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?