Size matters: the 10/25-man problem

superawesome

The announcement recently of Thunderforged gear in 5.2 has created quite a bit of buzz.  To be fair, Ghostcrawler did warn us it was going to be controversial.  Some are claiming that it’s the death of 10-man raiding (at least if you want to be serious about being the best), while others claim that it just won’t do anything in the end.  Some are more optimistic and say it’ll help, but are vague on exactly how much.  I fall into this camp.

Is it enough?  Can 25-man raiding be saved?  Is it on the way out?  I can’t say.  But since I’ve been dwelling on it for a few days, I figured I’d get my thoughts down and try to draw a conclusion.

The old days

As I’ve covered in my soloing guides (with 100% more history than you’ll find in any other guide!), 25-man raiding was seen as THE raiding paradigm for BC and Wrath, after its downgrade from the 40-man raids of Classic.  Despite BC’s two 10-mans, and despite every one of Wrath’s raids launching with a 10-man mode, 25-man was generally agreed upon as being the only raid size that “counted.”  If someone got a world-first for a 10-man raid, nobody really cared.  It wasn’t “good enough” to care about, usually because it was seen as easier (and often was tuned a bit easier).  Instead, everyone just watched their newsfeeds for the latest 25-man boss to die.

Then when heroic raiding came about with ToC, the paradigm shifted.  Now it was the 25-man HEROIC raid that counted, and nothing less.  10-man heroics and all normals were cast to the wayside as 25-man heroic raiding took the spotlight.  If you weren’t a heroic 25 raider, you weren’t worth talking about.

Cataclysm changed all this with the equalization of 10- and 25-man loot tables, as well as an attempt to make them more in line in terms of difficulty.  The vast majority of world-first raid guilds were still 25-man, but the question came up:  is 10-man valid?  If a raiding guild gets the world-first on 10-man heroic, does it “count?”  The general consensus was that no, 25-man heroic was still the only “true” raid, and nobody said the world-first race was over until the final boss was beaten on 25 H.

But what about for the rest of us?  The equalization of loot drops meant that a raid could run on 10-man and still be as competitive loot-wise as its contemporaries on 25.  The fights were tuned to be as difficult, even if they couldn’t always be, so in general raiders weren’t missing out on more difficult content.  And the logistics involved in maintaining a 10-man roster were considerably easier than keeping a 25-man on its feet.  If you’ve gotta be herding cats, it’s easier to herd 10 than 25.  25-man raiding saw a drastic decline over the course of Cataclysm as 25-man raiders dropped for an easier road.  People who were just fine and dandy with running 25s were aggravated by the sudden dispersal of their rosters and apparent lack of interest from others on their realms.  And there was much lamentations and gnashing of teeth.

Bandaging the problem

Blizzard attempted to incentivize 25-man raiding in the beginning of Cata by making bosses drop more valor in 25-man than in 10, thus making it easier for 25-man raids to cap valor for the week.  I forget exactly how much it was, but if I remember correctly, by the time your group had cleared normals, you could cap valor with one or two more heroics on top, compared to three or four for 10s.  This was dropped in 4.1 or 4.2, I forget which (you can tell I’ve done my homework!), and after that there were no more differences between rewards for 10- and 25-man raiding.

And so it would remain until 5.2, with Blizzard’s implementation of the Thunderforged item variant.  Thunderforged items have a low chance to drop off of normal and heroic Throne of Thunder bosses, and are about a half-tier higher in ilvl than their normal/heroic counterparts.  The proposed ilvls would be LFR at 502, normal at 522, Thunderforged at 528, heroic at 535, and heroic Thunderforged at 541.  What’s more, 25-man raids will have an increased (but still small) chance to drop these better items.  The idea behind this was to incentivize 25-man raiding a bit more, while not making it seem like 25-man raiding is the only way to truly play the game.

Like I said, Ghostcrawler was right, the announcement was controversial.  Some reactions were positive, while the very vocal ones were quite negative.  I won’t bother going into all the arguments, but one prevailing one was that it just wasn’t enough, that this just wouldn’t get people to play 25s anymore than they were now.

But is that a bad thing?

What is the real problem?

The problem is human nature, I suppose.  We humans seek the path of least resistance, the easiest way to reach our goals.  When 25-man was the only way to obtain the best gear in the game, people went in and played it, even if they had more fun playing with 10 people.  When 10-man was given the same loot, overwhelmingly players dropped out of 25-man raiding guilds to play the logistically easier raid size.  Were they wrong for doing so?  No, it’s just our nature.

Blizzard made the change in the first place because they wanted to give raids flexibility; if a few raiders weren’t going to make it, the idea was that a 25-man raid could split into one or two 10-mans and still have progression nights.  What happened instead was, as players dropped, a 10-man core emerged from the crumbling 25-man exterior, and eventually a lot of 25-man guilds reformed this way.  Why?  Logistics.

A typical 10-man raid has 5-6 DPS, 2-3 healers, and 2 tanks.  Usually a healer will swap between DPS and healing, and on one-tank fights the other tank can DPS as well.  A typical 25-man raid, meanwhile, has 16-17 DPS, 6-7 healers, and…2 tanks.  Assuming 5 DPS didn’t show up for a night of progression raiding, the remaining 20 would split more or less evenly into two raid teams, except each one would only have one experienced tank.  And there was no guarantee that two more DPS had tanking offspecs ready and geared, especially during the nightmare that was Cata heroic queues.  Thus, for many guilds whose members got burned out on Tier 11’s raids, the only real option was to run a single 10-man; the remaining 15 members would either stay on as alts or migrate to other guilds.

In today’s game, the only reason to run 25’s is because you prefer it.  25 offers no benefit beyond the ability to engage in a fight designed to be tackled by 25 players.  Some have even posed the question of its need to be saved; if the playerbase overwhelmingly prefers 10-man raids, why keep 25-man an option?  Why devote the time and energy to tuning a raid for 25 people as well as 10?

Does the playerbase actually prefer 10-man raids, or do they just prefer their comparative logistical ease?  Is it just that they see no other option?  It’s clear that there are still plenty of 25-man raiding guilds, even if it seems they’re a thing of the past sometimes.  So why do players continue to hop to 10-mans, even if they’d be happier in a 25?

Can this be solved?

Well, that’s a hard question.  Blizzard’s clearly devoted some thought to the matter, but as always they walk a fine line.  If they do nothing, then the current trend of 25-man decline could continue well through this expansion and into the next, perhaps necessitating a cut.  If they do too much, players who have been used to 10-man guilds for the past two years will feel as though they need to join 25-man guilds to stay competitive (though for some, “competitive” really means “number one”).

I read a thread on MMO-Champion that sparked my initiative to write this post.  In it, the OP charged that Blizzard wasn’t doing enough, and rattled off a long list of things that he would see as incentive to run 25s.  Such things included…well I’ll just post a screencap.

fight on ;_;7

fight on ;_;7

This is what got to me:  prestige.  The OP’s argument was basically that thanks to the logistical difficulties inherent in a 25-man raid, it could be considered more of a challenge and thus deserving of higher reward.  The mentality of 10-man raiders being second-class citizens lay heavily over this post.  His proposal was basically to drive a wedge between the two raid sizes and permanently make 25-man more prestigious in terms of its rewards, though not specifically loot.  His assertion was that it was never about loot, it was about the prestige of being a 25-man raider.

I’m skeptical about this reasoning, and not just because all his extra rewards actually entail more loot.

When WoW first came out, 40-man raids were really the only progression path for a level 60.  While 20-man raids were introduced in a couple of patches as an alternate source of gearing and a means of catching up, 40-mans held the only key to the best gear in the game.  Naxx had the absolute best gear, better than anything in any other raid.

Then BC came out and did away with the 40-man raid, downsizing the largest size of raid to 25 people.  The decision caused a lot of backlash, as 25-man raids were seen as less “epic” or “prestigious” in comparison, even though the mechanics of these bosses were more complex than most bosses in Classic.  Still, 40-man raiding guilds eventually got over the downsize to 25 members and carried on.  Again, although a couple 10-man raids existed over the course of BC’s lifespan, 25-man raiding was the only way to get the best loot in the game.

With Wrath, every raid was given a 10-man counterpart, but with lower-quality loot.  Despite the existence of as many 10-man raids as 25s, and though their ilvls were only 13 apart, this still meant that 25-man raiding was the key to the best loot in the game.  Sure, a 10-man raiding guild would only be 13 ilvls behind a 25-man guild when all was said and done, but that was seen as enough of a difference to disqualify 10-man raiding from being “hardcore” enough.  If you wanted the best, you raided 25-man, even if you liked 10-man more.

Cata changed the dynamic by equalizing rewards between 10- and 25-man difficulties, and with this change, the perspectives shifted.  No longer did a raider have to play in the biggest raid size to get the best gear; now they only needed to if they felt like it.  Most opted for the logistically easier path, because in the end, that’s the primary drive behind why players raid:  loot.

Thought experiment time.  Suppose that raiding offered no upgrades, no loot whatsoever.  Would you do it?  Overwhelmingly, I’m sure the playerbase would not, at least not more than once.

Why not?  Because there’s no reward for the time investment.  Sure, it’s satisfying to beat a boss for the first time, but that satisfaction wears thin after you defeat it.  When a boss goes on farm, you just can’t help but not care about it anymore.  The only reason one would go back and do a boss they’d already killed would be if there were some kind of reward.  If there weren’t, nobody would raid beyond the first kill.  It would just be seen as a hindrance to progressing to the next boss, an unnecessary enemy to defeat again.  For this same reason, nobody would prefer to run 25-mans over 10 unless they liked that size of raid.

Now, another thought experiment.  Suppose that 25-man raiding was the only way to get loot of any kind, and that 10-man was just for fun.  Which would you do?  Again, overwhelmingly I’m sure the playerbase would run 25s.  The opposite would be true if 10-man were the only viable upgrade path.

A third thought experiment:  suppose that 25-man offered up exclusive items like the poster above wishes, like pets or mounts or whatever, that 10-man raiding could never give access to.  All of which were low drops, nothing guaranteed.  Would you still do 10-mans?  I’m sure that a lot of people would, but I’d wager that more would see it as missing out on potential loot unless they raided 25-man, even if it were a low drop that they might never see.  There would still be that notion of “I’m not doing everything I can to progress in every way I can” without playing 25-man, and many would feel forced into it.

And that’s the problem.  If an incentive is offered to 25-man without the same incentive being offered in a lesser capacity to 10-man, then the playerbase will naturally shift over time to 25s.  And after a couple years now of 10-mans for many players, how many would be comfortable with going back?  I’m sure a lot of 25-man raiders would be thrilled with the new blood, but it’s still unfair to 10-man players.

What about 15-man?

By the spectral crab’s admission, 15-man raiding would cause more problems than it would solve:

gc 15-man tweet

I gotta say, I see where he’s coming from.  Consolidating to 15-man raiding wouldn’t be fair to 25- or 10-man raiders.  25s would have to cut ten from their roster bare minimum, while 10s would need to find another five.  Yes, some of those orphaned 25-man players would find homes in other 10-man guilds, but there’s two problems with that.  One, there’s nowhere near enough 25s to give all 10s an extra five players; that’s how low participation in 25s has become.  And two, just because players would end up in other guilds doesn’t mean that they would fit right off the bat.  Everyone who’s been in a guild knows that finding raiders that mesh with the rest of the guild can be a considerable challenge.  Not to mention all the 10-man guilds that would have to merge, orphaning more players to go find other guilds.  It’d be a nightmare.

Yes, the original downsizing to 25-man happened so long ago that most players don’t really care anymore, but like GC says, some never forgave.  And why would they?  They enjoyed getting 40 people together and raiding in one giant elegant clusterfuck.  To them, THAT was real raiding.  And it was taken from them without their consent.  Doing the same thing again now would be an even greater folly, what with the larger playerbase and substantially larger raiding pool.  No wonder it’s a last resort.

But maybe it’ll just have to happen, because balancing 10- and 25-man participation is a monumental task.

Elitist jerks

It makes me sad that WoW is now a game where if you aren’t performing up to a vocal minority’s lofty standards, you aren’t really playing the game.  Heroic raiders look down on normal raiders look down on LFR raiders look down on dungeon runners look down on casuals.  While leveling, players in heirlooms look down on players who don’t have them, mocking their substantially lower DPS, even in Classic dungeons where the tank does everything anyway.  Everyone is always mocking the person who’s one step behind them, not realizing that there’s someone one step ahead doing the same thing.

Was it always this way?  I can’t say, I didn’t start until Wrath was on its way out (but taking its damn time).  I’d like to think that before the rise of datamining, of insane theorycrafting, of BiS lists and optimal reforging and enchanting and gemming, of all the sites to make WoW more efficient, that WoW was a friendlier game.  Yes, it got tiresome answering where Mankrik’s wife was, but at least people answered (if they knew).  Now, everything’s just this rush to the endgame, only to rush through the gear grind as quickly as possible.

Maybe that’s why I’ve grown tired of raiding.  I’ll probably not finish the normal mode of this tier before 5.2 drops, but I’m okay with that.  I’m tired of the game just being this mad dash towards efficiency, towards getting through the game rather than playing it.  I sympathize with the big crab when he says that he’s surprised the playerbase ended up caring more about efficiency than fun.  Perhaps this is just the kind of gamer that exists today, the one who’s concerned with just finishing games rather than playing them.

I could go on, but my point is this:  Stop going crazy just because people enjoy the game a little differently from you.  25-man raiders, enjoy having extra chances at soopah loot.  10-man raiders, enjoy getting the chance to get that loot as well.  Everybody, just play the damn game already, and only do it if you’re having fun.  Quit caring about prestige, because I guarantee you, beyond a person looking at you and thinking “cool mount” for about two seconds, nobody really cares but you.

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