Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Raiding Paradigm: a response

I was reading Seanxxp at Gaming Conjecture and he was revisiting an item that happened a few weeks ago, where former LOTRO community manager Sapience (Rick Heaton) talked about the very small percentage of their players that are Raiders or participate in PvP.  He was offering that as a reason why LOTRO hasn't offered any new raiding content recently, and probably won't in the near future.  Sean reasonably asks, "Do raiders and PvPers bring something to a game's community that other groups don't?"

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the past decade about the position of Raiding in the pyramid of MORPG playstyles and I'm hesitant to plunge into that growing pool of contention.  Because while I disagree with some of the points that he has made, I think the answer especially with regard to raiders is mostly, "Yes."  Raiding definitely brings a kind of single-minded focus on preparation and execution that is not often found elsewhere.  Having a raiding component to your game will shape it in ways that would not happen otherwise.

As I've mentioned before, I think that MMOs are at a turning point in their development, a fundamental sea change that is different from where we were, say, two years ago.  And one of the axes on which we're rotating is raiding.  Until recently, WoW had been sucking all the oxygen out of the room, basically dictating to its players how the game was to be played.  This was true not just within its own game, but it set expectations that resonated throughout the industry.  And WoW set out two assumptions:  the Myth of Parity and the endgame raiding paradigm.

That second one is the most obvious, so let's start there. WoW declared that the major activity once characters reached max level was to run raid instances.  More importantly, this was the way you would advance your character after you reached level cap:
  • Raiding was how you increased your characters power level (through stats on gear)
  • it was how you acquired new abilities (through trinkets and procs and set bonuses)
  • it was how you "improved" the appearance of your character (through tier sets with a distinctive look for your class)
  • it was how you increased your professions (through recipe and rare mat drops)
  • it was how you visited new zones
  • it was how you saw new lore content, often the most climactic of the game.
In fact, all the markers that signaled a character's increase in level were present in the raiding ladder as well.  We were continuing to level our characters, just not numerically.

And the perennial complaint has been that anyone who chose not to participate in raiding was prevented from leveling their character any further.  Up until that point, all playstyles were supported as valid.  Beyond that point, it was only raiding that could carry your character to the true max level of the game.

As an increasing number of players began to recognize it, there arose a current of unrest.  Bree of Massively asks, what is the justification for preferencing one playstyle above all others? And in true Blizzard style, WoW chose to quell the unrest by doubling down on raiding.  Rather than change their paradigm, they instead made it more accessible to players through Looking For Raid.

Other games have taken a different path, though.  Elder Scrolls proudly announced that they were launching without raiding content, and now are looking at different styles of endgame group activities.  Some games like GW2 and Secret World offer raids along side other end game content, stepping away from the single path of raiding ladders.

Currently, MMOs are at a crossroads.  Some games (SWTOR, Wildstar) have chosen to continue to follow the WoW raid paradigm, while others (LOTRO, Elder Scrolls) have chosen a different path.  And this kind of diversity is good for MORPGS as a genre and an industry.  It will be interesting to continue to watch new releases and new expansions for how the raid paradigm continues to change in the future. 

The twenty-first post in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.

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