Thursday, September 20, 2012

2.8. What Rolleth Downhill

Kerulak faces the fel reaver Negatron
while completing "You, Robot",


After bandaging the wound in the guild that was the result of Dreadlocker's exodus, I returned to the day-to-day grind of recruiting players for the 25-Man Progression raid. Part of this process involved (among other things) ensuring that players were "keyed" for raids. Attunement gates were a constant thorn in my side, having first dealt with them in Vanilla. The attunements in Vanilla were trivial by comparison and played a very important role. Keying ensured that players were ready for raid progression, keeping players out that couldn't be bothered with the effort necessary to gear up and qualify themselves as a player capable of what lay deep underwater in Serpentshrine Cavern, or housed behind the arcane walls of The Eye. The thought was: If a player had the capacity to complete a series of dungeon-related tasks (some of which were quite challenging), this keying process would ultimately vet the player -- it would prove to the game that the player was prepared to raid. From a casual perspective, raiding was not easy. It required finely tuned talents, gear, and skill. If you knew what you were doing, if you were adequately prepared...raiding was a straightforward part of the game.

Attunements were a clever design to vet players, and even provided them with an implicit order-of-execution for raiding. Players would connect the dots, and rarely waste time slamming their head against a wall, raiding content in dot B before they had wrapped up their work in dot A. So while attunements were a clever design to funnel the appropriate players into raids as needed, they also served to act as a non-stop stream of headaches to raid leaders and guild officers charged with recruitment. With Vanilla, attunements were quick and easily knocked out, even the worst of which (the Naxxramas rep grind) could be subsidized by guild coffers. In The Burning Crusade, however, there would be no subsidization. Finding the right people became a full-time job.

The first problem with keying in The Burning Crusade was that there was absolutely no concept of guild-related keying. Even if you had a core raid team of 20-ish players all keyed for a raid, there was no concept in the game to "grandfather in" the remaining five players. Everybody had to be keyed, period. For a cut-throat hardcore raiding guild with players clamoring to be given a shot, perhaps this wasn't an issue -- perhaps their experience was more of a fire-and-forget system. Once their core team was keyed, they were slicing Naga into sushi and never looking back. But for a guild like Descendants of Draenor, where we strove to be a little more caring toward fellow players, the burden rolled downhill to the existing core team. It became a repetitive, mind-numbingly tedious task for them to endure, re-keying players as the roster gained and lost members. Even for the most resilient, carefree of my guild...the seeds of burnout had officially been planted.

Kerulak assists more players working
on their attunement chain,
The Arcatraz

Sapping the Will to Live

Even if the roster wasn't losing players, Descendants of Draenor still faced the short end of the stick when it came to raid attunement. We didn't kick people to the curb if they missed a single raid. To us, the onus wasn't on the player, but on the guild, to wrap a warm blanket around you, keep you warm and comfy, in the hopes you wouldn't look elsewhere for another home. And because we took players of all shapes and sizes, never once dictating who could or couldn't come to a raid, we were forced to maintain a much larger pool of players. New players were joining all the time. So the keying process never ended. It was a constant, ongoing struggle that ate away at our souls and dulled our enjoyment of the game. God forbid, what would happen if a real-life issue were to come up, causing you to lose a core member of the raid team? Back to the start of the keying process you go.

It gets better. Keying also didn't carry over across a player's account. If we had players with multiple alts that wanted to provide different services (healing on one character, tanking on another, etc.), it wasn't enough to key one of those characters...we had to key all of them. This was certainly a perk that hardcore raiding guilds lost out on. I'm not suggesting that hardcore raiding guilds didn't gear alts for progression. To the contrary, it was plainly obvious to me from posts on their guild websites that guilds like Death and Taxes and Vodka wouldn't even bat an eye when discussing the possibility. To them, rolling an alt at the drop of a hat...just to lock in a world-first kill was a decision made as easily as being asked whether or not you want to super-size your meal.

The difference was: they were re-keying their same people. That same core team. Players who were already so exceptional at the game that keying was a mindless endeavor, a task done while they watched an episode of "Lost" on a second monitor. We weren't re-keying the core team. We were keying people that wanted to raid, and didn't have a chance in other guilds because of it. It was that double-edged sword of trying to establish a guild that gave a shit about people over progression.

Like many guild leaders, I dealt with this by demanding requirements up-front for new applicants:
It was a pipe-dream at best. Like a tech recruiter asking for an applicant with a degree in Comp. Sci., the best I could hope for was an applicant that wasn't completely drooling over himself. Other servers may have fared better than us, but on Deathwing-US, it was the equivalent of looking for a needle in a haystack, only to find out weeks later that there was never a needle to begin with. In many cases, applicants came to us because their previous guilds didn't have the capacity or interest to key for raids. Opportunities to recruit former world-first raiders was a rare luxury. I wished that there was a way for us to attract that type of recruit. Until that day arrived, we swallowed the pill...keying new folks until our eyes glazed over like zombies.

Kerulak assists ex-Priest Officer Haribo in keeping
Ater alive, while Goldenrod dishes out DPS,

My Kingdom for a Raid

Two months after Descendants of Draenor passed through the Dark Portal from Azeroth into Outland, things were looking nearly raid-ready. It was the second week of March 2007, shortly after the release of the movie 300, that Ater informed me we had the people necessary to begin our work. Unofficially, raiding had already begun, thanks to the bizarre dependency that Karazhan imposed upon us, dropping Tier 4 Gloves and Helms. For the shoulders, chest and legs, we would return to that which was most familiar to us, the raid composed of a much larger group of individuals, all working together in tandem to execute the threat that towered over us.

When the twenty-four invites were finished, and we swarmed around the entrance to Gruul's Lair, I have to admit...I felt a sense of loss. A monarch looking out across his kingdom laying in ruins and on fire, razing his peasant villages in order to rebuild a new city of marble of stone. 

The Forty is dead...long live the Twenty-Five.

But my crumbled kingdom had another threat to deal with, another monarch ready to usurp the throne: High King Maulgar. Maulgar was a council encounter, one of many in World of Warcraft. A council-style encounter comprises multiple bosses being engaged at once, rather than a single central Internet Dragon. We'd handled bosses with "guards" in Vanilla as far back as Molten Core -- Garr was protected by a ring of eight Earth Elementals; Sulfuron Harbinger had four priests healing through our damage. But a true council is one comprised of a myriad of mechanics, each threatening to end our progression with its own individual talents and specialties. 

High King Maulgar was exactly that. 

While the King bashed away at Ater's shield, Kiggler the Crazed hurled Shamanistic bolts of lightning at our raid, Blindeye the Seer would be off-tanked, waiting for the moment when he would cast a giant heal. He would require his own Power Word: Shield to be purged off, lest the heal be uninterruptable. Olm the Summoner, a Warlock, would set upon us with a Felhound -- we would use our own Warlocks' powers to enslave the Felhound and turn it against its master. And as for Krosh Firehand, a Ogre-Magi casting spells suspiciously reminiscent to that of a Mage, we would turn to our own Mages as a solution. They would ranged-tank him, spell-stealing his Fire Ward in the process. Without the boon of Krosh's spell-stolen Fire Ward, our Mage tank would die in a single blast of fire.

...which is exactly what happened. For weeks.


Luke A. said...

Wow, great job so far! There is more for me to read, but I have to take a break to go back to studying.

This had made me nostalgia really hard. I experienced Vanilla and BC at a young age, and the raid/guild leadership actually helped shape me in who I am today. We also had similar experiences in the actual raid progression!

Forgetting the WoW element, this is a GREAT lesson on leadership and management in general. I've thoroughly enjoyed looking at it as such.

Can't wait to come back and finish it!

Shawn Holmes said...

Thanks for the feedback, and am glad you're enjoying it! There's plenty to go.

Anonymous said...

"You can take comfort in the fact that, by future expansions, Blizzard had realized this was a bad design decision, and future encounters where certain players had to perform certain roles, Blizzard put the power of that decision making in our hands"
All the way up until Amber-Shaper Un'sok where they clearly forgot this lesson.

Shawn Holmes said...


It's kind of funny how they learned their lessons in many areas (even going on the record to acknowledge the mistakes), moved to resolve them in future iterations...

...but forgot them in random pockets, here and there.

I absolutely agree with you on Un'sok. It's like Teron Gorefiend all over again. And you *know* it probably wouldn't be just as fun (if not more) if it were less like Teron and more like Putricide.

Ah well...

PS: Thanks for reading!

PPS: I really need to re-format these old posts.

Sludgey said...

Serious Nostalgia. I was working mad hours during BC and wasn't able to keep up with my guild as the raced to 70. Ended up falling seriously behind and wasn't getting much help while trying to key up. And you didn't mention the cleaves in the heroics! No one wanted to bring a rogue to heroics because of the 360degree cleaves!! I finally ended up in our THIRD Kara group and missed out on early progression. Ended up leaving my guild because I was so left out and joined a guild to do SSC and TK progression. Some of my best memories was our first Vajsch kill and of course Kil'Jaeden (sp?)....

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. You had TWO 40 man teams and you didn't have enough keyed raiders? Your 25 man team was keyed and the rest of the guild had nothing? How does that happen?

Shawn Holmes said...


It happens when guild leaders don't make it clear what the expectations are -- and as tiny windows of opportunity for players to do other things open up, players bite the bait.

...leaving guild leaders to blog about how they didn't see it coming.

Rick said...

let me know if you ever decide to make a book out of it. After being featured on Kotaku, im sure demand will come soon enough