Sunday, June 13, 2010

Raid changes in Cataclysm

- Raid IDs will not be as strict as they are now. If your raid dead-ends but you find another raid that has killed the same bosses, you can leave your ID and join theirs.
This is big. This will completely turn raiding on its head for Cataclysm. While some people, like Tobold, have been predicting and/or requesting a raid-finder tool like the successful dungeon-finder tool introduced in WotLK, I couldn't really see how anyone would let an automatic system take over choosing members for a raid. It's too big an investment getting locked into a group for better or worse to let an LFR tool take over the choice of composition and members. If the raid has trouble, of course people are gonna blame the choices the LFR tool made, and not trust it next time.

But this new system of managing raid IDs paves the way for such a tool, and for a huge change to raid pugging culture in general. Give it some time for the impact of this change to sink in and for the culture to change accordingly. Just imagine for a moment if such a change came in patch 3.3. At first, things might not seem that different than they are today. You would still have trade chat filled with "LFM ICC 10 need X" and "LFM ICC 25". A little later, you would start seeing "LFM ICC 10 on Rotface". Not that different than now, except that the people coming in wouldn't be taking a chance on getting locked into a bad raid ID, and wouldn't necessarily be missing out on earlier bosses since they may have done them previously in another raid. So it will be much easier to get people to come in for late bosses. Many times during 3.3, I lamented that Icecrown Citadel was such a large raid with a single raid ID. It would have been better, I posited, if each wing had its own Raid ID. Then you could get into an average-to-poor PUG that can only complete a few bosses in the first wing, and later look for a better PUG to complete higher wings. But with this change, it's almost as though each boss has its own raid ID. Let's come back to that thought a bit later.

This is going to have a few effects. One big one may be good or bad depending on how you look at it. People are going to become a lot less tolerant of bad players and bad groups. If a player joins a PUG and right away sees that they don't like the way it's being run, or that the group does not have what it takes to get very far, they will be much more willing to drop group after the first boss since they can now much more easily seek greener pastures. Conversely, if a player forms a PUG and after the first boss sees DPS barely beating the tanks on the meters, chances are really, really good that they will just drop them and look for someone else. The price of getting someone new went way down since replacements will have become more readily available. The potential cost of keeping a bad player will now be too high. Once people start getting used to the idea of "boss-as-raid-ID" they will start looking at each boss as being a single unit of pugging. Soon you will see "LFM (boss-name) 10" rather than "LFM (dungeon-name) 10". You will join a PUG for a boss, kill it, then individually decide if you want to continue with some people to do more and pick up subs, or just leave and seek a PUG later on for the next boss. On one hand, this will mean that PUGs will get farther into individual dungeons. On the other hand, individual players will stick around for even less of a PUG than they do now. A single raid might turn its membership over completely from the beginning of a dungeon to the end as players drop and are replaced.

Pretty quickly, people (including Blizzard) will begin to see that the cost of replacing a player is the only barrier left to a true raid-finder tool. The cost is just the time to hearth out to a city with a global Trade channel, advertise your PUG, check any candidates over to make sure they're ok, and get summoned back.

Well, you know what? The tech to do all of this automatically already exists today. It's called the dungeon-finder.

I predict that partway through Cataclysm, Blizzard will introduce a tool to automate or at least augment this process of pugging raiders. The existing LFR tool sort of handles part of it, and it may be simply an additional feature of this tool. You might sign up for /LFR, checking off the raids you're interested in just like you can (but no one ever does) now. The tool could automatically pick up your spec(s) and basic gear level (possibly augmented by popular add-ons that give additional information) and post this information in the interface that raid leaders see, perhaps even allowing remote inspection of gear. Since it knows which bosses you are eligible for, the raid leader's interface could filter to show only the people eligible for the boss you're currently on. The communication ("Before I join, how many clothies are in your raid already"), the agreement to invite and the porting in could all be handled within the tool, not really any different than the dungeon-finder does today. Except the invite would be mutual agreement, not automatic. If Blizzard doesn't implement such a tool, then add-on authors quickly will. The only part the add-on couldn't do is the automatic teleport. The rest is all just cobbled together pieces from existing mods, like Gearscore and Elitist Group. And the automatic teleport is the easiest part for Blizzard to implement.

Cross-server raids seem like the next step. Blizzard previously cited the difficulty of managing raid IDs as the biggest impediment to cross-server raids. If this works out, that will be a barrier no longer. Now that I think about it more, I'm actually a little surprised that cross-server raids weren't mentioned as part of the press release, even as a probably-coming-soon. If it's not in at release for Cataclysm, I expect it shortly thereafter. It seems like a no-brainer extension of the tech that's already there combined with the raid ID change.

Another change I think is that guilds will start to arrange their runs for later in the raid lockout week. Think about it: If you're working on progression content but have limited time to run as a guild, then it makes sense to wait till later in the week and give some of your members time to PUG some of the earlier, easier bosses from which gear is more common and less desirable. Your guild can then pick up the dungeon from some midway point, where by agreement your members would have stopped pugging. Instead of extending the raid once the guild no longer needs earlier bosses, you leave it as an option for people to PUG. This helps you let relative newcomers that have the time for it to get caught up in gear and do progression content with the rest of the guild. A guild might even decide to either short-man or PUG one or two people in order to complete a boss that only one or two of your members are not eligible for. Once you "catch up" your raid to those one or two members, you invite them back in to work on progression content as a guild. For that matter, this makes it a lot easier for guilds to handle late-comers. A guild could now much more easily PUG someone for a single boss, until your buddy that got stuck late at work can get online. All in all, a guild can get much more value out of their limited time to raid together.

In short: This new system opens up a ton of flexibility for potential raiders, and will cement the role of PUGs as a legitimate style of raiding, something that's grown steadily since WoW began.

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