Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Is 40 too big?

Whether you explain it with the Dunbar number, or you can just tell it by experience, there is a natural limit to the size of a guild. If a guild gets too big, people don't know each other well enough any more, and the guild tends to fall apart. Guild size plays a major role in determining whether you can get the people together for a raid. Many people never go to Molten Core, not because they wouldn't want to, but because they just can't get 40 people together to do so.

So how *do* some guilds manage to get to Molten Core regularly? The secret is in what I would call the participation rate, which is the number of people online on a typical evening divided by the guild size. Hardcore raiding guilds have a high participation rate, of over 50%, often by making attendance on certain days mandatory. Thus even with just 80 people in the guild, as long as at least half of them show up, you have the 40 people required for the raid.

More casual guilds have far lower participation rates, often below 20%. So even if the guild reaches the fabled Dunbar size of 150, you still have less than 30 people online at the same time, not enough for going on a raid to the bigger places. And even if several casual guilds join together to form a raiding alliance, succeeding in Molten Core isn't as easy for them. It is not that a casual player would play in any way worse than a power gamer. But succeeding in Molten Core depends on players going there often, both for learning how to do it, and for picking up the epic gear improving their chances. Unfortunately a low participation rate also means that it isn't always the same people online. Thus if a hardcore guild and a casual guild both go to Molten Core the same number of times, each individual member of the guild with the lower participation rate has been there less often than a member of the guild with the high participation rate.

The nature of the 40-man raid dungeons, a high difficulty and a small number of highly valuable reward items, makes it nearly impossible to go there in a pickup group. The majority of participants in any 40-man raid ends up with no loot and a high repair bill. Going to Molten Core is only worth it if you go there repeatedly with the same people, preferably with some sort of raid point system for loot distribution, which guarantees that you get rewarded later if you came up empty earlier.

So many people can't go to Molten Core at all, their guild being too small to do it, and there being no pickup raid groups going there. An even larger percentage of all players might have been to MC occasionally, but didn't go there often enough to have acquired the gear which would enable them to go to Blackwing Lair or AQ40. So I really don't understand why Blizzard is making another 40-man raid dungeon, Naxxramas, even harder than the previous ones. Less than 5% of their customers are going to see that place at level 60. Maybe some more will explore it later, when they are level 70, but more as a tourist attraction than anything else.

What Blizzard needs to do is to create content which is accessible and interesting to the majority of their customers. And it seems to me that when they are trying to do that, they fail miserably, because they don't seem to understand who their customers are. When I read how in in-house testing a group of Blizzard players beat Scholomance in a group of 5 in less than 90 minutes, or killed the Baron in Stratholme in less than 45 minutes, they are clearly playing the game on a different level than I do, and I'm already more experienced than average. Taking away the possibility of getting tier 0 armor in a raid group is a very bad idea, it just erects another barrier preventing the average player from advancing their meta level after 60.

As an aside, their whole PvP system is a prime example of how to create content which isn't interesting to casual players. If two players both spend 200 hours doing PvP with an equal success rate, the player doing these 200 hours in 1 month will be rewarded, while the other player who does it in 4 months receives nothing. Where is the logic in that? No wonder the battlegrounds are often empty: the PvP reward system is driving away the casual players, and the hardcore player only needs to do it for a limited number of weeks and then stops.

What World of Warcraft needs now is more places to raid for groups of 10 to 20 level 60 players, at a lower difficulty level (and reward level of course) than Zul'Gurub and AQ20. Smaller guilds of casual players, with a low participation rate, need to have places where they can go. After patch 1.10 there will be only a single dungeon, Blackrock Spire, which can be raided for blue items. How are people supposed to learn how to raid, when there is no place to train it?
Kai, have you tried any other games recently ? Dungeons & Dragons Online, RF Online etc ?

Been invited in any new betas ?

I'm always interested in new stuff coming out, get away from WoW a bit :)

John aka Lunedust
Psychochild gave half the answer to your question in my blog's comments. I asked, "Why concentrate on zones that 3.6% of the player characters will effectively use in a given month?" An answer was to keep the hardcore quiet instead of giving them a reason to complain and quit.

I'd expect the percentage of player characters spending more than an hour in raids to drop next month as 1.10 turns Schlo/Strat/BRD into single group only.

I agree with you: there needs to be more 10 and 20 man content, and the introduction of 15 man raids would also help provide variety and opportunities for smaller guilds. More importantly, I feel Blizzard should spend the time and expense to develop meaningful casual end-game content--Silithus is grinding and represents a real lack of imagination to me.
*dons the hat of cynicism*

Blizzard (and other MMOG producers) don't want their players playing anything else other than their game. Why give them tasks that can be completed in an hour when you can hook someone for 200 hours?

I agree in the comment above that they do focus alot on the hardcore player. The casual player is still stuck grinding the existing content, and only needs to be drip fed the odd bit of new content here and there to keep them interested. The "hardcore" need constant new challenges.

Only those of us in the middle ground have a problem. Unable to Raid MC regulary due to not being really Hardcore players, but also not being that casual about it either. We clear the 15 man and less dungeons easily (though not in the times stated in your article!!), but getting enough players with the time or the right experiance to succeed in ZG and above isn't easy for us.

So, become more hardcore and do more raids? Or stop caring and participate in the odd 20 man or less and play something else on the days when your bored of doing that.

*removes hat of cynicism*
I can't even relate to your talk about MC being out of the realm of most players. On my server, I went to MC weekly with an open group that could eventually clear through Majordomo. We were the first MC open raid that I was aware of.

Since then, I see broadcasts and forum posts constantly of new groups doing the same thing. I'd guess right now that there are probably 5 different open groups on the Alliance side. I doubt it's as easy on the Horde side due to population, but I don't really know.

Heck, our top Alliance guild stopped needing anything from Molten Core and they now take 8 or so of their guildies and 32 just random people who get to /roll all the loot.

MC is quickly turning into casual content.
"Why concentrate on zones that 3.6% of the player characters will effectively use in a given month?"

This is pretty fresh news, form playon census blog:

"Of all the level 60s, 30% have spent time in raid content. On average, characters who spent time in raid content spent 310 minutes (about 5 hours) over the month of January in raid content."

Almost every third lvl 60 is using 40-man content?! You can not expect them to release content for mid-levels more than one year after release. Even if the number is only 5% of the whole playerbase, well than the 90% (pre-sixties) already have their Strat und Scholo runs ahead of them. I already wrote that here, but i will do it again. All of this endgame 40-man raid content, will be content for everyone sometimes. A Dire Maul II. would not. Mudflation will make MC to a second ZG, when lvl 70 is upon us, while Dire Maul will be a dead zone then.

What WoW is missing right now, is its "lost dungeon of norrath". Anyone remember this? Best casual EQ expansion ever. I remember in of those really early promo WoW movies, where you saw a group of players, fighting a giant in an arena like zone. I so hoped this would be a tier-based 1-group thing for a steady and quickly done progression thing, just like one LDoN run was.
Raid content is more than 40 man MC, BWL, or Silithus runs. It also includes LBRS, UBRS, BRD, Stratholme, and Scholomance. Yes, some of those are easily five-mannable, especially with good gear or a good team, but they all can be counted as raids. I can easily believe over 30% of level 60s have been on a Strat or Scholo or LBRS raid.

Note the time investment expressed in the PlayOn data. Generally, clearing MC is a multi-session process, where 40 people spend over an hour per session. Guilds which can farm MC have players who regularly invest over six hours a week in raid content, but they're a very small part of the population. 3.6% of the player character population will spend five or more hours raiding in a month, and there are many fewer people raiding 10, 20, or 40 hours per month. What's causing the casual player to voice his dismay is that this is where the most visible content development is taking place.

Psychochild saw it as a value proposition: how can Blizzard retain customers, grow the business, and do this for the least cost? Build more raid dungeons. Balancing for a five man group is more time consuming than balancing for a 40 man raid. Building world events requires more testing than a raid with 10 bosses and new ph4t l3wts. Those are a few of the reasons why we'll see a new or updated world event every quarter, but we'll get a new raid content every two months.

Today's 40 man raid content won't become accessible to the masses until after the Burning Crusade expansion is released and 10 or 20 man raids can clear that content. Even then, 70% of the casual player characters won't ever experience it.

Casual instances like LDON or DAOC's Catacombs are great for getting people together to group and level fast, but fall down when it comes to providing interesting content. Catacombs' instances were a real failure of imagination, on par with what I've seen out of Silithus. Grinding mobs is a way to spend time, not a way to experience content, but it's also apparently Blizzard's solution to providing end-game content for casual players and non-raiders.
Balancing for a five man group is more time consuming than balancing for a 40 man raid. Building world events requires more testing than a raid with 10 bosses and new ph4t l3wts.

Yes and no. The world events I can agree with, I disagree that it would take more time to tune a 5 man instance for balance than a 40 man. I'm not sure how you can look at any of the 5 man bosses and think they were more tightly tuned than most of Blackwing Lair and the pieces of AQ that I've seen at this point.

I still feel that what they're doing is balancing. Casual players who have been indulging in the smaller dungeons don't want to hear it, because they're (rightfully) tired of the dungeons they've been doing repeatedly forever. The fact is, WoW opened with a lot of 5-15 man instances and added the larger raids later.

By continuing to add to the larger raids, you're probably right in them thinking that the instances will "trickle down" to the more casual players once the level cap raises.
If you write "30% of level 60 players have participated in raid content", I read "70% of level 60 players are excluded from the only content Blizzard is still adding regularly to the game". Which is a very bad thing. And I'm sure that from the 30% a majority was raiding Strat and Scholo, thus this number will drop dramatically after the patch.

Even if 5% of level 60 players (which is only 2.5% of total players) is visiting MC, then why add another harder 40-man raid dungeon? I'm sure less than 1% of players has ever killed Ragnaros or the first boss of BWL. The hardcore have enough content for months with MC, ZG, BWL, and the two AQ dungeongs. The "casual raider" have only UBRS.
Lunedust said...
Kai, have you tried any other games recently ? Dungeons & Dragons Online, RF Online etc ?

Been invited in any new betas ?

I'm always interested in new stuff coming out, get away from WoW a bit :)

John aka Lunedust

If I bitch about WoW, it is because it is such a good game, just going in a wrong direction. I haven't "finished" the existing content of WoW in 18 months and nearly 2000 hours of played time. As I expect the remaining content to last me the half year before the expansion comes out (and the expansion DOES add lots of content for casual and middle-class players), I expect to play WoW for at least 1 more year, if not longer.

I looked at RF Online which was boring, and D&D Online, which I doubt anyone will play for longer than 3 months. I've been invited to betas that interested me so little that I didn't even bother to try. 2006 is a year where lots of smaller, simpler games are coming out, riding the WoW wave. DDO and Auto Assault were the only games up to now which were at least in the "must try" category.
I'm still confused why ZG seems to be completely written off by the casual raiders. Is it because of the difficulty level? I mean, at the end of the day it's just trying to get 5 more people for a raid than a normal UBRS raid. It can't be the number of people involved.

I have a friend that left WoW when his Warlock was level 58. Out of nowhere he came back a little over a week ago, quickly hit 60 thanks to rest xp and started exploring around the dungeons. Last night while I was wiping repeatedly in AQ40, he was sending me whispers from Ironforge. One of them was "What's ZG?". I explained it to him as he wasn't playing when it was introduced.

I didn't hear anything from him for an hour or so, checked my friend's list and he was in ZG. With a PUG. Having fun. When I logged off they'd downed the first 2 "aspect" bosses and the 2nd one was the spider so I have to assume they probably went further than that.

Why is ZG considered hardcore raider territory?
ZG with 20 is clearly harder than UBRS with 15, or Strat/Scholo with 10. And Blizzard obviously agrees, because the loot is clearly better than what you can get from UBRS/Strat/Scholo. I'd say it is of similar difficulty than MC, just with less people, which makes it easier to organize.

The strange thing that might be happening is that it will easier to get epic items from 20-man ZG raids than it will be to get blue items from 5-man Scholomance.
ZG with 20 is harder than UBRS with 15 (and I'd wager UBRS with 10). But I think we've all pretty well agreed that the smaller instances aren't challenging in their current raid formats. Fun, sometimes, but not challenging.

So it's the difficulty that keeps casuals away from ZG? Because my friend is in a smattering of blues/greens and he had a blast last night. When I told him about the epics each boss drops he got even more excited, and the chances of epics from the aspects are certain better than the small instance bosses at least until 1.10.
Imo, ZG is too difficult to reliably get deep into with a PUG. I've done ZG with a PUG or two and without a good plan and good equipment, you'll be lucky to clear the first 3 bosses. Snake, yes. Bat, maybe. Spider, maybe. After that and I wish your PUG a whole lot of luck 'cause you're gonna need it. Mind you these bosses drop blues, not actual epics (merely epic components for the class faction quests).

ZG is a good idea but it's too difficult and too long to expect PUGs to honestly get deep. You're not going to 'finish' ZG with a PUG in only 2-3 hours. You should be able to finish UBRS, LBRS, Strat, Scholo, DM in 2-3 hours with a decent current-max-size raid/group. (I don't know enough to comment on 5-man Strat or Scholo.)

I'm kind of annoyed Blizzard did a ZG-like loot system for AQ20. Ugh.

I strongly dislike the faction-grind of CH in Silithus. Absolutely ridiculous. Plus the competition down there is just ugly at times. I dread my quest step that I have to kill a certain enemy at each camp. That will require luck and camping to snag the mob before others. Not what I play WoW for at all.
My Guild is really starting to ramp up, and yet we're still few in number. On a good night, we have around 15 to 18 lvl 60s. We do have more than that on the Roster but a few of those are Alts so you'll never see every 60 on at the same time. LBRS was a challenge, then it wasn't. UBRS was a it's not so much. If I do UBRS with my Guild now, I know we're not going to wipe now unless something goes really wrong. We recently allied with a couple of Guilds and committed suicide by ZG a few times, then took down Jeklik this past weekend and made it look easy...well, not easy per se, but we weren't in any real danger of wiping.

None of us are kitted out in Epics other than Tier 0 gear, although most of us have full Tier 0 sets on account of running numerous lower level (UBRS ;) Raids.

Us Casual Hardcore players are in danger of becoming Real Hardcore players. The content Blizzard is adding today will be accessible to us tomorrow. God help us ;)
I have to admit I agree with Tobold here - 40 is too big.

Over the 4 years (or so) I've been involved in MMO guilds they seem to level out at about 30-40 active members for them to keep a close-knit feel. So everyone "knows each other" as he puts it.

Molten Core really is out of our reach. We'd have to jam up the numbers to get enough people to do runs on MC - but then we really wouldn't be close-kit anymore.

On the other hand WoW has enough other content for smaller guilds to keep us plenty happy. I can honestly say I don't give a crap if I never see the inside of MC.
An average player who found a big enough guild is certainly able sooner or later to tackle ZG. There is a natural progression where people gain both knowledge of how to raid, and meta-levels by better gear, and get better and better. The problem with MC is that even if you got quite good at playing WoW, you still have to organize 40 people to go there, which is not a trivial organizational task.

The problem with ZG and similar places after patch 1.10 is that some people haven't arrived at the skill level yet needed to succeed in there, and there is no more "training ground". A Stratholme or Scholo raid was good, because it taught us how to raid efficently, and we got some tier 0 loot. The step from "having just soloed to 60" to "raiding ZG" is just too big now. You don't learn to swim by being thrown into deep water, you just thrash around frantically for a while and then get out as fast as you can.
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