Raiding Research Online

Exploring and mapping the MMO raiding culture

Archive for the ‘raiding guild’

Do you have a Method?

May 21, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Cataclysm, elite, raiding, raiding guild

Note: Yes, it’s another wall of text! But I tried to fix this with some music and video footage… I just had too much to write about my wonderful chat with Method and this is just barely touching the surface!

Preamble: A raid-influenced musical medley!

I’ve never added music to a blog post before but lately I’ve been accused of creating walls of text… so listen to this music while you read! Or don’t! At least enjoy the breaks in the wall of text!

I should preface this by saying my taste in music is as varied as there are stars in the sky, so my selections here are more of a whimsical attempt to represent common raiding elements through a particular genre of music. I’ll do a Nirvana or Arcade F ire one next….

Anyway allow me to present “Raiding deadmau5 style”:

  • “Raise your weapon”–well, duh… it’s a raid and melee have to do more than just stand there looking pretty with their big weapons….
  • “Move for me”–how many times do I have to tell you to move and get out of the fire/goo/crash/lava? Yes, you!

Also, I’d say these songs reflect more how I felt about my discussion with Method than anything else. Plus I had the awesome deadmau5 on my mind. Enjoy, guys. :) See below for the actual article…

Introducing Method

So what do you get when you put seven Greeks, a Welsh guy, a Scouser, and a couple Scots together and then add a dash of Danish and Swedish, a bit of Romanian, a sprinkling of Dutch, a healthy measure of French and German, a splash of Finnish and Portuguese, a pinch of Serbian and Polish, with a generous helping of an allegedly cross-dressing American*…?

(*Sorry, Shaam, I could not resist…. ;) )

No it’s not a United Nations meeting or the participants in an ill-fated holiday at a Mediterranean beach resort…  it is Method. You might have heard of them? That guild that’s been nipping at the ankles of Paragon? Well, they’re an OK guild… three world firsts during Cataclysm, eight world seconds. Not bad. Maybe they are better than OK…. Actually, one might even say they are extraordinary.

I can safely say speaking with Method was a very eventful two hours of my life. We laughed, we cried. We talked about our feelings, we shared our thoughts on the future. But seriously, if I had to pick one word to sum up my impression of Method it would be “certitude.” And before you have to look that word up, allow me to provide a definition:

The state of being certain; complete assurance; confidence.

Method exemplifies certitude to me because in our discussion they didn’t just talk about what their goals are with raiding but they feel certain that they can do it. And what’s that? Well, they want to be the world #1. (As Rogerbrown said, “It’s the one thing Method hasn’t done yet.”)  I can relate to that. No one likes to be in 2nd place. For some reason it feels even worse than 3rd or 4th place. It is *almost* number one. It’s so close you can taste it. But Method feels more ready than ever to try and dethrone Paragon. Sco, Method’s GM puts it quite succinctly: “”Our progress on this tier was good. It’s quite high in regards to our previous finishes. And I feel like our roster since progress has gotten even stronger. Realistically achieving that top position has never been better for the guild.” Certitude? Most assuredly.

Method speaks about: The progress race, “broken 10-man,” and dungeon journals

It was a tight race during the first tier of progression raiding. According to wowprogress’ ranking criteria, less than 600 points (out of a maximum of 42000 points possible) separated Method and Paragon from each other when all was said and done. In fact, the top four guilds (Paragon, Method, Ensidia, and For the Horde) were extremely close in the final rankings. But that’s how the elite raiding guilds like it. In some recent footage taken at a gathering in China, some elite raiders from Paragon (ranked 1st) and For the Horde (ranked 4th) were interviewed saying that having strong teams to compete against was integral to their enjoyment and focus during the progress race.

Progression racing is challenging, both by design and circumstance. It requires a lot of time and focus and can often present a series of unexpected bumps in the road, like trying to master the encounters while Blizzard is still tweaking them. Members of Method pointed out how during progress raiding one guild would get a boss down using one particular approach but when they would try and use a similar approach it would not work because Blizzard had  “fixed” it between tries: “The worst thing was when Paragon killed something and then afterwards it was fixed so no other guild could kill it using the same mechanics.”

If you remember any of the back-and-forth during the progress race, some members of high level guilds vented stress about this in different ways, with some occasionally blaming certain guilds for “questionable tactics or mechanics” and others pointing to a flaw in the way the encounters get “hotfixed” between attempts. I asked Method how this experience was for them and where they fell in the debate–it was clear they found this more an issue with the approach to raid design and did not hold any hostility toward any particular guild for this. As one member pointed out, “Of course when we’re in the middle of progress we’re a bit aggressive to each other because in the end we want to win. But afterwards, when you look at it and how it went, you don’t really blame them—you can’t blame them.” Their “blame” seemed more directed toward the way in which mechanics for encounters were changed right after they were used.

Their criticism of how raiding mechanics are handled and improved extended also to the 10-man raiding race. While Method itself did not engage in 10-man raiding they acknowledge the “broken” nature of the encounters at that level and the fact that it took game designers a long time to introduce changes. “10-man raiding this tier was just sh**. They didn’t test it and it was not tuned at all,” Padmay says. “You can see how much they care when you see when they patch things for 10-man so late in the game. We’re about 4 or 5 months into the new content and they realised some abilities are impossible on 10-man and they are just now fixing them,” notes Rogerbrown.

“I think that’s why they forced us to test 10-man on the PTR this time, so it’s not so screwed up,” explains Padmay.

Another area that members Method chimed in on was the inclusion of so much information about heroic raid encounters in the forthcoming Dungeon Journal (see my last blog post about this). Though the comments below show that not every member feels the same way about it:

  • “There is only one boss we can’t see on the PTR, but the mechanics are in there, so basically there is nothing left to explore.”
  • “It’s like reading the end of the book, it’s like spoilers.”
  • “It’s a nice idea and it’s not bad but how they approach and how everything is available, that shouldn’t be right now.”
  • “Would be better if came out two months after.”
  • “It’s maybe not that bad but it’s like a puzzle you’re making and you know what the puzzle will look like. But you have to put them there though. It’s not going to do it itself. The boss won’t just die because you read the journal.”
  • “It fits the image of WoW turning casual.”

The atmosphere of Method

Method isn’t just a place where good raiding happens, however. It’s got the other key components I’m finding are essential to any raiding guild’s long term success: stability, a positive social atmosphere, and a commitment to each other. Sco, with the pride typical of a person who established and spearheaded this guild since its inception six years ago, stresses the longevity and stability of the guild: “I would say this is the final resting place for 90% of the players [who join Method]. I mean there is nowhere else for them to go if they want the pinnacle of raiding. Method’s pretty much among the best international groups that you can get.”

And just like with every other well established guild I have ever spoken to (from the most casual to the elitist of the elite) having a positive social atmosphere is integral to the success of the guild. They are often on TS and IRC chatting while they play, they like to do other things between the hard core content, and they have met up in real life (yes I have given visual proof of this along with some questionable singing and pole dancing on the part of a certain guild member!). And another area of focus for a lot of elite raiders between new raid content is focusing on other games, such as Starcraft 2. Some are competing, but most are just enjoying watching the competitions unfold. When I asked how they would compare the competition of WoW with the competition of SC2, Padmay explained it’s “Completely different as you can live off of playing SC2 but not with a game like WoW with its large teams.”

Method has some similarities to other elite raiding guilds that may help support raiding success at this level: similar demographics (average age is early 20s and mostly male), the required skill set, and a lifestyle (through work or school) that allows a schedule flexible enough to tackle the demanding progress raiding schedule when it hits.  Another important fact that seems pervasive in and fundamental to all successful raiding guilds (and I’m not just talking about elite guilds here) is a respect for the aims and goals of the group and, often, its leaders. Method members kept pointing to the valuable role that their GM Sco has played in the smooth functioning of the guild. Their respect for him and the guild’s goals was evident when we spoke. They also jokingly said that Sco’s “commanding voice” has “scared” them at times. “If it’s not you being yelled at, then you find it pretty hilarious, but otherwise it can be pretty scary” said one (mostly joking). “We need good leadership and Sco provides that.”

What’s your Method for a world first?

And Method had their share of spectacular world firsts during the last progress race: Magmaw, Atramedes, Chimaeron (on 25 man; Ensidia actually achieved the overall world first on 10-man). Below is the video of their Magmaw fight. I absolutely loved watching this video–even rewatched it a couple times! I particularly liked their relaxed, calm (well mostly calm) demeanor while they casually down this boss for the first time. The laughter and jokes you can hear on vent point to the positive atmosphere in the guild that I experienced when I interviewed them. I could tell they were loving what they were doing. And considering the guys spent up to 12-14 hours a day during peak progress raid time, their cordial, spirited attitude says a lot about the guild. Trust me, if you can make jokes and sincerely laugh after spending that much time together, you must have something good going.

And the progress raiding is intense. “We had maybe 7-10 days off out of a two month period,” explained one member. And working around the clock was not unheard off for the guild, though they knew when to stop if the group kept making the same mistakes due to exhaustion. Of course this did not prevent them from getting a few kills in the middle of the night (in fact, their world #2 Conclave kill was at 4.30 am game time!).

Method vs. Magmaw: World First

Personal favourites in this video: 1. Vent is just free running, “having a blast” and 2. The phone ringing at 4:29 or so.

As far as their approach to raiding goes, it felt very similar to what I’m learning about the other top guilds: A loose structure with some specific instructions given but, overall, mechanisms like vent or TS are used for ongoing discussion and feedback while individual raiders are just expected to “do their job.” There are very few reminders to move at certain times or react in a particular way: they are just doing it. Obviously when we watch kill videos and the like, we’re only seeing a raiding guild when they are achieving success–we don’t see their 6,931 wipes–but I think in the case of Method here, we have had a nice opportunity to watch their PTR footage and the same ongoing discussion and feedback seems to be happening here. I actually asked the guys if the PTR chatter was normal for them and they all emphasised that it was.

And speaking of PTR and raiding and listening to Method, tonight (Saturday, May 21st) they are appearing on Nordrassil radio! Live! Go check it out. I will be. :)

Brazil doesn’t just have amazing beaches and football…

April 28, 2011 By: Ladan Category: Cataclysm, raiding, raiding culture, raiding guild, teamwork

Bem-vindo ao Brasil!

They are beautiful, they have great beaches, amazing food… lots of party atmosphere.. And who can forget the futebol? But are they raiders, too?

In general, when we think of the top raiding guilds we might invoke the Europeans or the North Americans; we’ll probably give a nod out to the Chinese and the Koreans and welcome a few up and coming Russians into the fold. There are even some dynamic Australian and New Zealanders leaving their mark. But what about Latin American raiders? Does Brazil immediately come to mind when we’re asked to identify our top raiders?

Next time you’re in the neighbourhood, go to wowprogress or guild ox and you’ll see Blood Legacy when you check out the first stage of the 10-man raiding progress rankings for Cataclysm. Who is Blood Legacy? Not to be confused with the leading North American 25-man raiding team Blood Legion (don’t we love blood in WoW?), Blood Legacy is a Brazilian guild. And they opted to exclusively raid 10-man content for Cataclysm. While they did not make a formal plan to join in the race to be ranked with the world’s best guilds—“We were not aiming for a top ranking when we started,” I was told by Blood Legacy’s rogue Torchia—I think the outcome is something the guild is now starting to enjoy. “It’s been great to get congratulation messages from people on other servers,” says Onstrike, one of the guild’s mages. Even members from other top level guilds have been complimenting the guild. The guild told me that while they did not fully realise going into the progression race that they had the ability to clear the content so quickly and effectively, they are now a lot more confident about their abilities going forward. But they are also feeling fragile. Getting new people in to replace the departing members is at the forefront of their minds.

Like all of the guilds who get involved in the progression race (even by accident!), there is a kind of post-race exhaustion that sets in and it can cause raider turnover. Like the great athletes of certain sports who retire after the big events like the Olympics, there always seems to a number of great raiders who retire after a progression race, leaving their guildmates with a bit of a vacuum to fill. In fact, in an interview with a now-retired raider from a top ten 25-man raiding guild, he described his desire to retire from raiding resulting from feeling like he’d completed his personal goals. “I had certain goals as a gamer and raider in WoW. I wanted to go all the way and do top-tier raiding, which I got to do. I’d completed my goals and it just felt like I was done.” For others perhaps the intense hours and focused effort exact a cost. You might suddenly lose contact with certain day to day activities that you enjoy like exercise, friends and family, maybe other interests have to take a backseat… and maybe it just isn’t worth it anymore. This fragility in raider numbers is not universal across all raiding guilds, but some are currently feeling the pinch and have been actively recruiting to ensure their numbers remain healthy and geared up for the next stage in Cataclysm raiding.

I admit I pursued Blood Legacy when I learned about them. How couldn’t I? A guild from Brazil? Surprising themselves by getting up into the top ten worldwide of raiding? It was a wonderful story for me to capture. But getting them to talk to me was no simple feat. First we had progress raiding to contend with, time differences, health issues, language concerns, Carnaval, and, a flood almost got in the way!

But it was worth the wait. I was not disappointed! :) Not only did Blood Legacy let me speak to the guild over vent but they were very generous with their time and opinions. I also know that some of the guys were very unsure about their English even they sounded excellent to me! Thanks for giving it a go, guys. :) Obrigado!

One area of particular concern that Blood Legacy raised during the interview was the problem with 10-man raiding. “It was broken,” it what I kept hearing. This was particularly true, they said, with certain HC 10-man fights, such as with Nefarian–”Nefarian had a bug that the constructs wouldn’t hit the tank”. And despite having to take a break during the Carnaval period in Brazil, the guild was still able to clear the content and finish in the top ten, something one member of Blood Legacy said he felt “ecstatic” about. But I could tell, from speaking with them, that the process had been quite unenjoyable in parts too. I had to admire the group for their willingness to stick with it until the bitter end. It sounded a bit like a group of good friends getting stuck on a trip from hell–you just stick together and get through it come hell or high water. The ten-man raiding content was overlooked and unaddressed, they said, and they just hoped that Blizzard got the message and spends as much time tackling the 10-man content for  Firelands as they have the 25-man content. On a side note, this is an interesting issue. I even did a poll a few months back where I asked if people perceived a hierarchy of value placed on 25-man as compared to 10-man raiding. 77 percent of respondents felt that 25-man raiding *was* in fact seen as a more “valid” way to raid than 10-man raiding. Perhaps this is even felt by the game designers? Did they expect only the more casual raiders to do 10-man raiding and so did not expect them to catch up to the heroic end bosses so quickly? All I can say is that based on observing the experience of the exclusively 10-man raiding groups as compared to the 25-man raiding groups, there does appear to be a difference in how things transpired and, perhaps, how things were perceived by raiders themselves.

A few things stuck out for me about Blood Legacy, summarized by what the guys shared with me during our discussion:

  • They love laughter and jokes. Even during the interview, we were laughing a lot. When I asked the team why they liked to raid, they pointed out the friendships and the good time they have together. Even one member of the team, Frood, appears to be the brunt of the “who’s the blame” jokes (I think pretty much every guild has a person it likes to jokingly blame for everything that goes wrong)–something he said he wasn’t offended by as it was all in good fun. (And I did manage to trick some of the guys into apologising to him during the interview–it was very therapeutic, I think. Desculpe! :)
  • They make the most of the resources they have and don’t fear hard work. One thing the raid group pointed out was that for them they often had to be creative with their raid group make-up and approach to raiding strategies, something that often is of concern to the smaller raiding groups. By being creative and adaptive, I think Blood Legacy was able to keep moving along with their progress. And while I definitely felt like this was a relaxed, fun-loving group of guys, I was also very aware of their willingness to put in the hard work to get the job done.
  • They are socially tight knit. I learned some amusing things about Brazilian gamers last night. Apparently, according to Torchia’s joke, “They are like locusts and eat everything in their wake.” Of course, only another Brazilian could safely make a joke like that, but my understanding is that up until recently their server, Warsong, was a regular geographical mix of players who typically play on the US servers. Gradually over time more and more Brazilian gamers have moved to their server and, according to the team, it’s more of an 80/20 Brazilian mix now. And evidently their unwillingness to converse in English has pushed other English-speaking gamers away. For the Blood Legacy raiders this may be helpful only because conversing in English does not come smoothly to all of them and I think, like with other linguistically cohesive guilds, it has helped them build an extremely cohesive, supportive guild. That’s not to say all of the raiders were in Brazil–one of the guys is actually raiding from Canada. My guess is having this link back to Brazil is meaningful for him. And also Blood Legacy is actually a very large social guild that has enjoyed social gatherings in the past and even mentioned how much they had enjoyed them.

While this is not unique to Blood Legacy at the elite raiding level, it’s important to point out that there are no women raiding with them. My observation from what the team said is that gaming is just not an environment that many women in Brazil partake in. As Blood Legacy said, computer game playing is still seen as “geeky” (and not in the good way) in Brazil. Also, the cost of computers and peripherals, according to guild member Aerus, is still quite high. And like other guilds in different countries, lag continues to be an issue. I think, as a result, gaming is probably still seen as a fringe activity in Brazil. But will that change?

Overall, I absolutely loved my time speaking with Blood Legacy and their observations are adding an important perspective to my overall research into raiding and raiders. It’s nice to see a relaxed, fun guild that that can also focus and produce good results, as they have. And above all, I have to admit I was personally tickled by this unexpected series of successes that they have achieved. Here’s hoping they can keep blazing a trail in 10-man raiding for the foreseeable future.

P.S. My apologies for the poor Portuguese, Bruno and all, let me know if I was correct? It was fun to try and guess at words! :) Go go Google translate!

Don’t forget to feast on my feats of strength…

April 23, 2011 By: Ladan Category: achievements, Cataclysm, feat of strength, raiding guild, teamwork

The results are in. Well, actually I just decided to close the poll so I can start up a new one! But let’s quickly look at what we are saying about feats of strength. I want to point out that I’m amused that none of you pointed out my typo in the poll! Some of you love to point out my typos to me….! Slackers. Anyways, these are the actual results:

Please select to which degree you agree with the following statement: I find achieving individual and guild feats of strength and other complex game achievements to be an important part of my gameplay

3–Somewhat agree. I or my guild have sought the feats of strength or achievements as we can, but it’s not our priority. (32%)
4–Agree. I or my guild have spent time working on them. (29%)
5–Strongly agree. I or my guild have gone for every one that we (or I) can! (20%,)
2–Somewhat disagree. I don’t particularly mind if I or we get a feat of strength but I don’t like to work on it. (13%)
1–Disagree. I don’t like achievements or feats of strength. They don’t interest me and I think it’s a waste of time. (6%)
So the results seem to indicate that while some raiders and their guilds (20%) find feats of strength an extremely important element of their gaming experience and will spend focused time working on them, the majority of raiders fall somewhere in the middle, with about 61% of raiders indicating that their guild will prioritise some effort (on a sliding scale of emphasis) working on these feats of strength. Rounding out the poll was the 19% of respondents who either somewhat or really don’t like the pursuit of feats of strength. Going into this poll, I would have expected that number to be higher. I think, on reflection, this may point to the fact that many raiders may be ambivalent about a FoS themselves, but if the majority of their guild or guild leadership wants them to do it, they will put in the time. We will often do a lot for our guild mates, even if we’re not that fussed about something ourselves.

I had a chance to sit down with Bridgeburners leadership to reflect on their experience with pursuing the feat of strength ( that I wrote about back in early April. I think, after discussing it with them, it makes you realise that sometimes these group efforts are not so much about the  outcome or reward of a particular group activity as much as the process by which a guild works together on it. Now, for most raiding guilds that’s progression raiding. “How did we learn from the last wipe?” “How have we improved our performance?” “What new strategy should we work on together?” “Will we show up to the raid since we’re counting on each other?” But we can learn about how to work together as a team in different ways, like the pursuit of a guild achievement. These are some comments the GM and officers made when I asked them what their perspective and reaction was to the guild’s achievement of the FoS:

“I think that showed how well we work together”–Prue, Officer

“It gave a whole new dimension to the grinding, also no one complained, everyone just kept going. I still find it hard to believe so many stepped up, makes me feel we can do anything with the guild.”–Taralish, Officer

“It was strange really as we didn’t think it would be an option [us getting the FoS] being a day behind [the other guilds going for it]  – but was impressed to see how many people gave it a shot.”-Celeus, GM

“I’m not all that interested in achievements and didn’t really think we’d make it and couldn’t take part in the grinding because of work. But now that I know how it turned out I wish I had taken a day off.” –Olog, Officer

A few key phrases stick out here for me: “work together”, “we can do anything”, “many people gave it a shot.” Inherent in these statements is a fundamental link to teamwork. The guild leadership appeared galvanized by the degree to which the other members of the guild were willing to put the time into getting this achievement, even to the point where one lamented not taking the day off and the guild’s GM was genuinely “impressed” at the response of the guild members. So the FoS was not raiding (although one could argue that is it as it does provide its own raiding reward with the ability for mass resurrection) but it sure felt a bit like how we feel after a major boss kill during progress raiding. I supposed to me, however, the biggest message I take away from these statements is the degree to which we can continue to surprise each other in our group dynamics. We’re a virtual environment, we may never meet each other in person or even hear each other’s voices. And yet we manage to defy the normal (“real world” vs “virtual world”) perceptions and rules of reciprocity all the time with raiding. Yes, we still see shockingly rude behaviour among raiders and a kind of detachment from caring about others *because* we may never meet each other or hear each other’s voices, but counter to that is this ability for us to show our inherent desire to connect with each other–to be a team player, to consider the needs of others before ourselves. Time and time again I hear raiders telling me (when I ask about how their families or friends view their raiding/gaming) that it’s very hard for family and friends to understand why it’s so important to them that they not let down their raiding guild for scheduled raids. At the end of the day I think this is a big reason why many of us belong to raiding guilds and stick with a good guild for so long: because we don’t want to let each other down. Somehow we have connected, even in this “unreal” virtual space.

I don’t know if any of you are familiar with Jon Krakauer’s account of Christopher McCandless’ two-year wilderness journey that ended tragically with his death in Alaska in 1992 (it was made into a film in 2007). In the book (obviously incomplete as it was pieced together by Krakauer after McCandless’ death) “Into the Wild” Kraukauer recounts the story of a man who renounced materiality and human contact as his progressed deeper into the “wild”. One might suggest his story typifies an oft-explored and discussed desire at times by humanity for isolation and removal from society (and it also evokes the bafflement that many of us feel when someone seems to desire such a dramatic kind of isolation, like what McCandless pursued). And sometimes I wonder if people (looking in from the outside, that is) consider the activity of gamers as a kind of technological practice of going “into the wild.” Do we seem so removed, so isolated? Well, I like to think that activities like raiding actually challenge this notion. We are never alone in a raid, we are never isolated, and oftentimes, in our pursuit of shared activities through our guilds, we are perhaps improved by the time we spend together. Krakauer shared some notes that McCandleless had written after reading a work of Tolstoy’s: “He was right in saying that the only certain happiness in life is to live for others…” Even in his isolation, McCandless realised the importance of the human need to connect. I can’t help but think this rings true for how we are when we our team-based raid activity truly works at optimal levels.

The gender mix-up in raiding

February 10, 2011 By: Ladan Category: gender issues, Polls, raiding group size, raiding guild

We’ve all seen it before… a 25-man Horde raid with about 19 female blood elf characters… or a 10-man Alliance raid group with 6 female draenei and 3 female night elves… but that’s not a demographic correlation with who are actually playing those characters. We don’t have more female players than male. We just seem to like playing female characters. I remember this one time in my guild (Alliance). Over the course of one week about six of the guys (and I knew they were guys from talking to them on vent or knowing them in RL) had suddenly changed their previously very male character to a female character. Of course I had no idea until I took 5 seconds to look at them during a raid and then had to do a double take. “Weren’t you a guy last week?,” I wondered, alarmed at this sudden decision of quite a few guys to head to the gender reassignment clinic and get certain things snipped off while adding other parts…

Of course, changing gender isn’t a painful and prolonged surgical procedure in World of Warcraft (unless parting with cold, hard cash is painful to you) and from my chats with raiders it’s almost never done because the person has a deep need to explore their issues of gender identity through an online game. It’s usually far more practical or aesthetic in origin. Here represents a composite of comments I’ve heard from male players about why they’ve changed their character from male to female or why they prefer to play female characters:

  • A shapely female draenei is nicer looking than a male draenei. [Many raiders have commented that they think male draenei look like unattractive bricks; kinda feel sorry for them.]
  • Male blood elves look lame. [Actually some players use a more derogatory word here but I won't include it myself. :P ]
  • They would rather stare at a female character’s posterior while they play.
  • Their gear looks better on a female character.
  • They heard that female characters get more help. [This is an intriguing one, because it can also carry through to female players--to controversial effect.]

In my informal discussions with female players, it is rarer that they will intentionally create or roll up male characters. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I will say that I have one male character (a death knight) and I am not as comfortable when I play him. It does not feel like a kind of virtual extension of myself. I wonder if the gender character choice is less important for some players because they have a more detached relationship with their character. They look at it as a kind of conduit, a conduit that connects them to the game world and is merely the means by which the player does his or her actions inside the game. As a result, there is no great deep thoughts (like what I showed you above) as to why they pick a female character over a male one. But then again, I do know quite a few raiders (myself included) who do put thought into their character’s look and name, so I’d not say we’re all completely arbitrary about it. I just think it’s not as important as, say, how we like to set up our UI for raiding or what spec we’re using.

So we like the look of a female character, apparently, but that’s not who’s sitting behind the computer. Based on the informal results of the poll (with almost 200 participating), it’s extremely rare that female raiders (that’s the player, not the character!)  are equal to or exceed the number of male players in their raid groups. Anecdotally, and after almost 4 years of raiding, I have to agree with this. Before the poll I actually posited that most raid groups would include 10-20% female players. I’d say 39% is not a majority, but it’s a significant amount, and it gets even more significant when you add the less than 5% to 33% results as well. Let’s look at the results:

What is your estimated average male/female player (not your characters!) ratio on your raids?

  • Between 10% and 20% female players. (39%)
  • An average of 20% to one third are female raiders. (22%)
  • Less than 5% female in our raid groups. (22%)
  • No female players raid with us at this time. (11%)
  • We’ve got an even split (50/50) of men and women. (3%)
  • We have more female than male raiders in our group! (3%)

If you exclude the extremes (even split of male/female players, more female than male raiders, and no female raiders at all), 83% of respondents have at least 1 female player raiding with them. And this can go up as high as 22% of respondents having as many as 8 female raiders in a 25-man raid group or approximately 3 (I can’t really say 3.33, as that would require slicing up raiders.. unless 1/3 of a raider is a gnome?) in 10-man raiding groups.

What I’d love to break down further are roles and responsibilities of male and female raiders next. Of those women in your raid group, what percentage are healers? Ranged DPS? Do you have any as tanks or melee DPS? Again, speaking here from my own observations, it’s less common (though it definitely does exist!) to have female players playing tanks or melee DPS. I seem to be quite stereotypical: I’ve only ever raided as a healer or ranged DPS.

And what about roles on the raid team. Do you have a male or female raid leader? What about class leaders? Who hands out things like loot? Calls out commands? Maybe you find it easier to hear commands from a female voice, if it’s less common? I myself have been in a raiding guild with a female raid leader and I thought she was excellent. There’s at least one other highly ranked raiding guild on my server that has a female raid leader and a couple of the world’s best guilds have female raid leadership. But you may find it more common to have female raiders in your guild taking on the role of GM or other administrative jobs (the Web site, social gatherings, etc). Often viewed as a job that requires intense people skills (especially if you have a really big guild with a raider/social member mix) and management ability, it may be a more natural draw for a female player. Also, a 2008 study of EQ players found that  female players tended to spend more time in the game, (Williams et al, 2008)  maybe making it more feasible for them to manage the house, as it were. The same study, incidentally, said that about 80% of EQ players were male, while 20% were female. I believe we may have a slightly higher percentage of female players in WoW (maybe 25%?), but I think, on average, we have less female raiders. The EQ study did not look at raiders, just MMO players in general.

Also, if any of you are in or know of an all-female raiding guild, I’d love to hear about that. I know there are some all-female competitive gaming teams out there, but I wasn’t sure how many were represented among MMO raiding. I do believe that part of the reason we have fewer female raiders than male are practical reasons: time and skill. Despite the fact that female MMO gamers may spend more time in an MMO (or in EQ at least), we don’t know when they are in game. Evenings (when raiding happens) may not be as feasible for them to participate, especially if they have household or family obligations–or feel more guilt if they don’t tend to them, at least. And with less available time, it may be harder to develop their characters to be raid ready, along with learning the fights. But this also correlates to busy guys who aren’t raiding. Some of us just don’t have the time to commit to raiding.

As far as females being excluded from raiding, I really can’t find any evidence of that. Even when I spoke to the world’s best guilds–who generally, though not always, have fewer females than the lower ranked guilds–they were emphatic about not caring if the raider is male or female. They worried more about performance. If a female raider can carry her weight, she’s more than welcome, is what I’ve been told time and time again. In my interviews with some of the guys from Paragon they have been almost forceful in their emphasis that when they raid, Xenophics (their only female member at present) is never even looked at as a girl, just as a raider. Some have pointed out those cases where a female player has tried to use her status as a woman (see the last bulleted item above, too) to get preferential treatment or attention. That is viewed as extremely offensive to players who have seen that in action. Often called the ‘tittie ticket’, there has been a practice reported of some female players who flirt their way into a high performing guild to secure valued raid spots and gear, despite their inability to perform. And often this causes a lot of tension amongst the raiders in the guild. It’s an ironic manifestation of the “sleeping with the casting director” problem that has many of us cynical over why a physically gorgeous woman who can’t act might get a part in a movie, when an ordinary looking woman who acts as well as Meryl Streep never gets a chance.

But this is where it always confuses me. We don’t judge raiders by looks. Often we may not even know what they look like (can you really trust that pic you were sent?). We judge on performance. So how can we allow a poor performing raider (of any gender) to stay in the group. Well, I suppose that’s our overall performance and forgiving nature coming into play. We can (especially in 25-man raiding) tolerate one really poor performer as long as everyone (or some of the group) exceed the average. And we do it a lot. And we usually do it for social reasons; they are a friend, they are family, they are the partner of one of the raiders, they are just a nice person with just crappy lag/gear/computer.

But at the end of the day, while elite guilds may have had the problem of the gender card being manipulated for personal gain, I think in general, a female player–as long as she can perform at the same level as everyone else–is as welcome on a raid as any other player.


Williams, Yee and Caplan (2008) Who plays, how much, and why? Debunking the stereotypical gamer profile. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13 (2008), 993-1018.

Talking with Stars: Considering raiding in China

September 20, 2010 By: Ladan Category: Icecrown Citadel, progress raiding, raid leader, raiding, raiding guild

I’ve been fortunate enough to chat with Stars recently, the top-ranked Chinese raiding guild and world #6. I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record here (because I said this about Paragon and Adept), but they were delightful to speak with. Very approachable and accessible. Despite the fact that I did study Chinese at university and taught English in the Sichuan province (in Chengdu, to be more exact), my Chinese is a bit rusty (especially my written Chinese!). Fortunately for me, Stars member Leonking is fluent in English and worked with me on our email “interview” along with input from the guild leader, 憂郁的風. Gan xie, Leonking! I hope you didn’t mind talking to this waiguoren!

Sadly I think many Western MMO gamers have had a narrow and incorrect perception of Chinese gamers–namely that they are all “gold farmers”. In fact, even non-gamers who are somewhat aware of online games and MMOs will often point out the “Chinese gold farmer” issue to me, as though it’s the only thing Chinese gamers do. I try, politely, to explain that while, yes, there have been some cases of studios in China that do support the somewhat dubious industry that has emerged around game gold sales and eBay characters, this is not a practice that is unique to China by any means nor is it the only thing they do. We have these “farmers” all over the place. Perhaps the real question about this practice should be directed to the companies (often Western-based) that outsource this work and sell the products to mostly Western gamers. But I digress…. This is not the topic of my blog post!

I only brought this up so that I could point out that Chinese gamers are so much more than this narrow misconception. In fact, talking to Stars has shown me how competitive raiders share some of the same traits regardless of their country or region of origin.

Chinese gamers have a unique benefit over gamers in other countries. Did you know that the Chinese government has designated playing online games as a sport? (Yang and Downing, 2008) A recent study by the Chinese government learned that for 25.4% of young (under 18) urban Chinese, playing videogames was preferable to watching the television (Yang et al, 2004). You see, games are a large industry, popular and an accepted form of entertainment in China. And WoW comprises just one of many games that are very popular there. Most of these games have been designed specifically for the Chinese market while some, like WoW, have been introduced from elsewhere.

And the Chinese raider–at least through the eyes of Stars–is passionate about their effort to excel at the games they play. As Stars puts it, “We hold the belief that ‘a man can be destroyed, but not defeated’”. And like many of their elite raiding counterparts, working until it “gets done” is typical: “We usually keep working on things until it gets done,” explains Leonking on behalf of Stars. “4-5 hours a night is typical during progression time.”

For Stars, the following qualities were mentioned as being important in their raiders:

  • Having a good raid attitude and personality
  • Being able to prove themselves and show good skill
  • Having enough time to commit
  • The right equipment

So, not so different from any serious raiding guild looking for new recruits. They also mentioned that they are very proud of their “drama control” .

Like Adept in Australia and other guilds in countries where lag can be an issue at prime time, overnight raiding seems the order of the day for elite raiders in China. “[Lag is] a major issue we have to face during completing. We have to change our raid time to the middle of the night (11 pm-4 am) to avoid huge lag and drops,” says Leonking.

While we all like to whinge about our lag and connection issues (is it our version of complaining about the weather?), but from Stars’ perspective, an EU or US raid guild complaining about it is a bit unreasonable. 200-300 ms seems standard for them and they have just had to adapt around it. I suspect that for Stars, reaching these important achievements while grappling with the unreasonable “lag monster” has made their success even more significant.

When Leonking and Stars’ guild leader, 憂郁的風 (Youyude feng) shared a bit about their organisational structure, I was intrigued by how regimented it is. They have four major raiding teams, all given acronyms that suggest something more akin to a military structure than a game: RF1-A, their progress team (which has four guild officers managing it); RF-B is the 2nd progress team; RF-2 is the  3rd and back-up progress team; and there is also a casual raiding team for those who “want to take a break”. Each team has designated leaders and, it appears, ranking in skill and achievement. RF1-A is the team that has achieved the most for the guild, including their recent world #2 at the heroic lich king “no buff” kill (evidently the thing the elite guilds are doing out of boredom while waiting for Cataclysm, according to general chatter). I will say that this four team structure is different from the other elite guilds (and the regular raiding guilds) that I’ve spoken with. Most prefer a smaller group structure and tend to rely on the same 25-30 individuals for the progress raiding. The fact that Stars has the depth of talent and raiders to fill extra slots and raid teams actually reflects the large number of Chinese gamers (including WoW gamers) that there are. MMOdata ( notes in its tracking of WoW subscriptions (in an attempt for us industry outsiders to get a sense of how many people are playing, or at least how many subscriptions there are) that WoW Asia held over 6 million of the estimated 11.5 million subscriptions for WoW. This represents all of Asia (including Taiwan and Korea, among others), but it’s an interesting factoid all the same.

Another difference I did note from my discussion with Stars was that they estimate their average raider age at about 25 and, according to the 2009 article by Hancu (, they have approximately 400 members (though a large percentage of those are social members). The other guilds tend to have more homogeneity amongst their ranks and a tighter group. Another difference reported in the interview with Hancu was the varied representation of professionals and students in  Stars, as Pennie (another officer in Stars) reports, “Our guild members have a variety of professions in real life, students, technicians, businessmen, doctors, teachers, so on and so forth.”

While Leonking did not have specifics, he did note that there are women (plural!) in their ranks and that they are represented on the RF-1A team. I did not get to ask you, Leonking, if you had a more specific number, but I’m guessing at least two. As he said (and it reflects my discussion with Paragon), “They are as good as males.”

A final thing I wanted to share (as I can’t make this too long, though there is so much more I’d like to say!) is the sheer amount of determination, passion, and concern that I gleaned from speaking with Stars. As a Chinese guild raiding on a Taiwanese server, having to contend with lag issues, coping with the snide remarks about “Chinese gold farmers”, and being on the receiving end of Blizzard’s inadvertant disregard for their important holidays (like releasing ICC during Spring Festival–that’s like unlocking major game content on Christmas Day for us Westerners), my guess is that this has helped fuel their determination and desire to be seen and appreciated. As Leonking said, “We are one of the toughest guilds in the world who works hard and with heart.”

Raiders have a lot to learn from each other and a lot to share. I for one am very happy to see our world’s elite guilds being represented by guilds from all over the world–doesn’t that just make us a better and more legitimate gaming community in the long run?


Yang X, X. Mao, and L. Zhou (2004). Survey of Media Usage among Young People under 18 in Shanghai (in Chinese), presented at China Youth Extracurricular Education Forum, Shanghai, China, 12-13 December (2004).

Yong Cao and Downing, John D.H (2008). The realities of virtual play: video games and their industry in China. Media, Culture and Society. 30:4, 515-529.

Hours spent raiding

September 04, 2010 By: Ladan Category: progress raiding, raiding, raiding content, raiding guild

Thus concludes another (admittedly) scientifically inexact poll. But the micro-results are still interesting, even so, and may point to a broader trend–if we had a broader pool of respondents, that is. I suppose it’s not entirely surprising that the highest percentage respondents (29%) spend an average of 20 odd hours during progress raiding. That would work to 3-4 nights at 4 hours each (12-16 hours) plus the 6-8 hours spent farming for mats, prepping for raid, and other things such as weekly runs, rep grinds, etc. Pretty typical for your standard active raiding guilds.

I was surprised that the next highest percentage (26%) lists 10-15 hours. I would have thought the higher amounts would have been mentioned here. 10-15 hours is probably what we’d call casual or social raiding, at least anecdotally. Although perhaps I should not be surprised. Together with the 16-25 hour group, this represents 54% of raiders–the general majority of people who like to raid at least semi-actively. They would like to complete the game content as quickly as their skill, schedule, and guild allows them to.  You can even take it up to 72% if you add in the under 10 hours a week raiders. I imagine the 10 hours/week raiders are those individuals who do like to raid but just don’t have the time (or preference) for raiding more than once or twice a week. So, again, a solid indicator of the majority of people who subscribe to WoW.

Keep in mind that I was curious about activity levels during progress raiding times. This activity may change signficantly (and some of those I’ve interviewed confirm this) when there is no progress raiding.

While working on progress raiding, how many hours on average do you spend raiding (including preparation time) each week?

  • 16-25 hours a week (29%)
  • Around 10-15 hours a week (26%)
  • More than 40 hours (as long as it takes!) (21%)
  • Less than 10 hours a week (18%)
  • 26-40 hours a week (6%)

Interviewing Paragon

August 02, 2010 By: Ladan Category: Icecrown Citadel, raiding, raiding culture, raiding guild, subculture

Before I get to my notes on chatting with Paragon, I wanted to respond to a comment from Chea asking me why I’m speaking to elite raiding guilds.

As I’ve written before, one of the main goals of my PhD research is to complete a detailed mapping of the raiding culture. I started my research last year doing all sorts of things, including working closely with a social raiding guild (for 9 months), doing interviews with a variety of raiders (mostly social, casual, or hard core on my own server), collecting data on PUGs and gamewide chatter about raiding, reading forums and articles, and downloading and taking screenshots and videos of raiding activity and interfaces. This has provided me with a lot of helpful information (my PhD supervisors say I have too much data—I say I can never get enough, but it is a lot!) about our culture.

One area I had not started working on yet was speaking with what we’d consider our “elite” raiders–the hardest of the hard core–the world’s top raiding guilds. Whether we like it or not, these are the guys who get there first and we (as a culture) watch them closely—and they watch each other. As you saw below, I spoke with Adept 2 weeks ago. And a few days after that I spoke with Paragon. Other interviews are also taking place. I am speaking with these guilds for one primary reason: to give us a more complete picture of what our raiding subculture is. Most subcultures have their layers of involvement, talent, and notoriety. And as we are a progress- and outcomes-oriented culture, it’s no surprise that we pay attention to those among us who get to the first accomplishments first. We check wowprogress regularly, we compare videos, we visit their sites. So my research did not feel complete without including the perspective and experience of players who successfully navigate the raiding content first.

I had a great time talking with members from Paragon. And their “fame” as the first guild worldwide (and widely considered–for now according to wowprogress–to be the World #1 and EU #1) to get the LK-25 heroic kill is not the reason that I found them so engaging. Of course on a personal level, as a raider I’m interested in talking to other raiders who exceed my skill (I’m just never going to be that good of a raider!), but as a researcher their perspective was compelling and their attitude refreshing and insightful. A few salient highlights (and these are just snippets so far… basic impressions) from our 4 hour interview (yes, 4 hours!) were:

  • They are a linguistically cohesive group. It’s common knowledge that they require competency in the Finnish language to be in the guild. (Incidentally that does not mean they require people to be Finnish culturally, just proficient in the language.) Now this is not because none of them speak English. (I did my entire interview with 4 of them in English, although I did learn a few words, including “kiitos” [guys, I hope that really does mean 'thank you' :P ]) They have just placed importance on the kind of language they use. The members I spoke with suggested that it was an “important resource” as it helped build guild cohesion by ensuring the raiders who might be reluctant to use English could speak freely. They also mentioned how it helped them socially, making it easier for the guild to do “stuff together out-of-game”.
  • They are socially connected. I just have to mention something that I found extraordinary about this group. I know quite a few raiding guilds that meet socially outside of the game or at least have pockets of strong social connection (pre-existing relationships, like friends or family members, for example) within the guild. But this guild seems to take their social interaction to a new level. During my interview, they made mention of a recent event where 17 out of their 33 members got together for a relaxing weekend. Now, I know that this is probably partly possible due to them all being located in the same country, but even so, I think it points to a strong connection and desire to spend time together beyond the confines of the game.
  • They are focused when they need to be. I suppose one assumption many might make about the elite raiding guilds is that they spend endless hours and days in the game. As Paragon members were explaining to me, it’s often true that they will spend more time in game during “new content” times or when there is significant progress to be made, but otherwise, the schedule is pretty light. So the time commitment appears based around the game’s content. Obviously being able to spend 3 days in a row working on new content requires raiders with pretty flexible schedules and my impression from Paragon was that they are mostly students or have flexible work arrangements.

Overall this guild doesn’t seem particularly fazed by “becoming famous”—if anything I just noticed that classic Nordic politeness and understated surprise (with some jokes woven in there, of course) about all the attention. To paraphrase Xaar, while they were extremely satisfied to have achieved these important world firsts (as it told them they could “do it”), the only big difference in their raiding and attitude since getting these world firsts was noticing there were more interview requests and that they seemed to get noticed more. More than anything it seemed like a group of people (granted, I only spoke to 4, so I realise that’s not a complete picture) who, much like Adept, enjoyed the game, each other, and the thrill of the hunt. I even mentioned during the interview that the word “precision” kept coming to my mind as they discussed their very intellectual approach to raiding and strategic planning.

One last thing… about gender: my experience with the more social/casual/regular hardcore (I need a better word for this!) guilds are that we tend to have an 80/20 male-female ratio. So far my observation with the elite guilds is about 90-95% are male. Paragon is a mostly male guild (they noted 2 women currently in the guild) but they had an interesting philosophy about women in the guild. It was clear that any girl who could raid at their level would be welcome and in fact, during the interview one of the raiders said this about Xenophics (one of the two women in the guild who participated in the interview):

Ande: about xeno being a girl playing with boys, i dont think anybody notices/cares during “serious gaming” that she is one

Xaar: exactly

Ande: during playing were just equal players sharing the same goal

So even though it may be rarer that a woman is raiding at these levels, women with equal skill seem to be more than welcome to join in. There is a suggested “problem” with those female gamers, however, who seem interested in connecting with elite raiders for status or items which has managed to propagate a perception of “girl gamers” as difficult to deal with. This leads to a whole new area of questions that could be interesting to explore some day. For me, the first image that came to mind was a rock band groupie. I guess it’s just something you get used to seeing in a subculture–the people on the fringes who want some affiliation with a subculture but who lack the skill to actually successfully perform in it and so use other forms of social capital to insert themselves into it.

I have a lot more to report about the interview, but I wanted list these few highlights. I look forward to doing some more work with Paragon, too! Thanks, guys, for being so gracious and open to my research questions. :)

Summertime raiding

July 30, 2010 By: Ladan Category: Polls, raiding, raiding guild, Uncategorized, World of Warcraft

Now I realise this is a blatantly northern hemisphere topic, particularly for this time of year. But then again, those in the southern hemisphere can just readjust this notion to when summer takes place down south and see if it’s still true.

Anyway! Having said that, I’d like to comment a bit about the poll as I’m going to put a new one up. My very inadequate sampling here indicates that the majority of you (56%) are still around but are impacted by the away time that can often typify summer. You’ve got holidays, you’ve got cabin fever, you’ve got a serious case of disinterest in the game. Whatever the reason, you find yourself wavering.

I’m not particularly surprised by that finding.

What did surprise me is the fact that 32% of you indicated that summertime has no impact on your raiding activity levels. Perhaps you don’t raid much anyway so the summertime does not impact your activity levels, or perhaps you just don’t see the point of or have the opportunity to go on holidays. Or perhaps your raiding levels are consistent with what raiding content you are working on right now and summertime just doesn’t play into it.

I was surprised by this as I had expected a higher number to have voted for the “yes” option (yes meaning you find summertime to significantly impact your raiding), but only 11% of you did. I had expected the “yes” and “no” answers to be flipped.

And of course, it goes without saying that a person who is completely disinterested in raiding right now is unlikely to look at a site like this (about raiding) or vote in a poll. If they want to do other things during the summer, that often means that they’d be disinterested in being at their computers full stop. This fact could be another reason why the “yes” vote was quite low.

But, having written that, what this poll is telling me is that the majority of you (88%) sustain some level of raiding activity during the summer.

I suppose my next question would logically be “What kind of raiding activity do you do during the summer?” Some may indicate that they still raid but, if they have completed the raiding content (like our world top guilds), they may be doing less raids or alt-related raids. Some may find that they end up raiding still but have to pug a few players, as their regular cadre of raiders is a bit inconsistent (due to having time off all over the place). An interesting question, I suppose.

All I know is this feels very much like it has before new expansions come out. Blizzard always seems to let us drag out those long months before the late-year release of the new expansion. Doesn’t it feel like pre-WotLK in 2008? All over again? Maybe we’re the Groundhog Day of MMOs.

Anyway, I’m going to put a new poll up!

Thanks for participating and please feel free to comment below. Are you surprised by the results? Or is it what you expected?

Chatting with Adept

July 19, 2010 By: Ladan Category: raider, raiding guild

I had a rare opportunity to chat with members of the US Adept Guild–the Oceanic #1, US #2 and World #10–over the weekend. What a delight! These guys are not only talented and very competent raiders but they provided a very insightful reflection on the state of raiding and its future outlook.

While I have almost 2 hours of interview data to go over still (let’s hope I can do this with my laptop perched on my lap while I sit outside enjoying the summer!), one thing struck me while I spoke to Adept: the challenges they face during raids are generally the same as experienced by average raiding guilds. What makes them truly different is the way they solve these challenges. They seemed to share an almost like mind in their attitude toward raiding. I don’t mean to suggest all raiding guilds need to nurture a hive mind to function, but I think that shared vision and goal  paired with a commitment to consistency has really worked for this particular guild.

And this guild has done this in spite of the main nemesis we all complain about: GAME LAG. Evidently due to something called Packet Loss and other fancy IT tech terms (like the fact that their computers have to communicate with US servers all the way from Australia/New Zealand, for the most part) that Adept guildleader Westa was confusing/mesmerising me with, Adept has had to factor major lag problems into their raiding strategy. Talk about being agile–and they are still the World #10 and US #2! Makes me think twice before I whinge again about lag during a raid–or are we just making excuses for our poor performance?

I’ll try to share more as I go through my notes, but I just had to quickly share this wonderful opportunity that I had. I’m going to be speaking to a few more top guilds and will share tidbits from those interviews as well.

Is there a raiding culture?

November 11, 2009 By: Ladan Category: raid leader, raiding culture, raiding guild, World of Warcraft

Naturally I have to respond yes to this as it’s sort of the backbone of my entire research approach. But I would challenge anyone who disputes this claim. After all, raiders have an identity, a set of ideals and expectations, and social norms and standards. We tend to inhabit particular spaces in the game and share a collective goal: downing bosses in raiding instances and moving along–as fast as possible–to the next big, bad challenge.

And this prompts me to pause and reflect on this very unscientific poll that I put up here. What do we see as the most important values in this raiding culture…. and so far it seems that our community and the raiding encounters themselves are ranking highest. Curiously enough, while the discussion of gear and DKP seem to rank pretty high when I informally observe guild and game chat, we didn’t rate it as our top priority in this survey. Perhaps this seeming contradiction arises from the fact that as raiders, when our needs for community (the guild) and encounters (the game and guild) are met, we can then focus on secondary concerns such as gear and our internal/external rankings with other raiders. I don’t really know if that’s true, but I realise that there is a disconnect between what we seem particularly interested in discussing in the game versus what we value as important on a broader scale.

Do you agree with me? Why does it seem, so far, that community and encounters are ranking higher than gear and competitiveness?