At first glance, I didn't really think there was much out of the ordinary about a post made by one of Nihilum's resto Shaman, Neg. A number of raiding guilds have complained strenuously about the presence of easy-to-obtain epics in the game, but any post entitled, "Does Blizzard Hate Raiders?" is typically going to get a scoff and little else.
I had read the article shortly before zoning into Black Temple for the third time ever, and for the first time with the ingame sound on. My guild had recently killed both High Warlord Naj'entus and Supremus, and while the Karabor Sewers portion of the instance is interesting to look at, it pales in comparison to what you'll see once you're offered a teleport to a different floor by a member of the Ashtongue Deathsworn. My guildies and I were really just there to farm Hearts of Darkness for resist gear and to explore a little bit, with nothing really important on our minds. Nevertheless, what we saw that night was beautiful. The floor you're ported to has a tiny, friendly area with the Ashtongue Quartermaster, but beyond that lie a number of sinister things. The ceiling is pillared by giant statues much like those that guard the portal into Outland, and rogues lurk in pairs seemingly all around you. Not infrequently you find yourself turning around to shouts on vent to see them rapidly killing off members of the raid; we finally hit upon the strategy of sending our own rogues off to sniff out the presence of danger while the raid itself was ringed and guarded on all sides by the tanks. Once another set of rogues was found, our hunters set up Flares to flush them out of hiding, marked them, and pulled carefully. You were only really safe if you were in the middle portion of the raid; wandering off to go explore on your own was unthinkable.
The music is lovely, the atmosphere is stellar, and for the first time ever in a raid I felt the real sense of a dangerous place with violent, unpredictable creatures that didn't want us there. It was one of the few times that we've actually had to use real strategy as a raid outside of a boss fight. Black Temple makes it abundantly obvious that you are a small, embattled group struggling to survive against overwhelming odds. Most raids are pretty straightforward - learn the tricks to the trash, pull the trash, clear the trash, ask "What's the respawn timer?", and then kill the boss. Tempest Keep is a pretty cold and sterile environment; Serpentshrine Cavern is more interesting visually but the trash is, in many cases, just pull after pull after pull of the exact same stuff (weirdly enough, Karazhan and Zul'Aman seem to come a little closer to the Black Temple raid mentality than their Tier 5 brothers). But there is so much obvious care and attention lavished on the endgame raids, I said to myself (while taking tons of screenshots and turning the sound up), that I just don't buy the argument that Blizzard doesn't give a hoot about raiders.
But Neg isn't really writing about the conflict between raiders and the rest of us, which has been a pretty thoroughly discussed in one form or another. It's his contention that the raiding world - what I saw on Thursday and what Nihilum practically does professionally - is becoming obsolete in this, the Age of Purple.
Neg's real point of contention is that, in a world where powerful gear is getting easier and easier to get on your own steam, there is no real incentive to join raiding guilds, which no longer function as the gatekeepers to an array of fabulous epics. While I can't say I agree with the larger point that raiding guilds are becoming pointless, Neg makes a pretty passionate case that there's really not much a raiding guild can offer WoW players that, especially with the introduction of amazing badge gear from 2.4, they can't get on their own without the hassle, expense, and time commitment of raiding (although I think he might be discounting just a tad the hassle, expense, and time commitment of accummulating hundreds of heroic badges for said amazing gear).
He is right about what happened to many raiding guilds when The Burning Crusade launched; high-end raid content being pared from 40 to 25 members left many GM's in the unenviable position of having to bench close to half their roster on any given night, or else downsize the guild itself. Neither was a particularly attractive option for people who genuinely wanted to continue raiding with the people they'd raided with pre-BC. The amount of difficulty that many guilds have ramping up from 10-man to 25-man content is practically legendary at this point, and was even more so when Karazhan was a keying requirement for SSC. While I think most of us would conclude that the changes were ultimately for the better, it was a raw deal for existing raiding guilds at the time and resulted in a lot of instability while they struggled to adapt.
Beyond that, however, I can't really agree that the lure of experiencing the game's content isn't enough for most people, and I'm a little disconcerted at Neg's certainty that gear alone was driving the pre-BC raiding boom. Everybody likes the gear - I doubt anyone could argue otherwise, and raiders certainly look forward to their upgrades - but the lure of a piece that may or may not ever drop and may not go to you immediately even if it does......I just don't see it as being enough for the average raider, especially when great PvE gear is increasingly less and less likely to confer any real advantage in PvP these days. You have to want to be there for reasons that have nothing to do with gear, especially on those ugly nights where it seems like you're never going to do anything other than wipe endlessly to new content. There's also the simple attraction of playing with people you just like, if you're lucky enough to be raiding with a fairly chill bunch. Ingame, there's not much that compares to the feeling of finally downing a great, big, horrible, life-sucking, soul-destroying boss in the company of 24 peeps who will all go bonkers when it happens.
Ultimately I have a difficult time with the notion that giving a player more choice over how to advance their character is somehow not in the best interests of the player base as a whole. At the same time, there might be something to Neg's assertion that how Blizzard chooses to improve the game on an individual level is (unintentionally or not) negatively affecting the role that raiding guilds were meant to play in the social life of the game.
Is this a good thing? BC's advancements have forced the raiding guilds to relinquish the grip they had over what was really the only means of character progression in vanilla WoW, and it's undeniably been a blow to the station they used to occupy in the daily life of any server. It's pretty easy to know your place in the world when you're the only game in town. But the easier you make it for the individual player to level, gear, and advance on their own, or with cursory help from PuG's, the more you de-emphasize the social aspect of the MMORPG that is a defining trait of the genre. It's not too uncommon to see experienced MMORPG players comment on the degree to which World of Warcraft is a much more solo-friendly game than its predecessors, and it's hard to argue that it's not getting more so.
So, after a fashion, I find I do agree with Neg that raiding guilds no longer offer what made them unique (exclusive access to excellent gear), but I disagree that that was all they had to offer in the first place. A raiding guild is obsolete if that's how it sells itself now, because people may very well conclude that they're not the fast track to good gear and raiding is more trouble than it's worth. A number of people quit raiding in no small part because guilds can be organized rat races for 25-man drops. If you don't take care of your people, there's a lot of favoritism, little support is given to people playing key roles, or raiding is a largely cheerless affair - raiding guilds will bleed players, and no wonder. People do have the option of getting good gear elsewhere now, and guilds have to compete with an individual player's own sense of initiative. Neg's observation that some guilds are disbanding in the wake of easily obtainable badge and arena pieces doesn't surprise me under the circumstances, and all I need to do is glance at Guildwatch or Officers' Quarters to see that, sometimes, people just get sick of how things are. Instead of complaining that their position is being usurped by arena vendors, guilds are better off cultivating reasons to raid that have nothing to do with gear.
Everyone should play the game on their own terms, and my main was a direct beneficiary of the excellent badge gear that became available in patch 2.3. It gave me the opportunity both to save DKP and pass on raid drops that a lot of people needed. It's foolish not to recognize that raiders themselves are dependent on (and should take advantage of) the improvements being made that now allow people to advance without relying on the goodwill, training, time, and outright skill of 24 others.
But did I spend a lot of my time in Black Temple wishing more people would get the chance to see it? Yep. But after all, this is the Age of Purple. Inside - and to the regret of some, outside - of a guild, anything's possible.
**Edited March 8th, 2008 per Neg's request to remove a reference to a former member of Nihilum that was based on inaccurate information**