Last time, I explored the changes from The Burning Crusade’s end-game content to Wrath of the Lich King’s end-game content. It concluded with a discussion of something I like to call the “difficulty threshold.” It just means the point at which content becomes so difficult that the rewards are no longer sufficient motivation to make players overcome the challenges. This time I will be exploring the changes Blizzard implemented to make content that appealed to players’ wide range of difficulty thresholds, and how successful those efforts were.
In The Burning Crusade, there were three levels of end-game content. Increasing in difficulty, players could either participate in normal 5-man dungeons, heroic 5-man dungeons, or 25-man raids. Blizzard decided to add more difficulty ranges in Wrath of the Lich King. The raids available when that expansion was released had two versions: 10-man and 25-man. There is no clear consensus on which version of raiding was more difficult. Arguments can be made either way, but it is ultimately irrelevant to this particular discussion because there is agreement that 10-man and 25-man content were not the same difficulty-wise.
In addition to those standards, some raid encounters could be made more difficult by changing the way in which the raid bosses were attacked. For example, in The Obsidian Sanctum, players could leave any or all of the lieutenant mini-bosses alive when attacking the main boss and it would significantly change the difficulty of the encounter. Flame Leviathan in Ulduar could be attacked without destroying any or all of the towers in the surrounding area to increase the difficulty. There were a few encounters similar to these where players could enable “hard mode.”
Then came patch 3.2.0, which was a true game-changer. Prior to this patch, players would swap between 10-man raids and 25-man raids by toggling the normal and heroic option on their UI. Changing the difficulty from normal to heroic would cause the raid to shift from 10-man for “normal” and 25-man for “heroic.” However, after patch 3.2.0, Blizzard actually implemented normal and heroic versions of both 10-man and 25-man content. To clean up the user interface, Blizzard added a raid size category with 10 and 25-man options, as well as a difficulty category to switch from normal and heroic modes. This change effectively brought four different versions of raid content to World of Warcraft. Players could participate in normal or heroic 10 and 25-man raids. And they all had separate raid lockout timers.
A raid lockout timer serves the function of limiting the number of attempts players can have at a certain boss. Lockouts typically reset once per week. Prior to patch 3.2.0, many guilds would run both 10 and 25 man versions of instances because the lockouts were independent of one another. With the addition of two new heroic lockouts, some guilds were running the same raid four times per week. Many players find running just one raid per week quite enough and rightfully believe any guilds utilizing all four were on the hardcore side of World of Warcraft.
Even if the number of guilds running raids four times per week was limited, Blizzard should have had the foresight to know it was going to happen. It is well established that World of Warcraft brings out obsession in players. If you give a player an opportunity to do something, they will, unless you limit it in some way. There are plenty of limits imposed on gameplay already: limitations on rested experience gains, limits on the number of instances players can enter per hour, limits on the number of daily quests players can complete per day, etc. All of these restrictions are examples of Blizzard realizing that players cannot be given unlimited access to content. Can you imagine what would happen if raid bosses could be killed without limit each week?