Monday, April 11, 2011

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 ravamped 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.

8 comments:

  1. Azuriel, if I may be so bold as to summarize, Cata dungeons are too hard and too long for LFD. Yes?

    I agree with you on length, but not on difficulty.

    I can't raid. 5-man content is all I get to do. You're calling for nerfing the only challenging content I'm going to get to play - just four months into an expansion.

    What percentage of the player base raids? 20%?

    Should we be nerfing the content that needs to feed 80% of the player base because at this point not all LFD groups make it? I remember heroics in Wrath being challenging even in a guild group on Vent. Eventually they became a joke, but they weren't to begin with.

    Some of the instances I've only done once or twice so far. I'd hate to face them and have them be a joke.

    Your idea of excluding new 5-man content from LFD is interesting. Hadn't thought about that one. But I still think it's too early to nerf all the new, i.e., Cata instances (to me and to many others, a lot of this stuff is still new).

    Lots of people are screaming about CtA. But I have read handfuls of posts from folks (experienced folks, btw), who plan to tank more frequently as a result.

    Can't we just all hold our breath and watch what happens for a few weeks? The idea is without a doubt a step in the right direction...whether it is a big enough step to adequately affect the queues...that's where the jury's still out.

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  2. On a second note, and this is an issue I don't have any answer to, and that is the issue of whether reduced player activity is a problem.

    It does look to me as numbers of players have burned through a lot of content, and that things are slowing down, if the AH is any judge. I've been checking prices this evening for my WoWflation update (probably will post tomorrow), and prices *are dropping* (you heard it here first!).

    I fully expected this, as both demand drops relative to supply and player activity (velocity) drops as well as some folks get bored and move on to other games.

    At least it's not because things are too easy for the casual player. >;P

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  3. GET OUT OF MY HEAD! You are NOT allowed to have a Shared Consciousness with me!

    Seriously, it is creepy how much this post parallels everything I have been telling friends and guildies and comment sections since cata hit. I also love you for it. I HATE cataclysm heroics for every reason you just listed, I only started tanking again the other week, and only becuase I was truly sick of the 30 minute queues and people are generally geared enough to start AoEing through the trash again.

    The challenge was fun at first, especially with guildies, but never with 4 random people I never met before or since. Same thing happened with the icecrown 5 mans, the challenge was great at first, then you came to dread HoR loading screens when all you wanted was your 2 frost. You couldn't be more right about it being a group daily, I already have a few characters that need nothing from these dungeons but the valor, but still must slog through them.

    And really, thats the biggest progblem with cata, EVERYTHING takes longer. No portals, so getting places that ARENT the new zones takes 10 min when it used to take 30 sconds, mobs have more health and hit harder, requiring you to fight less at a time then waste time eating/drinking (and it's not like the dailys require you to kill less mobs), dungeon queues are WAY longer of course, but then once you get in the dungeons have so much trash even aoeing everything takes a long while. Dailys take longer becuase of the reasons mentioned, and there's TONS of them. I waste enough of my time playing this game I don't need blizz making stuff take MORE time than it used to.

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  4. Lifedream of Black DragonflightApril 12, 2011 at 7:13 AM

    Hi guys,

    I agree with this article. I am no longer a healer. I have always played a Holy Priest, but I switched to Shadow. I did that two months ago when I reallized that healers were just taking grief from everyone. Because, as we all know, that wipe would not have happened if we just had a better healer. So, instead of healing, I wait ... a long time ... for one chance a night to run a dungeon. What happens when I finally get a group, well, you all know what happens. It is very flustrating. IT NEEDS FIXED!!

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  5. I probably fall under the category of a more casual player but I'd still like to gear up and help my guild in raids. The problem is that the gear grind is freaking brutal for all the reasons you brought up. I did two heroics with guildies quickly after getting to 333 (not even LFD...). I got nothing but a mount out of them and the group wiped 3 times on the first one and at least 6 times on the second. Each took well over an hour to complete. Since then, whenever someone in the guild says "heroic?", I just cringe and keep doing solo play. I did Wrath Heroics quite frequently in the short time I played before cata; but in cata, I just lvled up to 85, did the daily grind for faction rep, and now I'm lvling alts. The group content in Cata is stressful and frustrating; that doesn't spell fun in my book; I get enough of that at work.

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  6. Hi Azuriel!

    Great post. I've been healer/tank for the last 4 years. Indeed, the H are too long/hard for casual players.

    "Then, stick to normal!", says the crowd. Well. No. At the moment, we do not have the "in between" option. It's either easy (normal) or hard/unpredictable (H). And... queues taking all night.

    If you're the typical 30-years-old, got kids and wife aggro, then you when you're logging in for 2-3 hours, you want to "enjoy" your play time.

    "Do your dailies or Archeology, while you wait" says the crowd. Well. No. I play/pay Wow because I like the spells of my class, because I want to get new gear, etc. I don't want to be entertained while I wait to "play".

    Many nostalgic players will say "We didn't have all these fancy perks back in Molten Core days" Well, Blizz didn't have 12M players either. The reality is that this game has become more and more popular and the demand has grown far more than the offer, thus the 40min queues...

    Yes, Wrath was too easy at the end and I don't think Blizz should revisit that model.

    "So what your point" shouts the crowd. Well, my suggestion to Blizz lies within their walls. All the Diablo II players out there will remember the "Xplayer=" command. In DII, you could make the game harder by telling it you were 10 players but 2 in RL, so the game was harder. This could easily be implemented by Blizz in direct correlation to their itemLvl. The higher the itemLvl, the harder it is. Players could even have the option to enable/disable this option.

    Food for thoughts. Thxs.

    Mila.

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  7. What a great post, Azuriel! I totally agree, and actually feel this is the only thing that's going to save this expansion.. General activity on my mid-sized realm has gone down drastically, it's sad to see.

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  8. World's...greatest...post :)

    I laughed out loud at your snarky descriptions of our fellow LFD denizens, and felt warm and represented in your tank's viewpoint and frank assessment of the Cata heroics.

    A friend of mine says: "Cata heroics aren't hard, *people* make them hard."

    Sometimes we (meaning me as tank and the LFD picks) blow through them like the dying days of Wrath; then there will suddenly be a day where the hunter freeze traps the skull and the lock wants to CC with an unglyphed fear spell....

    And, yeah. After such a day it takes me a couple days of slumming for JP in the normal runs to get my (over)confidence back up. Even with the promise of the mystery bag of super-great loot.

    All in all, I'm ambivalent about whether this is more an issue of heroics being too difficult or players being underprepared.

    But I'm a tank -- my intellect is only 35 -- so I try not to spend too much time worrying about such things; I leave them to our fine bloggers such as yourself.

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