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.


Kelden said...

I'm glad this week's blog post was not

a late one.

It probably would have

killed me.

Anonymous said...

@Kelden: Too soon.

Aubiece said...

The best GMs and Raid Leaders I
was ever around were harder on themselves than anyone else.
They set a high standard, led
by example and from the front.
" Follow me ! " is the best way to lead.
/Salute Shawn and your blog
A treasure I look forward to...

Fred said...

Looking forward to Ulduar. Tier 8 is when I started raiding with DoD.

Brett Easley said...


Yeah so is all of... "They who must not be named" Team. :D

Anonymous said...

I got a late start in Wrath, so I didn't hit endgame till around Call of the Crusade. I eventually got into a 10 man guild that went on to do 11/12 heroic ICC.

When we learned the Immortal and Undying title would be removed in Cata we went back to try and get it. At that point you could handle most of 25 man with just 10-15 players.

I think it was when we were working on Undying and we were on the last boss, Kelthuzud. Someone died... at around 5%. The rage, disappointment, and demoralization was palpable.

We never got the title...

Anonymous said...

Similarly, we had an Undying run pre-Ulduar run that made it to Kel'thuzad. Then one of the warriors LITERALLY FELL ASLEEP in a void zone. Fortunately, our 10 man composition was awful and hilarious, but no one really wanted to reroll or recruit more, so we weren't particularly serious about progression. It was something along the lines of 3 warriors, 1 DK, 2 enhancement shamans (yep), 2 rogues, 2 healers (druid and shaman, I want to say). Occasionally, we had a mage or a hunter that would fill in.

Running Emalon on day one without any ranged at all was an amusing accomplishment.

Russell said...

I was okay with them removing the drakes for Glory of the Raider. What I *wasn't* okay with was when, after I got both my Ulduar drakes in 3.1, that they decided to leave those in. It would make sense to me if, in both PvE and PvP (just in arena, back then), there were mounts you could get only during that patch for clearing the metas (or getting above a certain rating/place on the leaderboard).

Unknown said...

Three years later i just died laughing at this.

Better late than never eh?

Adrian Foekens said...

Three years later i just died laughing at this.

Better late than never eh?