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Stabs is continuing his series on raiding with a look at everything that’s wrong with raiding. I would summarise the problems with the current state of MMO raiding as an unholy trinity – gear progression, hyper-specialisation and design on rails. Much like the MMO holy trinity of tank, healer and DPS these three depend on and reinforce each other, only in this case the three each make for a less pleasant gaming experience.

Gear progression means that each raid hands out loot that is better than the last – and assumes that you have gear at the standard of the previous raid. Gear progression forces players into farming raids that they’ve already beaten in order to complete their upgrades. It excludes players from joining more advanced raiding guilds because, however good a player they are, their character isn’t up to the required gear level and will need to be carried through content that’s on farm status until they catch up. Gear progression renders older raids obsolete. Gear progression poisons the rest of the game as well, by introducing inflation in gear stats so that you get people raiding solely to get the gear to be “competitive” in PvP for example. I’ve met so,me players who seem to think that gear progression is an integral feature of raiding – it’s not. Both DAoC and LotRO have raids, but the raid gear is not massively BETTER than other gear, just a bit better and different.

Hyper-specialisation comes from raids where characters are only needed to do one thing, so they are optimised to do that one thing and get measured and judged on that one thing – DPS, or healing output, or damage mitigation for a tank. Hyper-specialisation takes away interesting choices in character design by driving players into pure builds that are relatively easy to theorycraft into cookie-cutter “best specs”. The idea of hybrid or jack-of-all-trades characters is completely devalued, and a whole aspect of challenge where a player decides “what do I do now?” is lost because they can only do one thing. Again, the consequences of specialisation bleed over into the non-raiding game. I’ve been in DAoC groups where the cleric healing went linkdead, so the friar stops meleeing with his staff and starts healing, or where the main tank dies but one of the other melee characters takes over. In WoW, if you lose either tank or healer in a group it’s a wipe – good thing the death penalties are more lenient there.

Design on rails comes from raids which have one and only one way of beating the boss. It’s gimmicky, and it takes away the intellectual challenge from the raid encounters because the one and only way to do this fight is on a website already so go read it, noob. Instead of improvising, showing your skills at thinking on your feet and how to use your abilities to best effect, you are just handed a script. Learn this. Execute it flawlessly, and There Will Be Epics. If by some chance a guild does find a different way of beating the boss, it will almost certainly be ‘fixed’ next patch. I don’t know about you, but personally I LIKE trying to figure out different ways of doing things, and find being told to STFU and follow the script depressing.

All three of these feed off each other. Gear progression encourages specialisation because the gear becomes more and more important relative to player skill, and the gear is always optimised for one role or another. Specialisation drives player demand for gear progression – if you’re being measured and judged on your DPS, you’re always out for something that will add to your DPS meter score. It also pushes the developers toward design on rails, because if there are fewer players in raids with a variety of abilities it makes less sense to cater to them. Design on rails encourages gear progression as a way of gating the content – your players aren’t going to be slowed down by devising tactics for each encounter, so the only way to stop them rapidly devouring your content is to make them grind before each new step. It also pushes players into hyper-specialisation because they don’t need to make any allowance for the unexpected, so no point in having characters who can switch roles to adapt mid-fight; and because the only variable in the success/failure equation left in the player’s control is MOAR DPS.

So – can we get away from all of these? Can we have a game where all raids need about the same level of gear (note – there can still be progression through having to unlock access to the next raid), one where the encounters are unpredictable enough to make specialisation vs flexibility a trade-off that merits serious thought, and one where the encounters allow multiple ways of solving them and let each raid group find the solution that works best for them? And would anyone apart from me play that game?

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