Thursday, January 28, 2010

Life at Entry Level

I ran into a couple of interesting blog posts from the past few days: Blessing of Kings and Greedy Goblin. The topic? Boosting, socials, and dynamics inside the LFD.

I will be the first to admit, I've had my share of facepalms at people in pugs who were beyond incompetent. Sure, they were logged in and standing there, but were they ignoring the error message saying they were facing the wrong way? Is that how a DK can really manage to (only) do 800 dps? We've all had them.

Gevlon, however, isn't really railing against these superbads, he's railing against underperformers in general. With his ungeared project, he's showing what can be done in blues (and showing just how many people he can out perform). I think it's great and refreshing to remind us all that gear isn't everything, but expecting everyone to play up to his standard can only lead to heartache. In fact, when pugging, my advice is to just have really low expectations so you are more likely to be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't fail horribly.

So, now I'm a raiding paladin healer ridiculous amounts of mana and healing capability. I do my random every day to collect my frost badges just like any good raider should do. When I queue, I'm not looking for a challenge, I'm looking to do a repetitive group activity in decent time and collect the badges. I don't look at recount (I don't even run it anymore), because it just doesn't matter unless it's H HoR (which I'll know half-way through the first trash wave if we have enough DPS to do the rest). In a five man group, regardless of gear, there's almost always going to be a couple of strong players doing the bulk of the work while two or three are just there for the ride.

It's just like real life, kinda. I think of all the stupid bullshit projects I've had to do in high school, in college, and at work. Any time a group is formed, there's going to be varying degrees of enthusiasm/participation/effort. There's the one or two guys (we might have already called them brown-nosers) trying to push it ahead, keep it moving, and getting frustrated that the other members honestly don't care and are just following them around. Maybe the followers are stupid, maybe they just don't care, or maybe they realize that in the long run it doesn't make much difference either way. It might seem logical that if all five remained focused, they could do the project in record time - maybe that two hour session that's required to get it done could be done in an hour if everything went right. I don't think the "casual" in this situation sees it that way - they see the project assigned to take two hours and just resign themselves to giving two hours of their time, even if they know it's not going to be a very productive two hours.

I come to the LFD with the same attitude - so long as there are two or three of us willing to keep pushing forward, our heroic will progress and succeed. Sure, it would go faster if all five us of were focused, but unlike my real life example, heroics can't go much faster than they already do, even if two DPS are very low. I don't notice the difference between a DPS doing 3k and 5k DPS in a five man - anything more than 3k isn't noticeable in the time it takes for stuff to die. The amount of DPS required collectively in a heroic is easily achieved by a couple of players.

I don't get bent out of shape by players doing low DPS. I agree, doing less than 2k is "wtf r u doin r u afk lolz", but, I'm not going to grow any gray hairs over a warlock pulling 1.2k (I totally thought he was a mage till he summoned a demon after the second boss!). I am not going to get him kicked, because it's simply not worth the effort when the heroic could easily be three-manned. So maybe he isn't pushing his buttons as fast and hard (or even in the right order, or the right buttons) as the other guys. We'll still get the badges. Am I guilty for carrying the guy? Eh. That didn't stop me from putting more effort into my school projects than some of my peers, I doubt it's ever stopped anyone who really wanted to succeed. I wanted the project completed badly enough to keep my mouth shut and reach my goals. It's a part of the team dynamic, which is integral to MMO's, that there are going to be more involved players and players who are along for the ride. At it's healthiest, an MMO will always have all players at all level of content and performance, with various reasons they play the game.

I think that in Cataclysm we will see more of the same. The Heroics might be tuned to be harder for longer, but anytime five people are grouped, there are going to be five different ideas of acceptable contributions to group play. Content can't be tuned to challenge all five people at once without being being inaccessible to the majority. With the way Blizzard has set up their badge and tiered gear, heroics are always going to be a conglomerate of new players, raiders doing their daily, and alts grinding out the badges for gear or gems.

Once in a while I play with a very good friend of mine and pseudo-fresh-80 druid. We met in game more than a year ago but our friendship has grown and gravitated almost entirely outside of WoW. She's a casual, I'm a raider. We raided Naxx long long ago when she had the occasional Friday night off, but as time and tiers progressed we ran out of meaningful ways to play together that weren't either trivial for me or hard for her to contribute. Even trying to do a heroic could be difficult - I'd already be saved for the daily, she had already done this and this, and could we even find a tank willing to go here?, etc. etc. The LFD has been great for me to play with her - we queue together, the LFD chooses our instance for us, I get my frost badges, or, I can bring an alt that still needs badges. With the new LFD system, I'm getting and giving just as much out of the run as she is, so it's better playing for both of us.

I'm sure a goblin would pitch a fit about her DPS, but I don't care. She's performing exactly as a casual - limited playtime, little to no spec/rotation research, and "unacceptably low" DPS from a raiding standpoint. A long time ago, I accepted that she and I are different - I'm a bit OCD about my performance, and I spend a lot of time researching, seeing what others are doing, etc. etc. She signs on to enjoy a couple hours before she works a double, and she can jump in LFD because her DPS is "good enough." Some people see this is a sign of a problem, but I think this is really working as intended. Long gone are the "old days" of the MMORPG where you were cutting edge or you were nothing. Blizzard has made the game accessible - and fun - for players with limited playtime, and that's what makes it popular. It means more entry level content, and more entry level performance. The game designers have even devised ways to keep the hardcore players invested with available time sinks (raids/hardmodes/crafting/gathering raid supplies/dailies), while giving casual players stuff to do when they only have an hour to kill before RL calls.

I could compare the levels of play available in WoW to the levels of learning available in education. Consider the projects (and students) in a Math 101 type course. I would expect, in a five person group assigned randomly, that there would be one or two people who are math-savvy, this is easy for them, and the rest being there because Math 101 is required for their degree or certificate. The project is likely doable and easy for everyone, but you'll have that girl who "can't do math", won't try, and someone will do it for her and finish the project. After all, the project is for a Math 101 class. It's entry level and is designed to be accessible for all students.

Things are a bit different in your 300 level classes and graduate work. The projects are designed to be harder, require a bit more work on everyone's part, and will be judged less forgivingly. Anyone who has made it to through several semesters of the entry level classes is specialized enough to care about the content at hand. If you want to sign up for Advanced Applied Trig, the excuse "I'm not good at math" isn't an option anymore. You either step up or you drop the class. This is where I put progression raiding - you either learn the fights and max your performance, or you have to drop.

In the same vein, Heroics are designed to be the entry level content for PVE. They are "easy", you just have to do it. Yes, there will be someone more interested in their cell phone than the boss, but this is life at entry level. I choose the people I raid with a lot more carefully. I have higher expectations for these people, as I'm electing to undertake larger, more time-intensive and costly endeavors with them. Raiders are the upperclassmen of WoW, so to speak, but we still have to do our 101's with all the people who are just sitting there soaking up credits. I used to get all worked up about the inequality but I just can't, anymore. We all got a passing grade on the project, or got our badges, life goes on. If I'm constantly being disappointed by performance I see at entry-level, then my expectations for entry level might just be too high.

The argument that carrying players at entry level (healing them through stupid, accepting low dps) will only hurt them at progression level never sat well with me either. Players who hunger to play at the highest level will do what they need to do to play at the highest level. There is no "teaching someone a lesson" at entry level - he or she will either want to learn (and will do so without my comments) or will refuse to learn. The rogue who complains that I should just heal through it will not be convinced that it's better for him to move than me to blow cooldowns on him. I am not concerned - he will not be invited to my raid-level content, but he's "good enough" to play at entry level.

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