Massively Overthinking: The state of modern MMORPG raiding

    
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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.

Me auctions sold!

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.

All she really wants is pants; is that so wrong?

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.

Your turn!

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kalech

I enjoy raiding and it’s the only reason I play WoW these days. Sometimes I dont even bother logging in between raids because the rest of the game just isn’t fun anymore.
But I also found the type of guild that delivers what I want out of raiding. Fun. We joke and banter in discord, and although we are semi-serious and progressing quite fast, we are also easy-going. No drama, no shaming. Always a guildie around willing to offer a helping hand. And it’s a lot of fun to see mechanics suddenly just click and everyone performs their tasks in a display of awesome coordination.

Of course there’s more developers could do with raiding, but I think it’s also important to recognize that to some extent we have to manage our raiding experience like we do with media. If you dislike raiding because the group only cares about numbers or gear, or if they shame people based on performance, then it sounds like you’re not in the right team.
Raiding is faaaar from perfect and plenty of improvements could be made, but you have to also actively make a choice in what people you decide to surround yourself with.

That said, I seriously wish devs would stop putting story content behind raids so that people who don’t want to raid don’t have to do it.

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Daedalus Machina

Raiding is designed for that 1% of the 1% of the 1% that can actually have both the time and resources to do it. Raiding has never been designed for the other 99% of players.

That’s a damn shame. I feel that ‘raiding’ as a whole needs a good shake-up in the MMO genre if we really want people to form those crucial social bonds that have them sticking around long-term.

MMO devs also need to place certain expected features into a game from day one. Basically any guild stuff you can do in WoW and Aion? Both of those games. Put them in the game. Guild banks, guild levels/quests, guild-specific rewards for doing quests, all of it.

But lazy devs are lazy and neglect these aspects. Oh well :(

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Alex Malone

When I play MMOs, I raid for the following reasons, in order of importance:

1) Social
2) Challenge
3) Loot

As the challenge and the loot goes up, the social aspect goes down. However, as the challenge and loot go down, it becomes harder to find people to form a raid with. So, its a really difficult balancing point.

The first thing I would change to improve raiding is to have deep combat systems. With all the shallow combat around at the moment, boss design has just become awful. If you only have the trinity, most fights boil down to tank+spank with variations of avoiding the fire. Difficulty tends to come from the stats (which isn’t real difficulty) rather than the gameplay.

So, more roles. Deeper combat mechanics. There should be 10 or more viable ways to beat a boss, not just one. This then allows groups to be more flexible and tactics can be altered to the group, playing to their strengths and weaknesses rather than being forced down a single route. LotRO was the best at this. With dedicated buffers, debuffers and CC, the available tactics were great. I loved some of the crazy groups people ran, for example, during the mirkwood expansion, one guild on my server managed to kill the final raid boss on hardmode using a loremaster pet to tank! This was only possible by stacking up on burglars (for threat control and debuffing), but in a game with just the trinity you’d never find this.

Then, we need more difficulty ranges. The raids in SW:TOR were great social experiences because they were so easy, I could get my guild together once a week and blast through both raids on HM in about 2 hours without anyone really having to concentrate. Similarly, back in SWG I used to level up almost exclusively in raids. I’d join a 20man raid, we’d all pick up some quests and off we’d go into the desert to grind some mobs in an enjoyable atmosphere.

Those easy, social raid experiences are mostly missing from modern mmos, instead they tend to only exist at endgame and only for the most challenging content. Whilst I love that content, I still find it easy, but for most gamers the step up in difficulty is way too much for them so they don’t even bother. We need that on-ramp.

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Adam Russell

The trick to enjoying end game is to design a combat system where there isnt ONE BEST WAY to play it. If you are always finding new tactics to play your class, and if there are different builds you can think about and try then it doesnt get old. But if you find that you can macro a single button to play all your skills and just mash that over and over and know that there is no other better way, then that does get old.

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

The thing about raiding, is for the longest time it was END GAME, literally their used to be nothing else to do but Raid.. and if you didn’t like that content, you either learned to like it, or you went and made a new alt and did the story again.

Fast forward twenty years, suddenly we have a bunch of endgame options and lo and behold very few people raid anymore. Amazing what choice will show you about what people want and like.

Now i’m not anti raid, I have done MANY (and I do mean MANY) of them across MANY games, I used to be a hardcore raider… but at no point have I ever honestly enjoyed raiding. For one it was a massive time sink/commitment, second the BiS and gearing up mentality has never really been my thing I’m all about cosmetic over function.

So it is perhaps no surprise that I fell into the above categroy, so once more end game options started appearing I ceased raiding..to the point I will only generally do them once in a blue moon and then mostly only for a good looking peice of gear to help make my character look how I want them to look or if the raid is story heavy as I am all about story :)

TL:DR.. rarely if ever these days.

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Bango on Laurelin

My favourite raiding experience was during LOTRO’s Shadows of Angmar. But that was when a lot of open world and group content existed and so grouping up during levelling felt natural and fun.

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Chosenxeno .

1999-2004 isn’t coming back. Everyone knows everything now. I’ll admit that I do it for the loot.

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Cosmic Cleric

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

I kind of wish more people would remember this, that raiding is really just time/content-gating large dungeons, because there is no other pve content to do yet, the devs haven’t finished coding the next xpac.

Raiding is bad content because it turns MMORPGers into MMOGFLers (Grind For Loot). Worse, it hides the end of story behind a raidwall that MMORPGers would love to see/experience, but won’t, because, well, raiding sucks (to them).

I will say this though, for raiding, group activities can be really fun. But you can get that from other non-raiding gameplay as well.

Veldara
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Veldara

Raiding will always be around for a portion of the mmo playerbase, so I don’t see it going away anytime soon. Personally speaking though, I don’t have the patience for it anymore, in fact even when I was actively raiding in games, I was only there because of friends. The content itself wasn’t fun for me, I felt it a chore and work, but being with friends and joking around blunted that.

These days, I do enjoy big group events like that, but in a casual level and without any commitments. Things like world events (GW2, Rift, games with open world events) or LFR have been a godsend. I can get my epic monster fix without all the drama, internal politics, and upkeeping. That’s where I see raiding heading towards.

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Sunken Visions

Group content is what makes an MMO an MMO. However, as a group becomes larger, problems related to grouping grow exponentially. You can only make gameplay so engaging, as there are always limits. It’s not like you can’t have ‘huge’ bosses or large numbers of enemies designed for a small group anyway.