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Reflecting on the Dragon Soul Nerfs

Posted by Malevica on June - 19 - 2012

The Dragon Soul nerfs have now reached the 25% mark. How has the experience been?

When the Dragon Soul nerfs were first announced I wasn’t thrilled. They changed the experience when we didn’t need it changing. We were still progressing, still improving both gear-wise and skill-wise, and what we really wanted was more time.

An Anecdote

We’d spent a couple of weeks sat at heroic Spine at 10% and were consistently getting to the final lift of the fight before a healer or tank would die and the game would be over. We went away on the Sunday, had a good rethink, really sorted out a few things and were all set to go back in and kill it once and for all. Unfortunately we’ll never know if we really did have it nailed because the fight got nerfed that week; we went in the following Wednesday and 2-shot it.

That did rather take the edge off the achievement.

As did two other guilds on our realm killing it on the same night.

Levelling the Field

Sometimes a boss will come along which provides a serious challenge to a raid team. Guilds will “bunch up” at this point as they work on it, but eventually one will manage to get past it and move ahead for a while. That’s good, because it helps to space guilds out and feeds into the sense of competition. Nerfs undermine that.

Lower the bar and suddenly the leader is whoever gets organised and pulls earliest. That’s not good for competition. I don’t raid for a ranking but I do pay attention to it, and having your ranking determined by the time of the evening you raid, or whether you extended your lockout or re-cleared, or whether one of your raiders had internet problems that night just doesn’t feel right.

What’s more, often you’re not actually solving the problem but postponing it. A guild that’s stuck on heroic Hagara will just get stuck on heroic Blackhorn instead. By not allowing them the time to figure out the solutions (improve DPS, coordinate better, etc) on their own, you’re giving them the metaphorical fish, when it would be better to teach them to fish.

What Does Heroic Mean Anyway?

On my fairly small server 11 guilds have defeated heroic Madness, and 30 guilds are at least 5/8. 91 have killed at least one heroic boss. According to WowProgress almost 10% of the guilds recorded globally have killed heroic Madness. Go back to WotLK, and only 2% of guilds killed heroic Lich King on 25-man, and less than 7% on 10-man despite the gear advantage.

I know 10% is still a minority, and the raiding population is also a small fraction of the playerbase, but I can’t help feeling that the “heroic” tag has lost some of its lustre at this point.

For me, “heroic” should mean difficult to the point where less than 5% of guilds (and maybe a lot fewer than that) can defeat the final encounter. It should mean that you acquired pretty much the best gear available to you, and still had to reach deep down to get the kill. You need to bump up the skill side of the gear x skill product to pull it off. Nerfs that kick in before the gearing process is even close to complete just serve to undermine this.

A Surfeit of Healers

The new collective noun for healers: a surfeit.

Nerfs play merry hell with raid composition. We’ve dropped from needing 3 healers for most of the fights to solo-healing several of them, and at least one of us is stuck either sitting or DPSing each week. Believe me, that’s not something any of us especially enjoys.

The trouble is that nerfs don’t usually affect the number of things to be tanked, and more DPS is rarely a problem (Madness is the exception to both of those rules), so their roles are secure and relatively unchanged. But as the fights get nerfed there’s just not enough healing to go around and it directly affects our play experience and our fun level.

Incidentally, 2-healing heroic Madness last week was the most fun I’ve had in ages! Talk about running on fumes!


It wouldn’t be fair to grumble and mutter without at least trying to be constructive.

First off I can accept the argument that the raids need to be almost overtuned initially to provide a decent challenge for the top teams and then perhaps renormalised for the rest of us. We see that happen every time after a famous team snatches a world first with some crazy tactics. I’m fine with that. But once that adjustment is made the heroic bar needs to stay where it is. Give the teams who like to work for a challenge a stable set of goalposts. Once the gearing process is complete, then consider rebalancing.

If it absolutely has to be a progressively-increasing nerf it would be nice to be able to select the levels rather than just having an on/off switch. It’s a small change but an important one. My guild have talked about going back and trying some of the encounters without the buff, but 0% is a big jump from 25%, or from the 5% and 10% at which we got our first kills. But if we could select 10% to start with that might be more realistic and we could work our way up from there.

I’d like to find a way to solve the problem with the lack of damage to heal, but unfortunately I’m coming up blank. I think it’s a fundamental problem with healing being capped where DPS just isn’t. I don’t like the idea of just splitting the healers up spatially so that you have to take 2 or 3 anyway (the tank solution), because it doesn’t really help with the boredom problem.

Suggestions would be welcome.

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Categories: Opinion

Dragon Soul Nerfs

Posted by Malevica on January - 20 - 2012

Blizzard has announced that from January 31st Dragon Soul normal and heroic will be hit with a 5% nerf across the board, which may or may not be followed by further nerfs. Reactions have been predictably strong.

What Blizzard Said

Let’s have some choice excerpts. You can read the full text on MMO-Champion and elsewhere.

Here’s a bit from the first announcement:

During the scheduled server maintenance on the week of January 31, the Dragon Soul raid will become enveloped by the “Power of the Aspects” spell, reducing the health and damage dealt of all enemies in the raid by 5%. This spell will grow progressively stronger over time to reduce the difficulty and make the encounters more accessible. The spell will affect both normal and Heroic difficulties, but it will not affect the Looking for Raid difficulty.

The spell can also be disabled by talking to Lord Afrasastrasz at the beginning of Dragon Soul, if a raid wishes to attempt the encounters without the aid of the Dragon Aspects.

So it’s a flat 5% nerf to health and damage done, no mention of removal of mechanics or mechanic changes à la Firelands. The scale is similar to the ICC progressive nerf/buff, and just like the ICC effect it can be turned off if you want to.

Later on, a follow-up post with clarification and, importantly, explanation was posted:

Believe it or not there are actually guilds and raiding groups that are attempting to progress through Normal and Heroic raids, but are hitting a wall, and have been hitting a wall. We have actually statistical date [sic.] we base our changes on, we know exactly how many people are clearing these raids each week, we know exactly how many people are able to down just a few bosses, and how many were only able to down a few bosses every week for weeks on end and then stopped raiding altogether.

The issue we’re constantly trying to combat is the one where people feel like they’re just out of options. One way this is an issue is the content is too easy, they blasted through it, have everything they could possibly want, and have nothing else to do. Ideally that’s a small subset of very hardcore players. For everyone else it’s a feeling of just being stuck with no possible way to progress. Very few players are willing to suit up, buff up, do all the necessary requirements to raid, jump in, and then do no better than they did last week for hours and hours, only to return next week and do the same.


If they don’t have to be like us, why do they have to have nerfs to get to our position in HM Raiding?
Because they want to and they pay the same amount for the game? I don’t know, man. How is it good for the game to have 1% of players parading around for months and months and a 99% sitting around with nothing to do because they’re sick and tired of wiping?

We plan to increase the spell by 5% about every month, but we’re not sure if we’ll need to. If we see a lot of people able to keep progressing and downing bosses, maybe 5% is all we need. It’s going to be watching completion numbers and seeing where that gets us. We’re not assuming we’ll need to go as far as we did with ICC. It’s not going to be automatic, our hand is on the dial.

The increase is not automatic or set in its frequency. We will be manually controlling when it increases, if at all. It will be completely based on how many people we see able to complete the raid, and our decision to increase it or not.

Needless to say, much has been made of these two announcements.


Taking a quick, far from exhaustive look down my Google Reader and Twitter, I can see several really great points being made. Gina at Healbot.net looks at it in terms of how it affects raiding guilds, particularly when it comes to recruitment. She describes two scenarios:

Option A) Turn off the buff. Fall behind on progression because everyone and their mother is using the buff. Fall behind on server leaderboard. Does it matter that we clear it without the nerf? Not so much, leaderboards don’t show the difference unless you look at clear dates.
Option B)
Succumb to the buff, get totally demotivated (/sigh), and let it hang over your head that you cleared from 3+ on HC after the nerf and had to do it with the buff or fall farther behind.

Looked at this way it’s a real no-win situation.

Kurn made a similar point:

While yes, it can be turned off, I don’t know that many raiders will take advantage of that option. What looks better when recruiting — 2/8 HM (no buff) or 5/8 HM?

In my experience while it’s not the be all and end all, server ranking is a major determining factor in the rate of applications received by guilds, especially those not at the cutting edge; a large proportion of applicants will simply work their way down WoWProgress, and if you’re a fair way down that list it’s a lot more work to recruit without a really good selling point. Saying that you can easily turn the buff off assumes both that your entire team is of one mind on the subject (which might not be the case) and that your team is stable enough to not be affected by turnover and recruitment.
Guilds do not exist in a vacuum, and the decision about the buff is not solely determined by in-game factors.

Gina also sums her feelings up in a way I can definitely relate to:

I feel a sense of disapointment and I’m sorry for my raid team. Sorry I didn’t push us harder, faster, and get us more HC kills.

Nerfing current content reminds us that raids, at launch, are intended for a different audience than us. Once they’ve been through the content, it gets changed to be more suitable for hoi polloi. That’s not a good feeling. I want to raid the same content, albeit a bit later and with more gear, as everyone else.
What’s more it feels slightly patronising to me, as if the game is somehow taking pity on us and nerfing bosses so we don’t have to wipe too many times.

Another thought from Kurn:

I still wear my Hand of A’dal title because of what it took for us to kill Vashj and Kael and finish the Vials of Eternity quest.

Those were my favourite days of WoW; pushing hard to achieve something, even though I was months behind others, knowing that, apart from minor tweaks and slight adjustments, the encounters were basically the same as they had been when the server first guilds had done them. (Until the 3.0 nerf, anyhow.)

Raiders like us who take their in-game achievements seriously are bothered by when we kill bosses, pre- or post-nerf. A post-nerf kill, regardless of the size of the nerf, feels illegitimate, as if we’ve used a cheat code or killed the boss’s weaker sibling. Many guilds insist on tackling heroic modes because normal mode kills aren’t enough of a challenge and therefore don’t give enough of a psychological reward; as normal modes are to heroic modes, so post-nerf bosses are to pre-nerf bosses.

Juvenate of WTS Heals (@WTSHeals) on Twitter was one of several people who brought the LFR mode into the equation:

I always thought the ICC nerfs were so that people can see the content. We have raid finder now.

When LFR was announced, I was hopeful that LFR would allow people to “see content” without needing to nerf normal modes. Unfortunately, as Adam Holisky points out at WoWInsider:

The Raid Finder, while good, isn’t for everyone. Some people really hate pugging — so much so that they’d rather not play the game than have to pug. There are some people who are just interested in running content with their guild, and if their guild doesn’t want to run the Raid Finder, then it’s normal modes.

LFR might have fixed the difficulty problem, but it has its own problems relating to the format and to the social side of raiding. Perhaps if there existed a 10-man LFR difficulty mode that a casual or otherwise less-progressed 10-man guild could elect to tackle we’d have our third difficulty level, but at it stands LFR is an entirely separate animal and can’t just be considered an easier version of the raid that people can do if they can’t handle normal mode.

Note, I’m not arguing for the removal of LFR either. The match-making functionality and the ease and speed of grouping is a huge bonus for a vast number of people, and the game experience for many people has been dramatically improved by the feature. All I’m saying is that it didn’t achieve one of the things I, and others, had hoped it might.

Finally, in what I suspect might be a regrettable slip from whoever wrote that second Blue post, there was a noticeable change in the tone of the rationale this time around. In previous tiers the changes have been framed more towards “greater accessibility” and “allowing people to see the content”. While we’ve not always agreed with the decision, the intention has always appeared relatively noble. This time around though there was some extra language which very definitely pushed Kurn’s buttons, and I can certainly see why. Here are those lines again:

The issue we’re constantly trying to combat is the one where people feel like they’re just out of options. […] For [all but a small subset of very hardcore players] it’s a feeling of just being stuck with no possible way to progress. Very few players are willing to suit up, buff up, do all the necessary requirements to raid, jump in, and then do no better than they did last week for hours and hours, only to return next week and do the same.


If they don’t have to be like us, why do they have to have nerfs to get to our position in HM Raiding?
Because they want to and they pay the same amount for the game? I don’t know, man. How is it good for the game to have 1% of players parading around for months and months and a 99% sitting around with nothing to do because they’re sick and tired of wiping?

I wouldn’t go quite as far as Kurn did in her reaction to these comments, although she’s perfectly entitled to her opinion and as I’ve said I do understand her perspective. But it is very provocative to see Blizzard effectively saying that they’re not catering for you.

The (valid) point Blizzard is trying to make here is that insurmountable roadblocks cause players to leave the game and that’s bad for everyone. Thus, they argue, if people have reached their ceiling they’ll get bored unless the difficulty is tweaked to let them progress again (until they reach another ceiling, when the number goes up to 10%, etc.). Clearly the data they have suggests to them that a large enough number of guilds have reached their ceiling to start the tweaking.

The trouble is, one size doesn’t fit all. Some of us are not at our ceiling, so we’re seeing our experience altered, our rewards diminished, our playing field made less level, for the benefit of other people. As humans, that just isn’t going to sit right with us.

And that “they pay the same money, they should be able to do whatever they want to” line was really ill-advised, and I note with interest that it’s been edited out of the forum post.

Et Moi?

As much as I’m disappointed by the nerfs to current content it’s not the first time it’s happened while I’ve been raiding and the game’s still here, I’m still raiding, and I can’t see either of those things changing in the foreseeable future. I’m happy with my current guild, and I’m enjoying the Dragon Soul encounters. Even with the 5% nerf there will still be plenty of challenge to be had.

When I look over the list of issues most of them are external, they relate to how other people will perceive me, or how I perceive my achievements in comparison with other people. So the trick is to focus on the team, focus on the encounters in front of us, and worry a little less about rankings and progression.

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Categories: Opinion