Thursday, November 5, 2015

4.51. Contingencies That Don't Suck

With Zedman aboard, Mature takes
flight as a sandstone drake,

The New Way to Improve

Mature arrived in Orgrimmar. He was here on business.

Guild leadership had its perks. Unquestionable authority. A permanent non-negotiable spot in every raid. But the one I enjoyed leveraging the most was the "leader discount." The most expensive, highly sought rewards of each expansion would be certain to find their way to my inventory on sale. The auction house was filled with mounts, pets, and toys that inflated the server's economy -- and were the target of my affection. And if players felt like they were earning brownie points with the boss, I was completely OK with that.

Zedman ran up to Mature and initiated the trade. A crystal orange vial landed in Mature's inventory. I right-clicked it, causing Mature to become enveloped in a bright flash of yellow light that spiraled around the death knight's pale frame. The secrets contained within the Vial of the Sands were now Mature's for the taking.

"Much obliged," I spoke into Vent, "One less thing I have to worry about."

"From one achievement whore to another," he replied, "How's the 25-Man?"

"We're keeping up." Barely. "Old-school raiders are a dying breed."

I tried to ignore the alert in the chat window, indicating a familiar name had logged off. Normally, I'd only see alerts like these from guildies. But players I explicitly wished to keep tabs on were also being tracked. Other guild leaders. Other death knights. Other achievement whores.

I hoped Zed hadn't followed suit in that regard; alas, it was a foolish hope. Zedman didn't get to be one of the top achievement holders on Deathwing-US by being ignorant of the competition. He kept his friends close, and players with more achievement points closer.

"Wait, Delonius isn't in the guild anymore?" he asked me.

"He is not."

"That sucks. What happened?"

"He found himself a permanent spot in Herp Derp. A far safer proposition than taking his chances with me benching him."

"Why'd he get benched?"

Mature transformed into a giant drake. It's color was that of a dark sandstone, adorned with jagged orange extrusions that looked liked crystals.

"Hop on. I want to get some screenies."

Propelled by some magical force, the orc shaman floated through the air, slowly rotating, coming to rest aboard the back of the sandstone drake. I pressed the space bar. The two of them shot straight up, hovering far above Orgrimmar, leveling out near the Zeppelin posts. I spun the camera around and spammed the PRNT SCRN button.

"That is one sweet mount. Thanks again, Zed."

"Yeah. I've made a pretty penny off them."

"I don't doubt it."

I admired the creature's sedimentary look, then stared downwards toward the earthbound scrubs below.

"Few weeks ago we had a rarity: more than 25 people signed up for a raid. And," I took a deep breath, "just as I had all through Wrath, I gave someone else an opportunity to prove their worth. His heals were good...but not great. So, that was the one time he got the bench."

Holding people to a higher standard doesn't work when you can get your rewards for less effort somewhere else.

"You only benched Delonius once?"

It's a different game, now. Once is all it takes.

Hanzo clarifies the guild's policy
 on sharing its Vent server to others

The Open Vent Policy

After experiencing our first glut of signups, we were back down into the dregs once more. I found myself emailing people to remind them of our raid signup policy. 
"Heya. Not sure if you saw, but you were rotated in for this weekend's 25m progression raid. I hadn't seen you online in several days and watched to make certain you saw and had any questions answered that you may have in prep. for the weekend. Let me know."
Accountability was drying up, and our reserves were in a drought.

There was a time when I kept players on the straight-and-narrow; my safeguards caught the outliers, the bowling balls headed for the gutter. Now, my system was increasingly devolving back to the days of faux-leadership, faking it while players came and went through DoD like it was a revolving door.

Once, not long ago, I had very little control over my guild. Foolishness and a lack of backbone when it came to hard decisions nearly did us in, during the days of TBC -- the days I claim that most of my "leadership" amounted to walking in the shadow of folks like Ater.

But I had learned my lesson, built a system of accountability that fostered excellence, promoted competition, and pushed DoD to the edges of what was possible for our conservative raid schedule, a system that worked for both casuals and hardcores -- a system that was still in place. So, what was missing?

The infrastructure -- the scaffolding necessary  to keep my system afloat -- was coming apart from beneath us.

The "unspoken agreement" I'd had with Blizzard had been torn up. In its place was now an environment ripe for exploitation. A guild whose structure and raiding rules were so tightly ingrained within concepts like "effort = reward" fell apart when two different sizes of raid produced the same iLVL of weaponry and armor and the same achievements.

Mix laziness in with a bit of server culture and the results are explosive. Perhaps the PvE servers fared better, but on Deathwing-US, where the PvP dominant culture was troll or be trolled, we were being eaten from the inside out. It had taken me seven years to square away the hammer and the nails. Now, I had nothing to pound them into.


Emblazoned across the top of their homepage, my own words stared back at me.
"There is no other guild on Deathwing like Herp Derp. We are unique."
The guild name had been swapped out, Mad Lib style, to accommodate their own personal agenda. I couldn't help but be amused at the irony of the statement, how plagiarizing our recruitment pitch not only proved Herp Derp's banal malevolence, but simultaneously stripped it of any integrity or worth.

There is nothing quite like having your own words used against you. In this instance, my writing was quite literally selling someone else's guild. It wasn't enough that Herp Derp slashed our roster and ransacked our guild vault. They couldn't even write their own mission statement without using CTRL+C / CTRL+V. But they were far from done. For if there is an opportunity to exploit a guild's generosity, Herp Derp made it their mission to do so.

Herp Derp was actively recruiting people away from DoD, using our own Vent server to do it.

I spent a great deal of time writing a touchy-feely, guild-centric diatribe on what types of folks we approved of sharing our Vent with. And while it could be argued that much of what was stated falls under the rule of common sense, I hope that I've convinced you by this point in the story that common sense is a convenient scapegoat for those who like to play dirty.

There I was, having to remind DoD of the types of people we didn't want to have on our server:
1. Well known, publicly acknowledged "Ninja" guilds, who want our assistance with Tol Barad, legacy 25-Man achievement runs, or other assistance.
2. Guilds / Players whose individual moral compasses point in the opposite direction of DoD; who have a proven track record of dishonesty, disrespect, thievery, etc.
3. Players coming on to our vent to try to poach players away for their own guild.
4. Players coming on to sabotage Vent with recorded sound effects, disrupting conversations/raids/BGs, etc.
If you didn't pick up on the subtlety, reader, you're forgiven...neither did my guild, not even the officers. Here is the translation: Members of Herp Derp were not allowed into our Vent server. 

Poaching. Thievery. Stealing Raiders. Call it whatever you want. They had no problem doing it. And the proof was right on their homepage.

Blizzard's "more loot to the 25s" strategy in action,
Blackwing Descent

How's That "More Loot" Working Out For Ya?

"We have a problem."

"Oh yeah?" The limits of Vent compelled Blain to respond. He wasn't ignoring me. But if there was a way to speak less, he'd find it.

"Jungard's school starts in the fall, and his schedule can't be changed. It falls right across the Friday night raid."

"Ok...?" his voice trailed up, transforming his response into an implied question. This is a problem because why?

"Well, we are going to need a new melee officer, and we've already spoken about that. He feels the best person for the job is Boney. The kid's dedicated, a sharp player, he can take the reins."

"Sounds fine to me."

"Good. Glad you agree. But that isn't the problem. Jungard's always been the last resort if tanks go south. He's the contingency when other contingencies fall through. Amatsu...I feel pretty good about. He's well played, very consistent, he and Black have fallen right into place. But outside of Amatsu, there aren't really any main tanks. Not anyone I have faith will be consistent, at least. And that's a problem for a raid that needs two reliable tanks each week."

"So, I'll gear up Xane."

Just like that.

"You...don't have a problem with that? You've been a rogue since day one."

"Yeah, but what was I before DoD?"

Blain had been a staple in DoD for seven years. An pre-Blain era of DoD seemed a hazy cloud, not even real.

"A Warrior," I replied.

He said nothing. As always, that damn Ventrilo prevented me from seeing his smile of acknowledgement.


"Who's this joker?"

"Someone killed Blain and brought in an imposter."

"Good riddance! The tyrant has fallen."

Farming bosses for upgrades was a ritual with its feet planted firmly in two schools of thought. The Loot Paradox saw to that. Every week we weren't pushing progression, the battle raged on, internally. Are we falling behind in the name of gearing others up? Or are we successfully sating their hunger for rewards, pouring morale back into the raider economy, fueling their motivation for the next time we have to knuckle down?

Whenever that doubt crept back, I'd turn to Blain to confirm or deny my suspicions. This particular scenario...didn't necessarily account for that set up.

"Hurry up and get this worm killed. Blain needs upgrades."

For once, Blizzard's design might actually work in our favor. Now desperate to gear up Blain's alt in preparation for the day (should it come) that we would have to rely on him for tanking, we could, at last, bend one of Blizzard's design decisions to our whim.

After consolidating both the loot tables and the difficulty (though the jury was increasingly hung over the latter), very little existed in the form of a tangible incentive to run 25s, beyond our mere preference for that raid. Blizzard's response was to give us more loot to make up for the logistics. It wasn't adequate. But that didn't mean we wouldn’t take advantage of it.

Every opportunity we had to swap Blain out for Xane, we did so, in the event that some great upgrades would be had. And, with an increase in the volume of said loot, Xane was bound to find pieces, right?

As if some cruel irony was at play, even gearing up Blain's warrior was painful. Streakiness reined supreme. Losses at the roll of the dice seemed inversely proportional to our effort at solving the problem of the under-geared or under-recruiteds. It was not uncommon to slay a boss and have it slap us directly in the face with three of the same item. I never imagined the streakiness of our bad luck in loot could ever top the months of farming Chromaggus only to get nothing but Netherwind Mantle could be topped.

Narrower loot tables with boosts to their yield only ended up giving you more of what you didn't need. I think Dennis Miller said it best. Two of shit.

No comments: