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.


  1. Correct me if I make any bad assumptions about the game. I don't play it so I'm not sure how things are working in it. That said, the Achievements argument is interesting. Because how Blizzard handles it will impact which one of the recruitment methods is incentivized/de-incentivized. If realm first is no longer about about being on the same realm, then it doesn't matter if you recruit cross realm. But if the achievement remains, this will be a problem. LOTS of guilds used to raid with the goal of being the first on their realm and I'm not sure if that's still true in the game so let me know. But a cross-realm guild *might* not care, but I think all guilds who raid progressively definitely would. It's been a goal since the inception of the game because world first is pretty much locked down by world famous guilds.

  2. Many guilds still care about realm firsts, yes. As you pointed out, world or region firsts are never really obtainable (and being world 4000th or something doesn't sound impressive), but breaking it down to individual servers lets people shoot for server firsts or at least a good server ranking ("We're server third, woo-hoo!").

    I will say that server rankings are less important than they were years ago due to sites like wowprogress and guildox which makes more world-wide information available. But that's a far cry from saying no one cares about them.

  3. The only time I could ever see cross-realm raiding of current content being beneficial is for very low population or "dead" servers. They just don't have enough players to attract a serious raiding guild. It's an even bigger problem if they want to go into 25 man raiding rather than just 10s.

    I'd say, for the lower population servers, maybe cross realm raiding with 1 other server, and perhaps cross realm auction houses. Maybe free transfers if a server ever becomes high population enough that it no longer needs this.

    As much as I would like more cross realm raiding, it's probably the right decision for Blizzard.

    - Attack

  4. Yeah, that's a fair point about the low population realms.

    Here's the fifth from the bottom of server progression:

    No guild has even killed Wind Lord on normal.

    I think one of the largest problems with server merges would be dealing with character names as people can be rather attached to those.

  5. Likely name changes and a few other hiccups. But yeah, people can be attached. I talked with someone from an RP realm. On some of the more serious RP realms, RPers view non-RP players as a blight on their server and insist on RP names, or face the possibility of being a social exile in a sense. That person highly resented the idea and opted to be the social outcast, outside of their guild.

    Right now the bottom server apparently is one where nobody has killed Elegon Normal or Blade Lord normal. On this realm during T13, nobody got past Heroic Spine it looks like, furthest progression was 6/8H.

    Outside of these dead servers, there's enough of a population in medium and larger sized realms to support any time of raiding that a player could want. It also makes transferring servers a serious decision that is not to be lightly undertaken.

    - Attack

  6. "It also makes transferring servers a serious decision that is not to be lightly undertaken."

    Exactly. Which helps the game in a number of ways which I think outweigh downsides.

  7. Two comments:

    First, if you combine your two points - taking the money aspect from the first and the ranking aspect from the second - you see that there is also a nice financial motivation for Blizzard to keep current-tier raiding server-based. A good chunk of people who are willing to transfer for a raid team are also interested in server-based rankings. Look at the guild transfer option as a prime example: entire guilds have switched servers, either to move to one with less competition, or to a more active raiding environment for recruitment. There wouldn't just be easier/quicker kills per server...there would also be a LOT less money spent on player transfers and other extra services.

    Second, consider the PvP equivalent of this setup. Rated battlegrounds are, in theory, akin to raiding - they are the endgame large group PvP activity. However, cross-server RBGs are perfectly fine, even though each server AND battlegroup have ranking boards tied to them. The same goes for challenge modes. Any thoughts on why these activities are not as limited? Are they inherently harder to find people for? Are the rankings not as prestigious? I feel like there's probably some insight about the game (and/or Blizzard's view on aspects of it) in these differences.

  8. That's true on the money (and the money serves as another barrier).

    I think the reason for PvP is a practical one: on most servers, there simply aren't enough rated BG teams to keep a decent queue with a decent variety. Unlike PvE where you just spawn a new instance with mobs as your enemy, you need actual enemy players for PvP. You also don't want to always face the same two to three teams, not just due to boredom but also because you need a skill curve available. That's the whole reason they were to battlegroups in the first place.