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Do Progressive Nerfs Negatively Impact Casual Raid Teams?

July 25, 2012

Weird question, right?

If anything, you’d think that casual raid teams are specifically the target for the progressive nerfs we saw first in ICC and now Dragon Soul.  (For this post, progressive means nerfs to the content itself or a buff that makes the content easier to complete, and is delivered in incremental amounts – e.g. 10%, 15%, and so on.)  Not entirely unlike the idea of “gating” end content, a system of progressive nerfs is designed to give more and more people a chance to clear content during the life of a raid tier.  This system is also surely designed to help keep content fresh for as long as possible during the end of an expansion, since the opportunity to down nerfed Heroic fights may keep many raiders signing up when they would otherwise look elsewhere to fill their time before new content is released.

Burning on through Burn Out

As we’ve all spent a lot of time writing about lately, burn out is a natural part of being a WoW player, and probably even a pretty healthy part.  Taking time away when we’ve lost interest in our current in-game goals is a good thing, both because it gives us a chance to do something else for a change, and because we will return to the game revitalized once there is something new to do.

Progressive nerfs give us the illusion that there is more to do and more to complete in WoW.  They give us an incentive to return to a raid that we thought we had “finished” – meaning that we thought we had completed all the encounters we were capable of and were ready to set that raid aside until new content came along.  There are lots of differing opinions out there about to what extent Heroic versions of raid encounters should be classified as content that is “new” or “different” from the raid on normal difficulty.  Personally, though I do like some of the challenges presented by Heroic fights, I often find myself content to clear only the normal raid and then call it a day.

Heroic modes have new abilities and greater challenges, but the setting and the players are all the same.  It’s like watching the Director’s Cut of a movie – interesting, and maybe you learn something from it, but it’s still mostly the same movie that you’ve watched a hundred times before.  It’s not an interesting enough change that would keep me chipping away at it for months on end unless I thought we had a good chance of getting all the way through it – and I generally don’t think we have that chance until the first few increments of the nerfs have been implemented.

A lot of raiders, casual and otherwise, are completionists and want to see that they’ve downed the bosses on all difficulties, done all the achievements, gotten all the gear they need.  Progressive nerfs make those desires way more attainable than they usually are – and they make them attainable in what is technically still the “current” raid tier(even if that raid tier has been out for almost a year).

Keeping Up with the Joneses

During most of my childhood, I lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where pretty much everybody was a Steelers fan.  (American football, if “Steelers” doesn’t ring a bell.)  In Pittsburgh, most die-hard Steelers fans hated the Cleveland Browns and, much later, the Baltimore Ravens, and considered them our two biggest rivalries.

After college, I moved to Cincinnati for a few years.  I’m not exactly the biggest football fan in the world, so before I moved there, I couldn’t have even told you that their football team is called the Bengals (I did, however, know who the Browns and Ravens were).   It didn’t take long, though, to figure out that Cincinnati fans were crazy for the Bengals and they absolutely despised the Steelers – so much so that I was a little worried about my then-boyfriend hanging a Terrible Towel in our window during playoff season.

Point is, rivalries are subjective, and often not based on anything resembling logic.  It’s as true for raid teams as it is for sports.  Whether we feel the urge to compete with someone isn’t necessarily about how similar we are in skill or progression.  There are plenty of guilds on my server that I feel pressure to compete with – regardless of whether they get a kill 3 months before we do, or 3 weeks after.  Most raid teams, even casual ones, compete with other guilds on their server, other raid teams within their guild, and even themselves.  It’s a part of identifying as a raider – the part that pushes us to give that new boss just “one more try” before we have to call it quits for the night.  We want to progress.

Though my guild didn’t clear Heroic Lich King in Wrath, we did clear every other Heroic fight in ICC, and there’s a pretty clear expectation that we should be able to do the same with Dragon Soul.  We have a certain sense of our identity on our server and where we fit within its hierarchy.  Since late Wrath, my guild has almost always been one of the top 2 Alliance guilds in terms of progression, and some prideful part of me really doesn’t like the idea of that changing.  Though competition isn’t my primary motivator for raiding, it is often at the back of my mind.  I want to see my guild finish Heroic Dragon Soul, and I think we have a pretty decent shot of doing so with the nerfs that have been applied.

Pride in my guild is one part of what’s keeping me raiding right now, so knowing that the nerfs are making it more likely that some other teams may catch up to us is inspiring that healthy competition.  It’s both a blessing and a curse, because it’s something that encourages me to raid when maybe I’d rather not be, but also reaffirms my bond to my guild and teammates.

But why do we think that a casual raid team that struggled through many of the more challenging fights at the end of BC and the beginning of Wrath should be pushing Heroic content in the final tier of an expansion?

Because we established that expectation when we were successful in Heroic ICC.

The Rise and Fall of Raider Egos

The length of time between ICC’s release and the beginning of Cataclysm meant that a lot of people had a lot of time they could spend working through every single fight in the instance.  By the time the final of the progressive nerfs came out, we were doing 30% more damage, 30% more healing, and taking 30% less damage.  The much-maligned Ruby Sanctum was something of a violent wake-up call as we watched our DPS and HPS numbers plummet because we were used to the artificial inflation we saw in ICC.

This is part of the issue with progressive nerfs – they have only happened during final raid tiers (and not mini-tiers like Ruby Sanctum).  Nerfs to other tiers such as Tier 11 or Firelands targeted specific bosses or abilities that appeared to be giving a lot of teams trouble, and while Blizzard may eventually nerf an entire instance, this is not done incrementally.

What we end up with are two totally contradictory messages:
– For most raid tiers, do as much as you can and then never return to it once a new raid is released.
– For final raid tiers, keep running the raid over and over again until you have completed it on every difficulty.

For casual raiding guilds, that can create a lot of tension between the expectations of our raiders and the reality of our skill level.  It’s a jarring change to go from feeling like you can down any Heroic boss in ICC to barely being able to clear the early bosses of Blackwing Descent.  It’s easy to end up with a guild full of people who honestly can’t understand why we weren’t working on Sinestra yet when we’d only barely managed to scrape out an Atramedes kill.

Progressive nerfs also make it difficult for raid leaders to assess what our teams can actually handle.  If we can beat an enrage timer on Heroic Ultraxion because his health has been reduced by 30%, does that mean we’ll have enough DPS to beat a Mists boss with a tight enrage?  It can be pretty difficult to be sure until we get a full team into the new fight and risk completely demoralizing them if it becomes apparent that we are totally unprepared.

“Uh, so … where do I stand again?”
– Me, before every Heroic fight ever.

Nobody likes to lose; everybody likes to win.  Progressive nerfs make us feel like we can just keep winning – even if we don’t one-shot new bosses, even if they’re still challenging – we are making our way through Heroic content that’s often out of our reach during the rest of an expansion.  Then, when we hit the reality of the next tier without our inflated stats, it’s easy to feel like we’re losing all the time.  The radical ups and downs of casual raider psychology from one tier to the next make it extremely difficult for raiders to understand their true skill level and for raid leaders to know how hard to push progression.

Solutions!  (I have none.)

Ideally, the best way to make the transition from one raid tier to the next as smooth as possible would be for all tiers, not just final ones, to have progressive nerfs.  For casual raiders, this would give us more opportunity to work through raid tiers when they are still current content, hopefully doing this before the inner-workings of raiding encourage us to abandon old tiers when a new one is released.  This would not, however, solve the issue of feeling god-like at the end of a nerfed raid tier and then being reminded of what puny weaklings we are at the start of the next.

It would also not solve the problem for bleeding-edge progression raiders, who are often firmly opposed to progressive nerfs.  Many progression raiders object to this system because kills completed after a nerf are often considered lesser than kills that occur before.  Though the suggestion is often made that raiders have the choice to “turn off” the Soul of the Aspects buff, many progression guilds do not consider this to be a real option.

I don’t have an answer for this one.  I like the thrill of downing new content, and I like the morale boost my guild gets from each new boss kill.  I hate, though, that feeling of being completely outclassed when we pull the guild’s casual raid team into a new tier for the first time.  The skill and gear gap is thrown into the harshest possible light, and that temporary morale boost is quickly forgotten.

Are progressive nerfs good for your raid team?  Why or why not?  Would you nerf content differently to make the raiding experience more consistent across tiers?  How so?

19 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2012 8:51 am

    An excellent post! Our guild stopped raiding DS twice a week once we’d downed Morchok HC and had thrown ourselves futilely against Zon’ozz and Yor’sahj. There had been a nerf or two by then but I can’t remember what stage it was at, I’m afraid. We decided that we weren’t going to burn out on pushing heroic modes even though they’d keep getting nerfed, because that wasn’t the type of raid team we were and everyone was pretty tired of DS. While sometimes we’ve missed ‘progressing’, and talk about going back now it’s been nerfed, some of our core raiders were freed up by that decision to take a break and we know they’re enjoying time out from the game. Your point about the jump down when you go into the next tier is one I hadn’t thought of (because Cata was our first raiding expansion and we’ve not done that jump before). I guess what I’m trying to say is, you make really good points here, and I think we might have saved ourselves a lot of heartbreak by stopping when we did.

    • August 7, 2012 2:46 am

      I really do think that taking a break between tiers, and especially before a new expansion is one of the best things a raid team can do for itself. It really helps you get excited to come back to the game to work on new content, and you don’t risk feeling resentful because you’ve stayed longer than you wanted to in an outdated raid.

    • Aralosseien permalink
      August 7, 2012 4:29 am

      Definitely. In fact, looking at how much we’re bored to the teeth of Firelands runs to finish a staff, there’s no doubt about it!

  2. July 25, 2012 9:04 am

    The nerfs also seem to give some people a false sense of greatness too, players are still standing in the fire, it just doesn’t hurt as much to stand in it! Others, who didn’t stand in the fire, are like “meh it’s nerfed anyway, I don’t need to give 100%”. And this is why H-Morchok is the only heroic boss we’ve gotten down.

    • August 7, 2012 2:48 am

      Yeah, this is a pet peeve for me. I try to stress that we are going to do the fight “correctly,” regardless of whether the healers can keep everyone standing through avoidable damage. As we learned in the transition from Wrath to Cata, getting used to relying on our healers to save us no matter what we do wrong doesn’t quite work when our healers are undergeared and hemorrhaging mana. 😛

  3. July 25, 2012 10:44 am

    Your posts have amazing timing and articulation; I was trying to think of a clever simile, but alas, am just too damn tired. Just starting to raid regularly myself, I know that competition is “out there,” and I know the officers in the guild feel it, but I am still in the happy “Hey, I’m on a good team, and they’re not yelling at me! Hooray! mode. Maybe that speaks more for the fact I never went to a single college football game when I was in college, not sure why, just making one of my many arbitrary stands.

    • August 7, 2012 2:50 am

      Thanks Matty! 🙂 One of the really good things about progressive nerfs is that it means people who are late to raiding in an xpac for whatever reason get a chance to experience some of the more difficult content. I always appreciate bringing in players who haven’t seen Dragon Soul at all yet, and watching how amazed they are by everything going on around them.

  4. AliPally permalink
    July 25, 2012 11:11 am

    Consistency is the key to nerfing content. Blizzard should give people a nerf timeline well in advance so that they know what is coming. I don’t want to be working on content only for Blizz to suddenly announce that in a couple of days time it’s going to get nerfed into the ground, as happened in Firelands.

    I also think that nerfing every single boss with a blanket 10%, 20% 30% nerf is just not the way to do things. Maybe it’s easier for the developers, but for the players, it just makes some content total face roll, and therefore little more than a chore.

    For my own raid group, we managed to get to Heroic Blackthorn with I think only a 5% nerf active, but really that fight is so unforgiving for a casual group like ours, that we needed more nerfs to get any further (250 wipes to get him down). As it was, we then got stuck on heroic Spine, as we simply didn’t have the dps to succeed. Meanwhile every other boss in Heroic mode bar Blackhorn was completely face roll to us by that point, so we got a bit demotivated at being stuck on one boss and no options to do anything else.

    On Spine, where we got stuck, the silly amount of hit points on the tendon was simply too much for the random group of character classes that we had when we tried it; it’s all very well for hardcore groups who can bring in different characters equipped with legendaries, but we were stuck with what we had, and it wasn’t going to happen, nerfs or no. No doubt if we tried it now, we would beat it, but people just didn’t want to keep committing to raids every week with little chance of success, and I’m afraid our group just fell apart after a couple of months of wipes.

    So, I would suggest that some specific parts of encounters be nerfed rather than the current method of a blanket nerf to health and damage. For eg on Zonozz, the Disrupting Shadows debuff was extremely difficult to deal with with no nerfs; I think that was repsonsible for most of our wipes. That could have been nerfed, and the rest of the encounter left alone. Blackhorn, oh my, how many times did we wipe because players tried to soak a Barrage with too little health? Barrrages needed a big nerf, but the rest of the encounter again I think was quite doable.

    • Dimli permalink
      July 25, 2012 12:04 pm

      “Consistency is the key to nerfing content.”
      Exactly what I was going to say but you said it better.

      I think they have decided on the progressive nerfs as their new baseline and it will become something that people will come to expect if this happens I think it will be a good thing. Jumping between different methods for each tier with no one really knowing how its going to work is just a recipe for disaster.

    • Paul permalink
      July 28, 2012 7:45 am

      but really that fight is so unforgiving for a casual group like ours, that we needed more nerfs to get any further (250 wipes to get him down).

      If your group was willing to do 250 attempts on a single boss, no way was it casual. The blues have repeatedly stated that only a very small fraction of the players are willing to wipe that much, and they are hardcore.

    • August 7, 2012 2:52 am

      Yes, consistency is the most important thing and not just when it comes to timing but also in that a raid is nerfed at all. T11 hardmodes have had basically no nerfs from the time they were released and yet T12 was nerfed when it was still current content. How does that make sense?

  5. July 25, 2012 12:17 pm

    It’s a tricky subject. I don’t think progressive nerfs are just bad for casual groups.

    For me, part of the problem with nerfs is that they go too far. My usually 3 night a week raid team is now clearing 8/8H in just over 2 hours. All of the fights have become stupidly easy for us. When the healing and damage requirements get reduced by so much, mistakes impact the raid less and some mechanics can be ignored, it makes people lazy. When Mists comes out and we’re faced with un-nerfed content, we’re going to have to relearn how to play properly and put in the appropriate amount of effort. This is something I definitely saw when Cata came out after doing ICC at a 30% nerf for so many months.

    I think some nerfs are good. More casual teams should get to see more content. Even a lot of the not so casual teams would be unlikely to reach 8/8H without some nerfs. But when it gets to the point where raids can kill nerfed heroic modes easier than they were able to kill unnerfed normal modes, they’ve gone much too far.

    • August 7, 2012 2:53 am

      Yep, I totally agree – the laziness factor is always a huge problem after working in a tier that’s been significantly nerfed. People just get out of practice and, worse than that, they develop bad habits. It’s not at all the mindset you want going into a new expansion where everyone will be undergeared for the first few weeks.

  6. July 25, 2012 4:19 pm

    Nerfs are okay, I think, but I do wish the timeline for them was a bit more spread out, especially in raid tiers with not that many bosses like DS. My guild took twice as long to get through ICC than DS, and t10 kept us interested and occupied until almost the end of Wrath. After having finished normal DS in March, suddenly it became almost impossible to get a raid together due to attendance issues. People just don’t want to run it anymore, not even to work on achievements or hard modes.

    It’s disappointing, especially since we took down a whole lot of hard modes in ICC and were very close to getting our drakes as well. When I’ve asked my raiders why they’re not interested in continuing, they usually just say that DS is boring and they just don’t want to do it anymore. Part of me can’t help but wonder if getting the nerfs and taking the challenge away from normal modes so quickly isn’t the reason for this.

    • August 7, 2012 2:57 am

      My guild killed Deathwing on normal the first week DS was released. We killed the Lich King something like 4 months after ICC’s release. Normal mode DS is much easier than normal ICC was, and I think that’s a part of why people label it as “boring.” I found Dragon Soul’s environment and story a lot less engaging than ICC’s as well, which has also contributed to my dislike of the place.

  7. July 27, 2012 6:04 pm

    It’s hard to say. I think of myself as casual, yet the nerfs annoyed me and the easier the content got the more boring it got – or rather, the less challenging it became. The sense of achievement in killing it seemed to disappear a little, and we all felt that little bit of “failure” that we couldn’t do content when it wasn’t dumbed down.

    But I think that if there were no nerfs, I think raiding in general would have died off more quickly. People bashing their heads and getting nowhere is demoralising and with each nerf there is the glimmer of hope that you can get it this time because we were SOOOO close last time.

    However, I haven’t been able to utilise the nerfs, as my guild stopped raiding a few months ago. Sadface. If only DS was available for Xserver raiding, maybe I’d be happier then 🙂

    • August 7, 2012 2:58 am

      Agreed! I can understand why cross-sever raiding would be a big problem for the current raid tier, but I would be so happy to get to work on DS raids with some of the bloggers and Twitter people out there.


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