Dev Watercooler: Raiding Azeroth Part 2—From Cataclysm to Today
Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
Over the course of WoW’s nearly 10-year history, raiding has probably undergone more iteration and change than any other game system. To put the upcoming Warlords of Draenor raid changes into proper context, this three-part blog series will attempt to retrace the twists and turns of our raid design philosophy from Molten Core through Siege of Orgrimmar.

We continue the series by taking a look at raiding today, beginning with Cataclysm through Mists of Pandaria. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

Cataclysm (2010-2012)

After the rapid iteration on raid systems over the course of Wrath of the Lich King’s content updates, we approached Cataclysm aiming to wrap those designs into a more streamlined package. There were two major concerns that we wanted to address:

  • 10-player raiding had grown very popular due to its accessibility, but we were increasingly hearing from many of those raiders that they felt like they didn’t have the opportunity to prove themselves on the hardest content or earn the best gear in the game.
  • Players often felt obligated to run both 10-player and 25-player modes of the same content each week in order to optimize their character, which could accelerate burnout. (Best-in-slot trinkets and other items on the unique 10-player loot tables didn’t help here.)

Guided by these concerns, we decided to consolidate 10-player and 25-player modes into a single difficulty, single reward tier, and single raid lockout. So in Cataclysm, we allowed raiders to choose their preferred raid size and experience the content as they saw fit.

While we were motivated by good intentions, these changes had some unfortunate side effects. . . .

  • The need for equal difficulty between the two modes meant that when we encountered organic imbalances (e.g. spreading out requires more coordination with more players in the same space), no longer could we err on the side of just letting 10-player be easier. We had to try to adjust numbers or other mechanics to offset the disparity, and that was a challenging problem that we lacked prior experience in solving, especially when tuning cutting-edge Heroic content. As a result, there were many differences between the two modes, particularly early in the expansion.
  • Unifying the difficulty of the two modes mainly involved increasing the difficulty of 10-player mode. This left many players who had enjoyed success in 10-player Normal Icecrown Citadel feeling unable to get any sort of foothold in Cataclysm raiding.
  • While in theory players could now choose their preferred mode of raiding, in reality equalizing rewards encouraged a persistent downward pressure on raid size: Growing from 10 to 25 was nearly impossible logistically, whereas challenging bosses or attendance woes continually tempted 25-player raids to downsize and just keep going with their 10 “best” players. Previously these temptations were offset by the fact that switching to 10-player mode yielded weaker loot and different achievements, but the Cataclysm changes removed that countervailing motivation.

We got better at balancing the two modes over the course of the expansion, but the social consequences of the change continued to reverberate. In particular, raiding had become inaccessible to players who previously had enjoyed playing with their friends or pickup groups, and that was a problem.

Patch 4.3: Raid Finder

Just as Dungeon Finder opened dungeons up to a far wider audience by removing the logistical barriers to finding groups for them, our new Raid Finder held the same promise for raiding. Whereas finding a pickup group even on an active realm required a large contiguous block of time and a fair bit of patience, Raid Finder allowed players to jump right in and experience raid content on their own time and according to their own schedules. The feature was tremendously popular, and it allowed more players than ever before to experience the conclusion of an expansion’s major story arc, as millions of players defeated Deathwing, compared to the thousands that had defeated Kel’thuzad back in 2006.

We learned a lot from Dragon Soul about how to design content for Raid Finder. We endeavored to preserve encounter mechanics where possible, but had to significantly adjust unforgiving abilities—especially those that allowed a single player’s mistake to result in the entire group’s failure. In traditional organized raiding, a group of players generally learns from mistakes and masters content together, and they bring that collective knowledge with them in subsequent weeks. In Raid Finder, which put players in random groups each week, there was a clean slate with regard to mastery of the encounters. Having to essentially redo progression each week is few players’ idea of fun, so we had to significantly accelerate the Raid Finder learning curve.

Mists of Pandaria (2012-2014)

Going into Mists of Pandaria (Mists), we made fewer changes to our raid structure than in any prior expansion. Other than some improved handling of loot for Raid Finder (replacing traditional Need/Greed with personal loot), Mists raiding at launch followed the exact same structure as raiding in Patch 4.3: Dragon Soul. In retrospect, the lack of change actually reflects another miscalculation on our part.

We knew that the Cataclysm changes had effectively removed a difficulty level from our game by raising the challenge of 10-player Normal to match 25-player, and that this change had left a group of players without suitable raid content. By adding Raid Finder, we had returned to three effective difficulties, and given the popularity of the feature, we assumed that this largely solved the problem. We were mistaken.

Raid Difficulty and Raid Groups—An Aside

In broad strokes, there are three distinct types of groups that participate in organized raiding:

  • Friends and Family groups: These are social groups that exist for reasons besides raiding, but whose players would like to venture into raid content together. This type of group is inherently inclusive, and will not organize its roster according to specific class needs, nor is the group likely to criticize or remove players based on performance. Members of this type of group prioritize playing together.
  • Raiding guilds: These are groups that have formed for the purpose of raiding. These are the majority of guilds that you’ll see recruiting in Trade chat or on realm forums. These groups will generally look for specific classes based on roster needs, and will expect a certain level of attendance or performance. Members of this type of group prioritize experiencing and learning the content.
  • Hardcore raiding guilds: An extreme subset of the previous category, these are the guilds of players whose ethos drives them to be the best at games they play, and who are willing to dedicate time and energy to maximize their results. Guilds of this type will recruit and maintain a roster based primarily on performance, and will expect raiders to optimize their characters. Members of this type of group prioritize competition and success.

At the start of Mists, Normal modes appealed solidly to raiding guilds, and Heroic difficulty provided a worthy challenge to the hardcore guilds. However, friends-and-family groups—which had once thrived in Karazhan and in 10-player Normal raiding in Wrath—were left without much satisfying content. They made some headway in the new raids, but often got stuck at Elegon (Mogu’shan Vaults) or Garalon (Heart of Fear) without any clear way forward. Running Raid Finder could have helped them get better gear to overcome these challenges, but that often simply wasn’t enjoyable. For the player who just wants to play with his or her friends in a tight-knit environment, solo-queuing was not a satisfying experience; even queuing for Raid Finder as a group wasn’t much better, since the presence of a dozen or more strangers transformed the nature of the activity. Besides, Raid Finder was tuned for randomly matched groups and generally lacked sufficient challenge for even the most casual of organized raid groups.

We realized that we were doing a poor job of serving this important segment of our player community. Raid Finder, it turned out, was great for players who had no interest or ability to participate in organized raiding at scheduled times, but for friends-and-family groups, it was not an adequate substitute for the old 10-player Normal difficulty that went away in Cataclysm.

Patch 5.4: Flexible Raiding

For the Siege of Orgrimmar, we introduced a new raiding mode that was designed primarily to solve this problem: Flexible Raid mode was tuned to be roughly 20% to 25% easier (numerically speaking) than Normal mode, while preserving all of the fight mechanics, but more importantly, it also made use of a new scaling system to allow the content to adapt to any raid size between 10 and 25 players. For players whose priority is just being able to raid with their friends, why force someone to have exactly 9 or 24 friends? Why limit which friends they can play with to those on the same realm? We made Flexible Raids have their own lockout, and we allowed players to kill the same boss multiple times per week—but only loot it once. In general, our aim was to remove as many obstacles as possible that might get in the way of friends who just want to be able to raid together in WoW. (And for those who are wondering, “Then why not allow cross-faction raiding? Why not let me raid with my Alliance friends even if I play Undead?” Fundamentally, Alliance vs. Horde, Orcs vs. Humans, is the heart and soul of the Warcraft universe—we have to draw the line somewhere, and we draw it there.)

We’re tremendously happy with how players have received the new Flexible Raid mode, and we wish we’d implemented something like this sooner. We’re now back to three tiers of difficulty that cover all of the different kinds of organized raiders, while preserving Raid Finder for those who just want to experience the content on their own schedule.

In Part 3, we’ll take a look at the future of raiding in Warlords of Draenor.
This article was originally published in forum thread: Dev Watercooler: Raiding Azeroth Part 2—From Cataclysm to Today started by chaud View original post
Comments 84 Comments
  1. innersilence's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Alextana View Post
    On a personal level (as in what would I enjoy the most) I agree with you on this statement. The problem though, is that with the current demographic that plays wow, such a change would simply result in too much lost revenue. Lost revenue simply due to how ghostcrawler said their data suggesten that most players won't step up to the challenge, but instead quit (which I honestly find saddening, but such is simply the reality)

    As such what would improve the quality of the game for me, would hurt Blizzard's revenue, and therefor won't ever be done.

    However there is one very ambitous way where it could perhaps be done, without hurting, and perhaps even increasing revenue. If we as a starting point go with the assumption that:

    a) What most people enjoy to do in the game is to progress, either through gear acquisition, boss kill or other ways etc.

    The trick then, which of course would be a very ambitious one to pursue, would be to create different types of content for each of these groups, in the same game of WoW.

    The current way that Blizzard has tried catering to all of these demographic groups, has been to add the same single type of content, namely raiding, and then slicing it into different difficulties, catering to the different skill levels of these groups.
    True, specially the part that says different content for different groups. In my opinion, majority always tend to follow the minority and this is what blizzard fails to understand. What I mean is that there are always minority of good players with those shiny achievements and gear and they spent a lot of time in the game for that purpose, while, others are happy, following them. There is no way, in any game, to make everyone happy with the same content.

    let me give an example about myself. back in TBC I used to play with my friends and did some PvP and not hardcore raiding. While we did Karazhan now and then for fun we , also, had some progress in the higher tiers and it was a sheer amount of joy and excitement when we could kill a new boss for the first time and see the following content. Well, back then we had not much chance to try BT but at least we always hoped we could do it one day and when we saw others for example with Illidan sword and it motivated us a lot to do so. Also, there was always other things that we could do, i.e. some challenging heroic dungeons and even solo content and etc. Actually we finally could try the BT after they introduced the badge system and removed attunements. But it also destroyed all the motivation to do the yet unfinished previous contents.

    Then it came all the new raiding system which in my opinion brought nothing good in the long term for the raiders. i.e. when me and my friends could clear Cata raids in the normal difficulty we already felt that we finished all the content up to that tier and after that it was only repetition of the same thing again and again. Also, not all players are motivated enough or have the time to do the heroic modes. So, what happened was that every week we tried few times in heroic mode and some players got disappointed very soon and decided to do the rest of it in normal mode for the favor of the getting some loots and it continued till the next tier came. And later LFR came which was a final bullet to this drama.

    For conclusion, as a player who always liked PvE I did not try a single raid in the MoP not even a LFR simply because I think it is only a museum that players can join to watch the content and eventually I stopped playing wow like many others. Of course, playing a game for a long time could be the reason but after reading other players comments, I can say it was not the only reason for us to not enjoy this game as much as we used to do.
  1. Mahkah's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Paradyne View Post
    As long as Flex has the ability for players to determine what criteria they want for the formation of a group & how they will distribute loot then it will never be a replacement for LFR. If you are familiar with the history of PUG formation in WoW you'll know that players have always attempted to gate content behind their own perceptions of what they want for a PUG, whether that be unrealistic gear score, unrealistic iLVL, proof of achievements etc.

    In WOD we will get yet another form of gating, I will promise you now that here is how entry to Flex (normal in WOD) will work for the majority of PUGs.
    If you have LFR gear you are not welcome, go back & get heroic dungeon gear or clearly you are a scrub....anyone who is wearing LFR gear will bear the same stigma that PUGs used to apply to having pieces of PVP gear back in the day.

    By removing LFR from the progression path to get into higher difficulties they will essentially create an easily identifiable group who are considered second class citizens as far as the raiding world is concerned.

    Cynical perhaps but also based on 8 years in Wow & seeing the behavior of the community.
    I agree partially. I'm an old school vanilla player myself and I remember perfectly well when you had to PUG your way into 15-man UBRS raid and such. Some people are asking for unrealistic stats or irrevelant achievements sometimes, but I don't think that's the majority. Plus again, you can make your own group. It's very easy to do so and a good way to make new friends / contacts that plays in a similar fashion as you. Aka, easy groups forming later.

    Also as far as I know, LFR will have the same ilvl items than heroic dungeon so it shouldn't be an issue. They planned that for WoD so players can choose between two ways of gearing. LFR being a mandatory chore for gearing alts or even main sometimes is clearly not a good thing.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by LeoXearo View Post
    That's one of things I like about LFR, it doesn't matter how many times my group wipes on a boss, I know that eventually I'm going to down him. Anywhere else but in LFR and a single wipe could cause the raid to disband and result in a huge waste of my time.

    I don't get why they had to go messing with LFR, I think it is great the way it currently is, you do a toned down raid and get a toned down tier set.
    I've seen a lot of LFR raids falling apart, sadly.
  1. Paradyne's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Mahkah View Post
    I agree partially. I'm an old school vanilla player myself and I remember perfectly well when you had to PUG your way into 15-man UBRS raid and such. Some people are asking for unrealistic stats or irrevelant achievements sometimes, but I don't think that's the majority. Plus again, you can make your own group. It's very easy to do so and a good way to make new friends / contacts that plays in a similar fashion as you. Aka, easy groups forming later.

    Also as far as I know, LFR will have the same ilvl items than heroic dungeon so it shouldn't be an issue. They planned that for WoD so players can choose between two ways of gearing. LFR being a mandatory chore for gearing alts or even main sometimes is clearly not a good thing.

    - - - Updated - - -

    I've seen a lot of LFR raids falling apart, sadly.
    I would equate the formation of Raiding PUGs (and even 5 mans occasionally) throughout WoWs history as being very similar to the approach of trying to get your first loan from a bank. Show us all the evidence & history that indicates you are a good credit risk, which a first time borrower would never have. Or prove to us you don't actually need the loan based on a significant portion of savings, which would probably mean you don't really need the loan. Only after you satisfied ridiculous criteria you are probably incapable of meeting are you allowed to have the loan.

    So it is for Raiding PUGS for people who have neither a history of raiding or who cannot meet the ridiculous gear requirements that would indicate they have already outgeared the content.
  1. Santoryu's Avatar
    Millions saw Deathwing, only thousands Kel'thuzad, yet when the former is mentioned, people go "meh".

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