Raiding Research Online

Exploring and mapping the MMO raiding culture

Archive for April, 2011

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!

Music.. its role in the raid

April 25, 2011 By: Ladan Category: music, raiding

So I’ve had some interesting comments (on the side and in private, of course, since so many of you seem unwilling to actually *post* comments on my blog–I had no idea my site was scary) in response to my poll about whether we have music going during a raid. Some of you did point out to me a peculiarity in my poll text: listening to the game’s background music while raiding. Hey, I know for a fact that some people do it and they happen to love the game’s music! :) Also, some were surprised that music could even be considered an important component of the raiding experience. Anecdotally at least, I know music is enjoyed during a raid by quite a few raiders–me included.

I’d say since many of us are going for an immersive experience, music may help us get there. I know for me, I tend to be listening to music as much as I can, particularly when I’m being productive: exercising, with friends, travelling, walking to uni, writing, cooking, researching… I have to have it. I’ve never been one of those kinds of people who needs silence when she works. If it’s silent, I tend to pick up on those annoying sounds around us–clicking machines, people breathing noisily (and no, not in the fun way–like they have allergies or a cold), tapping, buzzing sounds…. and all my focus is gone. For some reason, music clears my head and I can multitask better. I’ve always been that way. Like right now, I am listening to The Joy Formidable as I type this. Who knows what it’ll be next.

With raiding, I know that most of the time I have liked to have music playing somewhat nearby, even if it’s not the most prominent sound  in my head. The main times when I would not have prioritised music while raiding would be when the fight is new for me. I need the game sounds and effects to trigger me… or I need to rely on the audio chatter on vent  a bit more (though I have not always raided with guilds that used VOIP–those are much more “music during raid” friendly guilds).

This all makes me realise how multisensorial the raiding experience is. We’ve got sounds, sights, touch… we have the physical interface and virtual one… we are absorbing ourselves (as we see fit) into the raid so we can perform well. At least that’s the general idea, right? :) Like the other day when I was interviewing an elite raider and we were looking at some game footage… he (partly jokingly) said “Ok, game face on” when we were about to look at the footage together, but his voice and demeanor completely changed. He absorbed himself into the task at hand.

This is not to say that getting bombarded by an array of sensory experiences during a raid is always beneficial. They can sometimes impair our performance during a raid: Gran calls during the raid (no matter how many times you might gently ask her to ring at another time/day, she always calls for her bi-weekly hello at 8.30 pm on a Wednesday); the doorbell rings;  our significant other needs some help (or attention); we are starving after racing home from work to raid and the food in the oven is finally done cooking (mmm, smells and tastes much better than the raid)….. So music (like other sensory elements) may not be a fit all the time. After all if we are enjoying singing to a song more than remembering not to stand in the fire, then enjoying some music during a raid could be a bit of a fail. Enjoy music at your own risk! :)

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.

Being on the other side of the desk…

April 16, 2011 By: Ladan Category: media, raiding research, World of Warcraft

I had an invaluable opportunity a few days ago to be interviewed by the guys at manaflask about my research–actually “RonBurgundy” interviewed me. It was really exciting; he’s dreamy. And while it may take me a long time to stop cringing at seeing my name in a media piece or hearing the sound of my own voice in an interview, I can only thank them for the chance to spread the word about the research I’m doing into raiding. Thanks, “Ron” and the lovely folks of manaflask!

In fact this experience has helped me in an unexpected way. This was the first time I’ve had a chance to really explain (without a time limit, even!) why I’m doing my research, how I’ve done it, what I’m finding out, and the impact I hope to make.  I think, as a researcher, I sometimes forget to really pause and elucidate–in terms that most can understand–what I am doing. The PhD process is challenging at best, soul-sapping at worst, but it’s so important to stop and reflect. And considering the multifaceted lives we lead with technology seeping out of our very pores, it can be easy to forget to stop and think about what we do and why. Of course, that’s something I’ve often felt is distinctive about raiders. Raiders are constantly reflecting. “Why did we wipe?” “What failed?” “What should we do differently this time?”

But anyway, this is a link to the interview. I hope you enjoy! And if anyone (or any raiding guild) wants to talk to me about their thoughts on raiding and the raiding culture, please do let me know. I’d be happy to speak with you. :) Contact me via the email address I provide on my “About” page.

The lengths we go to….

April 11, 2011 By: Ladan Category: computer, play space

So tomorrow I’m hopping on a few big planes to head over the Atlantic and spend a few weeks in the U.S. I’ll be at my parents’, who happen to live in one of the most exquisitely beautiful places on the planet. Come to think of it, the next expansion of WoW could do with an area that looks like northwestern Wyoming. Think bison, eagles, geothermal features, very big mountains, trees… you get the idea. Oh here’s a photo. Isn’t that what people do with blogs anyway? I’m horrible with my walls of text…

That’s the Tetons. Just imagine that but with way more snow.  Yes, it’s still snowing there. My dad reported a heavy snowstorm just a few days ago. Guess I’d better not bring my flip flops. :(

And then I always think… 20+ hours of travel translates to 20+ hours of no consistent internet… and no regular access to what I normally do each day. And as much as I hate to confess this, I am used to having my connection to the rest of the universe out there. My broadband is probably more important to me than a tv signal. And that’s probably why, when I’m stuck in airports I always check my phone and laptop. And I’ve gone to some pretty silly lengths in the past to get hooked up.

So this led me to think about the really crazy places and random ways I’ve played WoW. This is partly due to having a laptop and partly due to the amount of travel I’ve had to do in my life, including since starting to play WoW. As laptop owners know, if you can find a way to do what you normally do on your desktop with your laptop, you will do it. That includes playing WoW. We may not do important things like raiding or PVP on the laptop (or we might and not want to admit it), but we’ll do other things like grinding, dailies, pestering people on chat channels.

So where have I played WoW? I’ve played in bed, on a plane, at an airport, on the train, at a bus stop, in neighbours’ houses, in a hotel room, in a hotel lobby, in a cafe, at the beach, by the pool, in a park. And before you start to wonder if I’m logged in 24/7, I am not. Most of these quirky access points result in such frustrating internet access that I usually don’t stay logged in for more than 5 minutes… but I *had* to try… right?

One of my favourite places to engage in random play is in an airport. Airports are strange places–a kind of no man’s land as we all wait for flights. Killing time seems the operative notion. So what better place to kill some monsters than at an airport! Trouble is everyone is bored, everyone stares…. I remember being at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam (probably my favourite airport due to the sheer awesome range of amenities they have there) with several hours before my connection to the UK. So I loaded up WoW and played a bit. But people kept stopping and staring. Kinda not used to gaming with an audience.

I wonder if it can be a new extreme WoW sport: extreme playing. Like extreme ironing.

And I have already been questioned about whether extreme ironing actually exists, so here is a link. :P

Where is the most extreme place or the most extreme way you’ve ever gamed? I think it’s time I took my laptop up the Tetons.. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Oh that? That’s just my feat of strength….

April 05, 2011 By: Ladan Category: achievements, feat of strength, teamwork

So last night I participated in observing one high-end raiding guild’s (Bridgeburners on the EU-Emerald Dream server) final push toward achieving a pretty difficult guild feat of strength. They had to start at 3 am (when things ‘ticked over’) game time. They managed to have a couple dozen of their guild at the ready for group activity such as heroic runs, intended to give them more guild exp and push their guild’s level to 25, thus earning them the highly prized feat of strength of being the first guild on the server to level 25. As one of the guild members put it to me, “This is a once in a game experience opportunity.”

I asked to join in and they graciously allowed me. But my role was more as a fascinated observer than active participant. I got up at 2 am my time (3 am game time)… I logged into the game… I listened to them on vent. I tried to ask some insightful questions (at least they sounded insightful to me at the time). But mostly I sat and watched. Obviously a guild achievement is for that guild alone and I could only do so much from the sidelines, but I’ll admit I am extremely impressed. I asked the group this morning (yes they kept going all night, while I gave up after two hours for a snooze) what percentage of their group they estimated to have participated and they believed around 80-90% so far with an expectation that every member of the guild will pitch in at some point. They are not quite there yet, but I would estimate that they will get to the FoS within a few hours. UPDATE: Within a little more than 8 hours the guild had won the ‘Realm First’ achievement. And their relief and joy was audible on the vent channel! Congrats to them. :)

This feat of strength doesn’t really give you a tangible reward. There is no pretty epic. I mean you can buy a mount and there’s a server wide announcement and that’s that. But I think it proves something more valuable. It proves that a guild has done things together and can work together on guildwide tasks. I’d say that’s pretty important for things like guild cohesion and team building skills. Ironically, though, for a guild to pull together like this they already need some cohesion. And this guild has it. They are in the top 500 worldwide and they are the top guild on the server. But even they seemed surprised by the high level of participation and enthusiasm for the effort. They had not anticipated such a high rate of involvement and I think it’s given them not only a boost about what they can do, but (at risk of sounding cheesy) may have helped them pull together socially even more.

There were a few other guilds that actually were ahead of this guild when they started this push and, apparently, it seemed unlikely that they’d be able to surpass the other guilds. But based on their largescale response and support of the effort, it looks like they will actually reach this goal first–nothing like being the underdog, after all! I asked the group if they would have been so motivated to charge ahead if there wasn’t any competition to contend with. Many responded that the competitive feel of this challenge was definitely a motivating factor. And are we really surprised? Raiders love a good competitive experience, after all.

But not all raiders find value in achievements or feats of strength. When I mentioned the plan to a friend in an elite guild, he expressed surprise at the effort as he himself does not care about achievements. Something that one could find a little ironic considering the coordinated effort, sacrifice, and dedication that elite raiders will often put into burning through the raiding content as quickly as possible.

But it’s about what we want to do while we play and how we create that atmosphere that helps us work together as groups on difficult tasks. I would be surprised if the positive impact of this groupwide effort didn’t have a positive impact on the group’s raiding efforts.

So how do we feel about these feats of strength and these big achievements? Do you participate? Do you care? Vote in the poll! :)