The start of the year, at least from my perspective, was dominated by Blizzard doing lots of dumb things. So it’s kind of nice, in an even-handed sense, that ArenaNet decided to take over the situation with its own… well, not dumb decisions yet, but at least a preview of dumb attractions. Specifically, it involves talking a whole heck of a lot about raiding and the overall plans to make raiding much more of a going concern for the game by ensuring that people have an easier difficulty ramp into raids.
I honestly believe this is born out of good intentions. Alas, I think it’s also missing a really crucial element of the discussion by neglecting the real reason why people aren’t already raiding. People with more knowledge about Guild Wars 2 specifically can (and likely will) pick apart the more direct reasons why raiding in that game is such a troubled prospect, but the fundamental philosophy of getting people into raids by making them easier is misreading why people aren’t getting in there in the first place. And it has nothing to do with, as ArenaNet suggested, the idea that raids are just too hard.
Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone in existence. I am sure there are probably at least a few people out there who do avoid raiding because it’s just too hard. I’ve never encountered these people when asking the question, but it’d be wrong of me to assume they don’t exist just for that reason. Heck, maybe there’s a great silent majority out there that’s just bad at games and really does desperately want easier raids.
However, in my own experience? I don’t avoid endgame raiding because it’s too hard; I avoid it because I don’t feel like trying to wrangle a weekly raid group together. Period end. That’s not fun for me and I don’t want to do it.
It has absolutely nothing to do with challenge; in fact, I can’t think of a single video game I’ve played ever that I’ve stopped playing because it was too hard. There are games I’ve stopped playing because the difficulty made them no longer fun, but even that wasn’t a case of being too difficult, just not worth the effort of getting good at it. And I do see that sentiment echoed a fair bit – not that the game is too hard, but that it’s too hard to be fun to play.
Everyone is going to have different opinions, of course. Some people don’t mind wrangling raid groups or even outright like it. Some people are happy to do the content but don’t want to deal with the toxicity that can come along with it. Some people don’t have the time. None of that ultimately matters all that much; the point is that most people who hit a wall with progress aren’t going to just stare at the wall and sulk about how it’s too hard. If you want to do it enough, you will find your way in.
The problem comes with assuming that players can be convinced to like these things, or that the reason players aren’t interested isn’t due to just not being interested.
An obvious point of comparison that I see a lot, for example, is people stressing that base Mythic runs in World of Warcraft aren’t actually all that hard. This is true. The problem with Mythic as it has been set up is not that it’s too hard; it’s that my patience for getting locked behind a wall of progress that can be passed only when I spend my time setting up a group is nonexistent. Once you present that as the gate, I am already writing that content off. I’ve done shouting for groups before; I’ve already done enough of it that I am full up until the heat death of the universe, so placing your content behind that barrier kills my interest immediately.
Nothing is going to change that I do not want to do this. If your game is unplayable without doing that, then your game is unplayable for me. And it really doesn’t matter how easy you make the content at that point because the challenge isn’t the issue. It’s the patience for the associated timesink that’s just not there.
Where this gets truly insidious is in the fact that the people who do like this particular timesink and challenge don’t want that to change (this is why ArenaNet specifically addressed those fears in its dev blog too). By making raiding easier to force more people into doing it, you make the people who enjoy raiding less happy while not actually enticing new people into the raids. And the more you try to force people into raids by removing other means of upgrading or locking story or whatever, the more people are going to resent the content altogether.
Or, you know, they’re just going to leave because the game has demonstrated it doesn’t want them around. One or the other.
At the end of the day, what draws people into content is much simpler, and it’s a combination of accessibility and options. If players feel they can get into the content pretty easily if they want to but they’re never forced into it, the idle curiosity is a lot more likely to strike and might lead to a newfound source of joy. But some people will still never get into it, and that’s for much the same reason that some people are never going to love pecan pie no matter how furiously you make pecan pie not like pecan pie.
The people who do enjoy pecan pie, meanwhile, are going to mostly be annoyed that your pecan pie is no longer sufficiently like pecan pie.
Do people need an on-ramp to challenging content? Of course they do. It’s just that the on-ramp should be the game itself, the learning that you’re doing whilst leveling and exploring. I’ve talked before about the failure in designing games where the entire experience changes at the level cap, which is going to leave you with a lot of people who like the game until the level cap and some people who just want the level cap. But if you’ve suddenly got raiding at the level cap, you can’t fix the problem with an easier version of raiding to get people used to raiding.
A lot of the people who are there didn’t want any raiding. They leveled because they didn’t have to raid to do so, full stop. The sudden swerve is doing no one any favors, least of all the people who actually want challenging stuff at the level cap requiring large groups.
Making raiding into an easier form is not actually solving the problem when raiding is the only thing for players to do. The problem in that scenario isn’t that no one wants to raid; it’s that you’ve failed to provide other options for your players. And if raids take so many resources that they’re basically the only thing you can do for a given update, it doesn’t make much sense to create them if – as ArenaNet admitted – very few people actually play them.
You cannot draw people into something by lowering the challenge when the challenge was never the barrier in the first place. By trying to make raids something everyone must do instead of something a few people want to do, you are functionally setting yourself up for failure; making them easier isn’t the axis that needs adjustment in the first place.