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What the Raid Finder's success means for the future of accessible content

The Raid Finder is here to stay. It's rolled out to astonishing success, getting more people to see the encounters of the major raid of the Cataclysm expansion than we've seen since the days that Karazhan convinced Blizzard that 10-man raiding was an option worth exploring. With Blizzard explicitly intending to move forward with the Raid Finder so that every future raid will have a RF difficulty option, a few things are likely to develop.

When we consider the Raid Finder as a tool, we have to consider it both as a tool for the players (us) and as a tool for the designers, a means for them to deal with a persistent and somewhat untenable issue with the raiding game -- a ton of work goes into raid design, and statistically speaking, almost no one ever sees it. People who got to see Kel'Thuzad at level 60, Illidan or Kil'Jaeden at 70, or even Arthas at level 80 are in the minority. Thanks to the Raid Finder, Deathwing may be the most accessible big bad any expansion's ever had. Looking forward, a few broad strokes may be discerned about the Raid Finder and where it will drive the game.

  • Future normal and heroic raiders will be trained via Raid Finder. When your semi-casual to hardcore raid guild is looking for raiders, some of your applicants will be looking to make the jump from the Raid Finder to more involved raiding.
  • The Raid Finder will continue to serve as a means for people not interested in committed raid groups to see raid content. Raids are consuming to design, use up a lot of art assets and are where a big chunk of WoW's lore is to be found. Using the Raid Finder, people who can't commit to a weekly raid schedule or just aren't interested in doing so will still get to see these encounters. The Raid Finder becomes the means by which the majority of WoW's playerbase gets to see these tentpole encounters without reducing difficulty for committed raiders.
  • The Raid Finder will preserve 25-man raiding. With the logistical difficulties of putting together a larger raid, we often forget that the tank/healer-to-DPS balance of 25-man raiding is a lot friendlier to World of Warcraft's playerbase, which has a lot more DPS players than tanks or healers. With the Raid Finder making this subtext text, as it were, it not only solves a lot of that logistical group assembly but it also trains people making use of it to think of 25-man as the size of a raid. 25-man raiding won't die, because the raids will be designed for the 25-man size and then scaled for normal and Raid Finder modes.
  • The Raid Finder's flexibility means it actually succeeds in serving two masters. Since set pieces from the Raid Finder are compatible with normal and heroic raid drops and the gear is better than normal-mode Firelands, even guilds that have progressed into heroic Firelands have made use of the service (indeed, some have even exploited it) to gear up faster. This means that Raid Finder actually has something to offer to people who have raid groups already. The Raid Finder actually manages to serve a spectrum of players ranging from "never, ever raided before" to "has been raiding since vanilla" and all the folks in between.
I won't lie -- I had assumed Raid Finder might be the death knell for 25-man raids. But the more I've seen it in action, the more I come to believe it will be their salvation. If players use the Raid Finder as a training tool (a stated goal of the feature since it was announced), then it's going to train them to think in terms of 25 players. It also codifies the tanking and healing requirements for an expected raid instance. It's certainly possible to alter the Raid Finder tool to ask for four tanks instead of two, but the mere fact of the Raid Finder's existence with two tanks, six healers and 17 DPSers gives you a rough idea of how many of each Blizzard expects. I would bet it's a lot closer to the actual player demographic breakdown than a 10-man with two tanks, three healers and five DPSers.

Feeding an appetite for content

What's really interesting to me about the Raid Finder is how it deals with the voracious appetite of players for content. The Raid Finder makes more of the game accessible for more of the players while still retaining challenge and increased reward for players willing to put in the time. 10-man raiding is often lauded as more accessible (and it is), but it still requires a degree of commitment and scheduling. The Raid Finder means that if you have an hour or two, you can raid. It gives the casual player a chance to experience the content that takes a solid amount of development time and which is often considered the basis of a content patch.

In the future, a raid won't be something perhaps as few as 10% (or less) of players will get to see. Even the most time-constrained will be able to at least hit the Raid Finder once or twice and get to see what the fuss is all about. Since the majority of the people playing the game are in that camp, this is a tremendous victory for them that costs no one else anything.

An aid to established raiders

If you can raid 60 hours a week, the Raid Finder doesn't hurt you. Indeed, it helps you. While the Raid Finder is the end of many people's raiding -- in essence, the only version of a raid they'll get to see -- it also serves people looking to move into raiding as a source of gear and a means to get some practical raid experience, and it allows already established groups a kind of raid simulator. It kind of puts me in mind of the old X-Men comics and the Danger Room simulator where they could experience combat situations. Established raiding groups can queue up in the Raid Finder, get to see the basics of the fight, collect some gear, and then take that experience and gear into the next level of raiding and run with it. While there could be some danger of people running into difficulties with mechanics not being as forgiving (what a friend of mine calls "developing bad RF habits"), the positives outweigh the negatives in my opinion.

The Raid Finder is more than just a feature that allows you to get in to see the current raid in a more relaxed environment. It's a quantum shift that takes content few ever got to see and makes it relevant to almost everyone. It will affect how content is designed, how we as players receive it, and how development can afford to progress in the future. Along with reforging, it is the most significant development of this expansion.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has destroyed Azeroth as we know it; nothing is the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion, from leveling up a new goblin or worgen to breaking news and strategies on endgame play.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Raiding, Cataclysm

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