On Hardcore Raiding

After I listened to Massively’s latest podcast featuring an interview with WildStar developers, I realized that I hadn’t said anything about Carbine’s hardcore raiding philosophy, which is a topic of some mild controversy.

One of them raid thingys, blatantly stolen from the WildStar site.
One of them raid thingys, blatantly stolen from the WildStar site.

If you aren’t aware, WildStar raids are supposed to be really hard like the old school raids of yore. They are taking the stance that their raids are meant for hardcore guilds and players only, and they won’t be dumbing them down over time like most other games do. Here is their video on them:

In more unflattering terms, so-called "casual" players will be intentionally excluded from raiding in WildStar.

This is a controversial position because historically we know that only a very small percentage of players are actually hardcore enough to complete difficult raids. (I don’t know if there are any studies to quote, but I always imagine it to be around 1% of the players.) It takes a massive amount of work and coordination to get 40 online gamers working together and playing at a high level of competence at the same time. In fact I have never seen that happen. I have only seen 20-man raids in Rift, where most everyone already knew what to do, and really only 10 of those people were doing most of the work, and even those relatively simple raids took hours upon hours to put together and complete. The vast majority of MMO players simply don’t have the time or energy to do that.

It’s why the so-called "zone events" and "world bosses" in games like Rift and GW2 have become so popular. (To me, at least.) Because you can experience something like a raid, with all the fun of working with other people to meet a difficult goal, without any of the time and drudgery of coordinating a guild. All you have to do is show up and fun happens.

In a way, I respect Carbine for taking this stance. I respect them for keeping hard content hard, because there is a certain thrill in defeating difficult challenges that weren’t nerfed to the point that anyone can do them.

But.

None of the raids I’ve seen are challenging because the encounters are difficult. It seems to me that raids are challenging because it’s almost impossible to get a group of competent players to get online and stay focused for long periods of time.* So completing a raid is not necessarily a gameplay challenge, it’s a social engineering challenge. It’s an organizational problem. This is why it drives me crazy when hardcore raiders strut around as if they are the best gamers in the world. All they’ve really done is show up and suffer through a torturously long experience. It’s like they’re gloating because they sat through a six-hour lecture on accounting.

Still, as a player, I could live with Carbine reserving some content for so-called "hardcore" players. I feel like I could get into a raiding guild if I wanted to turn my gaming fun time into an anxiety-laden chore. What baffles me is how Carbine can justify this logic from a business standpoint.

Creating raids has got to take a huge chunk of development time and money, but if we use my entirely made-up figure from before, only 1% of the players will even see it. (Not counting YouTube videos and streams.) And guess what? Those 1% of players will be done with it and bored a couple of weeks after release, writing angry posts on forums demanding the next 40-man raid. How can Carbine possibly sustain that? They would have to ignore 99% of their players in order to keep pumping out new content for the 1%, and that makes no sense whatsoever. (Which is surely why WoW dumbed everything down, and every other game does too.)

I think they might have been onto something when one of the Carbine guys talked about improved guild tools for raiding. I think it would help tremendously to have some sort of in-guild group-finding tool to put together raid teams. Something that would persist across logins. So for example the guild leader could tell the tool that a raid is scheduled for X date, and then guild members could volunteer for spots in the raid throughout the week with just a few mouse clicks. The tool could be configured so that players must meet minimum requirements, or perhaps the raid leaders could override it and stick people into spots manually. Something like that. The tool could even handle the loot distribution during the raid itself, and automatically invite in alternates if someone disconnects during the raid. (Maybe that is exactly what the LFR tool in WoW does.. I’ve never seen it.)

By the way, I was very glad to hear that WildStar will have smaller story instances (I assume like Rift’s Chronicles) so that us "regular folk" can still have a way to see the story that occurs in those huge impossible raids.

* This herding cats phenomenon goes all the way back to my first multiplayer gaming experiences in Quake. I remember when it was almost impossible to get six people together to play in a match, and five was pushing it. Getting forty people together for anything but a chaotic zergy Guild Wars 2 event is mind-boggling to me.

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