WoW ICC PUGable Fair or Foul?
Way back when Wrath of the Lich King launched all anyone could look forward to was the chance to fight and defeat Arthas. I remember hearing this endlessly, and thinking it myself. After all, anyone who played the original Warcraft games remembers Arthas and followed his descent into madness through the scenarios. Many players feel a special attachment to Arthas and looked forward to a chance to fight him. Blizzard realized this going in and made Arthas fairly accessible throughout the expansion.
Now patch 3.3 has arrived and very shortly players will finally get their chance to face Arthas, the Lich King, himself, yet some are not so happy about it. In fact many players are quite upset that Icecrown Citadel is as accessible as it is, given the fact that it is the home to the grandfather of all evil in this expansion. This brings about the question: Is ICC being so accessible and even PUGable fair or foul?
There are both pros and cons to making raiding more open to players at a casual level, so lets start by looking at some of them.
Pros to more accessible raids
- More players get to see more of the content
- More players feel included
- Casual players are more likely to stick around
- Less distinction between the hardcore and the casual
- Easier to justify development costs for 80% of the games population than 5%.
Cons to more accessible raids
- Seen as too easy and not challenging enough
- Less reason to keep playing if you finish the available content
- Less distinction between the hardcore and the casual. Yes, it is meant to be in both lists, Ill explain later
- As more players have raid gear, other content becomes trivial
- Hardcore players less likely to stick around in game
Given just a brief list of pros and cons you can see some of the challenges that a developer faces when creating raids. In addition Blizzard intentionally designed Wrath so that as many players as possible could feel more connected to the overall storyline and its main antagonist, Arthas. How does all this affect the base question though - is ICC being so accessible a good or bad thing?
Your answer to this question probably is based heavily on your own bias. If you are a fairly casual WoW player, you are likely completely thrilled at how open ICC is. If you are a hard core raider, the fact that a PUG has a chance probably gives you nightmares. Being not quite fanatically hardcore, but definitely not a casual player, I tend to look at opening up raiding to more players with scepticism, but not quite scorn.
I believe players should get a chance to see as much raid content as possible but only enough that it leaves them wanting more. To me that is the sign of a great game, in that it takes casual players and turns them into rampaging fanatics because they want and need more. That means that even though you make more players happy in the short term by opening up content to more players by making it easier, you may lose them in long term by doing so.
If you had asked me a few weeks ago about the accessibility of ICC the answer would be, it is an unmitigated disaster. The first wing was easily pugable the first day it launched by players in nothing but gear they earned from badges and much easier raids. Things did not look good to most raid guilds that saw this as the death of any challenge and sense of reward in a raid.
Ask me now a few weeks later, and I dont think it is nearly so bad. Players can get into a casual group and down the lower spire pretty easily. I do it on 3 alternate 80s and rarely have issues getting a group that has more than a wipe or two through the lower spire. Get into the upper spire though and its a whole different ball game. Many raiding guilds have not even cleared Professor Putricide and the new blood wing is open already. Usually at this time a PUG group just stops after the lower spire unless they are going through everything super fast and everyone feels like giving it a shot.
This seems to be a fairly decent compromise to me. Also, while players complain about the upcoming raid wide player buffs allowing everyone a better chance to down the Lich King, after all the realm firsts and big raiding guilds get it down is it really a big deal? If this was the first raid in the expansion I would think it was a deal breaker and complain loud and hard about it. However, this is the last raid before Cataclysm, and all the gear will be replaced soon after the expansion is launched anyway, so I am a little more forgiving of this than I otherwise might be.
In the end, I think its not a horrible idea to let everyone see the content, however there are some big issues with it that I am not sure have been fully thought out. The biggest is that if everyone can see it and down it, what distinguishes the best from the worst? Many may say this is an elitist attitude, but I disagree. What makes players strive to play better than seeing someone in better gear? Nothing. If you can get something easily without great effort or skill, the reward is almost meaningless. I know for a fact that when I see better gear on another character, I have a base need and desire to compete at that level to earn that gear. Getting it results in a sense of accomplishment. If it was handed to me or is too easily earned, that sense of accomplishment isnt there and therefore the drive to get the next higher level piece is diminished as well.
A very similar analogy to this I think relates to the concept of everything equal for everyone. Is it any fun to be completely fair and equal? Think back and imagine asking one of the peace-loving workers and peasants of the former USSR. Sure everything was fair and even to all. Did they live well? Was their drive to succeed? Did everyone end up living the idealistic socialist life that was promised? If WoW follows the path of equality for all will it end up the same way the USSR did?
One of my guildies even asked the question lately in a slightly different way, referring to the ICC raid and the game direction overall lately. His question was loosely, is the game meant to be fun or fair, and can it be both at once? His conclusion was that it couldnt be both at once to all people. Some people would find it fun, but what made if fun for them made is seem unfair to others. The reverse would be true for other players.
Personally I think that in the current state, Blizzard actually came up with a good compromise. They are allowing casual raids access to at least some part of ICC, even if it is only the first wing for right not. The bosses in further wings are proving difficult enough for even hardcore raiding guilds that I am not sure how much even the upcoming zone wide buff will help casual players. It seems that this approach is really meant to address the biggest issue with the final raid from the basic version of WoW and BC where it is estimated that only 5% of players ever saw the final raid. I am pretty sure that most casuals will still never see Arthas himself, but the percentage that has seen the raid overall is surely much higher than 5% already, and I wouldnt bet against that number being at least twice that high. If the final bosses remain exclusive to hardcore raiders while the zone and several entry and middle bosses are accessible to casuals I think that it will have proved just how much Blizzard has learned over the years.