I intend to go over the entire post carefully, but here are some highlights to ponder up front:
- The 1.35% number is just plain wrong. Blizzard has its own numbers that it's not going to share, but the 1.35% is probably as accurate as could be expected without access to Blizzard's internal data gathering.
- Blizzard's design intent is to make content for all of the playerbase. "It's both a blessing and a curse that the WoW player base is as large and diverse as it is."
- Players raid for many different reasons, some challenge, others loot, and others just to see the content. Some players are happy if they just see a boss once, while others enjoy weekly clearing.
- The idea of being willing to wipe a hundred or more times to clear a boss, a staple of the raider mentality for years, is not appealing to most players.
Hardcore or casual, I'm the one holding the mouse
One of the points Bashiok makes in this section of the post needs to be examined because it's not just the hardcore players who underestimate that skill gap. A great many people who play this game don't understand how far guilds getting world firsts and raiding heroic content will go for those kills. Hundreds upon hundreds of wipes, class balance ruthlessly examined and the absolutely optimal raid comp chosen, leveling alts for the express purpose of seeing the content and learning it before lockouts. Combine this with skill (yes, the players in guilds getting world- or even region-first kills are most likely far better than most of us reading Bashiok's post), and we're talking a level of skill and dedication that could make raiding impossible for the average player if normal mode raids were designed to meet it.
World of Warcraft effectively is about to have several difficulty settings for raiding. Raid Finder raids will be the baseline of difficulty, with 10- and 25-man normal raids the next level (and there will be players on both sides of that divide arguing which is harder; it's not germane to this post), and then heroic content as the third level of difficulty. This is the most diverse level of difficulty in raiding since 10- and 25-man raids were given a shared lockout, and it is directly due to the wide variety of skill, dedication, and gear spread across that diverse playerbase.
What I find fascinating about this passage of the post is how up front Bashiok is about the design challenge inherent in trying to design raiding content for these widely disparate groups of players. To a degree, the Raid Finder is a means to an end, and that end is helping satisfy players who are not willing to invest the time required for higher difficulty in raiding, making it possible for them to get in and see these boss fights.
The evolution of content and the raid
Raids are being tasked (and have been tasked throughout WoW's existence) with two fairly divided challenges. Raids are where the biggest lore reveals in the game are, and they're also where the hardest, most complicated, and most rewarding fights in the game are. If you're a total lore nerd (guilty) like myself and you actually want to be able to see fights like the most recent tier's Ragnaros fight, you need to either figure out a way to get yourself into the cutting edge of raid progression, or you can watch a video somewhere. No one pays to play a game so they can watch someone else do it. But for the player who has invested the time and effort to clear the fight when it was cutting edge, the idea that all that work was for naught can be enraging. And that's just two different kinds of playstyle; it doesn't take those that raid for gear or those that raid for technical perfection into account.
This leads to the current and evolving design paradigm where, if all you want to do is see the fight, you can use the Raid Finder and do exactly that. If you just want to gear up, you can run RF for a few weeks, get solid gear and valor points, and you're happy. If you have a few days a week you can dedicate to it, you can raid normal mode content, experience more challenges and get better gear. And if you hunger for the most difficult fights in the game, you're welcome to focus on heroic modes and achievements.
Furthermore, all of this has to have some level of pick-and-choose in order for the system to work. Raiders who want to push the absolute bleeding edge of content are going to make use of RF to gear up their alts and get familiar with fights. RF-geared players still have the option of running a normal mode pickup group and will have the benefit of not going into the harder version of the raid blind or undergeared.
The difference coordination makes
Another element of the argument to discuss is this willingness to wipe and how it influences when content is lowered in difficulty. One of the barriers in getting players to see raid content is the ability to assemble a raid team, which is an aspect that the Raid Finder is aimed at addressing. Another, however, is purely in terms of the content's difficulty and in how much skill and coordination it requires to complete it. There is a vast difference between a raid group that has experience working together and a group of strangers unfamiliar with raiding itself. What Bashiok said about hardcore players underestimating the skill gap can also be used here: The average WoW player who raids even in a normal mode capacity does not understand how much of an effect their knowledge of each other, of how to communicate and how to adapt to each other, has on their ability to complete the content.
I am not saying that you are better than a pickup group's players because they are bad. I'm saying you're better than they are because you have overcome a barrier: You have familiarity with each other, with your strengths and weaknesses as players, and that you know how to communicate with each other. This is a barrier to raiding that you have already overcome, and it should not be underestimated or ignored.
Your group has already found its wipe threshold, also. Designing content for as many players as possible means that the entry level has to be wipe-friendly, that it has to be capable of being completed without the same level of coordination that more challenging difficulty settings require. And one of the weapons in the designers tool kit for new raiders coming into this content, especially as time passes, is to progressively lower its difficulty.
I haven't changed my mind about how Blizzard nerfed Firelands, but I also agree with Bashiok here that it was the "how" of those nerfs and not the "why" of them that took me by surprise. Content will always be nerfed as it loses relevance, even if it is only nerfed by gear progression. Building an awareness of that process into design can only benefit more players. If you only want to see the content once, wait a few months -- it'll get there.
What this ultimately does is work the predilections of as many players as possible into design iteration itself. If you know you have this wide variety of player motivations, you also know you can't possibly succeed in designing for all of them initially. But you can gradually broaden the scope of the accessibility of the content. When patch 4.3 launches, there will be new 5-man dungeons for players to gear up in while dedicated raiders hurl themselves into the new raids, and some players hit the Raid Finder to see the content in a "story mode" difficulty setting that will allow more than one kind of raider to gain what they're looking for.
What progression means depends on who is asking
Over time, as some raiders move into heroic modes, others will step up from the Raid Finder or heroic 5-mans to normal mode raiding, be it 10- or 25-man. Then, as content is reduced in difficulty, more and more players will make use of more and more of these options. While it may never reach a level of accessibility wherein all players raid, it will be much more likely that all those players who want to raid will at least get to do some form of it, and therefore, all that content gated behind the barriers inherent to raiding will be available. Just as PVP currently has normal and Rated Battlegrounds as well as Arenas for all kinds of PVP players, from the player who likes to run AV to blow off steam to the player who is going for a 2,200 rating, so will there be options for raiders as well.
This is quite possibly the greatest challenge to design Blizzard has ever undertaken, an attempt to satisfy as many players as possible. Whether it will be successful or not is as yet unknown. It's an extremely daunting task, designing for players who will wipe on heroic Ragnaros 500 times in a few days and for players who would rather not wipe on normal Rag five times. It may not even matter if it can actually be done. The effort of trying to do it, of trying to include both kinds of players and everyone in between, may be more important and more informative for the future than anything else.
Brace yourselves for what could be some of most exciting updates to the game recently with patch 4.3. Review the official patch notes, and then dig into what's ahead: new item storage options, cross-realm raiding, cosmetic armor skinning and your chance to battle the mighty Deathwing -- from astride his back!