Tuesday, July 30, 2013

3.21. Discriminatory Treatment

Neps confirms the evidence with Kerulak,
after they execute a pug clear of 40-Man Naxxramas
during The Burning Crusade.

Innocent By Association

The first time I repeated one of my mother's jokes in front of my wife, I knew there was a problem. I was raised in a small town named Parksville, along the coast of Vancouver Island, but my mother wasn't from there. She had been born in a town called Hudson Bay, in the northern regions of Saskatchewan. She had a conservative, strict family, and although the Holmes' were hard-working and quiet folk, they had a tendency to cling to some age-old biases. And as my mother learned from her environment, I too, absorbed these tendencies, without even giving them a second thought. So, when I sat down to dinner one evening and jokingly remarked:

"I wonder what the poor people are doing now?"

...my wife gave me a look of horror, her eyes wide with shock and embarrassment.

I knew there was a problem.

Part of this outdated programming led me to judge others too quickly, my first impressions resonating like a bell whenever it came time to make a decision. It happened time and again in my early days of running DoD, having already made up my mind about a player long after my gut continued to tell me otherwise. I'd ignore my gut, stick to my biased way of thinking...and end up making a bad judgement call. Ater was one of the first to show me this was just an illusion -- we think we think we know people in other groups better than we know ourselves.

What added to the complexity of my mother's lessons was a layer of morals, delivered in Aesop's fashion,  priming me for a certain way of thinking. These lessons, while noble in intent, often came across as black-and-white, good or evil, no gray area to explore. Among these was the familiar "You Are Who You Hang Around With". Run with a group of criminals, Mom reasoned, and you'll soon find that you've become a criminal as well.

This may explain why I grew to loathe the PvP community.

At face value, there was a lot to detest. PvPers made no secret that they felt they were "better than us". Raiding was for sissies and crybabies -- to them, the real skill came in how well you sized up another human being, how fast you turned their weak spots against them in the ring. Bosses were scripted; conversely, other players followed no such programming. PvPers talked a lot of shit, rarely opting to take the high ground when it came to dealing with other people. And why should they? They had their name, their titles and their gear lit up like the Las Vegas strip proving to us that they were true power in WoW. They played by nobody's rules but their own, they relied on nobody to get where they were. No oppressive guild could force a schedule onto them, tell them how to act or behave.

Every time I tried to push those biases aside and tolerate PvPers despite our differences, I'd always get a slap-in-the-face when I flipped between ElitistJerks.com and ArenaJunkies.com, the two online communities dedicated to the discussion of PvE and PvP, respectively. The former was a tightly run ship where only intelligent, thoughtful contributors were allowed. Moderation was swift and harsh to those who couldn't be bothered forming a coherent sentence. As for the latter, it was a cesspool of trolls, rife with profanity, accusation, and immaturity.

One thing has nothing to do with the other.

Neps & Mature in The Crimson Hall,
Icecrown Citadel

Trusting the Gut

When I began to contemplate another 2nd-in-command, I never gave any thought to promote Klocker because he'd hung up his healing hat. Klocker was now exclusively Retribution in our 25-Man progression raid. I needed a healer for a very important reason: Val’anyr, Hammer of Ancient Kings. The legendary mace assembled from fragments put the power of the Titans at the fingertips of the healer that wielded it. But Klocker's days of healing were behind him. He would flip from time-to-time as needed, but it was no longer his passion, and the new edict in Descendants of Draenor demanded players choose what they loved to do, not what we needed them to do. So, rather than make a move to convince Klocker to play a role he didn't enjoy, I looked to someone who embraced the role. Someone who lived, breathed and died healing. Someone who had been healing long after I had hung up Kerulak's hooves, and had no intention of switching -- who knew the ins and outs of the job. More importantly, someone who I could trust and whom made decisions that were aligned with my own. Someone fiercely dedicated and loyal to us.

Someone like Neps.

But, it was Neps’ attachment to PvP that gave me my initial hesitation for promotion. Neps regularly ran with a crew of folks that had traditionally proven to be be unreliable in the long term. They were PvPers in my eyes, that "other group" I was perpetually disgusted with. Somehow, I believed I was an expert judge of them, up on my high horse. Neps had never given me a reason to doubt his reliance, yet the PvP thing continued to bother me. What impact would it have on the raiders? Was there a risk of that "nobody's going to tell me what to do" mentality bleeding back down into the roster? We had filled spots throughout Vanilla and TBC with anything we could get our hands on, and while we benefited from having a large number of players across multiple interests to choose from, when we plucked from the PvP pool, it was a often a crap shoot. And I saw promoting Neps as a very real risk to allow more of that style of player to stick their foot in the raid door, only to cause further mayhem down the road.

The brothers Ouleg and Ben were two players in particular whom Neps spent a great deal of time with. Ouleg, when present, would tear into bosses in Serpentshrine Cavern with extreme prejudice, often dealing more damage than that of our regular raiding Warlocks. But, he was quick to come up with excuses to leave the raid if things looked bleak, “Yeah guys, I think my girlfriend's calling me for something” after our fifth wipe on Hydross the Unstable. Ben wasn't too far off from his brother. A fantastic player behind the wheel of a Shadow Priest or Boomkin...if you could get him to show up. If he wasn't completely drunk off his ass. And while neither Ouleg nor Ben themselves were the ones being considered for promotion, I continually dwelt on this association Neps had with them, and whether or not it would become a distraction.

Or worse.

A Second Opinion

I took Dalans aside and shared my concerns with him, broaching the possibility of promoting Neps as another 2nd-in-command to share duties. I told him of the plan involving Val'anyr, and how it made the most sense to go with Neps, but that I had lingering doubts. Dalans reminded me that Neps had been playing the role of Priest officer for nearly the entirety of The Burning Crusade, and had never shown me any reason to doubt his loyalty thus far. My gut told me he was the guy to go with, but the PvP "facts" continued to rub me the wrong way. When I brought up the concerns I had about the PvP crowd, Dalans was logical in his response.

"Anni was of the best officers this guild ever had. High Warlord, remember?"

He had a point.

"Wasn't Blain one of the first players on the server with a Vengeful Nether Drake in TBC?"

Two points for Dalans.

"I wouldn't worry too much about who he runs with. Neps is fine. I'd trust him before I would any of the other morons. If he hasn't given you any reason to doubt his dedication, he won't."

The second opinion was delivered, saying exactly what my gut was telling me all along. Go with Neps. Forget about the PvP crowd. Who he hangs with and what he chooses to do for fun has nothing to do with the person he is. And if Mom was right, and you truly become the type of person you hang around with...well, that would mean Neps was exactly that person right now.

...and there wasn't a single thing I could point to that would cause me to distrust him.

That evening, I went over the ground rules for 2nd-in-command, and made it clear he'd be the first in line to receive Val'anyr. He graciously accepted the promotion, and the guild joined in a round of congratulations for their favorite Priest on his continued service to DoD.


I glanced down toward the chat window in the lower-left hand corner of the screen.

Blain has come online

For a guy who retired from World of Warcraft four months earlier, he showed up an awful a lot. I sent him a tell.



“I’ve gone ahead and restored your administrative privileges to the guild. You won’t need to worry about the raid expectations, nothing’s changed there.”

I popped open the guild panel and clicked the promote button several times.

Blain has been promoted to Old God

"Carry on" I said in another whisper.

He replied with a smiley.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

3.20. Mexican Hot-Chocolate

Haribo and co. assist Faleby
with his Dreadsteed quest,
Dire Maul

Gummy Priest

It was deep in the brush on the Isle of Dread, just south of Feathermoon Stronghold, that he finally caved in. I had been pursuing Haribo for months after a chance meeting when he offered to heal a party of us through 10-Man Scholomance. An undead priest, he came out of the woodwork of a guild named Forsaken Spirits, amazing me with his skills at healing. Scholomance was a brutal hour-and-a-half long ordeal and after having recently experienced a 45-minute power run thanks to the skilled players in Dirty Work, Inc., I knew exactly what type of player I needed to recruit. Kadrok and Graulm were most likely annoyed by my constant mention of this Priest and how desperately important it was to assimilate him. I needed a crew of players that set the bar high, virtual machetes slicing down any obstacles in our path. I fully intended to make Haribo one of those machetes. I harassed him for weeks, promising fame and glory in Molten Core and beyond. Each time he politely declined, but thanked me for considering him, and then proceeded to heal us in whatever dungeon we threw at him. I wouldn't take no for an answer. I stalked him until he was sick of  hearing about Descendants of Draenor, and when I found him alone on the Isle of Dread one day, standing alone among a pile of slain chimaeras, I went in for the kill. The undead priest who took his name after his favorite brand of candy, finally accepted my offer and joined the guild.

It wasn't long before Haribo rose to the position of Priest Officer. As I continued to aggressively recruit, building our roster larger in preparation for Molten Core, he continued to heal our players through dungeons like a pro, spending his off-hours healing Annihilation in Alterac Valley. And when the time finally arrived to assemble 40 players and dive deep into the Core, Haribo drove the healers -- making assignments, spamming macros, even developing a system of "healing buddies" which allowed Ater and his crew of tanks to chain pull mobs, making our clears an order of magnitude faster. Haribo stood diligently by our side as we plowed through Vanilla content. It was his dedication to keeping people alive that not only helped us become one of the furthest progressed Horde guilds on Deathwing-US during Vanilla, he instilled within players a new found interest in healing, a role often ignored by the masses as dull, uninteresting, and insignificant. Those  few players who mattered respected him for his ability. And hoped to learn from the master.

Nepster is spotted with Haribo moments
before the release of The Burning Crusade,
The Dark Portal

The Rogue That Healed

When Haribo announced his retirement from raiding at the start of The Burning Crusade, there was nobody in line to take his place. It was a time of transition; we'd been playing the same characters since launch. Leveling alts wasn't nearly as commonplace as it is today, because leveling itself was an act of raw willpower. I had dabbled in a few alts myself, but pushing any one of them to Level 60 demanded months of work, night after night. So, we had mains and we were invested in them. As time ran out on Vanilla and we counted the days until the Dark Portal opened to Outland, many players took the opportunity to start anew. Our old investments were suffocating. The Burning Crusade introduced Paladins to the Horde, and many of our healers re-rolled in order to breathe clean air again. But while the torrent of pink names flooded guild chat upon our arrival in Outland, one white name quietly took an invite and began the journey of following in Haribo's footsteps.

Neps had been a part of Descendants of Draenor since late Vanilla, one of the many faces that populated our 40-Man roster. My earliest memory of him is running 40-Man Naxxramas with us on his rogue, Nepster. Quiet and polite, he kept to himself, but never hesitated to jump at a moment's notice when the time to raid was upon us. He would spend his off-hours plumbing the depths of PvP with some of the old-school players in DoD, namely Haribo. Neps soaked up Haribo's knowledge like a sponge, learning all of his tricks, his tactics, day by day growing wiser and adept at handling himself in emergency situations. It was through these late night PvP sessions that Neps began to feel the Priest bug biting. To him, healing in PvP was a dark art, not one that many players chose to take up. The majority of players rolling characters to PvP dumped their effort into damage dealers, and were quick to complain when they had no healers to support them. Neps learned very quickly about the law of supply and demand. And if he took his responsibility with enough seriousness, his expertise would always be in demand.

So while the freshly invited Paladins dominated our attention at the start of The Burning Crusade, Neps quietly leveled his Priest. And, as was his demeanor, he took every opportunity to assist with heals that he could. The newly introduced 5-Man Heroics were a real test of strength for a group. Today, most 5-Man heroics are facerolled; there was no facerolling in the heroic version of The Steamvault, Shadow Labyrinth or The Shattered Halls. Each pack of trash had to be meticulously crowd-controlled, and accidentally pulling a 2nd pack was a guaranteed wipe under normal conditions. Pugging a 5-Man Heroic in TBC was almost entirely unheard of -- you ran with people you knew and trusted to minimize the amount of time that was wasted.

If Neps was your healer, you had a fighting chance.

Neps concurs on a successful
first kill of High King Maulgar,
Gruul's Lair

Everybody Loves Neps

As we ramped up to raid Gruul's Lair and Serpentshrine Cavern, Neps demonstrated a continued dedication to his fellow guildy. Whether it be assisting with a weekly Karazhan race between our various 10-Man teams, or helping another player become keyed, Neps never complained, never whined or moaned about repetitiveness or boredom. Every opportunity to assist in the healing department was a chance to flex his muscle, refine his skill, and fill the need that was so desperately sought after. Because of this affection toward his fellow guildy and his need to constantly improve, he made many friends in the process. His name soon became synonymous with Priest Heals whenever the topic came up. And, Neps always carried himself humbly, never spoke ill of anyone, never once revealing a loss of temper. He was, in short, the very definition of a model guild-member. He spoke rarely, but when he did, it was usually to deliver a dry, sarcastic punch-line, finishing someone else's joke, the virtual room filling with laughter as a result.

It was Neps' humble side that I felt players often underestimated. They mistook his solitude for an amateurish mentality, especially when it came to crediting his ability in raids having come from a PvP background. This was a foolish mistake. Unlike the PvP crowd which commonly talked a lot of shit and dissed one another openly, Neps kept his opinions to himself -- but he was no less aware of his opponents. It was from those late night PvP sessions, slowly developing as Haribo's apprentice, that he developed a keen sense of who were scrubs, and who were worth their salt. Other players could talk a big game, but Neps was quick to cut through the shit and tell if they were truly experts at the game, or just good at spinning more yarn. Once I caught wind of Neps' sixth sense, I moved quickly to make him the next Priest Officer. As expected, he humbly accepted.

Neps diligently served as Priest Officer through the remainder of The Burning Crusade, never once missing a raid, never once taking time off. His priority was his online family and keeping them alive through Lady Vashj, Kael'thas Sunstrider, Archimonde and Illidan the Betrayer. My trust in Neps grew to such a degree that I handed over the Master Looter and DKP import responsibilities to him, never once considering for even a moment that he would misappropriate an item or cook the books. And, when not honing his skills in dungeons or managing the priests, Neps returned to his original love of PvP -- his funny and always positive attitude drawing the attention of both Horde and Alliance players. It wasn't long before Neps himself had a following of fans. Descendants of Draenor's Ventrilo server soon became home to the enemy as they hopped in to chat with their favorite Priest. It soon became common knowledge in the guild that Neps was particularly fond of female players, and why wouldn't they be fond of him? He was never derogatory, never spoke in a sexist tone or demeaned them (as is very common in games where players are shrouded in anonymity), and was always friendly and supportive.

Neps was a charmer, loved by all. So, why was I hesitant to make him second-in-command?


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

3.19. Honorary Freeloading

Klocker stands naked beside other
members of the 40-Man core raid team,

The Social Network

I was in a pickle with a particular player, a Paladin named Klocker. Originally joining Descendants of Draenor as a Shaman, he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me, making a name for himself as our raiding team gestated. He healed Ater through blankets of Shadow Flame, kept the nature soak team alive during Princess Huhuran's Poison Volley, and diligently maintained his position in the Nature's Swiftness rotation on Maexxna. He'd been present for nearly every first boss kill my guild had scratched off the to-do list. Come Burning Crusade, Klocker flipped to a Paladin, but continued to heal with steadfast determination. Eventually, I named him Paladin officer to keep them in check. He coordinated their buffs with PallyPower, directing their play, keeping me informed of who needed to be a regular rotation and who ought to be benched. And he breathed life into the guild. He carried with him a dirty sense of humor, quick to make a sexual joke to lighten the mood and raise people's spirits; nobody was safe from his innuendo, not even himself. Klocker was one of the key reasons why Descendants of Draenor birthed a raiding team that was able to compete against hardcore guilds.

So when the forum post said he was furious and ready to walk, I had to act.

The goal was to have role officers in place for the first week of 3.1, brought up to speed and ready for Ulduar that Friday. That meant an official announcement, some rank renaming, a quick pow-wow in Vent followed by a few promotions and demotions...and the deal would be done. But by killing class officers in favor of role officers, Klocker was an odd man out. The three Paladin specializations were Tank, Melee DPS, and Healing. Tanks were now being handled by Dalans, Healers were under Kelden's command, and melee was now the responsibility of Cheeseus -- our new Raid Leader. This left Klocker without an assignment. What to do? Artificially promote him to fill some vacant role? My officers came with very clear responsibilities; it was the work they had committed to which granted them the perks of officership. Klocker had no responsibilities now; without one, a demotion would not only mean a step down from officership, but a loss of those perks. That circle of friends he'd come to make a part of his daily routine would be stripped away -- no more officer chat, or discussions about how to handle guildies via the forums. From my perspective, it was never meant to be personal -- it was simply business. Blain had received no special treatment when he stepped down from Raid Leadership at the end of TBC, so why should any other officer?

Klocker was furious. Not just about the demotion, more importantly: why didn't I come to him about it first? A fair argument; I had pulled back the reigns of my own in-game investment time to gain some balance with real life. "Micromanagey" tasks were chopped to the cutting room floor because of this, and hands-on time with players suffered as a result. I hadn't taken him aside and given him the appropriate heads-up. But while Blain's response was more like that of an employee at a business, it was clear that Klocker was affected emotionally by the decision -- I was erecting a wall between him and his social circles. I knew officer promotions / demotions like these would be difficult, cleaning house is rarely easy. But I don't think I really grasped how much of a psychological impact I would have by deciding someone's social circles for them -- which is essentially what I was deciding by allowing / disallowing players into /officer chat. Especially someone who had been a part of /officer chat for so long.

The reason why people play World of Warcraft is because they thrive on the social interaction it provides -- is it the core reason that makes an MMO fun. My mistake was in not giving the social implications of officer demotions enough weight. Not everyone would grant me the same luxury of a response as Blain had.

Mature earns "Champion of the Undercity" while
Klocker and Dalans chat in guild,

To Honor One's Elders

With the threat of Klocker walking, something had to be done. I couldn't in good conscience strip him of his access to the social network he'd grown to be a part over the previous four years. But the conundrum remained: there was no officer role for him to fill -- all heads were accounted for. I needed a way to legitimately return him to his post so that I kept the consistency of my structure intact. Any shred of doubt that might give a guildy cause to suspect double-standards at play had to be removed -- it needed to appear as though Klocker was receiving no special treatment. My solution was the creation of a new rank titled "Old God". Inspired by the lore of the Old Gods imprisoned far beneath the surface of Azeroth, this new rank allowed ex-officers the ability to voice their concerns from an administrative standpoint, and in turn, gain a reduced set of perks for their contributions. Old Gods would be allowed to speak in /officer chat and help with guild mediation via the forums. They were "honorary" officers, ostensibly, but came with no raiding expectations...nor guarantees

I took Klocker aside and proposed the change. I reminded him that he was an extremely valuable member of Descendants of Draenor, and that it sucked that my role officer implementation squeezed him out. I apologized to him for that. I told him that, in retrospect, I realized that I still needed his input. Through this new Old God rank, he could retain his post as an officer. I never directly spoke of cutting him in or out of his circle of friends -- even to Klocker, this had to appear as a legitimate assignment. Klocker seemed happy with this setup. Although his raiding position was no longer guaranteed, he was smart enough to know his position in the roster was safe. Thanks to updates in Wrath, Retribution Paladins were now viable and produced insanely good damage. In keeping with the new guild rules of "play what you love", Klocker chose to change things up and deliver melee DPS, becoming the sole Retadin of the core team. Meanwhile, he would continue to hold a role of official responsibility, contributing to guild management and remaining an active voice in /officer chat. 

He got what he wanted, and I got what I wanted.

So. How to articulate this rank to the masses. A new "honorary" officer rank. Intent: to pay respect and show thanks to those ex-officers who were valuable contributors to the guild, but whom no longer have a post in the Role Officer structure. An avenue to allow a player to contribute to the overseeing of the guild, its purpose, its mission and ideals. But without the perks...or the responsibilities.

Can you guess what happened next?

Come The Freeloaders 

Once I announced the rank of Old God and its first recipient to the guild, I found myself bombarded with sudden, new found interest in officership. Or at least, ex-officership. The prospect of being inducted into that prestigious circle of folks sans the responsibility dangled like a Carrot on a Stick. First on that list was Larada, a faithful Hunter in progression since TBC, and whom I had fill the role of Hunter Officer after Skarg vacated following the demise of Illidan. Larada took up the mantle, but contributed little (if any) to management of the guild, and the assignment only lasted a few months. We were barely into Obsidian Sanctum when Larada had already grown tired of incessant questions from up-and-coming Hunters annoying him and disrupting his game time.

Some players simply do not have the time or patience in dealing with administration -- they play WoW to play, not to be bothered with paperwork. I can respect that. Leadership isn't for everyone. But when the Old God role popped up as a means to grandfather players back in that once held a role of authority, Larada was quick to jump at the chance to have that title back. Hell, who wouldn't want authority without responsibility? 

Larada was not the only ex-officer that wanted in. There was about a two-week period during The Burning Crusade after Goldenrod retired from the game that I experimented with promoting a younger player, Dandrak, to officership -- the very same Dandrak who was responsible for our first Vaelastrasz kill years earlier. The experiment failed miserably; Dandrak was far too young to deal with officership. He was better at producing drama rather than mediating it. His short reign was fraught with immaturity and skewed by ego...never mind the fact that it is nothing short of impossible trying to manage a group of players in WoW when your parents have grounded you from the game. Dandrak still felt he was owed a promotion to Old God, though, and made sure to hammer me to grant it to him. 

I was even bombarded by requests from players that hadn't even held officership! Players that had unofficially run their own 10-man teams automatically thought they met the requirements for ex-officer, players who had been away from the game for months (maybe years), freshly re-invited to consume 3.1 content. They couldn't wait to hop into officer chat and be a part of the inner circle. 

Old God was like a birthday present to much of the guild, yet none of them knew it was created to solve a specific problem. If you were an officer that I didn't have a role for, it allowed you to continue to contribute to leadership. But, it read very much like I was inscribing a double-standard directly into the rules. The spin, therefore, came in its description: honorary officership to ex-officers. I designed it to show respect to those who had given me their blood and tears, like Klocker. The same could be said for any of those folks who had toiled over Descendants of Draenor, names like Haribo, Klocker, Kaleu, Breginna.

Ater. Blain.

So, it shouldn't have surprised me that players who weren't cut out for officership but still wished to enjoy its benefits wanted a piece of the pie. Thanks to the simplicity of how I described it, any ex-officer could tie on the feedbag and dive in to dessert. So, I sent over a pleasant "sure!" when Larada asked for the Old God promotion...

...and then I re-worked the description of the rank before any more damage could be done.

"Must have been a contributing member to leadership over the guild's lifespan."

"Must not have exited / been expunged from the guild on bad terms at any point in the guild's past."


While all the fuss surrounding Old God was going on, who qualified, who should get it, how fast I could promote them so they could "hang with the cool kids in officer chat" but not be expected to actually do anything, one player remained quiet. 

He never complained. 

He never expressed concern. 

He never whispered me or took me aside and wondered what was with all the promotions / demotions and why he wasn't being considered. 

He said nothing and carried on with his daily business, fully aware that the restructure meant his officership had expired. And in his silent humility, I saw a person I deeply respected, not only for his knowledge of the game and skill as a healer, but in how he was fiercely loyal to the guild, regardless of my decisions.

I took Dalans aside one evening and asked him,

"So...what's your opinion on Neps?"

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

3.18. Know Your Role

Blain shows off his Vengeful Nether Drake,
Shattrath City

The End To Bending

"Why can’t I see the officer forums any more?"

"Because you're not an officer anymore. That should have been easy to figure out."

I waited to see if I'd get some push back; no response. I clarified further.

"It's all or nothing now. If you're an officer, you need to meet the commitments I've listed out."

"I already told you I can't commit to every Friday and Sunday."

"Ok, well...??" I didn't need to finish my sentence. He got it.

"Yeah, but I can still help out."

I took a deep breath.

"Look, part of what I'm doing here with the restructure is trying to nip that double standard in the bud. When Wrath launches in a couple weeks, the new ranks will require officers to be present both nights of the week in raids. You were the one that told me you weren't comfortable committing to that kind of a schedule in Wrath. That's cool. You can retire a free man. But now I need other officers to fill those shoes, and they are committing to that schedule. So, they are the ones that benefit from those perks."

Blain chuckled at what most certainly appeared to him as a sudden overnight change in formality.

"I'm not asking for invite or kick privileges. I just think that I can still give you some advice here and there."

I wanted to bend the rules. But bending is what got me in trouble in the past.

"Hey, I'm all for it, but right now, I don't have a pseudo-officer rank available. And if I go bending the rules for someone, you know how that will come back and bite me in the ass. Someone will bitch about how 'Blain gets special treatment', or they'll whine about how they have to follow the rules but you don't. I've been fighting off double standards for four years, now. I gotta do it right this time."

He took a deep breath in Vent and gave me one of those delayed "alright" responses, the kind that dripped with "you're making a big mistake" undertones. I didn't want to cut Blain out of the officer channels and forums. He had a lot of value to deliver, especially in the raid leadership advice department. But when he told me he was stepping down from the responsibilities of raid leadership at the launch of Wrath, I had to walk-the-walk...which meant full demotion. Officers would be treated no differently than Raiders. As much as it pained me to.

If an opportunity arose where I could slip Blain under-the-radar into leadership legitimately, we'd revisit.

From Class to Role

My initial attempt at rebooting the guild with a new outlook on the game seemed reasonably successful. There were no mass exodus to speak of, no attempt to overthrow me and take over the guild vault. Players seemed content and excited for the next tier of content. There was no sign of the dreaded "grass-is-greener" syndrome which plagued our best players in the past; players who felt their effort and skills went unacknowledged. On the contrary, the best and brightest of my crew were being identified, gaining promotions, seeing more raids -- they were earning prestige and they were proud of what they had accomplished. They were proud to carry themselves as one of the Elite of Descendants of Draenor, and strove to fulfill its duties. I was satisfied that it kept them returning. This was, after all, the long-term goal: Build a solid foundation of reliable, skilled players who were fiercely loyal to raiding and progression. This foundation would support the weight of raiders unable to deliver the same commitment, but still wished to participate and see content. This was the yin and yang that made Descendants of Draenor work; the secret sauce that allowed us to compete with hardcore guilds without encumbering our players with an oppressive schedule.

But there was room for improvement.

Transitioning into Wrath from TBC, we still clung to the age-old Class Officer paradigm first proposed in Vanilla. Each class had its own officer, overseeing the troops that shared the same class designation. In a guild where we had enough players to field two full 40-Man raids per week, there was a huge number of players that had to be managed. The only logical way to accomplish this was to delegate responsibility. And in those days, my officers had officers. But this paradigm had no business in the new world of 25-Man raiding -- our headcount no longer demanded an officer pool of that magnitude. It was time to adjust this way of thinking. When 3.1 launched and everyone's mind was focused on Ulduar and the secrets it kept beneath the storm peaks of Northrend, I went back to the drawing board and pulled the trigger on the decision to move to Role Officers.

The concept of a Role Officer wasn't new to us; we had been running with a Healing Officer throughout Vanilla (Haribo) and The Burning Crusade (Breginna). It was one person whose sole responsibility to keep their group organized. For healers this was essential, especially in the early days of raiding. Very specific assignments had to be made for specific players -- these players would be healing the main tank only, these players here would be responsible for FFA (Free-For-All, healing anyone that needs it). And for Healing assignments, the officer had to be smart enough to know who their team was, what each class's strength or weakness was, and more importantly...which players were stronger than others. My healing officers had a great track record because they knew better than to assign unskilled players to roles of significant importance. The raid leader didn't need to bother with the granular details of the assignments; the healing officer would handle it on their own, making fixes and adjustments as needed. The healers even had their own dedicated channel to discuss assignments and work out their own strategy, without distracting the rest the raid.

It was a clean system that worked well for our Healers. It was now time to make it happen for our Ranged, our Melee, and our Tanks.

Your New Leaders

The first order of business was to tackle the logical promotions. I started with Cheeseus, the new rogue who I'd considered for promotion since the early weeks of Naxxramas. He approached me with my own concerns; we were on the same page. We both agreed that we needed a single unified leader to guide us down the path of efficiency and success. He would become that new raid leader. Next, I had to assign a healing officer. I needed someone I could trust and whom I felt approached the role with a fastidious eye. Unfortunately, my healing officer from The Burning Crusade, Breginna, was no longer available to commit to the schedule I demanded of officers -- every Friday and Sunday, no exceptions. This turned my attention towards Kelden, a reasonably new Shaman to DoD who had proven himself over many Naxxramas runs that he fit the bill. Like Dalans, Kelden also had little patience for ignorance and stupidity -- he wanted healing done a certain way and had no problems telling other players how to do it. Meanwhile, the ranged DPS would continue to be handled by Eacavissi, who had formerly held the title of Warlock officer. When I gave him a list of his newly refined responsibilities, his concern to me was that he knew nothing of Mage, Hunter, Elemental Shaman or Boomkin intricacies. I quelled his fears -- managing the role is less about what the perfect Fire Mage rotation is, and more about ensuring all the Mages know what they must do when the shit hits the fan.

On paper, the new structure was as clear as the Durotar sky: one melee officer, one ranged officer, one healing officer, and one tank officer, all reporting to one raid leader...whom in turn, reported to me. The problem: I didn't have the all the heads I needed to fill those roles...at least, heads that I could trust. Some players were going to have to wear multiple hats. By this time, we were taking two to three tanks per raid, and in multiple discussions, Cheeseus had expressed to me that there was little need beyond that. So, did it make sense to promote someone randomly, just to manage three tanks per week, two of which would be myself and Dalans? It was overkill, so I vetoed a Tank officer promotion. Dalans and I would be more than enough to manage a single additional tank each week. That left me to make a final assignment of melee officer. Nobody in my eyes was quite ready for this promotion yet. And when I brought it up to Cheeseus, he expressed to me that he was far more comfortable spoon feeding players himself than relying on someone he didn't know or couldn't trust. I proposed that the logical solution was to have Cheeseus himself run the melee officer role while leading the broad group at the same time. He concurred.

After the promotions were complete, two previous officers remained jobless. Both players were important to Descendants of Draenor, yet neither had a responsibility in this new structure. How I planned on handling these remaining two would come down to a single deciding factor:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

3.17. Blizzard's Second Mistake

Concept Art for Thaddius
Copyright © Activision/Blizzard

Raiding Under Duress

I was wound up like a Warp-Spring Coil.

We had been making a concerted effort to wrap up Heroic: Glory of the Raider before the patch obliterated any remaining opportunity. The entire raiding landscape had changed, and we were now accustomed to the changes Blizzard had implemented. In days gone past, we would spend weeks and weeks on a single boss, practicing a mechanic, wiping, running back, repeating the process. All of that was gone. Now, an entire instance could be cleared in an evening. And, unlike many of the despondent players who felt raiding was now a lost cause, we had deciphered the subtext to establish purpose -- it was no longer about clearing an instance, but about the way in which you cleared it. Do it normally, and you impress no one. You get in, you see the content, you get out...end of story. Do it under extreme conditions, however, and the prestige of achievements, mounts, and titles will rain down on you, restoring the glory you once attained in Vanilla or TBC. So it was written by Blizzard, this would be the way in which raiding could be delivered to both the casual and the hardcore. We got the message, loud and clear. We embraced it.

But while the "new way" was a realistic solution to reducing the difficulty curve of raids, while at the same time retaining a degree of challenge and accomplishment associated with raiding, Blizzard's implementation fell short on this initial pass. In order to achieve this aforementioned glory, a shopping list of meta achievements had been provided to us. Scratching each one off the list meant we were closer to cooking up the final masterpiece; each item pushing our team to play harder, more disciplined, more efficiently. These meta achievements would combine like an 80's Transformer to form a mega ultra-achievement, which would devastate any who would challenge our ability.

But the recipe wasn't entirely accurate. There were a few rogue ingredients on that shopping list.

In an attempt to provide us with a finite list of meta achievements to challenge our raid team, Blizzard asked us to break our raid team apart. The goal was to test our mettle under duress -- could we pull it off with less DPS and less heals? While their intent was clear and execution was straightforward, these achievements had the side-effect of reducing our time on The Immortal, an achievement we'd need all 25 players present for. Neither of these obstacles would've been a huge concern, except for the fact that that Blizzard also decided to implement a hard deadline on Heroic: Glory of the Raider, stripping it (and its rewards) from even being attempted once 3.1 launched. To add insult to injury, this achievement would be a test that was realistic in theory, but unrealistic in practice, as it wouldn't take into consideration failures of a technical nature: computer lock-ups, server instances becoming unavailable, internet provider latency, and bugs in various boss mechanics.

Most importantly, The Immortal had severe social impact on the player that failed it. Humans make mistakes.  While each player has his or her own accountability to consider for, the ramifications of failure were dire. I took a small amount of pride in the fact that Descendants of Draenor strove to raise the bar in how we treated one another, but under the stress of continual mistakes week after week on something so subject to chance, even we were not immune to losing our tempers and pointing fingers. In a game that was equally dependent upon skill as it was on social interaction, it amazed me that the ramifications of Blizzard's design seemed to not consider for social impact. It was as if they assumed all guilds worked together in complete harmony, patting each other on the back after stumbling, cheering each other up after every failed attempt, every mistake.

Blizzard had an incredible amount of insight into the big picture of the game, so why did they seem to have no insight into the big picture of how people interact while playing it?

Concept Art for Thaddius
Copyright © Activision/Blizzard

The Late Buff

It happened during Thaddius.

I wish I could tell you that it was a blur. That memories were hazy. They were neither. I remember with vivid, painful clarity the events that unfolded that evening, the night I was responsible for botching The Immortal. Hours earlier I had updated an add-on, DoTimer, which I watched for buffs and debuffs. It apparently didn't matter that Deadly Boss Mods blasted a gigantic alert across the middle of the screen, telling me that polarities had changed -- I was hyper focused on my DoTimer buff / debuff window. I'd even go so far as to say I was tunnel visioning onto that debuff window. And for reasons that escape me, DoTimer chose to handle debuffs differently that evening -- and the blame rested solely on my shoulders. In a moment of confusion, when the debuff didn't show up in the exact place on my screen I expected it to, I panicked. All other extraneous data had been long since tuned out. It didn't matter that there was a Deadly Boss Mod alert blaring away, flashing the warning that I had gained a new polarity and needed to shift my position.

Oh, I figured it out on my own...about a half-second too late.

The mixed polarities lept from me to my group, killing a caster in the process. I yelled out into Vent in frustration and anger, "It was late! It was a late buff!!"

In that instant, I'd sealed my fate. My quote would be chiseled into the plaque at the base of my toon's statuette, a trophy to follow me and my great accomplishments for as long as we raided together. Bosses whose names we'd not yet learned would kill me with great pleasure, and I would die from making a split-second decision too late. And each and every time I fell over dead, I would be sure to hear a round of laughter after a player repeated back to me that fateful quote.

"Ah, Hanzo. Don't worry about it. It was a late one!"

This was my reward for attempting to push my raid team to perform at their peak and be proud of what they accomplished together. It had nothing to do with them. It had everything to do with me.

Mature assists members of Descendants of Draenor
with the completion of "Subtraction" (10-Man),

Getting a Spanking

When Blizzard sits down and designs their game, they possess a level of knowledge and insight into the mechanics of the game far beyond that of a player; the evidence is all around us: on forum posts, at BlizzCon Q & A sessions, even on public blog rants. Players complain about misunderstood mechanics and bizarre design decisions, which ultimately translate to how they feel they're not being treated fairly. A player will never possess this level of insight. They'll only have their own observations and DPS simulations to guide them; a narrow pinhole casting a miniature shadow onto the landscape. This shadow fades further when fueled by a player's own emotions and how the game makes them feel. When they win, they feel great -- losing (unsurprisingly) has the opposite effect.

But what separates the wheat from the chaff is how a player deals with loss. Today, it's common just to jump on the forums and spew opinion as fact to justify why a player feels unfairly treated. Real gamers, however, don't put up with losses. They push another quarter into the machine and go again. They don't give up, they don't make excuses, they just keep going until they win. Practice makes perfect, after all. Blizzard should know this, because they are gamers themselves; they make the kind of game they would want to play. So, they should know that nothing frustrates a gamer more than taking the controller away, like a parent punishing a child for being on "the Nintendo" too long. Removing the achievement was a leather belt across the bare ass that Blizzard had no business delivering.

The design of The Immortal was rife with problems. Technical failures aside, the approach of an all-or-nothing raid execution was short-sighted on Blizzard's part. Randomness exists in games; Blizzard knows this and they also know that statistics dictate random events will generate streaks over time. Just as a guild complains they are seeing the same loot over and over, so too, can a guild be the victim of streaks of bad luck in boss mechanics and execution. Judging a raid team on their "luck with a streak of random shit", the achievement itself isn't a measure of raid skill at all, but rather, how lucky a raid team is with that week's  roll of the dice. Misinterpreting what the achievement was qualifying and insisting that it remain a meta for Glory, and then removing our ability to continue to plug away at it...was Blizzard's Second Mistake. And, like their first mistake, they never repeated this again.

Could we have done it, given a bit more time? Perhaps. We had a number of players execute the 10-man equivalent, The Undying (myself included), but the degree of randomness was reduced -- as are many raid mechanics when lowered to 10-man quality. Bosses don't have as much health, don't hit as hard, fights don't last as long -- ultimately, there is less time to die.

Do I feel an achievement like The Immortal belongs in World of Warcraft? Oh, absolutely! Raiders need things to strive for, to achieve, badges to wear as they march down the streets of their respective home city. But should it be representative of a set of 25-Man raiding achievements, all of which are a reflection on the cohesiveness of the team?


The Immortal stands alone, apart from the metas which comprise a "Glory" achievement, reflecting a player's capacity to get a good roll of the dice one week. A week in which no single player in their raid suffers no server instance crashes, has no add-on changes to adjust to, experiences no internet outages, has no cat jump onto their keyboard, or has to raid the night they're sick with the stomach flu, turning away from a heal just long enough to blow chunks into a bucket sitting beneath their keyboard tray.

In theory, players should never have any technical problems or experience any random events of chance that a split-second error in judgement ends in the failure of their entire team.

In reality...people die.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

3.16. Blowing The Immortal

"4DK" by Xia Jie (jiejie)

Embracing the Motto

Word began to leak out that 3.1 was targeted for the beginning of April. One achievement remained in order to claim Heroic: Glory of the Raider -- The Immortal. It posed a challenge unlike any we'd faced thus far, one that didn't involve any special mechanics on an individual boss. Instead, it assessed the entire team's survivability for the duration of the raid.

Defeat every boss in Naxxramas on a single raid lock without allowing a single player to die.

The Immortal levied a brutal tax on raiding guilds. At first glance, it seemed like the perfect way to qualify the synergy of a raid team. If you were truly the best-of-the-best, executing a full clear without losing a player should be par for the course. Raiding in Wrath had already significantly reduced the difficulty curve which made the viability of this achievement even more realistic. There was no excuse not to step up to the plate. Even the achievement's name itself mirrored the exact definition of our guild motto, coined by Ater in those early days back in Molten Core:

"If We Don't Die, We Win."

We owed it to ourselves to embrace the motto we strove to represent. Surveying Deathwing-US's landscape revealed that our progress was now tied with Enigma and Shadow Templars; Unbridled Apathy was also missing The Immortal, but lacked Malygos-in-6-minutes as well. We dug our heels in and got to work.

Initial attempts at The Immortal during the first few weeks were messy, no doubt due to having a reduced number of healers -- an unfortunate side-effect of the impetuous "less-than-21-players-present" metas. Zeliek's holy fire bouncing between too many individuals wrecked players as they collapsed onto him too quickly, heals unable to catch up. Reducing healing also didn't help when our raiders weren't mindful of their positioning during Kel'thuzad; a single mana bomb would take a group of clustered players out at once, or drop them so low that attempting to recover was a fruitless endeavor. When we weren't dealing with a lack of heals, buggy game mechanics offered us another excuse to fail by. On one particularly positive evening, Sapphiron's frost breath annihilated three players at once, all of whom were "protected" by Ice Blocks. It was clear that The Immortal shared an unfortunate design trait with certain bosses in our past where the fate of the team rested solely on an individual team member's shoulders; a design I've never been particularly fond of. And, as it had in our past, animosity was once again stirring among the team. Frustration would lead to finger-pointing, and our ugly side began to burst through the skin.

Reducing Resentment

Trends began to form, drawing intricate patterns of repeat offenders. One of my newest Elites, Bheer, a tried-and-true raider since the days of Vanilla, was now 0/2 having died both weeks and negating the achievement. He wasn't the only Elite offender. Ekasra and Omaric both died to Sapphiron, as did Cheeseus, the very same rogue I was grooming in preparation for raid lead, come 3.1. Officers weren't exempt from mistakes either. Dalans himself succumbed to Maexxna one night. In the hope of sculpting our raiding environment into a work of art, The Immortal was making our raiders look like a shapeless lump of clay.

To quell opportunities for resentment to brew among the team, we kept an open and honest discussion flowing on the forums, reiterating that players take accountability for their actions. I hammered the message home again and again: it's OK to make mistakes, just don't repeat them. The raid team flocked to the forum thread discussing The Immortal and examined their combat logs until they had nailed the exact cause of death. Each individual fight was broken down and examined to a degree of granularity I hadn't yet witnessed in my guild. They were discussing the min/maxxing down to individual talent point adjustments, theorycrafting health flasks vs. AP flasks, the difference of a plus-or-minus 1 healer, even adjusting glyphs between fights. They were tackling this challenge head-on like true gamers would. While the Battle.net forums ranted to Ghostcrawler about the unfairness of the Proto-Drakes being removed, my progression team had their attention turned inwards, the end goal in sight. It wasn't about making excuses, it was about finding any and every way possible to make the achievement happen.

One trick we employed early to increase our chances involved a little-known tidbit with Instructor Razuvious. We had already tailored our night to start with Razuvious for a specific reason: Of the four bosses we could potentially start Naxxramas off with, he posed the greatest risk of killing someone. But if things started poorly, we could call for a wipe on Razuvious, force everyone out of the instance, break up the raid, and then re-invite and re-enter which had the effect of resetting the instance. It was gimmicky, but as Blain had taught us years ago, in order to succeed we had to leverage all the tools available to us.


On week three, with 1% of health left on Razuvious, he broke free from our Priest's mind control, turned, and one-shot Cheeseus...the boss falling over dead as soon as the rogue hit the ground.

I remember staring at the screen in silence. An entire week, flushed in a split-second. Only fifteen minutes had passed since we had started the raid. The rage built up inside me enough to snap a keyboard in two. Not that it mattered, but that same evening, another Elite suffered a death during Thaddius, due to a computer lockup. It was bad enough that we had to demonstrate surgical precision to execute The Immortal, but now we had to deal with technical failures to which their was no adequate solution. If an idiot player can't figure out how to not die, you can bench them. But what do you do when you have a star performer die because their game locked up?

Nothing. You can do absolutely nothing.

By week four, we were done our less-than-21-players churn, built back to full strength. No more blaming a lack of heals. Time to get shit done. Everyone present was wide awake and aware that time was running out. We knew what we had to do; now, it was simply a matter of doing it. The raid evening started out reasonably well, executing Razuvious, then immediately shifting back to the Spider Wing. Our newest strategy: push The Four Horsemen to the beginning of night 2, so that everyone would be wide awake for it -- we'd suffered too many deaths on Zeliek from not being alert. As a result of this strategy, we were clearing Spider Wing on night 1. After defeating Anub'Rekhan, we moved into position to get set up for Grand Widow Faerlina. As we sat eating and buffing, Vent quieted down and the raid team started to focus in on the goal.

Don't die.


Suddenly, a lone tree-form began blissfully shuffling forward, a wide grin cut into its bark from ear-branch to ear-branch. It was headed directly for the Grand Widow.

"Oh, fuck!" someone yelled out in Vent, "Quick! Get heals on Lix!"

Too late.

A single chop from Faerlina's sword twisted the tiny tree into a pile of kindling at her feet. Hearing a rush of kids playing behind her, Lix had hopped up from her computer and closed her door to prevent distractions, inadvertently bumping her move-forward key in the process. Sitting back down only moments later, her heart sank as she saw her Druid laying dead in Faerlina's room, the raid already engaged with the boss...barking out strategy with a tone of disgust and disappointment.

By week five, the wind in our sails was slowly sweeping away. Unbridled Apathy had wrapped up The Immortal, sealing off any last opportunity to make a name for ourselves on the server during this first tier of Wrath raiding. Meanwhile, it was still business as usual as I struggled to find ways to keep the raiders focused and on task. Just get it done. Stop fucking up and making stupid mistakes. Now even I had problems keeping a positive mind and an objective outlook on the raid. I had been putting all of my energy into keeping the raiders calm, but there was nobody to reassure me in the process. My own anger and frustration got the best of me and wore me out. Those failed raid nights left me exhausted, as if I'd chopped a cord of tree-form wood myself. In the face of repeated adversity, we continued to lose steam and my patience wore thin...

...which is probably why I blew The Immortal that week.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

3.15. Killing the Flautists

Mature and crew knock out the
10-Man version of "The Twilight Zone",
Obsidian Sanctum

Theory vs. Reality

Eleven minutes after Ghostcrawler announced to the audience that his favorite pastimes included long walks on the beach, drinking Gin, and nerfing Paladins, a gamer addressed the panel of developers seated at the front of the auditorium. To her, the question was a legitimate concern; in her eyes, the design made made no sense and seemed illogical when scrutinized.

"It seems like some classes have to take PvP talents in order to reach the 31 point talent. Was this intentional? And if so...why?"

I picked up on her indignant tone and continued to listen, flanked by several members of Descendants of Draenor to my left and right. I knew where this was headed, but was intrigued by how Blizzard would respond.

Ion Hazzikostas leaned towards the mic and asked in return, "Can you give us an example of what you would consider a PvP talent?"

She stumbled a moment, flipping through the multitude of talent pages in her head, trying to zero in on an example worthy of this complaint.

"Shamans. The talent, I believe, that lets them take less...magic damage?"

Ion was quick to respond, "True, but isn't that useful in PvE? Essentially, if you aren't tanking, all the damage that you take...whether it be in a 5-man dungeon or in a raid...is going to be magic damage." He expounded on this by digging deep into Blizzard's changing philosophy of choice vs. "false" choice of talent specs in the next expansion, but the gamer was unsatisfied with this answer, and pushed Ion further.

"But as a caster, in some of those cases, you really shouldn't be getting hit anyway. There are the area-of-effects that are constantly going on, but in some cases, there's really no reason for you to be getting hit."

I leaned over to Goldenrod and whispered, "What, you've never made a mistake before?" He smiled back in agreement. Who was she trying to convince? Blizzard...or herself?

Ion's response summed up my thoughts exactly, "In an ideal world, none of these things would be needed. In an ideal world, an ability like combat rez wouldn't be needed, because people wouldn't be dying. In reality...people die."

We joined in the applause as Ion's message hit home. The raiding community in World of Warcraft was especially tuned to the nuances of reality when setting foot in Azeroth; we'd had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at us, damage wise. We'd suffered fire damage from Ragnaros, Shadow Flames from Nefarian, damage from pools of lava, void zones, arcane explosions, bombs, even weapons without owners took a chunk of our health away. Taking damage was a fact of life in raiding, and to us, there was no need to stand in line at BlizzCon and burn a question about survivability prerequisites. The game was like that by design.

Yet questions of this nature are repeatedly posed by the community, each more suspiciously naive that the previous. They cement the notion that there are a massive amount of players in the community that are missing something.

Mature and crew knock out the 10-Man
version of "A Poke in the Eye",
The Eye of Eternity

The Big Picture

Blizzard has a window into the game that you and I will never see. Behind closed doors, they are able to extract data, analyze patterns, see trends rise and fall, and use this criteria to make thoughtful decisions about their changes moving forward. They have made mistakes in the past, but have been a reasonably noble company in admitting when they are wrong, and not repeating those mistakes...far more than many other equitable companies in the game industry. One of their first big mistakes they made -- the implementation of PvP and PvE rewards using the exact same visuals (during TBC) was never repeated again, nor was the brutally complex mechanics of a raid at entry-level, such as with the case with the original Magtheridon. We knew it was a logistical nightmare to co-ordinate, and this would've been fine for late-game. At entry level, however, it was an artificial road-block that was a bit heavy-handed. Blizzard acknowledged this, and the mistake was never repeated.

The WoW player base, however, seemed to be growing in the general direction of "complain first, solve later" as their approach in dealing with a part of the game they couldn't understand. This concept is foreign to a seasoned gamer. We thrill in the hunt, to figure the puzzle out on our own. Whether this trend in the community grew out of sheer volume (the player base had ballooned up to 11 million players worldwide, having been closer to 7 million during The Burning Crusade), or as a result of Ghostcrawler and his fellow blue posters becoming more responsive on the forums, I can't say for certain. But I knew I had a limited view into the Matrix, and the answer would reveal itself if I put forth the effort. Players often see WoW through their own jaded lenses, reflecting back the narrow picture of a world where things don't go their way.

They lack the big picture. And it fuels their rage.

So while the masses of players continued to stomp their feet when things didn't go their way, I opted to err on the side of giving Blizzard the benefit of the doubt when I came across a bewildering design decision. True, I've been a gamer my entire life, so I have a pretty good handle on what I think is fun. And thanks to my career, I like to think I understand the complexities of software development, granting me perspective into the long hours it takes to produce even the most basic game mechanics that players take for granted. But I'm still just a gamer. I'm not a professional game designer. I keep that in the back of my mind when a  particular piece of the game puzzles me, doesn't seem to make sense, doesn't seem to be balanced or fair. It's what gives me pause before I rush out and jump on the forums, claiming Blizzard is just a bunch of asshats. Instead, I take a step back and wonder,

What part of the picture don’t I have?

Mature continues to whore up achievements,
raising 15 reputations to Exalted,

Benched On Purpose

The first round of achievements Blizzard delivered to us at the start of Wrath were fantastic. They got our raiding juices flowing and challenged us to push it to the limit. The Twilight Zone was an especially great way to let us crank up the difficulty, based on our team makeup and level of commitment. If you wanted to jump straight into 3-drakes, Godspeed. For us, baby steps were our bread and butter, so it made more sense for us to twist the dials a little bit at a time. The beauty of the design was how each achievement tested us in each area. Buried beneath the clever puns and in-jokes in their titles lay quantifiers that validated your skill as a raid team. Can you figure out a way to inflate DPS beyond what your team's gear allows? How well can your team communicate and coordinate? Is your team disciplined enough to make excellent time? If your team ignored a mechanic that would otherwise make the boss unkillable, could you still do it? There were a wide variety of achievements Blizzard gave us to test the 25-Man Progression team's competency; we gladly stepped up and showed them we could do it.

When we whittled the majority of the meta-achievements away, I began to see a strange trend emerge. Among those achievements that remained, there lacked a certain focus around the accomplishments of the team. In fact, one might go so far as to say those raiding achievements appeared to test how well a team didn't work together. Subtraction, The Dedicated Few, and A Poke in the Eye all required us to bring no more than 20 players to the instance. At first, I explained away their odd requirements as an exercise in competency under duress. Less players meant less DPS, less heals. Enrage timers would be tighter. Mana pools would be thinned. Each contributor would have to min/max to a much greater degree. Per my modus operandi, I sided with Blizzard and justified the design of the achievements. Putting a tiny bit of thought into Blizzard’s intent granted me the satisfaction of believing I understood their design.

Persuading the team of that intent was a different story entirely.

The raiders were less than enthusiastic about sitting on the bench in order to accomplish these achievements. I made it clear: these metas were a minor inconvenience, yet very necessary for the ultimate goal of achieving Heroic: Glory of the Raider. Everyone would be given an opportunity to churn through so that we all could claim it in our toons. I did my best to convince them, but as I continued to deal with the drama of players being uncomfortable sitting out, I began to question who I was trying to convince...the raiders, or myself?

Even though we were a guild whose ideals dictated that a team was a sum greater than its parts, I was still only months into the reboot of the guild. The past still lingered, and individual insecurities managed to squeeze out of the raiders' pores once we revealed the raider rotations for first shot at these metas.

"Why do I have to wait until week three?", they'd ask me in private.

God. Does it matter? We’re all going to get it done. But to them...it mattered. Self-doubt lingered in my avoidance in addressing their concern. Maybe they weren't as valuable as they originally thought. Maybe the clarity of my new rank system, denoting Raiders as general purpose, and Elite as star-performers wasn't as transparent as intended. Maybe after building up their self-esteem and making them believe they were better than they gave themselves credit for...these rotations spoke the cruel truth to them.

...or maybe they were reading too much into it.

I was annoyed. For Blizzard to ask us to chop our team up in order to prove they were capable was blatantly contradictory. I'd assembled a complete orchestra of players to perform, and was then instructed to kill the entire flute section, while the audience still expected a symphony. Quantifying a raid team's skill under duress could have been accomplished a number of ways: increasing the boss's health, inflating the boss's damage, hitting our healers with a raid-wide debuff that inhibited their heals...the list goes on. And in typical Blizzard fashion, they would acknowledge that this design was faulty -- that they had rushed into giving us this first round of achievements without the proper foresight. Blizzard never again asked us to leave players behind in order to accomplish great raiding feats of strength.

For the time being, however, the damage was done. In order to churn a reduced number of raiders through the instances so that everyone could claim Heroic: Glory of the Raider, we lost valuable weeks working on what would come to epitomize a fundamental lack of insight into achievement design -- an achievement that had great aspirations, yet very dire ramifications in its reckless implementation:

The Immortal.