Friday, December 14, 2012

Sticking Together (On Cross Realm Raiding)

As people likely know, ever since cross-realm raiding came into existence via Real-ID it has been Blizzard's policy to allow it for every raid tier except the current one.  Rohan at Blessing of Kings and Stubborn at Sheep the Diamond recently made a pair of posts regarding the subject.  Rohan tried to build a case for Blizzard's current policy and Stubborn suggested reasons why the policy should be changed.

I'm going to agree with Blizzard's policy but for different reasons than Rohan's and I'll actually have two separate arguments.  The first is more general and applies to social bonds and opportunity cost, the second is directed at progression raiding.

On Social Bonds
This may shock people, but Blizzard charges a monthly subscription.  Thus, they want you to stay subscribed.

It's possible that you've considered quitting raiding and/or WoW, for whatever reason.  But when you did, it's likely you felt like this:

One of the main points of MMOs is social bonds, building relationships with people in a persistent world.  Those relationships are what generally keep people playing even after the available content is consumed.  Doing a dungeon for the 50th time probably isn't fun.  Doing a dungeon for the 50th time with friends might be.

So how does this apply to cross-realm raiding?  Well, let's say you're considering quitting but you're part of a raiding team.  In which of these two scenarios are you more likely to quit?

1, to fill your spot and allow the group to keep raiding, someone just needs to have a friend somewhere on some server some character that's able to fulfill your role.

2, to fill your spot and allow the group to keep raiding, your guild has to recruit someone, most likely cross server.  This person has to go through an application process and be vetted and then pay a transfer fee, at which point your guild can evaluate them in a raid environment and see if they're an adequate replacement.

In terms of social bonds, it's a lot easier on you in terms of quitting in the first option.  You may feel guilty for making them do that work and you know you're likely introducing a complete stranger into the group of friends.

But there's more.

The man in the above image is discussing the idea of "opportunity cost."  In short, opportunity cost means that whenever you do something, you're giving up doing something else you could have done instead.  To summarize the summary...

"Time is money, friend!"

Let's say you have a mage in your guild.  He's not performing quite as well as you'd like, and you're considering replacing him as a result.

Currently, to replace him you have to advertise, go through applications, pick someone, and have them transfer over with the knowledge they may fail their trial and thus have wasted their money.  That's probably quite a bit of effort and time invested.  In short, it puts up a barrier that means you're less likely to replace someone on a whim or for a very minor improvement.

"Good news, everyone!  We spent a week of slaving over applications to replace our old hunter with a new one that's 1% better!  Totally worth it!"

On the flip side, if you can replace him with someone who's a friend of anyone cross-realm, that lowers the barrier to replacement and means you're *MORE* likely to replace people because the opportunity cost is lower.

Note that this also can work favor of new applicants.  Let's say the old hunter actually had to quit raiding for whatever reason.  You get a new hunter, but he's 1% worse than what you want.  Is it worth going through the hassle of recruitment again to try to find a better hunter?  For the vast majority of guilds, the answer is no.

And this also even helps prevent people from leaving!  A person is less likely to try to "trade up" in terms of guilds due to the necessity of transferring and such instead of joining a friend's cross-realm raid group.  Or on a social level, if drama happens, people are more likely to try to work things out and stick together.  There's a much higher cost associated with leaving for a new guild in these scenarios.

In short, putting up barriers (by not allowing cross-realm raiding on the current tier) helps maintain guild bonds because the opportunity cost of recruiting someone new (or leaving for a new guild) is much higher and so it happens less.  It makes moving between groups less fluid and preserves more relationships, which keeps more subscribers, which makes Blizzard happy (and is good for the game).

On Progression Raiding
All that said, allowing cross-realm raiding also causes issues in the progression arena on at least two fronts...

The first front is more obvious: realm firsts and realm rankings.


Note: that's not my achievement.

Allowing cross-realm raiding for the current tier muddles these waters.  If Guild A borrows someone from Guild B cross server for a server first kill, is that considered a realm first?  Or let's make the example really horrid...Group A uses nine of their people in a cross realm group with Guild B on Guild B's server to get the realm first on that server.

Or let's say realm firsts aren't even involved.  Let's say my guild is 16/16H in a month or two and we don't need one or two of our raiders for, say, Heart of Fear.  So they go help some friends on another server who are working on normals or early heroics in Heart of Fear.  You might imagine that the competition on that server might not be thrilled about this.

Are realm firsts and realm rankings outdated and archaic?  Perhaps, but a lot of people still enjoy it.  It's a lot more fun to say "We're 8th on the realm" instead of "We're 8,589th in the world."  Note: 
those numbers are taken from an actual realm.

Is all of the above possible within the same server?  Yes, but trying to pull off the above within one server is a lot harder than when you have access to every server.

The second front is somewhat tied to the first front: maintaining an appropriate roster.

One of the challenges of progression raiding is striking a balance with your roster. You want enough people to handle all roles and to cover absences, but you don't want so many raiders that people become unhappy due to sitting and loot gets diluted (a 10 man roster gets 50% more loot per person than a 15 man roster, to use some extremes).  If you try to raid with exactly 10 people and someone has to miss a night, you're in trouble, and that's the penalty you pay for trying to play it fast and loose.

Allowing cross-realm raiding for the current tier encourages people to use smaller rosters because finding a replacement is a lot easier.  You just need one raider who knows some person who can fill in the spot for the missing person.  As a result, it places less emphasis on the guild as a self-contained unit, which weakens social bonds, and we've already discussed how Blizzard doesn't want that.

So there you have a few reasons against cross-realm raiding for the current tier.  Allowing cross-realm raiding for the current tier will result in...

1, more people quitting raiding and/or WoW due to ease of replacement

2, more people being replaced in guilds since the barrier of replacing is lowered

3, more people leaving guilds because the barrier of trialing for new guilds is lowered

4, weird (and detrimental) effects on realm firsts and realm rankings

5, less emphasis on raid groups as self-contained units which weakens social bonds

When you're sitting there and missing one person for a raid, I'm sure seeing a bunch of friends online cross realm seems to taunt you.  And individually, letting you bring that one person doesn't cause an issue.  But WoW players have a tendency of taking things to extremes.

To draw a parallel, taking a friend to LFR with you wasn't really a big deal.  Allowing that, however,  resulted in guilds doing 10 runs a week using 3 new characters and 22 "saved" characters to get people tons of loot.  If you open the door, people will abuse it.

Perhaps you're still thinking "So what?  Social upheaval is fine, people will eventually sort themselves out, cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war!"

Whenever social upheaval occurs in WoW, guilds tend to dissolve and people tend to quit.  So how much stability are you willing to give up for fluidity?  How much are you willing to sacrifice on the altar of cross-realm raiding?

That's an answer you'll have to decide for yourself.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How Many Mogu Lives and/or Gold is a Ring Worth?

In my last post I discussed the idea of Blizzard adding a new ring vendor who sold 509 rings and suggested that people would value the ring at different amounts.  To be "fair," I spoke about both paying in gold or killing Mogu for drops to use as currency instead.

So now let's see what people actually think!  Inspired by a suggestion from Stubborn of Sheep the Diamond .  Again, to summarize the scenario:

Pretend Blizzard has added a new vendor in your faction's "capital" in Pandaria.  This guy sells 509 rings that are unique-equipped as a set, so you can only use one.  Also pretend you're a reasonably new level 90 who is looking to acquire gear (likely for raiding, though perhaps to get into LFR or simply because you like gear).

We'll also assume that the ring is perfectly itemized for your spec (or the vendor offers a variety so you can pick the best).

There are two potential methods to pay for the ring.  The first is to kill Mogu for a drop (one drop per Mogu so you can't make a group and grind them incredibly efficienctly) and the second is to pay gold.  What I'm mainly looking to find out is the threshold at which you go from saying "Yeah, that ring's definitely worth getting" to "You'd have to be crazy to get that ring."

There are a pair of polls on the right hand side of the blog, it'll be interesting to see the results.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Ring Vendor (On "Optional")

So, are the dailies for Klaxxi/Golden Lotus/August Celestials/Shado-Pan optional?  Is running LFR for upgrades optional?  What do we even mean by optional?

I realize I'm a bit late to the party with this post.  And frankly at this point it doesn't even matter, the damage has been done (for now).  So why write this?  To explain the problem, illustrate the frustration people experienced, and hopefully prevent this situation from happening again.

On a personal note, my guild is currently 6/6H in MSV at the time of this posting and hopefully we'll kill another heroic boss or two by the end of this week (we only raid Sunday/Monday).  My guild did the daily grind, the valor grind, and the conquest grind during the first few weeks (along with gearing up in heroic dungeons, of course).  We hated it, but we gritted our teeth and put up with it.  In other words, this is from the perspective of a person who's been there and done that, not someone sitting at 0/0 neutral Golden Lotus and whining about how things are unfair.

So let's imagine a scenario.  Blizzard has decided that they want to give people an additional gearing option so they create a new vendor in your faction's "capital" in the Vale.  This vendor has 509 rings (which are as a collection unique-equipped) which cost no money, all you have to do is talk to him and get the ring you want (or more than one ring for different roles).

You're estatic, surely this ring will help you down more raid bosses.  It's not an earth-shattering bonus, but it will help.  You show up on raid night and you see that everyone has one of the new rings...except one person.  Surprised, your raid asks the fellow why he doesn't have one of the new rings.  He says "We get gear from raiding and we'll eventually kill the bosses anyway, so getting the ring is optional."

How many of you would accept that answer?  How many would say "Oh, yeah, sure, you having the ring would help us kill bosses faster while we're all relatively undergeared but it is optional, you're totally right."  My guess is none of you.  In fact, you'd probably try to get rid of him and replace him with someone who actually cares about helping the raid succeed.

Now let's throw a wrench in the works.  Suppose the ring costs 100g now.

Most (if not all) of you probably still think he had damn well better have that ring if he wants to be in the raid.

What if it was 500g?  Or 1000g?  Or 5000g?  Or 1,0000g?  Or 50,000g?  Or 100,000g?  Or 500,000g? How about 1,000,000g?

My guess is that somewhere along that line you went from thinking "Yeah, that guy had better have the ring" to "You'd have to be crazy to have that ring."

I'll also guess that the point at which you thought it was worth getting the ring varied among you, that some of you thought it was worth maybe 100g at most, others thought that a 509 ring that didn't cost a capped currency (valor/conquest) or require a raid ID was worth 100,000g, and most of you probably fell in the middle somewhere.

"But Balkoth, what if we're bad at making gold, that's not fair to people who aren't AH barons!"

Okay, for argument's sake, let's change the scenario.

Now, instead of having to pay 100g, you have to kill 10 Mogu in the Vale for a drop (and each Mogu drops only one item, so grouping doesn't really help).

Most (if not all) of you probably still think he had damn well better have that ring if he wants to be in the raid (that's basically one daily quest, after all).

What if it was 50 Mogu?  Or 100 Mogu?  Or 500 Mogu?  Or 1,000 Mogu?  Or 5,000 Mogu?  Or 10,000 Mogu?  Or 50,000 Mogu? How about 100,000 Mogu?

My guess is that somewhere along that line you went from thinking "Yeah, that guy had better have the ring" to "You'd have to be crazy to have that ring."

And again, I'll also guess that people have different opinions on how many Mogu lives that ring is worth.

So what can we conclude from this?

Trying to claim that getting the ring is "optional" is meaningless.  In a sense, it's technically true.  In the same technical sense, using gems is optional.  Enchants are optional.  Using flasks is optional.  And wearing pants is optional (you could technically kill every raid boss without wearing pants eventually).

What we really mean, then, is that guilds have expectations that raiders will do what they can within reason to maximize the likelihood of success in raids.  And as we've seen above, exactly what "within reason" means depends on the guild.

For raiding guilds, this means getting getting items from heroic dungeons.  This means gemming and enchanting the gear.  This means using flasks, food, and potions.  I have never seen a guild that would consider any of this optional.

But there's something important to point out here.  Even this isn't clear-cut: most people, even those who cleared 8/8H Dragon Soul pre-nerf, didn't use epic gems in every slot for every item no matter what.  Most people used lesser enchants at the beginning of Cataclysm because Maelstroms were so expensive.  And if flasks suddenly cost 5000g each for some reason, I doubt we'd see many guilds using them.

Now, in Mists of Pandaria, raiders have additional ways to maximize the likelihood of success in raids.  They can do dailies for reputation for Valor items.  They can PvP for Conquest items that are effectively 483 PvE items for all but tanks.  They do do LFR for items and sigils.  They can get Golden Lotus/Klaxxi exalted for two "free" 489 items (that don't require an RNG drop or a gated currency, i.e. Valor/Conquest).

Guilds serious about progressing quickly in heroic modes consider this all within reason.  Thus, it becomes mandatory, just like gemming/enchanting gear is mandatory.  Just like using flasks/food/potions is mandatory.  Just like wearing pants in the raid is mandatory.

If someone showed up to your raid without pants and claimed wearing pants was "optional," would you accept their reasoning?

One of my next posts will discuss possible solutions to this problem.