Raiding Research Online

Exploring and mapping the MMO raiding culture
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Archive for August, 2010

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.

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. :)