The Raid Finder is designed to open raiding to a wider audience, and so it is fair to view the Raid Finder as an expression of what Blizzard wants raiding for this larger audience to be. It is accessible, quick, undemanding, forgiving, and convenient. It is in many ways the opposite of what we might stereotypically expect a raid to be (exclusive, long, taxing, unforgiving and inconvenient). In this way the Raid Finder is a very dramatic departure from past approaches to raiding. This post explores some of the consequences of this departure.
Sharing the Story
The Raid Finder creates the possibility of narrative closure for players who would not have it otherwise. Most players never saw Illidan in BC and downing Arthas in WotLK was also beyond the ability of a great many players. The Raid Finder prevents this sort of outcome for Cataclysm. Now any player who can run a few five mans will also be able to kill Deathwing and see the end of the story for themselves. This narrative closure is a nice boon to the playerbase, but it also has consequences.
One consequence, in my opinion, is that it undermines the story. This expansion cast Deathwing as a global evil that had the power to turn Azeroth into a barren, desiccated monument to insanity and death. His strength was built up to be beyond the scope of mortals; if he can nearly murder Alexstrasza and put whole zones to flame in mere seconds, what hope should we have? But then we learn that a bunch of random, poorly-organized strangers can zerg him and his most powerful minions in part of an evening. These heroes do not overcome great odds or make great sacrifices. No, the Raid Finder offers up Deathwing on a platter, leaving a hollow victory and a whimper of a conclusion. I realize that the Raid Finder has to make bosses into pushovers for it to work, but it nevertheless has a consequence of making victory over Deathwing feel like no more of an achievement than completing a five-player dungeon. Relative to other victories in raids, the RF makes the story end for me with the same feeling that I got when beating a game with a cheat code as a kid or skipping to ahead to the last chapter in the book. Part of the power of a good conclusion comes from the journey of getting to it, and if the journey is cheapened, so is the conclusion.
Another consequence is that with the Raid Finder, the story of Cataclysm was over with for a great many players within the first eight days of the 4.3 patch. There is nothing new to see or do until the next expansion, only repetition. A problem that was once only held by high-end raiders is now held by a much, much larger group of players: how to stay motivated to play when you know you have seen everything there is to see. This poses an interesting question for an MMO. Is it better to have some content that is somewhat gated for the majority in order to preserve a sense of having more to do, or it is better to leave all content within reach to offer a sense of completion and closure?
The design decisions of the Raid Finder appear to say that Blizzard wants it to be the dungeon finder on a larger scale. Many of the things that can be said of random dungeons can also be said of the Raid Finder:
- It is convenient. You can access it from anywhere, at any time, by yourself or with friends.
- It is rewarding. You can obtain high-ilvl gear and respectable chunks of Valor for very small amounts of effort and time.
- It is effectively anonymous. Players grouped together by the Raid Finder have likely never seen each other before nor will they likely ever see each other again.
- It is non-building. Each run is a singular occurrence in which associations between players are only temporary.
This leaves the Raid Finder open to both the praises and criticisms of the Random Dungeon Finder.
|It removes the inconvenience of having to manually form pugs.||It does nothing to build and arguably undermines server community.|
|It makes great loot accessible.||It turns raiding into a mindless loot mill.|
|Its anonymity makes it a safe place to make mistakes and learn.||Its anonymity makes it a safe place to troll and ninja.|
|It is relatively forgiving of having family issues, limited play time, and other constraints.||It does little to teach fundamentals like respect for other players’ time.|
|It provides a place for novices to learn the ropes.||It communicates to players that doing the minimum is fine since the rewards will be the same.|
|It smooths entry into normal-mode raids in terms of loot.||It makes rewards from other raid difficulties less distinctive and meaningful.|
With this table I do not mean to claim that the Raid Finder is, on balance, neutral. In the larger scheme of things it is likely an asset to the game. The table is also not supposed to be a summary of all praises and criticisms of the Raid Finder, merely those that carry over from the Random Dungeon Finder.
What the table does suggest, though, is that Blizzard is content to advance the changes that the Random Dungeon Finder began. The decline of server communities, the concentration on loot, and the lack of player accountability are small enough costs in Blizzard’s eyes that they felt that the dungeon finder model should be extended to raiding. And, in their own interests, they are right to do so. Opening raiding to a larger share of players entices new players to join and brings back old players. But it does also change the game dramatically under the feet of existing players. It alters the way the game is played, how gear and achievements are earned, how content is cleared. It is a tough road the Blizzard has to walk down, constantly improving the game and reducing barriers to entry while at the same time trying to not alienate existing players.
The Raid Finder is another step down the road toward leaving the difficulty of a given piece of content at the discretion of the player. In older approaches to MMOs, the game world was fixed in difficulty and players would find the right place for themselves by choosing among locales rather than options in the user interface. This left players in a position where the content they approached depended greatly upon their skill and time because those two dimensions of play served as barriers to entry for dungeons and raiding.
Today, things are a bit different. WoW has added hard modes to dungeons and raids; it has also moved away from the environmentally-integrated hard modes of Ulduar toward difficulty settings that players can choose in the user interface while being nowhere near the instance. The Raid Finder takes this element of choice a step further, adding a level of difficulty that is categorically easier than normal modes. Now the PVE content that players approach is not dictated by skill and time so much as basic interest: “do I want to run a heroic or kill Deathwing to cap Valor this week?”
This leaves players in a position where the content does much less to challenge us to improve. Victory can be had with little effort or great effort depending upon the player’s inclination. Why climb the mountain when you can just ride the gondola to the top and get the same view? Seeing a tier’s raid content is no longer earned or rewarded based on skill and dedication; rather, it is treated as an entitlement that everyone has a right to regardless of skill and dedication. For good or ill, this is a rather remarkable change to the endgame.
I dislike this change personally because content has always been a huge motivator for me. Wanting to fight the Lich King or Sinestra or Yogg’saron left me excited about progression. Getting to the next boss was always fun because it was both new and challenging. The Raid Finder removes this motivation for those players who use it because progression encounters have always already been seen. Even normal mode progression is only repetition these days. In this respect, the Raid Finder feels like a massive spoiler to conventional raiding that Blizzard is bribing us to use.
What I find particularly odd is that even the heroic version of the Dragon Soul offers no extra content compared to the Raid Finder. There is no Sinestra or added Rag stage. Rather, it is, in terms of content, the same raid in all three difficulty levels. Skill and dedication earn you nothing in the way of content, making the Dragon Soul something of a renunciation of the model of raiding that Blizzard held for a very long time. If this holds in Mists of Pandaria then we can expect normal and hard mode raiding to turn into activities solely for those who want the added challenge. The difficulty that was once an intrinsic part of raiding is now merely a handicap that you choose to put on yourself. The Hunting Party Podcast commented that perhaps this is a good thing; now we may be more likely to only see players who like adversity applying to raiding guilds. At the same time, for raiders who enjoyed how raids used to combine content progression with a good challenge, the game has become a bit paler.