How to cater to casuals without nerfing content.
I initially started responding to a post by Quigon in the Lady Vashj thread and realised I was going waaay off topic and thought it best to clarify my idea in a seperate thread. I searched recent posts (3 pages) as well as the shit heap and found no similar thread. If the moderators deem this unworthy then so be it, but these issues probably effect a larger majority of raiding guilds then you would think.
The problem for us, the less skilled and dedicated raiders, could easily be solved with serious loot upgrades.
We don't have the same amount of playtime/dedication levels as the top guilds, hence we dont have all the items out of 5-man's/heroics, dont have all the uber craftable items that are already > T5 etc. We don't have the time to farm for mass consumable useage to make up for this lack of gear either - nor do we want to. Also, it takes us longer to learn a new encounter.
All the prior raid instances had a handful of "easy" bosses at the start of the instance (save Vael) ... I mean, any guild that took enough time could realistically clear Spider Wing and Raz in Naxx (we have done so with 25ish post-TBC). These easy bosses dropped FANTASTIC loot that made latter encounter substantially easier.
Top guilds hammered these bosses and had them all dead in the first few days (or hours) and where moving onto harder ones (say, Patchwerk). Of course, they didn't have the gear to do it as they had barely any loot thus far, so they make up the gap with mass abuse of consumables. Working as intended, I doubt anyone disagrees with this.
The lesser guilds took many weeks to kill these easier bosses, and did not have enough gear to take on Patchwerk. But because the gear was substantially better then what they had, they just simply farmed what content they COULD do inorder to gear up for it, in the process making already completed encounters easier. Eventually, after time, they had enough gear to beat Patchwerk etc.
Fast forward to TBC.
The loot is horrible - no massive upgrades as going T1->T2->T3 was. Karazhan has the "easy" bosses are the start with the harder ones to the end, but there isn't SUBSTANTIAL upgrades available in there to make the encounters trivial as there was in Vanilla WoW. The loot is marginal upgrades, so to get the same effect as ONE item from a T2->T3 upgrade you need 2-3 collective upgrades to get the same boost in raid effectiveness.
The only reason I can think of (logically) for the horrible itemisation is the PvP balancing between raiders and non-raiders (refer to the " PvP Balancing and the (adverse) effects on PvE endgame" thread http://elitistjerks.com/showthread.php?t=10336).
If they took a look at the itemisation from TBC raid content and made them better then the 5-man loot it would make the raiding scene more accessable for casual raiding guilds. Make the T4 Equiv loot (Kara/Gruul/Mag) superior to all 5-man accessable gear ... it should hold the same degree of improvement as going from T1->T2 did.
I don't look at the difficulty thing as much of a gear check as you might. There are truly key differences in the caliber of players in top end guilds... as evident by the fact that most guilds and players posting here are basically as well equipped as anyone in DnT and Nihilum.
I also don't agree that Karazhan provides horrible upgrade (unless I read that wrong?). The problem is that 25 mans provide horrible upgrades to Karazhan and the readily available content.
Karazhan is a fantastic instance - but its 10 man. Its great, its neat... but the point was to have a direct carryover to 25 mans, instead of the big "fuck you" waiting for this domain of the raiding community, still just finishing up karazhan to this day.
Historically, all of the "Easy" vanilla WoW bosses were once very hard, with the exception of most MC bosses not actually taking a lot of time for many guilds past april of 05 (post Conquest strats). Vanilla WoW had stratification because it matured into a well tiered game, and the loot was accordingly apt. The game itself became exceedingly more difficult with each dungeon. Players had to learn to play in tiers.
BC offers nothing here to compensate. They expect us to mature into the current raid set over another couple of years. Which is stupid. The game should've had a full working, mature raid set from the gate. Karazhan was perfect - but I just think a nice 25 man with 10 bosses of not-too-extraordinary difficulty would have been nice. We're talking ZG, AQ20, maybe even early AQ40 level bosses... Just a small handful would have changed the entire face of how this pack was received at launch. Its not as if they're having problems releasing zones and textures and such?
You mentioned Naxx though, and you're absolutely right - it was so well done.
If something equivalent launched with BC, only 2 of the wings being all access (instead of 1), 1 and the frostwyrm final 2 being bleeding edge, with 1 being somewhere in between... that would've been win.
It's an intriguing question really and I'm torn about this. Yes I heard a few people state (Hey Gurg ;)) that there should be separate content for casuals and hardcores.
Before I can even think of that, the question is, where does hardcore begin and where is the transition to casual?
I never considered us casual, I considered us casual-friendly. We made it into early Naxx and we learned Twins with ease. But we never enforced specs, stacked raid or used full raid consumables. We used world buffs when it was convenient (was easy to organise with a Neffy, Ony and Hakkar body part to turn in every week). Most pot heavy encounter for us was probably Huhuran, with NR pots for the 15+, titans on tanks and some assorted additional pots for tanks. Some sprinkled damage pots for Twins was enough. Flasking tanks as needed was normal of course.
I get the feel that by current standards we are ostensibly casual. In Vanilla we felt that given time and effort we had a principle chance to see all content (or maybe at least up to Thaddeus & Gothik, which was as far as our server got as a whole). There was no clear division of "This is for you. Be happy with AQ40, and this is for the hardcore, they get to frolic in Naxx".
Yes some encounters did get tweaked and we may have never seen the hardest version of some bosses. But in the state we got them every boss had a learning curve and most was a step up from before (except early Naxx which was a step down from late AQ40 - didn't hear many complaints about that actually).
We farmed ZG/AQ20 for fun on the side.
Now on this question of nerfing content for casuals vs making new content. The first question is, where is the cut-off. Should well organised guilds with medium time-commitment and skilled people ever get beyond SSC or even make good progress in SSC? Should there be a ZG/AQ20 of TBC and everybody who in the past saw that content as icing to actual raiding but isn't sufficiently close to the very hardcore agree to downgrade to basically that content.
I think this is a difficult question. And the answer to have separate content kind of begs the question where to separate. In Vanilla, because things had time to develop things kind of allowed a natural gradient. Very casual just doing ZG/AQ20, then going further MC->Naxx and the distance you made it with your group/pace defined what's going on. There was no structural separation, but one of time commitment, preparedness and ability of the group.
As a side-note. if I'm frank (and I suspect some will dislike me saying this) I wouldn't mind the main discriminants of hardcore to casuals, aside from time-commitment be removed. I'd be happy if there were no raid-relevant consumables in the game whatsoever. I'd be very happy if the main discriminant for killing a boss is learning to execute, after learning the puzzle of abilities the boss provides. I suspect that a need for separate casual content would be somewhat less if what defines you killing a boss, is whether you can understand and learn an encounter. But back to the topic.
If I'm honest I liked the old system. I liked that we had a challenge ahead for our level whereever we were at (for that reason I sympathize that the very hardcore want the same) but I also like that there was no content that was explicitly stamped "For hardest of hardcore only, do not enter". But I can see why people don't want content nerfed... if it's actually tuned to proper skill levels.
But then, I think skill never was the major roadblock in progression. Stuff can be learned if you have a group that has a learning capacity.
But maybe the cut-off point is kind of idle. I do agree that there should be more content at an entry level. Stuff like ZG/AQ20, but there also should be a full length instance at 25-man size that has an entry level feel (and by entry level I don't mean another MC, I mean an instance that with typical gear and moderate preparation can be mastered by learning execution, which can well be very technical as far as I am concerned). If that isn't a nerfed SSC it'd be neat if it naturally led into SSC to give a natural progression for everybody.
Consider the current incarnation of SSC as (heroic). Raise the i-level of items in the heroic SSC. Have Vashj drop 4-10 vials as a heroic kill.
Allow a normal mode SSC - no trash respawns ever / balanced around non-consumable use - keep the i-level of items the same as current. Have Vashj drop 1-2 vials as a normal mode kill. Rinse and repeat system for future dungeons.
The incentive to progress through content faster with higher level rewards is there - while more natural guilds have the ability to experience the game and work towards something more long term.
Even 1 vial at a time for 25-30ish weeks seems a better shot then how things are now. I say let people have their 1 vial Vashj kills. Its a much better feeling then being face slammed every week.
Talking about SSC makes no sense when talking about catering to casuals.
The central problem is that every instance from Kara. up is on a par with at least BWL in sheer *difficulty* terms, irrespective of gear or consumables, which are separate questions.
There's no equivalents to UBRS, ZG, AQ20 or MC.
The end-game 5-mans provide a lovely scaling set of difficulties from something like Steamvaults up to Black Morass. Heroics are less tuned - some are ridiculously hard, others not so hard, and the trash/boss difficulty ratio is all askew.
If I were redesigning TBC from scratch, I'd make the Heroics into 10-man versions of the 5-man instances and tune appropriately. And I'd make Kara. a 20-man raid, tuned appropriately. That gives you your UBRS - lots of them(!) in the form of the Heroics. It gives you a ZG/AQ20 equivalent in Kara. to bridge you over into the end-game 25-man raids.
And sure, they'd be tuned harder than the vanilla equivalents - casual doesn't mean stupid or incompetent! But not up to BWL levels of difficulty for Karazhan. That's just silly.
It'd also ease keying problems - if you can key 10 players on a Heroic run instead of 5, that helps (especially since what usually happens is that the core tank and healers end up escorting the DPS and attuning them 2-3 at a time - that could go up to 7-8 attunements per run)
I don't know about you guys, but I know exactly where to look if I need to know how this should've been done in TBC.
Whatever formula, general design path, basic idea etc they where using, it worked. They got 7-8 million players and most people, even 'casuals', where happy at the end. Smaller guilds could play around in the 20 man instances and get some pretty decent loot, hardcore guilds ran about in Naxx.
There's no reason to re-invent the wheel.
Except, perhaps, the fact that wow is now adding a 'proffesional' PvP thingey where PvP/PvE imbalance actually has some real concerns above and beyond some PuG beeing steamrolled by a PvE geared team.
Pretty sure the best solution to everything would be EQ style exansions. Casuals could go from wiping in MC/BWL to wiping in AQ/Naxx because of the power increase due to levels, top of the line raiders would progress straight from Naxx into future raids as soon as they capped. Repeat for each expansion. No devaluing old content, straight pure progression.
As someone who went from hardcore to casual in EQ, one of the *huge* frustrations for me was that you'd end up buying an expansion and only be able to experiance it's content a year down the line. I'd pay £30 for something whose only value was letting me go back and complete something I paid £30 12 months ago. I really think that although EQ's raiding structure helps the more hardcore tendances, and it does promote a tiered approach that really, demonstratably works, it's actually really bad as a selling point to the average player.
It also in the long term put a severe cap on progression - you couldnt just buy the latest expansion, you had to buy everything previous to that as well. I think Blizzard are aiming for each expansion to be a mini-reset, simply because it allows the more casual gamer an easy and quick catchup.
Another point is, well, not only did difficulty/gear increase over progression, so did learning.
MC was basicly; bring tank, bring plenty of healers, tank 'n' spank and heres your loot.
BWL was more alike control your DPS, control your threat
AQ was something more along the line of multitasking and general more raid wide contribution needed.
Naxx ended up mostly as a BWL/AQ40 mechanics v2.
Problem now is that everything is already learnt by the majority of the raiding playerbase, so all things can do in terms to get harder is simply ante on these mechanics and further up the numbers.
Mag in his state now (2 teams not 4) is close to perfect for helping to teach some basic raid co-ordination & multi tasking ala AQ40 without being super-toned up in terms of pure difficulty.
However unless gear allows for pure advancement on the number front (think Vael, first with some FR, eventually you need 0 FR except perhaps on some tanks) they simply wont be able to have content with pre-existing mechanics going from v2 to v3 to v4... etc
I think having it all be one linear thing with Blizz guaranteeing new content for the very fastest is one way to think about this. Another idea, that I find more appealing is having lots of non-linearized content, where slower folks can pick and chose, and in fact skip.
Take ZG. Noone needed to do ZG to progress through MC/BWL. Purely optional content. It was in fact done right because hardcore would still want to do it for the enchant. Same for AQ20, purely optional content, with incentives for hardcores due to the book drops (maybe these should have been BoP).
Even more a guild who had the skill could decide to skip most if not all of AQ40 and go straight to Naxx and have success. If vanilla was heavily linearized, this wouldn't have been possible.
I felt that was a good thing because it didn't frustrate people into being stuck somewhere, when they actually had the capacity to do harder content.
But TBC has gone very linear so it's away from having a lot of content that is accessible to a lot of folks, to having a lot of content that is, due to the linearisation, only accessible to a much smaller group.
I'd really like to see more optional content that due to the benefits it offers is attractive to intensive raiders. You go there because it helps you but at the same time gives less time-heavy folks accessible content to grind their teeth on.
It avoids the "stuck" feel while giving everybody something.
And by having content accessible more, people who feel they have the capacity could actually catch up to the frontlines and not be structurally stuck behind, while those that want to go casual, don't have to fear to be stuck way behind forever and never even set foot into certain places that just sound way cool lore-wise (Mt. Hyjal for example).
I really think there are good ways to have stuff to do for everybody and not frustrate specific playing styles and in fact have content that caters towards all ends at the same time.
I really felt that in principle vanilla did that right, with all major instances being in principle accessible to everybody. That doesn't mean all content was accessible to everybody, you still needed to clear Naxx, or AQ40 or BWL to see all the content there, but there was access granularity that help avoiding putting folks on very rigid tracks and promoting the feeling that is a lot of content that you may well never see just because it's structurally set up to be impossible to even set foot in there.
And if you hit a brickwall at one encounter there was other encounters to consider. So you are blocked at C'Thun later on for whatever reason. Try Razuvious or Anub (a number of raid groups on my server never killed C'Thun and headed to Naxx, certainly good for these raid groups, ripping through Spider wing like they should). Very refreshing to have this option, but I understand that the very frontliners don't experience that but it's in fact a good game feature and kept a lot of not-so-frontline raiders happy. Naxx internal structure also had that feel, so you wanna try a new boss because Gothik isn't clicking? Well you got that choice. Naxx is only partially linearized and gives options, which is a very neat overall feature)
Maybe the fact that people can catch up is a scary thought but it really shouldn't be. The most skilled and most intense folks will always cream the crop.
That's why I don't like linearization (and please don't flame me for it Xi ;))
I think you fail to realize the power of the marketing. The reason this game has however bamillion users, is not because the game caters to the miniscule percentage of players like yourself, it's because the marketing is constantly whispering in the other 7,999,999 user's ears that they could potentially one day be at the same level you are (sooner rather than later). By doing what you suggest it would slap every person who ever thought they might have what it takes to be a "rock star" squarely in thier face, which would drop subscriptions like a 3 foot putt.
Blizzard doing basically a soft reset at tbc and even going a step further and making 5 man loot fairly similar to raid loot is a stroke of marketing genius. It gives every casual what they want, a fighting chance at being on a similar plane to people that basically dedicate thier lives to the pursuit of being 'the best'. That is what keeps people playing this game. When casual people log in and see the uber guilds whining about how their loot is barely an upgrade it just fuels the 'have nots' even more.
The hardcore folks will always battle to be one step above the 'casuals' no matter how much they have to sacrifice to do it. Blizzard is just making people work that much harder to be a step ahead, and the step isn't that much further ahead. What ends up happening, is people figure out how much they really want to be ahead of everyone else. Then we get what we're seeing now, more people dropping out of raiding scene and enjoying the other aspects of the game because they don't feel like they're missing out on that much. I'm telling you, this is genius.
*an aside to the whole thing: Personally, I was a bit disappointed in WoW in general because I was deeply hoping it would not become what every other mmo before it was, a raid rat race. I for one, was really hoping that factions would be playing the major role in character progression. Relationships with factions providing rewards (outside of raid instances) and progression was a big hope of mine since it made a TON of sense in the warcraft theme. Sadly it wasn't the case. In all seriousness, why in the world was the precedent for progression always funneled into raiding? I can see raiding as a source of maybe income (treasure perhaps?) but for specific armor/weapons? It doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense to me. Weren't these weapons/armors crafted out in the world? Seems to me maybe going out in the world to try to find rare materials (that don't come from a monster's belly) and using your faction relationship with very important artisens to form your gear would have been a little better. Pinata is pretty goofy in the grand scheme of things...
Blizzard want to keep PvP as a major playstyle - hardly surprising (player-generated content is far cheaper than paying a bunch of devs to develop and "tune" PvE raid content).
This being the case, raiding will imo become less and less the realm of "casual" players. Why should they beat their heads against the same content for weeks on end, with it not getting appreciably easier due to the small incremental gear increases dictated by the need to balance with PvP? Why not just form a few teams and get the same level of gear for less time, less effort and less cost in both durability and consumables?
Add to the above some frankly insane pre-req chains to even get into the later raid instances and why raid at all as a casual?
Given this, raiding will naturally drift towards an "all or nothing" philisophy surely? The best/most organized raiding guilds will bust their ass to get everyone attuned and hit up the raid instances asap. For more casual guilds getting 30+ members through all the attunements is just asking for guild drama of the "you aren't putting enough effort in/aren't hardcore enough" variety. These casuals are also unlikely to ever see top end content before it is obsoleted - how many raiding guilds actually killed Kel?
People used to whine about the Onyxia quest chain for a reason, TBC is the biggest quest chain ever introduced from a raiding perspective - and the loot isnt even good along the way.
Given Blizzard's extremely slow development time (for good reasons for sure), IMO the only solution is to cater to the middle of the road guilds. Nerf everything so its pretty much at Karazhan or slightly higher level of difficulty. The extremely hardcore guilds (most of EJ readership really) will be disgusted and quit WoW, but the majority of players will be happy and many, many more people will raid. Especially with checkpoints/wings/etc, such that you only need to raid 2-3 hours to complete a wing.
By creating tiered raiding content without a matching development speed, all you do is let the hardcore rush to the end and get stuck/bored, the middle guilds get stuck early and never see the end, and casual raiders get completely left out of raiding.
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