Ready Check: Ulduar and Burnout

Ready Check is a weekly column focusing on successful raiding for the serious raider. Hardcore or casual, Naxxramas-10 or Naxxramas-25, everyone can get in on the action and down some bosses. This week, we look at people who are leaving raiding despite Ulduar being imminent

It's that time of year again. We're hardly as jaded by farming tier 7 content as we were back in the days of Black Temple and Hyjal, but burnout has been rearing its ugly head lately, putting raiding guilds in a difficult position. Ulduar approaching will obviously put a stop to the problem - but for how long?

When all the 25-man content is cleared in a handful of hours, nobody has any reason to run 10-mans and the drop-of-a-hat PTR testing schedule means we're entirely at Blizzard's whim as to when we can poke new content, it's no wonder people are becoming bored. Arguably, it's better that we don't get more than a few limited hours a week on the PTR, in order that the content is fresh when it actually hits. However, the actual effect of this drip-feeding has seemed to dampen enthusiasm for Ulduar rather than heighten it, especially as one of the most available bosses is unfortunately Flame Leviathan.

It strikes me that as players we are constantly telling ourselves white lies to keep ourselves interested. "It'll be fun when we're working on three drakes", "It'll be fun when we can play around on the PTR", "It'll be fun getting world/region/faction/realm firsts when Ulduar hits". We go through the motions of complaining about the looks of the new armor, watching live streams of new bosses and chattering endlessly when any tidbit introduces novelty into the dull sameness of WoW endgame. Yet a few weeks into the PTR schedule, with Ulduar right around the corner, some players are sizing the content up and thinking "is this it?".

Those players are going to leave, sooner or later. There's something keeping them playing, from social ties to the responsibilities of leadership to deep-seated psychological problems driving them away from their real lives. Yet there's a tipping point, and chances are if you're at the stage where nothing in the game seems exciting any more - not even the shiny new stuff - then that point will be reached sooner rather than later. Do you really want to spend the rest of your weekends from noon til night fishing ingame, just so you have enough food banked for Ulduar?

On paper, at least, hardcore raiders are Blizzard's least worry when it comes to player retention. We'll slaver like dogs over new tidbits of information, we'll put in endless hours on test realms to do stuff we'll only put in more hours repeating on live, we'll analyse and comment and give feedback on game decisions, and we're so heavily invested in the game itself that we care. Yet there's this increasing sense that Blizzard's losing us. New content isn't up to expectations, people aren't frothing-at-the-mouth excited about every drop of PTR news, players are leaving right, left and centre and the mood is turning a little sour. So what does this mean for raiders and raid guilds?

Firstly, it'll be interesting to see how quickly content is cleared in Ulduar. One argument I've seen made multiple times is that 'nothing is hard' any more, and it remains to be seen whether the hard modes and extra achievements introduced in Ulduar will appease a group of players that want to wipe and bang their heads against something so they can feel the achievement that goes with finally beating it. As a side point, one contributing factor to raider boredom at the moment is partially the overloading of raid content to fit both 10 and 25man raids; there's no change of scenery involved, which will also be the problem in Ulduar as seeing the same fights from slightly different perspectives time and again will eventually get pretty old.

When Ulduar's cleared, then what? If it was easy to clear, even including the hard mode, then I think some raiders will finally give up on the notion that they will get the challenge they seek out of WoW; the challenge that they used to relish. They'll sit round the fire talking about the good old days, and move on to other games or challenges in a different form. If it was hard to clear, and if achievements are hard to repeat, perhaps that edge will remain and keep people interested. It's a fine line, however, between challenge and frustration; trying to repeat difficult fights or achievements every week isn't always fun for everyone.

Will guilds disband as a result of general disgruntledness, attrition and boredom? These will be contributing factors, but usually the gap left by players leaving due to these reasons is filled with recruitment. However, recruitment as a high-end guild is difficult if you simply don't get the right sort of applicants. Plenty of guilds have been looking for the perfect (insert class/role here) for a while now, and not seeing the sort of quality applications they expect. We'll need to lower our standards or do without, and wince every time a valued, hard-to-replace member walks off into the sunset. The sort of explosive guild breakups caused by fights like M'uru were obviously bad for a lot of guilds, but they certainly made sure there were plenty of skilled players looking for better homes. We simply aren't seeing that sort of guild applicant any more.

It's really hard to gauge trials, as well, when content is overgeared and overfarmed. The PTR is one place to start, and some of a trial's conduct there can reflect well or badly on their overall level of dedication and skill. However, ultimately you won't really know until you're clearing Ulduar for the first time on live servers, and that's not a great time to find out that your new shadow priest loves to stand in the fire.

Leadership burnout is also a real problem when it comes to progress raiding, and trying to motivate an increasingly apathetic and pessimistic group of raiders through content is one of the least fun things you can do in WoW. You can snatch the few moments of enjoyment while attempting to work things out for the first time on the PTR, but unless you metaphorically close your eyes, the problems posed by new fights will all be solved and posted around the Internet before the next time you see that boss. Even if you try to ignore them and come up with a novel strategy from scratch, your raiders will constantly bombard you with quotes and suggestions from other strategies. It's enough to make a raid leader scream.

If a raid leader is personally not that invested in the content, but doing the job because they believe (whether rightly or wrongly) that nobody else in the guild could, you're not going to end up with supercharged, super-motivated raiding. This is a real danger - I've seen it happen more than once - and only exacerbated by the current trend of 'meh' that seems to be floating around the raidverse.

This is only one viewpoint, so I'd be interested to hear if others' correlate. How are you dealing with some of the issues that are arising when even the thought of Ulduar being imminent isn't enough to keep people playing?