There, I said it.
I spent YEARS raiding in games like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic. You’d think I’d look back on it fondly, but I don’t. Raiding is widely considered to be the highest form of “endgame” for MMOs, an organized activity that demands the highest skill and cooperation between multiple players. The truth of the matter is that raiding is a thinly veiled form of psychological manipulation used by game developers to keep you playing and paying monthly subscriptions.
I look ahead to the release of Guild Wars 2, and I’m irritated and confused by those who claim that it won’t succeed as a MMO unless it has raiding of some sort.
I disagree, and here’s why.
Raiding is about your money, not your enjoyment.
Subscription-based MMOs NEED to be the only game you play. They need to keep you logging in each and every day. If you stop playing consistently, then you may realize that you’re paying for a service you’re not using. Even at a modest $15 per month, that’s enough to make some players cancel their subscriptions. Raiding solves this problem by giving players a constant source of challenges and rewards along with a sense of accomplishment, and while that sounds like a good thing to most raiders, it probably sounds like a good thing to most hamsters too. Push a lever, and get a food pellet. It is the same principle at work in raiding, except the hamster gets his pellet every time, and not randomly.
When you call raiding “endgame,” you’re lying to yourself. The very idea behind raiding is to make a game that NEVER ends. Even if you succeed in defeating the bosses of one raid dungeon, developers like Blizzard will always make sure there is another tier of content just out of reach.
Games should be expansive. There should be reasons to log in and play. I have no issue with large worlds to explore, secrets to discover or challenging PvE content. What I do take issue with is when players are forced to spend their time on repetitive, scripted tasks purely for the sake of advancing to the next tier of repetitive, scripted tasks.
Raiding is about gear, not skill.
I’ve already ranted about specialized gear found in subscription MMOs, and the reasons behind why they separate endgame PvE and PvP gear. But let me take things a step further.
While making content challenging is certainly in a developer’s best interest, the real point of raiding is to keep you coming back again and again for pieces of randomized loot. Why else would players return again and again to do the same scripted events over and over for weeks or months? If every player in a raid was rewarded with the gear they needed, the life cycle of the raid would plummet, and it would become obsolete very quickly. Developers of subscription MMOs need you coming back, and they dangle a carrot on a stick to ensure that you will. And why do you need that gear in the first place? Because the next tier of raids requires you to be more powerful than you are currently, and power is determined by stats. All MMOs use players’ stats in one way or another, but in subscription MMOs like WoW and SW:TOR, stats are everything.
I’m not saying that raiding doesn’t require skill and coordination. It does. Sort of.
It does require a certain mastery of the game and your class in order to defeat a boss the first time. You need to execute and push the right buttons at the right time. The problem lies in the fact that the vast majority of boss fights are completely scripted. It only really takes skill to defeat a boss the first or second time. By the fifth or sixth time you’re repeating the same task, it becomes almost boring. Practice makes perfect, but farming sucks.
These days, even getting your first kill on a boss is much easier than it used to be. As games like WoW gained popularity, more and more websites sprung up providing you with step by step instructions on how to defeat the encounter. The top 5% of players in the World defeat the toughest content on the highest difficulty, and everyone else pretty much rides their coat tails. A simple Google search for a specific boss fight will net you multiple videos explaining how to defeat it. Raiding for the vast majority of players is, in reality, just interactive painting by numbers.
It isn’t about skill. Raiding is about incremental, random gear acquisition from memorization of static encounters. In subscription MMOs, the guy with the best gear wins. Getting that gear is all that matters.
Casual Raiders, or “How can we get more hamsters on this thing?”
In WoW’s earlier years, during the time of their Burning Crusade expansion, raiding was the pastime of the game’s elite. Content was gated in such a way that you needed to not only have the gear to succeed, you needed to defeat the content that preceded it to unlock it. Blizzard then decided that raiding shouldn’t only be enjoyed by players who dedicated 4-7 nights a week to it for hours at a time. Things like raid attunements went out the window. The official reason for this was so that more and more people could experience the content that so much effort went into creating. Raiding shouldn’t only be for elitists! It should be for everyone!
Sounds almost noble.
The real reason this decision was made is because raiding is such a successful psychological motivator. Why wouldn’t developers of subscription MMOs want the majority of their players to invest in it? People standing around with nothing to do may begin to question what they’re paying for every month. All they needed to do was offer different levels of difficulty for the same content, just enough so that every player at every skill level would be able to find a challenge that matched their ability and kept them playing. This was an incredibly simple and effective idea for Blizzard to implement, one that had already served them well in their Diablo franchise (and still does).
The addition of things like achievements and titles only served to motivate players even more. The status measure between players wasn’t only about if you were a raider or not, it was about how far you had progressed and on what difficulty. Where you a member of a progression guild? Where did your guild rank relative to other guilds on your server? Raiding may have opened up to more and more people over time, but all it really did was get more and more people running on the same wheel. And all the while looking at their neighbors’ wheels to see if they were any further ahead than they were.
Now it’s to a point where the mention of a MMO without raiding somehow means the MMO is flawed or incomplete. Players have fallen in love with the same mechanics used to ensnare them.
It’s like a gamer’s version of Stockholm syndrome.
Raiding is NOT about teamwork.
Raiders love to romanticize the experience. On the surface, it’s like a classic fantasy novel. A group of adventurers from different backgrounds and with different skills band together to defeat an evil which threatens the land.
When I ask people why they love raiding, they often give the same answer I used to… “It’s about playing with my friends to achieve a common objective. It’s about teamwork.”
Only it really isn’t.
I’ve made several friends over the years because of raiding, but I’ve lost a few as well. Raiding can be fun, but it can also be incredibly stressful. Playing with your friends sounds great, but what if your friends aren’t good enough or don’t have the gear required to be successful? What if they make mistakes which wipe your raid, wasting precious time? What if they’re not playing the right class or role? What if they play the same role as you and need the same gear you do?
Just Google “Raiding Loot Systems” and you’ll find multiple examples of complex systems put into place to determine who gets what and minimize resentment and perceived unfairness. Gear is progression, and competition over it is the norm. That’s what happens when only a fraction of people are rewarded for something the whole group achieved. The amount of drama caused over raid loot over the years is staggering. Grown adults will act out like six year olds over someone else getting a piece of loot instead of them. Every loot system has its flaws, and players frequently put time and effort into manipulating them. Even in random pick up groups, invitations only go out to people who are perceived to be able to pull their own weight via mods which track the player’s gear score. This pre-screening serves to weed out those who wouldn’t be “earning their loot” in the eyes of the raid leader.
The quest for gear and progression often means you stop playing with friends entirely, as there is often an inverse relationship between how skilled a raider is and how friendly he is. Put simply – nice guys really do finish last. It’s usually the obsessive, aggressive, impatient perfectionists who excel, and they usually don’t tolerate people who impair their ability to succeed. This isn’t something exclusive to raiding in a MMO. This kind of thing happens on sports teams, on Wall Street and anywhere else people take competition and personal excellence seriously.
Maybe you’re lucky, and maybe you’re part of a raid team that doesn’t put all the emphasis on progression. Maybe you all get along extremely well. You’ll still have your moments of perceived favoritism, finger pointing and other assorted childish behavior. From my own experience, the most fun I ever had in WoW was being part of a highly successful 10 man raid team. The problem was, the majority of other members of our guild who weren’t on our roster gave us no end of grief over it, especially since one of our raid team members was the guild leader. The whole thing just promoted cliques and high school popularity contests, even when you had the best of intentions.
For subscription MMOs, this kind of competition over loot and raid team spots is an acceptable and necessary evil.
A World without Raids
I love Guild Wars 2, and I make no secret about it. There are several reasons for it. It offers a view of what MMOs can be without the Holy Trinity, and it’s free-to-play without being pay-to-win. Because it has no subscription, ArenaNet doesn’t have to concern itself with being the only game you’re playing. If you take a couple weeks off to play a new release, Guild Wars 2 will still be waiting on you just like a single player title would. You’re not out anything. You didn’t let your raiding team down or end up losing your roster spot because there are no raids.
That isn’t to say Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have compelling group content. There is actually quite a bit.
There are several dungeons planned for release, complete with harder, explorable modes that can give you multiple ways to experience the same content and different bosses to fight.
World versus World PvP are huge battles that last two weeks at a time over an immense map, bringing three entire servers together to fight against each other in rated competition. The layout of the map may not change each time you enter the fight, but no scripted boss fight can ever match the unpredictability of hundreds of human opponents. You also aren’t bound by time constraints or raid times. You can pop in and out according to your schedule. If your guild or PvP team wants to treat WvW like raiding, meeting up a few times a week to crush your enemies, you certainly can.
The best thing about the endgame of Guild Wars 2 is that the rewards you get from PvP and PvE are equivalent in nature. There’s no subscription, so there’s no need to make you suffer through two different gear grinds to get the best gear for each game type. Sure, there are ways to customize your endgame gear, but it is cosmetic in nature. Guild Wars 2 is about skill, not who has the best stats.
Structured PvP is a completely level playing field that players can access almost immediately on their first day of owning the game. Your sPvP character is completely separate from your PvE/WvW character and is max level with access to the same exact gear that everyone else is. The emphasis is on competitive and challenging game play, not a gear grind. This is as valid an endgame as any shooter on the market, and no one questions the endgame of one of those. Tribes Ascend is completely free-to-play, and I play it for hours every week for a similar PvP experience. I don’t need to grind for higher and higher tiers of gear to make me want to play it. All I need are fun maps, good class and gear balance, and a game that rewards skill over everything else.
I don’t think a lot of people get this. I don’t know if it is because they’re brainwashed by years of WoW dominance and subscription models to think that MMOs can’t coexist in the same market, or are under the delusion that every MMO must be all things to all people. The former just isn’t true, and the latter never has been. Even World of Warcraft can’t offer everything, despite its efforts. Trying to be only made the game worse over the years, and its popularity has more to do with what others have done wrong rather that what Blizzard has done right.
I will tell you this. Guild Wars 2 is a game that doesn’t care what other games you play. It doesn’t need to be all things to all people. It doesn’t need to make you run in the hamster wheel or chase a carrot on a stick to keep you playing.
That’s the best endgame strategy I ever heard of.