Massively Overthinking: The state of modern MMORPG raiding
Massively OP reader Sorrior recently sent in a question about raiding, a topic we haven’t discussed in a while.
“I have noticed raiding tends to lead to more homogenization even without PvP and a bigger focus on numbers when making classes as opposed to their feel and style. I also see a correlation with a bigger emphasis on raiding and the decline of community quality. On a personal level, I feel like raiding should be about the joy of taking on foes you cannot defeat alone with allies/friends, but I feel many treat it as a chore or just see the numbers nowadays. Or they are just after the gear, which also seems to bring in a lot of people who focus on the numbers rather than the experience. I thought talking about why we raid and what we enjoy about it as MMO players while discussing ways to preserve the feeling of community might be fun.”
I think talking about that would also be fun, which is precisely why we Overthink it in this column. So let’s do it: This week I’ve asked the Massively OP staff whether they raid now or ever did, what they raid for, and how they feel raiding fits into the modern MMO from a mechanics and community standpoint.
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): The raiding we often talk about in MMOs now isn’t the raiding I was used to: going into a town another guild felt safe in and killing everyone there for their alts’ phat loot. Ah, the life of a digital marauder!
But yes, I did my fair share of raiding, mostly in Vanilla WoW. Got server first on the Tiger Boss in Zul’Gurub and I believe on Nax’s Instructor Razuvious (different server and faction). I led a lot of PUG raids too in WOTLK, mostly the short ones opened up for winning the PvP zone. I did it because my brother, his friends, and later my friend were into it, and I was good at it. People didn’t believe I wasn’t using mods, out-healing main healers using broken Feral Druid and Shadow Priest specs. It was kind of fun too, since I’d played action games on console and MMO combat was generally pretty simple. Raiding just seemed about adding some bare basics of those games on top of a communication exercise.
From a mechanics POV, raids provide repeatable linear content to occupy people’s time. That’s not wholly a bad thing, as I bonded most with my fellow raiders in those boring moments where we all knew what we were doing and could joke around. At least, that’s what I could do when I wasn’t leading a PUG raid. I just led those so my friends and guildies could get their loot. That’s mostly what raids end up being these days: a group activity for a community to grow around. I personally prefer PvP, and feel like simple grinding of open world content for skins rather than power (hi Sea of Thieves!) is more fun, but to each their own. As I said, that was the raiding I was used to prior to WoW, and I think it should be something more games look at.
We all want treasure, but when that treasure adds power, you have the haves and have nots. You generally start to start cutting people off because they lack the gear to continue. Yes, a bad player will never have a gear crutch to help them along, but (teacher mode) I’ve always felt that good MMOs give people of varying skill levels the ability to learn something that’ll work in a group setting. Whether that’s reporting enemy movement, sitting back and healing, or moving water out of a sinking ship, having different roles that work in harmony with others should be more important than artificial stats in a group based game. How else can we stay massive if we’re going to cut people out of our fun?
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I’ve done my time raiding in multiple games over the last many years. Been there, done that, skipped class, fell asleep in my chair, got the purps, booted the ninjalooters, ran the guild, managed the drama, got bored, and eventually gave it all up – I’m well and truly over the type of raiding most MMOs pump out now, the WoW-style, number-crunching, world-first, elitist, loot-oriented timesink of it all.
But there’s no reason it has to be that way. I really liked Sorrior’s take on what raiding should be: I want raiding to exist, and I want it to be about team challenges and not about loot elitism or endgame – you all know how much I hate the very idea of endgame. While non-MMOs are taking the PvP ball and running with it, I think MMOs should be doubling-down on huge co-op PvE. This is a thing we do well! It’s one of the most unique things we have. And my favorite type of modern raiding isn’t the ultra-structured type at all; it’s the mass-group, free-style open-world events type of raiding found in Guild Wars 2. I suspect we’ll continue to see this type of open PUG scaling raiding in the next-gen of MMOs because it simply fits much better with the lives of both older and younger players still attracted to this genre.
And it goes without saying that I’d pay a lot of money to do City of Heroes TFs in a giant group or play in a 20-man Star Wars Galaxies band right now. Even back then, not all raiding was just more EverQuest.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Back when Wrath of the Lich King was the happening thing in World of Warcraft, I raided. Not only that, I was actually good at it; my wife and I both wound up as lynchpins of our raiding team. As much as anything, it was us proving that we were capable of this if we wanted to do it, showing that we had the coordination and ability to pull this off. And we did!
And now we don’t, because honestly, raiding was never what I would call particularly fun. At best, it was nice to see the story conclusions that were all inexplicably locked behind it and to have something to do with characters at max level, but even then it tended to feature long stretches of tedium. It wasn’t something I actually enjoyed doing, and the community aspect was secondary to a sense of grinding, responsible tedium no one asked for. It’s something I’ve written about a lot, always with a critical eye toward something that’s long been assumed to be the One True Endpoint in MMOs.
The problem is kind of inherent in the question asked here, though; saying “raiding should be about the joy of taking on foes you cannot defeat alone” presupposes that this is what most people want out of MMOs. It presupposes that that is a good goal to bend every aspect of the game to facilitate, and it goes on to assume that this must be the real reason why raiding is in place in game design. None of this has a whole lot of actual grounding to back it up. Raiding almost fell into games accidentally by providing players with enemies too difficult to fight normally; loot was added, and the idea of this as the “pinnacle” of content slowly coalesced. It’s not actually a foundational or even necessary component to making MMOs function. Players treat it like a chore as long as it is one; if there’s nothing else to be done other than get together for twice-weekly raids past a certain point, players are going to stop being very enthusiastic about actually taking part in that.
By contrast, Final Fantasy XIV offers raiding as an option among several others, always gives non-raiders as much to do as raiders following a strict raid schedule, and makes sure that you don’t ever need to raid unless you want specifically that challenge of taking down particularly big enemies. Literally nothing else is gated behind it. So that’s kind of an answer to the question: if you want raiding in your MMO, it should be an option, not the option. You know, to repeat myself on this point yet again.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): My raiding history is pretty skimpy and mostly confined to World of Warcraft. I did 10-player Kara back in the day, and quite enjoyed it for the challenge and sights. These days, I’ve been known to dip into LFR if a quest asks it of me, but to be honest, I’m not that thrilled with boss fights that go on for 10, 20 minutes at a stretch. In the middle of them I start getting bored, and by the end I’m worried that we’ll fail and have to go through this drudgery again. Small group dungeons have a faster pace and progression, and that’s what interests me more. Plus, why do I need raid gear just to raid more if I don’t really want to raid?
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): All I can say is I share Sorrior’s feelings on raiding. I only enjoy raids when it is a group of folks joining together for glorious conquest, but all it is 99% of the time (unless you are just with a group of friends) is stats and gear grind. Programs that parse out the numbers? hate them. I’ve been in groups that have shamed people for their gear or contribution when numbers didn’t present as high as they “should” have according to them. How in Hades is that fun? I like the new experiences, I like working up to the point I finally defeat a difficult foe, but I hate it becoming a forced chore and I do not fit in the prevalent mentality that it is an elite-only activity where peons are worthless.