Thursday, December 17, 2009

Social Noob: The Story of Mick

I must confess, when I saw the title of a recent post by Klepsacovic – ‘What to do with Social Noobs’ – I thought he was going to be taking potshots at Gevlon’s newest experiment. I was surprised instead to find it a post about people who may or may not be able to master WoW, the game, but are unable to master social interactions that are (mostly) necessary to gameplay. He examines a couple of different types of social noobs, from the outright selfish a-hole (i.e., people who are deliberately rude, disruptive, etc.) to people who may not mean harm, but are just unable or unwilling to communicate well with others. In the end he asks, ‘Can we save the social noobs from themselves?’

Last night we were forced to use the Booterang* (one of my all-time favorite in-game items and quests, by the way) on a guild member. He was a social noob. Is he an outright selfish A-hole or just stupid, and is there any hope for him? This is his story. We’ll call him ‘Mick’.

Mick was tanking an Ony-10 pug. The raid leader forgot to set MasterLooter. When the big girl fell, and the loot windows popped up, Mick rolled need. On everything. My first inkling that there was trouble came when I got the following whisper:

‘Who’s the GM of your f-ing guild?’

Talk about social noobishness! This is not usually the way to open a conversation. If he walked up to me on the street or in a place of business, I would have gotten defensive, or maybe hostile, who knows. Fortunately I stayed cool and responded politely. He told me about ‘f-ing ninja Mick’. After making some inquiries with Mick, the original whisperer, and one or two other folks in that raid, we kicked Mick out of our guild. I only hope that he had the decency to return the loot for proper distribution. The angry whisperer calmed down as the event unfolded, though he did apparently spam trade chat for a bit about the ninja (I have yet to see anything on our realm forum about it, hopefully that will be the end of it), and I think our guild reputation has remained untarnished.

There are multiple faults here. One of course is the Raid Leader, for goofing and forgetting to set Loot Master. I suspect we’ve all done this once in a while; in a guild raid it’s not an issue, but obviously can be trouble in a PuG environment. Mick for sure is at fault – you don’t exploit an opening like that just because it’s there. However, I also have to think that WoWsociety is also partly at fault: for assuming that all members of this society know the ‘rules’. I suspect that much of the social noobishness in the game comes from people who have just not learned the rules.

My own first run-in with WoW rules came back in Blackfathom Depths so long ago. We killed a boss, and a nice chest piece dropped. I rolled need and won. A little later something else dropped, I rolled need and won. Someone in the group said “You’re not supposed to roll on everything!” Thus chastised, I don’t think I rolled on a single thing for the entire rest of the run. But here’s the thing: How was I to know? This was my first toon, and probably my first real group. Nobody had ever explained the protocols of loot to me; there’s no real manual, maybe some guidelines on the Blizzard website, but at that point in time I wasn’t really using those kinds of resources. I had no friends or guild to guide me. I was completely on my own, trying to figure out how this strange society worked. I was both a WoW noob AND a WoW social noob. There I was, level 23 or so and already a loot ninja, though nobody called me that (and I might not have really understood if they had).

But what about Mick? Should he have known better? He’s no WoW noob, he’s been playing for about 3 years. However, he’s also a bit new to raiding and high-level heroics (from his character history, he never had a level-capped toon until hitting 80 last spring); is it fair to expect him to know those rules when he’s relatively inexperienced?

There would only seem to be two ways to learn these rules: From written sources (i.e., websites, magazines, etc.), or from other players. Written sources are not good for everyone – I’m amazed at the number of players I’ve run into who can’t seem to bother to look up information on the web for themselves, and while there are certain behaviors that cut across the entire game society, there are also many customs that are specific to each server. That leaves other players as the best source of the rules. For my part, I learned by taking cues from the people I played with, from paying attention to what party and raid leaders said, and from coming right out and asking. In this way I moved out of the rank of social noob even when I still played like a WoW noob. However, in order to raise yourself out of ‘social noob’ status you have to have the desire and the ability to learn. From what I observed about Mick, he did not have the ability to learn.

It’s a shame, too. Despite his annoying tendencies (in-guild he was a lot like Chester the Terrier: Anyone-wanna-run-something-let’s-do-something-are-we-raiding-tonight-we-should-raid-something-who-can-enchant/gem-this-what-enchant-should-I-get-for-tanking-where-do-I’AAAARGHHH!) he was enthusiastic about the game, and desired getting involved with raiding. His first actual guild run was Tuesday night; he did passably well, and spent a lot of time afterwards discussing tankie stuff with our other tank (on the other hand, one of the people from his fated Ony run told the GM how he was not using a tanking weapon while tanking. /sigh). I don't believe he's an 'outright A-hole', though the folks in the raid would disagree. In the end, it was his inability to socialize well and to learn from the people around him -- in short, his social noobishness -- that cost him a guild spot. Though not for long: I noticed by the end of the night he’d caught on with another. I wish them well.

*The Booterang is supposed to knock sense into worthless, lazy peons. I would like to think it knocked some sense into Mick, but we're more than happy to let his new guild find out.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'Let's Do It on Normal Mode'

I’ve noticed a rather disturbing trend with my guild in recent months: a willingness to throw in the towel early. This popped up the first time our ten man group finally reached Yogg-Saron. That first night we took a whopping total of 9 shots at him (though that included our unintended ‘Alone in the Darkness’ attempt kicked off by someone stepping too far into the room) before we reached our time limit for the night. We actually got to Phase 2 once, but with so few players alive that there was no hope of getting anywhere. Most of those first nine attempts ended in Phase 1, but we were learning and progressing, even if it didn’t show in the final results.

A few nights later we went back with high hopes, sure that we would be able to down Yoggy in our three hour time frame. We had a couple of clunker attempts but found ourselves doing much better, getting into Phase 2 with everyone alive, which is where it fell apart. At that point, after six attempts in about an hour’s playing time, someone begged off claiming fatigue. ‘Have to work tomorrow,’ he said. When we discussed trying to replace him someone else said ‘I’ll stay, if we can actually get somewhere.’ I wanted to reach through the internet and strangle the guy – what did he think we’d been doing for the last hour? As it turned out, we ended up not getting replacements that night; we also elected not to extend the lockout, and we haven’t been back since.

A second recent event occurred last week when we decided to tackle 10-man Trial of the Grand Crusader. A month or so ago we had made an attempt at it, just to see what it was like. It was hard, and we weren’t ready. This time we hand-picked our top players (as opposed to the open invites for normal) and went in. The results were far better than our first time in – we were just a hair off on our dps on the first attempt, so that the worms were entering the arena while Gormok was still up. We gave it a credible shot, then had the obligatory 2-3 wipes due to stupid stuff. After our 4th attempt (30 minutes or so in) it happened: ‘Maybe we should switch over to normal mode.’ (NOTE: this was not one of the two principals involved in the Yogg bailout – neither of them is in the guild now) This angered me because I felt that leaving at that point would not be giving ourselves a fair chance. Ultimately the raid decided to continue on with the Grand Crusader. We stuck it out for 10 total attempts and, while we ultimately failed to take down the Beasts, we made enough progress so that we can say confidently ‘We’ll get them next time.’

I’m not really clear where the change in attitude has come from. In the last year as a guild we’ve worked hard. We’ve had our share of triumphs and cock-ups, we’ve wiped on fights that we should have considered ‘farmable’, and surprised ourselves with some unexpected wins. From the time we started raiding Naxxramas right up through most of Ulduar, our raiders were determined to see through to the end. What happened?

I think the issue here is with the content. It seems as if most of the non-hard mode encounters are very easy, once you’ve defeated it once. As an example, Kologarn gave us fits when we first went against him. And then we beat him for the first time. Next week when we went back to face him again he proved to be no trouble at all. This was very different from our experiences in Karazhan and Zul’Aman, where some bosses always seemed to give us trouble, no matter how often we beat them. Had we simply managed to get enough gear to make Kologarn (and Auriayah, and the Keepers) easy? Or had we just discovered ‘The Trick’ to beating each of them?

Crusaders’ Coliseum is largely the same on normal. Our first time in there it was Lord Jaraxxus who gave us all kinds of trouble. He’s trivial now. Aside from the Faction Champions we have no trouble whatsoever in normal 10 man mode. And, to be honest, though I don’t yet have the achievement for ToC-25 (the groups I’m in have all fallen apart by the time we get to Anub’arak), it’s really not that hard from a healers’ perspective. But hard mode – that’s another story.

Hard mode is supposed to be hard; I don’t object to that at all. Unfortunately I think the disparity between ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ (whether it be hard mode vs. normal, or a boss that’s simply ‘hard’ like Mimiron or Yogg vs. one that’s ‘easy’) is too great – not for me, but for some of my guildies. They’ve forgotten what progression means – wipes, frustration, repair bills, less emblems this week. They’ve also forgotten how thrilling it can be when you finally get that boss down after so much head-banging. Maybe when we start getting into Icecrown it will be different. Maybe they just got tired of Ulduar over and over again, or watching the same conga line of bosses run through the gates of the Coliseum. I certainly hope that's the case, because I’d hate to wipe a couple of times in Icecrown and have someone say ‘eh, let’s go back and do Ulduar, we need the gear.’ As much as I’d still like to finish off Yogg-Saron, I’ve got my mind on Arthas – and I don’t want to wait until Cataclysm to visit him.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Raid Healing: The Right Field of Raiding?

"Hey, you're riding the short bus with me!"

These words were uttered by a Resto Shaman in my guild to another guild member last spring when I handed out healing assignments in Naxx-25 and put both of them on 'Raid Healing'. It was the second negative comment I'd heard from him in as many weeks when given that assignment. I let it go right then and there but asked him later about it. He said he was only goofing around, though I did take his point and tried to vary his assignments (indeed, all of the healing assignments) in subsequent raids, variety being the spice of life and all.

His comment was brought to mind today when I was cruising around the O-Boards and hit this post in the Healing section. If you don’t wish to read it, I’ll summarize. The poster commented about a Raid Leader who wanted to switch a Holy Paladin from tank healing to raid healing on Northrend Beasts. Seems the Pally in question was having some difficulty keeping the tank alive, so the Raid Leader ordered the switch.

Rather than debate the merits of putting a Paladin on this sort of assignment, I wanted to comment instead on one of the things the Shaman said to the Raid Leader:

“I said that in a raid environment, holy paladins were tank healers, end of story, and it'd be … insulting … to assign them to raid.”*

These two comments, separated as they are in time and space, still make me wonder how people feel about getting the assignment ‘raid heals’. Is it taken as an insult? Should it be taken as an indication that the Raid Leader or Healing Leader doesn’t have confidence in you? Is ‘Raid Healing’ the Right Field of WoW, where we banish the virtual Timmy Lupus where he can do the least harm?

There’s no doubt that ‘heal the raid’ doesn’t have the same sort of glamor that tank healing has. After all, a tank healer is responsible for keeping alive the one person that stands between the raid and that snarling, angry boss that will happily eat you for lunch. Make one mistake as a tank healer and the entire raid is strewn about the room taking a dirt nap. On the other hand, make a mistake as a raid healer and it’s just a dps dead. It’s not even like in Burning Crusade where that person might have been responsible for maintaining crowd control or anything, what’s the big deal? Yet the more that I think about it, the more that I realize raid healing may actually be a tougher assignment than people give it credit for, and we may vastly underestimate the abilities of the people we put in that role.

As a tank healer, I have the luxury of being able to focus exclusively on one target. Heck, in a good group I don’t even have to worry about my health, save for moving out of whatever will kill me in two ticks. Heal myself? Nah, that’s what the raid healers are for. I can happily spam away on the tanks, making sure that I avoid the bad stuff and do what I need to do to have enough mana to make it through. While I do pay attention to what’s happening with the rest of the raid, I’ve learned that Wrath bosses hit hard and fast enough that there’s often no such thing as a ‘spare’ global cooldown to spend on a threatened dps. My assignments tend to survive much better when I maintain my focus on them.

Raid healers on the other hand have to worry about everyone. They do keep an eye on the tanks and are expected to ‘help out’ when/if needed. They are the ones who have to take care of the dps (or healers sometimes) when they stand in Flaming Cinder. They are the ones who have to mitigate and clean up the mess of Tympanic Tantrum, Plasma Blast, Staggering Stomp and the like. They are the ones who have to somehow coordinate with four other healers when they’re given vague assignments like ‘just heal the raid’, and they are the ones who have to maintain range and LoS when 24 other people are running around like Elder Harkek’s chickens. Furthermore, with the various hard and soft enrage timers that many of Wrath’s bosses have, keeping those dps up is perhaps more important than ever: A bad tank healer usually results in a rapid wipe due to a rampant boss. Bad Raid healers often mean an agonizingly slow wipe as the result of an enrage 10 minutes later. As Tom Petty sang “I can’t decide which is worse”.

So rather than looking at 'heal the raid' as being Right Field, where the slow, uncoordinated, has-no-talent-but-the-rules-say-he-has-to-play-anyway kids go, we would do well to think instead of it as Right Field, where Hall of Famers like Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Tony Gwynn played. And even if you do feel that it's the safest place for a less-skilled healer, remember that the ball gets hit to right field a lot, but even Timmy Lupus made a game-saving catch.

*full quote: "I said that in a raid environment, holy paladins were tank healers, end of story, and it'd be either insulting or incredibly ignorant to assign them to raid. "