Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

Archive for January, 2012

Life as a Casual Raider

I was listening to the Double O podcast today (Episode 15: “Breakup to Makeup.”) This is relevant because while there are no guests, O2 does spend some time talking about a trend in the blogosphere for people to leave the game, switch to another game, or in our case, just take a step back. I can’t really respond to Ophelie’s statement that Voss and I were anything other than regular raiders. (i.e. quintessential raiders or something, her words, certainly not mine). I mean, I’m flustered to think that anybody “looks up” to me. But that sense of obligation was a part of what kept me going for so long, because I find it hard to let anybody down.

Something that Oestrus said hit me even more, though. She remarked that a tendency when responding to goodbye/I’m leaving or changing type posts is for people to be sad or regretful. And it IS natural to feel sad about it, but at the same time she made a great point: That you also have to be happy for the person, because clearly this is something they need, and she’s absolutely right. When I wrote my last post, I was still somewhat reeling from the events that had happened. It’s true, the straw that tipped it for me was not big. It was pretty miniscule, but the cumulative effect of carrying the straws was what broke me. It wasn’t a feather’s weight, it was that feather on top of everything else. Now that it’s been a few weeks of casual raiding, let me tell you about it.

I am drunk on the sensation of free time. I really am. I have an underlying health condition that I haven’t written about because it’s not relevant to a WoW blog, and my health is closely tied to my diet and exercise. It always felt like a huge struggle before. I’d try to cook healthy meals (I love cooking) but I’d have to start them really early so we could walk the dog as soon as Voss came home and even then we’d have to eat our food really quickly and bolt. That was on a good day. On a bad day, it was more like both of us were too tired to cook so we’d end up ordering in or picking something up, eating that and not walking the dog at all. That was before. Now, a delirious array of possibilities has opened up before me. I’ve cooked so many awesome meals. If I’m missing an ingredient, Voss swings by the store on his way home and then I cook it. We walk the dog a bit later (during what would have formerly been a raid time). There’ve been Former Raid Nights where I went downstairs and worked out while watching a movie at my leisure, then laid back and read a book, or worked on From Draenor With Love, or whatever. After just a few weeks of raiding casually (only once a week) I’ve lost six pounds and gained energy I didn’t even know I had. I feel amazing. I can’t believe I put this off for so long, but I can say absolutely and unequivocally that it was the right decision for Voss and I.

I’ve experienced slight pangs of guilt (like when a guildie tells me they’d still wish to raid every night) and that’s hard, but for me to have kept on the way we were going would have been wrong. Voss and I started playing Warcraft because we’re that annoying couple that is inseparable. We are best friends and we do everything together. The raiding situation was putting a strain on us we didn’t even realize. He didn’t want to do it, I felt obligated to do it, he was doing it grudgingly to keep the peace – it was just bad. I told him, “If you tell me that this [game] is affecting our relationship, it’s over, without a second thought. You are 100% my priority.” But he never felt right asking that of me, so it had to come from me, but I see now how it WAS affecting our relationship negatively. Now, he can stay at work late if he needs to without worrying. He doesn’t always have to rush home. We have more time to go on date night whenever, not only on Tuesdays. I’m rediscovering what it’s like to play because and when I want to, and I hadn’t realized how far I’d strayed from that.

That is the key here, for anyone in any situation. Hardcore raider, partcore raider, 5 nights a week, one night a week. If it’s what you want to be doing then it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing! A number of people have linked to my post or commented that it made them evaluate their own relationship with WoW. (To borrow from Double O again, it IS like a relationship). We don’t all have the same experience, drives or motivations. For me, I knew that I was neglecting my health in favour of the game, and so I can’t be apologetic about my decision. I’ve had a few people tell me they’ve had so much fun with our raids since we “went casual.” I think last week they cleared DS in about two hours and then ended early. My only concern is that it can’t last because some people will get bored of the limited schedule and seek something more intense – but I can’t and wouldn’t change what they want to suit what I want, so that’s something we’ll have to face when we get there. I’m not going to worry about it prematurely or borrow trouble. Everyone has to do what makes them happy and will be best for them.

I would be lying if I said I haven’t had pangs. Every time I see a heroic kill announcement, a part of me inside has a pang. When I realize that I won’t get the achievements for heroic kills – another pang. I thought about seeing if anybody would be willing to go back into Firelands with me to try to keep building a Dragonwrath, and then I thought – you know what, I don’t want to spend the time it would take to do that, when I could spend that time on something in my real life. So I’m able to login for one raid a week, the overhead is very low – one roster, one schedule, one night, it takes about twenty minutes – and otherwise I login if I really feel like playing and hanging out. When I’m done, I logout again. This game has been part of my life too long (four years!) to just say “I’m done with it,” but I have definitely eased off the throttle. It feels great. I am doing great. Can I say “great” again? Except for the fact that the fire mage nerf landed today. That is somewhat less great. In fact, the opposite of great.

Let’s all have a moment of silence for the burning that was. We’ll still be singeing our enemies, just about 6% less. Every good thing has its time, right?

Business Time, Hard Modes, and the “C” Word

I thought that it started when our most recent tank recruit went missing. Voss pointed out that actually, it started when our DK tank stopped raiding about a year ago, and thereafter followed a cascade of turnover such as we’d never tackled before. Constant recruiting is wearing on a team, and the subsequent struggle as new players joined and the recruitment pool shallowed have made this a fairly hellish year for one small tens guild. Obviously, I can’t claim to speak for all guilds, and never have. I’m sure many guilds have had great years, and I’m happy for you. But not in this post, because this post is all about me, and my guild.

Players dropped out one by one, with expressions of regret. They weren’t leaving for greener pastures, they were just leaving. “Tired of raiding,” “Not really feeling it,” “Would rather be doing something else.” I used to say to Voss jokingly, “We’ll stop recruiting if we lose x number of players at a time, or we’ll stop recruiting if we lose x percentage of our original team.” (I never followed through on that, by the way). Each time we lost someone, I’d hit the forums and WoW Lemmings. I’d refresh tirelessly throughout the day in-between work I was doing. I’d write personalized messages to convince people that BT was the guild they wanted to be in. For the most part, it worked. But it was like a full-time job. I spoke to potential applicants, fielded questions, did my best marketing pitch. I was always positive about the guild, and always happy to bring people to it, because I believed in the small community we’d made and wanted people to join it.

Meantime, our progression started slipping. From a One-Light and a Tribute to Insanity to an H LK guild we slipped – to a 7/13 H guild, then a post-nerf 6/7 H guild, and finally, in this tier, a 0/8 H guild. Vosskah was right – the missing tank was only the last straw in an uphill battle I feel I’ve been waging all year, a struggle to stay above water.

I’d committed to raiding Dragon Soul despite a deep tiredness that was underscored by the loss of my Grandfather at the end of November. It caused me to question many things personally – was I spending too much time on what is, ultimately, a video game? Did I want this to be such a major feature of my life? Could I reinvest my energy in another area? Who would I be if I wasn’t the guild leader of Business Time? How central was it to my identity? And more importantly, to me, how could I let everyone down like that?

It was a question that pushed me to start out in Dragon Soul even though I was tired, even though I knew I wasn’t doing my best as guild leader any more. I wasn’t logging in as often as I should, I wasn’t pursuing applicants as aggressively as I should. I wasn’t keeping up with the standards I had set for myself, and when our tank failed to show up for last Wednesday’s raid, I had a sinking feeling. A day went by with no word from him, two days. We still hadn’t heard, and I realized as the weekend loomed, two facts:

He wasn’t coming back.

I didn’t have the heart to replace him.

In a moment, just like that, I was done. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, as if a lethargy had settled over me. I knew that if that’s how I felt, I had to come clean to the guild and tell them exactly how I felt. So I did, in an epic post that will remain for BT’s eyes only. I talked about our struggles, I talked about how damn proud I was of them, and more than anything I told them how sorry I was that I just didn’t have any more left to give. I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be, and I couldn’t even clearly articulate what had driven me to this point. I knew that by posting it, I was acknowledging the possibility that the guild would disband, or at least dissipate. It was a hard realization, but it was a choice between the dissolution of the guild and the continuing impact on my personal life and I think, my health. Please note (because guildies do read) that I have to write this for myself, to get it all off my chest and to sort through it, and none of it is meant as an accusation or a criticism of the folks in BT. Of course they aren’t perfect, and neither am I (duh) but really, there’s no hindsight ‘if only this’ or ‘if only that.’ Burnout happens. I think that ‘victims’ of burnout are probably often to blame because they failed to delegate properly, or even to give warning signs that they were feeling that way. That is absolutely my failing. I’m a firm believer that strong leadership doesn’t show weakness because as soon as you show signs of faltering, the entire team begins to doubt. In this case, I did us all a disservice because there was little warning. I posted that I needed some help, around the end of November, and then the beginning of January I was saying: I need to not be guild leader.

I blithely pretended that our slow progression through heroics didn’t frustrate me. Of course it did, it frustrated all of us. What we were selling (a hard mode progression guild) wasn’t matching up with the reality: a guild that did hard modes but not all of them, and lately, a guild increasingly struggling with hard modes. Our new tank was very green and hadn’t done hard mode raiding at all. It was evident that he would have to learn, even before he disappeared. Underscoring all of it, I felt, was a sense of ennui.

Forums that used to be hopping with activity in the strategy threads slowly dwindled to very little discussion. Mumble grew silent on progression nights. Voss admitted to me that he didn’t have the interest in hard modes that he’d once had, and I had to admit I felt the same. Was Business Time doing hard modes because we liked to do them, or were we trying to do them because they were what we’d always done? I asked myself this and many other questions. In the wake of my massive forum post, a few guildies spoke up. They wanted to have a meeting so that we could talk about what I’d said, and what the potential outcome might be.

I prepared for the meeting with open eyes: There were three potential outcomes to this kind of guild shakeup.

1) Someone could step forward and assume leadership of the guild, with the realization that it would take a lot of time and work and recruiting. With Vosskah and I ceasing raiding, at the least, they’d need two new tanks and another DPS and a healer who’d also declared his intent to slow raiding.

2) I considered this a compromise between the two options; Business Time could decide to go casual, scale back our raiding operations significantly, and no longer attempt hard mode progression.

3) We could cease all raiding completely (effectively an end to the guild).

Option two was my favourite, and I even admitted that in light of the reduced requirements of option two, I would be willing to remain guild leader. We wouldn’t really recruit except friends and social members if folks had anyone they wanted to bring aboard. Every single guild member attended the meeting, and every single guild member voted for option two. (I am not so secretly pleased that, like a true DPS, I tricked my guild into spamming “two.” That might only be funny to me.)

So from there we had to figure out just what shape option two would take. Would we raid on the same day? For the time being we’ve agreed to make it a variable day based on availability each week, as well as tracking who has to sit (because we still have a roster of thirteen) so that nobody has to sit unfairly. This week we’re raiding Monday, and I’ll admit, it feels completely weird to be writing this on a Wednesday. Wednesday is Raid Day. All night I’ve been wandering around a bit lost, cooking supper at a leisurely pace, browsing the internet, chatting with Voss, and letting it sink in. For two years, we were raiding any two to three days of Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. He’d come home, we’d cook supper hurriedly (or I’d have it ready beforehand) and we’d race to be online a half hour before raid time. Even on a night when we were on standby, we’d often check in to make sure we weren’t needed. We’d check the forums for any “I’m not going to be able to make it” messages. We’d prepare the raid roster, although in recent weeks that task has been assumed by another officer. We’d talk about the roster and any difficulties. Every day may as well have been an “officer meeting.” I don’t feel at liberty to go into Voss’ personal reasons, but we were both exhausted.

What made it even harder though, was that we were tired of the raiding, not the people we were raiding with. I think many hobbies do have an expiry or a limited time on them. Gaming in general is a life-long hobby for me. Even WoW itself I have played for almost four years now. I couldn’t turn my back on the raiding without feeling that I was turning my back on ‘my guys.’ So to say I was absolutely astonished at the guild meeting is putting it mildly. I steeled myself to this decision. I wrote the post. I sat there crying for five minutes while my mouse button hovered over the “submit” button, feeling like I was pulling the trigger on something I loved, that had been a huge part of my life for two years.

I was pretty shocked when I decided to turn away from my guild, and they wouldn’t let me.

We went down the list of people, giving each a chance to talk about their feelings and goals. Many admitted that their life circumstances had changed since we first started raiding. Their enthusiasm for hard mode content had waned, their time available to play the game had been reduced, but they still loved playing with all of us. “I love you guys,” our rogue declared.

“You’re going to make me CRY,” I admonished them all. (Cry AGAIN, that is).

“Yeah, we actually agreed to do that beforehand, it was an e-mail FWD titled, ‘Let’s see if we can make her cry.’”

*pause*

“Voss was in on it.”

I don’t want to get into my feelings about hard modes in general, encounter design, or why I think Ulduar was still the best raid I’ve ever done. Perhaps that’s for another post, and anyway, that strays into “maligning the way other people play” territory. I still respect hard mode raiders, it just took a great loss and a potential second loss to make me realize that I’m no longer one of them. I don’t have the drive to succeed at that level of content that I once did, and you know what? For the time being, I’m okay with that. Ironically, considering my last post, we had just as much fun messing around in LFR last week when our tank didn’t show up. We like the time spent raiding together, and that’s not dependent on the content we’re doing.

All of this to say: I’m still a guild leader. I’m now the guild leader of a one-night-a-week, social and casual raiding guild. It feels a bit odd, but I’m sure it will grow comfortable over time. I don’t know what the future will bring – there may come a time when commitments or other interests drag people away from the game altogether. But as I told Business Time at our guild meeting, even if they quit to play Diablo III: Battle.net allows us to play that together. Those who are playing SWTOR have made characters in our little sister guild. I have a lot of the guys on Steam. If I’m playing any multi-player game, I want to be doing it with them. If that’s what I take away from this game the day the servers go dark – friends that transcend any particular game, any specific pixels – that’s more fortune than any person could ask for. I’m humbled, I’m proud, and as of this week – I’m also casual. It feels good.

Looking For: Community

I was a bit late getting my Christmas shopping done this year, so I found myself in a department store at the jewelery counter. You can imagine the kind of swarm that exists around any department store’s jewelery counter at this time of year. (Vosskah and I have been laughing at a radio ad we heard in which a middle-aged lady is listing all of the possible gifts to be found at [Store], “Sweaters! Perfume! Jewellery,” and she utters the last word with the kind of lusty eroticism I never expected to hear on the radio. Jewellery is a Big Thing, apparently).

So the department is crowded; I’m only there to find some clip-on earrings for my Grandma, and a kindly lady shows me how they are mixed in and where I can look, etc. I feel for this woman because she is clearly petrified and it’s her first day on the job. When I find the earrings I want and am paying for them, she is taking the time to get gift boxes for them, and tissue paper to go along with the sweater I was also buying. She’s not moving at light speed, but I think it’s a reasonable length of time for a transaction. Before my things have even been bagged, though, the lady behind me has moved up to the jewellery counter and is placing her items while impatiently asking, “Is it possible to get some service here?” I’m still inputting my PIN into the machine at this point and the lady is almost shoulder to shoulder with me. The poor woman helping me finishes up our transaction while the woman training her takes over for Ms. Can’t Wait Two Minutes. I walk away from the jewellery department exclaiming to Voss, “Did you SEE that?”

As far as these stories go, it’s a pretty mild one. Entitled lady doesn’t think that waiting in line is necessary, she wants service and she wants it now. She’s the real life equivalent of a “go go go”-er. However quickly things are moving, it’s not fast enough for her. They’re unpleasant in real life as they are in a video game, and I’m afraid that more and more the game is tailored to them.

I've been taking screenshots of LFR chat here and there since the patch, here's one of them with more to follow.

This is fairly radical for the erstwhile Pugging Pally to admit, but I don’t like LFD. I don’t like LFR. Wait, before you scroll to the bottom and start typing an angry comment, let me clarify. I understand the dilemmas that LFD and LFR were introduced to address. I’m not one of the elite raiders who feels that only 1% of people playing the game should see end-game content. I don’t need other people excluded from things so that I can feel awesome about myself. It turns out, it is possible to have your internet dragon and loot it too. No one else can take away from your accomplishments in-game because they’re yours. So that’s not my problem. And on the surface, LFD and LFR work. You want a dungeon? You can be doing one anywhere from instantly to twenty minutes later, most any time of day. It turns out that the same is true for LFR; you probably won’t wait in a queue longer than twenty minutes and probably less for that, too. I have run LFR solo, I’ve run it with my guild, I’ve run it with just a few friends. I’ve done it as a druid, a paladin, and a mage. I’ve had plenty of experience with it. And here’s where I think the problem lies.

What it purports to do, and what it actually does – are two completely different things. In theory, LFD and LFR lets you get together and cooperate with a group of people to achieve a group goal: killing internet dragons of various ilks. In practice, they mask singular goals with the illusion of group play. Yes, you have to more or less cooperate to successfully complete an LFD or an LFR run. But are you there to cooperate, or are you there to acquire loot/VP? Herein lies the problem. Once upon a time, I used to run dungeons yes, to acquire emblems or points or gear or whatever, but also because just running dungeons was fun. On my old server, I had a massive friends list of people who might want to run a dungeon at any given time. If nobody felt like trying to run a dungeon, I would hit Trade or the now-defunct Looking For Group channel. It wasn’t elegant, but generally it worked. More importantly, it allowed me to make friends and build a reputation for myself as a nice/fun and competent person to run with. I did this across several characters. Usually, if I felt like running a dungeon, I could make a group to do so. If I couldn’t manage a group, I’d put it off and do something else.

Now before you counter that it’s still possible to assemble groups this way, it’s true, but unlikely. I’ve tried. I can usually gather up guildies to run things if enough are interested and perhaps if I wait a bit. I’ve tried different channels to ask if people want to run something, with very little response. I can check my same-server friends’ list and usually folks are raiding or already IN a dungeon. And why wouldn’t they be? Joining one as a tank or a healer takes all of ten seconds. You can’t blame people for taking the path of least resistance. I’m more likely to group up with friends on other servers – many times, friends I have made via this blog and Twitter. So I’m in the interesting position of having to build a reputation as a good player outside of the actual game in order to run with people I enjoy playing with. I’m sure my server has such people, but it’s unlikely I will find them because they’re either running with their own guild, or running quick pugs with LFD.

This was a guy raging on Zon'ozz because no other healers were dispellers (I joined the group after they'd wiped on Zon'ozz).

So it goes with LFR. And I will be completely honest – yes, there are good parts of LFR, but overall LFR alarms me because of what it represents, and because of its potential impact in many different ways. First of all, if someone gets their introduction to raiding through LFR I fear for what they think raiding actually IS like. A raid full of people face-pulling the boss, ignoring strats, backtalking each other and constantly squabbling, ninjaing loot they shouldn’t have (feral druids winning Int gear, I’m looking at you). LFR is a bad LFD pug writ large, with a proportionately larger number of Go Go Gos and bad attitudes. The issue with LFD and LFR both are that the majority of people feel that they’re being put in a position where they have to ‘put up with’ other people to get what they want. It’s not an opportunity to meet new folks or make friends, how could it be? There is no additional benefit to befriending people via LFD, and even if there were, you’d need to be willing to add that person via Real ID to take advantage of it. Most of us won’t do that.

Now, Blizzard has taken some steps towards addressing these issues. They acknowledged the erosion of server community by coding a preference in LFD to group you with same-server folks wherever possible. I think it was a bit too little too late, though, because most of us are already conditioned to join the group, begin killing things with the other four, faceless and anonymous people in our group, hope that it’s a “good group” so we collect our loot, points, or whatever and then move on to the next group. I’ll sometimes remark, “Hey, we’re both from this server!” and the reaction is almost always the equivalent of a shrug. If I don’t mention that we’re from the same server, then it usually doesn’t get mentioned. There’s a confusion of paradigm in what exactly is being awarded. So we’re grouped with people from our server; but tanks and sometimes healers can also obtain a satchel of loot if they are willing to join on their own. Even if a pug tank likes the group of four he/she is put with, there’s no benefit to them for staying with that group, and there is benefit to dropping group and re-queuing to obtain another satchel.

The second thing Blizzard is doing is introducing the “Battle Tag” system (currently being tested in Diablo III) that is probably what Real ID should have been all along. You’ll be able to choose a pseudonym that others will see if you choose to friend each other mutually, and gain the benefits of Real ID without letting people know your real name. This has the potential to enable friends lists to transcend server restrictions, and possibly even make reputation matter again to a certain extent. You could build a network of folks you’ve run with and would like to run with again, no matter what server they are on. For me this has great potential, and I’m watching it with interest to see what develops. I don’t just want to whine about things uselessly – I recognize that LFD and LFR were introduced with a purpose. Especially for smaller population servers, and for dungeon grouping while leveling, these systems have been a great boon. They enabled myself and other players to see lower level dungeon content that we probably didn’t have the opportunity to see before. Assembling lowbie groups was always a bit of a crap shoot – find four other people near your level, traipse out to the dungeon (possibly located in a place you hadn’t been, or you had to get there without a mount). Now we get mounts at level 20 so that’s much less of a concern, but LFD has made that completely moot anyway. It’s never been easier to join a group to do a dungeon, or as it turns out, a raid. At least, something raidish, with a raidish shape.

The overall DPS of this group WAS pretty low. I wasn't going to say anything about it, though.

I am concerned that LFR takes my favourite part of the game (raiding) and makes it so effortless yet empty to me. When you can roll in and kill Deathwing in under two hours, where is the impetus to join a long-standing, dedicated raiding group? Is it going to be worth it to the average player to say “I killed it on normal mode,” or “I killed it on heroic mode?” It was already reasonably tough to find people driven to complete heroic modes – what about now, when there seems to be three options of difficulty? I’ve had at least one friend privately confide to me that they weren’t much inspired to kill Deathwing on normal mode, having ‘seen’ him on LFR difficulty. Hard modes always stretched the veracity of the game for me in terms of lore considerations, which is more of a concern for RPers, but it does matter. There IS a “roleplay” in this MMORPG we all play, after all. Does Deathwing care if we killed him on “Looking For Raid” mode, normal mode, hard mode?

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I was already a bit worried about LFR when it was announced. How will that work, I wondered? It’s the size and scope of a raid, and all of the art, without the heart. It doesn’t have the voices of my guild friends along with it; it has random and unpredictable people. It has that guy who will queue as a healer and then go ret instead and win the caster ring from Hagara and never say a word. It has mercenary people who are just in it for themselves, it has verbal abuse. (I’m not excluding myself from the mercenary people category, by the way). There is no benefit to being magnanimous or sharing loot or anything in LFR. It doesn’t have the jokes or the camaraderie or the time or the dedication. It doesn’t have what makes raiding fun for me. Yes, I know, it’s 1) not for me and 2) so just don’t do it then. I will stop doing it when there is no benefit for me, or I will do it and quietly do my job. But what worries me is the people who are doing it who might get the impression that they’ve experienced all the game has to offer and don’t need to seek a guild who will help them to reach those goals on ‘normal’ mode, or worse, the people who’ve never raided and are left with the impression that this is what raiding is. There’s no question whether Blizzard has managed to make a random grouping tool that enables pugs to down ‘raid’ content. For me, the question is really whether or not they should have.

What do you think? Please don’t hesitate to respond and say that you love LFR and are really happy with it, and your reasons why. I don’t consider my opinion any kind of definitive one here, it’s just mine, nor am I going to argue or get defensive with you. LFR has enabled me to get three pieces of loot I wouldn’t have obtained from our regular raids – and I’ve been doing it because I know it can help me perform better for my actual raid. I know many of my guildies have been doing the same. I’ve already seen a marked drop in overall LFR speed and efficiency since the first week, though. I wonder what it’s going to be like a month from now? I’m interested to hear what you have to say about all of this, whether good or bad.

DO IT THE RIGHT WAY

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