Thursday, May 26, 2016

4.73. Temporary Hiatus

Members of DoD prepare for another
pull on Warmaster Blackhorn,
Dragon Soul

Treat the Disease, Not the Symptom

The forum thread was up to 188 pages. I read through each post, telling the tale of how wonderful the changes were, and how grateful the players were. Long-held frustrations with the pre-existing system were no longer an issue. The barrier to entry was gone. Blizzard happily acknowledged this shower of compliments on a job well done. Blizzard's goal of making a great game that was fun for everyone looked to, at last, be complete. Mission accomplished. After seven long years of iterating, they had finally achieved a fun, great game that everyone could enjoy.

Everyone in this thread, at least.

LFR was that last piece, the dangling outlier that answered the question: "What if I don't want to be in a guild? Can I still raid?" Wonder no longer. With just the press of a button, any player, regardless of their in-game affiliation, could queue for a raid, slaughter a boss, and walk out with loot. The tech behind LFR was a huge step forward in WoW's evolution.

One huge step forward, two huge steps backward.

I read on, though I really didn't need to -- the title of the forum thread said all that needed to be said: "I will never go back to normal raiding again."

A far less trafficked thread (28 pages) had a very different stance. Blizzard's response to "Raid Finder destroys communities" was that it was never Blizzard's intent to have LFR replace traditional raiding, yet there were no clear lines indicating where precisely they'd taken steps to ensure players didn't flock to LFR en masse to solve their guild membership woes.

I shook my head at those famous last words, "never our intent..." After this many years in the video game industry, knowing the volatility of their customer base, hadn't they learned their lesson by now? Just because you intend for something not to be misused...doesn't mean it won't be. Weren't all those years of rolling back exploitative raiding guilds for "clever use of game mechanics" enough of a lesson? What about all the DDoS's that had suffered? The reason Blizzard had to build a Warden just to keep cheaters at bay, a fight that (even now) rages on?

Why not just design for evil by default?

That was the real answer, in the end. Allowing more people through the raiding floodgates wasn't evil, not by Blizzard's was the very opposite. At the end of the day, more players experiencing raid content was a win, not a loss. The difference was: it was a short-term win. Over the long-term, however, knowing gamers like I did, there was bound to be repercussions. If we can take the easy way out, we will.

It was never a raiding problem. It was always a guild problem. Players said they wanted an easier mechanism to raid; in reality, the request masked their real issue: they didn't want to be forced into guild membership. Players wanted the freedom to come and go as they pleased, no longer bound to the rigid schedule dictated by a faceless college kid with a misogynist streak and a propensity for dick jokes.

That really was the perception around guilds: huge collections of nerds with no social skills, a knack for cursing, and a chip on their collective shoulders for all players not geared to the tooth. This little experiment we were trying called "Descendants of Draenor" only represented a grain of sand in that vast desert of awful guilds; our ideals were not at all the common tongue. 

I can't blame players for not wanting to deal with all of that. But I absolutely can blame Blizzard for the band-aid that patched up the symptom, while the disease continued to fester. I can blame them, and I do.

LFR was easier for both parties. Easier for players to raid, and easier for Blizzard to implement, rather than attempting to shoulder the social issues of toxicity and personal accountability prevalent in WoW guilds.

Easier, but not necessarily right.

Kerulak attempts a 10-Man kill of Spine of
 Deathwing, after the 25-Man is put on hiatus,
Dragon Soul


The 2nd weekend of Dragon Soul did not look promising. After completing the rotations early Friday morning, we were in a bad state. While Friday's sole absentee could be compensated for, Sunday's four-player deficiency was a showstopper.

Mortalsend was out, as were the shaman brothers Gunsmokeco and Deathonwings, and Sarge rounded off the missing persons list. Reasons were varied: Guns' new work schedule conflicted with our raid times, while Wings claimed he'd finally hit his threshold -- after six long years of raiding, he'd had his fill. Sarge's interest waned as well, and Mortal had holiday-themed family matters to attend to. Merry Christmas to us.

Neps was my first plan to tourniquet this gushing wound. I'd been in contact with him over the remaining weeks in 4.2. He was in the process of piecing together a new computer, one adequate for progression raiding. Neps' return to 25-Man progression would be a godsend, if he could pull it off.

There was a time where I was so dependent on Neps that I couldn't conceive of the 25-Man moving forward without him present. Of course, this wasn't true at all: DoD held the fort down throughout Firelands while still granting Neps much needed recovery time. In hindsight, this was another one of my inadequacies as a leader rising to the surface. I grappled with kicking Ben out of the guild and the risk of losing Neps in the process. In the end, we were able to press on without him. It sucks to lose people...good people...but losing them doesn't mean the end.

I held out hope that Neps' new PC would be assembled in time to make up for the massive healing deficiency that now jeopardized progression.


On December 9th, 2011, the 25-Man progression team returned to Dragon Soul for its 2nd week of work. Extending the raid lock, we bypassed all bosses killed the week previous, went toe-to-toe with the Warmaster Blackhorn encounter, beating the boss by the end of the night.

By Sunday we'd found our replacements and returned to pick up where we left off. Deathwing was such a massive threat that Blizzard had to split him into two separate encounters. Before facing the dragon's maw itself, we'd have to weaken the great aspect of death. That episode played out in the Dragon Soul's second-to-last encounter, Spine of Deathwing.

We lept off Blackhorn's airship, plummeted through the sky, and landed conveniently atop Deathwing himself, mid-flight. As the dragon scorched the ground below, the 25-Man steeled itself for attempts on a brutal fight.

The basic jist of the fight consisted of positioning ourselves in a spread across the breadth of Deathwing's back, while working through certain fire elementals that spawned as we ripped up the dark iron plates covering his burning flesh underneath. Killing all the elementals was too difficult an endeavor, so the tactic called for shifting the entire raid to one side of Deathwing's back. Noticing we were all near an edge, Deathwing would then barrel-roll, tossing the elementals to their death while we held on for dear life.

Deathwing rolled and bucked; we clung to his burnt metal blades. The 25-Man progression raid unleashed hell on the Spine with every bit of focus and energy I've ever witnessed from the team. On that night of work, the discipline present had a military feel, though I can't honestly claim to know what that is like from experience. How it played out in this raid was as follows: No complaining. No petty bullshit or ribbing. Blain made adjustments and the team responded. It was brilliant. It felt brilliant.

It seemed as though something otherworldly was driving the 25-Man that night. They were gunmetal polished and determined to see this thing through. If I didn't know any better, it felt as if extrinsic motivation has finally broken through, that the team had transcended the need to acquire simple golden banners and digital baubles of a game.

Maybe the team genuinely feared losing something important to them.

Try as we might to rip the great dragon apart and pull him from the sky, it wasn't enough. At the top of the fourth hour, we weren't even close to breaking into our final phase. No famous last pull would get us any closer. We called it for the night.

"Thanks, everyone," I spoke into Vent, "Keep your eyes glued to the rotation post on the forums and we'll let you know what the holiday schedule is looking like."

I logged off, removed my glasses, and put my head in my hands.

A wonderful game that tugs at emotional strings,

The Force Awakens

"Bovie here. This'll be my last report."

"The 10's finished?"

Elaboration was unnecessary, but Bovie did so anyway. His team's reasons were the same as Zedman's, the same as Joredin's. Loss of interest. Burnout. Holidays. Whatever. Three teams with a combined size of thirty (plus) players were retiring from WoW for an unspecified amount of time. With them went any hope of their alts being available to fill the gaping wounds of the 25-Man.

I scoured forums throughout the week and pinged guilds in-game, trying to get a feel for recruitment without coming across as desperate. Just more of the same. Where once guilds might collapse and produce a swarm of stragglers we could scoop up and house, Deathwing-US was now just a blank faceless sheet of non-committals, forever hopping through Orgrimmar in their search for nothing.

Without a leg to stand on, I kicked off an early holiday for the raid. For the first time in nearly seven years, we broke for Christmas two weeks before normal. Both raid weekends that followed (Dec 16th/18th and Dec 23rd/25th) were pulled from the sign-up sheet. My last remaining ounce of positivity hoped that this extended vacation would center the team. Reinvigorated, they'd return in the new year, ready to clear Dragon Soul and put an end to Deathwing.

That 2011 holiday was surreal. I spiraled into a brooding state of unease. Most of the guild kept themselves busy with the hotly anticipated, freshly released MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic. A respectable contingent of the 25-man roster spent time in there, even Blain. I recused myself. A new MMO was the last thing I could stomach. My bitter cynicism would ruin the fun, and for all they gave to DoD, they didn't deserve that from me.

Instead, I spent a lot of those evenings in solitude, off of Vent and out of WoW. While the majority of them light-sabred it up, I treated myself to a game I'd been meaning to play for a few months, and picked up Bastion off of XBox Live.

Bastion's setting was surreal, both gorgeous and depressing. I took control of a white-haired boy that swung weapons to bash monsters' skulls in, wandering a desolate landscape. Each isometric area was beautifully drawn in a cartoonish-style, and appeared as if torn from the planet's surface, now suspended mid-air. The game's environments bore all the markings of a civilization abruptly vaporized. Each new area hinted at the lives that once played out here. Markets and streets abandoned. Empty houses with doors flung open. Lives interrupted.

Friends and support were scarce. Bastion's unique narrator calmly read back to me the details of the gameplay as they unfolded in real time, his southern twang also seemingly out of place in this cartoonish wasteland. When I finally managed to hook up with other characters to carry the story along, my trust in them ended up misplaced.

I beat Bastion over the 2011 holiday, but given all the circumstances, I don't know that it made me feel better...or worse.


Shintar said...

The forum thread about LFR that sticks in my memory for some reason was one where the poster was sarcastically grateful, saying something like: "Thanks for LFR, Blizzard! Never before have I finished a raid tier this quickly! Now I can go and do something else instead. /unsub"

Aubiece said...

Our guild had the same experience.
Recruiting was horrible, I even resorted to spamming trade chat
knowing in my heart of hearts anyone that would join a guild to raid
from a trade chat spam was very suspect.
We did clear Dragon Soul, but only in a 10 man raid.
We never did 25man after Xmas break.
Thanks Bliz!

Daros said...

"I will never go back to normal raiding again" ... I like how the OP of the first linked thread went on to do a lot of normal and heroic raids for WoD anyways-- probably only stepping into LFR for the ring quests judging for the number of kills in those tiers. Obviously it's hard to follow up on your own words said 5 years ago, but really puts it into perspective.

After my guild broke up after Firelands I took on a similar quest for MoP: go full solo and LFR it up. After all, I raided for the progression and to see content, right? During that venture I found that the experience was a hollow one. I saw content and got dank loot from it, but what did it all amount to? What was the end goal? Honestly I would have been as satisfied if I had just watched boss kill videos and called it even.

I think I figured that, at the end of the day, I raided for the comradeship. You join a guild and you participate in a social experience and suddenly everything done in the game has meaning. There are positive and negative experiences that comes when you group nerds together but that's what makes raiding fulfilling, at least for me anyways.

Littlebear said...

"dictated by a faceless college kid with a misogynist streak and a propensity for dick jokes"

And ALL those kids, and the kids that wanted to be just like them, flocked to LFR.

That was what really killed it for me. The 25 man progression collapse was bad. The option I was left with was horrific.


FireWraith said...

Dragon Soul destroyed our last 25 man raid, too. You guys got further in than we did before it happened, but we just couldn't get enough decent raiders going. Our guild wound up running 2 or 3 separate 10 man teams. Those 10 mans did fine - and cleared Heroic Deathwing before the end of Cata. But it wasn't the same.

Also - Spine. Ugh. F**@#$@#$@#ing Spine. Heroic Spine broke me as a healer. Broke. We did it, and I kept raiding in Panda with that group, but never again as a healer main.

Shaedrya/Evelinne, In Omnia Paratus - Darrowmere (US)

Nick Morrissey said...

After reading adding through this blog for the 4th time, a thought occurred to me. The problem wasn't atmosphere or content, the recruitment issues were entirely about the being on what amounted to a backwater server. Deathwing US is, and probably ways was, a fairly low population server. You end up in a situation where you can't recruit from the current user base, yet are too small to attract attention from people willing to transfer. I'm not saying that you should have moved entirely to a higher population server, but it certainly would have extended the life of the guild. My guild transferred during Dragon Soul to a high pop server solely for recruitment purposes, and it worked. We survived until the end of MOP, when we decided to move on to another game and raided there for another few years. I still play, and am even still on that server, which still has a very healthy raiding scene.

I get that staying on Deathwing was a legacy, but it was obviously the major culrpit. It wasn't 10s VS 25s or burnout or LFR, it was the server.