Thursday, August 2, 2012

2.1. Preparing for the Dark Portal

Part II: The Burning Crusade

"Remind them that they have accomplished something significant...otherwise, there's nothing that differentiates them from the carries..."

World of Warcraft login screen, during
The Burning Crusade ('07-'09) era
Copyright © 2007 Blizzard Entertainment

The End of the 40-Man

On the evening I turned 32 years old, I lined up next to thirty-nine of my fellow raiders in front of the fallen Maexxna, deep within the Arachnid Quarter of Naxxramas. It was November 5th, 2006; we had been clearing endgame content for a little over a year. We weren't the furthest progressed raiding guild in that era, but given our shortcomings and late start, we'd left a significant dent in our wake. Descendants of Draenor had grown from a tiny group of CounterStrike-playing friends, to a powerhouse of a raiding machine that fielded two full 40-Man raids per week. And, I think we did a pretty good job of keeping our energy focused inward, so trolling in /general chat and on the forums was never an issue. I was very lucky; I had some of the greatest class officers at the time, all passionate about working together as a team. They made Descendants of Draenor a fun guild to be a part of, taking pride in who we were and our array of raiding accomplishments. And so, it was our screenshot in front of Maexxna that remains bittersweet in my memory, as it was the last official 40-Man boss kill we would execute in progression.

On the horizon loomed The Burning Crusade, a mere two months away. I had a lot to think about as those weeks trickled down. The Dark Portal would re-open, guiding us back to Outland -- previously known as Draenor, the home world of the Orcs and the very world from which we took our guild name. Faction lines would blur with the addition of Paladins to the Horde, and Shamans to the Alliance. The new races of Draenei and Blood Elf were added to the game, and for the first time, we would be able to experience the freedom of flight in Outland, thanks to the introduction of flying mounts. We would also gain access to a new profession, Jewelcrafting, enhancing our gear by cutting gems and affixing them within sockets -- not unlike the system employed in Diablo II. All of these well-known, heavily-hyped changes paled in comparison to the one real change that would affect us the most:

40-Man raids would be killed in favor of the new, more manageable size of a 25-Man.

From a practical standpoint, the downsizing made sense. Smaller meant less-of-a-nightmare to manage and coordinate. But for a guild that was more like an extension of a player's family, how exactly does a Guild Leader go about saying, "Sorry, you 15 people...but you're just not good enough..."? I dreaded the job that needed to be done, kept my mind focused on other things, ignoring the inevitable. I hoped that players would take their leave without my intervention. And some did....the good players. It was the folks that lacked basic common sense, unable to hold a conversation without offending every person in the virtual room, making bewildering claims like "I dunno how to check my E-mail"...they were the ones that remained, lingering like a wart you hope will go away on its own.

Warts don't go away, they have to be excised. It's painful to do...and painful to watch.

Descendants of Draenor attack Highlord Kruul as
the days count down to The Burning Crusade,
Searing Gorge

Filling Officer Spots

As players took their leave of WoW, so too, did a handful of the officer core. The reasons were many. Some were done with raiding and wished to explore PvP further, with the introduction of arenas in TBC. Haribo the Priest and Annihilation the Warrior gracefully stepped out of the raiding limelight for this reason. Others were ready to move on to new challenges in new video games. My Hunter officer, Kaleu, took this route, along with my Mage officer, Selga. Still others felt the burden of real life weighing down on them, and had to make a difficult decision to walk away from WoW and the guild. My Warlock officer Gutrippa was tasked with raising a daughter by himself. I knew well the burden a single parent must bear, having been raised by one. He was right to prioritize his time as a parent over that of a video game, so I wished him the very best, and supported his decision.

With five officers down, I turned to who remained. My Shaman officer, Kadrok, had re-rolled to a Paladin, as did the next-best Shaman on our team, Klocker, leaving me sole heir to the Shaman-healing throne. For now, I managed the Shamans in an unofficial capacity, while Kadrok took on the Paladins. Dalans had no intention on leaving, so the Druids were still cared for in his naturally abrasive style. Blain continued on as the Rogue class officer, and Ater manned the Warriors in Annihilation's absence. Blain, however, wished to reduce his level of involvement in raid leadership, choosing instead to follow Haribo and Annihilation into arenas. He assured me he'd still contribute to progression, but would no longer have the time to coordinate and lead. I asked Ater if he'd be fine, saddled with this sole responsibility of raid leadership; he assured me he would. His marching orders were to find Blain's replacement, a player suitable to assist in the coordination of our progression team.

As for the remaining roles, they were filled by the number twos left in charge by their respective class officers. The side-effect of our cancer-like growth in Vanilla was a ridiculous amount of player management. Once the 40-Man was split into an A-team and B-team, I directed the officers to each appoint their respective Number Two, a player with leadership qualities that would assume their responsibilities in B-team while we carried on into progression. For the Warlocks, this was Dreadlocker, a fiesty player that famously screamed out "ORANGE HAMMER!" during our first kill of Ragnaros. In the Hunter department, Kaleu had chosen Skarg, an excellent player with a radio announcer-quality voice; soon to handle all of the countdowns in Vent. And as for the Priests, Haribo chose his PvP partner Neps, a player originally in the roster as a Rogue, but whom had recently cut over in the hopes of following in Haribo's priestly footsteps.

No Mage number two had ever been selected by Selga; our pool of Mages had been so small that he was able to manage them by himself. With Selga's exit, the pool dried up to such a degree that no viable option remained. I left the post unfilled. The Mages would suffer as a result of this neglect.

phpRaider, a web-based raid scheduling tool

The Discovery

Over the next few weeks, I had a number of discussions with Ater about what changes we needed to think about in terms of raiding. There were a variety of contentious issues: the amount of time necessary for adequate raid progression, our DKP system and its convoluted rules, and the absence of an adequate tool to manage our roster and scheduling. The Burning Crusade introduced the concept of a raid flask: a buff that would enhance a player's performance, which was purchased via "marks" that dropped from trash in instances. These flasks ran on a two-hour timer. We agreed, therefore, to bump our raid evening's length to a multiple of two, in order to gain the maximum amount of value out of these flasks. Two hours was not enough, we reasoned, so the next best option became four hours.

Next, we modified our DKP system so that items were no longer a fixed price; a carry-over from Gurgthock's original DKP system used within Elitist Jerks. As well as it worked, it was an administrative nightmare to constantly come up with prices on items that everyone agreed on. But as items became more complex, along with the introduction of tokens that were shared among classes, the fixed-price system became unwieldy and bloated. To embrace simplicity, we converted to a private bidding DKP system, in which players would bid what the item was worth to them. Ater and I agreed this would balance itself out accordingly, subject to the economics of supply and demand. Players would continue to earn DKP per the rules of a zero-sum system, but items would ultimately be priced by the players themselves.

To combat the problems surrounding roster management and raid scheduling, Ater and I looked into a multitude of web-based systems, finally deciding on phpRaider, which allowed players to sign-up for raids through our forums, providing them with up-to-date statuses on raid rotations. It also allowed us to keep a close eye on our pool, where our deficiencies were, and what classes we had an abundance of. It was during this web app research with Ater that I made a startling discovery about his career...

...he was a professional ColdFusion web application developer by trade -- the exact same career path as my own.


Anonymous said...

I loved burning crusade even though I stopped raiding shortly after SCC came out because I met Beefy. ... took me till ICC to lure him in to the game.... :) KARA was the most epic awesome raid ever. <3 ananii

Tom Tjarks said...

The first pull of the ghosts on the stairs leading up to Morose was my first experience raid healing on my Paladin. I had been told a month or so earlier that I wouldn't be in any raiding as a Paladin if I didn't go healing. *shrug* So I did. It was nuts... it was crazy. I never looked back until *very* late Cataclysm.

Shawn Holmes said...


Pally heals, nice! So did you love and treasure your Scarab of the Infinite Cycle like all the Paladins I knew at the time?