Archive for July, 2014


Learning to live with LFR

WoD LogoI still enjoy playing World of Warcraft (WoW) but I’m seriously considering my relationship with it. I’ve already declared that I will not enter LFR in Warlords of Draenor. That may or may not be up for debate, but I am categorically not doing it with my main. Rumblings from Blizzard suggests that they don’t really want me to. They seems to be suggesting that LFR is “Tourist Mode” – an opportunity for all players to see the content. If they deliver on their plan to offer seriously bad gear from LFR no one will applaud louder than myself. If they can actually remove the need for raiders to enter LFR at all I will we ecstatic.

Naxxramas

Best raid ever…because no one could get in?

Why is it different from the Wrath of the Lich King changes to raid tiers, when point where many of the hardcore raiding community threw up their hands and appeared to flounce out of the game? Well, Blizzard extended the accessibility of raiding by giving everyone a new opportunity to access raiding with every new content patch. In the first iteration of WoW (conventionally called vanilla WoW) to progress through new raid tiers you were required to have gear from the previous tier. There was no source for gear that could make higher tiers accessible except for earlier raids.  Raiders went on an epic journey starting in Molten Core and taking them to Naxxramas40. It wasn’t possible for raiders who did not have Molten Core gear to progress in Blackwing Lair, to prepare new raiders guilds were required to farm lower raid tiers for gear. The burnout and boredom, exacerbated from having to repeat earlier, completed, content, slowly led to the loss of more and more raiders and so the pool of people who were adequately geared, to even step through the doorway of Naxxramas, dwindled. The only way that a guild who lost a tank, healer or several DPS could survive was by poaching raiders from other guilds potentially destroying them in their scramble to survive. By the time The Burning Crusade was released only 3% of the player base had the gear to enjoy Naxxramas.

n1.jpg

Completely different, rubbish raid, that anyone could get into.

wall1-1920x1200By the end of The Burning Crusade Blizzard knew they needed to take action. Almost nine million people were subscribed to World of Warcraft, but a faction of them were raiding and the high end raiding guilds were suffocating, lacking the oxygen of new members. Blizzard sacrificed the epic journey that left raiders, and guilds alike, dead on the roadside worn out and drained, the epic journey that began in the first tier of raiding content and spectacularly climaxed at the final raid boss of each expansion. Raiders could now enter the game mid tier and gear themselves up relatively quickly in order to join the very latest raid. It was possible to join Wrath of the Lich King after the last raid instance of the expansion, Ice Crown Citadel (ICC), was released and still gear yourself with items, new to the game in that tier, so that you could enter ICC and participate in slaying the Lich King himself. Some claimed, fairly, that it made the 4890581802_9092de123c_zgame easier (and more accessible) and raiding was no longer the preserve of the best (and most elitist) players. Others replied that World of Warcraft had dumbed down. Blizzard did need to make it easier for new raiders to feed into the raiding environment, new blood to galvanise and replace the bored and burned out. The changes made in Wrath of the Lich King may not have suited all, especially the 3% who had enjoyed Naxxramas40 (and enjoyed bragging they had and loved slating Naxxramas25/10 – essentially an identical instance – almost as much).

Raiding is great, everyone should try it. Nothing beats downing a difficult boss you’ve been working on for hours, or days, perhaps even weeks. 10 man raiding, first only in one raid, Karazhan, that casuals like myself took most of The Burning Crusade expansion to finally clear, brought raiding to all and we liked it. Then, during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, all raid instances had a 10 man iteration. It encouraged the birth and growth of casual guilds that also organised 10 man raids. wall1-1152x864Some of these players progressed into more raid centric (sometimes less casual, often less friendly and more competitive) 25 man raiding guilds. It may have felt like a dumbing down but it had to happen to keep providing raiders, even to the hardcore and top raiding guilds.

During the following expansion, Cataclysm, Blizzard introduced Looking For Raid (LFR), a Looking For Dungeon (LFD) type tool to PuG 25 people to do raid content. For me this is the point of departure, the juncture at which Blizzard allowed the whining, entitlement children to win and opened up all their content to everyone.

LFR was a retrograde step for several reasons and during Mists of Pandaria Blizzard reaped the rewards of this innovation. It may be unwise to blame the decline in subscribers of almost 4 and a half million from it’s peak mid-Wrath of the Lich King, of 12 million, to the end of Mists of Pandaria and 7.6 million, but it certainly hasn’t helped.

Many things are argued in favour of LFR and several of them are contradictory. People argue that LFR supports 10 man raiding guilds by giving people a taste of raiding in a convenient and accessible way. It trains raiders in the very basics of raiding and working with a team to down bosses. LFR is an excellent source of gear, in a gear based MMO, and allows new raiders to catchup mid-expansion and join raiding guilds in a useful way. Extending accessibility, especially to raids, increases people’s enjoyment and engagement with the game. Sadly when you begin examining these ideas they unravel alarmingly fast.

BR9SI8SEB0Z21303351106436LFD was designed to increase the numbers of people forming small 5 man groups to tackle the content Blizzard already had in the game. The same 5 man dungeon can be entered by 5 players from the same guild or a randomly generated pug, formed from 5 people of different guilds (or no guilds at all) and often different servers.  5 mans required no special tuning or dividing to allow pugs to succeed. LFR is very different. In principle it’s similar: groups are generated randomly from 25 people who have signed up with the tool, however raiding, by it’s very nature, takes longer and is more difficult than 5 man dungeons.  Furthermore pugs break down and disband much quicker than groups of friends who are prepared to try hard and stick at it. So LFR has been tuned and divided to cater to pug players. To make it faster and more streamlined, so people are allowed to dip in and out of it, with short queues and rapid progress, LFR is much, much easier than a ‘normal mode’ raid. As the audience of the LFR is not the people already raiding it has to be tuned in such a way as to be accessible to people with no raiding experience or skill. The boss mechanics are simplified or reduced in number, so tactics are simple and do not require a lot of fight knowledge or movement. Damage by boss and trash is reduced as is their health, so they don’t hit as hard and die faster. Large, 10-14 boss, raid instances are broken into bite-sized portions that can be cleared in (a lot) less than an hour.

So does this new tier of raiding (below normal mode) feed into normal mode guild raiding? Not really and most intelligent guild leaders don’t want it to either. The way LFR is tuned most LFR runs regularly carry ten, or more, people not doing the correct thing, or indeed not doing anything at all and groups collapse if there’s a wipe. The fight mechanics are so forgiving that LFR offers absolutely no training to raiders whatever. Indeed with higher levels of gear, later in each expansion, tanks bludgeon, healers just heal through and DPS burn down opposition so quickly most game mechanics become trivial. People whose only experience of raiding is LFR are going to be dismayed by a guild 10 man. Being able to queue when you want, dip in and out when you feel like it and stop and start your play when it suits you is anathema to organised guild events. To the LFR player Guilds appear to be hardcore when they try to enforce “raid nights” – four hours on fixed days when everyone has to be online, prepared and willing to raid. “Voice chat” – to coordinate and combat the more demanding tactics arising from more testing game mechanics, being able to talk and respond instantly is essential, typing won’t cut it. a) it’s way too slow and b) you wont be moving, casting and fully focused on game mechanics. It’s not just one night either it’s the same nights, across several weeks. “Who even wants to play the game that long?”

LFR simply saps the desire of most players to do, what raiders know to be, “proper raiding”, reasonably enough, I think. They see LFR as raiding and once they’ve completed all the content why should they do it again (in a less forgiving and less accessible way)? “OMG they wiped on the same boss for an hour then I said I had to leave. I didn’t want to bother signing up next week.They kicked me out of their guild, so elite!” All LFR Graduates are not like this, but those that aren’t probably number fewer than those who raided Naxx40.

The much loved and oft revisited Vashj'ir.

The much loved and oft revisited Vashj’ir.

Making access to raiding easier, Blizzard have devalued their own content and introduced a new subscription model. Persisting with LFR in it’s current, Mists of Pandaria, form will only erode subscriber numbers further. Completing content after a new patch takes no time at all. The lore and story free Timeless Isle has been a truly dreadful innovation in the game and like the unfortunate Isle of Thunder (great unfolding story linking into the raid tier) it’s appeal is limited to it’s specific role when current. Blizzard might as well remove the two locations from the game as soon as Mists of Pandaria ends, no one will ever go there again. A couple of people have said to me that they really like the Timeless Isle. This is utter crap, they like the opportunity to grind mindlessly for long periods and gear up relatively quickly. They like leading the item level, penis waving game. No question the grind time to gear level return is very good, however the quality of the content is not.

For a company that wanted to widen and grinding_memeincrease access to all their best content and not waste development time on content only a small section of the player base would access it beggars belief that Blizzard is creating content and wasting development time on areas that will only ever be used during one content patch (a few months) and are soulless, unloved gear grinds, their worst content.

So with Timeless Isle gear it was derisorily easy to buy (gear for time) the item level required to enter Siege of Orgrimmar LFR derisorily low. So anyone who was motivated could gear up in no time at all and kill Garrosh Hellscream, at most, four weeks into the new content patch and only so long since one of the four wings was released each of the first four weeks of patch 5.4. Skill-free players, could grind mindlessly for hours on the Timeless Isle and quickly match the gear score of heroic Throne of Thunder raiders with BoE’s and Tier 16 LFR gear…is this working as intended Blizz?

transmogrification-warlock-pve-tier-16-lfr

I look AWESOME!

So you’ve got all the gear, killed the final raid boss of the tier (in LFR) what is left to do? 10 man normal mode? What is the motivation? Better gear? The LFR gear is nearly the same, stats show small differences, and importantly they look the same. Plus normal is so much less convenient, takes longer, involves more wiping, you have to be part of guild or pug into a mostly guild run, as pure pugs fail even more. Most people look at the alternatives after defeating the end boss and subscribe until the next content patch or expansion. This has always been a issue at the end of expansion, many guilds often drift into hibernation until the next expansion. What’s new in MoP is that it’s been happening mid way through every raiding tier. You try recruiting decent raiders half way through a tier. Find out.

No you...actually yeah you do! WTF?

No you…actually …yeah, you do! WTF?

A lot of raiders, myself included, have become very angry in and about LFR. It often isn’t a pleasant experience for a variety of reasons. If you can get online (at any time during) Wednesday, immediately after the server resets, you will be rewarded. At that point all the raiders who feel it is required will be trying to get it LFR done.

The Normal Mode Guild Raider (Raider) : LFR Tourist Mode Player (Tourist) ratio will be better and you will barrel through the content and wipe far less (if at all). More raiders means less stupid and unnecessary deaths building cumulatively to more wipes. The Tourists may stand in the fire and die and ignore all boss mechanics, but there are enough Raiders there to carry them to a boss kill. Earlier and earlier in the WoW week, as the the patch and the expansion wanes, the ratio tips in favour of the Tourists and LFR takes longer and involves more wiping, more shouting and more /ragequits. There are two ways to deal with mid-WoW week LOLFR: 1) ignore it and get through as quickly as you can or 2) understand it, enjoy it, revel in it and troll to your heart’s content. Why? LFR and Tourists are not susceptible to change so why not mock them remorselessly for wasting your time and stubbornly refusing to learn?

For those who chose option 2) let me try to answer some questions frequently heard in LOLFR immediately prior to some /ragequitting. Why is this so difficult when the content is so easy? Why don’t people follow tactics? How can people come in here without any clue about what is going? Why are you tanking or healing when your gear is letting us down so badly and causing us to wipe? To answer these question you need to understand what LFR is and who LFR players are. LFR is content tuned for non-raiders. The majority of people doing LFR have no interest in raiding. Got it?

LFR Queue

Queuing to raid with LFR…

LFR is Tourist mode, Blizzard has provided it so the entitlement children can see all the content and get all the gear whether they deserve to or not. That’s not me being elitist. If I can’t play football very well I won’t get picked up by Manchester United and I won’t be playing for an FA Cup Winner’s Medal at Wembley. The entitlement whiners on the Official World of Warcraft forums believe they should be able to see all the raid instance content and get all the gear from that content even if they are not good enough players, or committed enough to invest the time required to raid, learn and improve. LFR is designed and tuned so they can form groups, enter it, play at there careless poor level and win. They’re just Tourists. They want to see the content a short while without making the lifestyle choice of being a committed raider and developing any game playing skills.

LFR can appear to be so diffiicult when it’s clearly so easy: the bosses are nerfed and they don’t hit as hard, their mechanics are either removed in LFR or rendered harmless, but people still fail. In ‘normal mode’ General Nazgrim is a tricky encounter, you do have to stop DPS-ing completely during his Defensive Stance phase. Why? Because he will generate more Rage and be able to cast more Ravagers. Ravagers hurt like hell in normal and heroic. In LFR ravagers are like slowly revolving feather dusters and do about as much damage. The healers can easily heal through Ravager damage. There is always some Tourist, proving that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, screaming at people to stop DPS. The DPS can be so low in LFR that it really is necessary to keep DPS-ing through Defensive Stance to avoid running out of time and hitting the enrage timer. Learn this lesson Tourist: there are tactics appropriate for raid difficultly: heroic, normal and LFR. They are not the same. However, they never learn, so don’t loose you religion with them.

LFR wipe

Tourists wipe in Siege of Orgrimmar.

Tourists turn up pitch their caravan and jack it up where it suits them, usually where they were camped last time they were here. That’s why your Tourist is unwilling, almost unable to move. So if there is fire on the ground the tourist may well die in it because moving is not on their agenda. They just do DPS. Moving, marshalling, organising, directing is for other people and the tactics and instructions are someone else’s responsibility too. You can’t blame them for thinking that way. Every time the Tourist enters LFR they have no clue what is going on or what is required. They just do their DPS and someone else makes sure all the other things are done. At Norushen and the Amalgamation of Corruption I fequently spend half the fight in the other realm after picking up my 17 or so purple orbs. I have to as no else will and there is no point bitching about it. At Malkorok I will pass people going the other way as I run into the purple pools to soak them. At Siegecrafter I’m the only one not in the air during Shockwave Missles advance, moving out of Death from Above if forms near me, placing sawblades outside the melee or running in a sensible direction with the lazer locked on. No point crying. The tourists are here to sightsee you do it and get their gift shop items, not to get involved. If there is a wipe tourists quit first because wiping is not on their agenda, raiders know it’s essential during any learning phase in progression. That’s why tourists don’t follow tactics there are usually enough people who will to carry them and if not they’ll leave and find a group that will. Tactics? Tourists don’t want to waste time reading, whether it’s the ingame Dungeon Journal  or, god forbid, a website outside of the game, they just want play and maybe pick it up as they go along. LFR is tuned so people can get away with that. They might die, but as long as they hit the boss once they might get loot and they can always have a bonus roll if they don’t.

Is it a wipe?

Is it a wipe?

A personal bugbear of mine is the appallingly geared tank who has no experience tanking, can’t pick up all the right targets and is very, very low on mitigation stats and consequently impossible to for healers to keep alive. They cause wipes becuase they are one of only two absolutely essential raid personnel. Same with healers if you have an appallingly bad Discipline priest and one healer who queued as Healer but is DPS-ing then you have three people to try to keep two tanks and twenty other people alive. “How are they supposed to gear up if not LFR?” Yes, LFR is the place for them to assemble a half decent healing and tanking set, but not as a tank or healer. Blizzard introduced Loot Specialization to address this very problem. Tanks, in particular, have such a crucial role that one undergeared tank can prevent twenty four people progressing. With Loot Specialization you can enter LFR as DPS, a less sensitive role, while collecting tank gear and learning the mechanics of fights. There is no excuse or justification for dinging 90, achieving an LFR gear level with BoE crafted items, valour point and PvP honour gear and diving straight into LFR as a tank. It’s disrespectful and a waste of time for you and twenty four other people. They’re not NPCs in LFR you know!?

Sightseers

Oh look Garrosh!

Tourists quite simply are not interested in raiding. They see raids as tourists in LFR and get gear that looks the same as raiders. Tourist Mode does not encourage anyone to try real raiding and because it is not designed as even a taste of raiding it is an appalling advert and preparation. It sets standards and creates expectations that raiding is not designed to deliver. Raiding and LFR are two very different aspects of the gaming experince and LFR is eroding the player base that historically thought that raiding was a wonderful thing, but perhaps a star out of their sky, a standard and level they could not hope to perform at. That’s how I felt in vanilla WoW: raiding was an amazing thing that required investing more time and commitment in a game than I was able to make. However, I loved that it was happening, loved that it might be possible, one day, to ascend to that level. I did not resent the existence of in game content I couldn’t access or gear I couldn’t get. I simply didn’t need that gear, you only Karazhan opened the door to me and in Wrath of the Lich King the explosion of smaller, easier to marshal guilds allowed us to really raid and develop a taste for it and desire to do more.

LFR reduces a gastronomic masterpiece, a seven course epicurean feast into a foil pressed, three minute microwave cooked, TV dinner. By all means Blizzard leave LFR in the game. Just don’t call it Looking For Raid. Break any connection, however tenuous, between LFR content and raiding. Give then no, or shit rewards and rename LFR: Looking for Sightseeing, perfect for Tourists.

The truth about LFR.

one-does-not-simply-wipe-in-lfr-thumb (1)The news about LFR is fantastic and Blizzard want to really get the message across. LFR is Tourist Mode, it’s for all the whiners who claim they pay their subscription the same as everyone else they should see all the content and get all the gear. LFR gear is going to be awful, no surprise there, however now it’s going to look shit too. There are two bare faced lies I hate about LFR: one is that it’s a good source of gear for raiders and the other is that it’s a good source of raiders for guilds.

There are so many people in Warcraft now that have completed all the end game content and have ‘got all the gear’. A substantial number, much to Blizzard‘s dismay, are cancelling their subs a couple of weeks after ever new content patch until the next one rolls around. They think they’re doing well, they think their smashing through all Blizzard’s new content and they’re winning. If you can finish LOLFR you’re not winning. You’ve seen the content, the content you could be doing, but only on Tourist Mode, you haven’t beaten Garrosh Hellscream, or any other boss, in LFR. You’ve just seen something of a fight, you haven’t taken part, you haven’t experienced the challenge. You’re not going to understand the elation of actually downing Galakras, General Nazgrim or Siegecrafter Blackfuse for the first time. LFR isn’t easier content, it’s more like non-interactive cut scene content. This could be you: being a raider, coordinating with a group of other people, learning how to do a fight, becoming a better player, having some real fun. It could’ve been you, but you went in as an LFR tourist.

LFR in Orgrimmar, WoD beta.

T17 LFR gear in Orgrimmar, WoD beta.

If your GM is talking about Warlords of Draenor (WoD) and gearing up for the first tier of content already, if they’re talking about getting everyone through LFR and into some epic gear for the first normal runs, then he’s doing it wrong. If he’s telling you you need LFR gear to be ready to raid normal mode tier 17 then your guild will probably fail to clear tier 17 while it’s current. Your GM probably started playing during Cataclysm when LFR was first introduced. They probably think that Deathwing was a great end of expansion boss and I predict that they’ve probably only they’ve ever downed one end of tier boss while it was current: Deathwing. Think about it. Has your guild failed to reach the final boss in every tier of the current expansion? Have you entered every raid dripping that tier’s LFR loot and sailed through the first few bosses before hitting a wall? It will be the same in WoD, you’re GM doesn’t have clue and gear (LFR or otherwise) is not the answer.

You GM is going to have an ilevel in mind. “This is my minimum ilevel to join our normal runs. Once people reach this level they should be capable of over-gearing the content and we can progress.” They don’t consider it over gearing the content, though the hardcore raiding guilds have already cleared normal in levelling greens and heroic 5 man blues, and have started heroic mode and haven’t got any LFR gear yet. Your poor, clueless GM will constantly be struggling to get his raider’s to get more gear, a higher average ilevel, recruiting higher geared people to the guild to carry the raid forward. They don’t get it. It’s not your raider’s gear, it’s your raiders.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have raided pre-LFR, in Wrath of the Lich King, The Burning Crusade and right back at the start in so-called vanilla WoW, we know what the problems are. Your raiders have the LFR entitlement mentality, more or less. You cannot recruit raiders from LFR because LFR is too easy and requires no commitment. The people playing LFR are effectively playing a different game from the people who are doing normal mode runs. Heroic raiders understand that half the normal mode raiders do not have the right mentality for normal mode never mind heroic. Normal mode raiders and the GMs of casual, normal mode guilds have to accept that one third of their raiders could probably do heroic mode raiding, a third are barely fit for normal mode and one third are fit for no raiding…or LFR…regardless of their gear.

lfr_nestdutyLet’s look at you average, casual, normal mode guild raiders, working upwards. At the bottom, The LFR graduate: to be honest you’ll struggle to get these people into your raid if you have any, even minimal raiding, requirements. These are the people who bug you for a raid slot when they finally reach your ilevel threshold (by buying three PvP pieces). They tell you they have the DBM addon and then after several wipes on the first boss it becomes obvious they don’t. They resent using voice chat, because it’s hardcore gaming, they finally download the client (making you wait fifteen minutes as they bugger about getting it working during their first raid) and then tell you they don’t have a microphone or they can’t use it as they’re in the front room with their parents. You never want LFR graduates in your raid anyway and I’ll tell you why. Week one they turn up and get loot: the BiS trinket all the casters want. Week two they don’t sign up. Week three they sign up but don’t turn up. Week four they’re late but there. You start wiping on your furthest progression boss, learning a fight, their performance get’s worse and worse. An hour early they say they have to go. Week five they turn up on farm night, but don’t sign for progression bosses on the second night. Week seven or eight they either quit the game or leave for a more advanced guild. Begin again at week one in that new guild.

The “it was never like this in DS” ‘experienced’ raider: they started playing in Wrath or something and raided with the guild during Cata. They turned up when they felt like it because you were just getting raiding going back then and you had the luxury of about fourteen people who wanted to raid, they could be casual and raid only when they felt like it. In MoP you wanted to get more organised and things became harder because Dragon Soul had been crap, a slightly easy raid and casuals thrived. Now you need gear going to people who are going to be here again next week and you need people to learn fight. The more often all the gear and experience turns up the more progress the guild makes through the current tier. These raiders think they can get away with the same shit that worked in DS: they answer the phone during boss fights, they’re blogging or composing emails during trash, they have DBM but they’re not focusing so they want the raid leader to call everything out, tell them where to move and when to deploy their cooldowns. If your raiders need you to repeat over voice chat everything DBM has just told you they’re either not using DBM or not concentrating on the fight. Either way you need new raiders. “It was never like this in DS, we could all raid and got Deathwing down without being all hardcore.” Yeah, you were carried and Dragon Soul was shit.

Working as intended...

Working as intended…

The Raiding Core: these six or seven guys at the heart of your raid carry the rest. Almost literally. These guys have the alt tank and healer to provide cover. They have the highest DPS/HPS or active mitigation, avoidance. You can always spot them, regardless of their metre performance they’re usually a) alive at the end of a fight, b) making sure something key things get done when the designated person dies, c) know all the tactic. Although their DPS isn’t the highest bosses always die when they’re there, their healing is third on the metre but when they attend people don’t die, they look absolutely shambolic tanking Shaman but when the other tanks dies at 17% they tank both around slovenly until they’re dead and a roar erupts on Vent. These guys are not the most skilled players, they are certainly not the best geared, but they try, do not whine when the wiping starts in earnest and when they are there in force you know you’ll get through, even though it always seems to be the more difficult way. They may not top the metres often but you know you could take them to Heroic and succeed.

Heroic T17 gear, WoD beta.

Heroic T17 gear, WoD beta.

Now LFR content skimming tourists and LFR graduates can hang around the major hub city in their tier gear all day long. In Warlords of Draenor we won’t need to inspect them to see their gear is shit. They can’t shrug us off by saying it’s just a few stats lighter and it looks exactly the same. It’s going to look shit and be shit: shit for tourists. More importantly raiders, proper raiders are going to a) stand out and b) never going to have to enter LFR to satisfy deluded GMs who think that catchup content and loot is any substitute for proper raid gear. You’ll be entering tier 18 with your good tier 17 normal gear that’s still going to look good compared to the crap from T18 LFR. So guys, in Warlords of Draenor are you going to continue doing it tourist style and now looking like crap? Or are you going to be smashing the real content? Are you going to step up and try to improve yourself, your play, your understanding of mechanics, your coordination with your team? If you do then Warcraft will be a real blast, the best fun in this game is to be had by taking it a little more seriously and doing it right.

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