Raiding has been on my mind a lot lately. It's actually kind of strange how little I write about it on here, considering that it's the activity that I participate in with the most regularity in SWTOR, as I run operations with my guild several times a week. (It might even win in terms of overall time spent... but I'm not sure about that one.) True, Bioware hasn't exactly given us much to work with for a while, but still...
The announcement that a new operation is finally in the works has been welcome in these parts, but almost as soon as it was out, suddenly the opposition was out in full force again too. Even after two years, how dare Bioware "waste" time on things like a new raid when we still haven't got all our old companions back? And so on and so forth. Few MMO features seem to agitate people on both sides of the fence quite as much as raids, as you have both the supporters that keep shouting that the game needs them or it will surely die and the detractors that angrily denounce any time spent on them as a waste of resources that just caters to a tiny minority. I mean, obviously everyone wants the devs to focus on the stuff that they personally are the most interested in, but people don't seem nearly as passionate about shouting down other people's points of view when it comes to other features. Off the top of my head, only PvP comes close in terms of the amount of outrage it generates.
Looking at it from another angle, dev decisions on the subject of raiding remain inscrutable. Sure, there's WoW, which loves its raiding and which keeps being held up as the gold standard in that department. But other games seem to flip back and forth with no clear signs of whether treating raiding any particular way is good or bad. Wildstar pushed the hardcore raiding angle pretty hard and many put the blame for its lack of success solely on that. On the other hand we have games like Guild Wars 2, which prided themselves on being different from the rest, suddenly jumping on the raid bandwagon late in the game. LOTRO made headlines in gaming circles when it openly scoffed at raiders, yet a few years later they are back to trying to court them with new content. SWTOR never went so far as to say they weren't going to create any more operations, but still left its raiding community hanging for a really long time, just to frantically scramble to make a new release this year. It's funny because whether you think that raids are good or even necessary for a game's success or the complete opposite, if you look at the behaviour of different developers you can currently find evidence to support either point of view. Maybe everyone just keeps making raids because it's what WoW does and studios are still trying to find the secret sauce that will make them as successful as Blizzard.
I suppose it doesn't help that people raid for very different reasons, so even among the tiny raiding minority, not all raids will have equal appeal. Back in my WoW days I remember a fellow blogger explaining how raiding, for him, was all about solving the puzzle of the fight, and he reckoned that he'd be just as happy if instead of fighting dragons with magic missiles we were simply moving geometric shapes around. I knew right away that this definitely wasn't me. I like the feeling of immersion, of fighting a fight so grand that I alone am not strong enough to best it. That's something that matters to me to make raiding fun.
But I also like the camaraderie, which is a major reason of why I've happily continued to down (or die to) the same bunch of raid bosses in SWTOR for the last two years. This is one area where I have not seen or heard of anything that can truly replace the raiding experience yet. Large scale zergs mostly seem to appeal to people who aren't playing with a bunch of friends and just want easy random grouping, but from my point of view I found that they get pretty dull soon when you're actually looking for something to do as a pre-made group.
I'm not a "raid or die" kind of person: Not having raids is not a reason for me not to play a game, and I'm open to doing other types of group content. I just haven't encountered anything yet that really manages to scratch that itch in the same way. At the same time I would never start playing a game just because people say that it has good raiding. SWTOR could remove all raids tomorrow and I would continue to play it - though differently and a lot less - but there is a lot more to a good MMO than one type of content.
I actually wouldn't recommend SWTOR to anyone if they were asking for an MMO to raid in above everything else... but good raiding does add one more thing that can add to a game's overall appeal. The main things I like about SWTOR are the IP (which includes the setting and overall tone of the world), the graphical style finding a nice middle ground between cartoony and realistic, the classic hotbar MMO gameplay and the focus on good storytelling. Its raiding is a nice bonus because I've always been a middle-of-the-road raider, bored by zergs but not good enough to beat the hardest content, and this is the difficulty level that SWTOR's operations largely cater to. If you like SWTOR for other reasons but also like playing with other people, you could do a lot worse than giving its operations a try.