Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Too easy or too hard?

It can be bit tricky to gather hard information on how many players have completed the various kinds of raid content in WOW. There are some sites like GuildProgress that list the success different guilds have had, but that's not quite the same thing as measuring the number of players. High end raiding guilds will have more than the requisite number of players, so that they have substitutes if one of the first team can't make it. Casual guilds may have less than the required number of raiders and make up the rest from a network of friends or PUG-raiders. On top of that, many players have multiple raiding alts.

However, that doesn't mean we can't say anything useful about raiding numbers, merely that we have to accept that any figures are approximate and interpret them accordingly. To generate the numbers in the figure below, I've made a few simplifying assumptions:
  • There are approximately 6M players in the EU & USA (the only regions GuildProgress has data for).
  • Each listed guild has 25 raiders. That's probably an small underestimate for 25-man raiding guilds, but a large overestimate for 10-man guilds. However, there are a number of floating raiders who don't raid with the guild they are a member of, so the overall totals should be about right.
  • I've defined the "hardest" raid as 25-man for Naxx/Ulduar & 25-man heroic for the Coliseum & Icecrown Citadel. The easiest in each case is defined as being 10-man regular. I have heard arguments that 10-man content can be less forgiving of individual errors than 25-man, but in my view the difficulty involved in organisation makes the 25-man runs harder overall.
  • The number of players who have completed the content was found by multiplying the number of guilds that GuildProgress has listed as completing it by 25. The figures were gathered on 3rd May 2010, after the second ICC nerf.

Looking at the graph, it seems that Blizzard have certainly come a long way in their attempts to open up raiding. Over 40% of players have at least finished Naxx. That's not the majority, but it is at least a sizeable minority and I'd guess that's most of the players who would like to raid. They've also managed to create some very challenging content. Despite the double nerf to ICC, only a tiny number (about 1 in 17,000) have completed the hardest raid in the game. Nobody completed it before the first nerf.

Only three percent of players have "seen the content" at all, even in the easiest form. In broad terms, then, Blizzard seem to have achieved their goals. I'd say that's a vindication of their chosen approach in Wrath, which runs contrary to the high level of complaints about the state of raiding.

There is one interesting quirk in the numbers which is worth commenting on. The number of players who have finished Coliseum is 12x higher than the number who have completed the (lower tier) Ulduar. I'd suspect that there are three possible reasons for this:
  • Ulduar is in fact harder than Coliseum.
  • Coliseum is much faster to complete, so more popular.
  • Changes in the emblem system make Ulduar loot redundant. 
Given that Ulduar is a far more interesting place than the hastily cobbled-together Coliseum, I find that quite depressing. It suggests that the majority of raiders really are more motivated by loot than challenge. They're looking for the quickest, easiest way to get those purple pixels.

So is raiding too easy or too hard in Wrath? Both. It depends which content you're talking about. I'd say that Naxx & ICC were about right for their intended audiences, but Ulduar and Coliseum were the wrong way round.


  1. I really like this post, and- insofar as it's possible- I think you've done a terrific job getting some fast-and-loose numbers.

    I'd argue, though, that Ulduar is so less frequently completed than Coliseum not because people don't want to see or do it (it's such a cool instance!), or that they're motivated predominantly by loot over experience (... well, not ALL of us), but that it's so phenomenally long.

    I personally am over-geared to the eyeballs and run as a dedicated Disc priest healer, but I can't find a steady raid group for love or money. Setting aside the personal defects that no doubt account for this, I do think that (1) it's incredibly hard to find 24 people on your realm who can do anything at the same time, (2) who are actually equipped to run it, (3) work semi-well together, and (4) have the 4-5 hours to run Ulduar. You can run it faster, sure, but only if you're ALL overgeared, and if you're all overgeared, why wouldn't you be tackling ICC25?

    The early-expansion raids- in any expansion- will fall by the wayside as patch raids come out.

    I really love the way you have a story arc in the 5-man ICC introductory instances. You have to complete Forge of Souls to unlock Pit of Saron to unlock Halls of Reflection. You can't move on until you've personally unlocked them, and once you have you can go to any of them at will, but they manage to maintain a consistent storyline despite that.

    I'm hoping the upcoming raids will look like this: epic in scope like Ulduar, with bite-sized options. Maybe that will create interesting raids with balanced completability.

  2. You've made an important point about the length of Ulduar and I think it gets to the heart of what we mean when we say an instance is "hard". The rough figures I've given suggest that it's about reward received compared to effort expended, not simply absolute difficulty.

    The option to extend raid lockouts was a brave attempt to get around the problem of large instances taking a long time to complete, but of course it only really works for coherent groups that raid together. It doesn't really solve the problem for PUG teams, who may all have conflicting lockouts.

    I like your idea of a series of smaller raid wings linked by an ongoing quest. Blizzard managed to go some way towards this with the different ICC raid wings, but it would be wonderful if they could link them together better plot-wise.

  3. I'm totally with you on the plot improvement thing. Hopefully the ICC-5 series was just a test run rather than a dress rehearsal :)

  4. And just as an aside, all this is colored by my realm, which is the WoW equivalent of the backwater last stop on the railroad. It's not the least unusual to run Wintergrasp with 15 people on each side, total! No doubt my personal QQ isn't universal.

  5. Guild tracking websites may not accurately reflect the difficulty of older content. I remember watching the completion percentages for Ulduar 25 decline with time after ToC had been out a while. The reason was new guilds formed that never ran Ulduar -- they didn't have to.

    What you need to look at is what percentage of guilds cleared the content when it was current.

    I suspect, btw, that ICC is going to end up being seen as overtuned. The completion percentage for ICC 25 normal mode is still rather low, even with the 15% buff. We're at the point where lower quality guilds are losing ground due to people quitting faster than they are gaining ground from gear/buff/experience, so the number may not increase very much going forward.

  6. @Anonymous

    You have a fair point there about some guilds forming after certain content is released and he effect this has on numbers. I'm sure that must have an effect, but I'm less clear on how big it is. Logically, you'd expect it to have the biggest effect on Naxx, as that has been around longest, but that doesn't seem to be the case, as this has the highest completion rate. To me, this suggests that, whilst such an effect must exist, it probably isn't very large.

  7. @Anonymous. ICC is tuned very nicely, I think - we got our first Arthas kill at 10% buff. What is killing guilds in there isn't gear, or experience being lacking, it's skill. This sounds like Elitist Jerks wankery, I know, but there is such a ridiculous disconnected between the skill of the Paragon-level raider and the skill of someone who is currently 10/12 or even 11/12 in ICC normal. It took us a total of 194 pulls to get an Arthas kill. Sindragosa was maybe 50 - this shows you the difference in the moving parts of the fight that need to be learned. And once you get Arthas down, the first half dozen or so hard modes will fall over in one raiding night. My point is that Arthas is going to be the guild killer here - people will become disillusioned with the perceived lack of progress and apply to a guild that already has him down. We have had eight applicants in the month since we got him, compared to eight for probably the four month period prior.

  8. ICC is tuned very nicely, I think - we got our first Arthas kill at 10% buff. What is killing guilds in there isn't gear, or experience being lacking, it's skill.

    Calling a group underskilled, or calling content overtuned, is just a matter of perspective. What decides the question is the intent of the encounter designer. If Blizzard's intent was to get everyone who wanted to to down the LK, I think they're going to conclude at the end of the expansion that they missed their goal, at least on 25 man.

  9. @Anonymous

    You're right = there's a difficult line for Blizzard to draw here. In an ideal world, they'd want to produce content that challenges the most hardcore raiders and can be seen by everyone.

    How you achieve both simultaneously is a tough question. I wonder if there's a case for "easy mode" raids as well as "hard mode". For the top raiders, of course, normal mode *is* easy, but that doesn't meet the needs of the bulk of the player base. Having an "easy" mode that gave rewards equivalent to a similar amount of time grinding heroics might be the answer.


    I have no problem with people leaving anonymous posts, but would you mind signing your posts in some way (even if it's a single letter), just so I can tell if it's the same person in different posts?