In recent months, BioWare developers finally began sharing information about their take on raids, which they call Operations. BioWare announced details about the different group sizes and the loot distribution system for normal-mode operations, both of which will have great impact on what raiding will be like in Star Wars: The Old Republic. What do these details mean for those of us who plan on raiding in TOR?
This past summer at Gamescom, several interviews featured Gabe Amatangelo. In one particular interview with Darth Hater, he reaffirmed that Star Wars: The Old Republic will feature both 8 and 16-player Operations.
At the same time, I wanted to do it as a puzzle with co-op 8 to 16-player mode, and just take it in that direction to see how players responded to it and explore more with it.
There are many good reasons for including multiple raid sizes, but the most prevalent is to make sure BioWare is meeting player's expectations. World of Warcraft features two raid sizes, and the vast majority of people planning on playing TOR have, without a doubt, spent some time playing WoW. This creates pre-existing expectations for TOR, originating with its main competitor. If BioWare failed to include two raid sizes, there would almost certainly be a negative response from the community.
The fact that there is more than one raid size will give people choices, obviously, and I think that familiar behavior patterns are going to emerge. The smaller raid will be much easier to organize due to the smaller number of schedules to line up, while the larger raid will require much more group coordination due to a greater number of people having to perform correctly in response to raid mechanics. As a result, casual players are going to favor the 8-player raids, while those looking to raid more seriously will favor 16-player raids. Theoretically, this will keep both groups happy.
Offering two raid sizes is a smart move to cater to the largest number of players possible, but I feel that an 8-player raid is going to feel really small, especially with the large environments we've seen so far in screenshots and videos of the Eternity Vault. It's going to be very important that both raids have similar feelings of "epicness" and difficulty. If anyone perceives either raid size as easier than the other, BioWare will have to act quickly to combat the appearance of not being prepared to launch the game.
In the same interview, Amatangelo mentioned that BioWare is experimenting with a system that they call "loot containers." When a group defeats a boss on normal mode, players will receive their own bag of loot.
In the normal mode -- the kind of entry mode -- we're doing the loot containers that give everyone a chance. The idea is that it isn't requiring a hard-core guild on Vent to distribute stuff. It is casual; it is pickup and sort of a stepping-stone. The loot containers serve that purpose well.
The idea has some merit, because with this system in place players will not end up playing for weeks without receiving loot. However, this system brings its own potential for complaints. We don't know how much loot each boss drops, but if we use the loot from other MMOs as a basis, it's unlikely that each boss will drop more than one or two pieces of loot for every class. If this is the case, anyone who raids on normal mode could theoretically get all of the loot there is for him or her in as little as two weeks.
Some people might say that this isn't a problem. However, for a lot of people, getting loot is one of the only reasons to raid. If normal mode raids offer no incentive for a large portion of the player base after less than a month and heroic raids are extremely difficult, players may burn out. The experience of killing raid bosses just isn't enough for most players.
If people burn out soon after hitting maximum level, both the TOR community and BioWare's reputation will suffer for it. After such a long testing cycle, people won't have much patience for things that aren't working perfectly.
With two and a half full months left until launch, there is more than enough time for BioWare to change simple game systems, but not something as significant as Operation size. Changing Operation size would potentially require changes to boss health, boss damage, ability animations and boss room size. Having a 12-man raid probably wouldn't feel right to most people, since it's an odd number of groups, and a 16-man operation is too big to consider as a small raid. Therefore, 8 and 16-man operations are all but set in stone.
Loot distribution is more easily fixed. I think the idea of having every boss drop tokens, specific to each boss, would work much better. For example, Boss A drops two tokens per kill, which all classes can redeem at an Operation vendor. Each boss would drop different tokens that players use to purchase items from only that boss' loot table. By using this system, you make sure that players don't acquire loot too quickly, resulting in burnout. However, you also keep people from raiding week after week and not getting any loot, since everyone in the raid will get an item they need every week and eventually not need any loot.
I'm looking forward to operations in Star Wars: The Old Republic, but I'm definitely keeping my hopes from getting too high. There are many things BioWare will have to do correctly right out of the gate, since the community will be ravenously tearing through the content as fast as possible. Glitches and imperfect gameplay don't matter as much to me, especially soon after launch. However, if top guilds race to maximum level and do nothing but talk negatively about operation content, I'm not sure how much of the more casual community will stick around to find out for themselves.