Earlier this week Blizzard published a Dev Watercooler describing the changes in raiding in Warlords of Draenor. I don’t think anything in this article was news, in that all of these changes had been announced at Blizzcon. The major addition was a detailed discussion of the rationale behind the changes.
But this post isn’t about dissecting that discussion – I agree with pretty much everything Ion wrote in regards to the “why” of the changes. Instead, I want to revisit a topic that we’ve touched on before: raiding, burnout, and loot.
The key points of the watercooler article that are relevant to us are these:
- LFR, normal, heroic, and mythic raids are on separate lockouts. In other words, you can run each one for loot each week.
- LFR, normal, and heroic are flexible-size loot-based lockouts, which means you can run them as many times per week as you like, but you’ll only get loot from the boss the first time you kill it on each difficulty.
- Mythic is a fixed-size boss-based lockout, meaning that it works just like MoP normal/heroic raid lockouts do. Once you kill a boss, you get an instance ID and you’re stuck with that instance ID all week.
- LFR will likely not contain set items and specific highly-sought-after trinkets in order to prevent heroic/mythic raiders from feeling like they need to run LFR.
Again, most of this is not news – the last bit is the only tidbit we didn’t already know last November. However, the watercooler triggered a lot of the same negative reactions that were elicited after the announcement at BlizzCon.
In particular, raiders complained that in order to remain competitive, they would feel pressure to clear the same instance several times a week on different difficulty levels to maximize loot income. This in turn contributes to higher burnout rates amongst those raiders and a less fun experience. Our own Anafielle has been one of the more vocal people involved in this debate, even as far back as the early days of LFR.
Why Should Blizzard Do Anything?
You could argue (and many people have) that this is a self-inflicted problem. That these hardcore players are victims of their own inability to set boundaries, and that they just have to learn to manage their time better. I don’t think that’s a reasonable response, because it glosses over a lot of subtleties about the differing motivations gamers have, how we approach games, and the behavioral psychology involved in playing a game. I also think it incorrectly assumes that this is an issue which only affects mythic raiders.
Some players simply cannot enjoy a game unless they feel they’re doing everything they can to advance their character. This isn’t a new phenomenon, and it isn’t limited to mythic raiders. I’ve known players who never stepped foot in a heroic (MoP) raid, but still felt this way about their character. It’s sort of the “type A personality” equivalent in gaming, and I think every raider has a little bit of that tendency in them. For some people, it’s the cause of the bulk of the satisfaction they get from a game.
You may recall that I’ve covered this topic once before, when flex raiding came out, so I won’t re-hash all of the arguments for why raider burnout is a legitimate concern. It’s also got strong similarities to the issues raiders had with the valor point grind before the introduction of heroic scenarios. Each of these activities adds a chunk of time that a raider can spend to further their character, raising the bar a little bit higher. And there’s a strong social incentive to do so in most cases. Perhaps your guild explicitly states that they expect it of you, or maybe peer pressure is enough because you don’t want to be “that guy” that’s letting down the team.
So rather than brushing the issue aside with an “it’s not my problem” response, it’s worth considering the situation with a critical eye and asking, “is there a good way to fix this?”
The last time I touched on this topic, I laid out several potential systems that removed or reduced the incentive raiders had to run lower difficulty levels of the same raid. Some of them, like the increased ilvl gap between LFR and Normal, have already become a reality. But the one I want to dwell on today is a system I called the “Cumulative Loot System.”
The idea I’ve liked the most so far is one proposed by Thels. …. In short, when you kill a normal or heroic boss, you also automatically get your personal loot rolls for LFR and/or Flex. You could imagine various permutations of how this would work; maybe a normal kill gives you your LFR roll, while a heroic kill gives you both LFR and Flex rolls. But the simplest case is just that you get both rolls on any normal or heroic kill.
The basic premise behind this system is that if you can kill a boss on heroic mode, then the normal and LFR versions are obviously beneath your skill and gear level. There’s no challenge involved in doing so for your raid group anymore, it’s just an arbitrary time sink that’s probably not very much fun. But due to the way loot drops are structured, there may be a significant benefit to doing so thanks to set items and trinkets.
So instead of asking you to dump that time into the drudgery of another instance clear, it just gives you that loot when you kill the boss on heroic in addition to your usual heroic loot.
In other words, the system accepts that it is the game’s fault that it is providing an incentive for you to do busywork. It’s sort of like your professor writing an exam problem that’s a little too hard, and then giving you a bit of a curve to compensate. Not that I’ve ever done that. I’m just saying… some professors might have. At some point in history. Definitely not me though.
When I mentioned this idea on Twitter yesterday, it set off a flurry of retweets, favorites, and responses. So I felt it was worth clarifying some of the details in a place where I’m not limited to 140 characters at a time.
The idea is most succinctly explained via an example. Let’s say my raid group kills the new boss Ogre McOgreton on mythic difficulty. He drops mythic-quality loot just like usual for my raid leader to distribute. However, at the same time, I get the option to automatically get the results of my personal loot rolls for that boss from heroic, normal, and LFR difficulties. Doing so “consumes” my loot lockout for that boss on each of those difficulties that week.
Note that this isn’t guaranteed loot, because it’s a personal roll. I’m not suggesting the boss drops X additional heroic-quality items for your raid leader to distribute. I’m suggesting that the game makes up to three extra loot rolls for you, using the personal loot system, for each of the lower difficulty levels. Sometimes you might get 3 items from those three rolls (one heroic quality, one normal quality, one LFR quality). Other times you’ll get no items (use your best sarcastic Pat Krane voice and say “Triple Gold! Thanks Blizz!”). But no matter what, your loot lockout for that boss is flagged so that you don’t need to run the lower difficulty levels.
Recall that in Warlords, LFR, normal, and heroic all use loot-based lockouts. So being locked to a certain boss doesn’t prohibit you from joining a new group and killing that boss on that same difficulty again, it just prevents you from getting loot from the boss a second time. So this system doesn’t prevent a player in a guild clearing mythic difficulty from joining his friend’s raid and helping out. It just removes the loot-based incentive to do so, provided that player opted to get their loot during their mythic raid.
It also doesn’t penalize guilds that want to clear a lower difficulty early in the week and attempt a harder difficulty later in the week like a shared lockout system (i.e. MoP normal/heroic) does. If you clear normal (WoD) quickly and decide to give heroic (WoD) a try, great – you’ll get better loot when you kill that first heroic boss. One way to think of it is as a one-way lockout system – it only locks you out of lower difficulties (after giving you the loot, of course!).
There’s one significant modification suggested by Brian Packer that I think really makes the idea shine. He suggested that this system be integrated into garrisons via a follower mission. In other words, if I kill Ogre McOgreton on mythic, it unlocks a follower mission to “retrieve” my extra loot from LFR, normal and heroic. The next time I go back to my garrison, I can tell my follower to go “loot the body” or some such, and the next day he’ll return with my extra loot rolls.
This solves pretty much all of the major problems with the idea, most of which involved UI concerns like “how does this work with loot spec” and “how do I tell the game whether I want to use each roll or not.” It codifies the system as an optional thing rather than automatic, and the follower mission interface can handle the choice of different quest for each difficulty level and loot spec. It also puts a nice linkage between raiding and garrisons without relying on raw power boosts or buffs, so it’s not in any way mandatory.
I’ll also note that it still leaves open the possibility of setting up multiple runs combining mains and alts to more effectively funnel loot to a group of main raiders. In theory, you might still get more efficient loot allocation pulling those sorts of tricks, because you can funnel everybody’s loot “rolls” to the people who need it. But Cumulative Loot does severely reduce the benefit of doing that, simply because the personal loot rolls are guaranteed to be for the spec you want. If you go the “funnel via alts” route, the boss could drop three bows in a raid with no hunters. It basically reduces the reward-to-time-spent ratio of having multiple alt runs to the point that it’s not even worth considering for guilds outside the top 10 or 20.
Summa Cumulative Laude
In the eight or so months since that last blog post I’ve discussed the idea with a fair number of people. The criticisms generally fall into one of two arguments, neither of which holds much merit in the Warlords raiding system.
The first criticism is that it means fewer mythic and heroic raiders will participate in LFR, and that those players are necessary to carry LFR groups kicking and screaming to their eventual loot drops. While this may be at least partially true in the Mists of Pandaria LFR design, the blog post by Watcher explicitly states that it is not the case in Warlords. LFR is being tuned around the expectation that those players are not present. Which also means it’s no longer a limitation to this sort of loot system.
The second and most common response has been, “but that just gives mythic raiders loot they didn’t earn.” But that argument is fundamentally flawed because it’s built on an incorrect assumption.
When you kill a Mythic boss, what do you “earn” exactly? What’s the appropriate reward for doing that? Higher-ilvl loot, obviously, but how much higher and how much more? We’ve seen various different iterations of this in wow’s history, where killing hard-mode bosses rewarded more loot (Ulduar) and/or higher-ilvl loot (Ulduar and everything since). But the amount of extra loot has changed, as has the ilvl gap.
The truth is, the “amount” of those extra rewards is completely arbitrary. It’s whatever Blizzard decides it’s worth. They have an incentive to make it worth enough that people want to engage in all levels of content, of course. But whether you take the idealistic stance that they’re doing it to make the best game possible or the pessimistic stance that they just want to maximize subscriber numbers, either way, their choice is pretty much arbitrary. It is based more on relative ilvl gaps and power increases than on some nebulous idea of “mythic boss A is X% harder than heroic boss A, thus should give Y additional loot.” And in fact, as we’ve seen, one of the factors that goes into the determination of those ilvl values is how much incentive it gives players to run lower difficulty tiers!
When people suggest that Mythic raiders would be getting gear they “didn’t earn,” they’re making the implicit assumption that such a nebulous connection exists, when in reality, it’s an arbitrary reward. It’s a lot like complaining about having 10 levels per expansion instead of 5 because it’ll take so much longer to level. There’s an implicit (and incorrect) assumption in there that a “level” is some well-defined quantity of experience or time, rather than an amount set arbitrarily by Blizzard to ensure that reaching max level takes around 20 hours (or whatever their target is). And that incorrect assumption means the whole argument topples over under scrutiny.
I’m not suggesting that this is the only way to address raiders’ concerns of multiple loot lockouts. But out of all of the solutions I’ve seen, this one seems to have the most positives and fewest negatives. As I mentioned in August, it’s got plenty of additional benefits:
- Since everyone gets extra loot, it feels good. It feels like a bonus, whereas the traditional shared difficulty lockout feels punitive and restrictive.
- It makes it clear that the real reward is time – specifically, time you don’t have to spend mindlessly clearing the same instance and can spend on other things.
- It eliminates worries about LFR or normal mode loot being attractive to mythic raiders, which means that LFR and normal loot can be significantly better (i.e. a smaller ilvl gap). That makes LFR and normal raiders happy.
It’s pretty rare to stumble across a system that works this well without any major downsides. And yet, here it is. I’d also like to point out that I shouldn’t get most of the credit for the idea. It first came up in discussions with Thels on maintankadin, and of course Brian Packer gets all the credit for the exceptional idea of tying it into garrisons.
What I like most about the system is that it’s intuitive. If I clear a challenge mode in time to get the gold achievement, I don’t need to go back and clear it again to get the silver one. It’s clear from my accomplishment that I can do that, so the game doesn’t ask me to go back and spend another 20 minutes proving it. There’s no reason raiding can’t work the same way.
From a skill perspective, it’s sort of like performing a track and field event. If I can clear a 4′ hurdle track, it’s pretty clear I can clear a 3′ one, or a 2′ one. There’s little point in making me re-run those to “prove” anything – it’s not a test of my skill at all at that point, it’s just another chunk of time I need to spend to clear a trivial hurdle (yes, I just used a hurdle metaphor in a hurdle analogy). Cumulative Loot just builds that into the reward structure. It says “sure, here’s the loot from all the lower difficulty levels that we know you can clear, great job on the mythic kill.”