Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Anatomy of a Mega Guild: Part I, Joining

I mentioned earlier that I raid lead one of several raid teams in my guild, so the culture is different from the "normal" one raid per guild structure that most people are accustomed to in World of Warcraft.

This turned into much too long for a single post, so it's broken into several sections.  The first section explains why I originally got into the guild.

Finding Myself Without a Home
As ICC and WotLK drew to a close, I hopped around in several different guilds.  I had left my ICC guild due to personality conflicts, and was searching for a home.  I transferred to different servers and tried out a bunch of different types of guilds, progression, and so forth.  I spent time with a 10 man working on Sindragosa normal, was an officer for a guild just starting out, and spent several weeks with a 25m guild working on Sindragosa HM (we finally got her!).  While I like raiding, I also like a lot of other things in game.  I realized that I didn't want to do hardcore raiding, since that would prevent me from doing these other things.

As the holiday season got closer, my husband's work got busier, and he didn't have much time to play.  He remained on our initial server, and I eventually brought my characters back there.  I joined a casual guild, but raids with them were unsatisfying.  The roster was in constant flux, so every raid was a progression night for several folks.  We didn't get very far into the instance.

I knew that in order for me to enjoy raiding, I would need to find a group with consistent attendance, but a short schedule, and without any window lickers.

And Then There Were Two
My husband loves to raid - it's his favorite thing to do in game.  Unfortunately, he works a weird schedule that keeps him from most normal raid times (he gets up at 3 am, so needs to be in bed around the time most raids start).  In LK, it seemed like there were PUGs going at all hours of the day, and that was fine for him.  It didn't seem like that would be the case in Cataclysm, though.

I realized that if he wanted to raid in Cataclysm, he would have to find a team that raided at a time that would work for his schedule.  And if I wanted to raid with him (I do!), then it would also have to meet my desires as well.

I searched around for awhile, and found a small guilds on the US servers that even met his schedule requirements.  Eliminating the groups that didn't have a stable roster or performance problems (I generally did this based on record), and I was left with a hardcore guild or two.  My husband also works 50-60 hours a week, so that wouldn't work for him, and I just didn't like raiding that much.

I realized that in order to get a group with everything we wanted, I would have to create it.  I'm the natural organizer in our relationship, and I had much more free time.

During my transition period, I had worked as an officer of a start-up guild, so I had an idea what would go into creating a guild.  It's a lot of work....and I didn't really want that.  I like to putter in game (I usually have 20 projects at any given time) and I didn't want to spend my time managing a whole guild.

About the same time, I noticed a post on our realm forums. This would be great, I thought, since I could run a raid team without the overhead of guild management.

The guild was horde (I was originally alliance), so I rolled an alt and spoke with the guild leader about what I wanted to do. While we agreed that it may be difficult to find 8 other people at a time that would work for us, he said that his guild would be a good place to attempt it.  We decided that after the Shattering (when I could be a TROLL!), I would faction transfer.  

What I Would Be Doing... and Avoiding
From those initial discussions, I learned that I would be responsible (or able, however you look at it) for recruiting folks for my raid team, and if they weren't already guild members I could invite them.  I would be responsible for my raid team (and any drama that they created).

My responsibilities also included determining my loot rules, attendance rules, and conduct rules (if above the guild requirements of "be cool"). We would have use of the vent server (and our own channel) and the guild forums (we have our own sub group).  We have a single bank tab.

By starting a group in a guild like this, I can recruit without people worrying about my guild dissolving after a few months like so many start up guilds.  The mega guild is well established and has been around for years (it was created in 2006).

I don't have to worry about managing a social rank of non-raiders.  Especially in the Cataclysm environment, some guilds are taking in extra people to help them level or get achievements.  I haven't had to face that question - we get achievements easily.

I don't have to manage the external sites - Vent or the website.  We have our own area, and the guild administrators take care of it.

It's the least time consuming way to run a raid team when I don't already have a group of folks that I can trust to delegate things to.  I know that if I started a guild, in time I would find trusted people to delegate things like this to, but in the meantime I would have to do everything myself.

Moving Forward   So, these were all things that I knew going into Cataclysm.  The next several posts will break down the specific advantages/disadvantages, as well as address some concerns that people seem to have when they talk about this.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Loot Systems

I've been working on a post explaining what it's like to be a raid leader in a mega guild (we have between 500-600 characters in the guild and 5-7 active raid teams at any point in time). This post started as a tangent off of that post, but it finished itself first. To understand why the raid team is structured the way we are, though, means that you need to know the guild size/structure.

Our First Loot System
Each team is allowed to use their own loot rules. When I was deciding between loot systems, I first listed what I wanted (and needed) out of a loot system.
  •  Manageable in a multi-team guild environment.  While EPGP is actually pretty simple when the addon does all of the tracking/math for you, any addon that relied on storing data in the ingame officer notes wouldn't work in this situation.  Those addons do not seem to be made for guilds with more than one team.  Imagine what would happen if 2 teams used the same system/addon, and someone from the guild subbed into both teams.  The addon (at least any of the ones I could find) can't tell the difference between Team Star and Team Moon.
  • Simple to manage.  Since I couldn't find any addons that would work, I'd have to be able to figure out the loot by hand.  I didn't want to spend 10 minutes giving out loot, so an involved spreadsheet wouldn't work.
  • Loot prioritized to regular team members. I wanted to make sure that loot that dropped would benefit the raid team to help increase progression. This is pretty straightforward, and most organized loot systems do this (by awarding points for attendance, boss kills, or whatever).
  • Not Loot Council. I know it works for some folks, but it seems like too much of a headache to me.
The system that I eventually came up with is a basic random system with Home Team Advantage.

Home Team Advantage gives the regular team members priority over subs.  I use a 75% attendance rate for obtaining HTA - if a sub reaches that level then he's not really a SUB anymore (and I did actually have a tank sub in for us long enough that he simply joined us formally).

As far as tracking goes, I keep an attendance roster.  I note on there when BoE's drop so I know which list of folks to send the money to later, after it is sold.  But the basic attendance roster is the only record keeping I need.

The way it works is that A is a member of the team and B is a sub.  If something drops that they both want, they both roll.  If B wins the roll, the lootmaster announces that A has home team advantage and is awarded loot.  In 2 months of raiding, this happened once (either because the raider actually won the roll and so was awarded the loot anyway, or because it's a 10 man raid and there's not much overlap).

The Drama
The first time it happened it became a big problem and drama spilled out into /g (not when it happened, but later when I was looking for a sub for the following raid week). 

I was accused of not being clear enough with the sub (a holy pally; and I believed that when I explained HTA and further explained "regular members have priority on loot, but any int plate will be yours" that I was clear enough... but I guess not).  The super ridiculous part was that the pally received 2 pieces of loot and a BoE dropped, for which he received just over 1k g in the mail the next day.  I guess that wasn't enough?

I really believe that the drama was caused because we had to say "You can't have this".  Other loot systems do that, but not in such a direct fashion (in either DKP or EPGP, subs don't have enough points to actually win anything that a regular raider wants).

Why Prioritize Regular Raiders?
I did actually have people (including the guild leader!) who told me that the first system was unfair. I honestly do not understand that position, so I'll explain the reasoning behind favoring the regular team members.

First, loot in Warcraft has two purposes. 
  1. Increases character power.  When you gain more of your primary stat or better allocation of secondary stats so that when you play exactly the same, you'll be better at your job (more dps, heals, threat/survivability).
  2. Reward for completing a challenge. You did something special (whether that's Sinestra or Magmaw) loot is the reward for killing a big baddy.
It is important to me that the characters that are regularly in the raid (whether they are subs or alts of a regular raider who switched to cover an absence) gain power (to make progression easier), and I don't care what the power of random members in my guild is.

Now, in a small guild, a casual rank player or alt has a pretty good chance of being in your raid another night, so you could still gain from their power increase.  In a guild the size of mine?  It seems like all of the raiders (1 25m team, 1 10 that's expanding to 25, and 4 10m teams) have an alt or two that can fill in if we need help.  I can easily give a couple of pieces to someone and then not have them in my raid again until the next content patch.  If that loot was useful to someone in my team, I'd like it to go to my team (and be useful the next week) rather than a random guild member where it will never benefit my team (of course if it's not useful I'm glad that we have a sub who can use it - if they're subbing in my raid, often they sub in another raid or two as well, so is generally useful to SOME team).

How Can You Get Subs Like That?
The other question that I've been asked is why would anyone want to sub in my group with rules like this? 

Most folks that have subbed in with us (including one guy who I forgot to explain the HTA to until after the loot dropped! *facepalm*) reason that they are on their alts (since their mains are saved to whatever raid team that they are in), and since the alt isn't played very often, they don't need loot as much as someone who raids weekly.  They only need enough loot to be able to function as a sub occasionally.

Other reasons to sub when a team uses HTA or similar systems...
  • Often 10 man teams don't have loot overlap so specialty items (like int plate) can go to the sub anyway.  They aren't a benefit to the raid.
  • Often 10 man teams (with any history anyway) have seen that item (or similar) before, and no one needs it as an upgrade.  Those items can go to the sub.
  • The only way to get VP capped is to raid. 
  • Some folks (my husband) just like to raid more than any other part of the game; getting to raid more (with or without loot) is awesome.
  • Some raid teams (like ours) are a lot of fun to laugh/joke/chat with, so why NOT be a part of that for an evening?
Looking for a New System
Still, I'm considering switching to a new system to prioritize regular raiders, but which wouldn't require me to say "You can't have that".  Again, it would have to work in a multi-team guild environment and not require a hugely complicated spreadsheet. 

I'm thinking of having the regular raiders roll 101-200 (and subs the basic /roll 100) so that it's clear what is going on. 

Another option would be a Suicide Kings variant where people could roll, and if they lost and wanted something anyway, they could Suicide (I need another name for this!) ahead of anyone lower in the list (and then be moved to the bottom of the list).  If subs were added to the bottom at the beginning of each raid night, then that would allow a regular member priority over a sub once.

I'm not sure.  I'm still thinking about it and talking with various raid members when they're online.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Optimization Discussion

There's been a lot of discussion around the blogosphere over the past week about optimization, and how crowd sourcing of it has changed the game.

Honestly, I think players fall into two categories: Character Builders and Dragon Slayers. Let me explain.

Character Builders
Character Builders enjoy the aspect of the game where they increase their character's power. Power can manifest in different terms - perhaps the best dps, the most utility, a good RP story, whatever. The important aspect here is that the player is invested in personally making decisions to make their character have the most power (however the person defines power) that they can.

This is the type of person who likes running optimizations themselves, and who will balk when criticized for trying out something that has been crowd sourced as "suboptimal" but which the player hasn't proven to themselves is suboptimal (yet). The point of the game to these people is figuring out how best to create character power, and crowd sourcing that solution is taking a shortcut, or cheating.

Dragon Slayer
The Dragon Slayer enjoys aspects of the game where they are given a task and are able to complete it. These tasks can take different forms - quests, achievements, and dungeon/raid bosses. The important aspect here is task completion.

This type of person is more likely to accept a crowd sourced solution for optimization without thinking twice about it. What's important to them is that they go into a given task with the best preparation that they can (and in today's environment, that means researching out of game). Then, the game becomes execution (knowing the boss strategies, and employing the correct tactics at the correct time).

Both groups can play happily along side each other, as long as some understandings are present. Character Builders can quite happily participate in end game content, since getting higher gear increases character power. A Dragon Slayer can work on optimizing his/her gear themselves, if no other solutions are present, or if he/she knows that their personal playstyle or situation is different than the norm. Having the optimum setup means that the task is completed faster/easier.

Presumably, the Character Builder will eventually reach the same conclusions as the crowd sourced optimization - the problem is when the Dragon Slayers criticize the Character Builder in progress (since it's known that the gear/spec/rotation/etc is suboptimal, but the Character Builder doesn't Know it yet - he's still experimenting).

To be honest, I'm a Dragon Slayer. I don't have any problem with Character Builders experimenting in my raids, so long as the boss still dies. I prefer for folks to experiment with new specs and such between raids, or at least keep the previous spec/gear/etc so that if the new experiment doesn't work, they can go back to it. I think it's important to note that my raid group is pretty much a normal mode only group. I suspect that groups pushing progression generally prefer that members be completely optimized before stepping foot in the raid.

Personally, I don't see anything wrong with either viewpoint. They are different ways to look at the game and to enjoy different aspects. The problem, as always, is how we as people deal with folks who don't share our view.

For the record, here are a list of posts that I've seen in this discussion (so you can read other viewpoints). They're roughly ordered by date.

Tobald's MMORPG Blog - Fear of Suboptimal (May 3)
Nil's MMO Blog - Phobia of Inefficiency (May 3)
Blessing of Kings - Optimality (May 3)

Blessing of Kings - More Thoughts on Optimality (May 4)
Nil's MMO Blog - Enemy is Not Optimization (May 4)

Blessing of Kings - Optimizing and Fun (May 5)
Spinksville - Optimisation Doesn't Belong in My MMOs (May 5)

Tobald's MMORPG Blog - Extrapolating Optimization (May 6)
The Greedy Goblin - The Choice (May 6)
For The Bubbles - Your Optimal Isn't Mine (May 6)

Srs Business - Optimally Yours (May 8)