BlizzCon 2011 was a great source of new information for a lot of players. One of the things that Blizzard didn't really speak about, however, was the future of raiding in the next expansion and beyond. Since The Burning Crusade, Blizzard has made enormous strides in changing the face of endgame content. It started with the reduction from 40-man raiding to 25-man raiding along with the introduction of 10-man raiding. In Wrath, we saw an even larger change, with every raid having a 10-man option that allowed even greater access to the raiding scene than ever before. Now, 10-man and 25-man are, to Blizzard at least, considered to be on equal footing.
With each expansion has come a drastic change to the raiding scene, yet nothing was announced for the next game. This leaves us rather up in the air as to where Blizzard intends to take the raiding scene. WoW is becoming a game of accessibility, where the end goal is to make the largest amount of content available to the widest audience. In light of this, it is time that we don our tin foil hats in taking a look at what the future might hold for raiding players of WoW.
Raiding then and now
When you first hear about raiding, your thoughts instantly go toward the endgame scene. Once you hit max level, raiding is virtually the only option that players have. Yes, there is 5-man content that Blizzard is constantly updating, there are new daily hubs, and there is PVP, yet the end game for WoW (and virtually any MMO) is always raiding. At the end of the day, it always comes down to why players raid.
Raiding isn't so much a choice in WoW; it is the only option for players. Once you reach level cap, you raid or you PVP or you do nothing. For all of the 5-man content that Blizzard offers, it has a end -- an end that comes rather quickly. Players raid because it is all that they have to do; there just isn't anything else. With that in mind, we have to ask ourselves if that is how the game should be constructed. Should raiding be the endgame? Should players be forced into this raid-or-quit paradigm?
Gear is the primary incentive for players to raid. You raid so that you can get better gear so that you can tackle the next raid when it is released. That's the long and short of it. Given other options, how many players out there would choose to keep raiding? If WoW offered an alternative means of advancement at the endgame level, how many players would continue to seek to be raiders? I think this is the same question that Blizzard is asking of itself.
As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot force him to drink. Blizzard has striven to make raids more open to a wide array of players, yet the numbers still just are not there. More players than ever before are getting involved in the raiding scene, but numbers are just a single data point, and they don't tell the whole story. Many players may be involved in raiding, but are they doing it because that is what they choose to be involved with or is it because it is all they have to get into? Given the choice, would these players still continue to raid?
How raiding has changed now
I feel that these are the exact questions that Blizzard itself has been looking into, and I think that it is coming to a single conclusion: Perhaps the endgame of a massive MMO such as WoW needs to have something beyond raiding. Much of the focus of Mists of Pandaria isn't on changing the face of raiding in an effort to entice more players to get into the scene because Blizzard has realized it's reached the end point on what it can do to make raiding more accessible to the playerbase, and any additional efforts would destroy the other side of players.
Whether or not you agree with the sentiment, many of the high-end, hardcore raiders are reaching a point where they feel that WoW doesn't offer them the same level of challenge that it once did. Again, this being true or external factors that might influence this are irrelevant; what matters is what these players believe. That is always an issue out in the world or in developing a game. Your intentions, the truth, or what hard data shows is a meaningless factor; all that is important is what the playerbase feels, thinks, or believes. If the playerbase holds the belief that the highest end of raiding is far easier now than it ever was in the past, then it is on some level true, regardless of what the facts show.
We have reached that point in raiding now. There isn't anything that Blizzard can really do in order to draw more players into raiding. It is as easy and accessible as Blizzard can possibly make it without further damaging the integrity of high-end raiding. Yet not every player is happy with how the raiding scene players out. The best of the best don't feel challenged, and those who for their own reasons don't want or can't get involved with it aren't. No matter what Blizzard does, the latter cannot be changed, and I feel that Blizzard has come to terms with this. Instead, it's focusing more on offering more side options for players to get involved with.
The new PVE Scenarios and non-combat Pet Battles are evident of this. While the former can easily be attributed to what success Rift has seen, the latter is an obvious attempt to offer something more to the endgame besides raiding. Blizzard knows that players need something else; it cannot constantly keep up with the content needs of the high-end raiders, nor can it do more to make raiding easier for those who currently aren't involved in it. Instead of focusing on raiding, Blizzard is looking into alternatives to offer players at the endgame level of play.
What does all of this mean for the future of raiding? Will we ever see a day when raiding becomes just as equivocal to other endgame options? Looking beyond Mists of Pandaria, what will be the focus on the next expansion? Should Pet Battles become highly popular, will Blizzard seek to introduce more content of a similar vein, things for players to do once they reach a max level that takes countless hours of commitment yet isn't raiding? What do we use to draw players into these side projects?
Look at Pet Battles. Your character's gear is entirely irrelevant to the situation. Unlike high-end PVP, there is no true PVE incentive to remain active in the personal progression of your character; instead, the progression path is on an entirely different level. The grind and effort involved with the system is entirely separate from the rest of the game. You don't have to choose to participate in anything other than Pet Battles if you don't want to, and doing so won't hinder your progression in your chosen progression path.
If successful, what will this mean for the future of WoW? Will Blizzard continue with this trend? Will the expansion after this add a similar progression path to players that is independent of the past primary focus of the game? Is this good for the game as a whole?
More importantly, what does this mean for the future of raiding? As Blizzard adds more and more non-PVE-based progression systems at the highest level, how will this impact the way in which the playerbase views raiding? Could it be possible that we will see a time where raiding is merely nothing more than a simple side project that a select amount of the playerbase focuses on? If that ends up being the case, what would that mean for the future effort that Blizzard puts into the raiding scene?
How these changes could impact raiding
Right now, it cannot be denied that raiding receives a huge chunk of the development time. There is a huge amount of focus placed upon raiding because many players rightfully feel that it is their only recourse at the endgame. Again, you raid or you quit. With such a narrow focus within the game, the developers are forced into sharing that same level of focus. Raiding is a huge source of development because it must be done. Without new raids, the game grows stale, boring, and players leave. By introducing objectives that players can put as much focus and effort into aside from raiding into the game, objectives that are independent of raiding entirely, the same amount of development time that raiding currently receives just isn't there.
Raiding might never become obsolete, although that is entirely possible as MMOs continue to evolve in vastly different ways, but its importance at the high end can certain diminish. Is this bad for the game overall? How would the general playerbase react to such changes? These are questions that no one can answer because there just isn't a way to answer them other than making the changes and seeing for yourself. In doing so, Blizzard is taking a risk. Is it a risk for the better? That's probably debatable. Despite being a focused raider myself, I would venture to guess that the game overall would benefit from having alternate progression paths at max level that aren't about gear or raiding or personal itemized progression, but how much of the current or future players would agree with me?
This is all hand-waving, tin-foil-hat stuff. Pet Battles may be the end of alternative progression at the high end; it may not even turn out to hold enough of a time investment for players to really care about it all too much, the same as we see with archaeology. Yet it is a theory worth exploring. WoW has long been a pioneer in MMO design; this very well could be the next frontier. Is WoW ready to make that leap? Is Blizzard? Are the players?
Ready Check shares all the strategies and inside information you need to take your raiding to the next level. Be sure to look up our strategy guides to Cataclysm's 5-man instances, and for more healer-centric advice, visit Raid Rx.