Raiding Research Online

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Archive for the ‘raid leader’

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 (http://www.mmodata.net/) 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 (http://frostshock.eu/2009/09/11/dancing-talking-with-the-stars/), 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?

References:

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.

Leading raids: what is our experience

August 26, 2010 By: Ladan Category: Polls, raid leader, raiding

I have been travelling most of August, so it’s nice to sit down and really get back into the blog. First I want to say a quick thanks to Stars, the top-ranked Chinese guild (world #6), for our recent discussions about their experiences raiding. I’ll be putting up some comments from that discussion in the very near future!

Let’s look at our last poll. Thanks so much for voting, everyone! Even though it’s not what I’d call a comprehensive sample of WoW raiders, it’s still very interesting. Here are the results:

Have you ever led a raid?

Yes, I regularly lead them for my guild. (14 votes, 30%)

Yes, I have done it occasionally–usually off night runs or as a back-up. (12 votes, 26%)

I have led a PUG or a guild run once in a while but it’s rare. (11 votes, 23%)

No, but I often have assistant/helping duties during a raid. This includes helping plan strategies. (6 votes, 13%)

No, I’m just happy to do my job and get instructions. (4 votes, 8%)

My first observation here is that the majority of respondents (approx. 79%) have some sort of raid leading experience, whether it is an ongoing, intermittent, or infrequent role. An additional ~13% have some sort of task to assist the raid leader, either as helping plan the raid or to performing a role during the raid (calling out instructions, loot master, schedule arranger, etc) . This indicates to me that the majority of people who raid probably  have done some kind of raid leading at some point.

Does this mean that leading is integral to the raiding experience? I don’t know conclusively, but the results of this poll seem to suggest that involvement in leading is almost as prevalent as raiding itself. I know we rely on teamwork a lot, and most would describe raiding as a team-based experience, but perhaps it’s also one that relies heavily on leadership skills as well.

I will say, anecdotally at least, many people view raid leading as a mixed bag. It’s seen as a privilege and necessary to raiding, but quite a few raid leaders I have interviewed mention getting ‘burned out’ doing it. This experience of burn out often coincides with experiences of failure and inconsistent participation. Something is going wrong with the raid–low attendance, too many mistakes, conflict in the guild. Trying to lead a team in real time situations can be challenging enough; leading a team in a virtual situation may become harder, I suppose, when you have to contend with additional variables like repeated failure, distorted space, variable time, unreliable technology and inconsistent skill.

So what of failure and leading raids? I have long felt that failure is an inevitable feature of the raiding experience. And perhaps leading amidst failure is the inevitable lot of a raid leader. Most raiding guilds I have spoken with (and accounts I have perused) speak of the need for raiding teams to not let failure deter them–that each failure should teach them something and spur them toward success.  A poll I put up some months ago now asked how many times people recalled spending on boss attempts. 61% responded that they could recall spending more than 50 attempts on a single boss fight (when learning it).  Now, how do you lead through that? Obviously we  have found a way to make it work because we keep going, we keep trying, we keep failing, and we keep succeeding. And we keep leading.

A couple quick updates

July 30, 2010 By: Ladan Category: Polls, raid leader, raiding

Hi everyone!
Hello from warm and beautiful Wyoming in the USA.

So I’ve put a new poll up–all about raid leading. I’m curious to see how many of us (yes, the many thousands of you that vote on my site) actually take on raid leading duties.

I’m also in the middle of writing up some notes from my chat with Paragon last week and my latest reflections on another aspect of our subculture: clothing and kit. I simply LOVE that topic because I feel it’s an amusing and fascinating element of our culture. It’s hard to write properly while away, however, so it may be a few days before those posts find their way online.

Did we fail or just not succeed yet?

January 08, 2010 By: Ladan Category: raid leader, raiding

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

Last night I was perusing the global guild rankings on  http://www.wowprogress.com/ last night. For many raiding guilds, these ranking sites–a purely raider invention aided by Blizzard’s mechanics and its habit of revealing every detail on every character on every server–seem to provide a few important pieces of information to this competitive-, achievement-driven subculture:

  • We see how we fare against our fellow server guilds
  • We see how quickly the world’s best guilds down the new bosses (and secretly dream of cloning their gaming skills, gear, and computers)
  • And perhaps most of all, we see where we fit, of how well we’re doing… or, of how poorly we’re doing.

No one likes failure. But more importantly, no one wants to stop progressing. I have casually asked other raiders, particularly any long-suffering raid leader (or former raid leader) who is willing to talk to me, what impacts them the most when their raiding team hits a wall and can’t seem to down a boss. The feelings range from frustration over the lack of progress, to impatience as other guilds seem to pass them by, to anger over repeated and oft-viewed as easily avoidable mistakes, to hints of rage at easily preventable issues like lag or technology getting in the way, to annoyance over the lack of learning and backward movement (ever had one of those nights where it seemed like the entire team who had been doing the exact same thing the night before had completely forgotten everything?), and so on.

And while there is exquisite joy to be felt at that moment when you finally get the boss down (even sweeter if only the tank and a healer both with 5% HP are left alive), I have to wonder if the success at that single boss kill isn’t overshadowed by the satisfaction we derive from a feeling of ongoing, forward progress. So perhaps that’s why it feels like failure more than a lack of success when we can’t seem to move past a certain boss–we are failing the process of progression. And progress is what we’re all about. And while I know we’re an outcomes oriented subculture, we seem process oriented as well. I think raiders are far more willing to see us make steady, consistent progress (even if it means spending a few nights in a row on a particular boss) compared to one glorious kill on one boss and total lack of progress on another.

Do you agree?

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?

Ladan