Ever since I started this blog I’ve wanted to try to tackle the challenge of endgame raid design, not design an actual raid but rather the concept of raids. Even if I don’t foresee a future where I’d actually do that, as a purely intellectual exercise I still think it’s worth a try because as raids stand right now I believe they still need to be improved upon.
So why raids in particular and not other endgame features? Because raids are the one feature that has the most impact on the endgame of an MMO and because they are, I feel, the most distinguishing feature of MMOs. A lot of the activities proposed in an MMO can be done in other types of games but raids are the one thing you cannot easily find elsewhere and they still are the main reason many people are playing MMOs in the first place.
A note about my method
Some of you will ask where and how I got my information. First of all when I set out to do this I was interested mainly in finding three things, what people expect out of a raid, what features they liked and what features they didn’t like. I worked hard on getting information from players of multiple games so I could see broad patterns and not only get what WoW or Lotro players love. I’ll say right now that I was really surprised to find out that the reasons and expectations given were pretty much always the same no matter what game is being played.
As to where I got the information I got it a bit from all over the place so I hope you’ll forgive me for not listing it. A lot of it is forums and I don’t want broken links all over the place and it was hard to keep track of all that I read. I searched games and guild forums, fan websites, blogs, I asked people directly, I asked them on this blog… I just grabbed whatever I could.
The big expectation we have toward a raid
Raids as we know them in MMOs are the online versions of single players rpg endgame dungeons. Those dungeons were often the fortresses of the main villain, full of deadly enemies and traps, it’s where we would learn the details of the game plot, face and defeat the villain after an epic boss battle and save the world at the very last-minute.
And to this day this is what we want out of an MMO raid. We put a lot of time an effort preparing ourselves to storm the castle walls, we study the strats, we shine our armor, we fine tune our abilities, our skills and out teamwork so we can take down the guy that has been messing with us during the whole game if not multiple games and expansions.
So this is our big expectation toward a raid and its most single important feature. A raid needs to be a proper ending to a particular storyline we have been working on for so long. It needs to feel special, it needs to deliver epic battles and when we come out at the end we need to feel like we’ve accomplished something special. When we raid we bring our A game to the raid and we expect in return the raid to be the pinnacle of what a game can deliver.
The three elements a raid need
When I asked on my blog which were your favorites raids and why you all have answered pretty much what I was reading everywhere else about why players find a particular raid fun. To my surprise, it turns out to be rather simpler than I thought it would be when I began. Everyone has been citing mostly the same three reasons for why they loved a particular raid and usually all three together.
1. The raid needs to tell a story
Tying into what we expect from a raid, we want our raids to matter and to tie into the greater story. Glorified instances or obvious fillers between the meaningful content have all been thought of as bad.
2. The fights have to be about skill
Memorable boss fights is another of the reason mentioned all the time as to why a raid was great. If we’re a bit more specific, players really remembers fights that had fun mechanics to them. For example, Shade of Aran is remembered fondly by many for its famous “Don’t move phase”. What struck is that every single time the fights and mechanics that were given as example all relied on learning a particular dance or relied on player skill, not gear, not perfect play.
Simply, we want to be able to beat a boss because we mastered its strategy and tactics, not because we can push our buttons really hard.
This is the element that turns out to be a complete surprise and it’s not exactly the easiest to express so please forgive me if I have a bit of trouble explaining it.
In our minds, raids are special places and we expect and even want that little extra work that make the place special. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be a simple attunement quest or a special boss you only see if you do the raid under X time but there’s need to be a little something extra. There needs to be a little something extra that says “This is a raid and not just another instance”.
What a raids needs to avoid
This post is already running long so I’ll cut to the chase here and say simply that raids needs to avoid the opposites of the elements above. Storywise, a raid cannot be a big instance or a filler between two patches, it needs to be relevant. Likewise, avoid gear checks or encounters tuned to tight that any little mistake will result in a wipe. We want to be rewarded for learning the fights, not punished because someone missed one keystroke in a 10 minutes fight. As for exclusivity I think it’s simply not forgetting to include it. Like I said it doesn’t need to be complicated or long, it just needs to be there.
So what should we change to the current endgame?
When I set out to write this I had envisioned complicated changes, technical stuff that would take multiple posts to explain and finely tuned details but after having done all this research I find myself reaching a very simple solution. A simple solution but one that would probably change the face of endgame if it was to be done.
Let’s remove gear out of the equation.
I can already feel the initial silence, then the low rumble as people forms ideas and finally the outburst at the heresy I’m proposing but let’s take a moment here.
Of all the reasons mentioned as to why people loved a particular raid, whether on Elitist Jerks or on a casual family site, gear has never ever been mentioned as one of the reasons why a raid was great. While some people fondly remember a drop for a number of reason, it’s never what makes a particular raid the best ever.
Likewise, fights that are used solely as gear checks are almost all reviled. They’re seen as boring facerolls at best and frustrating progression walls at worst. People don’t feel rewarded because they had the ability to equip gear, they feel rewarded for playing their characters.
So I’m not saying to remove gear from MMOs, I’m saying it needs to be a lot less relevant in the design of raids. Gear should not be used as a gating mechanism and it should not be the primary component in your ability to beat a boss.
I know that there’s a lot of reasons, mostly about content pacing and rewarding players and they’re probably not entirely wrong but if, like me, you believe that endgame needs to be improved and that we need to get out of the old model that we’ve had for the past ten years then I think this is probably the best way to do so.
There’s going to be a part 2 to this post where I want to go more into details about what would our current MMOs look like without gear being an issue at endgame but I’d like to see your comments first and what you all think about this.
Think about what I wrote above, that we expect raids to be the pinnacle of what a game can offer, that in the end it’s about story, interesting boss fights and that feeling of being somewhere special that’s not easily accessible. Gear doesn’t play into that equation and in fact can be detrimental to it.
So, what about we get rid of gear as an endgame mechanic?