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.