#WoW – Flex Raids and New Features

The previous post related to my opinion that Warlords of Draenor is bringing very little to the table.  Thinking on that a bit, I realize that WoW’s strongest foot forward has generally been mid-patch and not expansions, with a few exceptions.

Blizzard makes good stories and solid art.  Expansions focus on that and while there are certainly exceptions where the story is horribad, the vast majority is solid if not exceptional given the tools they have at hand.  My opinion here is that time travel is often a poor device for story telling as a premise.  Sci-fi always succeeds when the story is about the people and the context is just there for flavor.  I’m curious as to how WoD will handle that given that the “wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff” is pretty hard to manage without causing a bunch of retcons.

Blizzard is quite poor at new but really good at updating existing systems.  The resistance requirements from vanilla turned into attunement for BC which turned into gear score later on.  40 man raids turned into 25 and 10, and then Flex.  LFG was a list originally, then automated, then LFR and now a near feature for feature rip from an exiting game mod.  Questing has undergone some big iterations, with the Cataclysm model of stories and MoP’s cinematic/integration story approach.  Leveling curves have been normalized.  Itemization has gone from 4 stats, to 16, to gems everywhere, to gems nowhere, to 8 stats and now RNG stats.  Talents went from the Diablo 2 model, to massive cookie cutter trees, to a rather homogenized flat structure with minimal variance.  Heck, some systems are so poorly thought out they just cut them from the game – reforging is one clear example.

Even the “new” stuff they put it was done in other systems first.  Transmogrification existed in many other games – LOTR and RIFT in particular – and those systems are still better than WoW’s (also in D3 now).  Pet battles is a direct rip from other MMOs and a clear link to Pokemon.  Proving Grounds was done in TSW first and in that game, it’s used as a gating mechanic as it should be.  Brawler’s Guild is an extension of that, with mixed results.

The point I’m trying to make is that Blizzard’s first kick at the can is usually not that hot, if it’s a departure from what’s out there now.  If they are applying incremental improvements on existing systems, then yes, super.  And this is ok.  They have millions of people playing a game, finding areas that they can optimize.  Blizzard has maybe 100 people on system design?  The law of averages says that Blizzard is going to lose.  Any dev would.  My issue is in the amount of time it takes for this beast to change course and actually find what works.

I think that WoW does 3 things better than other companies.  It tells better stories.  The Pet Battle system is best in class.  And Flex raids are the way forward.  It took a mod and a fan site for them to realize that Pet Battles could actually work and if I recall from stats taken in game, there are more people who participate in that activity that any type of raid (LFR — Heroic).  Its’ really rather well done, through a simple interface that’s had some iterations over time.  WoD is bringing new pets, no new systems.

Flex raids are next, or more generally, scaled group content with group caps.  When WoW was on the incline or at least stable in terms of population, the group caps were manageable (after they dropped from 40) but sub-optimal.  The LFR system stemmed from the idea that less than 10% of the population raided in Firelands (<1% heroic) and it made sense to expose more of the story.  LFR numbers were crazy, something around 80%+ of all max level players participate and regular raids were still very low, under 10%.  MMO Champion has all the stats by the way, just lazy to link to dozens of posts.  So Blizzard had an issue.  Clearly people wanted to raid but such a massive drop between models was causing issues… what was the problem?  LFR provided a way to complete content with a variable amount of people, and the system just filled in the holes to reach the thresholds.  The problems with LFR were obvious.  Random people do bad things and it was a “roll of everything!” mentality.  How to get the benefits of LFR (variable groups) and lose the downside (asshats).  In comes Flex.

Flex was added to provide people with non-faceroll content (somewhat on par with Normal) with a variable group of people they knew.  Getting 10 people is still not obvious but having 16 means that you don’t have 6 people picking up snacks for 5 hours while the rest is having fun.  The new Flex system will be applied to everything moving forward except heroic content.  I mean, it’ll be called Flex Heroic but it’s the same challenge as today’s normal.

Here we get into the themepark & sandbox debate.  Themeparks can only fit X people on a ride and rarely will they start without the ride being full.  Sandboxes can acomodate any number of players.  EvE, AA, Darkfall, UO all work with any number of people.  SWTOR, LOTR, FF14, WS and every other themepark can only fit X people.  It’s somewhat interesting that WoW is first out of the gate for a variable themepark size, catching up to 15 years of since UO first did it in mass market…but hey, welcome to 2014!

2 thoughts on “#WoW – Flex Raids and New Features

  1. Hopefully getting more developers into the mindset of Flex-based raid designs will create a new age of open world dungeons. Having experience with design that dynamically changes to fix a large or small group seems like it could make open world dungeons work again (though probably still not as the main content source).

    I really miss doing more difficult content solo but with strangers like in UO’s dungeons.


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