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OT: The Final Tanking Solution

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the systemic problems with the LFD feature when it comes to tanks, and quite frankly, a lot of truly bizarre “fixes.”

Rohan from Blessing of Kings thinks that maybe we should move from the Holy Trinity (e.g. tank, healer, 3 DPS) to something like 2 tanks, 2 healers, 2 DPS. While that seems out of the blue, apparently it is more similar to what Age of Conan was (is?) doing. Green Armadillo at Player Vs Developer thinks that since there are more DPS than the other roles, why not simply have a tank, healer, and 7 DPS? Gordon from We Fly Spitfires thinks that simply no one wants to play those roles, and so Blizzard should either make those things more fun to do or perhaps give up on the Holy Trinity model altogether. Adam from The Noisy Rogue asks why Blizzard is bribing tanks when they could simply make running heroics required for raiding by adding a (stacking) buff for completing them. Incidentally, Adam appears to hate non-pure DPS classes and wishes them pain. Gevlon from The Greedy Goblin thinks it is an “education” issue that should be fixed by somehow teaching people how to play better (or how to tank), and that no amount of bribery will work.

And to round it out, here is actually Blizzard’s official take on the situation:

We don’t feel the tanking and healing roles have any inherent issues that are causing the representation disparity, except that fulfilling them carries more responsibility. Understandably, players prefer to take on that responsibility in more organized situations than what the Dungeon Finder offers, but perhaps we can bribe them a little.

With Great DPS-Power, Comes… No Responsibility

All of these “solutions” flirt around the two problems, outlining what is really going on in the vaguest of ways. Tanking (and healing) carry more responsibility… why? Easy: tanks and healers cannot be carried. When a tank fails, by definition, the group wipes. When a healer fails, the group wipes. There can be sloppy play, for sure, like a tank not positioning the boss correctly, or not reacting to a certain ability the correct way. However, if the group is still able to rally and defeat the boss anyway, the “failure” really is not a failure. Conversely, DPS failing generally means that the DPS died, which is not that big a deal…

…until now.

Problem 1: Cataclysm dungeons are (still) too difficult for the LFD tool.

The first time I zoned into the revamped Shadowfang Keep and saw that there were actually three separate spells that a DPS could (and has had to in two cases) interrupt on Baron Ashbury, I knew I would despise this expansion. Commander Springvale, Lady Naz’jar, Rom’ogg Bonecrusher, Corla, Herald of Twilight, Ammunae, Setesh, Rajh, Corborus, (post-patch) Asaad, Foe Reaper 5000, Admiral Ripsnarl, “Captain” Cookie… all of these bosses from nearly every single heroic have mechanics that the DPS has to take care of or else the group wipes. Blizzard actually thought they could add responsibility onto the historically least responsible role and have everything work out? Nevermind the endless mob packs that need CCing along the way.

It might come as a shock, but bad players play this game. I do not subscribe to Gevlon’s “M&S” sociopathy, but there is a full spectrum of player abilities out there, and not every one is tall enough to ride this roller coaster, so to speak, especially after jacking up the scale a few more inches. You cannot keep these players out of the LFD tool though, because there are not enough “good” players to support the function – as I mentioned back in February, there has to be a critical mass of success going on for the tool to operate at a self-sustaining level. No matter what you think about the LFD tool, it is still entirely better than trying to make your own non-guild group, as otherwise you would be doing that instead of sitting in a DPS queue for 45 minutes.

I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed

Speaking of sitting around for 45 minutes…

Problem 2: Cataclysm dungeons (still) take too long.

It is bad enough that having one (or two) bad players from the LFDisaster lottery in your group can torpedo an entire heroic run. What drives the situation into an irredeemable farce that it is today is asking raid-geared tanks to slog through perfect no-wipe, no-death runs… in 50+ minutes. All for 70 Valor Points. Every other non-raid aspect of this game is designed around being completed in 30 minutes or less. TB dailies? 30 minutes. Battlegrounds? 30 minutes. Arena games? They can technically last for 47 minutes or whatever, but most games last no more than ~3 minutes * 10 games (assuming 50% win percentage), so ~30 minutes. What happened to 30 minute heroics? As I have openly opined in this space before, where are all the players asking for 5-man raids on their off-nights?

Blizzard seems to be addressing this particular problem, e.g. 70 VP/hour not being good enough, without actually addressing the equally (if not moreso) pressing Problem 1. This is why their bribing “solution” will be a short-term improvement at best: I actually do plan on running LFD more often, but only because the Reins of the Raven Lord is something I have been farming off-and-on again since TBC was relevant content. So I will either get the mount rather quickly, or I will become so frustrated (again) at the prospect of running these heroics that I would rather be farming Sethekk Halls the old fashioned way, and getting done in a fraction of the time.

Always the Last Place You Look

So what is the actual final solution to this seemingly tanking crisis? Does it involve fundamentally changing the way the game is played, perhaps with 8-9 person dungeons with two tanks or whatever? Nope. How about rating systems, or game tutorials? Bzzt!

Solution: Tune Cataclysm dungeons like Wrath dungeons were tuned.

Problem solved! Did you, or anyone you know complain about DPS queues in Wrath? Not a chance. DPS queues were 11 minutes back then. Eleven minute DPS queues. Can you imagine? I can! Despite the low queue times, I still tanked on three separate toons because it was faster and I enjoyed tanking more. How could I enjoy tanking and it’s responsibility? Because I had control over the outcome. You could be the worst player in the world and I would carry you kicking and screaming to a 15-20 minute LFD success. And then everyone could move on with their lives.

People did complain Wrath heroics were too easy. And you know what? Those people complain that Cataclysm dungeons are too easy. There is no satisfying those people, because they have such warped perceptions as to what daily group quests should consist of that placating them is a waste of time. These dungeons were new, relevant content the first few times you beat them. After that? They are farm content. Does anyone legitimately enjoy “challenge” on farm content? That seems like a contradiction in terms, does it not? If you are in heroic raiding content, does it please you to wipe on normal Magmaw? I find that unlikely. Challenge does not consist of RNG wipefests because you happened to be grouped with a stoned college student, a stay-at-home mom changing a diaper with one hand on the keyboard, a Fan of Knives bot, and/or the social bully studying to get his minor in Sadism.

Tanking and healing will always have more responsibility than DPSing. The goal should not be to “fix” that by adding more responsibility to DPS. All that will do is make tanking/healing more frustrating, because on top of what you already have to worry about, you have to worry about whether you will wipe through no fault of your own because Worgenlol of Random Server 316 did not interrupt the one-shot mechanic of a dungeon boss.

Challenging content does have a place in World of Warcraft and that place is in organized content. Grabbing five random players and sticking them into a group that will never exist again is not “organized content.” You can even still have challenging heroic dungeons for people that want it… just don’t stick those dungeons in the Dungeon Finder. The way the revamped ZA/ZG are rolling out is a bastardized version of this, but Blizzard could do it better. Have them exist as brutal 5m content for 1-2 months or whatever, and NOT be in LFD. Then, nerf them appropriately when you finally do add them to the tool. This solution actually appeases the “save the community (that we never interacted back in vanilla/TBC)!” camp, as you could get your local e-Street Cred up for successful ZA/ZG runs while anyone else who couldn’t be bothered could still get their daily 7/week VP the (now) old-fashioned way. Between the 353 gear and the doubled (!) VP gains from ZA/ZG, I do not think there would be any danger of there not being enough people running those dungeons. And when 4.2 rolls around at the end of August when it’s ready? Glide ZA/ZG right into LFD.

No matter what you thought about Wrath, the one thing it indisputably got correct was how to make a vibrant, healthy LFD community. Player activity only went down after nearly a year without new content, and the prospect of another gear-reset expansion. Cataclysm player activity is down four months after launch. No, seriously. Blizzard talks big game about the design iteration process, but as we know from Wrath they kept the same difficulty model the entire expansion. I actually have little hope that they will turn Cataclysm around before plowing into that iceberg, and what we are likely to see is another brutal raid tier in Firelands and less reasons to feel the need to log on every day. Design decisions like “let’s require endboss kills before they can get a 4pc bonus!” sound good on paper (and quells the forum trolls), but in practice it makes people less interested in ANY tier pieces. Cataclysm difficulty? Same kind of deal.

OT: Four Point What

Patch 4.1 is hitting the PTR Soon™ and in the midst of flurry of blog posts about it, let me be the first to say: ZA & ZG what?

We had gotten hints at the beginning of Cataclysm that ZG/ZA might have merely been a setback with all the chatter about the Tome of Polymorph: Turtle and the vague gesticulations concerning the ZG mounts. The literal revelation that these are coming back though leaves me a bit floored. To a certian extent you expect a bit of redundancy within MMOs, for several reasons. For example, can you imagine 120 different Fire Elemental models? It would be absurd, a huge drain not only on development time but also taxing on players’ mental bandwidth. The other reason why you should expect redundancy within an MMO is simply because of player churn. For however X number of players remember going through ZG and ZA back in the day, there are Y players who never did… making the content new to them. If recycling content gives the designers space to make all-new content, that is an acceptable trade-off.

That said, it remains to be seen whether we will be, in fact, getting gameplay returns for developer recycling or if Blizzard is simply repackaging our shampoo into a “new and improved” 9 oz bottle (down from 12 oz) while charging the same $15. Revamped Onyxia was better than no Onyxia in Tier 9 content, unless we could have had Completely New Boss X instead. Blizzard promised Throne of Tides – Abyssal Maw in 4.1 though, so unless that makes it Live in addition to the other two, it is conceviable Blizzard is peddling some Adjustable Rate Mortgages our way.

Ultimately, the above kind of gut reactions miss the PVSAH mark. The only relevant aspect is: are these heroics/boss fights fun? If Blizzard makes them fun, what does it matter if in patch 4.2 we see 5-man Karazhan (hopefully with Chess Event and the legions Malchezaar commands intact) or even the ultimate slap-in-the-face Magister’s Terrace revamp? Fun is fun. And while that may seem like a tautological cop-out, at the end of the day it is the only thing that really matters.

Edit: I wrote the above a few days ago when the changes had just been revealed. Since then, my feelings have shifted more towards Acceptance. The Deadmines revamp was essentially an entirely new, innovative instance wrapped in nostalgia packaging. The same could sortabe said about Shadowfang Keep, but I hate the place honestly. I don’t like running Deadmines either – both still take even a guild group close to an hour to finish – but if the ZA & ZG heroics turn out like Deadmines from an innovation standpoint, it’s win-win for everyone.