This is WoW
One of the oldest chestnuts in WoW gameplay discussions is between the various content “factions” – for example, raiders, casuals, PvPers, RPers, and so forth. There are at least four points of tension listed here, and there are probably more than that in reality.
Raiding has always been criticized as taking entirely too much development resources for the number of players that partake of it. Even with LFR now a thing, I suspect we’re looking at a maximum of 20% participation at all levels. Take away LFR and we’re probably closer to 10, or maybe, 5 percent of the entire game’s population.
And that of course is the crux of the critics’ argument – massive resources are being directed at something that only one out of five players actually experiences. While we don’t have head counts here, the critic will point to Blizz’s recent refrain of “that would cost a raid tier” as the reason they didn’t get around to doing the things other “factions” wanted to do.
Blood elf models? Raid tier.
Armor dyes? Raid tier ((Or possibly being saved for the F2P game. Not that that will ever happen if you talk to anyone director level or above.)).
New player class? Raid tier.
New player race? Raid tier.
Revamped professions? Raid tier.
Dance studio? Two raid tiers. Or maybe an expansion. Dancing’s hard, y’all.
At any rate, the thing we come away with is that raiding’s a Big F!cking Deal to the game designers and around 20% of the player base.
But I’m okay with that.
Watch this video. I’ll meet you on the other side.
Okay, ask the average Eve player and they’ll tell you that the images you saw in that video are atypical of the average game experience. Most of the time is spent micromanaging a plethora of skills, bots, build jobs, and other administrivia ((The terms “Spreadsheets in spaaaace” and “Spreadsheet Simulator” are often bandied about with varying levels of humor and pain and pathos.)). But the fact remains, these epic battles between huge fleets exist. They exist so hard that when they happen, the Web usually takes notice. It is not unusual for one of these massive battles – which I emphasize, often include ships worth tens of thousands of real-world dollars – to make the cut on cnn.com or other mainstream news site, even if it’s just to mock us geeks and our pathetic ways.
Here’s the thing. Raid-level encounters in Eve are not scripted or in any way influenced by CCP, the parent company of Eve. These encounters are completely organic, entirely generated by the goals and needs of the players, in the truest sandboxxiness sense.
And yet the parallels between these battles and WoW raiding, especially outside of LFR, are pretty stark ((As my term “Raid-level encounters” probably illustrated.)). And it illustrates why raiding in WoW is a thing that needs to keep happening, even if only one out of a hundred of us does it.
Because epic tales are important. They are part of our DNA as fantasy/scifi RPG players. Even if we can’t be part of the epic battles, even if we don’t make the cut for the realm’s greatest raiding guild, we can hear the stories and dream. This is the essential nature of gaming, in a way.
A new player class or race, updated professions, or even the Dance Studio are nowhere near as, well, “sexy” as an epic raid, even when experienced viscerally via youtube video or forum post or even word of mouth on the guild forums. Tales of great deeds are inspirational. Tales of blown opportunities in the skill-up grind for Engineering … not so much.
I imagine the average Eve player resents the hell out of the big Corps out there and their iron grip on Big Fleet Battles. But I suspect every dedicated Eve player that is NOT in one of those big Corps would probably jump at the chance to play even the smallest part in one of those gigantic space battles. To paraphrase Dave Scott, the commander of Apollo 15, I believe there’s something to be said for grandeur. At the end of the day, regardless of our place in the grand scheme of things, we all need something aspirational to drive us, to inspire us, to provide us with something a little bit out of reach that we might be able to grasp, if we play our cards right.
In game theory terms, it is a huge carrot for us to chase. Eve’s players drive both ends of that equation. If raiding was removed in WoW completely, I suspect something similar would happen here.
The question is, is it worth it for Blizz to sink resources into something like this? I suspect it depends on what the end result is, and I don’t mean boss drops. Just what is it that Blizz gets from raiding?
My main gripe with raiding has always been, it removes something from the average player’s personal experience. It’s not gear, but the story of the raid design itself. More than anything else, each raid provides a distinct tic mark in the lore of Azeroth. MC provided us with a limited understanding of Ragneros; Kara gave us much lore about Medivh; ICC was the capstone on Arthas’ arc; Deathwing was destroyed in one of those raids. Something something Pandaria. Garrosh has a plan. You get the picture. The raid endpoints of a content patch and/or expansion have been rather lore-heavy. Thanks to LFR, these have become potentially accessible to every player in the game willing to achieve a specific gearscore.
That’s not the point.
The point is, the primary lore delivery mechanism for WoW is, has been, and will continue to be, the raid. So as long as that remains the case, raids are extremely important to the health of the game, regardless of whether you participate directly or not. From a lore perspective, this matters. From a, er, spiritual perspective, it also matters.
Basically, the moment that someone decides that raids are no longer relevant to WoW is when WoW begins to die.
Unless an equally valid source of lore and epic content is identified.
But that’s another show.