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The Efficacy Shift: Another Fundamental Change in WoW’s Raiding

January 16, 2013

Dear Reader,

I’ve done a lot of thinking about WoW raiding, about what works and what doesn’t, and about raid design.  There’s been a lot of discussion out there about the fundamental changes that have affected WoW raiding, and while I’ve agreed with many of the premises, I’ve never really felt any of them was enough.  “The Dance” was a term used to describe one particular complaint about WoW raiding: that bosses weren’t about performing well any more, just about learning the mechanics and “dancing” around them to avoid killing yourself.

I’ve received both a lot of support in my unhappiness about my raiding situation and a lot of criticism.  Some has been quite pointed – and often accurate.  However, one thing always irked me about a lot of the advice I got; people would often tell me to join a better guild.  Yes, thank you, that’s obvious.  Clearly I have reasons to stay where I am.

All of this leads into my realization about a fundamental change in WoW raiding, one that I think’s been overlooked by a lot of better players.  In entry-level raiding, players have a ton of personal responsibility but little actual efficacy.  Efficacy is something I talk about a lot here; it’s the idea that what you do matters.  It’s the #1 determiner of job satisfaction, and very important in family dynamics.  I’ve written about it in regards to guild dynamics, too, but I don’t think I’ve made the jump to raiding until recently.  After my Sunday debacle where my guild was incapable of downing even one boss, it struck me that no matter how good any of us were, the one tank was so bad that we never could succeed.  That means that in WoW raiding, competent raiders have less efficacy than incompetent ones.

In older raids, larger raids, for example, one person was important, but not crucial.  A few bosses, Baron Geddon, for example, could make one person’s incompetence a problem for everyone, but often, losing only one person didn’t guarantee a wipe.  However, since Cata, at least – and maybe since Wrath – losing one person from a 10 man raid made it very likely there would be a wipe, especially among entry-level raiders.  This runs counter to logical progression; entry level raiding should allow for stronger players to compensate for weaker players until the entry-level weak players better learn their role.  Excellent players should have greater efficacy than new players.  This is true for dps in most cases, but not for “dance” boss mechanics, which compound the problem.

I believe I’ve become so dissatisfied not because I don’t like the mechanics, but because I feel like if 9 people do well and 1 does poorly, that shouldn’t cause wipe after wipe.  In older raids it didn’t; it meant everyone else had to haul ass to make the boss go down, but I can remember many instances of Prince in Kara or Fel Reaver in TK where someone died but everyone else pulled together and got through it.  Hell, I remember a Solarian kill where we’d lost most of the tanks but were able to compensate with some ingenious healing, dps, and kiting to get her down.  You’d never find that nowadays, at least not in entry-level 10 man raids.

So entry level raiders can only be successful if every single one of them is perfectly successful throughout the whole fight.  If you have one weak link, the whole team fails.  I’m not sure how I feel about that from a mechanical standpoint or a narrative standpoint.  Mechanically, it’s illogical to punish 9 people for 1 person’s mistakes.  Poor players should never have more efficacy than strong players, and really, should have less.  Narratively, the story of 9 people overcoming the obstacle of their 10th is certainly more satisfying than the story of 9 people being dragged down by their 10th.

So that’s my thoughts on another aspect of the fundamental changes to WoW’s raiding over the years: the efficacy shift.  Working harder to overcome a mistake used to be rewarded in the past; strong players had at least equal and often greater efficacy than weak players.  Now, a weak player’s efficacy is so great they can ruin it for 9 other strong players.

It seems to be an insurmountable obstacle for just-geared characters.  Yet the better your gear, the more you’ve raided, the less perfect you have to be.  The more experience you have, the less is expected of you.  It just doesn’t make sense.


Stubborn (and back to work!)

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2013 11:13 am

    Welcome back. It seems you tripped my verbosity switch again.

    It’s interesting, actually, to compare WoW raid guilds to the CMMI levels. This is cheerfully lifted from Wikipedia (

    1) Initial (chaotic, ad hoc, individual heroics) – the starting point for use of a new or undocumented repeat process.
    2) Repeatable – the process is at least documented sufficiently such that repeating the same steps may be attempted.
    3) Defined – the process is defined/confirmed as a standard business process, and decomposed to levels 0, 1 and 2 (the latter being Work Instructions).
    4) Managed – the process is quantitatively managed in accordance with agreed-upon metrics.
    5) Optimizing – process management includes deliberate process optimization/improvement.

    Looking for individual efficacy is an appeal to a level 1 organization. I worked in those shops far too often in my early career and while it’s a rush to pull a 60-70 hour week to finish a project it stops being fun. Also, by the way, the sort of thing that leads to the healer resentment problem you wrote about. Not a direct analogy, of course, given the disparity of penalties and rewards between the work world and a game but it can offer some illustration.

    It seems to me that as WoW’s raids have evolved and become more complex it requires that guilds move up the CMMI levels. You are going to start chaotic as you try to understand the fight and the best way for your team to apply the available resources to achieve the desired outcome. As you learn your roles and the best approach you start to develop repeatable processes that can be applied each week. Once you’ve mastered that you start to apply your process to Heroic encounters, in other words CMMI levels 4-5 operations.

    Unfortunately a part of this is staff evaluation and you often have to accept that some people are not going to be able to function on the team, or at least not in the critical role currently occupied. That is not a judgement about the person just an inability to perform to the level required for the organization to advance. How you handle it really depends on you and your organizational goals. My first choice is always training and counseling. But if the player does not improve you are going to have to either deal with the problem or accept that you are just going get together and have some fun beating on the Stone Guardians.

    • January 16, 2013 5:33 pm

      I don’t know if I agree with your definition of efficacy. It seems to me like you’re defining efficacy solely as the ability for a single person to make great changes. While that’s certainly a factor, the idea of efficacy shouldn’t just be about the individual, but about all individuals.

      I’ve never taken a business class in my life, since I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, so I won’t try to make a complex business analogy, but I’ll try to respond to yours. In a raid environment, no one person should have so much “power” (greater efficacy) than the others that they can ruin it for everyone else with a few mistakes. Similarly, in job setting – like working a project – no one person should be able to get the other 9 on the project fired due to their making a few small mistakes. The efficacy of raiding is shifted to the weakest players on the team, whereas in the past the balance was greater – not perfect, of course, as training and counselling have always had to be done from fight to fight – but still more equal.

      I understand the “guilds/raids as a business” model, but I’ve never liked it, because there’s no end product. It’s much more of a team sport or group hobby. While I totally agree about training and counselling, the fact is that in many cases – particularly at entry-level raiding (and please remember I’ve done the HM raids, too, so I do have a fair share of experience to compare with) – a majority of the raiders don’t have control over the roster. This happened to me in many, many guilds, where someone was allowed to go on raids that consistently created some sort of problem, be it social or mechanical. My choices, then, are to refuse to raid (which I’ve done and will probably continue to do) or leave the guild and start the exhaustive process of finding a new one.

      My wife, after reading this topic, said, “That’s what LFR is for,” and unfortunately she might be right.

      Thanks for the comment, and I think expanding on this would make a great post!

    • January 17, 2013 1:08 pm

      You may be right on expanding this, there’s a bit much to say on the topic.

      On the job setting point, it’s “should be” vs. “is”: Four person team doing a very early web data project. We had one person doing UI, one doing the back-end code, one doing the client scripting, and one doing report generation. When the person doing the reports failed, hard, the other three of use spent 20+ hours over the weekend to pull his piece together for the review on Monday. Fortunately the reports were easy, the DPS of the project. If he had been in charge of the back-end code, the tank of the project, it wouldn’t have been recoverable. Of course, it also would have been impossible to hide.

    • January 17, 2013 2:15 pm

      You lost me on “web data project.” Without a button to click to italicize stuff, I start running into problems…
      not really, of course, but it’s safe to say my English is far better than my code.
      I see your point, but here’s why I still cringe at the business metaphor.
      First, a job isn’t really voluntary, like games are. If someone’s playing, they should want to be playing, but if someone’s working, they might be a dick and just cashing the paycheck. Sure, people can “not work,” but in today’s society, it’s not REALLY an option.
      Secondly, 4 people doing a lot more doesn’t necessarily translate to 9 people doing a little more, or one person doing double. We’ve all outperformed others that shared a role – strong healers helping out weak ones, good tanks helping out poor ones, and of course dps, but I feel like in older fights players could help out people of other roles – a strong healer could help a weak tank, or a strong dps could throw a viable amount of off heals. You don’t really see that much any more. The tuning is so tight at the entry level that really everyone has to do all of what they’re supposed to do and only that or there’ll be a failure, whether it’s an explosive ground effect or an enrage timer. That’s mostly why I’m making my efficacy shift argument; one weak player should not fail 9 decent ones. That’s not a team sport any more, it’s a single machine unit where any one part can create catastrophic failure but eliminates the possibility for individual efficacy.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. January 17, 2013 12:19 am

    While your point is technically accurate, it is also misleading. One weak player isn’t torpedoing your raid; one weak player in a position of importance is torpedoing your raid. Had the DK been a DPS, you would have been able to compensate for their weakness with better-than-average damage and/or gear. The only time that is not accurate is when you have Defile-esque mechanics.

    Maybe your guild group could have tried LFR until everyone knew what they were doing?

    • January 17, 2013 9:50 am

      That again depends on the competency not of one individual but the entire raid group; since about 50k dps is required to beat the enrage timer, if one dps dies, that means that everyone else now has to pull out 62.5k dps to compensate. It’s very, very unlikely in an entry-level raid group that such a thing would be possible. Even a single amazing player would have to do 100k dps, which in entry-level would be basically unheard of. So again, the single weak player has more efficacy than a strong player, and even more efficacy than 9 really good players.

      And they do. They all do LFR. Most of them are fully LFR geared. Some are even better geared than that. This is my point about my raid group; I shouldn’t be able to step in in pre-LFR gear and do as well – if not better – than some of them, especially not having seen the fight before or watching a video. I just read the raid journal and kept high raid awareness.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • January 17, 2013 12:44 pm

      That’s a slightly different spin than I took from original post – I assumed that the initial attempts amounted to comedy shots and the rest of the DPS dialed-up later. That they seemingly didn’t makes the easy-kill DK tank a symptom of a much larger problem.

      For reference, my Aff Lock has gone from fighting for 30K to solid 60K as his gear went from 461 to 475. The others in your raid sound better geared, the tank should have been the only problem not the DPS.

    • January 17, 2013 2:08 pm

      I completely agree. I didn’t focus on the fact, but I think I did mention that I was sub-LFR geared and doing as much dps as most of the others. There’s not really any excuse for that. I guess I can forgive melee some, since it is such a movement-heavy fight, and I might be able to forgive ranged that can heal, as we were all – myself including – throwing some reflexive-style heals out (like my healing rain that heals extra when I dps in it), but there were others where there really was just no excuse.

  3. January 17, 2013 6:23 pm

    I’ve talked many many times on my own blog about how not feeling like I’m having an effect on the outcome kills all fun for me, which is exactly the reason I find Raid Finder to be the most boring thing ever. I appreciate finally having a word for it. 😀

    I think the problem as you see it is actually relatively unique to the first two bosses in Mogu’shan Vaults, each being heavily reliant on both tanks being completely on the ball. Many normal-mode fights in the past have at least allowed the off-tank to phone it in, but the design of these two fights specifically means that one tank making one mistake sends the whole raid into wipe-recovery mode, if not actually causing a wipe. It’s a bit unfortunate.

    It’s pretty obvious that with the existence of Raid Finder the devs have reasoned it’s appropriate to bring the level of difficulty in normal-mode raids back to roughly early Cata level [ie T11 and pre-nerf Firelands]. I can’t necessarily disagree with it, but I get that for many “casual” raids it’s a bit of a shock after Dragon Soul.

    If you want a fight which relies on all players equally to not fail [not to mention only requiring one tank] I really recommend Imperial Vizier Zor’lok. That fight is just excellent; really well balanced between a high emphasis on personal responsibility and still allowing the remainder of the raid to compensate if you lose one or two people.

    • January 18, 2013 10:29 am

      I’ll check that fight out. I agree; not being able to succeed no matter how well I do just takes all the point out of it.
      It’s odd how powerful the MMO genre has become since so many people seem to feel the way I do. I wonder if there won’t be a resurgence in the single player RPG market as a backlash against the loss of personal efficacy. I also suspect the “single player dungeons/instances” that have shown up in places like GW2 and TSW aren’t part of trying to incorporate that trend. Who knows.

      Thanks for the comment!

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