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Raiding: Weighing the benefits of 25-man raids vs. 10-man raids

25s 10s raiding graph
According to Wowtrack.com, the number of 25-man raiding guilds is several orders of magnitude smaller than the number of 10-man raiding guilds. Why is Blizzard spending so much effort balancing both the 10- and 25-man raid formats when the 25-man raiding community contains an incredibly low percentage of the raiding population?

Blizzard Community Manager Zarhym recently posted this on a forum thread about the subject:

Zarhym
We'll continue making adjustments as necessary to keep 10- and 25-player raids within a relative alignment, in terms of time investment, difficulty and rewards. It may never be perfect, but we still see interest in both raid sizes for different reasons. And ultimately we'll continue designing 25-player raids as long as there are a decent number of guilds interested in the format. We've seen no evidence as of yet that such interest is waning to any degree that should cause us great concern.

We tend to begin raid design around 25 players anyway before tuning for the various sizes and difficulties. That, when combined with our intent to carry on with 25-player Raid Finder group sizes, makes it very much worth our time to continue designing 25-player raids.

Regardless of what players' personal preferences or opinions are regarding the varied raid formats in World of Warcraft, we don't see removing options as a smart choice in the foreseeable future.



In Cataclysm, when the raiding design changed to the current format where both 10- and 25-man raids would get the same loot and share a lockout, the party line has been that if you prefer one format over another, then you will be able to raid that format. Ever since, any argument about this issue has boiled down to the issue of raider preference.

I prefer to progress

Bundling the entire argument into the term preference is a logical shortcut that doesn't make sense. Players make decisions about their raiding characters based on what they can do to progress the farthest possible. If it were easier to clear content in 25s, we would have more than a small percentage of raiders raiding them. Since an overwhelming majority of kills are happening in 10s right now, it's safe to assume that there's a reason for it beyond player preference.

Groups of people motivated to achieve a goal will generally (over time) make choices that lead them most efficiently to it. For example, if everyone were raiding 25s but it turned out that the best progression could be achieved in 10s, people would tend to leave 25-man groups and join or form 10s. If everyone were in a 10 and something was changed that made 25s better for progression, people would tend to start or join 25-man groups.

You can, in fact, use what players choose as a barometer for format balance. If 10s and 25s were actually balanced, then the number of 10-man raid groups wouldn't be so much higher than 25s.

What goes into raid format alignment?

Zahrym's above quote defines what Blizzard looks into when designing the balance between 10s and 25s:
  • Time investment
  • Difficulty
  • Reward
The difficulty levels between the two formats are actually quite well done, in my opinion. There are some encounters in each tier that are easier on one format than another, but generally it's clear that the developers have become extremely good at producing content that is equally difficult in both formats. It's not possible to precisely measure this difficulty with numbers because the invisible hand of raider choice is not based purely on content difficulty but on the sum of all factors which contribute toward the difficulty of progression.

Average quality of players

Every non-pickup raid is a group of people who arrange to play together at the same time on a regular basis, and among any population of players, you're able to get more people into more raids if you match them in smaller groups. Larger groups lead to less diversity in scheduling and will be more likely to have to accept less than ideal players just to fill up.

The difficulty balance between the two formats is based on the assumption that the strength of the players will be equal, on average. Raiders hate carrying weaker players, so the worse the bottom performers in their group are, the more likely they are to seek greener pastures. This makes 25s a bit of a revolving door with a high churn rate and further contributes to the increased popularity of 10s.

Simply put, the average skill level of an average 25-man raid will be lower than an average 10-man unless there's some other factor keeping it level. For example, well-known, world-class guilds that have their pick of players don't have to deal with this.

World firsts

The reason all world firsts are done in 25-man is, again, because it's the optimal solution to the problem. If a guild could gain a competitive advantage in the race for a world first by doing 10s, they'd all be doing it, and the first one to figure it out would have gotten a world-first 10 kill. So why are 25 heroics optimal for world-class competitive guilds but not for the rest of us? The answer comes back to scheduling and average player strength.

Hardcore guilds are made entirely of incredibly skilled players who place raiding as a high priority in their lives. I've interviewed several hunters with Brian on the Hunting Party Podcast who have spent weeks wiping hundreds of times on a heroic boss. These players will put their lives on hold to compete for the world first, and there is a lineup filled with amazing players for each and every spot in the raid.

Does this need fixing?

First of all, while I personally prefer 25s and run a 25-man guild despite the fact that I'd be more progressed if I was in a 10-man, I am not sold on the idea that what we have needs changing to make players happier. The current system is more flexible, and while 10s can be a little effervescent, continually dissolving and reforming, there are fewer people now who are skilled and interested in raiding but can't find a group that fits their schedule.

That said, Blizzard spends a lot of effort making two versions of each boss (not including the Raid Finder), and dropping 25s wouldn't upset the vast majority of raiders. Something has to give, and it's going to be one of two things: Either Blizzard will make a change to incentivize more players into 25s, or it will stop spending designer hours making 25-man normal modes that only get seen by a slim fraction of the players.

What kind of change would attract people to raid 25s?

We'll never see separate loot tables again. Designing two bosses is enough work; having to maintain two tiers per tier of content is not the right direction. Originally, there were more valor points in 25s than 10s to try to address the reward/effort ratio; however, valor points have been greatly deemphasized lately.

The only other easy reward change would be to award a higher number of drops per player. This would lead guilds to want to run 25s for farm content but switch down to a 10 of the more skilled players for the progression. In order for this to work, though, heroics and normal modes would have to have a different lockout system. It works fine when your 10-man would be working on harder normal mode bosses, but as soon as they want to go back and do some of the earlier heroic bosses, they're locked from farming the normal mode.

Instead, players could be allowed to beat that boss as many times as they wanted but only get loot once for normal mode and once for heroic mode, kind of like in the Raid Finder with more than one difficulty level. When 10s and 25s had separate loot tables, players felt required to run both formats to get loot twice from each boss, even though 25-man loot was only a little better quality. This made things feel like a boring grind, but unlike that, allowing a heroic and normal mode kill each lockout on each encounter would have a vastly different difficulty level. Instead of feeling like you were repeating a dungeon, you'd feel like you were going back and defeating challenge versions of the same bosses.

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, Guilds, Raiding

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