Progression Raid Scheduling Woes

A long time ago, in a raid far, far away……

40 stalwart explorers milled about just inside the entrance portal of Molten Core.  Before us stood two massive Molten Destroyers, blocking our path.  But confidence filled the air; we’d been here before.  We’d felled these behemoths before.  We knew what lay ahead of us and just as we had many times before, we knew that the master of this realm would fall to us tonight, giving up a precious set of tier 2 legs that (probably) wouldn’t be usable by anyone in the raid.  Tonight was going to be, as the kids say, “e-z-mode”.

Suddenly, our mirth was shattered by a call from the raid leader:

Ok, everyone back up the chain – we’re going to Razorgore.

That bastard.

At the time, our guild had been farming Molten Core for a few months.  We were very good at it, clocking in around 3 hours and 20 minutes, which was pretty good back in the day for a guild whose gear topped out at tier 1 plus tier 2 helms and sometimes legs.  But we’d been unable to break through the barrier that was Razorgore the Untamed in Blackwing Lair.

Most of the fights in Molten Core were “tank and spank”.  There were a few tricks, but they tended to be simple: someone had to remember to move away from the raid when they had a particular debuff, or you had to tank this add out of line of sight of the boss, or a non-tank had to tend to an add instead of nuking the boss.  For most people, the rule was “wait for 5 sunders, then nuke”.  The hardest part of Molten Core was getting 40 people together to do it, followed by the weeks of farming for materials to make fire resistance gear for the final boss.

Razorgore on the other hand took a whole different type of coordination.  Phase 2 had six teams operating independently.  DPS had to control adds swarming from four corners of the room.  Warriors and hunters were responsible not for killing or tanking things, but running away from mobs whilst keeping them interested enough that they didn’t peel off and attack a healer.  One person had to mind control the boss and use him to break 30 eggs (though Razorgore would break free and come after the controller every 9 eggs).  While this was going on, up to 52 non-elite mobs could be up at once.  Everyone had to know their place, and everyone had to be able to recognize and adapt to changing conditions.

In our attempts to down Razorgore and become a BWL guild, we had been scheduling BWL as the first raid during the week, following up with MC on the second or third days depending on how well we did.  The net effect was (as you can expect) that nobody showed up on nights that we were scheduled to do Razorgore but the roster was overflowing on the days we were running MC.

The only way we were able to get Razorgore down was to sneakily swap raids when we had the right number and mix of people turn up for MC to make an attempt on Razorgore viable.  Of course, once Razorgore went down, the problem quickly subsided, as the earlier bosses quickly went on farm and it became the night with the best time to reward ratio.

Though the example comes from old content, the scenario is I’m sure quite familiar to many guilds today.  How do you motivate people to show up for progression content when the loot that drops from the farm content is as good or better?

The Item Level Problem

This graphic illustrates the problem.  The normal modes of the next patch overlap too much with the hard modes of the current patch.  If you’re only playing for gear, it may be hard to see the point of pushing to complete Ulduar-10 hard modes when the same level of gear will come from a 5-man heroic in patch 3.3.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the hardest boss in patch 3.2 (25 Heroic Anub’arak) is not significantly harder than the hardest boss from patch 3.1 (Yogg-Saron with no Keepers).

This all comes down to what motivates your raiders.  I wrote about this in further detail back in July.  Once the gap between easily farmable normal content and wipe-fest progression content gets too wide, the only type of raider you’re going to attract are the “Raiding Until It’s Been Done Right” group.  Most everyone else will (fairly, it must be said) decide that the time to reward ratio is not worth it.

Fulfilling your Purpose

Raiding guilds need to have a purpose.  What’s yours?  Is it to gear up in the most efficient manner possible?  To have the best gear regardless of where it comes from so the next patch is easier?  To complete all the content in the current patch before the next one is released?

What you push for depends on your purpose.  If your purpose is just to get the gear you need to enter the next tier of content, then hard modes probably aren’t required.  Pushing your members to participate in hard mode wipefests is incompatible with this purpose.

If your goal is to complete all the content a patch has to offer, then running normal modes after you have the gear to attempt hard modes isn’t supporting your purpose either.  Nor is allowing people to switch mains, or having so larger a roster that you rotate people in and out frequently (thus diluting loot distribution).

Take some time to decide what you want to do and consider if your raiding schedule supports that goal.  You may find that one or the other needs to change. Communicate this purpose to your members, and be prepared to explain why you are or aren’t doing a given instance.

Incentives to do Progression Content

If you find that people just don’t show up for progression raids, you have a few options:

Depending on your loot system, changing the relative values of an instance may be difficult or impossible.  You may have loot system tiers, in which case points earned doing Ulduar can’t be spent on Trial of the Crusader loot.  At the very least, it may be seen as unfair to people who did take the time to work on the progression content when it was worth less to them.  If you can’t change the values of actual boss kills, hopefully you have enough flexibility to award arbitrary bonuses for doing progression content that fall into the right bucket to be useful to people.

Try to consider these situations when you are creating or revising your loot system.  It may be too late to change things right now, but the time between 3.3 getting stale and Cataclysm being released is the time to consider changes to your loot policy.  I’ll talk in terms of EP/GP for most of this section, but the principles should be transferable.

My suggestion is to have a big difference between farm and progression bosses, but move new patch content to farm quickly if you want to push people towards the progression content.

For example, Cold Comfort’s loot policy awards 5000 EP for a progression boss kill and 1000 EP for a farm boss kill.  Wipes on a progression boss are worth 1000 EP each, up to a maximum of 3000 EP per boss per raid.  If you have Trial of the Crusader on farm but still have to kill Yogg-Saron without Keepers, the potential payout for a successful kill of Yogg alone is equal to a full clear of ToC.  Assuming that everything up to Vezax is on farm though, the total payout climbs to 12000-17000 EP depending on whether you clear optional bosses and get Yogg down.

You can also offer incentives in the farm content that precedes progression content.  Getting through everything pre-Yogg in a set time period could be worth 5000 additional EP, pushing an attempt on the last boss to well past four times the value of a farm clear of ToC.

It’s unfortunate that the raid lock extension feature (which some guilds who have not yet taken down Yogg use to get one night of attempts per week in without clearing anything else) doesn’t mesh very nicely with loot systems.  If you take advantage of this feature, you may find it necessary to provide some sort of replacement reward for the EP that would have been awarded clearing everything else before the lockout extension feature was available.

Withholding Farm Content

This is a bit controversial, but may have the desired effect.  Rather than setting a specific instance for each raid night ahead of time, say that you’ll move onto farm content only when a certain progression content goal has been reached for the week.  Choose the goal carefully – if you say that you must get a new boss down and strictly adhere to the policy, you could end up getting no loot for your guild in a week because you spend every night wiping on the same boss.

A more sensible goal might be to move to farm content only when a progression goal has been reached, or some portion of your weekly raid time has been spent.  A three-night guild might choose to move to farm content only when they’d downed a new progression boss or they’d spent two full nights wiping on that same content.  If not enough people show up for the progression nights, you do no farm content at all.  It’s harsh, but under the right circumstances effective.

This works best if your farm content takes more time to complete than the “guaranteed” time you’ll spend doing it.  If people put the time in on the progression content, they know they’ll get some farm content down during the week.  If they get a progression boss down sooner, then they get more time on the farm content.  Be fair though – if you get a progression boss down halfway through the second night, don’t stay in the progression instance.  Move to the farm instance.  You made a deal with your members and they met their obligations – now they get their reward.  If you don’t, then the reward for success is no different than the reward for failure.

Sneaky Scheduling

As my raid leader did in the opening story, you can play things by ear and schedule a farm instance, but choose to move to a progression instance if the numbers and class makeup looks right.  Personally, I would make sure that my policies allowed for this – not telling people day to day that we might not be going to a given instance, but ensuring that the instance attempted was ultimately at the raid or guild leader’s discretion.

I’ll close off by repeating what I so often do: design your guild policies to support your purpose, act in a way that keeps to your policies, and don’t be afraid to stand your ground – not everyone is going to agree with you, but nobody can say that you’re acting inconsistently.

Until Next Time