Why do we raid?

While rounding up last weeks numerous posts on multi-classing and writing an article on my private immersion (yeah that’s still gonna happen), I came across Jeromai’s recent post on GW2 and the latest Origins of Madness patch. It made me chuckle.

Jeromai displays a particularly fascinating case of raiding malaise in the sense that he dislikes almost everything about MMO raiding, including its basic nature – many of the inherent challenges and social dynamics that make raiding such an exciting activity for others -

Nor am I terribly keen on the idea of separating oneself from players that are playing poorly on average because it’s easier and more rewarding to be elitist and isolate oneselves, than to lead, coordinate and teach. (Though I recognize that it is a reality of life, and periodically tempting, especially when you can’t take repeating yourself any longer.)[...]My other pet peeve about raid bosses is regarding the clarity of mechanics and gimmicks of whatever it is one is to do.

[...]There’s the waiting.[...]There’s the suffering involved with matching schedules and timezones.[...]And there’s that old bugaboo of needing to rely on other people to perform well while not being able to help them much at all.

Now to be clear, I have suffered from all of the administrative side-effects mentioned by Jeromai for most years of my raiding in WoW. A good while ago, I published an article called “Vanilla Raiding – A Trip Down Memory Lane” reminiscing on all aspects of the insane raiding prep, downtimes and aggravation that was part of vanilla WoW’s competitive endgame. Players joining WoW later are unaware of how much more convenient things have become since. I can sing a hundred songs about the woes of 40man raid coordination that include the most trivial and silly of things – yet, we lost sleep over them at one time or another.

Yet, I love raids. I love the cooperative idea of raids. In answer to Clockwork’s more recent Wildstar 40man worries, yes I still love 40mans too. Since we really don’t know much yet about Wildstar, I’ll focus on WoW which seems to be the general reference anyway: 40mans had a lot of bad in vanilla WoW but if you compare my nostalgia post with today’s situation, the way class and gameplay mechanics have changed drastically over time, much of the old raiding downtimes have been removed completely. That starts with things like having guild agendas and guild banks, diverse and instant raid buffs and boons, dual specs….and ends with the removal of progression hoops such as atunements or resistance gear. Oh and flex raids, thank you.

That doesn’t necessarily make 40mans easier but it sure as hell reduces the more aggravating and redundant aspects all around setting up, recruiting and raiding effectively. Because underneath all the organizational hassle, coordinated large scale raiding is an absolute blast and unlike smaller raid units, allows for a more lenient roster in which it is possible to make up for that weaker player or three. It’s nonsensical that MMOs with few to no mechanisms of social control or pre-selective hoops before endgame, should toss players right into some of the hard-ass, unforgivable encounters that are 10-25mans, the way we know them in WoW.

However, returning to Jeromai’s well argued points on raiding, he also dislikes core characteristics such as the clarity of mechanics (and associated learning tactics) or the need to rely on other people’s performance. Now, if you raised a poll on a given MMO’s raid forum, you would probably find these listed among the primary reasons why many people currently love to raid. It’s a huge challenge to coordinate big raids and yes, it involves time often spent on someone else than yourself. But equally, the reward of beating such high-req encounters is unforgettable – a feeling many raiders live for. As an ex-healing coordinator, I would also add that I’ve always loved the “extra work” that comes with guiding others, improving team work and progressing together.

PUGs and mass zergs have their appeal because they’re all too often the only alternative to setup/balance restrictions and recruitment headaches in MMOs. However for myself, nothing truly beats your own guild’s smooth raid machine that you yourself have oiled together with your mates over months and years. That sense of group progression. I do miss that. A lot.

I got the first twilight draaaaake!! That’s pre-nerf!

There is also a rewarding aspect in learning raid tactics and then getting them to be performed perfectly. I am not a fan of “synchronized swimming” or static combat but it’s worth pointing out how that’s a different type of challenge; not primarily a challenge of finding all new solutions (as most guilds don’t do blind raids) or spontaneous action maybe but one of coordination, balance, communication and perfection. Let’s put it this way: any long-term successful raid guild in WoW is also an achievement in different social skills.

I realize how some of my views presented here appear to clash with more recent preachings on active combat or more playstyle freedom – but at the very core of encounter and combat design, I don’t think these things need be mutually exclusive.  In a world of more flexible raids, with less unproductive downtimes and more dynamic combat, I am all game for large scale guild raiding! The only thing that worries me is time. It still takes time to raid in a dedicated, competitive fashion, that won’t just change completely. And I realize given my current circumstances, I might simply not be eligible for that type of focused play in MMOs anymore and well, that’s okay. That’s on me. We’ll see what future games will do about the casual hardcore.

31 comments

  1. Belghast

    I feel like GW2 almost in its entirety was designed for players who hate having to rely on others for their fun. As a result everyone is set up to be as self sufficient as possible. However this is precisely what I didn’t like about the game, and as a whole it felt like a chaotic mess. For me at least, nothing is more gratifying than having a bunch of disparate parts come together and work towards a common goal. There is this moment that I always called the “click” that happens, when people grasp the fight and execute exactly the right thing at the right time. This was the moment I used to live for in raiding and as a raid leader. It is like magic happens and all the sudden everyone does everything right and bam you win and get shiny bits.

    While I love soloing, and I am happy milling around for hours doing little side missions that I care about. I also love this grand social orchestra that is raiding. This is as close as I will ever come to really being part of a team based sport. Sure it gets frustrating along the way when you have learned your part in the chorus and you are waiting on the rest of the people to hit the right note at the right time. Still after all these years there is a certain mystical essence about that moment when it DOES come together and everyone performs flawlessly.

    I choose to raid with fairly casual people, and there is a lot of frustration leading to that moment. In a way however this is what almost makes the magic more enjoyable. When everyone is equally skilled you don’t get to see things improving. I like the on the fly brainstorming, figuring out not the “right” way to beat the puzzle that is a boss fight, but the one that is right for the people you have to beat it with. Additionally there is so much bonding that happens in a raid team, you get to learn more about the people during the process of these fights than you can ever learn in hundreds of hours of just sitting around chatting. People under pressure revert to their truest natures.

    I raid because I enjoy it, but I enjoy it for all of the reasons I mentioned above. All of this said, I would never have started raiding in the first place were it not for the “carrot” that is amazing loot. I love collecting shiny bits, but I like doing so with a team of people I enjoy spending time with along the way.

    • Syl

      @Bel
      I think ANet made honest attempts at changing some of the common raid dilemmas, trying to include more and more casual players. outdoor bosses can be lots of chaotic fun and to be fair, GW2 5mans do have strategy. I did enjoy them quite a lot, they’re really tough in places.
      the outdoor zergs however, have really failed to be more than zergs, at least the ones I have experienced. it’s very hard to design public, dynamic encounters and it’s a shame that GW2 gets wildly associated with “just being zergy” because of these events.

      Oh and loot matters of course, nobody would deny that in any case. ;)

  2. Talarian

    I wonder if Jeromai has participated in a dance where you have 10 – 20 people dancing as one team, or a play where all the pieces have been carefully pieced together, or sang in a choir or played in an orchestra. There’s a huge satisfaction of being able to do something that’s bigger than yourself, and raiding I think scratches that itch for me. You are absolutely correct in stating that needing to rely on others is actually a draw for other folks.

    And to be fair, perhaps raiding just isn’t for him. *shrug*

    • Pai

      This is exactly the feeling I get from a well-coordinated raid group, and I love it. It doesn’t have to be a huge group, either. Pretty much the entire draw for me is the aspect of working together with a group of friends and finally getting all the pieces together and winning as a unit.

    • j3w3l

      he does WvW with well coordinated groups regularly. I would argue that take more skill the raiding as your not just learning a dance but being adaptable with it as well

  3. gamerladyp

    In some ways, Rift solved this problem in micro-bites of “boss” fights with their ability to gather large groups of people on the fly and beat the crap out of big nasty things. The fights are total chaos, no coordination most of the time, but you don’t have to have a degree in project management and don’t lose hair or sleep trying to organize them. If I feel the need for mass groups of people and large scale flashy stuff, that is where I go to get that kind of large-scale fight out of my system. Defiance has a similar feel in on-the-fly group events. The same lack of coordination and every man for themselves, and yet you still get healed and eventually you figure out the mechanics of it all.
    Coordinating even 8-10 people gets really old after a while. I start to question my sanity, swear profusely, come to love the reliable ones and loathe the feckless ones, and eventually have to walk away from raid leading or pop a blood vessel. It is both a glorious thing and also the one thing that eventually tears guilds apart or drives the responsible people away. But it is also the one thing that keeps a guild unified and playing. I have a love/hate relationship with it.

    • Syl

      Hmmm I don’t know. personally, I do like the chaos of public events but I’ve come to realize that for myself, in the long run they lack substance. I think there’s a different replay value because there’s less sense of progression. in a raidguild, you can farm the same place for months because unlinke what Jeromai says in his follow-up (imo) you are not “just” doing the same over and over. you are still continuously improving and becoming better and faster at it. after months in MC, we would up the stakes; not only did we take half the time, we would take less tanks, less healers, more dps etc. we were continuously still growing. the same sense of progression just isn’t there for me farming the same outdoor events over and over with a chance group of folks.

      • gamerladyp

        Yes, absolutely. Without that sense of accomplishment and pride in your own and each other’s progress, raiding just isn’t the same. It is what the mostly PUG mentality of looking for raid groups misses and why the soul has gone out of some of the ways games raid now. Without PUG raiding, I would never have met some really awesome people, but once I did meet them, I chose raiding with them over PUG because I cared about whether they got that coveted upgrade, or felt happy for them despite losing out on winning that epic mount.

  4. Pasduil

    One of the things about MMO dungeons compared to playing a team sport or playing in an orchestra is that it is very hard to properly practice the specific things that you need to practice.

    If games could provide a the equivalent of a training field or rehearsal room, things might be a lot easier and more fun all round. And the standard of play would surely get much better.

    • Syl

      Hehe that reminds me of our old raid leader back in MC who would actually simulate the encounter with the entire raid, before we went in! :D
      jep, we did that, well we sorta tried…..the tanks would position and kite around, the healers would follow, dps would take different places in a designed training area. oh the memories.

  5. Jessica

    OMG!!!! That’s Larísa standing in the front. Oh, the memories! The joy!
    Thanks for posting this image! It really brought a smile to my face. I spent many, many, many hours in Azeroth raiding with Adrenaline. And I don’t regret a single minute.
    <3<3<3

  6. R

    I’ve often equated raiding with participating in team sports… and that still seems like a solid analogy when discussing an opinion like Jeromai’s.

    Scheduling issues, having to rely on the performance of others, clarity of purpose (or lack thereof)… they’re all issues in team sports as well. You know what the general win condition is but how you get there differs from encounter to encounter and sometimes you’ll have more success than other times.

    At this point, I figure people are either wired for that type of activity or they aren’t, whether playing sports or raiding.

    @Pasduil – The difference is that with raiding the encounters (opponents) are (generally) consistent and predictable, it’s only the group performance that has any significant variation from attempt to attempt. Each attempt IS the practice. And in WoW at least there’s always LFR if you want some practice with a particular mechanic…

    • Syl

      I think it depends a lot on the mindset of players and how they react to wipes. this might be different in PuGs that aren’t as wipe-tolerant but as far as your own raid guild goes, wipe-nights ARE about practice indeed.

      • R

        Even LFR is practice… when the same 5 people die to the same mechanic time after time it isn’t because the learning opportunity isn’t there, it’s about desire. I remember one kid I played house league hockey with when I was young… nicest kid in the world but NOT into sports in any way. He’d spend the entire game when he was on the ice… no exaggeration… standing on the far end of the ice chatting with the opposing goalie. When we’d get the puck in the offensive zone he’d move away from the net to let the goalie do his job. Before each game our coach would have to have a conversation with the refs and the opposing coach to let them know what was going to happen, they’d ignore him for rule enforcement purposes (offside, etc) and in exchange we’d be functionally short-handed when he was on the ice. I view LFR slackers like that kid… they’re there because they want to be but their goals just don’t match up with mine. At the lowest competitive level (and LFR qualifies as the lowest calibre of raiding), though, they’re as entitled to be there as we are.

        (that may have been a wee bit of a tangent, not sure it was as on-point as I thought it would be :) )

  7. Tesh

    I’m a hardcore soloist, but I do have fun in the occasional five man dungeon. Its nice to find that zone where working with others just clicks… especially if things go bad and we all still manage to pull a win out of the fire. (Yay for popping Bear form on my primarily Cat Druid!)

    Raiding, though… not for me. Yes, I see that others might like what you’re talking about here… but five man dungeons are my limit.

  8. Murf

    I feel bad for so many of our fellow bloggers who were spurned by elitist raiders. In my own career as an officer of a very serious raiding guild, I and my fellow officers took player training very seriously. I absolutely loved trying to assist underperforming players to do better. It was very rare that we outright booted anyone, and never the case that we did so without an open dialogue between us.

    To me, MMORPGs are fun for two reasons. 1) living, breathing online fantasy worlds that I can explore, progress, and feel a part of, and 2) cooperating and socializing with a community of like-minded individuals.

    Raiding is the latter, but hyper-concentrated to a point that it takes some serious effort to get right consistently. I never got into sports or band in highschool, but I have always had a competitive, team-minded spirit. Raiding gives me an opportunity to see that through to the fullest in a medium that I honestly adore.

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  10. Lothirieth

    I’m also one who loved to raid. :) I really miss it as well since Lotro has actively run off most of its serious raiders, GW2 has no proper raids and I just don’t have it in me to try to work up a whole new character, skills etc in Rift.

    You bring up how Jeromi talked about how he didn’t like relying on others and how that’s exactly what those of us who do like raiding liked to do. It’s funny.. I too loved the coordination involved when raiding in Lotro. I had to rely on the healer to heal well enough, the tank to keep aggro, dpsers to do enough damage and the best moments ever were when something went wrong and we all pulled together, supported each other and still overcame the fight.

    But this new fight in GW2, I find myself feeling exactly like Jeromi. I think the situation is different because in my raid groups, we had control over who we were with. We were with others like us or at least people we could count on to follow instructions (usually :P) You had a good idea of everyone’s skill. You trusted them.. mostly. :P But in these new GW2 fights and older ones like Tequatl, where you have zero control who will be in the map you’re in, who gets put where in the fight, you end up with just a few people who can fail the entire event for everyone. And that’s utterly frustrating especially when you have to sit there and watch them fail, unable to help.

    • Jeromai

      Hi guys, thanks for all the comments! I enjoyed reading all the different perspectives. I’d love to hear more from everyone.

      Re: the sense of helpless control, Lothirieth, I think it may simply be assumptions that players are making about what they can or can’t affect. Let’s not forget this is still very new content.

      In one particular marionette fight I did, we were getting quite worried about whether the last chain would succeed or not. That stacking boss can be quite horrible, even if it was a TTS overflow. Since the debuff was off me, I took the initiative to run to the lane I knew would be facing boss 5 and enter, some long seconds later than those in the lane because there was a distance to run and I only decided to do it on the spur of the moment.

      I was not the only one who thought that and flooded in. Circles that were holding out but steadily running out of time suddenly had reinforcements that charged in to AoE cleave like desperate maniacs. One guy in my circle expressed, “What, wait, why are there 8 people in here?” as the last chain severed and we won.

      The assumption that a bunch of us all made was that we had to duke it out as a group of 5, period. And if your circle dumps you in as a lone person or two, that the whole map is screwed.

      The lane debuff wears off after two lanes. Good leadership/organization can easily arrange for a chain of cycling reinforcements to support more shorthanded circles, failing which an individual player with initiative could make a difference.

      It could very well be that there are assumptions being made about the jungle wurm too that have to be worked out over time too, except that folks are feeling helpless and frustrated in the meantime. Teq was fairly hellish in the early days too.

      • Syl

        The thing for me is, in big public zergs it’s so hard to identify who the few people were that did most of the heavy lifting. so it’s also hard to improve on that front – something that is a bit of an issue in GW2, anyway: identifying performance.
        that obviously also has its very good sides because overall, the community is less performance- or stat-driven and as Jeromai would probably say, more inclusive. but it also takes a sense of personal growth away and a sense of real progression – for me anyway – and that is a huge trade-off I’m not sure I like in retrospective. I myself want feedback and want to push myself to improve. this happens in raid guilds and you have to take the good with the bad (feedback isn’t always wonderful).

        I also miss being able to identify the hero of the day and say thanks to them. it sounds so simple but it’s part of social games for me. honor where honor is due.

      • Jeromai

        You might like to give the marionette fight a try some time, Syl.

        There’s actually room for individual players to be the hero of the day. I’ve read stories of how proud some players were that they managed to individually finish off their champions, or pull off a clutch save of their group. I’ve warbannered so many groups of downed players that it’s all a bit of a blur, but I’m sure they appreciated it at the time.

        The point about a sense of personal growth and progression and wanting feedback is interesting. At the moment in GW2, that seems to be up to each player to identify and improve for themselves. If you don’t dodge well, you take a nasty hit or go down – rather immediate feedback right there. But since it’s harder for others to judge your performance, you get less singled-out recognition, positive or otherwise.

        Progression is as a group or a community. I’m missing the evolution of marionette fights since I’m camped out in Bloodtide Coast, but I would not be surprised at all to find improved performance across the board when I start randomly jumping into marionettes again next week.

        The progress of Blackgate, Desolation and TTS on the jungle wurms is being tracked and seems like an experimental move towards a sense of progression as well.

        First, people couldn’t even do decent damage to any wurm. Then the task of trying to coordinate a simultaneous kill of three wurms is done in measurable steps forward and backward as the group compositions shift. And then the heads came out and ruined everybody’s day. Folks are now creeping toward a strategy for downing the heads. Only one head has been downed so far, by two groups, I think.

      • Lothirieth

        I just realised I spelled your name wrong.. more than once. :( Apologies!

        I’ve done the same as you where I run to lanes that may need help once I know my debuff will be off. So I’ve done a fair amount of lane switching. But the lack of control I was talking about was whilst you’re already on the platforms. You can’t go help others. Apparently Josh Foreman (I think) said that they couldn’t make it work to let people go from platform to platform.

      • Lothirieth

        Syl – I think this fight has done it a bit better regarding the personal growth and ability to be the hero. But! You’ll be the only one to know about your own heroic efforts which is a shame. Like, I know I was responsible for my platform doing well because I kited a boss correctly into it’s mines to stun it, or managed not to die and be one of the last two people standing to finish something off. There are people posting about some great moments for them where they’ve saved the day regarding their portion of the event.

        But I do agree the large zergy fights make this sort of stuff hard. It’s mainly in the small scale stuff this occurs. So that is one good thing about the fight is that it allows for some small scale, heroic efforts.

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  12. Jeromai

    Oh, and in case it didn’t come across, my particular pet peeve with the clarity of mechanics is when they are NOT clear and people have to play a guessing game or read a long elaborate guide just to even get started.

    I prefer them telegraphed clearly so that someone can come in new and learn the fight by smart observation if they prefer to do that. (It’s also about how elegant the devs’ design is, or lack thereof.) They can still be taught verbally or through text chat if they are a little slow about it.

    This may occasionally stress out the subset of people who prefer all their fellow compatriots have come in having done all the homework and be automatic masters of said battle that they’ve never seen before. It’s a little unrealistic an expectation, imo, and sets oneself up for frustration with a lot of people.

    We’d all be better off if we tried to catch hold of our evaporating patience and gave the poor performer the benefit of the doubt and explained mechanics and teach there and then.

    It’s a little hypocritical, yes, because I tend to be lazy and hang around being introvertedly silent until utter death and disaster happen, and then self-preservation demands I start speaking up and taking on some of the stress of leading and teaching. But when I’m aware of it, I try to make the effort to be a little less grumpy hermit-y and friendly to others.

    • Syl

      “We’d all be better off if we tried to catch hold of our evaporating patience and gave the poor performer the benefit of the doubt and explained mechanics and teach there and then. ”

      Yet that’s something I associate with raid guilds a lot more than public events. there’s not nearly the same level of dedicated group progression or well, improvement (simply because it’s hard to identify individual performances) in a GW2 zerg. that’s impossible.
      you do paint raid guilds as elitist places full of impatient preppers; my experience is the majority of them isn’t that. it’s a vocal minority that acts that way maybe, but the great mass of raid guilds in WoW are common ventures where people have a lot, and I mean a LOT, of patience with each other and are constantly trying to improve together. and there’s the upside of having willing, dedicated roles in the guild for just that too, rather than someone stressed out to the point where he feels forced to teach? ;)

      Obviously, we all fall back on our personal raiding experiences when we judge this topic. I’m not sure if you followed up on my healing lead post above, but this is the kind of supportive raidguild environment I come from which at the same time, was very competitive.

      Thanks for following up on this btw, I do appreciate it.

  13. Tremayne

    I speak as an ex-raider. Partly, that’s changing circumstances (I no longer live alone, and I now have children – I can’t commit large chunks of time on a regular schedule the way I could 8 or 9 years ago). Partly, it’s because the nature of raiding has changed, quite apart from all of the convenience factors you mentioned – and it’s not changed in ways that make it more enjoyable for me.

    What I liked about raiding in vanilla WoW, and in DAOC Shrouded Isles, was being part of a large group of players trying to figure out “how do we beat this?” It felt epic because there was a whole army of heroes there, and it felt like a challenge in the very real gauntlet that the developers had thrown down a gauntlet with Nefarian or Cuuldurach and said “Here’s something well hard – beat it if you can”. And we would try all sorts of tactics until we found something that worked, or felt like it would work if we practised it. Now there’s no challenge to come up with tactics – instead there’s a fixed script to perform perfectly, and if you do find another way of beating the boss you can be sure it will be “fixed” in the next patch. Meanwhile raids have gone from being an awesome assembly of heroes to being about the size of a normal full group in DAOC. I give GW2 props for getting raids back to being the big, inclusive events they used to be, even if the tactics are still a little prescriptive for my tastes.

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  15. Joseph Skyrim

    Never really got into “raiding” but as long as all raid bosses can be defeated by supremely skilled solo players I have no issues with that. When it becomes mandatory that you need x amount of people or you have zero chance of victory due to gimmicky mechanics (seems to be the case with most bosses) is what mainly irks me.

    If you are good enough you shouldn’t need a team. You’re supposed to be a hero after all right?

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