Current News, Flex Raiding and Design Choices

First, I want to apologize for the long hiatus from writing – moving, acclimating, and working at a new job essentially sucked all my free time away to the point where I can hardly muster the time to raid the requisite hours a week with my guild, let alone write and research topics for a blog. Secondly, I want to say that moving forward this should change – the tier is almost drawing to a close for me personally, and if we can boil things down to a 1 night farm I’ll be able to turn all of these ideas I have in my drafts sections into fully formed posts.
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This is a Warlock-centric blog, but this is not a Warlock-centric post. I had the time to write this today because I don’t have to do any research, any log-sifting, any math for it. Yesterday night, Blizzard unveiled one of the new features we’ll be seeing in 5.4: Flex raiding, a scaling, cross-realm Easy Mode raid that doesn’t share a lockout with anything else. All this morning I’ve been reading through the full gamut of opinions –  “why do we need a 4th difficulty?!”, ‘waste of time, Blizzard could’ve fixed PvP/fed all of Africa’, ‘sometimes we have 9 people, sometimes we have 15 people, this is perfect!’ – in an attempt to understand how I feel about it myself.

I feel pretty good about it, actually.

Part of it is that I think I worked through the same thought process as Blizzard themselves. For many, Throne of Thunder is not particularly puggable – I see plenty of people that advertise for just the first few bosses in the instance, even though the instance is already three months old. The current system just hadn’t worked out as Blizzard had imagined it – while guilds might want to go back and progress through Heroic Heart of Fear and Heroic Terrace of the Endless Spring in order to get 509 gear, getting trade chat pugs to follow that progression was simply impossible. WoW’s current tier normal progression path seemed fine, but that pug niche needed to be filled.

The suggestion you see most often on forums when the question of how to fill that niche comes up is the idea of Easy Mode. It is what it sounds like – Easy/Normal/Heroic, all on one lockout. The Easy part makes it puggable. The idea isn’t really bad, mainly because once you put things on a shared lockout adding that option doesn’t ruin it for anyone else. Being on a shared lockout makes it so that serious raiders don’t have to run Easy mode for set bonus/trinket reasons (“but Flex mode..!” – we’ll get to that).

Flex mode *is* essentially Easy mode – with the exception of the size and the lockout. The size flexibility is a perk that doesn’t need to be explained. The lockout, on the other hand, is something I’m sure Blizzard considered heavily before deciding on the current solution.

When boiled down, there were 3 options for the lockout:

  1. Flex shares a lockout with LFR
  2. Flex shares a lockout with Normal/Heroic
  3. Flex is on its own lockout

I imagine that option 1 was thrown out fairly quickly. Sharing a lockout with LFR would immediately destroy the LFR player pool. Early in the week, queues would be interminable and possibly endless just because the thought of giving up a better lockout to do LFR is just awful. The skill level would fall off the map and runs would be toxic wipefests. Many people don’t like LFR because it removes the social aspect of the game, so surely this would be great news to their ears, but the fact is that a lot of people sometimes want to run things without being social. I am one of these people – for example, I don’t do Heroic Scenarios because often I am just super, super anti-social. If I was casual and wanted to see the content, LFR is where I would turn to.

Option 2 seems like the best option when you hear the complaints of Heroic raiders: “Another raid difficulty we have to do (for trinkets and tier bonuses), but don’t want to because it’s so mindless and contributes quite a bit to burnout.” This is not a complaint to be taken lightly, and as a Heroic raider I identify with this point of view quite a bit. However, Flex being on its own lockout is still the optimal solution.

The reason that Flex being on its own lockout is the best option is because LFR already exists. In the best possible Heroic raiding world I’d only do raids with my guild and that would be all. This is a world with LFR, however, and so I do extra raids. The important thing to note here is that Flex doesn’t really make you do an extra raid – well, not in the way one might think. The first week Flex opens up, you can be sure that I’m doing the guild raid, a Flex raid, and an LFR. And this will probably be the case for weeks 2 and 3, and maybe 4 and 5. However, at this point, that’s probably it. And while it seems like I did Flex on top of all the LFRs and guild raids for 5 weeks, the difference is that I’ll be done *earlier*. In those 5 weeks, with coins and gating I’m probably on my 20th chance at loot off any given boss. If it was LFR only, that point might not come until week 8, 9, or 10; one friend of mine, who is 11/13H, still doesn’t have Renataki’s Soul Charm in any form, 3 months into the instance. The point I’m trying to make is:

Having to do Flex means you have to do less LFR.

Flex gives you a shot at gear, just like LFR does. Once you finish getting that gear, you’re not going to run either one of those. So yes, early on, I will be running 3 raids on my main. But I will be running 3 raids for a shorter period of time than I’m running 2 raids now. Finally, at the end of the tier, the total number of boss kills/instance clears should be comparable with or without Flex.

All of this so far is about lockouts. Flex being on its own lockout means that at any point if I want to help with a pug, I can do that. I can choose to play with friends without worrying about my guild, I can help someone else’s alt, I can farm transmog, I can grow the server community, etc. I think if Heroic raiders can get over the mental hurdle of “ugh 3 raids”, we’ll ultimately see that this extra lockout is a good solution for the problem it was trying to fix.

Oh, about design choices: I was going to write about what Morello said about WoW, but maybe later.

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3 thoughts on “Current News, Flex Raiding and Design Choices

  1. I’m not convinced by your dismissal of option 2. The existence of LFR doesn’t necessarily have an impact on other difficulties, hypothetical or real. Also, being able to do all of your outside-raid rep farming (assuming rep is what you are able to obtain faster) isn’t necessarily a good thing. Now you have less benefit from subsequent weeks.

    Regardless, I do think you are missing my preferred solution because you are basing this on Flex being a new raid format instead of folding it in to one of the existing ones. I’ve been thinking about how it would be if they just made normal mode have a flexible size. LFR is always 25, Heroic is 10 or 25, Normal is 10 to 25. The problem here would be if they just didn’t think they could balance it enough to be meaningful at anything other than an easy difficulty. If that is the case I wonder if it wouldn’t work to have normals start as 10 or 25, with flex unlocking after a month or so.

  2. I think Esoth has it pretty much right. Flex mode should be Normal mode. This would allow raiding guilds to bring their trainees (or not). And it would allow guilds like mine that started out as social guilds and are now running raids to bring whomever shows up (which is sort of the point of the social guild). We don’t need easier than Normal, we already have LFR. The flexibility for the guild is the key here in my opinion.

    • When you say ‘we don’t need easier than Normal’, I think you’re speaking for just your situation. Watching trade pugs, 4 months into ToT, still floundering, speaks to how difficult 10N ToT actually is for many people. Having Flex doesn’t stop guilds from bringing trainees, but I agree that it doesn’t make things any different for social guilds. Still, having that extra difficulty is important – even though as a Heroic raider I don’t understand how the other half lives, I do see that there are many people left behind in the current state of things (relative to the ease of 10N DS, for example).

      I also suspect that the loot issue is tricky enough that swapping over to ‘Flex normal’ opens up a huge can of worms (10H guilds getting people to funnel gear, etc.)

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