Monday, March 27, 2006
You might sometimes have heard me say that playing a MMORPG requires no skill. That isn't really true, it is just a black-and-white statement in a world of grey tones. In fact playing a MMORPG gets incrementally more difficult from day one. But in a game like World of Warcraft, the difficulty level raises very, very slowly until the day you hit level 60. If you were able to defeat a skeleton at level 9 in Tirisfal Glade and level up to 10 from the xp that encounter gave you, you will also be able to kill a very similar looking skeleton in the Plaguelands at level 59 and level up to 60.
Playing in a group is more difficult. Playing in a high-level raid group is extremely difficult. Killing a boss in Molten Core is like being part of a ballet of 40 people, with everyone having to work in perfect harmony at the best of their abilities, for the raid group as a total to succeed. And unlike the level 1-60 game, every boss is harder than the previous one, a group good enough to kill Lucifron is still a long way from being able to kill Ragnaros. Blizzard designed the high-end content deliberately to become harder and harder, making progress slower and slower, so that no matter how many hours somebody spends in the game, he never reaches the "end".
Where I am sometimes a bit dismissive of raiding skills is due to the fact that skill isn't the only factor for success. Killing a raid boss needs three things: skill, practice, and equipment. And if you have enough of the latter two, you need less of the former. And just skill won't get you far, nobody ever beat Molten Core on the first try.
Both practice and equipment are largely influenced by the amount of time you can spend in the game. Practice is a bit like beating a boss in a single-player console game: If you haven't read the strategy guide, he might surprise you with some unexpected move, and kill you. Try again a couple of times, and you know all his moves, you learn what works against them, and sooner or later you beat him. Equipment means that besides raiding you still must have time to spend in smaller dungeons, or grinding PvP, or farming money or faction, to get the high-level gear together that will make your fights so much easier. You could try to get all that equipment from raiding, but that will even take more time.
There are games that I totally suck at, for example first-person-shooters or racing games. I could train Counterstrike for a year and still play rather badly. With a game like WoW I don't have the impression that I am lacking the skill to succeed (although I might be deluded in that). If I gave up my job, left my wife, started a new character on a brand new server, and played for 12 hours a day, I could be among the first players on that server to hit level 60, get into an uber guild, raid every night, and one day kick Nefarion's behind. I just don't think I would enjoy that much, I'd rather keep my job, and I love my wife. Okay, the quitting job/wife part was exaggerated, you can probably succeed in raiding with just neglecting them a bit (which I don't think is a good idea either). Nevertheless I see raiding more as a matter of dedication than of skill.
Added to the difficulty of raiding is that besides the individual participants needing skill, practice, and equipment, the raid as a whole needs organization. Already getting 40 people online at the same time for a lengthy stretch of hours isn't easy. But the much bigger problem is that you will have to do that repeatedly, as the raid group needs to go to a dungeon many, many times before beating it. You need to design a loot distribution system, which both motivates the players, and channels the items to where they are most efficient. And these goals might be mutually exclusive: It might be most efficient to give the best armor to the main tank, but then the other warriors in the guild start getting demotivated. And the day the main tank quits the guild for some reason, the whole raid group suffers a big setback.
So when I see the rules that some of the uber guilds have set up, I *do* understand their purpose. Mandatory raid participation, getting kicked out of the guild for prolonged absences, a full DKP loot distribution system, mandatory installation of certain addons and voice chat, all of this helps to succeed in raiding, and advancing faster through the raid content. But at the same time such rules restrict the individual freedoms of the guild members, which is something I would have problems to live with.
I prefer 5-man groups and small raids. These still need skill, practice, and equipment. But generally they need a lot less practice than raid bosses. And thus they don't need the long term organization of the big raids. Many a dungeon I succeeded on the first try, when I was in a good group, and going back is more for fun and loot, and not for beating that boss we failed to beat before.
But that is a personal choice of play style. I'm not much of an "achiever", speaking in Bartle types. I go on raids, because I like most of my guild mates, and want to hang out with them. Beating a new boss together is fun, getting the occasional phat loot is fun, but I'm not really worried if we fail somewhere or I don't win that loot roll. I would like to kill Ragnaros and Onyxia one day, but if that only happens after I hit level 70, that is okay with me. I respect the better knowledge of the game, skill, and dedication of the serious raiders. I just chose not to go that way.