There seems to be an increasing number of posts and comments popping up all over the blogsphere stating (or implying) that people are coming towards the end of their raiding 'career'. Or that it's over already. I know the standard defence for this is twofold: that we're not all that far into the expansion as yet (or conversely: there isn't 'enough' content to keep people interested - pick your 'side') and that summer is coming and people naturally slacken off when the sun is shining and the outside world is more inviting than their monitor. Yeah ok, maybe those are true. But I'm not convinced. As we were drawing to the end of Wrath, I continued to read a lot of posts about people exulting in their triumph over the Lich King (even via PuG groups) and there seemed to be a buzz about raiding in Cata. The raiding glow seems to be diminishing at an alarming rate. There are many reasons proposed for this, but the most common seems to lay the blame solely at Blizzard's door due to the perceived change in difficulty level of heroics and raiding between Wrath and Cata. In Wrath it was 'too easy' - do you really get the same level of satisfaction (and glory?) from downing bosses that PuGs can drop? And in Cata it's been 'too hard'. As Sven asked: who'd be a game designer?
Can we, for the sake of debate, try to remove perceived changes to game design from the equation, and instead look at firstly the player base, and secondly at what I call the 'raiding mentality'?
Let's take the player base first. According to Wiki, WoW has been around since 24 November 2004. So that's six and a half years. I don't know about you but my life was a bit different that long ago, however I was still a responsible (ahem) adult. I was in my... ok, my late 20s but I still had kids and a fulltime job and a mortgage to pay. I'm not sure how representative of the player base that is though. I'd hazard a guess that when a lot of the people we now consider to be 'veterans' started playing they were in their early 20s. Now they're in their mid - late 20s (maybe (the horror!) even their 30s.) Their lives are probably markedly different. They'll have shouldered fulltime jobs and mortgages, and have bills to pay. They may have (non gaming) partners who are going to be (in my view) probably less then cool with them being surgically attached to an online game for hours regularly. (And, as a minor, but relevant aside, have you ever listened to someone raiding without the understanding of 'WoW language'? Can you imagine how excluding that could be?) They may even have rugrats and as many parents know, 7pm ain't the ideal time to be needing peace and quiet and uninterrupted time when there are rugrats bouncing about. So is it fair to assume that players' lives may have changed considerably outside of the game? I think it is.
Then there's the raiding 'cycle'. For some people, every new expansion brings a series of new raids and they're cool with their hard-earned epics being tomorrows vendor trash. For others, it isn't that easy. If you raided in vanilla, you'll be on the third loop of the cycle. You'll have geared up in vanilla, in TBC, in Wrath and in Cata. Technically that's four times, but I felt, like I think most people do, that the first time you raid and gear up it's all shiny and new and exciting. But is it really, that much of a surprise that on the 3rd or 4th time round, the pervading feeling is one of 'here I go again...'? We all know the drill: you hit level cap and start running heroics, crafting epics and the rep grind to get entry level raid gear. You do the entry level raids and start getting 'proper' epics. Then you get gear with a higher item level as the bosses and the raid content gets harder. You get tier gear sets and then the new raid is patched in and whaddyaknow? It drops the next tier. Rinse and repeat for every expansion. And that right there - that's the definition of a 'grind'.
Also, and this next bit might be totally specific to me, I think raiding gives you a set of blinkers. Or tunnel vision. The primary focus of the game becomes raiding, raid prep, gems, enchants, gear, buff food, elixirs/flasks/potions, loot tables, DKP and on and on and on... The entire game starts to revolve around raiding. Everything else starts to form part of your peripheral vision, ok, it's there but it's off to the side and a bit out of focus. I've lost count of how many posts I've read bemoaning the nigh-impossibility of being an 'RPer' and a 'proper raider'. That saddens me. Again, speaking for me (and trying to ignore my officer/raid leaders responsibilities as I realise that they form part of the 'raid management' experience, rather than straightforward 'raid experience') the game turned into just being about raiding. Everything else got sidelined. Now, you can argue (and I wouldn't disagree with you) that this is a choice of sorts. One does not have to raid 5, 6 or 7 nights a week. One, I'm sure can be more... moderate that this, but when you're going for progression it's tough. When you form part of a 10-man, and a 25-man (pre shared lockouts) raid team, it's very hard to just take a few nights off. More so when you're a proven healer.
So when do you realise that you're burning out, and how do you manage it? I know people with stronger willpower than I, who simply took a few weeks off and accepted that their need to have some head space took priority over raid progression. I salute those people, I really do. I was never able to just take time off like that. I tried to, and then I'd log on to play an (unguilded) alt, and I'd feel guilty. Would they get the raid going tonight? What happened if one of the other healers had issues and couldn't make it as well? I hated that feeling of 'letting the team down' and whilst, in many cases, that's an admirable trait, when you're burning out it isn't. Others I knew decided that the guild was what was making them unhappy, rather than the raiding. They guild-hopped, always leaving amicably, switching guilds every few months, searching for that one guild who they'd feel 'right' raiding with. Totally unable to see that, often, they didn't need a change of guilds, they needed a change of pace. Eventually, they took extended breaks or vanished off into other games, or just into real life.
When I stopped raiding, Azeroth became a complex, multi-facted environment again. I had time to play around with alts, to level professions, to sit around and chat, to re-roll on an RP server... I had time to re-discover all the other parts of the game that I'd almost forgotten existed whilst I'd been wearing my raiding glasses. I know that I have issues with not hurling headlong into things. My motto is much more likely to be 'everything in excess, nothing in moderation' than the correct way round. So I know that, for me, raiding is a closed door now. But I still miss it.
Lastly, I'd like to salute those who are still there, plugging away at the latest raids. Just remember that Azeroth is a big place, full of wonder and enchantment. If it seems to only be existing in capital cities and portals and raids then it might be time to refresh yourself. Talk a walk through Winterspring, or along the coast somewhere. Don't let yourself burn-out, because once you have, it's bloody hard to be able to get going again. In other words, don't be me.