The LFant in the room

The looking for raid (LFR) feature is arguably the most controversial change the game has seen in years.  No other single feature has had as large an effect on so many players.  And it’s certainly one of the largest changes to the raiding environment, right up there with the downsizing from 40- to 25-man raids, the introduction of “bring the player, not the class,” the concept of hard modes, and the creation of the dual 10/25-man system we have now.  You could even argue that among those game-changing paradigm shifts, LFR stands out as the granddaddy of them all.

It’s safe to say that LFR is here to stay.  It helps justify the allocation of resources (both in terms of money and developer time) on raid content, which has always been the staple of the WoW endgame.  And it’s certainly increased participation in this tier’s raid content, opening up that part of the story to a population of players.  I think it’s a good thing that they can see the content now, while it’s fresh, rather than having to come back a year from now and play catch-up.  And I’m overwhelmingly positive on the existence of LFR in general.

However, it’s not the evolution of LFR that I want to address in this blog post.  Rather than discuss its past, I want to discuss its future.  Saying something is “good” doesn’t preclude it from being made better.  This is the first implementation of LFR – LFR 1.0 if you will – and it isn’t without its problems.  Some of them have already been addressed, like preventing players from winning duplicate items from the same boss.  Others are being addressed in Mists of Pandara (LFR 2.0), like having more specific discrimination between specs for role-based bonuses on item rolls.  The problem I want to discuss here is a more difficult one to fix.  It’s the fact that there’s a strong incentive for players engaged in normal- and heroic-mode Dragon Soul raiding to run LFR for drops, particularly tier pieces.

To be blunt, LFR is sight-seeing mode.  The difficulty level is very low – LFR is the game’s “easy” setting, just as heroic modes are the “hard” setting.  A group can succeed in LFR with minimal understanding of the mechanics, and the tuning is such that a group of 25 players that barely meet the minimum ilvl would still succeed even if they performed at 50% of the output of which that gear level is capable.  Think about that for a second – even if you decided to skip every other GCD, you’d still be putting out more than your required contribution.

That’s not inherently a bad thing; it’s great for players who just want to see the story, or want to progress their character but can’t find the time to raid regularly.  Those players aren’t interested in wiping over and over to beat the encounters, and it would be silly to ask them to – they simply wouldn’t bother.  It’s also good for players who just want to queue up and smash some faces in for an hour or two in their spare time. Even I occasionally fall in that last category, though you’d probably consider me at least moderately hardcore.

But not everyone does, and it makes sense to try and tailor the reward structure in such a way that you’re not forcing players to cross-pollinate the difficulty settings.  LFR should definitely exist, and it should definitely drop rewards that are enticing to the population it’s designed for. But it’s also important that it doesn’t become an annoying grind that the population it isn’t designed for. The way things are currently itemized, there’s a strong incentive in that direction.

To put it another way: LFR is as much fun for a large chunk of the raiding population as Archaeology is. Which means, not fun at all. Like archaeology, LFR should be completely optional for those players.  I love running LFR on my alts. But that’s the key – I want to be there on that character, I’m not there because it helps me in normal/heroic progression.

I think that it’s entirely fair to say that creating content that’s well beneath the skill level of the majority of the raiding population, and thus probably not all that interesting for them, and giving them a heavy incentive to run that content is a design issue. I’ve heard many normal mode raiders complain that they’re already feeling burned out on DS because they’re running it on LFR and again on Normal every week. This isn’t an issue that just affects the top 100 guilds, it’s a legitimate game design concern.

There are lots of suggestions for how to fix this problem.  Since its primarily tier gear causing the problems, and set bonuses in particular, you could take the tier gear out of LFR.  Or you could make the LFR versions of tier not provide set bonuses, or perhaps just not be compatible with normal- or heroic-mode tier set bonuses.  But all of those suggestions take something away from LFR raiders, in essence “nerfing their fun.”

I think you can keep all of the good parts of LFR, including a reasonable gearing incentive, without making it a gear grind for players that don’t want to be there.  And I think you can do it without taking tier gear away from LFR raiders.  And all it takes is a slight re-adjustment of itemization across the different tiers and types of content (for MoP).

As an example, let’s consider MoP and T14-16. I’m going to start at an arbitrary ilvl of 400; pretend there’s a complete gear reset and everything from Cata is irrelevant (DW loot gets nerfed to 300, let’s say).

400: MoP normal 5-mans (release normals)
413: MoP heroic 5-mans (release heroics)
420: T14 LFR
439: T14 Normal
452: T14 Heroic

432: T15 heroic 5-mans (ZG/ZA equivalent)
439: T15 LFR
458: T15 Normal
471: T15 Heroic

451: T16 heroic 5-mans (HoT equivalent)
458: T16 LFR
477: T16 Normal
490: T16 Heroic

The pattern here is pretty obvious; Normal mode is X, heroic is X+13, LFR is X-19, heroic 5-mans are X-26. The next tier’s normal raids start at X+19 compared to the previous tier’s normals, like they do now. The LFR gear always lags the previous tier’s heroic gear by a full tier in this case, rather than half a tier (391-384=7).

Normal mode raiders won’t feel required to grind LFR in this new system (provided set bonuses are reasonably well balanced), because they already have equivalent ilvl gear. At most, they might go and fill in a few “unlucky” slots with LFR. Heroic raiders wouldn’t feel the need to run it either, as the full-tier gap will offset any reasonable set bonus. Players starting late or gearing up a new character still have a very clear progression path, which is to grind heroics/LFR until they’re ready for normal modes.

However, in this system there’s still some value in old raids. Yes, they want a gear reset each tier, and they want people to run the new content. That option still works here. But now, in addition to your weekly LFR, you could run the previous tier normal modes to gear up even faster. So you’d see more pug runs of previous tiers than you do nowadays.

That’s not to say this system doesn’t have its flaws.  Valor gear in particular becomes tricky here, because an LFR tier piece may have to compete with a higher-ilvl valor item.  If valor gear is primarily focused on things like necklaces, trinkets, and non-set slots, that may not be a serious problem.  Even one overlapping slot per tier wouldn’t be a serious problem, as long as the option to replace 3+ LFR tier pieces with higher-ilvl valor items isn’t present.

It also creates a strange situation at the beginning of the expansion, where LFR still serves as a stepping stone between entry-level 5-man gear and normal-mode raiding.  But perhaps that could be overcome by narrowing the ilvl gap between the first tier’s LFR and 5-man heroics.  If LFR gear and 5-man gear were comparable, if only for that tier, then both progression paths would be useful and neither would be required.  If the 5-mans heroics are a little tougher than LFR, then that doesn’t seem unbalanced, especially since 5-mans can be chain-run for loot and LFR cannot.

Of course, there are other ways to address the situation.  You could have scaling set bonuses, such that the LFR versions of tier pieces give a smaller bonus than normal-mode pieces, and likewise normal would be weaker than heroic.  As an example, LFR might give a 5% bonus to Crusader Strike damage, while the normal mode gives 10% and the heroic version gives 15%.  That doesn’t eliminate the incentive to pick up LFR pieces to complete a set bonus, but it might be enough of a difference to make sure that those LFR pieces wouldn’t be a DPS upgrade (or in a tank’s case, a survivability upgrade) compared to previous-tier normal and heroic loot.

And of course, they could just leave things as they are now, since LFR is arguably working and fulfilling its intended purpose.  I don’t think it’s likely they will though.  Content burnout is still going to be a serious concern, and I suspect that LFR has only made that worse within the normal and heroic crowd.  If they can find a way to alleviate that burnout by eliminating the incentive for those raiders to grind LFR while keeping the allure of LFR for the casual raiding crowd, it’s a net win for subscriptions.

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9 Responses to The LFant in the room

  1. Culhag says:

    Just don’t make tier bonuses and weapon procs as overpowered as what we have in T13.
    Problem solved.

    • Theck says:

      Sure, except that set bonuses are supposed to be interesting, fun, and attractive. The tank bonuses this tier were obviously completely out-of-whack, and there’s no way to easily balance them. But if you constrain the DPS bonuses such that (2pc LFR)+(4pc LFR) must be less valuable than 7 ilvls worth of raw stat increase (i.e. 391 heroic tier12 to 384 LFR tier13), then the set bonuses are going to be so weak as to be ignorable. That’s a design problem too, if your goal is for set bonuses to be attractive and fun.

  2. Mechakisc says:

    I’m pretty sure that LFR 1.0 is itemized the way it is to ensure that we (the semi-hardcore) would run it at the beginning to help carry non-raiders to the point at which everyone “knows how to do it”. I expect that trend to continue.

    My rogue – my main – is still rocking two pieces of LFR tier because we’ve only had a handful of helm and leg vanq tokens drop and we have worked pretty hard to ensure our tanks (druid/dk) have 4pc for cooldowns (that and our arc mage GL finally decided his mana was ready for 4pc right when I was going to get the legs, and as much crap as we gave him for refusing them the first time, I didn’t feel comfortable saying anything). I’d really hate for my welfare tier pieces filling out my own 4pc to be so far behind in ilevel.

    LFR is a great way to fill out gear slots at the beginning of a tier/xpac. Even if we clear everything on the first week (and Inevitable Failure at least is unlikely to be able to do so), running LFR will still give us another shot at filling some slots with epics – and here I’m assuming we’ll be in blues until then.

    I think your main point – that we shouldn’t have to grind LFR because holy TOC/ICC flashbacks – is completely valid and accurate. I don’t think ilevel difference is the answer though.

  3. Rohan says:

    I still have to read the actual post, but the title is awesome.

  4. Dimli says:

    I agree with Mech,
    Honestly a huge reason why LFR is so successful is because normal raiders are running it. You can even see times (normally later in the raid week) when the people in there are either not trying at all or are so bad the run will completely fall apart (really only on the second half). I think Blizzard wants to have a mix of experience in there to help carry/instruct the less experienced raiders.

    It is a fine line between encouragement and burnout though.

  5. Repartee says:

    I’m happy the tier gear in this LFR was that close in iLevel to the normal raiding gear. I began Dragon Soul with 2 prot specs (secondary for PvP that I never used). No intention of ever going ret until our 10 man raiding guild decided to try Heroic Yor’sahj where DK tanks reign supreme for progressing that fight.

    With a few lucky drops/rolls I was able to get 2 pc that made my dps sufficient for a kill. We aren’t a hardcore raiding guild though. But for a less than hardcore 10 man guild, LFR works quite well.

  6. sam says:

    blizzard is trying to do two things. One they need the heroic and normal players running with the easy mode players to make it work. Remember Vanilla when tier 2 players would come down and run strat for orbs, or lbrs for fire resist gear for guildies or just to make money?

    I think they are trying to recreate those days which does two things, exposes more people to raiding so that the raiding guild have a better supply of new players and keeps the lower geared players that pay most of the money playing. You lower the gear to where the normal and heroic players aren’t interested it all falls apart. Less successful runs, less reason for the masses to raid and less subscribers.

  7. Matty says:

    Going to give this more thought, but in the meantime, thank you.

  8. Derevka says:

    Well written, sir.

    I must say, I think the biggest issue with LFR currently isnt the ilvl its the setbonuses and weapon procs. yes, yes, yes… its the final tier of an expac and historically the final tier has “ZOMG OP!” items living in it. In my eyes, they need to address the Tier items in LFR. ie. Not make them elligible for set bonuses, or perhaps give LFR a different set bonus… perhaps a set bonus that spans across all LFR gear, regardless of tier (similar to the PVP set bonuses).

    It is the ‘obligation’ to run LFR to the Normal/Heroic raiders…. I run it on my alts, because thats what LFR is good for… /for me/. It is not a place for my main… While others view LFR as ‘their content’. Which is great: you have the execution skills of a Heroic Raider, helping coach and train along a more casual one.

    However, the mindset of having the Heroic Geared Toons run LFR for set bonuses, trinkets, etc… which wind up carrying those LFR runs—/that/ is my biggest issue. Making those raiders feel ‘obligated’ to run LFR, to then in turn coach/carry the greener-players, is ultimately going to be a detriment to those players. Of course, you arent OBLIGATED to run LFR. But as a hardcore raider, showing up to a raid less-than-perfect is a failure in many peoples eyes. Getting that perfection is getting that regen trinket, or getting that 4th tier item for a set bonus… even if it is LFR and an iLVL drop. Why do you think all those LFR bans went out in the first week of LFR?

    Additionally, LFR needs something done to address the overall apathy in there…. the effort, afk, ‘queue as a healer but DPS instead’, rudeness, and short-temperedness is something I’ve not seen rivaled since Faceroll AOE WOTLK Dungeon Finder.

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