Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Fringe Benefit of Synergy

Back when Jessabelle (of Miss Medicina fame) was putting together our ICC group, I had sort of an active role in "helping".  That is to say, since her and I chat a bunch, and I'm not exactly shy, I lobbed my opinions at her whether she wanted them or not.  Gracious being that she is, she mostly listened, even if with a simple nod, smile, and "you're wrong". 

I think something that a lot of people don't realize is just how much effort it actually takes to form a successful raid group.  I'm not talking about a simple one-time thing, but a group that will stay and play together for the next several months while tackling the challenge of the month.  To balance schedules, attitudes, strengths, and roles with and eye on the long-term ramifications of your choices can be a very daunting task.  Jbelle loves it, even though it sometimes frustrates the hell out of her.  I, on the other hand, would rather just be handed a group and told to "lead it".  Organizing is really not my bag, baby.

So it was that Jbelle was putting in a ton of effort to get this thing off the ground and I was trying to help, though probably often degenerating matters into heated discussions of the minutia, as Jbelle and I are wont to do.  One of the intricacies that we kept coming back to was the issue of class synergies.  Much has been written about it before, but the down and dirty operative here is that a lot of time can be spent looking at how different classes compliment each other in a raid setting

Jbelle's goal has ever been to come up with the perfect synergies.  When she's forming a group, she turns a keen eye to who buffs the brings, what type of damage they do, etc., in the hopes that when she's done, she's made the strongest group possible.  I would even venture so far as to say that achieving the perfect raid synergy is one of her very top goals when organizing.  It may take her extra time, effort, and consternation, but, by the Light, we will have our buffs!  All of them! 

Where the argument between us used to arise is that I hold synergy in a somewhat lower stead.  When I'm organizing a group, the first (and almost only) thing I look for is "how strong is the player behind the toon".  I always want to try to focus on the human aspect above the game aspect, obviously buying Blizz's "bring the player not the class" policy hook, line, and sinker.  I would most certainly throw synergy to the wind if it doesn't allow me to bring the best players I have available.  I guess, using a baseball analogy, Jbelle is really looking for the complete team, every position filled, while I'm content with all nine positions being played by Shortstops, provided the Shortstops can play all the other positions adequately. 

Critiquing the analogy, you may say: "Well Jbelle's approach is obviously better, since she's taking more things into account."  My argument here is that it really depends on the level of baseball you're playing.  In the big leagues, where you have access to really stellar players of all positions, you'd be exactly correct; Jbelle's approach would blow mine out of the water.  However, at lower levels, say Little League, it may behoove you to just put all your athletes on the field in various positions to allow them to make plays, even if they're not actually outfielders or what have you.  The point is to not gimp yourself with a poorer player just because he/she is listed at a certain position

(Short aside: Our raid group is neither at the Little League or Big League level.  In fact, we're somewhere in between as I'm sure the vast majority of raiders are.  Furthermore, when all was said and done, we've got a great group of people who are good players AND can play the different positions so as to give us a great synergy.  Through the heroic efforts of Miss Jbelle, we really get to have our cake and eat it too.  Still, her and I enjoy discussing things in the abstract, and that's really where this argument about synergy resides.  It's not really reflective of how our RL situation unfolded, since RL stuff is almost never as simple as theory would have you believe.)

Being Jbelle's group, she obviously got her way, despite perhaps some protestations otherwise from my end.  Not that we ended up gimping ourselves, mind you, I just thought she had made it too complicated at times, causing herself needless headaches to find the perfect group when a semi-perfect group would work too.  In the end, though, I think she was able to achieve a very synergistic group of good players, really the Holy Grail of raiding, and has been a big reason why we've had so much success in ICC while on such a short time budget.  (We raid once a week for two hours.  That's it.  We're now on the second boss of the Odorous Quarter.  Rotface I believe.  Their names all run together for me... some variation on "smells bad".  We also reset on average once every two weeks, depending on weekly quests and needed gear drops.  So I think that makes us pretty efficient.) 

As something of a WoW-humanist, I thought I had the human element covered in my Ruminations With Jbelle (A new show on Oxygen!).  She wanted to maximize the built-in game benefits, but I kept focused on the players behind the toons.  While for the most part, I may have known what I was talking about, there is certainly one aspect of this synergy business that surprised me (That's the closest you're going to get of humility from me, Jbelle).  I'm sure our fearless leader had this all thought through in her dwarven head, but I guess what I didn't realize is that loot distribution is really one of the key fringe benefits of synergistic class formation.  It may seem obvious in retrospect.  After all, if you have a healthy spread of classes, you shouldn't be fighting over the same loot as much.

In practice, however, it surprised me.  Loot seems to rarely be contested by our group.  If something drops, there only ever seem to be one or two people who want it, at most.  We don't have three of the same class and spec fighting over the same key drops, and the result is that you feel like you get a lot more loot

I think it's human that players will sometimes get frustrated by gear.  Even if you're not a "loot whore", you like gear drops.  Who doesn't?  When you happen across a string of bad luck, it can seem like forever since you've won a roll, and can lead to frustration even in the most patient of players.  No one likes being screwed over by Lady Luck.  It's inevitable, then, that throughout the life of a group, the chance for disenfranchisement with the loot situation increases.  That is to say, the longer you run with the same people, the more likely it is for one of you to run afoul of a bad string of luck and get a bit disgruntled. 

A synergistic group can stave off the Loot Miasma.  Like a vaccine, starting a group with a healthy spread of classes can inoculate your group against infection.  On an intangible level, what Jbelle did was smart not only from the game design benefits, but also concerning the more hidden human element of raiding.  She really did a great job in giving us the best chance to succeed.

It can be frustrating when you're desiring to join a PuG and are told "no, we already have too many warlocks", and really, a PuG doesn't need the benefits of synergy and long-term goodwill to succeed in it's goal; most PuG's are all about short-term success.  (And also, isn't a PuG the bottom level?  It's like the sandlot ball of raiding.)  For a cohesive, future-minded raid team, "class denied" might not be as bad a policy as previously thought.   It pays off in the long run given time for fringe benefits like the Loot Miasma Vaccination to manifest.  If you have the choice, go for the synergy.  It may take some extra work, but it'll probably be worth it.

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