Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Buffs > Nerfs: Why no one’s Griping about the ICC Raid Buffs

When my guild sets foot into Icecrown Citadel tonight we will find that Varian Wrynn, impatient with our progress against the forces of the Lich King, will have increased his assistance to us by another 5%. The Strength of Wrynn will now grant us 20% increased health, 20% increased damage, and 20% increased heals. I expect my World of Logs ranking for Marrowgar-10, initially 14th, will drop even more as more Holy Paladins blast out ever-larger heals.

On the face of it, a buff to a player’s DPS is pretty much the same as an equivalent nerf to a boss’s health points. When Blizzard dropped the pre-Wrath patch on October 15, 2008, they were roundly blasted by the community for cutting all existing raid boss’s health and damage by 30% (never mind that the nerf was needed since those bosses were designed to square off against players with talents, spells and special abilities that were changed or gone entirely). Many players on the forums to this day define themselves as having killed this boss or cleared that raid ‘pre-nerf’ as opposed to ‘post-nerf’, and I can think of at least one guild leader on my realm who was roundly ridiculed on the forums and in trade chat for getting his Kael kill a week after 3.0.2 dropped (I was actually there for it). Even today you’ll see people establish their raiding credentials by proudly proclaiming that they got Firefighter ‘when it mattered’ (i.e., pre-nerf).

Interestingly enough, this sort of posturing and positioning does not extend to Icecrown Citadel, at least not on my server. The day the first 5% buff went live, a thread popped up on our realm: ‘Icecrown raid buff today – will you use it?’ The overwhelming response? ‘Hell, yes!’ The most tempered response from one guild was ‘If everyone else uses it, we will, too.’ By and large there was no complaining about it, no grousing about Blizzard trivializing content or making it so that everyone could get the epics that only the cream of the crop should have. This is in quite the contrast to the response to many boss and raid nerfs of the past, or increases in Badge/Emblem drop rates for that matter. My own guild only briefly considered the question when I threw it out there, and voted overwhelmingly to run with it. (And here’s a caveat: We were 6/12 when the first 5% went in, having killed Rotface for the first time the night before; it took us another 2 months and an additional 10% buff to get our next two bosses. /shame)

What is the reason for this relative silence on the matter? For my realm I suspect at least part of it is because, at the time of the first buff, no guild had killed Arthas on 25, and only 4 had succeeded in 10’s. Since most hardcore raiders view 25’s as the Gold Standard, no one had the ultimate bragging rights, no one could talk shit about anyone else. As the number of guilds clearing the instance rose with each successive buff, there was no slagging in either the official progression thread or in trade chat, likely because everyone needed at least some buff to get the kill in the first place. For once people seemed to follow the maxim about glass houses and stone throwing.

Second, and maybe more importantly, is that this was a buff to players, and not a nerf to the encounters. The people that it mainly helped were the people who were skirting the edge. Consider Festergut-10 for example. Ignoring the dps contributions of tanks (which is considerable with 9 stacks of Gastric Bloat) and healers (which is pretty insignificant, for the most part) the six dps (assuming a 2-2-6 composition) have to average 5229 dps to kill him at the enrage timer. The original 5% buff would give groups that were stuck and averaging 5000 dps just a little bit of a boost, perhaps enough to get the kill, provided that they did everything right. A raid team that is either far under geared, or far under skilled and was doing 4500 dps would still not be able to kill him, as that 5% buff would only up their dps to 4752 – not enough. Even at 15%, players eking out 4500 dps without the buff wouldn’t be able to push it up enough to get a kill, though the new 20% should allow them to. The 5-10-15 buffs were enough to help push some folks over the bar, but if those groups were barely killing Festergut with the buff, they would likely not be able to kill Putricide or the other end bosses, at least not until they farmed some more gear or figured out how to do 5K dps unbuffed.

At the same time, the boss’s abilities have stayed the same – in other words, they are hitting just as hard and fast as ever, and using all of their special abilities in the same manner. What has changed is they are hitting players that have been buffed by a little bit in health. Consider Festergut again. On a recent fight at 3 inhales our tank took the following damage:

[21:37:25.167] Festergut hits Tanky 15097 (B: 3078)
[21:37:26.086] Festergut Gastric Bloat Tanky Absorb (8275)
[21:37:26.086] Tanky afflicted by Gastric Bloat (3) from Festergut
[21:37:27.179] Festergut hits Tanky 16712 (A: 2044)
[21:37:28.114] YoursTruly Holy Light Tanky +15815
[21:37:28.114] Festergut hits Tanky 16381
[21:37:28.940] Retadin Divine Storm Tanky +1124
[21:37:29.113] Festergut hits Tanky 17803

Without the 15% health buff, Tanky stood at 48,592 health; with the buff 51,168. The first three hits did a total of 48,190 damage. Tanky would have been hanging by a thread without that key heal (and the block and absorbs), but it would have taken the exact same number of hits, with or without the buff, to kill him. Sometimes the buff will make a difference, sometimes it won’t, but the difference between life and death is small. Up to this point, the raid buff to health may save a life for one more hit or one more tick of the DoT, but it hasn’t allowed most groups to sail through the content.

Ultimately I believe that’s why the raid buff has been largely shrugged off by the masses: Because it hasn’t to this point trivialized the content. You still have to execute, in some cases to perfection, to beat the raid encounters. Even with 15% extra health you have to kill the Bone Spikes, stay out of Death and Decay, kite the Gas Cloud and avoid the Malleable Goo. You have to heal through the Mark of the Fallen Champions and pass on the Vampire Bite, and kill the Suppressors. The buffs have given us just a little bit of a boost; given us just a hair more time to live and get out of the fire, but they haven’t just picked us up and carried us through, and that’s a good thing. I expect as the buffs increase there will come a point where you really will be able to ignore some of these effects, and then we’ll hear some complaining. Hopefully I will have earned my Kingslayer title before that day comes, or before Blizzard decides that they really DO need to increase the cooldown on Gastric Bloat, or change Putricide so that he only casts one Unstable Experiment per phase – you know, when they nerf it for real. THAT’S when you’ll see the real complaints.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Progression Blues

Everywhere I look these days it seems I see the same thing: raiders complaining about a lack of participation on progression night. It seems that folks show up for farm night but, when new bosses are encountered, a lot of people suddenly discover they have far more compelling things to do. Raids end up getting canceled, people get ticked off, and who knows where it leads to, maybe even guild break ups. While some would argue that it’s really a sign of ‘pre-Expansion Blues’, this has clearly been a problem for some guilds for some time going back to vanilla.

When people don’t show up for ‘progression night’ it makes me wonder: Why do they raid? I did a bit of digging around the blogosphere; my unscientific study of the question reveals three main reasons (in no particular order):

There are others, of course. ‘Experience more content’; ‘Nothing else to do’; ‘The guild/girlfriend/boyfriend want me to’ – but I think the three listed are probably the most frequently-cited. Some people will try to slip in ‘Character progression’ but in my view, that’s a euphemism for ‘loot’. You tell people you’re in it for ‘Character Progression’ because, if you tell them you’re in it for the loot, you’ll look like a greedy bastard. Who wants that?

At any rate, if you’re in it for any of these three reasons, then skipping progression night seems pretty counterproductive overall. If you raid for Loot, it’s in your interest to suck it up and go on progression night, because that’s where your upgrades are likely to be. After all, unless you’re extremely unlucky with drops or rolls, loot from farm bosses has pretty much been exhausted at this point, and most of it is getting DE’d or vendored for gold. Farm content isn’t challenging at all, unless you’re going for a difficult achievement or playing around with ‘let’s see how much dps the healers can do’. Maybe the real ‘challenge’ in farm content is in seeing how long you can maintain the group’s interest in running content that is ridiculously easy.

That leaves camaraderie. Camaraderie really seems to be the only frequently-cited reason for raiding that can suffer on progression night, particularly when the group struggles. Repeated failure makes it much easier for the group to break down, for fingers to get pointed, and for people to get sulky (although we all know that happens with loot, too). If you raid for Camaraderie you may well find your lovey-dovey feelings put to the test when you get firmly stuck; then you get a new challenge – keeping your group together when the going gets tough, maintaining the proper ‘group mind’ and morale to find a way to overcome the challenge. It’s certainly not easy, but when you do finally break through there’s a tremendous feeling – relief and accomplishment mixed together – that is greater for the effort the entire group put in than you get from completing a difficult solo task.

For me and I think for most members of my guild, the camaraderie and challenge are the top reasons why we raid. As such, I have a hard time understanding why people don’t show up for progression nights. My raid group would actually like to ‘farm out’ the farm content to new raiders or alts and let them get the gear and experience. We could then go in and work on the progression bosses. One of the problems that we have had is we often get to the new bosses late in our raiding night when everyone is tired and we don’t get as much time to work on them as we’d like (and our ‘continuation night’ is running into conflicts with changes to real-life schedules). I think most of us would be quite willing to sacrifice a few Emblems of Frost and the odd BoE epic in order to make some real headway on bosses we’ve barely gotten any attempts on.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the newer folks wouldn’t want to just keep going, and then we’d have to run the farm content ourselves anyway. That might actually set up a new challenge: a race to the next progression boss. A little competition within the guild might not be such a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.

What about you – do you show up for progression night? If not, why? I’d like to know.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Re: A Title at What Cost?

Just as an update to my last post -- I was cruising around in Dalaran when I saw the following advertisement:

I did some investigative work and found the guild's website. Those are indeed the instructions, and they are serious. The 25,000 gold gets you the title and achievement, but no loot. Guess you can't ask for too much! As of today, one person had applied for himself, and was suggesting that his brother might also want to pay. What the heck, it's only pretend gold, right? Still, I can't imagine feeling too good about a Kingslayer earned this way.

I expect I'll actually have something more useful to say about other topics later in the week. My brain is once again not cooperating too much with me.