Did Cataclysm fail?

So, you’ve probably seen a number of these posts around lately, and to be honest you shouldn’t be too terribly surprised. We’re at the end of a cycle, with the last raid tier coming out soon and people already looking forward to the next expansion and the promise of bouncing pandas. The topic lately is whether or not that Cataclysm has failed as an expansion.

I figured the time is right for me to chime in on the topic, and I promise you it will be relevant to the site.

Healing Design

At the onset of the expansion, there were some very bold statements made about healing as a whole. They basically amounted to the following;

  • Shaman are the healing model that all healers will follow
  • Triage healing is vastly more important and mana is a concern
  • healing will be a lot harder and require smart decision making

So, in this regard did Cataclysm succeed or fail? Well to me the answer here is two fold. They both succeeded and failed at the same time. At the start of the expansion healing was definitely harder, mana consumption was much more of a concern and shaman healing really was the model when it came to triage healing. Note how I said at the start of the expansion. There was a bit of a problem though, once you started getting a pretty good head of steam going and gathered your gear the “model” started to fall apart. Spirit levels and regen abilities after heroic dungeon gearing were enough that some healing classes could just completely ignore the healing model. I’m casually whistling in innocence as I look at Mana Tide Totem from a year ago, I assure you. The problem exacerbated itself when some healing classes’ masteries got tweaked, and raid gear started circulating.

At this point, triage healing isn’t really used unless you’re just starting out, and some healing classes are just blowing others out of the water causing a lot of internal debate among raiding groups as to what the best healing setup really is now. Things are shaping up to be better in tier 13, but the healing model through tier 12 I would venture to say hangs at the edge of failure. We’ve been assured that the healing model will remain in tact for the next expansion, but only time will tell if that is true especially when adding a new healing class into the mix next expansion.

Guild advancement and recruiting

The new expansion brought with it the guild advancement system. Guilds earned experience points based on questing and the activity of the guild members involved. The guild was able to level up from level 1 to level 25 carrying various rewards such as XP boosts, mount speed increases and even alchemy patterns for flasks for the entire raid. It also came with some other perks like Heirloom gear helmet and cape slot items, mounts and pets as well as a Mass Teleport and Mass Resurrection. Honestly guild advancement was a huge success as far as adding perks to guilds that get rolling and stick to it and work together. Guild achievements also added nicely to this and added a further sense of accomplishment to a guild in certain respects.

The problem is that the success of the guild advancement system, however, in my eyes became a contributing factor in a problem that this expansion has had that I haven’t seen in either of the previous ones. Stagnant recruiting. Recruiting flat-out sucks right now to be honest. Any losses from people leaving the guild or leaving the game become increasingly difficult to replace. Let us face a simple truth, the game has been around for over 6 years at this point. People are taking a break. Maybe not out-right quitting, but they’re definitely going to start taking some vacation from Azeroth around this time. Before Cataclysm, replacing losses wasn’t nearly as difficult. I attribute this partly to the guild perk system. When a player leaves a guild, they lose all reputation they’ve gained with that guild. They then start from scratch just like with any other reputation when they join a new guild.

So the problem is that a lot of the guild perks don’t kick in unless you’re Honored with your guild. This can be a very unattractive prospect, especially when you consider there is a weekly cap to the reputation you can gain. Not only can swapping guilds be a daunting task on its own, but when you combine in extra things like rep to earn it adds to the heap. So, people are staying put in whatever guild they are in for the most part. Guild mergers seems much more frequent now, where whole groups of people make the commitment one way or another, but recruitment is certainly at an all time low.

Raid design, gear options, and accomplishing goals

This is another measuring stick by which to judge the success or failure of the current expansion. Raid design was a bit different this go around. In Wrath, all of the raid tiers were contained to one single zone. You didn’t have to go from place to place in order to see all of a raid tier.  In Cataclysm, the starting raid tier was divided between not one, not two but three different locations to contain all of the bosses and events. Honestly though, I think that served to make things a little better. Having different locations broke up the monotony of raiding in one single zone for however many hours a week. Some of the mechanics were fun, and the boss fights had the potential to give you at least some challenge. Overall I’d say it was a good tier. It reminded me of Burning Crusade where tier 4 and tier 5 were divided between different zones in different locations, breaking the long dredges through BWL that we were used to at this point.

The use of valor points to purchase tier gear, as well as off set items, was a smart move at first. It allowed a certain gear gating of the content as players had to earn their valor points to purchase the raid gear. Keeping a few pieces as raid drops only also made perfect sense. It eliminated the fighting over tokens at least a little bit, and while it could be annoying have to wait to restock your valor, it served it’s purpose well enough I think. Listening to the developers at BlizzCon it would appear that they too really liked how tier 11 worked out and will be continuing that style of breaking up the raids going into Mists.

One of the goals for Cataclysm was to reignite the fire the propelled the game to 12 million subscribers and get people excited about the game. New graphics throughout the world, Azeroth split and changed. Entire zones looking completely different and completely different starting zones and quests for the races of Azeroth. Well, this was both successful and a failure at the same time. The new starting zones did reignite the flame somewhat, but mostly in people with alt creation.  Some old players did come back to check out the new zones and explore some of the new content, but it didn’t quite have the kick that it originally intended. Subscriber rates pretty much stayed the same, and the number of active toons remained about the same as well. It just didn’t quite have the shakeup that was expected.

So what is it? Success or Failure?

Well, that’s the whole point of this post right? The big question. Is Cataclysm a success or a failure? The answer is honestly both. There are things that Cata did exceptionally well, and things that it fell behind on. To be honest a lot of the goals were pretty damn lofty from the get go. It was ambitious and new things were tried, combined with old things that we knew worked. Not everything was ever going to be achieved just based on the pure scope of the original intent. There were things it did well, and things it didn’t do quite so well. That said it was hardly the failure that some folks seem to think. The content is still there, there is still plenty of value in the game, and for a game that is going to be rapidly approaching the age  of 7 they can boast a lot of good things. The game hasn’t really lost too many subscribers and is going strong. Oh and they still get my money every month, and I signed up for my hear subscription with free Diablo 3 “phone”.

So what do you think?

They Are Making a Comeback!

As I’m patrolling the WoW recruiting forums for additional DPS players, one of the common themes I’ve noticed is that players are looking for core raiding positions within guilds. Not only that, but their progression isn’t generally high enough to make that type of demand. It looks like the 4.2 patch might just be the massive rejuvenation the raiding player base has been hoping for. Players who were thought to have permanently retired from the game look to be dusting off their WoW accounts. Combine the new encounters in 4.2 with summer being here and players having additional time to do stuff, this might be looking good for everyone in general.

Ner’zhul itself is down to something like 5 competitive 25 man raiding guilds on Alliance side (if that). Undoubtedly, there are way more 10 mans. I wonder what this means though for players who are looking to get back into the game. I presume that 10 man raiding rosters tend to be more stable and have way less turnover compared to the 25 man guild raiding counterparts.

I don’t know. What do you think, 10 man guilds? Are your rosters rock solid?

Raiding in 25s might offer easier access. But the scarcity of them might mean that its harder to find one that fits times and playstyles. It looks like its going to be a buyers market for guilds looking to augment their raiding force going into Firelands because of all the new free agent players coming back.

Speaking of recruiting tools, more on this later.

Valor cap the new softlock? Lodur’s opinion

Yesterday we got news that the valor cap is being lowered from1,250 valor points to 980. This may seem like an insignificant change by itself, but it comes among a series of others as well.

  • The maximum number of Valor Points awarded for completing Rise of the Zandalari dungeons remains at 980.
  • The maximum number of Valor Points awarded for completing Heroic dungeons remains at 490.
  • The number of Valor Points awarded for killing a boss in the Firelands is 70 in 10-player mode, and 90 in 25-player mode.
  • The number of Valor Points awarded for killing Occu’thar in Baradin Hold is 35 in 10-player mode, and 45 in 25-player mode.
  • The number of Valor Points awarded for killing a boss on Heroic difficulty in The Bastion of Twilight, Blackwing Descent, and Throne of the Four winds is 35 in 10-player mode, and 45 in 25-player mode.

Raiders completing a full tier 12 raid clear will obtain 630 valor points from raiding 25’s and 490 points for 10’s. If they go back and raid heroic levels in the previous tier, they can gain another 585 (25’s) or 455 (10’s) points. Players running their heroic ZA/ZG will be able to cap out on valor points without having to set foot in a raid. So this raised a few questions, and quite a few opinions. I know I had a good run at it on my twitter account yesterday. So what can we take away from this?

The change really levels the playing field for obtaining raid quality gear and Tier 12 items. Whether you’re in a raid or just able to run heroics, everyone will be doing so at roughly the same pace. This can be good for those players attempting to play catch-up in terms of gear so that they too can raid. I understand that point, but I see a couple potential problems with this.

By lowering the amount of valor points in the previous tier, they are attempting to stem the flow of free valor points. I get that, but it partially removes the incentive for doing the tier after the new one comes out. Now I’m not saying this because I want to farm valor points, but it presents a problem. The raid lockout was recently changed with Cataclysm so that 10 and 25 man raids share the same lockout. As a result, for raiding guilds looking to trial out members it means they either have to take them on content that isn’t progression. This takes away from progression raiding time and can actually hinder a guild’s progression. Previously you could take the person into a 10 man raid and see how they did without disrupting your larger raid group’s progression. I personally was looking forward to having a testing ground in the previous tier of content to run recruits through and see how they do, but with the reduction in points I think it’s going to be quite hard to entice people to go back to the previous content. Also, I don’t know about you, but my guild doesn’t have many plans on keeping the previous content in the rotation when there’s new content to progress through, unless we’re going back for a Sinestra kill.

The idea of not being able to cap out from the current raiding tier bothers me. It means I’ll be forced to do heroics to reach the cap, or try to do so from some other method. I don’t like the idea of being forced to do something else, especially when I spend so much time a week already raiding. Sure it’s great for the non raiders who only run heroic dungeons, but I can’t help but feel it’s a slap in the face for raiders. essentially it’s forcing us to spend more time in game doing content we’ve been running since shortly after the game was released. With only 7 bosses in this tier (+1 for Baradin Hold) we’re falling short of our valor cap by 350 points if we full clear. We can assume we won’t be killing Ragnaros on day one of Firelands, so ultimately it means we’re going to spend even more time grinding in game on top of raiding.

It just smacks of an attempt to keep us in the game longer for the ever elusive gear chase. Right now, the new cap puts you at roughly about three weeks to obtain a piece of tier / vendor gear. That’s if you hit the cap every week. So if you’re raiding 15 hours a week, and you’re still learning the fights and aren’t clearing the whole new tier, you’re still forced to do several hours of either other tier raiding AND heroics, or just heroics. This is a significant time investment, and considering it’s content that a lot of us have already done to death, it has the potential to significantly increase burnout. I know a lot of people personally that have seen this and have already decided to stop raiding as a result. It also comes at a time where summertime burnout is creeping in, and this change doesn’t help matters any. Part of it is the fault of only having 7 new bosses in the game, part of it is just the gear grind in general.

It also, in part, seems like a soft gate. Keeping players under-geared longer means it will take longer to get through the content. With only 7 bosses in the tier, I can understand that to a point, but then it puts us in a position similar to what we were in when ICC was out, stagnant. It’s going to be doubly annoying if you hit a DPS wall that only new gear can fix, but you’re weeks away from that relief coming. How about a boss that is a hard healing check, that healers just simply are behind stat-wise through no fault of their own, to heal through. It will take longer to gather the gear to push through the bosses to down the content. While that is partially true of every tier, the limited number of bosses in this tier combined with the new cap in points makes this take that much longer.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out as this eventually rolls to live, and how players will react to it. Me personally, it just means I’ll be spending more time grinding points on my shaman so I can keep up with the raiding content, and a whole lot less time enjoying myself on my alts, if only because there are only so many hours in a day and I can only spend so much of them at my computer desk.
What do you think about this change? do you love it or hate it? How will it affect your time in game?


Guest Post: Is that it for the story of Warcraft?

This is a guest post by former WoW blogger Honorshammer on the state of the game and his theories on why the player base has decreased. Interesting read and another take on yet the state of the game.

Blizzard’s recent conference call for investors had the blogosphere churning about the announcement that WoW lost about 5% of its player base and it back to pre-Cataclysm levels. Everyone is giving their opinion to explain why this is happening. Unsurprisingly, most everyone is taking something they don’t like about the game (too hard/too easy/too hardcore/too casual) and pointing at that and saying “see, i was right all along. People are leaving because of x.” I’m moderately guilty of this myself to some degree, and I will acknowledge that up front.

But I think the player base is too diverse for there to be one factor that has flipped a switch and led to the decline. There are likely a myriad of factors, and in this post I want to touch on one I don’t see getting much play in this discussion, the possibility that the story of WoW has simply been played out.

I was introduced to the Warcraft universe through Blizzard’s excellent Real Time Strategy games like Warcraft III: Riegn of Chaos and Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. It was my enjoyment of those games that gave rise to my initial interest in World of Warcraft.

In those games Blizzard’s developers introduced some incredible characters. Jania Proudmoore, Kael’thalas Sunrider, Lady Vashj, Sylvanas, Illidan, and of course, the big guy himself, Arthas became fan favorites.

During Vanilla, WoW was still fresh and there was the sheer joy of exploring a new world. We met Jania in Dustwallow Marsh, and Sylvanas in the Undercity. The other major lore characters were still on the horizon, calling us to become powerful enough for their notice.

From the very beginning in Burning Crusade, we were taunted by Illidian’s “You are not PREPARED!” The developer’s made it very clear were on the path to fight him. First though, we fought Kael’Thalas in Tempest Keep (and Magister’s Terrace), and Lady Vashj met her end in Serpent Shrine Caverns. Finally, in what was originally the last raid of Burning Crusade, we got our payoff and fought Illidan himself. Part of my motivation for the guild hopping of my BC days was my desire to see these character’s story arcs to their conclusion. It was like I had started a book in Warcraft III, and now I wanted to finish it. Not doing so would have been like listening to a song that didn’t resolve.

Wrath made no bones about its primary nemesis. This was it. The path was laid out to the Frozen Throne. We would face Arthas himself. From the moment you got off the boat in either Howling Fjord or Borean Tundrea, Arthas was there, taunting you, urging you on to a final confrontation with him. For this player, Arthas was the penultimate antagonist. Ever since we witnessed the amazing cut scene of Arthas running King Terenas through with Frostmourne, we wanted a piece of him. My anger was ignited when in his blind passion for vengeance he took up Frostmourne killing my beloved Muradin in the processes. Through the levels and expansions, one thing had remained, the quest to confront Arthas.

By the end of Wrath, my avatar stood over Arthas’ lifeless body. The character who adorned the cover of box for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (Human edition), Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King was dead. His arc ended. And with his arc ended, the developers had finished the arc of every major villain from the Warcraft III games. The story was told.

What would propel us into Cataclysm would have to be new villains. World of Warcraft was now going to have to have to stand on its own story, and not simply finish the story begun in Warcraft III. I believe for a portion of the player base, World of Warcraft did a poor job of communicating its ongoing story. Our characters needed more motivation than we have been given. We need more than ‘he’s got duh perps, yo” to raid week after week in search of the next villain. We never got the connection to Deathwing that we had felt with Illidan, or Arthas. Arthas called to you from two expansions away. Deathwing whispers can barely be heard the very expansion we will confront him. Too much of the story was obfuscated outside of the game in comics, wikis, and novels. Our characters set out to defeat Deathwing more out of duty than raw passion.

So once the new zones have been seen, and the new dungeons run through a couple of times, we, as players, came back to the question of our motivation. Before, the answer had been to stay on the course to Illidan, or to Kael’thalas, or Arthas. Now the answer now was to prepare for Deathwing. For whatever reason, some players found that answer left them unmoved.

I can only speak for myself. I am still actively playing World of Warcraft, and I have no plans to quit, though I am playing far more casually than I did previously. Before killing Arthas, leaving would have felt like leaving something unfinished, like putting down a good book only halfway through. But now, the book feels read, and leaving a natural progression when the next good book is published.

Thespius’s State of the Dungeon/Raid

There’s been a lot of great conversation about how things are tuned in regards to Cataclysm Heroics and Raids (meaning normal Raids, I haven’t seen Hardmodes yet). This is starting to dip into the usual “Casual vs. Hardcore” debate, which I think is not what this entire argument is about. This game has made leaps and bounds toward making the game challenging for all. There are definite challenges for the people at the edge of blistering progression as well as for the family man/woman that can only log on once/twice a week, if that. I’d like everyone to take a look at a few different things, including adapting to change, the nature of challenge within the game, and the mindset of the “average” WoW player.

Know Where You’re Going, Know Where You’ve Been

Vanilla WoW – I was never a Vanilla WoW player. I understand that there was a very clear delineation between the casual player (questing and alts) and the hardcore player (40-man guild raiding). It’s very daunting to play a game when you know you have no chance of getting into any of the endgame content, stocked full of lore and goodies. This definitely took things too far in segregating the community. Casual players wanted to see the content, and Hardcore players loved feeling entitled to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the Holy Grail of the game.

Burning CrusadeThis is where I stepped into the ring. I started as a very casual player, barely being able to throw a Karazhan run together with friends. It was ridiculously hard to climb up the progression ladder to see higher content, but it was doable. Sadly, I had to leave some friends behind because of it. Guilds operated as “stepping stones” to the next level. There existed the “KZ” guilds, the Gruul/Magtheridon guilds, the “SSC/TK” guilds, and the “BT/Sunwell” guilds, meaning the highest those guilds could accomplish. With the release of Zul’Aman, we now had harder 10-man content that my ~9 friends and I could hammer through. Granted, I was single and working as an actor at the time, so I had lots of extra time to play. That would definitely change soon. Still, not being able to see Illidan really sucked.

Wrath of the Lich King – Ahh, the release of 10- and 25-man raiding, but things got easy REALLY quick. So much so that I found multiple PuG 25-man ICC Hardmode Runs. Hardmodes were supposed to be the culmination of progression, really only reserved for the highest of raiders. I was fine with that. I wanted to give them a shot but didn’t have any grand visions of getting my HM Lich King kill. The gameplay was such that mechanics could be avoided. Phrases like “just heal through it” were peppered in boss explanations. DPS started to complain if they had to stop their rotation, tanks screamed at healers if they couldn’t/wouldn’t heal through a mechanic that wasn’t being interacted with properly. Entire mechanics were being glazed over, and the general WoW community got lazy (that’s right, I said it). Although PuG raiders were in Hardmodes, they really didn’t know what to do, and had forgotten entire pieces of their class/spec. Mages decursing? Druids CCing? Hunters trapping? Unheard of!! The bonus part: people got to see the content. My opinion, it became trivial too quickly.

Cataclysm – 10-man and 25-man raiding becomes equalized as much as it can be. 25’s only slightly hold the advantage of being the “truer form of raiding”. Blizzard realized that people were completely ignoring fight mechanics and made them less forgiving (if you let Dragha’s Invocation of Flame get to its target, you’re dead). Justice/Valor Points from your Daily Heroic are no longer things you’re “entitled to”. They must be earned and fought for. With changes to healing and fight mechanics, players are forced to actually look at their spellbooks once again (any Dwarves looking at Stoneform again?). Encounters now begin to feel like a group effort, rather than 5 individuals who wish they could just solo the content so they don’t have to be around other people. Raids feel more daunting for most of the player base, and guilds are back to trying to beef up their own team rather than PuG’ing from Trade Chat. It takes longer to gear up, but the gear is obtainable. Epic gear is actually epic again! Even without running Heroics, it’s possible to get 346 gear for your character. People don’t want to PuG, thus forcing the player base to look for guilds of people they get along with.

I look at all of these as good things. With my guild being called “Team Sport”, it’s no wonder that I long for a gaming world where it feels more team-oriented and not so individually cut throat. If I had the time to run things more, I’m sure I would be geared to the teeth at this point, but I’m not. It’s taking me a little while, but that’s always giving me something to strive for. A trinket I need from Archaeology, or the rep from Baradin’s Wardens, all of which give me something to shoot for that takes time and dedication. I don’t expect it to come easy.

Challenge Yourself

Ever work out? Ever have that great feeling when you finally get your jogging route under your target time? What about finally getting able to lift some weights heavier than the 5-lb ones you’d find in an aerobic class? It’s a good feeling, isn’t it? It’s a high, a rush of endorphins. Did it come easy? Probably not.

Think of any hobby the same way. If you start out knitting, don’t expect yourself to whip out a complicated Afghan in a day. You start out with ‘easy’, and when you’ve mastered ‘easy’, you move to the next level. Look at model building, sports, or anything you do for fun. You can’t expect to be the best at it before you even pick it up. Just about any hobby is worth putting the work in, because without the work the payoff isn’t as good.

Now look at dungeons and raids. If you can face-roll Heroic Stonecore, then that one piece of gear that drops off of Ozruk doesn’t mean as much. You don’t value it the same way you would if you had to work as a team to get it done. That piece you now wear has a story behind it. Working hard to defeat that Heroic Ozruk has brought you close to your gear, and to the 4 other people that help you beat him.

When you find yourself in a group that is struggling with a Heroic Dungeon, ask yourself if you’re using everything in your power to make it go smoothly. Do you have some ability that would make the rest of the team’s job easier? Maybe you can step out of your normal role to help someone that’s struggling. I’ve seen Hunters that have issue frost-trapping a mob. My DK friend Aaron loves to Death Grip that mob back to the frost trap. It’s something that in WotLK a DK wasn’t expected to do, but Aaron does it because it helps the group. Is it easy to do? No, but it’s certainly not back-breaking. However, it’s more rewarding when we down bosses after thinking outside the box. It becomes an accomplishment to finish the encounter, rather than the accomplishment being the addition of a few Justice/Valor Points to your pool. That should be the reward for the accomplishment, not the accomplishment itself. Again, you value the prize more when you worked for it.

The Average WoW Player

A lot of complaints have come from the community (especially on the Official Forums) about the quality of the average LFD group. Rogues get instantly kicked for “not having reliable CC”, a Tank gets kicked for “one pull going awry”. I’ve been kicked from a group as a Resto Shaman simply for suggesting CC be used in Grim Batol. The quote: “Only bads use CC.” The forums are cluttered with threads such as these, and it makes it a really bleak outlook.

As stated above, we come from a Wrath mentality. The population both surged and got lazy in the last expansion. Mass pulling and AOE fests were more plentiful than senseless slander in American politics. Now we’re changing in Cataclysm, and change doesn’t come easy to most. It’s difficult for people to adapt to having to do more to get the same results.

Look at Trade Chat. Outside of gold and profession spammers, Trade Chat is pretty gross. I rarely am ever in it. Same goes for the official forums. Those that are the most unhappy or feel “scammed” talk the loudest. Anyone trying to be a voice of reason is usually shouted down, and good productive discussions are few and far between. This is no different than the LFD situation. There are a lot of people in that system that are bitter, jaded, and hate change. Rather than encouraging a nurturing environment, they’ll curse up a storm and belittle everyone else around them.

Where are all the nice players? They run with their guild, or have a friends list of people they’ve found that value a fun environment over the prospect of running a “boot camp dungeon”. They are out there, I promise. You just have to be patient and look.

I know the 45-minute queues are unbearable. It’s how I built up my Resto set–by queuing as Enhancement. It’s a total roll of the dice, and you may completely bottom out with your luck if you queue alone. Lodur posted a great article about being a teacher within the LFD. Strongly recommend checking it out, as it may give you a glimmer of hope.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

If you’re one of the people who feels like you’ve been wronged by Blizzard, I ask you this: What is it you really want out of this game?

  • “I want to be able to log in, get my badges/epics, and log off.” I’m sorry, but those days are gone. People very quickly were behaving like drones. Those players in the game looked at dungeons and badges as “tasks” or “chores”, instead of events and rewards for those events.
  • “I want to see the lore and the content.” The normal dungeons provide all the same lore that the Heroics do, as far as I know. Heroic Deadmines and Heroic Shadowfang Keep offer their own lore but aren’t really in line with the Deathwing plot line. They’re great little side stories. As for raids, think of the storyline as Mt. Everest. I would love to see the top one day, however, I know that it will take work and dedication to get there. I don’t expect to just stroll up to the top.
  • “I want it to go faster! It takes too long!” You lose the journey this way. The struggle. Anything worth getting is worth the fight. Take Lord of the Rings for example. If Frodo just flew over the mountain and dropped the ring in from the start, it’d be a short movie, and not very gratifying.

If you want to find enjoyment in the game with people that are like-minded, you have to work for it. Blizzard stated before this expansion that they wanted to encourage more group- and community-oriented game play. It’s time for us as players to adjust to this shift in ideology.

Perhaps you’re in a guild that doesn’t really offer itself up to run dungeons with you. Maybe the group you’ve found yourself in isn’t really supportive when it comes to learning your class mechanics. Everyone starts somewhere, right? To me, both situations mean it’s time to start looking to surround yourself with people you share a mindset with. That’s what this particular MMO is built around, and that’s how Blizzard wants it. If you want to be solo and do your own thing, it’s going to be tougher and cause you more headaches. Start looking for a guild of people that you actually get along with. There are guilds out there that can get through the content and not belittle their members along the way. Whatever your schedule is, whatever your goals are, I promise there is a guild out there for you.

Focus on the journey and the challenge, rather than whining that you can’t have it all right here and right now.

I’m Thespius, and I approve this message.

Boss Explanations: A Lesson from Twitter

No lie, I’m a twitter enthusiast. I didn’t realize how much of an influence its had on me until I started taking over boss explanations to PuGs in heroic groups. I know healing PuGs isn’t for everyone, but I don’t mind it (much).

Now you see, I’m a pretty efficient guy. In fact, some would even argue I’m impatient. I’ll try to do two things at once if I can get away with it. I plan my travel routes thinking of the fastest way to get somewhere. When I get on the sky train, I choose the car and door closest to the exit at the station I want to get off at. My friends despise it when I move so quickly. But I just really don’t like wasting time. If there is something that needs to be done, then let’s go and get it over with.

In heroics especially, I get a little tired when another player in the group is explaining what abilities are there and what players need to do to counteract it. They leave nothing out at all.

Me, I’m different.

The Twitter Rule

If you need to explain it in more than 140 characters, they’re not going to get it

I’ve started challenging myself to really think about the player and the role that they are. Is it really necessary for a healer to know when they need to interrupt? Does the tank need to know about this random add that gets crushed by DPS players anyway? Ergo, in PuGs, I’ve tried to condense and compact the information into stuff that’s relevant to them.

Don’t use 7 words when 3 will work (Good rule to follow for you new bloggers).

For this to really work though, players need to have certain schemas in place. A schema is basically a concept that lets you understand information in your own way.

Examples of Schemas

  • Void zone: Some dark circle on the ground that’s bad.
  • Cleave: Some attack that destroys all melee.
  • Tail swipe: Stand anywhere else but on the butt of the boss.

I’ve found the results to be promising. Most players I’ve come across seem to instantly just “get it” without the need for further explanation unless it’s a completely new concept for them.

Anraphet (Halls of Origination): Spread out. Stay out of voids. Stack up on Omega Stance. Massive DPS.

Rom’ogg Bone Crusher (Blackrock Caverns): DPS chains. Run away when chains are dead. Watch for ads, AoE as you go.

Drahga Shadowburner (Grim Batol): Burn down fire elemental. Watch where dragon is facing, run through to avoid breath. Avoid big puddle.

General Husam (Lost City of the Tol’vir): Avoid yellow orbs. Stand out of dust on the ground (Shockwave).

High Priestess Azil (Stonecore): Avoid void zones. Kite ads into void zones. Watch for dust on the ground (she throws rocks). Interrupt Force Grip.

Asaad (Vortex Pinnacle): Keep jumping. Spread out. Stack up when he draws lightning on the ground.

Vanessa Vancleef (Deadmines): Avoid fire, ice. Nuke 1st then 2nd boss. Avoid spinning things, nuke 3rd boss. Kill worgen, nuke boss. Kill ads before Vanessa. Use ropes.

Okay, I think went over by 6 characters with Vanessa. Hopefully, my point stands. The reality is that not many players read the full quest text. Like it or not, they read the objectives. By condensing explanations, players unfamiliar to encounters might get a better handle on them.

For obvious reasons, you don’t want to use this approach when it comes to raid bosses. Although, now I’m curious to see if it is possible to condense each role duties to 140 characters or less for raid bosses.

Challenge laid.

Raid Leading 101: 10 vs 25

Probably as old as when Burning Crusade launched is the discussion of 10man vs 25man. The jump from 40man to 25man jolted a lot of raiders and caused the collapse of several teams. Raid teams started out in 10-man Karazhan, which geared them to enter the 25-mans until the end of the expansion (Gruul’s Lair, Magtheridon’s Lair, Serpentshrine Cavern, Tempest Keep, Black Temple, Sunwell Plateau), with a 10man Zul’Aman thrown in for flavor.

From what I saw, there was a stigma that 10mans were inferior to 25man. 25man Raid Leaders were thought of as more commanding and needed more control over their team, whereas 10man Raid Leaders didn’t have as much responsibility. The only way to get any decent gear in Burning Crusade was to run 25man raids. Legendaries were obtained only in the greater of the two. The end result was people preferring 25mans over 10mans, even lasting into Wrath of the Lich King. Anyone else remember needing to get into 25-man Trial of the Crusader to get a decent trinket at the time?

However, with Cataclysm, the tables have shifted toward more balance. With the changes that Blizzard implemented, there is less pressure on needing to raid a certain size. Let’s take a look at the pro’s and con’s (as I’ve seen it).

25-man

  • More likely to have every raid buff due to a larger raid.
  • Raiders of the same class can feel more free to tweak their specs.
  • More forgiving to players that may be a little “sub-par”.
  • Battles have a more “epic” feel with a bigger raid.
  • More players = wealth of opinions in strategizing fights.
  • Three in-combat resurrections allowed per fight.
  • Raid competition may not be as crucial (melee vs ranged).
  • ————————————
  • Maintaining control over a bigger group.
  • More standby’s may be needed.
  • More people may equal conflicting egos/personalities.
  • Possible to run into scheduling difficulties.
  • Harder to start up from scratch.
  • Easier for people to slightly slack at times.
  • More officers may be needed.

10-man

  • Usually tighter-knit group.
  • Easier to start up from scratch.
  • More responsibility on each player.
  • Possible to have one of each class (very little gear competition).
  • Fewer standby’s may be needed.
  • Fewer officers or leaders needed.
  • ——————————–
  • Less input for fight strategies.
  • With fewer people, the fights may feel “less epic”.
  • More responsibility on each player.
  • Less room for error.
  • One in-combat resurrection available per fight.
  • Possible to miss certain raid buffs because of limited raiders.
  • Less room for error because of fewer players.
  • Raid composition may matter more (melee vs ranged).

The Choice is Yours

When you’re deciding on which side to go with, keep all of these things in mind. Some of the pro’s and con’s are the same. “More responsibility for each player” may be a good thing for your team or it may not be. You and your team are going to weigh these points differently, and that’s perfectly fine. It all goes back to what you want out of your team. Maybe you want the “epic feel” of 25man and don’t mind dealing with more people/schedules. Perhaps you like less gear competition but don’t mind putting more responsibility on each individual raider.

Remember, the same ilevel gear drops off of 10man vs 25man, so that’s no longer a factor. More gear drops on 25-man than on 10-man to even the scale. Also, Blizzard is still working on balancing the difficulty of the raid sizes, so one doesn’t feel noticeably harder than the other. Personally, I feel this is hard to achieve, but I’m fine with them getting it as close as they can.

As for me, we’ve decided on 10-man since the beginning. I don’t want to put in the extra effort needed to wrangle 24 other players, and we like the greater responsibility placed on each raider. We may not have that “epic” feel because we prefer a more intimate raiding environment. It’s not that I don’t enjoy 25man raiding, but I prefer 10man.

What about you and your team? Have you already made a decision? Are you split? What other pro’s and con’s can you add to the above list?

 

What You Should Know About Dark Intent

What You Should Know About Dark Intent

One of the burdens that comes along with being a healer is the unenviable task of buff management.  Druids have Mark of the Wild and can provide various buffs, depending on the form that they are in.  Paladins spent the last two expansions dealing with the constant bickering about which blessing each person in the raid wanted and coordinating that effectively.  Priests have Power Word: Fortitude and Shadow Protection.  Shamans have a similar responsibility to paladins, in terms of coordinating which shaman will drop what totem and which one doesn’t stack with which existing raid buff and so on.  Having people in your raid who are understanding and willing to communicate openly and amicably with you can certainly make this process much easier.

There are also buffs that can be provided to a raid that are not meant for the entire raid to have or to be able to enjoy.  Whereas the above mentioned buffs can be distributed pretty evenly to those in need, certain buffs can involve some amount of discussion and even competition for those resources.  These buffs can include, but are not limited to Power Infusion, Hysteria and Focus Magic.  One of the more highly coveted buffs, Focus Magic is a buff provided by arcane mages and works as follows:

In the past, the arcane tree was the clear choice for raiding mages and any mage worth their salt would carry around a Focus Magic macro, which would show who was going to receive each mage’s buff.  Sadly, it usually went a little something like this:

Mage 1 — >  Mage 2 — >  Mage 3 — >  Mage 1

Eventually, things changed and arcane was no longer the clear winner in the DPS race and was replaced by fire. Focus Magic was placed deep enough in the arcane tree where mages would not be able to spec fire and have enough points to reach down into the talent tree to take Focus Magic, too.  Despite a few mages clinging tightly to their arcane talents, due to believing the difference in DPS not being enough to completely rule the spec out, Focus Magic soon began to fall out of favor and its presence all but disappeared from raids.

In an attempt to homogenize classes and to ensure that certain buffs were not so class specific, Blizzard gave a similar spell to warlocks this expansion called Dark Intent and it looks a little something like this:

There are a number of immediately noticeable differences between the two abilities:

– Warlocks of all specs have access to Dark Intent, contrary to the tooltip that states Metamorphosis (a Demonology talent) is a pre-requisite.

– Only periodic damage or healing spells will trigger the effect.  Direct healing spells or direct damage that crits will not.

– Critical Periodic Damage can come from melee DPS, not just casters.

– The effects of Dark Intent can stack up to 3 times and increases overall periodic damage and healing done, not just the chance to crit.

So, warlocks have an amazing new buff to play with, that seems to appeal to a wider variety of classes and specs in the raid.  This undoubtedly brings up a number of questions.  Which classes or specs make the best choices to give Dark Intent to?  Should warlocks get to choose who they give their buff to?  Will Dark Intent really make that much of a difference in performance to make these questions relevant?  Let’s find out!

Who Should Get It?

One of my guildies linked a terrific guide found on MMO that shows the results of some theorycrafting that shows who the top choices are to receive Dark Intent.  The numbers are broken down, based on a number of criteria.  The results are separated based on overall raid DPS gain, depending on which spec the warlock in question is and then based on personal DPS gain.  The numbers showing personal DPS gain were not divided up, based on the warlock’s spec, because there was no difference in the results.

Regardless of spec, for both raid and personal DPS gains, shadow priests were the top target for this buff, followed by balance druids, fire mages and feral druids.  For raid DPS gains, typically a survival hunter would be your next best bet after that, regardless of the warlock’s spec.  For personal DPS gains, a frost mage would be the next best choice, due to their high crit rating and the DoT from Frostfire Bolt.  Interestingly, Dark Intent does not work to full capacity, when placed on another warlock.  The haste stacks, but the stacked increase to periodic damage and healing does not.  The two warlocks in question would receive 6% haste from each other and nothing else.  Therefore, they and the raid stand to gain much more from Dark Intent by casting it on someone else.

Since Dark Intent can also increase healing, there are situations where healers may make a better choice for the buff than DPS would.  Resto druids are the clear winners here, followed by raid healing holy priests, resto shaman and then tank or single target healing holy priests.  Discipline priests and holy paladins were found to be the least favorable healers to receive this buff, due to their minimal usage of heal over time effects (in the case of discipline priests) or the near absence of those effects (in the case of the holy paladins).

Who Gets To Decide?

The usage of Focus Magic was never something that was something that had to be controlled or watched over by an officer or anyone in charge in any guild I have ever been in.  Most people would roll their eyes and sigh when they saw mages spam their Focus Magic macro in raid chat and would think nothing more of it.  The truth of the matter is that the person giving the buff, be it a mage or a warlock, has a personal stake in who they give Dark Intent to.  If they give it to someone who has periodic damage or healing capabilities, but is not geared for or does not have enough crit to support the stacks that come with it, nobody wins.  They should have every right to make that call and decide who will give them and the raid the best bang for their buck.

The only time that I feel an officer should intervene is if they see the warlock using poor judgment in who they give Dark Intent to.  If you see a holy paladin receiving Dark Intent a half dozen times on a raid night, I would pull the warlock aside and give them a stern talking to.  If you see warlocks taking bids on who gets the buff and not considering what is the best thing for themselves or the raid, I would put my foot down on that.  Let the warlock use their best judgment, until you realize that maybe they aren’t.

Does It Make A Difference?

You betcha!  Taking into account that the theorycrafting was done using Tier 11 BiS gear (iLevel 372), thousands of DPS could be at stake here.  Thousands!  Affliction warlocks giving Dark Intent to shadow priests led to the highest increase of raid DPS at 4131 DPS, followed by moonkin at 3462 DPS gained.  Demonology warlocks posted the next highest increase in raid DPS by giving the buff to a shadow priest.  That combination led to an increase of 3270 raid DPS, with moonkin giving an increase of 2598 DPS.  Destruction warlocks showed noticeably lower numbers, with the highest raid DPS increase being 3076 DPS, again working in tandem with a shadow priest.  Each spec showed the highest personal DPS gain by working with a moonkin and showed an increase of 1999 DPS by doing so.

The bottom line, which has become a motto of sorts for this expansion is “Every little bit helps.” If using Dark Intent at the right time and on the right person is going to increase your chances to kill a boss faster or to heal through something with less stress and mana usage involved, I’m all for it.  I would not scoff at the increases you might see right now, just because they may not be as noticeable as the ones shown on the guide that I linked.  Encourage your warlocks to do the right thing and encourage those they decide to give Dark Intent to to use it to it’s fullest.  Having a buff that require two people to make the most of it only stands to increase the sense of teamwork and camaraderie that your raid as a whole should be experiencing towards each other.

It was always my understanding that warlocks were all about Fear and CorruptionWho would have thought such a class could be responsible for such warm, fuzzy feelings?

Raid Leading 101: What’s your motivation?

Welcome to Raid Leading 101! I’m Thespius, and I’ll be writing weekly about the in’s and out’s of what we see (or what you can expect to see) stepping into this coveted leadership role. I plan on covering a variety of individual topics: Tips, Lessons, Conflict, Loot Systems, Recruitment Systems, Scheduling, Add-ons, and whatever you feel needs to be covered. I am a new Raid Leader myself, so I look at this entire experience as a discovery. I’m certainly not perfect, but then again, no one really is.  If you have a topic you’d like covered on “Raid Leading 101″, email it to elder.thespius@gmail.com.

On your mark, get set, GO!

I don’t believe any of us woke up one morning thinking, “Wow, I think I’m gonna be in charge of 9/24+ people!” For the most part, our desire to lead has come from experience. You may have started raiding for the first time, and saw the command that the raid leader had. He/She knew the encounters inside and out and what everyone’s job needed to be. People listened to that “General” and obeyed orders.

OR, you had a horrible Raid Leader. Maybe you felt he/she didn’t have a good hold on the situation, using out-dated or unrealistic strategies. You just felt that the job wasn’t being done correctly, and you started to see all the things NOT to do. Therefore, you take it upon yourself to be a better and wiser Raid Leader.

In either scenario, you most likely learned from what you saw. Something in your past experience guided you to this position. You’re taking the lessons you learned and the stories you lived through, and you’re putting it towards your own system. You have a great trust in what you think is helpful and what is not. The question you have to ask yourself is, “Why?”

Meaning of Life My Leadership

I got my raiding feet wet in Karazhan, and I wanted more. My original guild <Sword Through the Horde> didn’t have the roster to do Serpentshrine Cavern or beyond. I joined <Rise of the Phoenix>. Drama on a low-population server tore it apart. I joined up with the newly-minted <Team Sport>, but the raiding was just too casual. I got cozy with <Concedo Nulli>, but drama crumbled that fun to the ground. I aligned myself with Lodur’s <Unpossible> and found a great home, but it was missing something.

I was missing the friends that I “grew up with” in the game. You’ll probably hear about them throughout this “column”. They’re near and dear to me, which is why I decided to go back to <Team Sport>. However, I knew (as they did) that we needed to implement a more solid structure. They all loved hearing the stories of our boss downings in <Unpossible>, and I would even invite my friend Jayme over to watch our Lich King kills. They were slightly jealous and wanted similar. It was at this point I started to tip-toe into the leadership position.

I’ve discovered that the most important thing to me is to progress through raid content with my friends that share the same mindset. There are 6-7 of us that share the similar belief of a light schedule but with solid progression. Hence, I’ve tasked myself with creating a Raid Team based around that. My closest in-game friends and I taking on 10-mans with force.

Your turn, Grasshopper

So you have to take an inward glance. If you’ve ever thought about taking the “Reins of the Raid”, you have to ask yourself, “Why?” It’s not an easy job, so you need to be passionate. Know what it is you want to accomplish, and stay true to what got you here in the first place. Maybe it’s friendship, maybe it’s hunger, maybe it’s adrenaline. Whatever it is, take some time to identify it. It’s going to be the backbone of your leadership.

What drives you to be the Raid Leader? What is it that convinced you to take on the role?

Raid Leading Backbone

**Image from “Patton” courtesy of 20th Century Fox Films**

I have a fault. Well, I have lots, but the one I’m going to talk about is my propensity to be “too nice”. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve hated confrontation. I wanted everyone to be happy. People in Team Sport (my guild) have called me “The Politician” (without all of the negative stigma from current American politics). I try to make sure everyone is listened to and catered to as much as possible.

However, with regard to leading Team Sport’s Raid Team, I’ve hit the biggest snag. I can’t be “The Politician”. I have to be a leader. Previous incarnations of Team Sport raiding were very casual. If people happened to be online that night, we raided. If not, no big deal. As time went on, I noticed a few of us were very passionate about getting a raid going, while others were very lackluster about the whole ordeal. I always tried to get us raiding while not being inconsiderate to those that weren’t interested that particular night. Everytime we came close to getting something solid going, it would fall apart. Someone would have a real life issue (totally understandable) or just randomly disappear on a WoW break. Each time it would fall apart, I would most likely take my raiding desires elsewhere but found myself always back in Team Sport once it looked like raiding was possible again.

With about 2 months left to the expansion, I worked with a buddy of mine to throw some much-needed structure into the system. It started out great. We did a merge with another small guild that had the same issues, and we killed 10-man Arthas within one month. This proved to me that our team has what it takes to be a good progression crew. We just need some structure and drive.

The Present

We’ve had a good amount of guildies return to the game from “retirement”. A lot of them seem incredibly excited to raid the current content. However, when I mention this new structure (scheduling, accountability, responsibility), a few have balked at it. The main goal of the team is to actually progress through content while it’s still current, not eventually bash through it when it’s old news and nerfed to the ground. To do that, I’ve been working diligently to implement some guidelines:

  • Consistency – I justly understand and sympathize with real-life issues. Sometimes I have to work late, or I have something important that needs to be taken care of on a raid night. However, the core of us have done what we can to work our schedules around being able to raid together. We raid 3 hours each night, 2 nights each week. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for core raiders to be consistently available (within reason…don’t miss the birth of your child or risk getting fired).
  • Responsibility – A cardinal rule of raiding is being prepared. Make sure your gear is enchanted and you have flask and food available. Take the time to look up the fights. Don’t take unannounced AFK breaks or breaks that are longer than what the Raid Leader has set forth. Pay attention and look for ways that you can contribute.

If a Team Sport raider can’t consistently be available, or just lacks responsibility and preparedness, they’ll be placed in a standby slot (at best) or just not on the team (at worst). I’ve made it clear that we’ll do more casual raiding nights any other evening of the week (akin to the “if we have people on, we raid” mentality), but the Raid Team core wants Tues/Thurs night to be focused and dedicated.

The Challenge

There are some that have thought that it is too much to ask. I’ve been told that I’m making raiding “feel too much like a job” and that I’m “taking the fun out of it”. Frankly, I expected this out of some. These are people that have always enjoyed the “casual” mentality of our old raid style. I don’t blame them. It was fun when we all had the time and were just kind of strolling around Azeroth, hittin’ up a raid when we could. However, many of us don’t have that kind of time or mentality any longer. That is the precise reason these changes were made.

I’ve been recruiting to fill those spots that were once occupied by the more casual players or ones with unpredictable schedules. It does pain me to be looking for other people instead of the long-standing Team Sport members that I’ve been playing with for 3+ years, but it’s just not fun for the Raid Team core to log on, and find out we’re not raiding because of people that we can’t rely on.

So the challenge I face: How do I institute this structure and work toward the raid’s success, while still maintaining in-game friendships with those that simply don’t want to be a part of a Raid Team like that?

Matticus already told me: “Don’t be friends with your raiders.” I get that. It makes sense. It’s why there are corporate rules of management not fraternizing with employees. It muddies the water. However, I feel it’s possible that I can be strict and firm with regard to the raid, and then just be myself whenever it’s not about the raid. The trick is to let them all know that’s what’s going on.

I need to continue to be firm on what the goal of the raid team is, and how we plan on achieving that. I also need to be diligent about communicating what’s going on with the raid and its raiders. If I make sure everyone’s aware of what’s expected, then they can’t legitimately get angry when something is not up to snuff.  I have to hold the raid accountable, as well as hold myself accountable.

Have you ever dealt with being a Raid Leader of your friends? What tricks have you used to keep things moving forward without sacrificing friendship?

On that note, Team Sport is looking for a melee DPS or two for core slots. Other roles are full. However, if you’re interested in being a part of the team in a standby role, those applicants are always welcome. Outside of raiding, we’re very active in PvP and regular casual gameplay. We’re an Alliance guild on the Ner’zhul server (PvP-PST). Further info and an application @ http://teamsport.guildlaunch.com.