Wednesday, June 6, 2012

In Defense of Blizzard - Raid Finder (Going into Mists of Panderia)

For many, the idea of raiding in any online game entailed joining a guild of like-minded folks, scheduling out your raid nights, training with your team and finally praying it payed off right before the entire raid group collapsed forever after one attempt at the Lich King, denying your orc warrior his rightful Kingslayer title and making any future attempt to get it a waste of time since the increased level cap made the content trivial.

That's happened to everybody. Right? Right.

So, it came as a surprise to many when the Raid Finder was released: A new tier of raiding meant for the casual gamer who wanted to see the content but could not put in the time to dedicate to a guild. I'll admit, when I first heard about this feature I was against it. My experiences with raiding may have ended poorly, but the thrill of finally standing on top of Icecrown Citadel with the group who worked so hard to get there is my favorite moment, and my favorite screenshot. Imagine if all that hard work was taken away to give the content to people who didn't even do half the work? The guildless players who run heroics maybe once in a blue moon and couldn't bother to read up on boss strategies before walking into the raid. That content can't possibly be for them!

Hi. I'm Justin, and I've now become one of those players.

Sitting in the seat of a dedicated, 3-nights a week raider and then swapping that chair for the casual, Raid Finder gamer puts many things in perspective about Blizzard's design choice. It cannot be argued that content now sustains us for less time because almost all of the players can reach the end of Dragon Soul without having to dedicate too much time to the task, and the raid finder clearly brings many of the same problems that the dungeon finder does. But the keys to the eventual acceptance and success of this feature lie in its accessibility.

The timing of the raid finder was a funny one. Why introduce this feature in the last tier of content for an expansion? The best answer I have is that it served as a trial run. Blizzard needed time to fine tune the feature and get out the kinks; not only technical ones, but player behavior kinks. Loot distribution is a major problem for raiders. The best and quickest way to determine which loot system would work best is to crowd source it to ten million people. The hard part would be wading through the forum posts for the real problems people had with it.

What Blizzard found was that it made content consumption much faster. The raid that was supposed to sustain us until the next expansion would last as long as they expected. The solution? The endgame needed more. Not just raiding or PvP. The hardcore raiders and PvPers would stay, but the casual ones who chose the easy content would be out of content quickly. So in Mists, we now have hundreds of daily quests at max level and no daily quest cap.Other players might also be aware of the farming feature that was talked about briefly, The Tillers faction, which many people have compared to Farmville. And who can forget the pet battle system?

What does all this new content have to do with the raid finder? More than you might think. You see, Blizzard has its hardcore audience well intact. The ones who are there for the raids and the pvp are a fairly solid audience, although they are a small one. The casual group who may enjoy questing but ran out of alts to level up, or enjoy the mini-games that are scattered through the world during the leveling game now have something to dedicate their time to. Pet collectors now have a reason to keep going. The transmogrification system improved the game for roleplayers, gear collectors and old world raiders alike.

The raid finder on its own can be a confusing feature, but fitting it into the larger picture of the audience Blizzard wants to maintain helps to see how well it actually works. The period of exponential growth for WoW is over: It has a playerbase to maintain. And instead of being better than the competition they have decided to offer more than the competition. Though only time will tell if this strategy will have the effect they desire, as a casual player I will enjoy these features immensely.

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