Raid Finder is Broken: The Problem

flex raid

So Blizzard just broke Raid Finder. Let me explain.

The company that makes World of WarCraft, in their game-designing wisdom, decided that they should add yet another level of raid difficulty. Over time, the complexity, length, and challenge of modern raid encounters forced the developers at Blizzard to devise new methods of brining people into the raid scene. Obviously, Normal and Heroic exist for the hardcore raider, the person dedicated to a guild with somewhat large quantities of time to learn, wipe, learn, wipe, and get loot (eventually).

For the rest of us, no such option existed. Cataclysm made the game difficult enough that many people simply abandoned raiding altogether, if not the game itself. It took Blizzard until late 2011 to devise the system now known as “Raid Finder”. Queueing 25 like-minded players up to defeat several bosses in a row, it provided a gearing avenue for the less dedicated and casual while also allowing them to experience the content Blizzard spent millions of dollars devising. By all accounts, Raid Finder proved a huge success; although problems emerged, such as the lack of a good loot system (more like a free-for-all of ninjas) and difficult bosses, time and effort would prove that you could gather together a bunch of people and they could still down a boss – assuming the correct attitude.

Blizzard had a hit on their hands, so they developed the system further. Mists of Pandaria took full advantage of this system, and its raid content seemingly revolved around a happy medium between the casual and the hardcore. The first tier of raid instances, for example, contained six bosses at most – two different queues, of course, meant that each raid never felt too long or too hard. Most encounters came with 2-4 simple mechanics that even the most ignorant person could learn, and quickly. Bosses were nerfed in order to compensate for a lack of familiarity with a group, but only enough to make it challenging and fun. After all, LFR merely exists for a player to experience the content and possibly receive gear – a great system all-around. You would queue and find yourself spending an hour to an hour and a half, and rarely more time. Sometimes you’d hit a group with zero experience, but a few attempts would iron out the kinks. The effort required to gear yourself even for Raid Finder guaranteed as such.

Then, Throne of Thunder came upon us. Tier 15 upped the difficulty substantially, yet the still-present gear requirement meant that players still needed to unlock the gear gates to play them. Doing the previous content meant they learned how raid encounters worked and then succeed accordingly. While some fights presented huge problems for an uncoordinated group (such as Durummu the Forgotten, probably the worst of the lot when ToT first opened), only a few wipes would happen at worst. Lei Shen also presented difficulty, but we expect that from a final boss; over time, he too would fall easily (in as little as a few weeks, from my count). People learned from the previous tier, which the gear system forced, and then took those skills into LFR. It worked!

However, Blizzard once again decided to tinker with the system they crafted by introducing yet another raid difficulty! In theory, Flexible Raiding sounds like a wondrous idea. Normal and Heroic Mode required 10 or 25 people each, no more and no less. You cannot change how many people you use, thus forcing some guilds into a strange corner: either you create a new raid group, or you kick somebody out. Nobody wins in that scenario, especially if you’ve got 11 people who want to raid. Flexible Raiding lets people who know each other queue together, similarly to Raid Finder. You can invite anywhere from 10 to 25 people; any number in-between will scale the raid encounters accordingly, thus saving guilds a ton of headaches. To compensate for the “flexible” difficulty, the loot is slightly lower quality than Normal, and slightly higher than Raid Finder. In sum, Flexible Raiding looked to fill a void for guilds who wanted all their people in one run, and people who just wanted to raid in friends. It echoed the pick-up raids of Wrath of the Lich King, where trade chat became a bustle of raiding activity with same server people.

Unfortunately, adding yet one more difficulty for casual players led, from my experience, to an unforeseen population shift in Raid Finder. From what I can tell, queuing as both a tank and a DPS role, there’s an obvious tank shortage and a GIGANTIC DPS surplus. The numbers don’t lie – there’s a problem with the tank population. As my rogue, I can’t even queue up for Siege of Orgrimmar at all without waiting AT LEAST an hour. Perhaps I’m missing peak times, but I thought I could play when I wished with nearly eight million people playing; not so, apparently! No doubt about it, Flexible Raiding looks a success…for people who were using Raid Finder before. However, it adversely changed the limited tanking population, now stretched between three different difficulty models and lockouts. It’s extremely difficult to find two tanks in any reasonable amount of time, and heaven help you if the other guy leaves!

I find myself in the strange position of obligation to finish a run regardless; I don’t want to strand an entire group due to my personal selfishness (which seems to happen often lately in Raid Finder). There’s an additional problem which exacerbates everything further: the gear requirement literally doesn’t exist anymore. A new questing area, the Timeless Isle, allows you to obtain gear that just breaches the requirement for the Siege of Orgrimmar Raid Finder. This means that some guy or gal with no experience whatsover wanders into Raid Finder and expects loot in much the same way, much to their detriment.

We will then wipe repeatedly. Why? Because, firstly, these “new recruits” know nothing about the fights. Second, they never did any of the previous content at all, meaning they’re learning the raid playing style for the first time. Third, Siege of Orgrimmar contains some of the most complex fights yet seen in the World of WarCraft; while this works for Normal and Flex, where people will take the time to learn everything with people they know, Raid Finder quickly expels its stores of patience. Why is there so much enemy trash between bosses? Why do bosses contain incredibly large numbers of things to worry about, as well as strict time limits (General Nazgrim particularly strikes me as a good example here, if not Kor’Kron War Shamans – *shudder*)? And furthermore, WHY DOES CASUAL RAIDING TAKE ME FOUR HOURS TO FINISH THREE BOSSES?

There are many problems, QED. That much is obvious. So how does Blizzard solve this problem?

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.