Raiding is no longer doing MMOs any favors.
I've compared raiding to open PvP in the past, and the comparison still holds up. It's something that a lot of games developed in response to a specific genre-defining game have featured. But it's not doing those games any favors, and it might be time to take a hard look at this gameplay element that games survive in spite of rather than because of. If we learn nothing else from WildStar's issues when it launched into what should have been an ideal environment, it's that raiding certainly isn't driving players into a game's waiting arms.
But I don't want to just say that and let it roll around on the floor. Let's actually break the argument down across a couple of articles this week. Why does raiding need to shuffle off of the main stage, definitely as the default endgame model, perhaps altogether? I can give you six good reasons.
It's too expensive in terms of resources
When WildStar announced that it was scaling its biggest raid down from 40 people to 20, commenter Belladonna did some math. The short version is that every single person who was playing the raid in its 40-person incarnation had personally cost $2,500 based on a handful of reasonable assumptions, which would require fourteen straight years of subscribing for Carbine to even break even on the money that the raid cost to develop. It's sort of a weak investment.
Obviously, you can't actually get that precise with how much money this content costs to develop. But it drives home the fact that content takes time to develop, test, balance, model, and so forth. It can cost a lot of money. And when you're talking about content that by its very nature is meant to limit access, this looks like an increasingly top-heavy investment.
There's a reason World of Warcraft has increasingly made it easier and easier for players to get into a raid, even as it keeps going back and forth on reward structures (which is a different topic we'll discuss further on). Spending a huge amount of time and resources on content that most players won't see is foolish. But even in WoW, you can see how much raids cost simply by repeated dev use of the phrase, "It'll cost another raid tier."
Want more Garrison options? Well, that'll cost another raid tier. More five-person dungeons? Would cost another raid tier. I seem to recall that the stated reason for not having any sort of content added to the game in the year-plus gap between the end of Mists of Pandaria and the long-delayed launch of Warlords of Draenor was that taking time to develop something would cost another raid tier, which looks particularly odd when you remember that the existing raid tier was boring players out of their minds after a year of nothing else.
Obviously, raid tiers are not really fully fungible currencies, but that's not the point. The sentiment is that all the development time that would go into developing something else has to go into adding another raid tier. There has to be a steady drip of new raids, something new for the raiding side to stay invested in. Put even more simply: Those are the players who need their content need sated, and everyone else needs to wait for the scraps.
In some situations, this would make sense. Content played by 95% of the playerbase should definitely be developed and fleshed out instead of content played by 5% of the playerbase. Except, well...
It's designed for a tiny portion of the people playing the games
Why did Turbine stop designing raids for Lord of the Rings Online? Because no one played them. And that isn't a recent development, either. Sure, maybe Lord of the Rings Online is unique in that regard, but it sure doesn't seem like it.
There are plenty of data to be unpacked in this post when it comes to raiding in World of Warcraft, some of it outdated, but at the height of the game's popularity (Wrath of the Lich King), it still makes a pretty clear argument that raiders made up about 10% of the population: About 1.1 million players were killing the first boss of the highest tier of raids available while the game's overall populace was upwards of 11 million. Looking at WildStar's worldwide progress on Genetic Archives suggests that around 6500 players have cleared at least one boss; if you assume that all of these guilds had twice as many people going into raids and working on progression, an unlikely prospect, you still wind up with a figure that doesn't make up more than 10% of the game's population.
WoW, to its credit, buffed those numbers somewhat once it added in LFR, which also brings the difficulty down so far that there's no longer any real challenge. And it did so, in part, because there was no other content to be had (see point number one above). This has other impacts that we'll discuss further on.
Numbers don't tell the whole story, but they paint a picture. About 10% of the game's population, give or take, has an interest in actual progression via raiding. Those of us discussing it online have different perspectives solely because no one's going to take part in this discussion unless he's already passionate about the game or the genre, which skews the discussion more heavily toward people knee-deep in raiding. But the actual metrics paint a different story.
What you're left with, under this model, is a system under which 90% of the playerbase doesn't get to experience content that took significant time, effort, and resources to develop -- enough time, effort, and resources that other features had to be cut down. If you don't raid for whatever reason, you are expected to subsidize the players who do.
Think about that for a moment. Would you go to a restaurant where everyone paid the same amount of money, but 10% of the patrons got access to a better menu and better service? Would you pay for Netflix if 10% of subscribers had access to the movies that you spend a good chunk of time cursing about why they aren't already available via streaming? Heck, would you be happy if you could watch only half of a movie but 10% of the people subscribing could see the whole thing and tell you about it?
Put into more concrete terms, this is what everyone fears will happen with any free-to-play game, with only a small selection of people getting access to the core of the game. Raiding is just gated by time and desire rather than the size of your bankroll. Games with a raid-heavy model are creating a lot of content aimed at a vanishingly small portion of the overall playerbase.
"But the social aspects!" you cry in the comments. "The challenge is necessary!" And to that I say come back tomorrow, friends. This is called part one for a reason. Because those usual counter-arguments don't carry the weight they seem to at a glance.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!