I try to be a glass-half-full sort of guy, especially when I write these columns. (I don't always succeed, but I try.) In my opinion, leaders should be optimists who prepare for the worst. Today, however, I have a rather pessimistic message for you: Firelands will not save your raiding guild.
What I'm seeing with my own guild and what I'm hearing from all of you, week after week, is that guilds are struggling right now. With Cataclysm offering no new way to advance characters, long-time players are tiring of WoW's endless gear treadmill. Slots are becoming tougher and tougher to fill as players grow bored or frustrated with tier 11. Officers are burning out at a blistering pace. The playerbase, in general, is poised for something truly new -- not just a rehash of old raids.
Firelands is our best hope -- but I'm sorry to say, it won't be enough.
Seven bosses (plus the obligatory one in Baradin Hold) is a rather paltry number. As has been noted, we haven't had so few bosses in a tier since the Coliseum days, generally regarded as the most disappointing tier in WoW history. The Firelands bosses that have been tested on the PTR all sound really interesting so far, and I'm looking forward to meeting them with weapons drawn. The fact is, though, seven bosses is seven bosses. Players are going to get bored of this tier faster than Tier 11.
Worst of all, summer is upon us. Traditionally, summer has not been kind to raiding guilds. Personal schedules change. Attendance plummets. Some players know their playtime is going to drop so drastically that they don't even bother subbing to the game during the summer months. Even the players who are extremely dedicated will be going on vacations, visiting friends, or enjoying outdoor activities that may cut into their raid time.
These are all important things to do in life, and we can't hold it against them. In fact, I hope that all the officers out there reading this will take advantage of the summer, too.
A case could be made that last summer was worse than this summer is going to be. After all, Icecrown Citadel was six months old when May rolled around, and Ruby Sanctum was all we got that season -- one new boss instead of Firelands' seven, plus an insane amount of trash. Players were fed up with Wrath, on the whole, and looking forward to Cataclysm.
However, ICC was gated, so some of the bosses hadn't been available as long as others. Blizzard also limited progression by restricting the number of possible attempts on end-of-wing bosses. Finally, the instance had a stacking buff that gradually made the content more and more accessible. Many guilds were just hitting their stride in ICC during the late spring -- and the buff didn't even cap out until July. Everyone was excited to face the Lich King in his citadel and defeat him at long last, so a lot of players stuck with it for much longer than they normally would.
Decent PUG players were much easier to come by back then than they will be this summer. The easy accessibility of Coliseum loot, combined with Frost emblems and epics from the three Icecrown heroics added in patch 3.3, made gearing up for ICC a breeze. The stacking buff and growing familiarity with Icecrown's bosses gradually made bringing puggers into your raids more and more viable to make up for poor attendance, if you were so inclined.
Gearing up for Firelands, on the other hand, will be a long, long road for someone who is fresh to 85. Skill is not gear, but even the most skilled player will have no business in Firelands wearing ilevel 333 rares.
The upcoming Cataclysm expansion, in some cases, also kept people playing last summer. Some players didn't want to jeopardize their raid slots for the expansion by taking a few months off. We didn't know then, after all, exactly when the expansion would launch. Other players were getting their characters prepared for the road to 85 or trying to finish up all the Wrath achievements while the content was still part of the endgame.
Now we've seen what Cataclysm has to offer, and to many players, the level 85 experience has been underwhelming. Overall, I don't sense anywhere near the same excitement that WoW had when we were all waiting for this expansion. The recent reduction in subs seems to support that hunch.
Why am I telling you this?
I'm hearing from too many people these days who are hoping that Firelands will fix everything that's wrong with their guilds. It happens just about every time a new raiding tier is added, and sometimes the raid is so compelling that it does ... at least until people get sick of it.
Firelands will be released sometime in the next few months. When it goes live, you're going to see a resurgence in attendance, and maybe some MIA raiders will start showing up online again.
It won't last. It won't sweep away longstanding recruiting issues. It won't solve your loot system woes. It won't permanently energize lethargic officers. And if you don't prepare for it now, the shortened tier and the summer months will absolutely crush your guild. You and your fellow officers need to look ahead and make some hard decisions.
I highly recommend reading this column from 2009 about surviving the summer months. Everything I say there is still relevant, sound advice. Unfortunately, it is doubly important this time around.
This is all just conjecture on my part. I could certainly be wrong about everything, but from what I can see, the summer of 2011 will be the toughest one yet for raiding guilds in WoW. Be optimistic if you choose, but also be proactive about solving your guild's problems now -- before you're left without options. Firelands alone doesn't have the legs to save your raids.
Recently, Officers' Quarters has examined how strong new leadership can create a guild turnaround, the pitfalls of promising more than you can deliver, and lessons learned from Scott's own guild demise. Send your own guild-related questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.