Good is good enough. Or: a case for pioneering

Yesterday, Hugh over at the MMO Melting Pot summarized a little wildfire that’s currently spreading since WoW’s latest patch: the whole weekly Valor Point cap deal after 4.2. We can probably most agree that Blizzard’s continued effort to undermine the status of raiding in WoW is deplorable – on a more general note though, it was another old friend of mine piquing my interest in some of the debates: the ever-returning topic of gear. To be more precise, the importance of gear as a factor in beating WoW’s encounters.

Gnomeaggedon just had a similar article up, interestingly enough on PVP, yet with the same underlying issue: the fixation some players have with gearscore, item levels or stats in WoW. In WoW of all MMOs, that most flexible and accessible game of them all. Reading how his otherwise no doubt friendly and decent new guildie made a fool out of himself in BG chat, I cringed a little – people still really do this, huh.. Asking for your gearscore before a 5man run? An achievement before inviting you to a lousy pickup raid? Comparing meters? Ragequitting over purples?

Gosh.

Were we ever that young?

I am no stranger to progress drive or perfectionist mindset. I even sympathize a little with WoW players hopelessly lost in compulsive gear-rush-limbo. I used to be like that myself, a long time ago when 40mans were new and raiding was a more elitist club. Back in pink vanilla, everyone believed gear was where it’s all at. To be fair, we had more reasons to believe so too. People sported their shinies around AH bridge in Ironforge and oh, did those epics tell a story! For one thing because not everyone else and his sixth alt’s cousin had them, for another because it took a long time and 39 more people to get you that set. Enchants were few and precious, there was no jewelcrafting, no inscription, no reforging, no endless list of consumables and buffs. You really wanted a decent arrangement of gear and many encounters were rather unforgiving when it came to certain stats or resistances. So, we chased our purples eagerly from Stratholme to Molten Core, from Blackwing Lair to Naxxramas.

Then along came the Burning Crusade and we slowly began to smell the rat. Gear popped up from every corner, at increasing speed. Hardly a second to enjoy a completed set of Tiers, BOOM the next would follow – better, shinier, more purple than your purple! Then, there were suddenly all these craftable epics, some of them just as good or better than raid rewards. Plus cheap, welfare badge epics that would do the job just as well. As if all that wasn’t enough off the attunements went – in the talent and stat buffs came, in the content nerfs towards the end of the first expansion. More gear thrown at you, more gear than you could hope to wear in a hundred years. It was like purple Christmas at the shopping mall. And with the loot choice curve rising steep, another curve began to fall rapidly: the significance of specific items towards progress.

That’s when I finally had enough, somewhere at T6. I had this disturbing image in my mind, of myself as a donkey chasing a pixel carrot that Blizzard kept replacing faster and faster. I felt foolish and ridiculous. Not just that, I spent loads of time grinding epics just so they were a wee bit better than more accessible alternatives. Ridiculous. On our way to Black Temple, it was popular belief that you needed a complete mix of T5 and T6 to beat Illidan. Short time later, we saw Nihilum’s world first killshot with half their squad posing in Karazhan gear and craftables among the odd BT set item. Pardon? You need what? Ridiculous…

I still collected gear sets later on, make no mistake; I love gear from a cosmetic point of view, always have, and a Deputy GM can’t run around in rags. But I had come a far, far way from the rushing, pushing and obsessing over gear being the determining factor for Adrenaline’s progress. Bosses don’t rise and fall over blue gems or 20 more intellect on a trinket. If you think they do, maybe you’re looking for solutions in the wrong place? Especially with the complexity some boss encounters have gained over time in WoW, there are far bigger, more tide-turning challenges for a team than collecting the best possible gear at the highest possible speed. Gear is not performance and it never wins that duel (they make a good team though).

If it makes you feel more secure about your own performance or if you enjoy the maximizing frenzy, that’s one thing and knock yourself out. However, as long as you’re not in the sort of guild that raids for, y’know money or something and just needs to progress as fast as humanly possible, it does not matter if your gearscore is XX10 or XX50 and it won’t ruin a run if you didn’t upgrade medium Tier epic to super Tier epic. You can still be competitive and you can still progress at decent speed.

The min-maxing, the cookie cutting, the lengthy preparations – they are self-imposed. Let’s say it together: self-imposed. We’ve been through this before: Blizzard never forced their playerbase to min-max so extremely, it’s the players who choose to do it and tolerate all sorts of drudgery in return. The thing is, the list of all things you can always “possibly do better” is endless.

Good is good enough

A long while back, Tessy wrote a follow-up post on a not so unlike debate at the time – healers using healing addons (or not). And she nailed easily what was an embarrassing show-off in other places: if it works for you, it works for you. If you’re good with addons, you’re good. If you’re just as good without them, you’re just as good. It’s the outcome that matters and outcome is a collective term for a multitude of aspects that need to coincide. Especially in a team of 10 to 25 people.

Now for argument’s sake, if you really, really wanted to go there; well, then I’d say you’ve got guts for doing stuff with less – less preread strategy, less buffs, less gear, smaller numbers. Assuming that’s what challenges or entertains you. In terms of outcome though, it’s completely beside the point. A little harder, “cooler”, more “oldschool” (or whatever you wanna call it) doesn’t equal better or smarter – it only means you’re doing it differently. We can allow ourselves a bit of “private vanity” sure, as long as we don’t mistake our way for the one way.

Outcome is what counts. The rest is attempts to socially distinguish yourself or get a kick. I’ll admit freely to some ego myself, but I do know it when I see it (it’s bloated that way). I know my inner demons too, I don’t take them too seriously. The times I went overboard with my private perfectionism in WoW were when I wanted to, not because it was required. I didn’t speed race to exalted in Silithus (:trauma:) for that epic mace and offhand because Benediction wasn’t good enough. I did it because too many people had the yellow staff and I was a vain priest with too much time on her hands.

In my lengthy writeup on healing coordination a while back, I put emphazis on not telling other healers how to play their class. As long as they achieved their assignments consistently, I could not care less how they did it. And I hold to that lesson. My perfect raid team is a team where I do not have to adjust or check a single person’s spell rotation, gear or talent choices. You don’t second-guess what’s working. That goose might stop laying golden eggs.

My challenge, your challenge

Progressing through WotLK 25man, we often outgeared content we beat in my guild. I dreaded these kind of kills, such a lacking glory it was to challenge a boss in epics from head to toe when it was manageable with much less. I’m all for being well-prepared and knowing your strategy; but I actually love encounters that force you down on your knees. When your team needs to click like a well-oiled machine, when it’s all about individual performance, knowing your class in and out, situational awareness, reflexes, perfect coordination and communication. Funny enough, that’s usually also when people have more tolerance for each others mistakes than the pro geared and overconfident bunch.

Ain’t no victory like the victory of the underdog, carrying the trophy home, be it in PVE or PVP. It’s those kills we never ever forget. I’d say too, it’s when your team’s true colors show in all their shades, the way you can otherwise never tell. For similar reasons, some players attempt 2-manning content that is meant to be 5-manned. Or show up with 8 instead of 10 peeps. They want to test how much they can achieve, how far they can go together. Test the limits, raise the stakes – not lower them.

And that’s why the VP rush for Firelands strikes me as bizarre: players are supposed to have all that gear now BEFORE they even put foot in a brand new instance? Says who? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

Don’t believe a word they say

I should mention that I don’t exclusively blame WoW’s playerbase for the optimization mania. Blizzard have had their share over the years, implementing features like the armory and designing the game to allow for such an approach. Still, you’re ultimately in control of your choices and I hope you farm 5mans for epics every day because it’s fun, not because you think you need rewards badly that will be outdated come next patch. Time and again Blizzard, the webforums or the blessed people of hearsay have tried to intimidate us by naming benchmarks, required specs or setups, “what you really need” and “what you really cannot do” to beat certain encounters.

You know what: we’ll see about that. In Molten Core, they told us there was NO WAY we could raid without protection specced tanks. We had zero, up to Nefarian. They told us we couldn’t use offspec healers when they were our majority, all our stubborn feral druids healing in resto gear and several shadow priests healing along with their Benedictions up (another proof of how gear mattered a bit more in WoW 1.0.). Next, they told us how we really needed so and so much fire resistance for Ragnaros. Right. Towards the end of vanilla WoW, all the cool kids went straight to AQ40 first, because¬† “No way you can do Naxx before AQ!” Thank god we were such rebels…we’d never have experienced original Naxxramas 40 otherwise. You can keep your fugly Tier 2.5 to yourself, thank you very much.

Please, do me a favour: go see for yourself. Whatever someone else is telling you, take it with a pinch of salt. Consider too maybe how long the next content patch’s away. Do your best, but don’t let yourself be fooled or intimidated by talk and so-called guidelines. WoW’s not a perfectionist’s game, WoW is designed for a mainstream audience to enjoy. Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re actually at the upper end of that mainstream. Good preparation is cool by all means, “good” preparation. The rest you can make up by other means, either setup/design-given or simply because you can or dare. I’ve gone through 21 years of what I’d like to call successful education and academia with a devil-may-care minimalist attitude and a great deal of Calvin. It works for MMOs too. Don’t feel rushed and don’t feel pressured to go along with whatever’s the latest, hysterical trend on the streets.

Do the wild thing: “TRY ANYWAY”.

Try and see. Talk later. You know, adventuring and stuff. You will never know how far you can go without trying. Be foolhardy, be reckless, be a pioneer.

Be full of spite. 

P.S. In reference to my post title, I should probably give credits to Cynwise’s comment in another article on the matter. Happy following up and remember to keep it together!

10 comments

  1. “The min-maxing, the cookie cutting, the lengthy preparations – they are self-imposed.”
    Why will a player spend hours to prepare for a raid but not think a second before joining a 5-man? Clearly there is more to this than an isolated, perfectly self-driven individual choosing his behavior and future.

    Part of the problem is how Blizzard handles the tiers these days. If you don’t down a tier when it’s the one to do, it’s gone. When ICC came out people still did ToC, but no one wanted to learn it, and Ulduar was right out. This means that people want to get it done now, before it goes away, so they have a strong incentive to do everything they can, such as farm gear endlessly and have excessive expectations for the same from others.

    Thinking back to vanilla, beside resist fights I don’t remember much gear-obsession of the current sort. But I can easily imagine it emerging if one day we were told “in a few months MC will be obsolete and never done again, so if you don’t get your achievement now, give up forever”, we’d have become a lot more picky. Well, after someone explained the concept of achievements.

  2. @Kleps

    I agree and disagree with what you’re saying. I’ll explain why.

    “Why will a player spend hours to prepare for a raid but not think a second before joining a 5-man? Clearly there is more to this than an isolated, perfectly self-driven individual choosing his behavior and future.”

    5mans and raids are two completely different cookies to begin with. for one thing, people in general have a different attitude towards 5mans – they are there to ‘gear up’, that’s the established idea and purpose and we all know how many people behave too in 5man runs… there is a completely different expectation and pressure in joining them.
    raids on the other hand, are usually what you do with your guild: and your guild is not a random 5man, your guild most likely has set expectations. funny enough, these will vary a lot from raid guild to raid guild; some are more relaxed, some go omg-hysterical. one proof that the pressure is self-created to a certain degree.

    To emphasize: I’m not by any means suggesting that preparations are wrong – I’m saying “good” preparations are good enough. my article is a votum to keep a cool head. Personally I find it very depressing to read how some of my fellow bloggers feel they’re not good enough or doing things wrong in WoW when they really aren’t.

    I hold to what I said: there is no “need” in WoW for everyone to play with the same spec. there is no need to go for ultimate/best/maxed gear and preparations have leeway. that’s why I use the term “self-imposed”. what people think they need and what they really need to succeed are 2 different things. that’s not to say that I cannot understand why you wouldn’t want to gear up as good as possible.

    Where I agree fully with you is Blizzard’s part in the rushing (which I kinda tried to include a little). there’s this “time limit” now guilds tremble under, not enough time to experience new content because raids are not in a steep progression anymore like in vanilla. the patch hits, the new instance is old and obsolete. that’s a big issue and I’ve never liked it, also because Blizzard are undermining their own effort and content in a way.

    As for achievements Kleps; hehe, let’s not go there. ;) they’re from ‘gamey town’ and not something I personally care for in the slightest in an MMO. so if that’s a pressure to somebody, I can’t help but call it self-imposed. achievements have zero significance for playing the game or beating a boss.

  3. @Apple

    Haha! but…what will the Effers say to that?? I don’t wanna get angry mails from Alas, she’ll kick my ass (or more likely write nasty Haikus about me!). ;D

  4. The cynic in me is thinking this is a very long article in order to get in a picture of a (blatantly evil) cat covering face with it’s paws ;)
    <3

  5. LOL! You saw straight through me there – I was wondering who would, tbh! =D

    It’s no fair though, you have prereq knowledge. therefore I am sorry to say that you are ‘DISQUALIFIED’! Muah Muah…

    And that is one awesome kitty on that picture <3

  6. I agree on the awesome kitty, partly because it has the same colouring as mine.. But I’m totally objective, I promise!

    Now, I like gear – it’d be a lie saying I don’t care about it – but I will never understand the current obsession with it. Whenever there is a PUG or a run to BH you always seem to be expected to have pretty much full epics, in which case I ask myself – if you already have everything, why would you want to run it?

    I’m not saying to PUG BWD/BoT or join a BH run in greens, but I don’t see why people want you to have full 359 gear.

    I feel pressured to some extent to cap VP every week, but due to other obligations since the patch I haven’t been able to. Fortunately I’m in a guild that doesn’t require me to – but I still get a feeling of “I really should”, even if just from myself. And I don’t like it.

    It feels like you’re expected to have a lot of time at the moment. With a full time job and other obligations it’s difficult to do both the new daily quest are AND cap on VP every week.

    I will be honest, I hate the fact that as a raider I have to do Heroics to cap out. Now, we are far from clearing every boss in Firelands – but even if we did, I’d have to do Heroics.

    At the moment, I feel like there’s too much for me that I “should” do, and it takes the fun out of it. So I’ve decided to only do what I enjoy. I will try to do my dailies on my main, but I won’t kill myself to do it on an alt – or to get a full VP cap every week.

  7. @Saga
    I like gear too, nothing wrong with that. the pressure though, yes I have the feeling it spoils a lot of the experience for many raiders and that’s a shame imo, because well – WoW is a game, people should be having fun, not panic.

    I’d agree more if the pressure was actually really justified by design, but like with each WoW patch before this it’s caused mostly by other players, so I felt I wanted to be a bit of an opposite voice here. don’t “adopt” worries from others, breathe, think. see if it’s really true and how much of it is true for you.
    being in a guild with very high reqs can be an issue of course, but then all that’s left really is to find a place that suits you. and there are plenty of good guilds around where good is good enough.

    I love that photo of your cat sleeping on the keyboard (he’s got white socks like mine!) – tabbies FTW! ^^

  8. no endless list of consumables and buffs

    Shouldn’t that be “only” an endless list of consumables and buffs? :P I didn’t raid in vanilla but I was given the impression that it was all about stacking as many buffs as possible and chugging down every elixir under the sun since they all stacked.

    Anyway, as usual I agree with the gist of your post, but I don’t think that people are weird for acting this way in WoW of all games. It may be accessible, but it’s also become so much more regulated than it used to be, with strictly linear zone progression, point caps and gear checks keeping you out of five-mans. It’s all about telling the player exactly how to play, and I don’t think it’s at all surprising that the majority of players can’t be bothered to rebel against those rules and regulations all the time.

  9. @Shintar

    I’m sure that’s right – although I still expect common sense in most of my peers, it’s a flaw of mine! :P

    As for the buffs, I’d say the few that were there were so important because they were few. if you compare a raid screenshot from 7 years ago with one of today, the amount of buffs and autobuffs today is mad. never did we have this excess back then (many raid buffs came a lot later and were given to classes in TBC and WotLK to balance everything out. aside of bigger differences such as no DK or shammies).

    also food and pots never played the same role, at least not where I raided. I think my first regular food buffs were golden fish sticks in TBC. before that all I really carried was manapots, healthstones and later into vanilla flasks / res pots. that’s it. no feasts ofc either.

    I remember the fuss over the extra food buffs from blasted lands or the MC fire res buff from LBRS; I think we did that whole exercise twice before getting our wits back…the mind controlling was sure fun though! ;)

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