Let me ask you something…

When you hear that a game is about to release a “raid,” what do you think of? Do you immediately imagine new content, new gear, and a complex challenge? Do you expect that the story behind the raid is going to affect the game world? Does it make you think that the designers have just done something significant to the game?

If so, I’m right there with you. And you’re probably as disappointed as I am when you see what we actually get.

More and more, it seems like “raids” in games are nothing more than quests and bosses that require slightly more time and a slightly larger group. And that’s it. Their world and gear implications are minimal at best.

For those of us who expected more, this is always disappointing. So who’s to blame? Are our expectations out of line or are game companies being manipulative and deceptive when it comes to marketing raids?

Obviously, I think it’s the second one or I wouldn’t be making this article.

So what is a raid?

Like a lot of cranky old gamers who can identify Fortnite references without looking them up on YouTube first, my first exposure to raids came though MMORPGs like Everquest and World of Warcraft.

Back then, raids often came as part of expansions, and they were intense. Generally, you’d need to acquire certain gear or objects before you could even attempt them. They involved multiple groups of specialized classes, coordinated and working under multiple levels of raid command. You’d have heal rotations, DPS groups with specific assignments, a main and off-tank coordinating aggro, a raid leader, and several lieutenants making it all work.

And here, I want to get in a word or two in defense of the trinity – the tank, healer, DPS combo we all bitch about. I understand why gamers got tired of the trinity and wanted to get away from it in games. It’s limiting, everyone always shits on the healer when things go bad, and so on. But there’s a reason the trinity exists. With good design – and some interesting variations on the basic classes – you can create challenges that require complex fights and tactics.

In other words, you can create raids, one of the few times in gaming when complexity is its own reward.

Back then, when a game added a raid, it meant that things in the world were going to change. It often added a new tier or twist on the high-end armor. But even people who didn’t raid felt the impact of the new content. The raid was often the crowning boss in something dynamic happening in game.

The best analogy I can think of Avengers: Endgame. Getting everybody together to fight Thanos would be exactly the kind of fight that would be a raid requiring an entire guild. But everyone who played the game would be feeling and seeing the effects of the snap, even if they didn’t get to do the raid.

Of course, a raid that requires coordinating a few dozen people means that you need tools to make it possible. The games that really introduced raids were designed around player interaction. They weren’t just MMOs in the sense that you and a lot of other people were online playing at the same time. They were set up to encourage and facilitate interaction. There were guilds with their own always-on chat channels and shared banks. Social, group, and guild chat were part of the game (and later voice chat). It was made very clear that you were expected to interact with other players, socialize with them, and play with them. So the game gave you the tools to do this.

When I ran raids in the game Rift, we had a raid leader and multiple lieutenants, all to help organize about 2 dozen people in the raid. Without all these social tools, it wouldn’t have been possible.

So what has happened to raiding?

In recent years, we’ve seen a very different kind of raid come out of games like Destiny 1, Destiny 2 and The Division 2. In all honesty, I don’t know if they even deserve to be called raids.

For one thing, they’re smaller. Much smaller. Instead of needing dozen or more players, you need something like an 8-man team. Really, it’s just a large group.

The fight mechanics are less complex. Because these games aren’t based on group play, variations between classes are minimal. That means the tactics generally boil down to “pour damage on the boss, watch for this or that thing that causes damage or makes him immune.”

And their impact on the world of the game is just as minimal. You don’t gear up to fight the raid, you just get some people and do it. A raid isn’t the summit of a cohesive team effort. It’s just some extra stuff that the developers jammed into the game.

You know, when I complained about the lack of matchmaking in The Division raid, some people thought it was a good argument to say, “Well, you don’t have to play it.” The thing is, if they’re right, it makes my point. A raid that has so little importance to the world of the game that you miss absolutely nothing by not participating is not a raid. It’s meaningless make-work. A cookie the developers give to gamers to make them think they’re getting something significant.

You can see how little these games care about raiding by looking at their social design.

As I pointed out earlier, the big-raiding games were designed to encourage social interaction. You knew the only way to do the big content was to join groups and guilds, and the game made it easy to stop and do just that.

Games like Destiny, Anthem, or The Division 2 are the opposite. For MMOs they are surprisingly hostile to social interaction.

Regular gameplay is paced in a way that discourages stopping to socialize with other players. You can play much of these games with almost no awareness that there are other people online with you. The guild and clan tools that were the backbone of the big-raiding games are missing. As a clan leader in The Division, I don’t even know as much about my clan members and their playing habits as I did about my fellow guild members in the early days of World of Warcraft, a game that’s more than a decade older.

These games act like they want the cohesion and group play that leads to raids, but their lack of social tools is a major regression in game design. These were challenges that gamers were overcoming back in 2003. Don’t tell me that Ubisoft and EA can’t overcome them with current technology.

With no matchmaking in Division 2, clans are supposed to be our way to participate in raids, but what does a clan really do? In the big-raiding games, guilds had a lot of benefits and made it easier to get to know other players. Clans in their current format do very little to help organize people for multiplayer content.

No doubt, I’ll get a lot of responses explaining why this or that thing isn’t possible in games like the Division, or how I’m expecting too much of their raids.

I have a simple response: don’t call them raids.

I’m not asking for the impossible here. The technology for improving the social elements of these games has existed for a long time. The fact that the game isn’t built to encourage them is a choice.

But without that social element and the real, challenging content that makes a raid meaningful, you don’t have a raid. You have a bonus quest that streamers can demonstrate and people can crow about getting “World First” in.

If that’s what you like, that’s fine. But it’s not a raid.

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