We Didn't Start the Fire
I have a song stuck in my head now…*sigh*.
Starting the Fire
The blog community has been in a bit of an uproar ever since Gordon from We Fly Spitfires wrote a guest post for World of Matticus about the idea that healing and tanking should garner greater rewards. I don’t think Gordon quite knew what he was getting into when he published the article, and I hope he has a thick skin. I’d like to think he wasn’t intentionally trying to outrage the community, but rather generate some good discussion (and I think Matticus felt the same way or he wouldn’t have posted it). He has certainly achieved that result.
A conversation with Big Bear Butt last night got me thinking about class design in WOW, and MMORPG’s in general. He wrote an interesting blog post about some of his ideas. Since I didn’t want to fill up his page with an enormous rambling comment, I thought I would put my musings here. Some of it is in reply to his post, and some in reply to the We Fly Spitfires post.
Asking Ourselves Why
First lets address the apparent shortage of healers and tanks in the game. Why are these roles filled less often? An obvious reason is simple supply and demand - for a 25-man raid you need roughly 3 tanks, 16 DPS and 6 healers (depending on your encounter of course). In a 10-man you’ll usually have 2 tanks, 5 DPS and 3 healers. The need for tanks and healers is much smaller, hence less well-geared tanks and healers. The advent of dual-specs may have helped this slightly, as most hybrid classes can perform DPS and/or Tank/Healer roles. Unfortunately since one spec is usually more geared than the other, we still see the imbalance. You can’t gear up a tank set fully if you never are needed to tank.
Another reason for the shortage of course is the idea that tanking/healing are harder or more demanding roles. People are less inclined to play roles they think are high-pressured. This leads to the majority of people choosing the DPS route. But are they actually harder, or is it just perception? We often see good healers and tanks carry bad DPS in a 5-man, but is this just because the less skilled players choose the DPS? It’s not impossible for good DPS to carry a bad tank or healer, it just happens more infrequently. A good DPS can save the healer’s mana by staying out of the fire and self-healing, or assist the tank by managing adds using Crowd Control and threat redirectors like Misdirect or Tricks of the Trade. I think that we are trapped in a bit of a vicious cycle here – the perception of healing/tanking is that its harder, which leads to those that are not very committed to the game playing DPS, which leads to the everyone thinking that DPS is easy, and “just meat in the room”. Skilled DPS players are nearly as hard to find as good tanks or healers. I think Blizzard is partly to blame for tuning content to lower DPS requirements, enabling the carrying of DPS.
We also must consider that throughout leveling we learn how to DPS. The solo game is mainly based upon killing mobs to earn XP, or doing quests that require us to kill mobs to get certain drops, etc (yes, I know that you can level without this but it is not easy). Only those that step foot into instances really learn how to tank or heal. Healing and tanking seem hard at first because they are different from what we are used to – an entirely new skill set.
A common misconception is that healers and tanks are required to be leaders in the raid. Miss Medicina said this well in comment on the post on World of Matticus, ”Perhaps it’s actually the other way around – leaders take on the healing and tank roles because they see a need for more of that group role, and, as leaders, feel it is their duty to step up to the plate.”
It’s also important to note that in a true progression raid, all roles need to perform skillfully, or a wipe will in ensue. If all the DPS die in a fire then it is unlikely that the healers/tanks could survive the encounter alone. Yes, I’ve seen it happen on fights like Heigan, but generally you’ll hit an enrage timer, or the healer will run out of mana. Conversely I’ve seen fights where the tank and healers die and the last remaining DPS are able to burst down the boss.
A real problem with the imbalance in tank/healers vs DPS is that some tanks and healers think they deserve greater rewards. Whether it’s because they have a huge ego, or they’re tired of carrying terrible DPS, this idea is becoming more prominent. The LFG tool helps enforce this because due to supply and demand, healers and tanks have shorter queue times (this is partly due to the fact that the ratio for tanks/healers vs DPS in raids is not the same as tanks/healers vs DPS in 5-mans. It’s also true that many DPS that are doing 5-mans would never be skilled enough to raid in any role – and they chose DPS since they think it’s the easiest, remember.). This “I’m special” attitude is enforced, and we have tanks/healers leaving groups in LFG if things don’t go their way (and there is no real punishment for doing so).
My main is a DPS, so I’m aware my opinions are biased. I’m not saying that without a doubt DPS is equivalently hard as Tanking or Healing, I’m just saying we need to be aware of all the factors involved. In fact, I think that despite all the arguments above, there is still the inherent flaw that the tank and heals are Single Points of Failure. If a tank or healer dies right away, the group probably won’t succeed. A good group of DPS can only help prevent them from dieing in the first place. On the other hand, if a DPS dies, the others might be able to pump out enough to make up for it.
A Better Solution Than Rewards
After considering all the above arguments, if tanking/healing really is still harder or more important than DPS, then something needs to be done. As BBB said, the solution is not to grant more rewards to tanks and healers, but rather to make the DPS roles more valuable. In Burning Crusade, DPS was valued for their Crowd Control abilities. In Wrath, we don’t need to use CC, which took away a huge portion of the utility of DPS. CC might not be the only answer for making DPS more valuable though (after all we have to consider why Blizzard took it out in the first place).
BBB’s solution was definitely food for thought – he proposed that all classes should be hybrids. All classes can tank in a certain stance, and when doing so they only generate threat (no damage), and everyone else is a dps/heals hybrid (like hyped-up Blood DK with self-healing dps, or priest doing Holy Nova). I’d love to see this done in an MMO, although I’m not sure if Blizzard will change things so drastically. They are looking at how to make healing more interesting though, and this would certainly do it.
I think in WOW, we need to either add more utility to the DPS, or make sure that DPS is absolutely required to run an instance. Blizzard could add at least one boss per instance that has an enrage timer, and tune tanks in such a way that they could never generate enough DPS on their own. Now this might make it a pain for tanks to solo, so give them some sort of solo mode in which they can do real DPS but generate very little threat.
It would also be great to address the Single Point of Failure problem. Ideally, if a tank or healer goes down a Hybrid class could switch something around and quickly fill in that role. This is currently awkward to do. Maybe we need to make all hybrid classes like druids that have forms or auras which benefit a particular role (but more viable and less clunky than the current druid mechanics). This would be a little unfair to the Pure DPS classes though – perhaps they need some kind of mechanic so that if a member of the group goes down, they get a small DPS buff?
Other Somewhat Related Thoughts
Class design is certainly a challenging thing. The “trinity” of Tank, DPS, and Heals has been the defacto standard for a long time. Hybrid classes complicate this quite a bit. If a Hybrid is as good at a role as their Pure counterpart, then why bring the Pure class? Conversely, if a Hybrid isn’t as good as the Pure classes at anything, then it is better to bring multiple Pure classes. Blizzard has struggled, like all MMO designers about what to do with Hybrids. Currently a Hybrid must specialize all the way into one role (in a particular encounter), and they are equal or nearly equal to a Pure class performing that role. This calls into question whether the Pure classes are really valuable, and there has been a lot of debate about that.
Another issue is how to make classes diverse, but not too niche-focused. You’ll commonly hear “bring the player, not the class”. If certain classes are necessary to complete an encounter, then it will be hard to put a group together. You might have to bring a less-skilled player or someone you don’t like simply because they provide necessary buffs or utility. Spreading out these special abilities among the classes tends towards homogenization, which is also a cause for concern. Players want to feel that their class is unique and interesting. In Wrath, Blizzard moved towards sharing previously unique class abilities among other classes. Did they move too far in this direction? If not, how far is too far?
I do like the thought of making everyone a hybrid. You’d have to give each class its own unique flair for each role, while not specializing them so much that they were required for certain content. This is certainly a challenging proposition, but that’s not to say it can’t be done well.
Hints at Blizzard’s Future Plans
The Path of the Titans coming in Cataclysm really intrigues me. We have really very little information about it, but my understanding is that it adds a new system for enhancing your character in addition to the class-and-spec-based system we currently have. I’m excited at the possibilities of further making my character unique. I do worry though, that it will making balancing too complicated for Blizzard to handle. I’m sure we’ll see certain combinations of specs & titans completely overpower others.
Other Interesting Articles
While writing this blog post I came across two interesting articles at Gamasutra on the subject of MMO class design: