Just say no to threat decay

Threat in MMOs is a strange construct. It’s supposed to mimic the way in which a monster decides which of the adventuring party to attack, instead of running away like a sensible creature or just biting people’s heads off. In WoW-like games, the tank usually uses lots of high threat moves on a mob and as long as they stay highest on the threat list, the monster won’t hit at anyone else.

So the object of threat, if you are a tank, is to stay above the rest of your group on as many mobs as possible. If you are not a tank, then your goal is to keep your threat low while doing as much damage/ healing as possible.

Apparently WoW tanks have been slacking off, because one of the developer comments recently was:

On threat, one of the changes we’re considering trying out ((in Cataclysm)) is to have threat decay pretty rapidly. The idea is that a tank should never be able to get so far ahead on threat that they can AFK for the rest of the fight. It might sound like a nerf, but really the intent is to make sure that the tank’s job is never done — that what you do will remain important.

I don’t actually know who these tanks were who put up such high initial threat and then went off for a smoke, but I bet they were paladins. So the answer clearly is just to nerf paladins, which they are doing anyway.

When I’m tanking on my warrior, I never just slack off or AFK for half a fight. There are times when I want to use my most perfect, intense high threat rotations (typically a tank and spank type of fight where the dps will also be putting out their max rotations) but there are also times when I need to be able to keep threat with minimal effort. For example, if I’m dragging a mob around the room and also dodging fire on the floor, I have a lot of buttons to press and I don’t have the concentration to keep a max threat rotation up at the same time.

So here is why threat decay is a bad idea in WoW:

1. It assumes that both tanks and dps/ healers are always generating threat at similar rates. All it takes is one fight where the tank has a lot of things to do but dps can stand still and nuke, and suddenly they’re being asked to stand around and do nothing because of the lower threat cap (caused because it’s harder for the tank to prevent threat decay while moving).

2. It vastly favours tanks who have better ranged tanking, easier rotations, or other class abilities which make them better able to keep up a max threat cycle whilst doing other things. Or rather, yes I was proud of being able to tank Malygos on my warrior when I know a lot of other raids were insisting on paladins for exactly this reason (need to be able to keep threat high while moving dragon around)  but there’s a limit in how far I want to feel punished for having a more complex rotation or less inbuilt threat.

3. Fighting the rest of the group isn’t really what makes tanking fun. It would be better if there was some reward for higher threat (maybe it effectively debuffs the mob in some scaling way). I bet dps would be ticked off if a mob healed so much during combat that they never really made a dent in it.

4. It’s just not necessary. Nerf paladin threat, and call it fixed.

5. Tank threat has never really been normalised in WoW. It didn’t matter which tank did the most threat per se, as long as all of them were able to stay ahead of the top dps (more or less). Burst threat and up-front threat did make a difference and probably should have been more normalised than it ever was. But if threat decay is going into the game, then threat needs to be as equalised as dps is among dps classes.

It isn’t an impossible idea in general. I’m sure other games have used variants on threat decay to keep the game interesting. But if it goes live, then dps threat needs to decay also. There needs to be times in a fight where a clever tank can realise that dps will not be on full blast and they could take advantage of that to lower the threat cap temporarily.

I also agree that threat has long lost its potency as a game mechanic. Instead of being forced to work with dps players to make sure the mob was attacking the right person, we feel as though we are working against them. If they are ever asked to hold their fire, the amount of whining or begging for a better tank has to be heard to be believed.

I wonder perhaps if tank decay is a polite way for GC to say that actually they want the dps classes to learn some patience and to not always have threat on easy mode. Not a bad goal in itself. But I don’t want to be the one who gets blamed all the time for slacking every single time it happens. I also prefer tanking to be a test of smartness and reaction and situational awareness, not just of how well you can hammer your max threat rotation while jumping through hoops. We aren’t dps monkeys, after all.

It came from the PUG: Is there something in the Northrend water that turns people into idiots?

One of the big questions in WoW at the moment is what effect the lack of challenge in heroic instances will have on the playerbase as a whole.

The gear progression has been so steep in Wrath, and Blizzard have been so keen to make sure that new 80s can easily catch up (which is a worthy goal and has made a lot of players very happy!) that players race through the level 80 heroics with barely any need or knowledge of tactics. Everything gets pulled in clumps and AEd down. A dps class is measured on how quickly they can down trash – great for puffing up the damage meters. A tank is measured on how quickly they can grab AE threat and sustain it. A healer is measured on how invisible they are to the rest of the group while this is happening – plus ca change.

So the thought is that players are currently being trained to expect that all instances will be a 10 minute AE gankfest. And anything less will be met with screams of frustration. But is that really true?

I’ve run a few PUGs on levelling alts recently, and actually I found that players tend to adapt far better than that. If they need to communicate, then they will pause and do it. So on a BRD emperor run, even the newbies who were acting like twits sat and listened to instructions and used their torches correctly.

For sure, there are still players who forget that not everyone is in full heirlooms and try to run low level instances as if they were on their ICC geared mains. But I suspect that doesn’t last long. The tank who pulled half of Ragefire Chasm last night and then bitched at the healer when we wiped will learn that doesn’t work. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

And yet somehow, as soon as players cross the sea to Northrend, they forget it all again

What I have found in general is that aside from the odd tosser, low level groups do tend to eventually get it together.  But somehow, as soon as you start queueing for Northrend normal instances, everyone acts like an idiot again.

So my latest alt in Northrend is a DK tank, and yes I picked blood spec because I like it. The up-front AE threat isn’t as strong as others, but it’s a perfectly fine tanking spec. If I group with impatient dps, I usually mark the first mob with a skull so that they know it will be the one with the highest initial threat. Pretty simple, stuff you’d think. Or at least you might think that if you have never tanked, in which case you would know that inevitably the skull-marked mob will always be the last one standing.

The other day, I did this in a group and one of the other players went ballistic when I asked him to kill the skull first. It was all, “Screw your skull!!!!!” and the like.   I can’t be bothered with that type of hassle any more so I explained that there were lots of things I could be doing in the next 30 minutes and any of them were better than tanking for him, and left.

But what I don’t understand is why he was so angry. I wasn’t rude. All I asked was for him to target the skull first.

Maybe he associated marking as something that was bad, or a mark of a bad group or bad tank. Or just resented being reminded that he wasn’t in a group with a bunch of silent NPC minions who would get on and do their thing so that he could sit back, AE every group and then profit.

Maybe it’s all the saronite in the water, but something in Northrend seems to make players forget anything they possibly learned in instances while levelling.  It is all too easy to understand why people get put off tanking in Northrend. I will probably switch my DK over to dps and only tank with friends, at least until I’ve had a chance to gear up. It’s no skin off my nose and will be a lot less stressful.

End of the Expansion Blues

If there was any doubt that we were nearing the end of an expansion in WoW, the start of the Cataclysm alpha has put a line underneath it.

From here on, there will be one more content patch – it will contain a small non-progression raid to dispense trinkets and other epic sparklies, some fun PvE questlines (retake Gnomeregan or the Echo Isles), the battle.net Real ID integration, and whatever else Blizzard decide to do in preparation for the expansion that is to come.

And frankly, even though we haven’t yet killed the Lich King in 25 man raid, the kill cannot be too far away. I’d give it a month or so, depending on how raid attendance goes. And for a casual progression guild, that’s a good result which will make people happy.

But for all that, I’m worn down with Wrath raiding. It’s been fun, and I have a post in progress to go through some of the high and low points.  I’ll keep up my end of the weekly schedule as long as everyone else is keen, but I could give it up right now. I can see a mixture of reasons.

  • ICC holds very few tanking challenges for any tank who has cleared Ulduar. LK may be different but it won’t matter if I’m bored by the time I get there. From talking to friends who have tried heroic ICC, I don’t hold out much hope for those encounters either.
  • I don’t personally have any other avenues for progression. Aside from alting.
  • My efforts to get a 10 man crew together haven’t really worked (partly because other people are feeling end of Wrath blues too). I blame my social skills (ie. lack of friends) rather than gaming ones, but the enthusiasm for trying again has run dry.

I think the lack of challenge in ICC is an interesting issue. It isn’t that the encounters aren’t difficult, you only have to look at the hardcore versions to see how few guilds have completed them all. But the difficulty doesn’t really involve my role so I often feel as though I’m just ferrying bosses around while everyone else does the actual work. This is not why I raid.

So pardon me if I fail to get over excited about Cataclysm alpha leaks (why do they even bother with an NDA any more, I wonder?). It’s because I’m wondering if the raid game of the future has moved on and become something I’m no longer going to enjoy. Or maybe it’s just end of the expansion blues.

The slow but inevitable death of 25 man raiding

As widely reported, yesterday Blizzard released their plans for changing the raid game in Cataclysm.

My bullet point summary:

  • They like having 10 man and 25 man versions of the same raids, so that will continue *cough* lazy *cough*
  • They like the Ulduar/ ICC scheme where raid leaders could decide whether to stick to normal or hard mode on each individual boss. (eg. take the first boss on easy mode, and then hard mode on the next one, et al.)
  • They don’t like that hardcore raiders felt forced to run 10 AND 25 man raids on their characters for optimal gearing up, so ….
  • … 10 man and 25 man raids will share the same lock. This is the big one. No more running the 25 man raids with your raid group and the 10 man raid with your friends in the same week. (Or rather, if you want to do that you’ll need separate alts.)
  • 10 man and 25 man raids will also drop the same loot. Just 25 man raids will drop more of it (more per person, I assume).
  • 10 man and 25 man raids will also be of the same difficulty (*coff* pigs, fly *coff* This is probably a subject for a different post.)
  • There will be two tiers of badges, much like at present. One tier will be available via heroics and will be unlimited, the other will be available from raids and heroic dailies.
  • These badges will also be available via PvP. So now the hardcore will have to PvP as well as PvE (or vice versa), instead of running 10 mans as well as 25.

Someone set us up the 25 man time bomb

Leading large raids is a harsh job at the best of times. It isn’t just due to making sure 25+ people each know what they are supposed to be doing and then checking that they are doing it. Nope, much of the difficulty and challenge of leading large raids is behind the scenes work, making sure that 25 people of appropriate classes and specs turn up on a weekly basis and are ready to raid.

And as if this wasn’t a harsh enough time to be a 25 man raid leader, they now are all aware that if this scheme proceeds as planned, Blizzard is setting them up to fail in Cataclysm.

The particular dilemma of rewards for different raid sizes is this:

  • for the individual raider, 10 mans are often more challenging. Each individual carries more responsibility.
  • for the group as a whole (and specifically for the leader), 25 mans are hugely more challenging. 25 people have to execute the fight correctly, as opposed to just 10. And the logistic overheads of 25 mans are a lot higher. Plus there is often more going on just due to the number of players wandering around.

But WoW is moving towards rewarding individuals for individual effort, and away from rewarding groups for group effort. If 10 and 25 man raids give the same rewards, then the 10 man raids offer by far the easiest path to getting them. At least for the stronger raiders, without whom more casual 25 man raid guilds will flounder.

So raid leaders will be asking themselves now whether enough people will still want to run 25 mans to make 25 man progression viable. To put this in context, you have to understand that for the majority of 25 man raid guilds, there will be a core of players who are more hardcore and a core who are less. It is significantly easier to put together a hardcore progression 10 man raid than a progression 25 man raid because you only have to find 9 other people (assuming that you are one of them). Any time a 25 man raid falters, or wipes more often than people would like, the temptation for the more hardcore 10 people to go it alone and ditch the guys who are holding them back will be there for the taking.

So how many of those more hardcore players will choose progression above 25 mans. The answer is … unknown at present, but never bet against people choosing progression. Or how about people ditching the 25 man because some friends just joined from another server who want to run 10s? Or ditching the 25 man because they found a 10 man group which raids on more convenient days (easier to organise when there are only 10 of you)?

In Wrath, no one had to choose. You could run 10s with your mates or hardcore set and 25s with your usual raid comm. In Cataclysm, everyone will have to choose. Some will use alts for different raids – but still, whenever the 25 man has a hiccough, the danger of people fleeing to the easier to arrange 10 mans will be there, like the elephant in the room.

And now, because hardcore raiders are unable to control their work/life balance – yeah seriously, just say no if you felt you were being ‘forced’ to raid too much —  we’re being forced to choose by being given a choice that isn’t really a choice at all.  The current setup is far better for casual raiders than what Cataclysm offers. There are plenty of PUGs (bored 25 man raiders running 10 mans for kicks or vice versa), casual 25 man raid guilds can flourish … wave goodbye to all of that.

All this has happened before. All this will happen again.

My first reaction to this news was one of those cold flush style flashbacks, you know where you get shivers down your spine? I’d put the trauma of the guild dramas that followed the end of 40 man raiding to the back of my mind.

And now here it is, all over again. People will be ditched from the core ‘clique’ because “sorry, you’re not one of the 10 best.” Guilds that had grown around a 25 man social dynamic slowly losing raiders, bleeding them away until there is nothing left. Drama laden guild break ups.

Will there be a typical Cataclysm guild?

Myself, I view the news with mixed reactions. I have loved running large raids, whether they be the old 40 mans, or the newer 25s. I hope that we can keep running 25 man raids into Cataclysm – however silly it is, I still think there’s a cachet to tanking 25 man raids.

And yet. And yet.

Imagine being in a small scale, tight knit guild with friends which raids together and runs rated battlegrounds together. That will be the Cataclysm model. It does sound fun. But is it worth the number of eggs that Blizzard will have to break?

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On taking a break from your main, and then going back to it

It’s fantastic to have an MMO which has a single server. All your mates are there. You don’t have to worry about whether your server will end up being under-populated and dead, or whether all the hardcore gank guilds will pick it. You know that all the best guilds will be there, because there isn’t anywhere else.

But recently in WoW, I’m also seeing the advantages of having several servers. When you are tired or worn out on your main character and want a break, you can take a ‘server holiday’. I’m not tired of Spinks, but I am running out of endgame content for her. And rather than burn out or pay to be bored, I’ve been spending more time on alliance alts with friends.

So most of my experience with PUGs recently has been with various alts: the hunter I’m playing with Arbitrary (our duo recently hit Outland, which is the first time she has been there), the inevitable death knight (did anyone mention yet that blood specced tanks are overpowered?), the bank alt that got levelled just because, the lowbie fixed group that I’m playing with friends (ok, no PUG there).

Last week, I decided that I missed my level 80s and ran a few instances on Argent Dawn, just to get back into the spirit of things. My main reactions:

spinksbadass

  • Spinks looks insanely badass on the loading screen in her T10 warrior kit. I think I’d been used to the lowbies, who look OK but … wow.
  • Spinks is a also a total beast when I spec her fury and go hang out in PUGs. Picking up Bryntroll the other week seems to have launched her into the dps stratosphere. I’m encouraged to spend more time practising as Fury to get my raid dps up a notch.
  • People are just plain nastier in level 80 PUGs. Oh for sure, the majority are fine, but the general experience was much pleasanter with lowbies.

Note the Ulduar tanking sword, I hate Blizzard sometimes

For example, let’s take a random LBRS (lower blackrock spire) group – which for my money is the toughest instance for its level.

We have a wipe, no surprise there. The rogue uses vanish to avoid being killed. As everyone else is running back, he comments that he’s scared about being alone with all those orcs. The tank says, “Don’t worry lilninja (that was his name), I’m coming to save you!”

Can you imagine that in a level 80 PUG? For one thing, as soon as there was a wipe, half the group would disband. If they didn’t, everyone would hurl abuse at the guy who managed to avoid wiping. And the tank would probably curse the healer.

Even the rubbish groups I’ve had at low level haven’t been really aggressively nasty in the way that high level groups can. Here’s another example:

Level 80 PUG, and I’m healing on my druid. I’ve not done any level 80 heroics for a month or so because I was taking a break. The tank is racing through and not waiting for anyone, and he’s taking shortcuts I haven’t seen people use before. I’m no slouch, but I’m remembering my way around. We wipe at one point (yet another stupid pull, and I got some adds because I didn’t realise that they’d skipped a pack on the way down some stairs) and I explain that I haven’t been there in awhile and ask if he could just wait for me to be in range from time to time. Others in the group whisper me and tell me that he’s just being an elitist jerk. He says, “You should have said you were a fucking cripple who couldn’t do your job,” and I leave.

I’m tempted to put it down to people continuing to run the instances long after they’re burned out. Which doesn’t happen so much while levelling.

I love my main

So it all comes down to this. I love my main character, and even after taking a break (apart from weekly raids) I get a kick out of coming back to her. Sometimes absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

But I will look forwards to harder instances in Cataclysm, if only so that they will cut some of the current 5 man players who fancy themselves elitist down to size.

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Why can’t everyone tank? (aka What if everyone secretly hates me…)

This is a thread that caught my eye this week, and it’s from a dps player who is explaining that he’d have more fun if he didn’t have to wait around for tanks and crowd control.

I just realized how stupid the idea of tank is when I played with some dudes in ST, the tank left for some reason and we continued to play while waiting in queue for another tank. After we cleared half of the dungeon, eventually some tank finally showed up and everyone agreed that “the fun was over”.

And that is true, this game is turning into a middle age women match 3 game, where you do everything nice and steady, healers sleeping in the back, dps pushing bored their one or two buttons macro, and the tank who is actually the only one who plays the game and when someone makes a mistake he has to take all the blame.

A lot of responders in this thread thought that the original poster was trolling, but I don’t think he is. He just had a lot more fun in a group where they didn’t have to worry about tanking. He even gets bored as dps when he has to wait for the tank to mark and call CC and then just go kill everything in the right order.

Blizzard mentioned in last week’s developer chat that crowd control will feature more highly in Cataclysm instances than it did in Wrath (i.e. not at all.) And … the big issue with crowd control, even more than tanking, is that everyone hates it except for the guys with the crowd control spells. In every single game I’ve ever played which featured crowd control, gamers did everything they possibly could to bypass that system. And yet, one of my favourite classes to play from any game ever was my sorceress in DaoC, which was a crowd control specialist.

I don’t hate crowd control as a tank, it adds a level of strategic interest to handling a pull. But I have also gotten quite used to not being forced to rely on other players to let me tank an instance. And given the general nastiness of some dps in random groups, I’m not dreadfully enthusiastic about trying to force crappy mage #335 to remember where his sheep spell is. And let’s not even start with the fears. Or with the spectre of people kicking group members from random groups because they don’t have enough crowd control.

But we’ll deal with that bridge when we come to it – maybe a greater need for cooperation in instances will get people talking. Maybe people will adapt. Or maybe people will dump the LFD in favour of guild and server groups again. We’ll see.

But still, I also have fond memories of crazy groups in other games where we didn’t have a tank but everyone had heavy armour. It wasn’t completely without tactics and mobs did have to be bounced around. But it was fun. This is key – however much we talk about intricate strategies and learning curves, it’s fun to cut loose.

I also thought the comment about the middle age women match 3 game was interesting. He doesn’t like the puzzle aspect of organising a pull, and PvE has traditionally been a puzzle game. You have to figure out how best to pull some mobs, and how best to kill them. And how best to clear an instance and achieve any instance objectives.  But how many people would actually rather have an action game – say, Diablo — than a puzzle game? I love puzzles, and it’s very key to my enjoyment of PvE and of tanking.

Oh no! What if it’s me?

I’m paranoid now. In every group where I’m tanking, is everyone else fuming silently and thinking about how much more fun it would be for everyone if I wasn’t there? Do they all wish that they could get instant groups without having to wait for a tank? Do they wish I wasn’t being bossy when I yell at them for pulling shit randomly? Oh god, does  this platemail make my bum look big?

Maybe everyone does secretly (or not secretly) hate tanks. The comment, “tank who is actually the only one who plays the game”, rings very true. Even with crowd control in the group, it was the tank who told everyone else what to do, which mobs to control, and which order to kill. Would the game be more fun for more players if tanks didn’t have that level of authority/ responsibility? Or didn’t exist at all? And then I wonder some more about Diablo, and whether Blizzard might be planning some MMO type functions for it.

General trends, the core tank toolset, and is survival more fun than threat?

(Firstly, apologies for the flood of WoW related posts. I’m trying to use WoW class changes as a jumping off point for more general discussion, but yeah I get that the blog is a bit focussed right now.)

Usiel asked in comments if I had any thoughts about the bigger picture for Cataclysm, based on last week’s class changes. I can see a few vague trends:

  • Blizzard are addressing a lot of ‘quality of life’ issues (rage normalisation, focus for hunters, simplified stats, treeform). If these work out as planned, then I do genuinely believe that the game will become more fun and less frustrating for everyone involved, whether or not they get many new cool abilities.
  • They have said several times that one goal is to make healing more fun. We are starting to see what they think that means. Wide range of heals, interesting choices, less frantic heal spam, more movement, more emphasis on deciding when to dispel and mana management. But we won’t see the whole picture until we get a chance to try it.
  • DPS specs of hybrid classes are losing some hybrid-ness. We will see shamans and paladins lose some dispel abilities when in dps mode. Blizzard have also commented that retribution paladins will lose some survivability (because defensive dps specs are viewed as not working well, perhaps another reason why Blood DKs are being turned into tanks.)
  • DPS in general are getting more abilities to control fights, in one way or another.

I don’t get a clear view yet of the vision for tanking in the next expansion. Gravity thinks that raids will place more emphasis on mobility, which would make me happy because I find the mobility fights more fun.

The core tanking toolset is becoming better defined, with more tools being handed out to classes who lacked them. Hence more interrupts for ferals and paladins, and a demo shout equivalent for death knights. Those are all good trends. If the ability is that important, then all tanks should have access to it. Anything else is just pointlessly frustrating.

So if we try to define a core tank toolset, it needs to include at least:

  • similar threat, both AE and single target
  • similar survivability, both vs magic and physical damage
  • similar cooldowns and effective health
  • interrupt/s
  • burst or targeted threat, to neatly pick up adds
  • similar buffs and debuffs (ie. if three tank classes have a buff, then the fourth should probably have it too).

In some ways, tanks are more homogenous than either healers or dps. It’s hard to imagine a core healer toolset when one healer has bloodlust/ totems, another has combat res, and another brings paladin buffs. This has always been an issue for priests, since originally the hybrids got more utility to make up for priests having better healing.

Interestingly, it appears that being able to smoothly switch from tank to dps (ie. in a multi-stage fight) is not considered a core tank ability, because as of Cataclysm only druids will be able to do that. We can only hope that there is not a single boss fight where this will ever be important, because it has been an annoyance for years. (ie. druids have felt annoyed at being ‘forced’ into the off-tank role, and paladins/ warriors have been annoyed at not being good at it. Death Knights have been good off-tanks up till now, but who knows what they will be like in Cataclysm?)

In many ways we also need to wait to see the new expansion encounters to really understand how tanking may or may not change.

Another trend I see is for more responsibility for the success of a group to be spread between dps and healers, rather than so heavily focussed on the tank. For those control freaks (surely no tanks are control freaks!) who enjoy the current state of tanking, this may not be an entirely good thing. Expect to spend more time feeling like a dumb lump with high auto-threat while dps misdirect threat, put up smoke clouds, run rings around you, and generally do more of the work.

Survival vs Threat

Perhaps put more succinctly, a lot of tank players just seem to find the survival game more fun than the threat game.

- Ghostcrawler

It’s clear from previews that tank threat is not intended to be much of an issue in Cataclysm. The easier it became for tanks to establish threat in Wrath, the more people played them. That sends a fairly clear picture of what players want, and also DPS players hate being threat capped so if one tank lets them go all out and another doesn’t, the one who doesn’t will get benched.

I’m in two minds about the above quote though. I find the pure survival fights to be very dull indeed (omg I hit my cooldown 0.5s late and died, woe is me!). Instead of favouring the tank with the highest threat, they favour the tank with the highest effective health or best cooldowns. This is equally out of the player’s control. And that’s not especially fun either.

In fact, I’d prefer to see both pure survival and threat become less of an issue, and instead focus on movement, situational awareness, and working with the other tanks and the rest of the raid. The tank who can both survive and hold threat whilst balancing a spoon on their nose and dragging a mob neatly through a dog agility course? That’s the one I want to play.

I’m just not really sure if that’s the way the game is going. We’ll know more after the paladin changes are announced.