On the pathologies of optimisation

I noticed last week that it’s almost as tricky to discuss optimisation in MMOs as it is to discuss difficulty. In MMOs, the two issues are deeply connected. Part of the entire point of the game is to keep optimising and improving your character so that content which was once challenging becomes easier and more trivial.

But the other reason it’s tricky is because of the pathology of optimisation. I’m going to pick out srsbusiness’ blog for some examples of this – nothing personal, I’ve seen lots of other people express these views.

But what you can’t do is expect everyone to cheer the idea of dying over and over again to indulge some masochistic yearning to “learn the game”.

Fallacy 1:

If you’re not 100% optimised then you ARE EFFECTIVELY STABBING YOUR FRIENDS IN THE NECK OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

Get this? If you aren’t studying your gearouts and strategies and bosskill videos carefully enough then you personally are responsible for multiple wipes.

Now truth is that outside the very pinnacle of hardmode progression raiding, this is unlikely to be true. I doubt I’ve ever seen any wipes where the cause was one person failing to have completely optimised their gear gemming, for example.

This assumption that people are either fully optimised or doing the equivalent of raiding naked is a really bizarre one. Surely there’s one optimised way to gear and play and many many many non-optimal ones, of which many will be perfectly fine.

But to an optimisation freak, it’s all or nothing.

Fallacy 2:

You have to be a masochist to want to learn to play the game.

This is a weird one. Srsbusiness comments that only a masochist wants to wipe multiple times so that they can learn instances. But at the beginning of a new tranche of content, that’s precisely what people do. I remember wiping in 5 mans with my group, and I don’t particularly think it was masochistic. It’s not as if we were trying deliberately to wipe. (Well, maybe there was this one time …)

If you take that mindset to extremes then it’s daft to play at all in the first month or two of a new patch, and far more sensible to wait until most of the player base knows the strategies and then just tag along. And if avoiding wipes or any failures at all is your goal, you’d probably be correct.

And it’s only one short step away to say that you also need to be a masochist to want to play with people who themselves are learning the game.

Yet at the same time, there are parts of the game where people have traditionally been more chilled out. It used to be that no one really expected perfection in low level instances because it was understood that people would be playing new classes or roles. So being suboptimal due to learning the game was pretty much accepted. I wonder for how much longer that will be the case.

Fallacy 3:

It’s all about progression raiding all of the time.

As soon as people see the word optimisation, they start thinking about their progression raid. It won’t matter if you say that you were talking about how crazy people are about stats in 5 man instances, they’ll be straight into the raid mindset.

I could write about people in lowbie instances being arses about group-mates who don’t have full heirlooms and someone would probably respond, “Why do you want to wipe my progression raid??!”

I think players do understand very well that optimisation is far more of an issue at the top end. The problem is that having played at the ‘top end’ many experienced players then want to use the same techniques all the way through the game with alts, and want everyone else to do the same thing. After all, if a new player’s level 15 character is not playing in an optimised way, then they’re “cheering the idea of dying again and again.”

And then when they start a new game, they tend to panic and stress about the prospect of not being optimised right from the start.

Age and experience beats youth and masochism

Having older players be so unwilling to tolerate newer ones inevitably affects the lifespan of the game.  But that’s not just an issue with MMOs, you see it in other multiplayer games as well.

However, the sheer revulsion at the concept of the learning stage of a game probably isn’t healthy. It’s also not a good trait to take away into the real world (where yes, you sometimes have to go in at the bottom and not be perfect at something for awhile until you have gained experience.)

Interestingly, in our old RP MUSHes, there wasn’t quite the same disdain towards new players as they were all useful faction and RP fodder. (They had other issues to do with cliquiness but if a new player got in with a good clique it would make a lot of RP for everyone involved.)

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19 thoughts on “On the pathologies of optimisation

  1. Fallacy 4: Claiming that “But what you can’t do is expect everyone to cheer the idea of dying over and over again to indulge some masochistic yearning to “learn the game”.”

    means

    “Srsbusiness comments that only a masochist wants to wipe multiple times so that they can learn instances. But at the beginning of a new tranche of content, that’s precisely what people do.”

    and also magically means

    “If you’re not 100% optimised then you ARE EFFECTIVELY STABBING YOUR FRIENDS IN THE NECK OVER AND OVER AGAIN.”

    Your paraphrase of what he said isn’t close, at all. He’s talking about people that don’t want to look at tankspot or anything similar, even for a second–by divorcing the statement above from that context , you are, well, hate to say it, but you are lying like a 100% optimized used car salesman. He was being very specific, you should really go reread the context again. Amusingly, this kind of loose reading is exactly what you complain about in your Fallacy 3. Without this glaring hypocrisy on your part, I wouldn’t have bothered to respond, since I’m sure you are responding mainly to other people, as you mention here: “I’m going to pick out srsbusiness’ blog for some examples of this – nothing personal, I’ve seen lots of other people express these views.”

    The thing is, you keep saying things like “This assumption that people are either fully optimised or doing the equivalent of raiding naked is a really bizarre one.”, but I don’t really believe anyone is actually saying that, and if they are, you certainly didn’t take the trouble to find someone who actually said that. You take one statement about people who actually exist, divorce it of context, then read that statement and explode it to its most extreme meaning. Then you take that statement, at this point a confabulation of fantasy and error, decide that it is an assumption, not a descriptive statement (which at this point is true, in a way), and deride it as bizarre. Well yes, it is bizarre, don’t do it anymore. But when I glance at the other blogger’s take on optimization, Gevlon gives a succinct explanation as to why 100% optimization is required socially, as a marker. (As an aside, many people hate this mainly because they think that means everyone has the same spec, which they find boring. Realistically, since every raid is different, and every boss is different, perfect optimization means you respec between every boss, to what you’ve calculated is best for that week based on raid composition and gear level for that week. Next week, all new calculations. No one actually respecs that often, but I’ve talked to world top dps, surprise, they don’t copy other specs, and they keep their specs hidden by respeccing before logging out to their pvp spec.) Khaas makes the simple point that people who are upset by optimization should just make their own guild(of course, Gevlon also wrote a succinct explanation of why 90% of ht nonoptimizers don’t…the wanting to get carried thing. Yes, those guilds do exist, but if you think more than %5 of raiding guilds raid that way, you are operating under severe observer bias). Sure, SynCaine wrote an acerbic satire about nonoptimizers, but that’s no surprise and he still doesn’t go where you claim people do.

    I’ll tell you what, though, even though I’m not seeing those kinds of claims anywhere, I’m sure you saw some comment somewhere that went in that direction. Well, that person was probably thinking of some specific person, that neither optimized nor got out of the fire, the fire that now in cata spawns worms or explosions and wipes the whole raid, and that commenter was being irrational due to his identification of all nonoptimizers with that one fit for him. That correlation is statistically fairly strong, and if you’re going to expect other people to put forth the effort to distinguish between the total fail nonoptimizers and the “people who play fun specs and don’t research but are not morons nonoptimizers”, either ingame or in discussion, then it would be incumbent upon you to put forth some effort to distinguish between their categories as well.

    • He was responding to my original post (amongst others), so if you’re right then he’s read something into what I said originally which genuinely wasn’t there. And that’s what I’m talking about with these fallacies — why did he read my original post as if it was talking about endgame raiding, because it wasn’t? Why is it that to him, non-optimal means multiple wipes when it doesn’t?

      • Why is it that to him, non-optimal means multiple wipes when it doesn’t?

        It comes from the fact that a person who is not willing to optimize the small things is likely to be a person who doesn’t care about being able to pull their weight in a group. “I don’t care if I’m not doing the best I can” can become “I don’t care if we can down the boss or not” which can become “I don’t care if the time of my groupmates is wasted due to wipes.” It’s courtesy to try to do your best for the success of the group and if you don’t care about that you’re likely one of those selfish, terrible players we’ve all heard stories about.

        It’s like when serious raiding guilds looked for the Exalted Sons of Hodir shoulder enchants during Wrath. It’s not that the difference between the Honored shoulder enchants and the Exalted shoulder enchants were the difference between a successful kill and a wipe; it’s that a person who was willing to put forth the effort to grind Sons of Hodir rep to Exalted was more likely to be more determined about being successful at raiding and consequently a better raider.

      • I do understand why someone running raids that have been designed for minmaxed characters would care. Or if you were recruiting someone for a long term project. But this is kind of my point: I don’t understand why you’d use the same standard for people in your 5 man PUG.

        Also, “I don’t care if I’m not doing the best I can” could mean “I have optimised my gear based on the time available to me to play and the requirements of this raid, I have no intention of rearranging my RL schedule even more to grind for a minor and unimportant upgrade.”

  2. I don’t mind wiping on instances – which is not to say I’m a masochist. It means that I don’t mind learning and figuring out tactics. I find content on “farm” to be quite boring. The period I actually enjoyed raiding in WoW was vanilla and early BC, when my guild’s approach was to try and figure out our own tactics (or at least variation) for each boss fight. When things became a matter of “you must have THIS SPEC and follow THIS STRATEGY to the letter, please leave your brain at the door” it stopped being interesting for me.

    I was in a group doing Expert Foul Cascade in Rift last night – we wiped about 5 times on the first boss, 6 times on the last boss (and had to quit due to time without downing her) and 3 or 4 times in between. First time through the dungeon, people learning new roiles and gearing up – the point is that we were happy to swap between roles and try different things. I enjoyed that more than I would have enjoyed doing 4 speed runs and netting 6 times the plaques of achievement, if the speed runs were humourless farming exercises.

  3. It’s interesting that the battle lines in this debate have been drawn up at such extreme points.

    The people who say optimise or gtfo should, logically, not play. There’s always someone better so if you really want optimal in a group remove yourself to leave room for one of the world top five players to join.

    The people who champion non-optimisation are very unlikely to run a dungeon without a healer. There are some standards, no one pugs naked. I doubt even people in “fun” specs would be happy to have a couple of group members afk follow and do nothing.

    The truth is we’re all somewhere in the middle.

  4. “It used to be that no one really expected perfection in low level instances because it was understood that people would be playing new classes or roles. So being suboptimal due to learning the game was pretty much accepted. I wonder for how much longer that will be the case.”

    I’m sad to report that from my experience, it is no longer the case…

    I’ve been levelling a lot of alts lately and thought I’d try out some low level randoms. Hit Ragefire Chasm pretty much as soon as I could on my balance druid.

    After a few pulls the DPS priest rage-quit the group, because I and the healing shammy both rolled for a pair of green cloth gloves.

    But that wasn’t the best part. The best part was the bear tank being told off for not holding aggro (never mind that the DPS didn’t seem able to stick to killing the tank’s target first). The bear explained that he was just learning to tank and would welcome any tips anyone had. To which the healer told him he shouldn’t queue as tank if he didn’t know what he was doing and stop wasting people’s time. If he wanted to learn to tank, he should do so with a guild group.

    I’ve never been in a low level instance since. I don’t tend to do high level instances and heroics outside guild groups because there are so many know it all jerks in them and they just make me angry when they point fingers at everyone but themselves.

    I tend to look up suggested talent builds and recommended stats and rotations even when I just start an alt – because that is what I like to do. To me it is as important a part of starting an alt as finding the right name. But that doesn’t mean that I expect other people to do the same thing. Where are people supposed to learn roles like tanking and healing when people in groups behave like that? I’ve created so many alts that could be tanks, but always wimp out at the last moment and go with a DPS setup. I don’t want to risk the possible stress and grief.

    • It’s not the first time I’ve heard of some new tank being slated in RFC. If new tanks are not allowed to learn in the lowest level instance the game really has cut off its oxygen supply.

  5. If you wipe on a fight then something in the group is wrong.
    Whether that is a single player, the composition, or something else it is an opportunity to learn from it, correct it and do your best to prevent it happening again.
    It is not masochistic, but simply discovering a failing of what are afterall humans.
    An inability to see the potential to learn something from a less than sucessful fight makes you a failure yourself.

  6. I think a large part of the problem is that games only reward a “successful” boss encounter that ends with the boss dead. This means that wiping is not fun for some people because it doesn’t lead to rewards. Ferrel and I talked about this a while ago: it would be interesting to see games that rewarded the learning process as well as for defeating the boss.

    • Well, in theory you’re being rewarded with the knowledge of how to beat the encounter – the reward for a try is getting closer to being able to loot purple pants off the dead boss :)

      The problem is that people want the reward first time, every time, without the learning experience. The other problem, of course, is that giving consolation prizes for “less than full success” is a tricky act – if the rewards for failure are good enough, you’ll get people taking them as the path of least resistance. For some reason just typing that I hear echoes of the cry in Alterac Valley “Let’s kill Balinda and lose fast!”

  7. “If you’re not 100% optimised then you ARE EFFECTIVELY STABBING YOUR FRIENDS IN THE NECK OVER AND OVER AGAIN.”

    Interesting topic. What’s the context of “friend” here? PUG? Casual guild? Forum? Raiding guild? etc.

    But yeah, I’ve been well-geared for WoW normals for months (easy to achieve), but there seems to be a good gap between well-geared normal and minimally geared heroic. I’ve run one heroic (and ran it successfully), but was so aware of my DPS gap that I haven’t run again and went back to optimization.

    There’s a wide gap between reaching iLevel 342 and [whatever plateau comes next]. There’s actually a heck of a gap between about 342 and a well-enchanted/gemmed 342. Getting the right 345 or so involves a heck of a lot of time grabbing JPs and running Tol Barad dailies. And the investment is enough to stop the game from being much fun. It’s nearly chicken and egg — you can’t run heroics comfortably until you’ve run and gotten drops from several heroics.

    Most of this fun-killing effect is due to Blizzard’s game design & tuning. cf. MUSHs.

    At the same time, I’ve seen some PUG grief to newbies that I suspect is actually in lieu of kicking or quitting. It’s more initiation razzing than a true neck wound. “Geez, use Bone Barrier, n00b” (or whatever that DK talent is) is more poorly phrased advice than the absolute disgust you see on forums.

    • “It’s more initiation razzing than a true neck wound.”

      As with any harassment the only meaningful definition is how does the recipient feel.

      There are black people who laugh at racist jokes, doesn’t mean it’s not hurtful to other people.

      When people call me a noob (and I’ve been playing these games in one form or another since 1978) I don’t feel like it’s being “initiated” by someone cool.

  8. Re: Fallacy 1

    As others mentioned, if you cannot be bothered to do something to help the success of the group, you are indeed “stabbing your friends in the neck” – it is not so much the literal +30 stat difference, but rather the principal of the thing. Although I would suggest not discounting +30 stats when it gets compounded across 17 pieces of equipment and then further compounded across 10/25 players.

    Imagine you were raiding and your paladin friend refused to buff the raid with Might. The difference between that and optimization is one of degrees, not kind.

    Re: Fallacy 2

    And it’s only one short step away to say that you also need to be a masochist to want to play with people who themselves are learning the game.

    You do actually need to be a masochist to want to play with new players when you have already “paid your dues” when it comes to learning encounters. Are you suggesting that you enjoy wiping on farm runs or on trash? I know I don’t.

    LFD pugs get angry because new players want to get carried by random strangers rather than putting effort into getting guild groups together to learn dungeons. I didn’t run ZA/ZG until I cleared both with a guild group, for example, because I believed it unfair to demand that four randomly chosen people teach me how to clear those dungeons. Even if you are a 100% Pay-It-Forward kind of guy, the LFD pool is bottomless – you will be paying it forward ’till you’re broke, and they will still demand more.

    Re: Fallacy 3

    It’s the same deal with Fallacy 1, namely that it indicates a willingness to put in effort, not whether the effort itself is 100% necessary for success. Nobody likes wiping at 1%. The fact is that I would rather raid/group/hang out with people willing to go the extra mile without complaint than someone just screwing around with no care for what’s going on outside the monitors of the other 4 players.

    Would you rather have the 110% coworker as a partner for a team project, or the 9-5 clockwatcher?

    • ” The fact is that I would rather raid/group/hang out with people willing to go the extra mile without complaint than someone just screwing around with no care for what’s going on outside the monitors of the other 4 players.”

      Thing is, for anyone who feels like this the easy solution to this is just not to use LFD and then they won’t have to worry about how good the other players are in it. But it’s also true that you won’t always be ‘paying it forwards’ because the nature of the random group finder is that you’ll get a mixture. Some groups will be fine, others less so.

      I do think you’re right that people who genuinely only want to run groups with people from their raid group should just put together their own groups though.

  9. Optimization isn’t a state, its a process and sometimes a idiosyncrasy.

    For short term relationships below actual content (newest heroics + raids) I don’t care about the optimization level of my groupmates. If they’re good, I’m happy, if not, it’s a challenge.
    But getting a lottery-pimped tank in ZA hero with 146k hp, not knowing the instance, nor willing to join teamspeak when offered, is a quite good slap in the face of all puggers.

    • Once more with feeling – there’s a rather large grey zone between “not fully optimised” and “green power ranger”. Not knowing the instance isn’t exactly a crime, either – you didn’t know it the first time you ran the instance either, and I’m sure taking 2 minutes before each boss fight to warn a new player what to watch out for won’t take up TOO much of your day.

      To be honest, I find this assumption some people have that you’re either fully optimised or a brain-damaged parasitic scrub rather wearying. It would make about as much sense for me to refuse to group with any player under the age of 25 because younger players are all whiny, self-centred brats who will ninja all the loot and go linkdead at boss fights when daddy turns their internet off to make them do their homework.

      • Here you’re in error: I did knew, what to expect. I almost always do. Thats what mags and youtube are good for.
        I don’t expect this from every player. Not knowing an instance isn’t the problem, but if help is offered (ts) it should be taken and not left uncommented.

  10. Pingback: The Age of Experience « Sheep The Diamond

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