2 Feb 2011

The Incredible Shrinking Raidgroup

I wanted to focus on a particular experiment that Blizzard’s been working on over the years – that of the optimum raid size.  We’ve seen raid sizes start at 40 players in Vanilla, but slowly drop to 25 in Burning Crusade and then 10 players in Wrath. With the new lockout system in Cataclysm, 10-player raiding seems to be becoming the default.

Is smaller raiding the best result through? From a content standpoint Blizzard certainly seems to think so – more groups are running 10-player dungeons than ever before, defeating more bosses and getting more loot from it. Don’t trust me – Lissanna  from Restokin did an excellent analysis of the available stats. The stats might encourage Blizzard to go further down this route by either dropping 25-player raiding entirely or producing 10-player exclusive content. After all, it’s easier to balance for ten players than both ten and 25.

Hang on a minute though – weren’t we raiding dungeons with 8 or 15 people back in Vanilla? And didn’t we think back then that they were just dungeons but nothing special? Sure, they might take an evening to clear but that was the same 5 years ago.

A Veteran’s Tale

It’s probably best to start right at Warcraft 1.0. Back then raids consisted of one size – 40 people. It didn’t matter if it was an indoor boss or an outdoor one – you needed 39 people with you in order to clear the content. The notable exceptions were some unique dungeons. Stratholme and Scholomance were both classraided – you assemble a team of 8 players (one of each class) in order to clear the instance. Upper Blackrock Spire required 15 people – 2 of each class plus a spare – to clear.

One of the common criticisms of 40-man raiding was that just organising a team that size was hard work. The sheer logistics controlled the number of raidgroups that sprang up on each server. Finding well-geared and skilled raiders before the days of server transfers was difficult and guild rivalries were fierce. The other criticism was that slackers got a free ride. While that was certainly true in the early days of raiding, tools quickly evolved to help assess player performance. Damage and threat meters came out towards the end of Vanilla, providing raid leaders with the information they needed to ensure that slackers were managed appropriately.

Burning Crusade started the Great Shrink with the change from 40-player to 25-player raiding for the majority of content. The idea was that this made it easier to start raidgroups, and it largely worked. More players started raiding, and raids happened more often. I also remember Blizzard stating that 25-player raids would be easier to tune and balance, providing encounters that would be more challenging and rewarding. There was an unsaid subtext to all this – we’d get more raid content more often because it’d be easier to churn out.

Wrath further changed the raiding model, with each raid dungeon offering 10 and 25-player modes. The experiment to find the optimal raid size continued apace, with guilds being able to try either mode, or go greedy and do both modes for the best gear. There was also a switch to using a single raid instance for each tier of content, with the boredom from repetition giving raid guilds more headaches than overcoming the encounters.

And here we are with Cataclysm and the further raid tweaks. Guilds can no longer do 10 and 25-player raids – instead they must choose one or the other. Most took one look at the headaches they had with retaining the interest of 25 raiders over the last expansion and decided that the smaller size was the best for them.

Measuring that “Raid Feeling”

Have Blizzard delivered a good raiding experience? It’s debatable either way. Certainly more people have got to experience the content and more raid groups have formed. Nowadays it’s much easier to find a group that can raid at the same hours you can, to the same level you want. All in all, this is a good thing.

But in doing so have we lost that feeling of what raiding is? Is it just the experience of playing the game with other people to a schedule, talking over voice chat and sharing great experiences? Or is it something more – being part of a large group of people all working to achieve the same thing together? Have we diluted the raiding experience so much that it doesn’t feel like raiding any more?

I think it’s fair to say that the 10-player raids we have to day have replaced the role of Stratholme and Scholomance in Vanilla WoW. These don’t “feel” like raids to veteran players, just fancy dressed up dungeons that have the difficulty tuned to 5-man heroic plus a little bit. They’re becoming popular because players treat them as exactly that – harder than normal heroics that you prepare for.

I ask veteran players –did the ICC10 pug shouts that you saw in Trade during Wrath remind you of the same Stratholme and Scholomance and UBRS shouts back in Vanilla?

For me at least, raiding doesn’t feel epic. Call me a jaded veteran who’s never had it so good, but 10-player raiding just feels small. It doesn’t matter how great the people you raid with are, there’s only going to be nine others in the group with you.  It feels like I’m no longer fighting great battles in desperate wars, but instead just a policeman breaking in to the villa of a crime lord.

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18 Responses to The Incredible Shrinking Raidgroup

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  2. Ralod says:

    Interesting post, very well written but I do have to disagree with you on some points.

    First some background, I am a long time MMO player, I did the hardcore raiding guild thing in EQ for 5 years, in wow I have tended toward the more casual end of the raid spectrum, however that does not mean that in my near 7 years in wow now I didn’t spend a huge amount of time in 40’s, 25’s, and 10’s.

    I have been the GM of a guild since wow vanillas beta, we have also been a close knit group and from the start it was clear we did not have the numbers to raid. We Joined a few raiding alliances and were successful in all 40 man content up through a few bosses in naxx before BC. However, as it comes in all large groups like that there was drama, so much drama that it was hell sometimes just to login.

    When BC came, we got Khara. The first 10 man raid. So we as a guild, left the drama filled alliance and we raided in house. It was great, the content was tough and the rewards worthwhile. Sure we didn’t get to see a good deal of the content everyone else did. But we were happy with what we had. Add in ZA later and the quest for the bears, and it just got better. But overtime, not being able to see all the content we wanted to was a real drag on morale. My players got tired of the same 2 raids, when 25 man guilds had 7 and were still doing the 10 man raids. If you were a 10 man raider you were a second class citizen, no matter how much or often you raided. If you could not find 10 more good players, and 5 warm bodies to carry you were not going to see all of the content.

    Wrath came, and a lot of my players had quit the game so I and a few others joined a different 10 man guild looking forward to the new 10 and 25 man content. However the problem was in wrath, if you wanted to beat some of the 10 man content, you needed 25 man gear to do it. So those of us in the 10 man guild community had to either join pug raids or wait for content to be nerfed to have any realistic chance at the 10 man content because blizzard tuned it for people in 25 man guilds because they knew it would be farmed day one. You then have the issue where the 25 man content was the easier way to go as you had more room for mistakes, you could afford to bring suboptimal people and classes and you still got better gear, that just made farming the 10 mans easier for you thus meaning blizz would have to make the next 10 man even harder so you didn’t have a full set of 10 man gear before touching the 25 man version.

    In Cata they at last have it right. 10’s are still harder then 25’s, but at least the rewards are the same. You say that 10’s don’t feel like raids? I say 10’s are the purest form of raiding. The 25 mans seem to be the way to go in cata for the easier experience.

    We reformed our old guild, and plugged away at the last half of wrath, and now today in cata as a 10 man guild. We have the numbers for 25’s now, but frankly even with the 25 man raid content being the easier way to go, 2 10 mans is how we will do it as it just seems the best way to experience the content.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I understand that organising 10 people is easier than 25, just as 25 is easier than 40. But you could also say that 5 people is easier to organise than 10.

      Question: if they introduced raid-level content that only required 5 people, would you switch from 10-player to 5-player?

      That’s the thing for me. If you take the organisation and the drama out of it and just focus on the experience, I honestly prefer to be in larger groups. I don’t think that 10-player is “purer”, I just think it makes raiding more accessible and easier to organise.

      • Skarn says:

        I’ve done 40-mans in Vanilla. I did a few 25s in BC, but not much. Did several 25s in Wrath. Now I’m a pure 10s guy. The “epic feel of a huge group” just doesn’t appeal to me very much. I understand that others like it, but it’s not my thing. I’ve never been big on being one guy in a faceless mass. I feel like a sheep, just there for the wool. I feel like everyone around me are just cogs in the machine. Meaningless and interchangeable. I don’t like that.

        I want to know the people I’m raiding with. I want to know them as people. To know their personalities, their abilities, how they feel about the raid and the game. Why they are here and why they are a part of my group. I like it to be personal and 10-mans gives me that. Even when I was the GM of a 25-man raiding guild, I couldn’t know everyone. I absolutely hated that. I didn’t like not knowing my own raiders. I want everyone to feel like they are a valuable part of the raid, not just another warm body.

        10s are a LOT more fun for me than 25s. I get to go in with a group of people that I know. We can joke around, have fun and get serious when the time comes. Everyone can participate and offer their thoughts and ideas. I like it so much better. That epic feeling that you get from the larger raids? To me it’s not epic. It’s faceless and meaningless. It had no more meaning to me than the NPCs that are part of the Battle for Light’s Hope at the end of the DK start zone. I’m not here to play with NPCs, I’m here to play with people. 10 people are much more epic than 25 faceless automatons.

      • Fabio Capela says:

        Raids, IMHO, suffer from an almost absolute lack of flexibility, both in the number of times they can be done (just once per week) and number of players (you absolutely can’t bring more players, and bringing less players is usually only feasible for content the players already faceroll). Which is what makes them such a nightmare to coordinate, and births drama whenever a player has to leave in the middle.

        For me, the drama and organization hurdle are simply not worth it. If raids were more akin to unrated BGs – i.e., players could do them as much as they wanted in a given week, with a queue system to easily put together groups in the first place and quickly bring replacements – I wouldn’t care about the size at all, and perhaps would even prefer larger sizes; but with the current restrictions, yes, I would prefer 5-man raids over the current 10-man and 25-man ones, even if they effectively were just glorified 5-mans (except if I was part of a closed group of 10 players which I rusted to do their best in the run, in which case I would prefer the 10-man; but 25-man makes me feel like an insignificant cog in a large machine, even if I’m performing a crucial role and being complimented for it, so I usually avoid raiding in a 25-man raid).

  3. Mallusof says:

    As usual, your writing skills make this a pleasure to read :)

    I do believe what size a raid should be is a question for the individual. I very much prefer 10 man to 25’s, because in my opinion, there’s alot more pressure and responsibility on the shoulder of the individual player. You REALLY rely upon those nine people you raid with to cooperate and do everything to their best of their abilities. In 25’s, unless you’re really hardcore, there ALOT more room for personal error. Being 1 DPS down during a 10 man is a whole other ballgame than being 1 DPS down on 25 mans. That’s why I prefer 25 man raiding.

    But as I said, I believe it comes down to personal prefrences :)

  4. Larísa says:

    I’ve written about the downspiral trend of 25 mans as well and I agree wtih you. I’m afraid they might ditch 25 mans entirely in the next expansion if this trends continue.
    However there are still some passionate big-scale raiders out there. The 25 man raids exist and they still feel epic. But yes, we’re strugging with recruitment. This is a shameless plug, (sorry!) but if you (and your raiding friends) are up for some bigger raiding, you might want to consider joining our guild. We’ve got the infrastructure, we’ve got stability and endurance, we’ve been doing this since TBC. I don’t think we’ll disappoint you!
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    • Gazimoff says:

      I’d have to think on it. After the money I’ve sunk on server transfers, character recustomisations and so on for both me and my wife, it’s scary to think about upping sticks again.

  5. Kadomi says:

    I think it’s really a case of ‘to each their own’. I never raided 40-mans in vanilla, but I did Zul’Gurub and AQ20, and UBRS/Strat/Scholo. I never did 25-mans in TBC, though I did Gruul and Magtheridon twice, but usually stuck to Karazhan and Zul’Aman. In WotLK, its most redeeming feature (because I generally did not enjoy the expansion) for me was the availability of all raids in 10-man format. Given the choice I would always take 10s over 25. They feel epic enough for me, and in addition I feel closely connected to all members of our raiding team. In 25s, I am out of my comfort zone, and it loses that touch for me where I enjoy doing things with my friends. Even if the loot were still better in 25 mans, I would take 10-mans any time of the day.
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    • Gazimoff says:

      I think this is a great argument because it’s about preference – do you go for the intimacy of 10-player raids, or the army of 25-player ones?

      It’s also great because it allows a different question. If 25-player raids were as easy to organise and manage as 10-player ones, which would you go for?

  6. Sappy says:

    In my opinion, they should just make 25 raid like the heroic mode of 10 man…
    Because for me looking for people for nomal 10 man is hard because i can only raid 2 days / week…
    A lot of people want to raid more than 2 days / week…

  7. Coldbear says:

    Yep. The sense of “epic” is gone. Hell, even epics are even “epic” anymore. You get them for free as soon as you hit the levelcap.

  8. Aanye says:

    I think 40-man raids seemed pretty cool for back in the day. Then again, back in the day, a lot fewer people were playing the game, and even fewer of them were raiding… At that point, I think if you found 40 people to do a raid, the vast majority of those players were fairly serious about pulling their weight.

    Today, attempting a full 40-man raid would essentially mean babysitting a good 20 to 30 toons. Even in 25-man ICC guild runs in my experience, at least a third of the people there just weren’t putting in a serious effort.

    So I don’t really agree with the idea that bigger raid groups = more epic. Just more headache. 10 mans, the way they’re implemented in Cataclysm, seem ideal to me… Easier to identify problem players, less likely to have to deal with player transience, and generally more player loyalty to the group–your guildies and fellow raiders are more likely to *actually* like playing with you, as opposed to just being along for the ride or there for the loot.

    I say, tune the encounters around raids that can really work as a team and play well together, and bake the “epic” feeling into the challenge and the lore of the encounters, not the raid size. Actually, I think that’s more or less what Blizzard has done.

  9. Aanye says:

    @Coldbear: It’s not nearly as easy to get epics in Cata as it was in Wrath. I’d argue it’s not even as easy as it was in BC, because heroic endbosses don’t drop epics. If you’re not raiding right now, there are only three ways to get epics: faction reps, buying/crafting BoEs, and saving up Valor Points. One could argue that it’s a little bit easier than BC in that tabards and crafting patterns (albeit gated) take out some of the randomness of waiting, say, Coilfang Armaments or the Stylin’ Purple Hat pattern to drop, but as someone who did those grinds in BC, I welcome the changes. Working for epics: good. Fighting the RNG boss: bad.

  10. Neri says:

    I would enjoy 25 mans more if it didn’t take acts of god to fill out a 25-man roster for a middle of the road guild, especially if said guild gets a late start. Right now my guild is running 2 10s teams because

    A: We don’t have enough to fill a reliable 25m roster.
    B: Even if we did, if/when attrition strikes replacing them can be very trying in an environment of server transfers since the server we’re on isn’t exactly the greatest. The number of ‘substandard’ apps I’ve seen to our guild over the past 6 months far outweighed the good, and while I’m aware most guilds will see a poor good to cruft ratio, it just seemed really bad, and on some level I felt (and given our decision to run 2x 10s, raid leadership agreed) that we were running a few substandard players in order to fill out the 25s roster that we had in Wrath.
    (And C: Raid leadership personally wanted to do 10s under the new design goal of 10s being equivalent in difficulty to 25s. From what I’ve seen so far, Blizzard is at least in the ballpark on this margin, with some encounters standing out as outliers either too hard in one mode or too easy in the other. They also had a numerically impossible encounter in Heroic 10s Valiona & Theralion that was recently hotfixed this past week.)

  11. Dawn says:

    I started playing WoW in early Wrath, and tried some raiding on a healer in the ToC and ICC era before I decided it really wasn’t for me. (Nowdays I’ll sometimes pug older content, and I might get into pugs of what are now current raids in a few patches, but I’m having more fun RPing and playing on alts than I did grinding heroics and raiding.) I missed the days of 40-man raids. But I never really liked healing 25-mans. In a 10-man, I felt like my healing mattered. If I wasn’t there, or if I wasn’t good enough, the tanks WOULD die, without question. I was important. In 25s, I was there, I was healing… but I felt less important, and more like just one person in a very large crowd. No real feeling of stress or excitement; if I wasn’t good enough, someone else would likely pick up the slack. I know that I was needed and that my healing was helping, but it didn’t feel as gratifying as the 10-mans. Personal tastes, I guess…?

  12. Paul says:

    more groups are running 10-player dungeons than ever before

    The ratio of 10 to 25 man raids may have changed, but the absolute number of 10 man groups running seems to be a lot less than in WotLK. Raiding itself is less accessible in Cataclysm for many players, due to the significantly increased difficulty of the content.

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