Thursday, December 25, 2014

4.20. Samurai Shodown

Mature gets direction from Drecca on Foe Reaper 5000,
as the guild cooks its 10,000th recipe,


Achievements procc'd non-stop throughout December. Every glance at the familiar green chat window revealed yellow text punctuating the conversation. There was always someone vying to complete the Ring of Blood in Twilight Highlands, winning a rated battleground in Gilneas or Twin Peaks, forming up for Tol Barad and securing Baradin Hold, or simply sitting in a corner of Orgrimmar, cooking their 10,000th recipe. Nearly everything we did had an award attached to it, but the majority of those golden banners came from dungeons.

Heroics got most of our attention, thanks to another concept that Cataclysm introduced us to: Championing. In the past, players were relegated to the monotony of dailies and specific dungeon runs to max out their reputation with a given faction -- and there were quite a few of these factions in Wrath of the Lich King. Other than the shiny achievement placards that some arguably didn't care about, the reason why anyone would want to grind out those factions were for the rewards: a few pieces of gear that might offset a missing slot of raid-ready equipment, or perhaps a shiny new mount, pet or other toy. But dailies dragged, and forcing players into the same dungeon over and over was a recipe for burnout. In Cataclysm, wearing the tabard of a specific faction meant all rep-based quest turn-ins and dungeons completed would yield rep for that faction alone. It was a fantastic, flexible solution to the reputation grind of yore. The grind was still necessary, but at least now we chose how to approach it.

Dungeons were difficult once again, and the new difficulty fed our hunger; few in DoD drew satisfaction from heroics you could AoE your way through. Players adapted or were chewed up and spit out. Mobs hits like trucks; health bars spiked frantically. Enemies left unattended would run for help and casters had the tendency to summon in additional forces, both of which would overwhelm groups that weren't paying attention. Trash in Throne of Tides tossed healers up into the air, interrupting them long enough to prevent that one life saving heal from landing. And of course, there was fire everywhere...and players stood in it.

And I haven't even gotten to the bosses yet.

Ozruk, an elemental lord comprised entirely of stone, broke us on at least more than one occasion. Both Asaad of the Vortex Pinnacle and Erudax of Grim Batol had insta-death mechanics promised to those who didn't move into safety zones. Foe Reaper 5000, a harvester boss halfway through Heroic: Deadmines, caused grief even for tightly honed groups to come out of DoD. Throne of Tides (when not tossing healers up into the air) was, for the most part, one of the less intimidating instances, yet it required party coordination on nearly every boss in the instance.

I had to wonder how anonymous, random players in LFD were handling the new difficulty.

Merry Christmas, hon!

Booked Solid

What is December without a frantic mess of holiday related preparations? Buying gifts, sending out cards, coordinating family get-togethers -- it was a seemingly infinite to-do list. A well-adjusted gamer might consider Cataclysm plus Christmas more than enough to keep someone occupied every day of the month. For me, the demands stretched further.

A healthcare system dependent upon co-payments, minimum deductibles, and in-network referrals has the unfortunate side-effect of trending inconvenient surgery schedules that skew toward the end of the year. For my wife, this led to the decision to take care of not one, but two artificial replacements: a compressed disc in her spine near the base of her neck, and her right knee, a joint that had long since worn away its cartilage. Jul came out of both surgeries with flying colors, but the recovery was long, onerous, and would require a near full-time attendant.

Guess who?

While Jul recovered from her surgeries, I was shuttling the kids to and from school. That meant cutting into my work day to pick them both up, making up any missed hours in the evenings. The boss, Dave, was never high-pressure about this, yet I felt compelled to make up lost time -- I'd invested so much of myself in my work that guilt quickly set in if there was any hint of neglect. Some nights I spent rewriting code that didn't need to be re-written, to feel like something...anything...was getting done. Progress, even baby steps, meant forward movement.

I handled the dinners, the laundry, the gift purchases and wrapping. I sat down at the kitchen table with the kids in the evenings, helping them with their end-of-semester school projects. I made sure we had the necessities, and that Jul's knee-cuff compressor had a fresh batch of ice in it every twenty-four hours.

...and, I still made time for the guild.

Each time I logged in to WoW, exhausted from the day, I was greeted by the DoD machine running on autopilot while yellow achievement text spammed its way through chat. Yes, I had a full plate, but it was a plate fit for a king, and not one I ever took for granted. The guild was focused on leveling, repping up, acquiring raid-ready gear, awaiting the crucial announcement that we would begin 25-Man progression raiding. Blain shared the date with me, and planned to post it to the guild very soon: January 7th, 2011. So, I took advantage of DoD's self-sustenance and devoted time to administrative tasks. I reviewed emails of applicants, cleaned up the forums, and fielded recruitment requests from the Tacticians as they began to wrap their arms around their own 10-Man teams.

I won't lie to you: I couldn't do it all myself; frankly, no leader (in their right mind) should. Delegation is key, an absolute necessity. I learned this by Wrath, leveraging it by assigning certain tasks to officers and role leaders. But I felt I could push this a step further in Cataclysm, and did so by baking delegation into a new guild rank, one I felt we desperately needed.

Mature wraps his final heroic dungeon in Cataclysm,
earning "Cataclysm Dungeon Hero",
Throne of the Tides

Neither Casual Nor Hardcore

With Saint now a more exclusive rank replacing Elite, I took a hard look at those formerly falling between the cracks of lower- and upper-tiered raiders. Exiting The Burning Crusade, I saw players of two types populating DoD: those with casual level attention and priorities in the video game world, and hardcore, top-end players whose fresh cuts would bleed raiding. I singled the two categories out in Wrath, identified them, and empowered them to change their titles (if they were unhappy).

In practice, however,a  third type of player emerged: one with the tenacity and skill of a hardcore player, but lacking the motivation / schedule / priority to dedicate every waking moment to the game. In examining this third group, I realized my oversight in Wrath: my former ranks improperly married skill with gaming priority. It was, in fact, a matrix of player types:

Skill \ Priority
Plays Whenever
Plays All the Time

While the upper right quadrant seemed awkward (and we'll get to that later), it was the lower left quadrant that caught my eye. Beginning raiders intent on working towards a spot amongst the Elite were doing so by putting their best foot forward, devoting untold hours to the game to hone their skill, but the same couldn't be said of a raider in the reverse position. If you were already expertly played, you came and went as you chose -- you needed to prove nothing to nobody. Players choosing this path, therefore, were clearly in a league of their own, frozen forever in a position that was too good for Raider, yet not good enough for Elite. Treating them as either ran the same risks as treating a Raider as an Elite -- the worthy feel neglected and move on, and you're left with what collects at the bottom of the barrel.

No player represented this category better than Ben.

Ben's lone gunman style mirrored that of his brother, Ouleg, whom I bonked heads with in TBC: magic behind the wheel...when you manage to strap him in place, taping his hands to the controls if necessary. When harnessed, however, Ben could be pointed down the right path, turning the lone gunman into the gun for the hire, the samurai of the guild. He proved it to me, going from drunken tirades to texting me when he'd be late for a raid so that we could hold him a spot.

With the proper measures in place, you can empower this vast majority to do great things, meet (or exceed) expectations, and cause your team to be an overwhelming success. These are the 'Save-ables', and they are the topic of this book.

In Cataclysm, I created a third rank for the Bens of the guild: Samurai, and for the first time in DoD's history, I put the guild in power of helping decide who was worthy of the title.

In order to qualify for Samurai, the first requirement was to be sitting on at least 50 forum Karma, the current quantifier of guild contribution via peers. Potential Samurai would be posted in a nomination forum and vetted on their knowledge of both the game and their class. How they answered would help the peer review pool determine if a promotion was the correct course of action for the player.

And what of closed-door politics? If nominations were jaded, or accusations of playing favorites were made, those responsible for the conflicts-of-interest would themselves be dinged karma. Make enough bad judgement calls, and a Samurai could find themselves back amongst the Raiders.

This seemed to be a very straightforward loop of accountability. Perform, be rewarded. Make bad choices, suffer the consequences. No longer would it be just "the hand of God" making these was the core of the raid team, the very individuals themselves that healed you, tanked for you, and helped you bring the internet dragon down. With the guidelines in place, this new delegation would afford me the time I needed to split my attention between guild and life, as life was quickly taking precedence.


"Well, what do you think about being the inspiration for a new guild rank?"

"Cool!" Ben replied. Silence followed in Vent.

"So...are you looking forward to getting started on the 7th?"

"I dunno what my schedule is gonna be like here, I have a lot of stuff coming up that I gotta work out with the wife."

Schedule? You don’t have a job, Ben.

"I see," I said, disappointed, "Well, that'd be a real shame to not have you present for 25 this go-around. You were crucial in Wrath."

"Yeah, I'll check on some stuff, but I dunno, I may have to move stuff around a bit. Might even just see what the 10-Man options are like for this tier."

Ben never signed up for, nor attended a single 25-Man progression raid throughout Cataclysm...not on Aeden, not on Scruffiebear...nothing. The one player I designed Samurai to appeal to, a player unable to meet harsh requirements of a former Elite, to enjoy freedom of rotations but be acknowledged for superb play...never earned the rank. Before the 25-Man progression even got off the ground in Cataclysm, Ben's career in it had come to an end.

His story, however, did not.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Haven't read it yet. I've been checking back a few times since Thursday. I'll give you a pass, being it's Christmas an all.


Now off to my weekly read.