I found myself intrigued by the embedded video and agreeing with the article, especially the remarks about beta testing/datamining and how they basically give you the experience before it’s even live. More than that, though – beta raiding has created this atmosphere where competitively ranked guilds are expected to do their discovery and learning on the beta, and normal solid raiders are expected to watch their videos and know the strats by the day content is released. Seriously, try telling your raiding group you want to go into it blind for the funsies and see how they react. Unless you specifically form a raiding group where everyone agrees to not peek at strats (which would actually be pretty fun…), I doubt that’ll fly.
So, in a way, how is this that different from the original problem of only a small number being able to see the content? The top top top percent of raiders still have that experience of discovery and problem solving. It’s just done in a different place. And, I suspect, for those super competitive guilds, it’s not optional, just like ignoring strat write-ups, videos and dungeon journal are not optional for most solid raiding guilds.
LFR feeds into this as well – basically, remember daily dungeon quests? Blizzard thought they were presenting a concept of “You GET an extra reward for doing a dungeon each day!” Players, however, viewed it as, “I HAVE TO RUN A DUNGEON EVERY DAY TO KEEP UP!” I keep seeing this concept come up in WoW, where something which seems to be intended as bonus content or a perk becomes viewed as necessary and baseline. LFR is not just something which gives you spoilers to raid content – it’s mandatory content you have to run if you’re in a serious raiding group, at the very least for the tier drops.
Over Before You Began
I think the larger issue here isn’t that the game lacks gating. There still is gating, even though it might not be as recognizable as attunement chains or key quests. Try going from 80-85 as a fresh character and you will see it – normal dungeons to heroic dungeons to troll dungeons to HoT dungeons to LFR to raiding. There is a path here.
The problem is that the gating is jumpy and doesn’t flow. It doesn’t tell a story and carry players along on a journey. The problem is that Blizzard is making parts of the gating irrelevant before the expansion is even over. Giving away gear from a dungeon that’s on par with the stuff which drops from Firelands is the most glaring example – it immediately renders Firelands optional and unnecessary content. Basically, if you aren’t here at the start of the expansion or your guild is slow to push through content, you are left feeling like any progress you are currently making is suddenly pointless when a new patch drops.
Personally, I feel like this is a huge contributing factor in the declining interest in raids. Instead of needing to revisit older tier raids for the expansion to get geared up, you can just run dungeons. More than that, you lose a sense of progressing achievements as your group fights its way through one raid and is ready to tackle another, just like slower guilds feel cheated when nerfs come in quickly to make the raid easier – and that loss of motivation is probably a large factor in numbers dropping. The average player feels like he’s too slow because his progress is on a different scale and speed from that of the top raiding guilds…and kneejerk nerfs to slow kills (like we saw in Firelands) and dungeons/LFR loot rendering the last tier’s loot pointless underscore that.
This problem was evident within my first few days at endgame in Wrath. I hit 80 at the twilight’s expansion and literally in the SAME DAY that I hit 80, I was in a raid in ICC. I skipped over all of the other content by just running some dungeons and it felt…cheap. Like I had snuck in the back door to the epic warehouse.
My solution? Keep previous tiers relevant but not MANDATORY. Don’t give away epics of such high level in dungeons. ZA/ZG were a good example of epics working in dungeons – they were better than the drops in heroics, but they were still subpar to raiding gear. There was incentive to run them, but they didn’t trump an entire tier of raid content. Make the bosses hit hard enough (like giant, dragon-shaped trucks) that basic gearcheck fights will highly encourage people to run through the prior tiers to get decent gear – but don’t stipulate that they MUST run these raids to enter the newest one. That way raids can power-run new members or alts, avoiding the headache of attunement chains, but there is still a high incentive for guilds to raid the older content. Even better…players will feel like there is an overarching and building story they are involved in, a journey they are continually following, a challenge they are invested in.
Yeah, no thoughts on how to incorporate LFR into that, though. I’ll ponder it…