Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Easy Raids And Player Conversion

Rohan at Blessing of Kings is looking vaguely prophetic.  On Thursday, he wrote about a split between what he calls "transient" players - those only willing to tackle content designed to be completed in a single session - and "extended" players - those willing to invest greater amounts of time over multiple sessions in traditional raid content.  He wrote:
The single biggest problem with the endgame of WoW is that it persists in believing that if the incentives are just right, Transient players will transform into Extended players, and everything will work out properly.
In a followup post on Monday, he suggests that having a lower difficulty raid setting with automated group finding is a compromise solution that could provide transient players with an endgame, while preserving the more traditional endgame.  Today, we learned that Blizzard has been hard at work implementing his suggestion, and that the looking for raid tool in patch 4.3 will indeed send players into a lower difficulty level. 

Dealing with Transience
To greatly abuse numbers, I'd suggest that transient players make up 80+% of the MMO market - that's the approximately 5 million NA/EU WoW subscribers versus the approximately 500,000 subscribers to the most successful MMO's that pre-dated WoW. Some portion of that increase may be the fabled Blizzard "quality"/"polish", the popularity of the IP from previous games, etc. However, I just don't think that these things account for an order of magnitude. Instead, I believe the additional numbers are transient players, who Blizzard chose to invite into a previously closed genre by allowing them to solo to the level cap.

The challenge ever since has been how to entertain transient players now that they are here, providing the majority of the revenue for the genre and voting down the extended players (including the EQ1 vets who now work as developers at places like Blizzard) on questions about whether it's appropriate for expansion storylines to culminate in raid zones that only elite players can complete. 

Some games, like LOTRO, have effectively punted - that game's core story is now soloable, with group content as an optional additional-fee add-on.  Others have struggled to find the resources to tack a solo game onto a model that was intended for something else.  Meanwhile, a few hold-outs, notably WoW, have tried to hold the line for the extended old-guard, selling everyone the same expansion with the same storyline, but reserving the ending for not merely regular raids but harder "heroic" raids, with heroic-only encounters like Sinestra and the final phase of the Firelands Ragnaros encounter. 

Continuing the trend?
Assuming that this does play out the way it sounds like it will, transient players will indeed get to see all of the zones in the game.  The real question I'm wondering about is "why".  If the answer was "to provide more content, without having to re-design raids for 5 players", this plan would make sense.  However, according to the interview summary, the one of the goals of the system is to teach players how to raid for future efforts in the "real" difficulty settings.  If so, I believe the effort is doomed to failure because it continues the mistake that Rohan pointed out - the belief that somehow players who are paying to play a game on their own schedules can be convinced to switch over to more structured raid schedules, if only they can be made to see the light. 

Nothing that Blizzard or anyone else has attempted since 2004 has succeeded at this, and I don't expect that exposing players to 24 strangers in WoW's notorious random dungeon pool will do the trick.  Meanwhile, if Blizzard intends to reserve the real ending of the raid storylines for players who do the traditional non-easy versions of the raid, I doubt that most transient players will be impressed. 

In principle, this whole thing should have limited impact on "real" raiders, who are supposedly raiding because they actually enjoy raiding.  If the plan succeeds, real raiders might even see more experienced recruits coming out of the raid finder.  That said, to the extent that some raiders are motivated by exclusivity, Blizzard may see some customers heading for the exits. Whether this number will be offset by increased retention among players who can now PUG all the raids remains to be seen.

13 comments:

Azuriel said...

The 80% number is more or less correct.

Assuming a charitable 18 raiders per guild and 6.5 million players in NA/EU/KR/TW, then you get:

18% having killed (nerfed) Magmaw so far this expansion.
24% killed 10m Beasts of Northrend.

The 6.5 million comes from MMOData.net (all non-Chinese accounts) and the number of guilds killing raid bosses comes from Wowprogress. I chose 18 raiders as the average between 25m and 10m, which is extremely charitable considering how I would assume the vast majority of raid boss kills come from 10m.

paul said...

This announcement pretty much guarantees I will not buy the next expansion. I was wondering how they were going to address the failure of Cataclysm, and they are apparently doing it in a way that almost certainly won't work and I wouldn't find acceptable even if it did work.

Here's hoping Brack and friends are pinkslipped before this gets released.

Yeebo said...

Great post. Lot of details in their I utterly agree with.

Stabs said...

Interestingly the Escapist article is gone, a 404 error. I wonder if he said something he wasn't meant to.

Anonymous said...

Escapist probably just put this up too soon. Expect it to come back unaltered in a few days.

Kring said...

I wonder if that changes is intended to be a "solution" or to just buy WoW another 2 years (like WotLK).

My guess is that, at this point, Blizzard knows that the majority of their player don't like raid content. But this solution is nearly free and might be enough to buy WoW some time until the player notice that this is not for them.

Paul said...

Kring: the great scam of WoW has been that the game isn't designed for most of the people who buy it. It's no surprise that former players outnumber current players.

The problem isn't so much that raiding is disliked, it's raiding tuned to a high level, with game design and rewards centered around that hard content. The whole notion that rewards have to reflect accomplishment needs to be abandoned.

Kring said...

TOC was the perfect PuG raid content. It'll be hard to create something better then TOC for PuG raiding. It didn't have trash, the bosses were easy enough (mechanic wise) and it took about an hour to clear everything.

Azuriel can back this up with numbers but even in WotLK the majority of players did not kill the beasts.

Copernicus said...

After turns as both a raid leader and a GM for a raiding guild, I've given up on organized content.

The constant turnover, chronically short raid roster and childish personality conflicts have made me a jaded player. The fun was being drowned under a sea of disappointment.

I will give the Looking for Raid system a try, just to see how it shakes out. Not having to manage a guild, nor worry about roster size will make it easier, but I think the personality issues will be increased.

Who leads the raid? Who distributes loot? Need before greed only goes so far. One wise guy rolling need on everything can ruin the whole system. I'm curious to see how it plays out.

Magson said...

When I was single, I could raid on a schedule. Now that I'm married with children . . . . not so much.

Add in that for me raiding involved long stretches of standing around while waiting for everyone to be "ready" and it was quite frankly rather boring. We weren't a hardcore raid guild, just a guild that was able to raid, but since we weren't hardcore we did have people constantly going afk to make dinner for kids, smoke breaks were constant, etc. It just made everything take forever, even easy farmed content.

As a result, I've not cared that I've not been able to raid since then.

Joe said...

Another consideration for the LFRaid tool, that has largely gone unaddressed: I'm curious just how easy the new LFR system is going to be. I'm a longtime raider, who's done a lot of HM raiding, and a pretty good player. Yet the thing I hated the most about Cataclysm was the new dungeons. While I could defeat them all just fine in a group with 4 of my guildmates, even still many dungeons took an hour or more, rather than the WOTLK standard of 30 minutes (before we all outgeared the content by 60+ ilvl). And that was before you consider the absolute filth you sometimes get matched up with in the LFDungeon finder. Dungeon runs with a bad pug (particularly tank or healer) could take 2 hours (or more, if you stuck around), were terribly overtuned (in a system designed for EVERYONE, with no choice about teammates, you are forced to cater to the lowest common denominator), and generally painful affairs (help, I'm lost in SFK!). At some point, there is a time threshold at which the transient player will no longer be willing to try something. Can you get the transient player to sit down and play for 2 hours? I think that might even be too much. And considering the length of boss encounters, trash mobs, the physical size of the zone (Help, I'm lost again!), and the fact that you're going to be playing with some of the absolute worst players in WoW...

I'm pulling numbers out of my ass here, but I think that you really would have to nerf content down to somewhere in the area of about 10-25% of where it is on normal modes. 10-25% of boss health, trash health, damage taken, etc. You have to nerf it so hard, so that the other 20 people's experience is not ruined by the 5 shitheads. Yet, if you nerf it that hard, 1) it's definitely not working as a tool for "training up" to normal raids, 2) you're detracting from the experience by making it feel ridiculously easy, and 3) you've essentially killed the content by making it so laughable? If LFRaid content difficulty ends up being on a level similar to the troll heroics (which are still ridiculously difficult and sophisticated to your average LFD-tard), then no one will ever complete it, because the tards will drag you down.

Bronte said...

The spiral continues. Look, I understand the business need to do this. This gives access to the tougher raid content, which is, frankly, what WoW has always been all about, and helps retention. But how far will this go?

It seems every patch there is a new mechanism in place to ensure more and more people have access to all the content, and player skill is consistently shifting to seats behind the back-seat.

Anonymous said...

I think I was an all transient player, mostly done 5 mans, cool quests, battlegrounds and collecting stuff. Only raided when a friend's guild needed a healer and I felt like going with them that day.
And I can't speak for other palyers but I at least as a transient wouldn't use the interface to learn the raids, I already saw videos of most of them for fun anyway.
I just don't like scheduling my life around a game.
No, I'd use the random raids for the sake of doing them. They wouldn't be a training mode but a real part of the game I'd run for fun that's bigger than the normal instance but still easy to form and run in a day kinda like old ubrs.
If more of the transient are like I used to be then maybe the trend would be towards focusing on that content more than the organized content, with the random raids becoming normal and leaving the heroic modes for those mode dedicated.
Still I wouldn't go back to wow though, I know they'll find a way to mess something else, they always did.