I Miss Ghostcrawler

There, I said it.

Luckily for all of us, apparently the people of the LoL forums occasionally goad him into talking about WoW design. Here are some of the bits I found most interesting:

Was there a specific wow example that you think changed the balance too much? Whether you meant to shift the game that way or not, it seems like the playerbase thinks this has happened.

If I had to point to one controversial change, I’d say that in vanilla and BC to a lesser extent, there were many specs that weren’t really viable for PvE or PvP. We felt like they needed to be viable in order to justify being in the game, and we were reasonably successful in getting all of them much more competitive. I’ll be honest that there were times when there was still one dominant PvP spec, one dominant PvE spec and one more-or-less dead spec per class, but we did get a lot closer than ever before, especially in the most recent expansion. (And that was the team that accomplished that — I take very little credit.)

So why was this direction controversial? One, it was just flat out harder to balance since there were more variables. It led to all sorts of religious debates such as whether pure classes “deserved” to do more damage than hybrids. In order to guarantee that a particular class or spec wasn’t mandatory for raiding or Arenas, we had to share utility among more classes. (One example is shaman were no longer the only ones to bring Bloodlust.) This did homogenize classes, and some players were understandably not excited about that direction. I’m not sure of a better approach though. Maybe WoW should just have had 10 classes and not the 30 that different specs brought. Maybe some specs should have just stayed dead. I still think about this a lot.

As someone who mained a Paladin throughout TBC, I am a little biased against the whole “leave dead specs in” design. I was not a particular fan of Paladin healing, which left… precisely zero viable PvE/PvP specs for me for most of that expansion. Hell, Illidian as a raid boss was entirely designed around having a Warrior tank. And don’t get me started on how Retribution was only viable as a DPS option on Horde side (Seal of Blood was Blood Elf specific). Paladins ended up being 5-man tanking kings by the end of TBC, but I still remember the growing pains into of Ulduar in which General Vezax basically meant I had to level up a Death Knight alt just to main-tank it.

Still, I almost wonder how a “just 10 classes” design would work. Perhaps like Guild Wars 2? Or would there simply be tanking classes and healing classes?

Do you ever regret opening the game up to be more casual? Instead of taking the kind of direction you are with league?

Different approaches work for different products, and I don’t want to second guess the WoW team. Let’s just say that after working on Age of Empires and World of Warcraft for a total of 16 years, it’s really refreshing to work on a game where I don’t have to worry whether someone’s grandmother can pick it up or not.

Would like to see GC’s grandmother (or mother or father or brother etc) kill Heroic 25m Siegecrafter Blackfuse!

Blackfuse is not the standard by which most of the game is designed. It’s memorable in fact because it’s so much harder than 99% of what you do in the game. Very few players even try (though it is a great fight). You don’t wipe 100 times leveling up. Few players quit running dungeons because they’re too hard. In much of the game, death is unlikely and not much of an obstacle when it does happen. That’s just the way the game was designed and the way nearly all players experience it. I’m not even commenting on whether I agree with that philosophy or not, but it was the philosophy.

Regardless of whether anyone’s grandmother can beat Blackfuse or attain Challenger tier is really besides the point. The points (and these are facts, because I was on the staff of both dev teams) are:

1) WoW spends a lot of effort to make sure almost any player can pick up the game, learn the ropes, level to 90 and even raid if that’s their interest. LoL spends almost no effort making sure almost any player can pick up the game. It does expend some effort to make sure that players who self-identify as gamers can pick up the game.

2) As a result of these efforts and different definitions of potential audience, WoW has a much broader audience than LoL. That’s fine. Different strategies work for different games.

My point was that I spent a lot of development time on both Age of Empires and WoW trying to make the games approachable to a wide audience without compromising the game design. I don’t have to do that anymore, which is s nice change of pace.

Well that’s certainly a confirmation of a lot complaints about WoW’s difficulty curve in solo content.

I love WoW but if not for heroic raiding, I likely would have left a long time ago.

I’m a heroic (mythic) raider. That’s how I fell in love with WoW. But they can’t sustain the game alone. (Source)

There’s a widespread misunderstanding that most people even want to be “brought up.” Everyone has the tools and capability to do anything. How many do it? (Bashiok)
We thought in Cata that we could entice players to rise to the occasion to do harder content. But, you know, some players just said that’s not why they play the game. More power to them. (Source)

The notion that gaming exists (entirely or in part) as a means to improve the skills of the player is a topic all its own, but let me briefly say: that’s dumb. Games are entertainment products. Some people are indeed entertained by honing their skills and seeing increases in finesse. But in many ways that is ultimately a zero-sum endeavor – being “too good” eliminates a wide swath of potential games for you on the one end, and the limits of your own physical abilities removes games from the other end. Meanwhile, everyone can experience, say, character progression at any level.

In a game entirely based around competition, sure, go ahead and “train” your players. Some of us just want to press some buttons, experience a little escapism, and/or need an excuse to (virtually) hang out with online friends and do things together.

I’d like to know what Blizzard considers to be the big barriers.
Well *I* consider the biggest barrier being it’s a 3D WASD game with a movable camera. (Bashiok)
I agree. So does a lot of data. (Source)

Man, I always supported you with WoW changes and felt really bad when you left, but that WoW comment… ouch.
We updated Elwynn Forest twice while I was there to make the game accessible. It was a lot of work. There are very hardcore aspects of WoW but there are also casual ones. Catering to both (or all) is a big challenge. That’s all I meant. I earned a reputation for “dumbing the game down” which is bizarre to me. I was countering that supposition. No offense intended.(Source)

I’m reading a lot of comments confusing accessibility with difficulty. Learning to play WoW is accessibility. Raiding is difficulty. WoW’s intent when I was there (I can’t speak for it now) was to appeal to a wide audience. Developing for a wide audience is very hard. Ulduar (my favorite raid) had two raid sizes (and optional hard modes). After that we added more difficulty tiers to broaden raiding appeal.
Is that something you didn’t want to do?
You can argue it exposed more players to the fun of raiding, but might have diminished the psychological reward of doing so. Raids also self nerf over time as players gear up, and we did across the board nerfs as well. So dedicated players would eventually get to see the content. The change was more about whether players deserved to see new content when it was new vs several patches later. (Source)
Adding multiple tiers per raid is more work. Appealing to a broad audience is more work. For once in my career, I don’t have to do that. (Source)
People struggled through bad design and confused it with mastery of difficulty.
There also was very little concept of damage meters or optimal rotations in Molten Core. The audience matured. (Source)

The raiding bit was interesting, but the fact that the very fundamental 3D interface being an issue is… illuminating. The things was take for granted, eh?

What by your experience are the constant things that come up that make learning a game hard?
1) Identifying the goal, 2) Understanding the controls, 3) Realizing where the fun is going to be. I mention that third point because too many tutorials strip away too much fun out of fear of burdening a new player.
Hand held guidance vs joy of discovery and freedom. Can`t have both.
Yes, but you can make the hand held guided part fun. Maybe you can see a dragon even if you have no business fighting one yet. (Source)

Explained another way, when you see a big drop off in players after only a few minutes then they are probably very confused. Players can’t usually tell if a game will be fun that quickly, but if they have no idea what’s going on, then they may quit. You see this a lot when casual players can’t mouse look, a skill second nature to many core gamers. (Source)

Look, you can play a very demanding game casually or invest many hours in a simple iPhone game. WoW appeals / tries to appeal to many gamers who don’t fit the traditional gamer mold. League doesn’t go after those gamers. Simple as that. (Source)
I can mouse look, play WoW, and adventure games. Dont consider myself (hard)core gamer. Core/casual split seems so limiting
It is very limiting. However, when even game developers watch a brand new player struggle with controls it’s eye opening. (Source)

Alright, I’m good.

Still… see what I mean? Could someone point out where else we could read some rather frank discussions on the nuts and bolts of game design? Developer blogs are almost entirely marketing vehicles that only tangentially resemble the final product. I am not suggesting Ghostcrawler is necessarily best designer out there, or even a good one. He might not be the one we deserve, but he’s the one we need right now.

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Posted on September 1, 2014, in Philosophy, WoW and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. That’s a really interesting collection of quotes. Some of them just mystify me, particularly the one about WASD and moveable camera. What control system is the more accessible and easier one than that? I thought it was the easiest of all.

    Even going back to the first day I ever played a 3d game with WASD (I actually used the arrow keys then and for about 5 years but same principle) and a moving camera I found it immediately easier than a fixed overhead camera or a fixed, three-quarters down, over-the-shoulder view. I still find those awkward and difficult even now and rarely play any game that uses them. Is the implication that the Diablo approach is more accessible because for me it’s always been exactly the opposite.

    When he goes on about mouselook I even wonder if he means the kind of FPS no-cursor swing around with your mouse kind of controls that DCUO and NWN use. Surely to god those can’t be proven to be *more* accessible to the hypothetical grandmother than WASD? I would have thought most non-core gamers would freak out in seconds when faced with no cursor and a camera that swings all over the place. The way new MMOs are being built using those controls makes me wonder though.

    All in all – very confusing information.

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    • The problem is not that there is a better way to control your character in WoW. The problem is that, when a brand new player first enters the genre, having played no other game with similar controls, it’s simply not intuitive.

      How is someone supposed to know that the “W” key makes their character move forward? It feels natural to us now, but for someone who might be brand new to games of any kind, there’s going to be a learning curve.

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    • As Cirak mentions, it all sort of depends on the frame of reference the new person is using. I personally came from a background of FPS games, so WASD movement was natural. I was also used to having a free mouse cursor via Diablo. What I wasn’t used to – and it’s honestly a little weird when you think about it – is basically how you hold down a mouse button all the time when running around. Left-click and right-click are two extremely useful buttons, and yet you can’t ever really bind them to anything else.

      It didn’t take me long to get used to it, of course. But that is sort of what they were talking about: people getting frustrated within the first 3 minutes.

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  2. Penny Arcade’s Extra Credits often covers the nuts and bolts in an interesting way.

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  3. I enjoyed this Q&A a lot when I first saw it. Not only did it confirm much of what I thought about WoW, but it still managed to be illuminating as well. I liked that they tried to make all specs viable, but I kind of wish they had overhauled or dropped a few completely when that became the plan.

    As a pure class player, I was always annoyed that I got nothing to compensate me for not being able to spec into a non-dps role. That variety makes a lot of other classes more fun and more useful!

    Though, I really liked vanilla World of Warcraft’s talent system too. I would’ve loved ten classes and a broader talent system. The game’s current system works well, but it’s more or less 3+ classes per single character now. I liked it when I felt like a single class with a really deep pool of abilities to focus on.

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    • Ha, I always fell on the opposite side of the pure vs hybrid DPS debate. Because, honestly, it didn’t feel particularly fair to me that I was being told I failed on the character selection screen. I chose paladin because “D&D paladin without alignment restrictions? Cool!” If there was a note at the bottom that said “As a hybrid class, you will deal 20% less damage than pure classes” then maybe I would have picked something different instead.

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      • Oh, I don’t disagree on that point, but utility tended to make up for less damage done by guaranteeing a spot for other reasons. Not enough though.

        I was just really jealous of not being able to tank on my rogue or heal as a mage or something similar. I tend to play ONE character in my MMOs, so being stuck with only one or two viable DPS specs and zero role alternatives seemed like a real drag.

        It wasn’t as bad as vanilla and being forced to heal because my class has a heal spec, but I wish it had been addressed alongside other complaints.

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  4. The comment about having 10 classes instead of 30 specs stuck out to me.

    Having different specs is my favorite aspect of the game and why i currently play it, even though i’m a relative newcomer. I absolutely despise being forced to play a class one way.

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    • I do agree that for all the balance issues they cause, the different specs all add a lot of depth and meat to the game. I can’t even really imagine the game without them.

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  5. What’s illuminating to me was the comment about a big drop off in players after only a few minutes.

    That suggests they were running metrics on their free WoW trials and seeing that occur, possibly many non-gamer types attracted by word of mouth and trying out what this “WoW” was all about, and then totally becoming bamboozled by WASD and mouse look camera.

    One wonders if a new control scheme eventually successfully makes it alongside mouselook (such as if the Oculus Rift can eventually get smooth, intuititve and cheap), if we might not see more potential players getting over this gap – similar to how Windows’ graphical UI made DOS obsolete, or the iOS finger touch controls essentially knocked styluses out of the running.

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