Difficulty is only half the story

| Monday, March 7, 2011
Tobold asks if Rift proves that Cataclysm is too hard? He eventually comes to this claim: "Most players prefer a game in which they don't have to constantly justify their performance."

That sounds about right. I'd even go so far as to say that most players prefer a game in which they never have to justify their performance. Please don't take this as a "they have lives" argument, but when people have serious jobs full of their own challenges, family and social arenas to navigate, and at this moment, a whole lot of economic uncertainty, who the fuck wants a 'challenge' when they start a game?

Challenge is great and all, but when there's too much of it (a subjective measure) and when it's "not my job", it morphs into frustration. Top it off with an obnoxiously realistic preparation cost, gems, enchants, glyphs, pre-learning fights, and the raiding game in WoW could very quickly resemble a job, except unpaid and without even being able to pretend to contribute to society. Not that I am saying there is anything wrong with raiding, just that it's not a productive activity. Again: recreation is fine, good in fact, essential, but it is not and should not take on too much similarity to work.

But I don't think this is the entire situation. There is another aspect: consistency. Historically, WoW has been on a trend of anonymity and speed, even before LK, though that is when it mushroomed into the awful pile of awful that it is now (I mean the trend, not WoW; I'm not going to be a WoW-basher just because I left). Leveling got faster, grouping got faster, gear got faster, everything got faster, we overgeared faster, we zerged and rushed and zergrushed and merged adjectives into nouns into verbs with some adverbs generously scattered on top to complete the recipe, as if we were making German words.

Raiding went in the exact opposite direction. Fights became more complex. Smaller raids gave less room for error, and for carrying lower-performing players. We went from basic concepts like "stand here and kill that, but watch your aggro, run away if you're the bomb" to "kill the boss but when the slimes come you switch to them and you have to stay close to them unless it's the orange and it's chasing you, then you need to stay away from it, and now that you're back on the boss you need to watch out for the ooze puddles and also there are the orange vials that you cannot stand in, and now we're going to be in phase three where you're moving constantly so I hope you don't have a predisposition toward muscle craps because you're going to be twisting your hand a bit to keep up your rotation since this is a burn phase but keep moving and if you stand i the orange stuff we wipe because that will wreck your DPS and fucking fuck you god damn noob you killed us how hard is it to keep track of A, B, C, D, E, and F while also maintaining your rotation?"

And then we go back to dailies, facerolling a half-dozen mobs at once while we contemplate our next angry forum post about how X fight is too lag-dependent and how my class is so underpowered.

WoW used to be harder or less convenient and fast or some mix of the three. I'm not saying leveling wasn't always easy. It was. That was one of the selling points. But your average world elite wasn't a total joke. Your average instance wasn't going to be rolled over in your sleep. I'm not suggesting it was "hard", if theoretically there was an objective, quantifiable measure of it, but that the average play experience was a little bit more normalized. We waited around more, so when we found ourselves waiting around, that was normal, as opposed to an outrageous outrage. We wiped, so when it happened, well that's what happens.

WoW used to be more consistent. The loss of consistency, I believe, is part of what made hard heroics so undesirable, even if they aren't all that much harder than past hard 5-mans.


Nat said...

I see your point, but I must disagree on something in particular. Even if you are of the opinion that raiding isn't traditionally 'productive', it is definitely NOT a worthless or pointless activity. Now you didn't use these words, granted, but I got the overall impression that that's how you feel.

There is nothing that's a waste of time about learning, making mistakes and adjusting, looking at different ways of thinking about and doing things, learning when to be patient and persevere and when to call it quits. Whatever walk of life you come from, there is no activity in the world that, if imbued with these properties, could be considered a waste of time in my eyes.


Leah said...

I was watching a video last night, Penn and Teller's bullshit episode about dojo's and martial arts and they were baffled at people who not only payed for their classes, but they would come in on their off time and for free clean the dojo, assist with training etc - while still paying for their own training.
It reminded about the short stint at the bdsm dungeon I did (I had some weird jobs when I was younger) and some masochists would come in, pay for it and then would proceed to clean the place, including the toilets, run errands, etc. they payed for the privilege of working. they also payed for the privilege of being whipped and insulted, but in their case - it fed into their submissive psyche.

Are wow raiders just closet (and maybe not closet) submissive masochists?

Duht said...

Tobolds post kinda tweaked a nerve when I read it. Comparing random raids in a leveling environment to end game raiding and concluding Rift is easier is comparing apples to oranges.

Comparing apples to apples would be something along the lines of comparing the first few instances of Rift and WoW. If that is any bar for comparison(not saying it is, it's just a more accurate comparison than what Tobold posed), Rift raiding is going to be brutal. Rifts first few instances have some fairly complex mechanics for early game boss fights. There are things like target priorities, don't stand in the crap, face bosses away so they don't cleave everyone, kite when the bad guy does his special ability, move to the random safe spot location or die, and cc the adds. I've been playing with old WoW raiding buddies and as we play we've compared a few fight mechanics in instances to wow raid content.

This is actually kinda exciting. It is a change of course from WoW where typically you don't start really encountering complex mechanics until later in game. It's almost as if they are training players who run instances for what to expect when they are ready to raid. Rift may, as a result, have a pool of players who have developed a raiding skill set before setting foot into their first raid.

So yes, invasion raids and invasion bosses are pretty straightforward. Most invasion bosses are one trick ponies. Some do an AOE you have to run from, some mezz/stun/disorient a tank, some summon adds, but they can be grunted through. They are frequent and they are inclusive and accessible because you may have players from 6-18 for example in a zone who all want to participate in some manner. I have no doubt that they are in no way indicative of Rift end game.

Klepsacovic said...

Reala: An activity is as worthless or pointless as people make it. And yes, while I didn't say it, I do think that for quite a lot of people, they've made raiding a worthless, pointless activity.

@Leah: There are probably multiple forces at work here. One may be the submissive aspect, but I wouldn't identify that as a major aspect of any of the individuals, since all people have it to varying degrees and only require the right trigger. I think what's going on in the case of the extra work is a sense of ownership of a community asset or social responsibility. But maybe those are just different forms of submission.

@Duht: It is a rather apples to oranges comparison, but now that you mention it, I think it fits into my theory. Rift may be creating a more consistent game, in which leveling content is not entirely trivial, so that end-game raiding isn't such a contrast when players get to it. This assumes that Rift raiding ends up approximately as difficult as WoW; it could very well be that it starts harder and ends even harder, but I'd still say that adds consistency compared to current WoW.

Justisraiser said...


Your post resonated with me, especially your example describing the Putricide fight. I experienced WotLK raiding largely as PUG content,
where me and two buddies would basically recruit people from Trade Chat and just go raid. I noticed my explanations of fights became longer and longer with each raid.

The problem is this is a 6 year old game. Back in BC raiding stuff like Karazhan, I never used boss addons, I never used addons to track procs and resources, and even basic mechanics like, "do X, until Y happens, then do Z, then go back to X," were tough to execute and maintain some baseline level of performance.

But that was 3 years. Now I have a dozen addons to optimize things like reacting to boss abilities, tracking procs and resources, UI organization, etc. Whereas in BC I maybe used about 40% of my character's potential, now I use maybe 75%. Increasingly complex fights are the main way Blizzard has adjusted to this. Pretty much their only other option are mechanical barriers like they used to, like, "you need this amount of fire resistance or you'll all get one-shot."

What can Blizzard do? If they design raids expecting raiders to perform at 40% of optimal potential, then even Totally Average Raiders like me will pretty much breeze through content and get bored. But if they design raids expecting 80% of potential, then raiders like me will struggle, raiders like the BC version of me won't even be able to set foot in raids, and raiders like Paragon will still breeze through content.

In other words, as the Average Raider keeps improving, Blizzard needs to keep ramping up the complexity. And yet that disenfranchises more and more of the player base, particularly those that can't keep up with "average."

Stubborn said...

What you've described here is what I call the dilemma of the Part-Core gamer. As the player base ages, more and more of us are finding less and less time to play the game that we love (or hate, depending on your personality).

I want to play seriously and do well and be challenged, but I don't have the massive amounts of time to pour into the game that some players have. I'm a good, serious, informed player, but I can't raid 6 nights a week until 4 a.m.; I have to get up in the morning and go to work.

Cataclysm certainly has brought this problem to the forefront of the discussion as people become very emotional over the difficulty level. Hardcore players are accused of being incapable of understanding why people don't pour more time into wow, and casual players are being accused of needing to L2P.

The truth, I think, is somewhere in between (it usually hides there). I can't comment on whether it's "too hard" or not because there's no objective measure (as you indirectly pointed out in your post). I can say that I enjoyed your post and thought it's an excellent topic to discuss.

Klepsacovic said...

@Justis: Were you ever around for the cleansebot days? Way back when, addons could do a bit more, such as smart target selection , which was used to automate cleansing. Blizzard responded by adding even more cleansing, since when it's automatic, just a little bit of cleansing is meaningless. Eventually they realized the utter absurdity of it and cut down the amount of cleansing.

I think they tried to use hardmodes to fix that gap, to make a 40% and an 80%, but as I've written before, hardmodes weren't just harder, they were better-designed fights, so the old "we want to see content" problem was back, in a weaker form.

@Stubborn: I think what you're describing exactly demonstrates the strength of single-player games: difficulty sliders and cheats. You can pick your challenge level.

Tesh said...

I've argued before for variable difficulty in raids and other assorted group content. I think it should be available to *everyone*, just at different difficulties. If that means GW-like Heroes/Henchmen, so be it. If it means difficulty sliders, so be it. (With lower difficulty meaning weaker rewards if we want to preserve the achievement-through-loot mantra.) These things are in instances in the first place, so they really can and should be controlled enough to make variable difficulty... if it's important to do so.

That's probably the bigger question; is it worth dev time and money? I think so, but many don't.

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