A Cog in the Wheel

Over the years I have discussed with many people my likes and dislike as it regards the concept of “raiding” in MMOs. Back in the days of EverQuest, I was a raider. Not only did I follow other people into battle, but some times I lead them. And really, unless you done both, some of what follows may not make sense.

One thing I constantly say about the way raids are designed in many games is that I do not want to feel like a cog in someone else’s wheel. Finally though, I think I’ve come upon some examples that will really bring across how I feel…

Playing in a group, or small raid, is like a sports team. In basketball, five men take to the court at any one time, in baseball that number is nine, and I just don’t watch enough football to tell you how many are on the field, but I know its a relatively small number… not more than 20 for sure. Playing in a large raid is like being in a full orchestra. Now, let me explain…

We’ll take basketball first because it emulates a typical group size in most games. Five men, they practice together, there are rules and strategies, usually one of them is the captain or calling the ball… but ultimately, the man with the ball does what he does. If he wants to pass, he’ll pass, or if he wants to take the shot, he’ll take the shot. Any player who doesn’t have the ball is going to be trying to get open, or trying to appear that he’s trying to get open so as to distract the defending players. On the defensive side, each player will be covering a man or trying to block a shot. All this happens fairly independently for each man. Of course, as I said, they practice and have strategies, but those are prone to change on the fly in reaction to the situation, or be completely thrown out the window for improvisation when nothing seems to be working. This is like a group in a game… everyone has their role, their skills and abilities, and they do what they can, following the guidelines but ultimately their actions are their own and mutable from moment to moment.

Stepping upward, you put two to maybe four groups together for a small raid and like with larger team sports, the plays and strategies get more rigid, but still each person retains some control over their place in the game. Your healers still pick their own targets, people dealing damage do what they do to whoever they choose. Sometimes, full rigidity is called for on a boss fight, but every player, or at least every sub group of players, retains some autonomy.

Then we get to the big raids… I liken them to orchestras because really, if you are talking big raids like the old 72-man EQ days raids, individuality is really a hindrance. To get through the raid is almost a work of art. There are things that must be done in a certain order at certain timing by certain people… its like a symphony. Sure, you can drop one or your violins and add an extra cello, which will change the tone of the piece a bit, but in the end you play the same symphony. Large raids are run by one person, or a small subset of the people, conducted if you will, and if you aren’t one of those people then you are a piece in the orchestra. They need you to fill out the make up of their raid, and as long as you can do your part, things will be fine. But as gloriously demonstrated by the classic Leroy Jenkins clip, doing your own thing and breaking from formation can get everyone killed.

Some people don’t mind playing in the orchestra, letting someone else write the music and decide how its played and simply doing their own part to the best of their ability according to the plan at hand. Personally, I don’t like that. While I don’t mind giving up some control to the greater strategy, playing to the strengths of my team, I dislike giving up nearly all my control to focus on a single simple task… “Heal main tank”, “DPS”, “cure disease and spot heal”

Of course, by this point, with big raids having been so prevalent (and the fact that EQ often employed the “only one road to success” method of raid design) even as games like WoW’s Burning Crusade try to scale back raiding to smaller groups, many players continue to try to distill raids into single simple functions for their members to perform. Not to mention that the focus on item rewards and loot-centric design encourages frequent perfection causing them to desire getting the win as often and as simply as possible.

So, how can you tell if you are the cog in someone else’s wheel, if you are playing in someone else’s orchestra? Ask yourself about the last raid you went on… what did you do? how did it run? was it fun? If you weren’t the raid leader, and you are a cog, your answers will probably be whatever your class role dictates, smoothly and as for fun, well, that depends on if you enjoy the big raid life. All I know is, I don’t.

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