If you've read WoW.com's reaction to the new Cataclysm raiding paradigm, you already know that I'm a bit biased about this whole situation. I can't deny that this announcement had me cheering. On the other hand, I'm hearing a lot of doom and gloom from around the WoW community. Few people seem to embrace these changes wholeheartedly, and that's all right. There's quite a bit of uncertainty -- even fear -- about how it will all play out. I understand that. All raiding guilds will be affected one way or the other, and it could be that your guild will have a hard time adjusting to the expansion's raiding environment.
As officers, however, we can't give in to negativity. No matter how you might feel about these changes, they are happening, so let's move the conversation into a more productive area. Let's examine how Cataclysm raiding could help us as officers and how we can take advantage of these changes to help our guilds thrive.
Fewer raids to schedule and lead
I know many people, officers among them, are unhappy that they won't be able to run both versions of a raid. That will mean fewer upgrades for your guild overall and thus slower progress. It will also likely mean less time spent raiding from week to week. For people who really love to raid (and I count myself among them!), this change can be tough to swallow. In terms of raw logistics, however, you can't deny that our jobs as officers will be easier.
If your guild focuses on the 25-player experience, you won't have to worry about making sure everyone in the guild also gets their 10s done from week to week. The 10s runs are where the A team/B team issue crops up in a 25s guild. You'll be able to sidestep this issue. If you run 10s, you can focus on making those 10s as fun and effective as you possibly can, without worrying about trying to team up with other guilds to run 25s for better upgrades. This type of guild alliance, while sometimes very helpful, can cause great stress to both guilds.
More players wanting to be in guilds
With only one lockout per zone each week, players will put a greater value on the quality of their raiding experience. Unless the normal mode content is very easy, I expect that PUGs of any size will be less common. Players will want to make sure, if they're going to step into a raid zone, that they're going to down a few bosses without too much hassle. The most effective way to do that will be to join a guild that can tackle the content. Combined with the new benefits that players will derive from membership due to guild talents, guild recipes and so on, I expect to see fewer players running around guildless in Cataclysm. That benefits all of us.
Raid size differentiating guilds
In my recently released how-to book on guild leadership, I talk about choosing "differentiators" for your guild -- aspects of your guild's identity and philosophy that set you apart from other guilds. They can help you recruit and create a niche for your organization.
In the past, guilds didn't have to choose one raid size or the other. Now, we very much have to. And that, in my opinion, is a good thing. Why? Players can now gravitate toward the path that they prefer. We can focus our recruiting on one segment of the player base, instead of striving to please everyone. Raid size will become one of the most significant ways to define your guild.
Less burnout and guild-hopping
Members who prefer one raid size won't be compelled to participate in the raids that they enjoy less just to help out the guild. That sort of compulsory participation is a major burnout factor. In Cataclysm, players will most likely be raiding fewer hours overall and, more importantly, only raiding the way they want to raid. Hopefully that will lead to fewer people quitting the game mid-expansion. These sorts of burnouts can become a huge headache for officers. If the raiding roster takes a big hit, burnouts can unravel entire guilds.
Guild-hopping is most common when a player runs 10s with a guild, gears up and then decides to "graduate" to 25s, not just for better loot but also for the challenge and prestige. This phenomenon won't stop completely, but with the gear and difficulty level between the two versions being more in sync, I believe it'll happen less frequently. After all, it's a risk to switch guilds. If players are happy with their raiding experience in 10s, they won't feel like they're missing out by not running 25s. They'll be less likely to risk the switch. Of course, players will still switch guilds for other reasons, but this new system should have a positive impact on the most common cause.
Streamlined and more effective training and gearing
Yes, it will actually be more difficult to do these things during the first tier of Cataclysm, when the only max-level raids are the ones your guild is focused on. But this is short-term thinking. This situation will prevail only for a few months. When the next tier is released (and throughout the rest of the expansion), you'll have an entire tier for training and gearing up behind you, just like you do now.
However, you'll no longer be required to drag along 25 players to get the best available normal mode gear from those older raids. You'll have the option to put a smaller raid together for those players who actually want to run it -- without settling for lesser gear. Also, since that 10-player version will be similar in difficulty to its 25-player counterpart, you won't have to wonder whether someone who is adequate in 10s can cut it in 25s.
Flexibility to solve attendance issues
While it may be the case that an individual player's raiding options are more limited, for a raid leader, this system has intriguing possibilities. Think about it. Say you're a guild that runs both 25s and 10s currently. One night you're planning to run ICC25, but only 21 people show up. In most cases, you now have no options other than trying to pug the last four slots or call the raid, because your ICC-10 is scheduled on another night and/or people may be saved to it from earlier in the week.
In Cataclysm, you'll have the option to run two 10s -- assuming you have the tanks and healers among everyone's dual specs to pull it off -- and you'll get the exact same loot. Admittedly, the drawback would be having two separate IDs for future nights that week. Still, even that could work to your advantage. If you can switch an ID from its 10-player version to its 25, as Blizzard said they might allow, you could resume whichever run made it farther, with the entire guild, after the Tuesday reset.
Likewise, if you're really hurting during the summer or the holidays, you could run one 10-player raid instead, for the same loot.
For a guild that runs 10s, if your attendance is through the roof on a given night, you can try your luck at the 25-player version without fear that anyone is already saved to it. Then, if attendance later drops, you can switch your ID to 10s and slot your run as planned.
Ideally you'll want to run what you scheduled, but having this sort of flexibility could really help when unexpected attendance issues crop up.
Other advantages to this new way of raiding may become apparent when we're actually in the thick of it.
I know that I've only focused on the positive aspects of the changes in this column, but the disadvantages have already been documented at length pretty much anywhere you look. Rest assured that future columns will deal with how to handle some of these difficulties.
In my opinion, Cataclysm will be the best expansion to date for officers and guild leaders. We'll have new tools, new guild achievements, new guild systems and now a new way to handle raiding that, despite some drawbacks, certainly has upsides for us. Personally, I can't wait.