Opinion, WoW

Gear pollution: Your comments

Last week’s post on “Gear pollution” drew a lot of interest and generated quite a few lengthy and well considered comments.  Today I’d like to highlight some things that folk have said and add some of my own thoughts.  Note that clicking on a commenter’s name will take you to their comment.

Also, I should mention that Blueberry Totem had an article comparing 10-man raids to 25-man raids that helped catalyse me into finally addressing the topic which had been on my to-do list for a while.  While it doesn’t directly address the issues I discussed, it’s an interesting and worthwhile background read.

Click through for the comments and my responses.  Again this is a pretty lengthy post, but rather than being carefully structured like the original, it’ll be more stream of consciousness and random points/counterpoints.

Everyone looks the same!

Tran, Kazgrel and drug agreed in passing that a big problem with tier 9 content is the sameness of item looks.  However I won’t discuss that here as it’s more of an issue with patch 3.2 than with “gear pollution” itself.

On difficulty and respect

Kae, Dreambound blogger of Vortex, a 10-man guild on Turalyon-US, had some interesting points:

it can get quite tiring to constantly defend your stance as a 10-man raider, when you know you can step into 25 pugs and wipe the floor with those very healers who were laughing at you, while in “inferior” gear.

This idea of having to “defend” yourself as a 10-man raider is, I think, the basic and most serious issue of what I’ve termed “gear pollution” – and I’ll explain why the other issues are more fuzzy a bit further on.  Most 25-man raiders experience 10-mans, as I noted, with gear at least a full tier higher than most 10-man raiders experience them, which leads to them thinking that all 10-mans are laughably easy – a joke to be steamrolled for free achievements – and that those players who focus solely on 10-man progression are a sort of untermenschen.  This is not a problem with game design so much as it’s a problem with how elements of the community (mis)understand that design.

On a different tangent, we have to wonder what makes a “best guild in the world” a best guild? Good players, and good progression. They are ranked by gear and amount of achievements. Why would tens not be included? Tens have some kick-ass players in them! …but you don’t see them as often because they take a special type of player: the ones who don’t care as much about being on top of everyone else, and care more about being able to progress for themselves, with a smaller community of players. These are usually burnt-out raid leaders, class leaders, officers, who have put their time into 25s and didn’t want to make herding cats their life.

As you said, they also tend to have less available playtime, preferring not to raid 5-6 days a week as would be required to hit up both 25 AND 10-man content for true perfectionist progression

“Best guild in the world” was a phrase I used in an earlier draft of the post, which I changed based on this comment.

Kae’s point about the 10-man raider is well made in my case.  Although I’m not a “hardcore” 10-man raider – my guild does do hard modes and rewarding achievements, but at a fairly leisurely pace – I am a refugee from high-level 25-man raiding in the Burning Crusade, where I was a full-time dedicated cat-herder.  I have my Hand of A’dal title and saw more Amani Warbears drop than there are people in my new guild.  However I’ve not participated in any 25-man hard modes since Wrath of the Lich King was released, so my opinion may lack some weight on this issue.

It seems to me that 25-man hard modes are punitively difficult and require groups to spend a lot of raw time on gearing up and learning and balancing.  I’m aware, for example, of how hard it was to make progress on Algalon-10 when we had 2 or 3 people who hadn’t seen the fight every time we tried him – and Fancy Hats have a roster of about 16.  Translate that into a roster of 40 and the necessity (for this is how 25-mans are balanced) of having every buff and debuff provided for, while teaching 25 people the fight with the requirement for complex logistical assignments, and you have a recipe for a timesink.  And this is quite apart from the sheer tuning of 25-man encounters, which may or may not be comparable to 10-man versions.

Whether 10-mans are “easier” or not in terms of mechanics and numbers, I think there can be no argument that they’re less time consuming and require less organisational cartwheels.  Which is a long way of saying “they are easier”.

But it’s a very short and tragic journey from “they are easier” (in the sense that they require less time and administration) to “they are easy” – and that’s the big mistake which causes so much friction in the WoW community, and which contributes the massive lack of resources for serious 10-man raiders.  Even my own spreadsheet ships with all raid buffs ticked on – I have to turn most of them off when I actually use it for myself!

And the “best guilds in the world” phrase reminds us that 25-man hard modes are so tuned because they need to provide at least a meagre challenge for these “best guilds” – guys who dedicate themselves to progressing as hard and fast as possible.  This level of tuning will put 25-man hard modes beyond the reach of many very capable 25-man guilds – guilds too capable to find undertuned “normal” modes fun or exciting.

I for one am glad that the guilds which get all the limelight are 25-manners, as it means that the 10-man environment where my friends and I play is free to be more relaxing and fun.

Gear pollution can be desirable

Ram, also of Vortex, makes a couple of points I’d like to pick up on.

The idea of gear pollution however real it is can be viewed from different sides. From a 25man raider perspective I would welcome it. It obviously provides much more diversity in gear choices, and customizing of your character.

This is something I tried to say in the original post: some people welcome “gear pollution” and find it adds hugely to their enjoyment of the game.

The most hardcore 25-man raiders, seeking every possible advantage they can get, will happily run 10-mans for the extra gear boost to get them further forward in progression (though I suspect that the truly “top” 25-man guilds will beat most hard modes in gear from the previous tier).

More casual 25-man raiders can greatly enjoy the chance to go into 10-man content and earn what are, in their higher-ilevel gear, relatively easy achievements and rewards like Rusted Proto-Drakes.

Players of every calibre can appreciate having the option to go and raid more places when their “normal” lockout is used up.  The prospect of gaining a gear advantage from doing so just increases the fun factor for these folks.

And some players who want to progress but find doing so a struggle actually value being able to go into, say, a 25-man PUG to pick up gear which will make their 10-man progression easier.  It’s not something they complain about, it’s something they are glad about!

As a final note, I’d logged onto the PTR when TotC was being tested and found myself to be in complete 25 man gear. If I were to test the 10 man content how do they expect me to be giving reasonably accurate feedback?

I’ve already said how the predisposition towards 25-man gear can have a negative effect on 10-man balance.  I think this highlights that very suitably.

On loot turn-over and desirability

drug, proprietor of Shields Up!, makes some excellent points from the perspective of a 25-man raider:

Is the loot turn-over rate too fast?
-Absolutely. Compared to BC, I’m not really having fun gearing my toon up. I switch gear in and out every week. Loot keeps raining down on me. I get my first pieces of 258 loot, knowing that I’m going to replace the stuff a week from now with 264 loot by probably just facerolling through content.

If it’s too hard to get gear, players will get frustrated. If it’s too easy to get gear, people will become lazy and lose fun while gearing up their toons. My first T6 shoulder. EPIC memories! In WotLK there isn’t a single piece of loot I’ve worn for a long time or I was thrilled when I got it.

This is a serious (and acknowledged) problem with the Wrath of the Lich King approach to philosophies of accessibility/reward combined with the massive inflation of item levels for (a) hard modes and (b) the (in my view entirely unecessary) whole tier 9 thing.

You know, I can’t be bothered getting any more alts to level 80 and gearing them up.  The gear I can get from heroics and entry-level raids can be easily superseded with gear obtained from easily PUGable top tier raids, which are themselves a faster way to obtain sufficient emblems for gear meant to be accessible to 5-man players.  And the sheer number of items available from emblems which are upgrades to a new level 80 who isn’t progression raiding is, to me, overwhelming and off-putting – and no matter what you choose to spend your emblems on you’ll probably find yourself upgrading it in a few weeks thanks to a lucky drop in a PUG raid anyway.  Then a few months later there’ll be a new content patch and yet more ilevels to farm.  It’s meant to save players time and encourage them to play more, but for me it has the opposite result.

There is, to me, a vast sense of hopelessness in the sheer amount of gear which is available to a casual player now.  I took great pride in steadily getting my TBC alts the best gear that heroic 5-man instances could provide.  And once they had that gear, the only source of further upgrades was one or two choice items released to badge vendors with each patch.  Similarly, my main character spent many months in tier 4 and many more in tier 5 before finally reaching tier 6, and upgrades were extremely few and far between.  But that made getting them worthwhile.  I spent nearly two years progressing through three tiers of content spanning about 30 item levels.  In Wrath of the Lich King, I’ve spent 10 months on three tiers spanning nearly 50 item levels.

I was really pleased when my shaman finally earned enough emblems of conquest from hard modes in 10-man Ulduar to purchase her pretty new tier 9 robe, 6 ilevels higher than the one I had from Yogg-Saron.  Yet within a few weeks it was replaced with an expensive, ugly and mismatching cloth thing 19 ilevels superior.  I hated that.

WotLK’s ilevel inflation means that new boss fights need to be tuned to higher ilevels, but also means that those higher ilevels need to be accessible to new characters, which in turn means that everything below those top ilevels is vastly devalued.  And ironically the pace of the release of accessible new content is driving this issue to its present extreme.

Update: the “gear oversaturation” thing has also been discussed by Tahas in this post.

to be honest, 25 man raiding is in a pretty difficult place like now. Many veteran players have quit the game. Many new players are very much familiar with getting a lot of loot, but not so much with wiping and 3-4 raids a week. 25 man normal raids are painfully easy and make me want to hurt myself. 25 Heroic Modes on the other hand are brutal hard and are really a testing point for every not so-hardcore guild. Loot is an incentive and it helps people getting interested in 25 man raiding. It helps us recruit.

This goes back to what I was saying further up about raid tuning.  It seems that, for the average guild, normal is too easy and hard is too hard.  I think there’s a level of schizophrenia in the tier 9 difficulty structure where the easy mode was meant to be accessible to anyone and their dog to gear up fast for Icecrown, while the hard modes were meant to serve as a progression brick wall until Icecrown was ready to be released.

As to the other point, if 25-man had no advantages over 10-man except the bigger numbers you see as a result of more players, buffs and debuffs etc, then I think very few people would bother with it.  Personally, I’ve already abandoned 25-man raiding, so I don’t see that as a huge problem.  But I do realise that there are a lot of people who simply enjoy 25-mans more than 10-mans and would feel unable to justify their continued participation in the larger raid size without those superior rewards.  25-man raiding is propped up by the fact that it’s the best source of gear rewards in-game as well as by the fact that it’s seen as the most prestigious way to enjoy the end-game.

On feeling forced to raid

Tran weighs in to point out that

25 man guilds that do heroics have never “had” to do 10 man raids at the start of a new tier cycle, they do it out of convenience for themselves (which in itself creates more nuisance in the extra effort).

Which I think is perfectly true.  Those 25-man guilds who run 10-mans as part of their progression are deliberately taking advantage of “gear pollution” and using it to progress faster.  10-man “strict” guilds are disqualified by community ranking sites for “cheating” by using 25-man gear.  Really, 25-man guilds who double-dip should suffer the same penalty, because it does confer advantages beyond what their chosen raid path offers.

I’m not suggesting that there should be a “25-man strict” category, I’m just pointing out the absurdity of a situation where you have chosen to raid one path and yet find it normal to have to raid the other path as well to make progress in your chosen path.

drug comes in here to respond:

You’re absolutely right, I don’t have to raid 10 mans, but there’s many reasons why I’ll do it anyway:

-Even if I’m in a guild that beats some heroic modes, I’m still far away from having only 258 gear. So, many 10 man raiding pieces from ICC will be very decent upgrades for me.

-Social dynamics: Since Karazhan it’s just something you do as a 25 man raider, not showing up at any 10 man raids would make people kinda wonder if you’re really dedicated to max out your character.

-Social dynamics2: “C’mon dude it’s only going to take an hour”.

I would love to skip 10 man raids, it’s just too big a time sink for me. But would 25 man loot make 10 man loot redundant, the difference between 10 and 25 man loot would too big and to be honest, a lot of 25 man raiders just love their 10 mans as little side project (especially because they can probably beat all the heroic content).

This is precisely what I hate about the separate lockouts for 10s and 25s, and what led me to raid 25-mans – even though I hated them – until patch 3.1.  Yet there are plenty of people who really enjoy that freedom and the opportunity for extra rewards.  So I guess linking together 10- and 25-man lockouts in attempt to force out this sort of practice would be pretty unpopular with most of the playerbase!  In fact, I suppose the best solution to this problem would probably be social rather than technical.  It’s actually very easy for a 10-man raider: we just call ourselves “strict” and refuse to run 25-mans anymore and nobody can argue with it.

On fixes

Seth comments as follows:

I don’t see there being any reasonable fix that could be implemented. If each class is given ways to get gear for each progression path, then perhaps the 10 man guilds could be more strict and allow them to get “World Firsts”, just as any 25 man.

I too can’t see any easy technical “fix”, especially as most of the “problems” would be seen by some as huge benefits to the current system.  I guess the real issues are:

  • Gear inflation (as discussed above)
  • Gear provision – that is, the gaps in itemisation for both paths (though especially 10-mans) that make people who don’t path-hop feel like they are being punished for it
  • Community perception (as discussed above)
  • Challenge and “fun factor” (as discussed below)

While in principle the idea of 10-man “world firsts” may seem appealing, it’d be really seriously hard to safeguard the absolute strictness required and would potentially harm the very relaxed and leisurely approach that 10-man raiding allows.

I think the second and third points I listed are also reinforced by Goggle‘s comment:

I find the poorer 10 man itemization annoying, the 25 man elitism frustrating and hate the fact that my 10 man achievements feel belittled because 25 raiders can rock in and clear the same stuff with far less effort effort.

The itemisation problem is obviously frustrating for us 10-manners, but itemisation has never been perfect and the fact that we see it as a “problem” is more because there is provision for 25-mans where there isn’t for 10-mans (and sometimes vice versa), rather than there simply being no provision at all (as was previously the case in Vanilla and TBC).

The rest of the comment once again harks to this idea that there’s a problem in the way the WoW community perceives and reacts to raiding and raiders… but then, the WoW community in general hasn’t really ever been a beacon of light and reason in the world, so I guess there’s not much more to be said about it.

On “fun” factor

Codi at Moar HPS! has written a whole post about this.  I’m not going to respond to all of it (you should look at the whole thing, it’s very interesting), but I will pick up on just a couple of points that seem relevant:

The most major thing I have to add to the article is in regards to the Rewards section.  The author talks about how gear is Blizzard’s reward to raiders for clearing content, which is true.  However, there are two other rewards that are primary to raiding:  challenge and the “ooo” factor.  It is in balancing these three in the correct combination that raiding appeals.  Raiding in WotLK has seen things tip very far towards the gear side of the rewards pyramid, with huge amounts of ilevels being handed out in the course of a single expansion.  What we have seen are more epics for less time.  Whether this is a positive thing or not is up to discussion, however it is a fact that the difference in tier levels is far larger than in either Vanilla or TBC.

We’ve already discussed the issue of massively inflated gear that’s constantly being replaced.  I think the “fun” and “ooo” factors are worth focusing on though.  I already made the point in the original post that unless encounters are sufficiently challenging, sufficiently rewarding and sufficiently accessible they’re not fun.  Having fun with friends is the major thing that makes raiding (well, for me at least) worthwhile.  If stuff’s too easy and chucks too many ilevels at you and you’re raiding the same fights four times a week (10 normal, 10 hard, 25 normal, 25 hard…) then it’s not really fun.

The “ooo” factor is a bit more controversial:

“Ooo” factor is what I call that feeling of doing something new, exciting and special.  It was that feeling when you first stepped off the boat in Northrend or when you earned your first mount.  I got it when I got to tank Kiggler the Crazed on my hunter and I think back on it fondly.  Sadly, it is the “ooo” factor that has been decreased most in WotLK raiding.  Most raiders now begin by doing 10-mans, as they are infinitely easier to organize and run (not even taking into account actual raid difficulty), which means that there simply -is- no “ooo” incentive to ever trying the 25-mans; all the content has already been seen.

The author seems to imply that there should be extra content in 25-mans (or possibly 25-man hard modes?) that 10-mans don’t see, just as there is extra content in raiding in general which 5-man or solo players don’t see.  The trouble is that doing that – adding unique 25-man content – would totally defeat the purpose of a separate 10-man progression path in the first place.

Blizzard has, of course, flatly rejected this view in WotLK, with a large part of the point of 10-man raids – and later the normal/heroic divide – being to enable more people to see these parts of the content.  And as someone who is (a) an elitist progression junky but (b) low on time and energy and (c) totally and utterly unwilling to set foot in a 25-man raid ever again, I have to admit that the notion of 25-mans getting something “extra” is not one I’m fond of – because that would encourage participation, and I don’t want to be encouraged to participate (sad, I know).  25-mans, after all, already get higher ilevel rewards, more prestige, prettier proto-drakes and legendaries.

Yet as drug says, 25-mans are still struggling.

(You know, I think there may even be a feeling among some 25-man raiders that they need to defend the prestige of what they do against those 10-man raiders or non-raiders who say things like “lol raids r EZ tbh u sux” and belittle the accomplishments of 25-man raiders.  While I don’t think 25-man raider elitism has much foundation in fact, neither do I think that they deserve to be belittled or set upon.  After all, I do think that 25-mans are more challenging.)

Returning to the “ooo” factor, though: I do personally find, say, Anub’arak a much more epic and engaging encounter even from a lore point of view when fighting him on heroic than when fighting him on normal.  I barely even notice the lore on normal mode, whereas on heroic it really does feel more… er, heroic.  Immersive and wondrous and whatnot.

In closing

Thanks to everyone who commented, as well as to those who linked to or highlighted the post elsewhere.  I hope the discussion has been (and perhaps may continue to be) fruitful and productive.

Finally, let me add that I only finished the original post at about 2 in the morning and went to bed without properly proofreading it.  I mentioned this to Sinespe and he went and proofed the whole thing without even being asked.  I should mention that the reason the grammar in the resulting post is not perfect is because I did not follow all of his corrections, but it was immensely helpful in making the article more readable!

(And this post I’ve hardly proofed at all :D )

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Discussion

8 thoughts on “Gear pollution: Your comments

  1. Excellent follow up post.

    What I learned from this discussion is this:

    Many of us aren’t really happy with all the loot raining down on us. Your post was brilliant and you got a lot of very differentiated responses.

    What we haven’t seen though is a lot of good ideas that would actually solve the problem:

    -I’m not sure blizzard actually sees a problem at all, so I’m not sure if we’re going to see drastic changes in the near future.

    -I’d welcome less loot, smaller jumps of iLvL, less Emblem stuff and so forth. But this isn’t a solution, it’s much more personal taste and I’m sure many players are very happy with all the loot out there.

    -Locking 25 man raiders out of 10 man raids and vice versa just isn’t realistic and would lead to an uproar of the player base.

    -Tons of specific achievements, which would acknowledge iLvL (only <=232 for ToC), could be a way to elevate the reputation of progression oriented 10 man guilds. But honestly, I guess most 10 man guilds would still prefer some 245 loot from Ony, VoA and Emblems to make their heroic runs easier.

    -Sharing loot tables aka the same loot table for all instances OR shared loot tables by 10 and 25 man heroic modes would have some advantages, but also new disadvantages: one big loot table would lead to very uniform characters and a loot less fun gear choices (at least for us 25 man raiders ;)), as well as reduce the attractiveness of 25 man raids. Shared loot tables by all heroic modes (or an extra loot table for 10M heroic) would force 25 man raiders even more into farming 10 mans (because we kill heroic bosses on 10 man with ease even if we never kill them in our 25 man raid).

    Don't forget guys: blizzard has to make 10 man raids attractive for you 10 man raiders! You absolutely deserve the to be proud of what you have achievement. Nevertheless, 25 man raiding absolutely needs to be very attractive in relation to 10 man raids. That's just a necessity so we can recruit and keep our raiders interested in signing up for our raids.

    So I'd very curious to here more "fixes" or reasons why a fix I don't like is absolutely going to work.

    That's the game design aspect of the problem. Another problem are guild dynamics:

    On my server it's like this:
    There are some good 25 man guilds
    There are some more bad 25 man guilds
    There are few good 10 man guilds
    There are many bad 10 man guilds.

    Problem A: There are a loot more people who have fun playing the "loot" game than people who enjoy the "progression" game.

    Problem B: It's a very rough world out there for good 10 man guilds. Recruiting is hard because many good players will apply to 25 man raids, even bad ones. Loosing a core player for any reason hurts a loot. Some good players have a history in 25 man raiding and will eventually get back into the bigger raids.

    Problem C: The progression path is very exhausting. Heroic modes offer an unlimited amount of challenges. Beating the content and having some weeks of farming/relaxing/regenerating has completely vanished. This makes progression raiding in both, 10 and 25 man raiding a much bigger challenge for everyone, raiders, officers and guild leaders.

    I think this adds a lot to the tension that "gear pollution" creates:

    Many players enjoy just getting loot by ignoring absolutely all challenging content in the game. Progression oriented, but still casual players struggle with HARD heroic modes while the normal modes offer not a hint of a challenge. Good 25 man raids suck up a lot of good players from all sorts of guilds, which gives us a little bit a bad rep. All this heats up the discussion of 25 vs 10 man or progression vs farming content and has a huge impact on our feelings towards loot from different sources.

    Posted by drug | December 8, 2009, 3:32 am
  2. I particularly identify with the part about the “ooo” factor. i was sorting through my main’s bank this afternoon and looking at the pieces of gear I kept around, most particularly all the pieces of Cyclone (shaman tier 4) I was able to earn in Burning Crusade. Those mean a lot to me – they reflect many weeks of close smart cooperation, plus waiting my turn for loot, and they’re things I savored getting and relished using. There’s very little in her recent gear that has anything like such a prominent place in my heart, just because it all turns over so fast.

    One of the very top reasons I have no complaint about the phasing in of 3.3 content is precisely that I hope for time to savor the acquisitions.

    Posted by Ceri B. | December 8, 2009, 5:01 am
  3. Here’s an interesting side question to all of this. While this has been an issue for all of Wrath, it seems to me it’s been more of an issue in 3.2 than in 3.1, or even 3.0. Is part of this gear pollution and 10s vs 25s problem just a refection on the “unique” design of ToC?

    Posted by Chad | December 8, 2009, 8:25 pm
    • Yeah, I think patch 3.2 is where things reached the extremes we’re talking about. “Gear pollution” itself was around before 3.2 in a big way, though – and complicated in 3.0 by the fact that there weren’t many real hard modes to speak of and “progression” was a joke for most guilds. The “gear saturation” thing was there in embryonic form, but as there was only one tier of content and Naxx25 was a short sharp PUGfest it wasn’t really noticeable.

      Looking back at my impression of each patch’s triumphs and failures is something I’d like to do over the coming months. I suspect as we approach the end of 3.3 we’ll see a large portion of the WoW blogosphere focusing on the same sort of retrospection.

      Patch 3.2 felt a lot like a repetition of the mistakes of 3.0, but with the baggage of two previous tiers and more hard modes to keep the hardcores busy.

      (I must be careful to make it clear that I still think Wrath of the Lich King has been a very enjoyable game indeed, and a broad improvement upon the earlier incarnations of WoW)

      Posted by Charles | December 8, 2009, 10:12 pm
  4. Excellent post! Read it twice to be sure I didn’t miss any point and well, you pretty much expressed everything there is to it.

    I as well very much appreciate all the comments in the post itself – I didn’t really know there is this many 10M bloggers out there. I was as well surprised that most of “strict” 10M raiders share the same oppinion, more or less.

    Posted by Rahana | December 10, 2009, 9:19 am

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