingly harder to find 40 like-minded people with your skill and schedule.

In general, I am not sure 2005 server realms are the best idea with MMO populations being so cyclical these days. But I am especially dubious about how it will work out for fixed raid groups.

---

IMO, MMOs can be popular in the forums/blogs or with paying customers but rarely both.
 
"with MMO populations being so cyclical these days."

I am curious how much of this is because the casual majority will automatically quit after a few months no matter what you do, and how much of this is because every game to release in the last several years has only provided a few months worth of content for that demographic.

WoW seems to have done just fine keeping up a large population that overwhelmingly doesn't raid. No other game has even tried, as far as I know.
 
The first question you have to answer to 'how much easier' do the Wildstar Dungeons need to be? What percentage of the player base should we reasonably expect to be able to complete the dungeon of a game that is not even a month old?

The only example I can point to is WoW dungeons and raids. By that data point, it seems you have to make the dungeons very easy to have a large percentage of the population complete them.

I would argue that after nerfing them to that level, you are still not 'seeing the content'. The dungeon would them be so far different from the intention of its creator as to be something completely different. Sure, the models are the same, but the experience the original designers envisioned is gone. You still aren't 'seeing the content'. You would get just as much out of a 'tourist mode' where your player was made invulnerable and you saw the layout and all the models in the dungeon.
 
@samus' "with MMO populations being so cyclical these days."

I don't see the casual majority as being the most cyclical. The phrase in MMO discussions is "content locus." I think the people who rush to max level, e.g. people at level cap prior to ESO official launch, are even more likely to burn out. There is no economically viable way to provide content for them. The very hardcore and very casual and very social (play what my guild is playing) would tend to be the most transitory.

WoW lost 4-5 million customers, probably more than all other MMOs have in the West, so "just fine" might be overselling it slightly.


 
@HonorsCode "You would get just as much out of a 'tourist mode' where your player was made invulnerable and you saw the layout and all the models in the dungeon."

Bingo! Sign me up now. Every MMO should have that as a basic feature.
 
FWIW, in WoW I raided pretty hardcore until very shortly after easy-mode/raidfinder raids. After that, even though I'm perfectly capable of hardcore raiding in a top 100 guild, and have years of experience as a heal lead, I find I have no desire to bother.

You can see all the content without having to spend that much time on it. And you don't need to farm the content in order to get ready for the next raid, you'll be able to see that one just as easily.

From the perspective of the very hardcore, it's a totally valid concern that they'll bleed talent and have raid groups with reduced effectiveness because of the draw of an easier alternative. From my own perspective, I'd certainly prefer an easy-mode wildstar raid system, so I don't have to bother with all that hardcore nonsense again.
 
@Hagu

WoW is 10 years old, and however much they have declined in recent years, they are still #1 by a huge margin.

The point is, WoW was able to attract a casual audience and they did not quit after just a few months, as it is now accepted as immutable fact that they will. Especially in Vanilla and Burning Crusade, raiders were an extremely small portion of the player population then, and WoW's subscribers only grew and grew.

It is only since deciding to push all players into raiding that they began to decline. This wouldn't have had an impact on most casual players (what do they care how Blizzard changes the end game they will never reach?), except they drastically sped up leveling to the point that players who care about that part of the game frequently complain it is too fast.
 
"You can name off as many boss fights as you want, but the fact remains that all 25 people in your raid completed it simultaneously. You named some pretty odd games for comparison, I don't recall any of those being known for being challenging."

So you're telling me that the hardest difficulty modes of HL (and episodes), HL2 (and episodes), ME series, DA series, and several other games do not pose even a "moderate" (to use your term) individual challenge.

That is a complete load of nonsense. Hint: likely 90%+ of people can't beat those games on those difficulties.

"As Balkus pointed out above, it even gets easier over time as players gear up. So the challenge is in getting the gear rather than a true skill test."

This is also complete nonsense.

Imagine raiding is like running a mile in a certain time limit and "gear" relaxes the time limit. World first raiders have to run the mile in 4:30. The top 0.5% of players, with some gear, can run it in 5:00. With massive amounts of gear and upgrades the limit is reduced to 5:30.

Hint: very few people can still run a mile in 5:30. Likewise, gear might nerf an encounter by 20-30% in difficulty but that still leaves it too hard for 97%+ of people.

"Sure there is always "that one guy" that claims he is in a realm first HC clearing guild and only raids for 30 minutes a week at 3am but we all know the reality is that it ain't happening unless you can commit to 3 or 4 nights a week for 3 or 4 hour windows during the peak evening period."

This is also a steaming pile of nonsense.

I lead a guild that raids two nights a week for about 4 hours a night, full clearing heroics for several years. We're certainly not the only guild in that situation, tons of them have been popping up.

In the US alone there are over 30 guilds that are 14/14H right now on two nights a week. And those guilds encompass just about every two night combination during the week at various times. Some of them are even daytime guilds.

Realm is also irrelevant with transfers, we recruit 95%+ of our trials cross-realm.

The short version is that 99% of people with the skill to full clear heroics can find a two night guild which fits their schedule. If you're the 1% with an absurdly weird schedule then I feel sorry for you but that's certainly not close to the norm.
 
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