It came from the PUG: When good players go bad!

This week’s pick up group story is a sad tale of miscommunication, failure on behalf of everyone involved (including yours truly) to act like grown ups, and some inventive griefing where the responsible player forgot just one key thing …

The scene is Old Kingdom. I was tanking. The group was itching to move quickly so I pulled the first few groups quite fast. They didn’t handle it well. Now, in my opinion, if you yell at the tank to go go go at the start of an instance, it implies that you don’t want to wait around for marks or to have the kill order explained.

A couple of characters died – but not me because I know:

  1. the kill order
  2. the reasons for that kill order
  3. how to use spell reflect and interrupt to not be killed by spellflingers
  4. And also I have overpowered gear and good tanking cooldowns.

So really, I’m not going to die. You however, over-eager dps who think it’s a great idea to open up as soon as more than two monsters converge in the same place, are not so lucky.  In any case, after this, I decided to take the pulls a bit more carefully and mark as appropriate. It was my mistake, I’d assumed the group was more familiar with the instance than they really were.

This was not fast enough for some of the crew who started to run ahead and pull anyway. I asked them to stop doing that. And all hell was unleashed in party chat. It … was unpleasant.

We were heading towards the blood elf boss when someone else yelled gogogo again. I sat down, just to annoy them, and said, “afk 2 mins to get tea.” I wasn’t actually afk which is just as well because at this point the rogue stealthed up to the boss, pulled it, and used tricks of the trade to misdirect it onto me. So the boss comes running down the ramp and hits me a couple of times.

I think, “You have got to be kidding me,” and leave the instance mid-fight. After which I put them on ignore. Presumably they wiped, although the rogue may have been able to vanish.

People who just lose their senses

I think some players just have poor impulse control, because as soon as anything goes a way they don’t like, all common sense gets thrown out of the window. Yes, congratulations, you can use your class abilities to be really really annoying. But what exactly is the point?

Maybe for a lot of us, the griefer is not hiding very far beneath the surface at all and all it takes is a situation in which we feel powerless to bring out the crazy. (i.e. I think he flipped because he couldn’t bear the thought that he might have to wait for me. Or just go along with my request to stop pulling.)

State of the LFD: Repetition, repetition, repetition

Patch 3.3 in WoW was released in the US back on the 8th December 2009. That means we have had the random dungeon finder for almost three months – my how time flies when you’re having fun.

There’s no doubt that the new tool has been a great success. It has never been easier to find a 5-man dungeon run on any toon at any level than it is right now. Queues are still virtually instant for tanks, and not much longer for healers, which just shows that there are more dps wanting to run instances than there are tanks and healers. So tanks in particular make up less than 20% of the population and a lot of people on hybrid characters aren’t interested in tanking. None of this is surprising. And the wait for dps to get into a group is still a lot less than if people had to form up on their own servers using trade chat.

However, there have been some big challenges for the new tool also.

  • Throwing people with wildly different playing styles together leads to friction. Not only that, but this can put a lot of pressure on new 80s, newer players, and people trying to learn new specs.
  • Cyber-bullying. People find new and interesting ways to grief each other whenever any new functionality is added.
  • Can the hardware cope with the added activity?
  • Burnout.

Throwing random people together into a group can lead to friction, but can also work out. It all depends on the individuals. So it’s a challenge, but not by any means an impossible one. The player base just needs to decide whether it’s able and willing to work together on common goals or not with random people. Issues like rolling need/ greed on frozen orbs, rolling on offspec gear, and the like will sort themselves out in the wash. We won’t all end up agreeing, but we will all end up with some variety of widely accepted compromise.

Cyber-bullying is a larger subject than this post (maybe a future post, or series of posts), and has been going on ever since people have been able to communicate online. It’s nasty and pernicious, but in a PUG you always have the option to just leave and log out. And to put the offender on /ignore, which guarantees not only that you never have to hear from them again, but that the dungeon tool will never group you with them again either.

Hardware is a problem that can be fixed by throwing more money at it. In fact, I haven’t seen a full instances screen at all lately, which makes me think that this is exactly what Blizzard have been doing.

So let’s talk about burnout

People burn out on games for all sorts of different reasons.

  • Run out of goals. You’ve done everything that you want in the game, and you’re bored.
  • Hit the brick wall. There are barriers preventing you from doing your remaining goals in the game, and you see no way to overcome them. And so you’re bored.
  • Repetition ad infinitum. There are goals remaining for you in the game but you would rather skin yourself alive with a potato peeler than set foot into ((overly repetitive content of choice)) ever again.
  • Dramageddon. There are goals remaining for you in the game but you don’t ever want to play with these people again and they’re in your guild, on your server, and you may even know them in real life. You can’t get away from them without leaving the game. But doing stuff with them is driving you nuts.
  • Future goals trump current goals. There are current goals remaining for you in the game, but you choose not to pursue them because it would make it harder for you in future. For example, you choose not to level a new alt now because you want to save it for Cataclysm. So you’re bored until then.

Often many of these conditions apply at the same time. If you are bored anyway because you have run out of goals, you may be more irritable with your guild (and vice versa if many of them are also bored.) Hitting barriers in game also tends to dent the mood, especially if other friends don’t face these issues. (Maybe they just have more time to play.)

Repetition, however, is the game killer. All PvE MMOs rely heavily on some kind of grind, whether you need to grind for crafting materials, or daily quests, or instances, or raids. And for happy players, these grinds are a bonus. They let a player settle into a comfortable daily routine in game, which is fun for a lot of people.

It’s the same comfortable grind which makes so many facebook games so appealing. MMOs aren’t so very far from that mould. It’s just that while levelling you don’t see the repetition so strongly as at endgame. So when a player is bored of the endgame repetition, something’s got to give.

Wrath has encouraged more endgame repetition than any previous expansion in Warcraft. Doubling up of the 10 and 25 man instances has meant many people run the same raid instance several times a week. Ease of gearing alts has meant that people  can (if they choose) run heroics several times a day on different alts. And then raid several extra times a week on those alts too.

So there are plenty of ways for a player to fill in the extra hours in WoW – and even easier if you raid and are on a busy server with lots of pick up raids running. But they are extremely repetitive. The thrill of playing and learning a new alt will wear off in time, and it will wear off more quickly in Wrath because it’s just that much easier to access the content.

So whilst improved access to content is removing some of the barriers which had been causing burnout before — people getting burned out because they needed to run those heroics and raids to gear up but just couldn’t get the groups — instead people are playing more and then hitting repetition burnout.

Bored players, +  5-man random heroics = ???

I’m not saying that everyone is bored, that would be silly.

But increasingly I’m finding that I get sloppy in 5 mans. I can’t be bothered to tackle the pulls neatly, and we’re over geared enough that no one cares whether I do or not (except me) and it won’t affect the result anyway.

This increase of well geared players who simply don’t care as much as they used to is starting to drag the instances down. People still run them enthusiastically, they still want the badges, and they still want to play alts. But increasingly, I’m seeing people very obviously not bothering to play as well as they could. And while it’s fine to chill out in 5 man instance runs when you are over geared, I think that all the repetition is taking its toll.

The LFD tool isn’t doomed by any means. It’s holding up well. But it might not be a bad thing if some of those bored players took a break from random 5 mans for awhile, both for them and for the rest of the player base.

And as for the state of the game? Blizzard are taking the smart step in the next mini-patch with nudging bored PvE players towards battlegrounds, where the repetition is broken up by getting to compete against other players.

Plus a new-mini raid with some dragons, and new shiny loot to entice everyone who isn’t Arthas’ed out on raiding this expansion.

And perhaps more enticing still … hints of new pre-Cataclysm changes, and quests, possibly heralding more content for solo players too.

Checking your Target’s Target (or How to Taunt on 3 stacks)

It is often useful to be able to check who your target in a MMO is attacking. If you are soloing and don’t have a pet, it’s pretty much a given than anything you attack will be hitting you back.

But there are times when that won’t be the case. Keeping an eye on your target’s target will help in these sorts of situations:

  • You have some ability to control threat. For example, if you are a tank and your mob switches target to someone else (a healer, maybe), you can quickly taunt them back.
  • Your group is using a main assist – i.e. everyone else agrees to let one player pick a target and then will all switch to the same one. This is often a useful PvP tactic.
  • A boss can cast a spell on a random member of the raid. If a healer can keep an eye on the boss’s target, they will know to start casting a heal as soon as the target switches from the tank.
  • A boss puts a debuff on the tank every X seconds. The debuff makes tanking very difficult (maybe it reduces tank threat, or increases the amount of damage that the tank takes) so a second tank must taunt as soon as it is applied. If you can see the debuffs on your target’s target, then you can attack the boss and taunt as soon as the debuff goes up on the current tank (ie. the target of the target.)

In a game like WoW with huge numbers of available addons, there might be specific ones to make this easier in different situations. A boss mods addon might plaster a warning across your screen when you need to taunt, or highlight the players who are about to get nuked randomly. There are also addons which quickly show you who has threat, intended to help tanks figure out when to taunt.

But keeping an eye on the target of your target is a solid, reliable, basic way to make sure that you have the information that you need.

Setting up Target of Target

targetoftarget

To set this up in WoW, press ESCape to get to the game menu, and then select Interface. Pick combat in the right hand menu and you’ll arrive at this screen.

In the standard UI, the target of the target will be shown just to the left of the target window. You can experiment a bit with checking who your friends are looking at.

In a unitframes addon such as Pitbull, xPerl, or Shadowed Unit Frames, you will have a lot more control over exactly where the target and the target of target window appear on your screen.

Put them somewhere easy to see. And also set things up so that you can see buffs and debuffs on the target of target (at the very least you need to see which of the debuffs is stacking, which will be marked by a number in the corner.)

Taunt on Three Stacks

The inspiration from this post came when I was tanking a VoA run alongside an inexperienced tank. We had agreed to taunt on three stacks for Toravon, and as I saw my stacks hitting 5 and then 6 I realised he was waiting for me to tell him what my debuffs were doing. (So I typed TAUNT into raid chat, and then he did it.)

But you don’t need to wait for the other tank to tell you. You can keep an eye on their debuffs yourself. Also, taunting very neatly when the debuffs pile up is a useful raid tanking skill in current WoW raid content.

totdebuffs

This is a screenshot from where I was tanking Toravon with a friend (note: she is NOT the inexperienced tank I mentioned above, this was a different run). She’s currently tanking him, and I’m looking at her debuffs via the target of target frame. This is not the world’s best example because I have the debuffs set to show very small – but the point is that one of those debuffs has a number in the corner.

This is another section of the same screenshot, showing that I have a double check. Deadly Boss Mods also prints up the current stack of debuffs on the tank in the middle of the screen.

tottext

But if it was a new boss, or DBM had not yet been updated, I would have been watching the debuffs stack on the target of target frame.

I’m not sure these screenshots prove much except how non-optimal my UI is. I’m sure you can do better!

Knockback Man, thank goodness you came!

Imagine the fun we had in the Halls of Lightning yesterday.

The group started with the familiar ‘gogogo’ call of the hopelessly incompetent dps (a shaman in this case), so I headed off to gather up the first couple of pulls at about the same speed as usual.

All goes well. We head down the slope to pick up a few more mobs. I see the first boss with his adds approaching – I consider whether we could take all of them plus the group at the bottom which I hadn’t yet pulled. I decide that this group probably isn’t high enough dps for it so draw back a bit to wait when ….

KNOCKBACK MAN, THANK GOODNESS YOU CAME!

Suddenly ‘my’ mobs all fly backwards in random directions. Naturally one of them pulls the boss (in empowered mode, of course), plus the extra group. I think … something … and go pick up as many as I can. Some of the ranged guys run off, shoot a few arrows, and then run after the healer. He runs in the opposite direction whilst still managing to type ‘omg keep aggro’. I can barely see where the rest of the mobs are due to having a huge and arcing boss in my face but I suspect some of them may be out of AE taunt range. This proves to be the case.

A wipe ensues. And as per usual, while I’m yelling at the misbegotten shaman who dared use an unauthorised knockback on my mobs, everyone else is yelling at me. My husband is yelling at the shaman too but he isn’t actually in the group, he’s just watching over my shoulder.

Imagine for a moment that you are a game designer and you have been challenged to invent a new ability that will really really annoy every tank in the game.

How do you do it? Think about the tank’s job in PvE, then think about how other people can make it more difficult. If there is a random element, even better.

  • A misdirect that sends the monstie off to smack a random group member? (My burglar has that in LOTRO.)
  • A castable shield that removes all threat from the tank? (That’d be a paladin special.)
  • An amnesia spell that just resets the monster’s threat table? (My sorcerer had that in DaoC.)
  • The ability to teleport a monster away from the group in a random direction? (That’s City of Heroes.)
  • Or maybe an instant AE nuke which also flings all monsters away in random directions at the same time? (What is this I don’t even …)

Knockback is the epitome of anti-crowd control, allowing a hapless caster to create chaos where once there was order.

Thunderstorm in particular is a dreadful example of game design. It’s an instant AE nuke, also gives some mana back to the caster, AND knocks back the enemies in a random direction by 20’.  This means that it mixes together a few abilities that a caster would really want to use, and a side-effect that will make everyone hate you in instances. Tanks will hate it because they inevitably lose some control, plus there is a good chance that at least one of the mobs goes flying into another group. Also there is a special hidden aspect to Thunderstorm which forces shamans to use it JUST as you hit shockwave so your best AE threat ability is completely wasted and now on a cooldown while the monsters run wild … 20’ away in random directions.

But all is not lost, there is a glyph of thunderstorm that PvE-ifies the spell. So you get the same damage, more mana, and no knockback. It’s also a great example of how glyphs can be used to customise spells in interesting and useful ways. That should be a win, right? Well, it would be a win if the PvE version of the spell was the default, and people had the option to glyph for the PvP/solo friendly knockback.

I don’t know what they were thinking. Because otherwise that was a neat and player-controlled way of letting spells behave differently in PvE or PvP situations. But the non-PvE friendly version should never have been the baseline.

All that means is that clueless players wander into groups, toting spells that are guaranteed to piss off the rest of the group and with side-effects that have no good place in group content. A 20’ random AE knockback is very very rarely going to be useful in a group.

I could imagine games where this would be less of an issue. Where chaos in PvE is the order of the day. Where tanking and healing abilities are more spread and players are more self sufficient, so spraying a bunch of monsters around just makes it easier for people to pick separate targets and bag them. But WoW is not that game.

Spells with multiple effects

One of the hallmarks of more recent iterations of WoW abilities are new spells which do multiple things. Shockwave, for example, puts out some damage, a lot of threat, and also stuns mobs.

Warriors have a lot of fun with Shockwave. It can be used to hold a group in place briefly while you charge off and grab another set. It can be used purely for the threat, with the stun as a side-effect. It can be used in PvP purely for the stun, with the damage as a side-effect. Producing more than one effect makes the spell more flexible and more group friendly, not less.

Also there are very few occasions where the side effect is problematic.

Another example would be lifebloom which heals like a regular HoT with a burst heal at the end. So in TBC druids could choose to either stack the HoTs (rolling lifebloom) or let it bloom. Again, not an ability that would ever hinder a group but the extra effect makes it more flexible and fun to use.

And the knockback abilities can also be great in the hands of a skilled player. I’ve seen Blastwave used to knock mobs back towards the tank, for example.  But not every situation is knockback friendly. So really the caster needs to be able to choose when to use that side-effect, not have it tacked on to a spell that is part of their core dps rotation.

Knockbacks used right

Warhammer Online had some great notions for knockback. And in that game, tanks were given many of the CC spells.

The knockback was intended to let tanks throw an enemy away from a more vulnerable group member in PvP. And throw people into lava in Tor Anroc, an awesome PvP scenario featuring narrow paths r around pools of lava which was roundly hated by every class which didn’t have a knockback and loved by every class which did.

What the devs realised is that knockback is a PvP ability, where maintaining perfect control of a pull is less important than ‘get it off me right now!!!’

Icecrown Citadel: Is tanking getting dull?

So, yesterday I was pondering what makes the tanking side of a raid encounter fun for me. And the reason was that I spotted this thread on the official forums, where an old school raiding tank is finding that the ICC encounters fail to thrill.

…on most of these fights I would much rather just be <…> a DPS spec in DPS gear than having to spend the vast majority of the fight in tank spec in tank gear, doing <poor> DPS, <…> just waiting for that very brief moment or two where I actually may have to do something that requires me to be at my keyboard.

Now that’s fighting talk, but does it speak to a design change in the encounter design. Is Blizzard deliberately trying to make room for at least one less demanding tanking role in the raid?

I thought I’d go through some of the fights and pick apart his thoughts.

1. Marrowgar. The saberlash mechanic (which requires all the tanks to stand on top of each other and move together as a group) is familiar to TBC tanks, but I think this is the first time it has been used in Wrath, at least in a way that required the tanks to move around. I disagree with the poster on this one, I think it’s fine. It isn’t hard per se but it’s an interesting challenge in teamwork to stick together.

I also think he’s rather hung up on MT (main tank) vs (OT) designation. On this particular fight, all three tanks are main tanking. It’s mostly irrelevant who actually has aggro.

2. Lady Deathwhisper. Phase one involves lots of add pickup, plenty of work for all the tanks and again not a clear MT/ OT designation. Phase two involves some tank switches and taunt rotations, plus trying to avoid ghosts. Again, same job for all tanks.

Again, quite a fun fight for tanks. Plenty of running around at the start followed by a more focussed rotation in phase 2.

3. Gunship. Jobs for at least two tanks here, one to defend the home ship by picking up adds, and one to jump across and stop Muradin from trashing the rest of the away team. Not a lot for a third tank to do, true.

Again the MT/ OT designation is irrelevant. It isn’t clear to me that one job is harder than the other, depending on how good you are at managing your rocket pack. I find this fight quite fun, so not really seeing the hate.

4. Saurfang. Again two tanks with identical jobs which involves another taunt rotation whenever a named debuff lands on the other tank.

This is a genuinely dull tanking fight, I can feel myself falling asleep sometimes. But coming after some fun fights, it’s OK to have a change of pace and let the ranged dps have some fun. Again, I’m not seeing which is the MT or which is the OT.

5. Festergut. Another fight which involves two tanks with identical jobs. Tank for a bit, then go dps for a bit.

This is probably more fun for tanks who can actually put out some decent dps when they aren’t tanking. I’m sure it’s a blast for druids. The taunt rotation mechanic is starting to seem repetitive.

6. Rotface. The offtank here has by far the more fun and demanding role, because they get to kite oozes around. The main tank sits on the boss, and tries to stop it puking on too many people.

7. Putricide. There’s some fun abomination driving for tanks in this fight, but phase three is yet another tank switching taunt rotation.

8. Blood Princes. I’ll tank skull, you tank star. The ranged tank looks to have the more fun job here. DPS are required to switch targets and avoid ranged attacks, moving out of fireballs and such like. The non-ranged tanks mostly stand still.

9. Blood Queen. Not quite a saberlash effect but something similar. 100% of the damage done to the main tank also goes to the person closest to the main tank (who will have the blood mirror debuff.)

This is the fight that drove the original poster nuts because his job was just to stand there and take damage. While he could interact with the boss (ie. hit her), he didn’t really feel it mattered. He also couldn’t take part in the fight’s  key mechanic, getting infected by vampirism and having to bite people, because the off tank is immune.

Even if the damage was worth mentioning, my role can still be easily accomplished if a rock was playing my character.

So what’s the verdict?

I haven’t tried all these fights myself yet, but the one I am really looking forwards to trying is Putricide if I get to drive an abomination. The others – maybe he has a point. There is a lot of repetitive tank switching, it’s true. I could see myself volunteering for DPS duties (which would be easier to justify if I could get my Arms dps up a bit) because many fights do sound more interactive for them.

But – we asked for more fights that required several tanks. We said that we didn’t want any more fights like Malygos where the off tank has very little to do. We said we didn’t want more fights like XT where one tank could comfortably manage both boss and adds. And the devs listened.

So what changed? Is it just that we wanted more interesting jobs for those off tanks, or that now we’ve been able to gear up our dps offspecs so feel more able to volunteer for whichever role looks to get a more interesting encounter? Or is this part of Blizzard’s plan to make tanking more accessible and to spread the encounter difficulty between roles more evenly.

Either way, until we’ve seen the last wing of the Citadel, we can’t come to any final answers. But that tank switching mechanic is definitely getting dull.

10 factors that make a fun tanking fight

This may be hard to believe for those who have never trod the hallowed path of the main tank, but staring at giant boss toenails for hours at a time while hammering out your main threat rotation can pall. You sense that there is activity going on elsewhere in the room as raid members make intriguing comments on voicechat such as “Arrgh, who put that fire there?”, “Heal me!!” and “Is it dead yet?” or die in explosive and interesting ways. And sometimes you might fall over dead without warning yourself; often a sign that the healers are bored too or you broke another shield.

Nope, main tanking has a prestige that is often totally out of proportion to how fun the encounter actually is. It shows that you’re trusted by the raid, but not necessarily by the developers.

Raid designers have a tricky job where tanks are concerned. In most MMOs, the tank’s job cannot be easily shared, so each tank in an encounter needs to be given a different task. So for example, one tank on the main boss, one on adds. Or maybe a fight which forces tank switches (no single tank can hold the boss for the whole fight, you have to organise some kind of tanking relay or rotation), or maybe two sets of mobs to control in separate rooms.

Blizzard have been moving steadily towards designing raid encounters that are more fun for everyone. That means away from the traditional ‘tank and spank’ which involved lots and lots of close-ups of boss toenails, in favour of something closer to dog agility trials. Often individual healers or dps will have different jobs to do in a boss fight now also, it’s much harder for anyone to huddle at the back and pretend they’re just along for the ride.

But just getting back to basics, I wanted to look at what makes an encounter fun for the tanks. There are bound to be people who prefer the old-style fights where they were worshipped as gods and never really asked to do much except tank a boss in the middle of the room – but I think they’re the minority. At least among raid tanks, who were drawn to the role because of the greater interactivity.

  1. Movement. Any fight where you have to move around is a good one, especially when the room itself makes for an attractive backdrop or has other features that come into play. If the movement involves a rocket pack of any variety, that’s an extra bonus.
  2. Interacting with the boss. We all have some kind of threat priority or rotation – in time it’ll become second nature. But it’s always fun to get a boss where you get to mix things up a bit. Maybe you have to throw in an interrupt, or there’s an encounter specific item to use. Any fight where I get to use spell reflect, for example, is more amusing than the rest.
  3. Adds. Oh, how we complain about adds coming into the fight, but bouncing around the room picking up stray adds is an opportunity to show off and keeps us focussed.
  4. Adds which need to be herded or gathered in a particular way. I get far too much enjoyment really out of trying to get my adds all lined up for that perfect shockwave, but I also enjoy the fights where it’s important to pick them up quickly and keep them facing away from the raid … or towards it. Similar to kiting, but a slightly different set of skills involved.
  5. Watching the scenery. However much we complain about getting out of the fires, it’s fun to have to keep an eye on the area around you as well as the giant toenails.
  6. Kiting. Now, I never used to be a fan of fights that required the tank to move the boss around the room, but it is again a chance to show your skills at maintaining threat, keeping your shield facing towards the boss, and still moving smartly and accurately around the area, even when you have most of your field of vision blocked. Malygos was the king of kiting fights – once I nailed that, I got to rather enjoy it.
  7. Working together with the other tanks. It’s fun to have to work out a coordinated strategy that is more involved than “I’ll take skull and you take star.”
  8. Making an emergency save. Usually we want our boss fights to be clean, predictable, and well drilled. But when something goes wrong, is it possible to rescue the situation with some kind of last ditch “use all cooldowns and say your prayers” dash? If so, it’s a more interesting fight than one where as soon as one person dies, you might as well wipe.
  9. Fights with several different tanking roles. I’ve always quite enjoyed off tanking myself, and some of the best tanking encounters feature interesting and different roles for each tank. This is great because it means that even though you usually take one role, there’s still more to learn (i.e.. before you get bored of the whole thing).
  10. Any fight where you get to show off, even if no one else sees. Tanks don’t really get to compare epeens on the damage meter (or at least I certainly don’t), but we tend to be looking out for opportunities to strut our stuff in a way that staring at toenails doesn’t allow us to express.

Writing this list, I’m wondering how much applies to other roles too, and whether this obsession with movement fights is just something I do because I like zooming around a room.

Impressing guilds as a tank, failing to impress PUGs as a tank, and what is difficulty anyway

This is a switch and bait post in which I attempt to cover my lack of a Star Trek Online beta review this week (my excuse is that they dropped a new patch on Wednesday and I need more time to explore and remove whines which have already been addressed – an occupational hazard of reviewing betas) by pointing at some great posts written by other people. Enjoy!

Impressing guilds with your tankitude

Rage Quit Jane (awesome handle) writes on The Nomadic Gamer about the expectations people have of tanks. And the very first expectation is that … you will actually tank stuff.

She’s coming from an EQ2 perspective, which is a game where classes have more fixed roles than they do in WoW. Or in other words, your EQ2 tank shouldn’t expect to be able to grab a couple of two handed weapons and out-dps the rogues if they don’t like tanking.

If you apply to a raid guild as an off tank then the first thing you should be doing is proving that you can actually tank. Show everyone that you enjoy the character, want to actually play the character, and make yourself available to your guild mates.

No matter what game you are playing, if you apply to a guild which uses role quotas (ie. you apply as a tank or a healer for example) then they are hoping to find players who enjoy the role in which they have applied. No one wants a grouchy tank who spends all the time complaining that they’d rather be on their warlock. If they open a spot for a tank, they want to see a happy tank who enjoys their class and their role.  That’s rather the point.

This doesn’t force you to be the guild slave. You can perfectly well say ‘Sorry, I’m up to my neck in instances this week and I need a break.’ But at least while you are on trial, try to sound and act as though you are enjoying the game and the role you are playing. Although non-hardcore players sometimes get the idea that the hardcore turn the game into a job, it’s actually more important in a hardcore guild to show how much you love your class and role. Because they’re looking for people who love it so much they won’t mind putting in the extra time and effort.

This is true of many RL jobs as well.

‘Abusing’ the LFG Tool

Relmstein writes about people who abuse the LFG tool, whereas Gevlon positively encourages people to use it to their own advantage.

Wherever you fall on this spectrum, a few things are becoming clearer to me:

  1. You cannot prevent people from leaving groups whenever they want. If they can’t do it in game, then they’ll either just log out or not join the group in the first place.
  2. LFG may end up being good for server socialising in the longer term. The more that random people ‘abuse’ the tool, the greater the incentive to actually talk to people on your own realm before queuing. Whether this means paying tanks to come tank for you, or just asking around on trade chat for people who you KNOW will want to finish the run—it’s all about the social contract.  Or in other words, social behaviour is rewarded.
  3. People will drop groups for the weirdest reasons.

Would we like more difficulty in our MMOs? And if so, how?

Tobold asks for some design help on behalf of the Blizzard team.

We have some ideas, based on our experience as serious Everquest raiders, on how to make a MMORPG really hard. But some of the team say that certain features of Everquest wouldn’t be acceptable any more for our Rise of the Leet King MMORPG.

So what ideas do you have to make the game harder, if you think it isn’t challenging enough right now? Go join in the conversation. (I am also surprised at how many people thought this was a genuine letter; it is however a great blog post.)

Are paladins popular enough yet?

I’m always fascinated when Zardoz publishes one of his regular Armoury Datamining updates – this is about as accurate a census as anyone outside Blizzard can hope to compile. It’s based on current armoury data, from which he can assemble tables of most popular classes, specs, races, and even most popular items of gear.

It’s a terrifically underused resource, but if you believe in the wisdom of crowds and want to know which are the most popular builds (for example) or which race has the most even gender split (blood elf, possibly because no-one can  tell the difference?), there’s a lot of current information to be had there.

So from Zardoz’ site, here’s the current state of the level 80 WoW population as of 21st Jan. There are ten classes, so a totally even split would give 10% of the population playing each one.

There is no information here about which characters are mains as opposed to alts, but that’s not such a big distinction as it once was.

% of level 80 characters Class
15.4 Paladin
13.8 Death Knight
11.4 Druid
9.9 Priest
9.8 Warrior
8.8 Mage
8.4 Shaman
8.2 Hunter
7.4 Rogue
7.4 Warlock

So, a few things that jump out.

  • Four out of the five most popular classes are (or can be) tanks
  • Three out of the four most popular classes are (or can be) healers
  • Four out of the five least popular classes can only dps.
  • The most popular class is over twice as popular as the least popular class.
  • The least popular class/spec combination is Subtlety specced Rogues which make up a mere 0.5% of the level 80 population.
  • Female Dwarf Rogue is still the way to go if you want to stand out, they are the least popular class/race/gender combination.

Zardoz also tabulates the most popular talent trees and specs for each class. So what role are those hybrids playing? It’s difficult for me to interpret Death Knight data since any talent tree could be a tank, so laying those aside.

Paladins: The majority are retribution, but both holy and protection are also popular secs. Paladins are relatively easy to play and have three strong trees at the moment, all of which are highly played. To put this in perspective, there are more people playing the second most popular paladin tree (Protection) than are playing the most popular druid tree (Resto).

Druid: The majority are resto, although feral isn’t far behind. I can’t tell how many of those feral druids are tanks, except to assume that it won’t be 100% of them. Balance lags behind – perhaps there are just plenty of options for people who want to play healer hybrids and not everyone wants to look like a fat owlbear while doing it.

Priest: Shadow beats out Holy for popularity by 0.4%, Discipline lags behind. So the majority of  priests are healers but a lot of people like the dps tree also. I think Blizzard has done a decent job on priest class design – fun dps, fun heals, and can use similar gear for both. I suspect that this is why they’re the more popular of the non tanking classes.

Warrior: Protection has always been the most popular Warrior spec and that’s still true. Arms and Fury are close in terms of popularity, I think well geared raiders are shifting back to Fury at the moment, but Arms is viable and still the preferred PvP build. Although Warriors are a less popular class than the other tanking classes, there are probably still more warrior tanks than druids or death knights. Clearly Paladins are by far the most popular tanking class at the moment, though.

Shaman: It has always been strange to me to see Shaman lagging behind priests and druids in the tables. They’re all healer/caster hybrids who can use similar gear for both roles. Shamans (like druids) also have the option for a melee dps spec, which is usually popular with players. Maybe people just don’t like totems, or shamans aren’t viewed as interesting to play?

So what has changed?

Here’s an older set of data from July 2009 (just after patch 3.1). Main changes are:

  1. Paladins overtake Death Knights. This is a large leap, so lots of people have levelled Paladin alts since then.
  2. Priests overtook Warriors. Not such a big percentage change, but they’ve clearly been popular alts too.
  3. Shaman overtook Hunters. Again, people looking to the hybrid classes as popular alts.

Solving the Tanking Problem?

One thing is very clear. The tanking problem isn’t that the classes are not being played, it’s that either the barriers to tanking are too high, people are enjoying the other specs more, or people just don’t want to do it.

So I’d expect to see Blizzard making tanking (even) easier, and exploring ways in Cataclysm to let tanks use melee dps gear (we know they are talking about this). People are evidently flocking to their paladins so that design has to be seen as a success.

But I do wonder how far ahead one class will be allowed to get in popularity. My guess is that paladins are a lock-in for the rest of Wrath and that Blizzard will be aiming to make other classes more appealing when they revise them for Cataclysm – we know that’s going to be a substantial amount of work.

Having said that, does it really matter if one class happens to be the most popular? Maybe people just like their knights in shining armour more than their demon-summoning warlocks?

It came from the PUG: The Shadow

What is it with random groups in WoW these days that people are so reluctant to speak in party chat? I don’t expect extended witty conversations (although that would be entertaining), but here’s the example that annoyed me this week.

If I’m tanking one of the new instances and some of the other players seem a bit rough or undergeared, I’ll pause before each boss to ask if everyone knows the tactic. If I do this, it’s because I think this will be smoother than just rushing in. So why do people not speak up if they need to be instructed on what to do? I’m happy to tell them or else I wouldn’t have offered in the first place. I haven’t even been checking their gear score, only that the total dps in group is sufficient.

I had a prize example of this  in Forge of Souls. I paused, asked if people knew the fight, and one guy said ‘gogogo’, got his army of ghouls out and then promptly got himself killed by attacking the end boss when it cast mirrored soul. Darwinism in action, although I’d have been pissed off if that had caused a wipe. It’s also irritating when the guy happens to be the top dps in the group, so he understands some aspect of his class.

But I felt that even if the rest of the group hadn’t known tactics, they would have preferred to hide at the back like shadows and hope enough of the rest knew what to do to pull them through, rather than  speak up and ask for advice. What gives? None of them even spoke up to say that they did know it. Is it because they’ve never had to learn tactics for any fight? Or just think it doesn’t apply to them? It is a mystery to me.

What is clear is that addressing a question to the group will often get no answers. If you really want to pin down the shadow, you have to put a spotlight on them and call them out by name. This is slow and laborious and will annoy everyone else while they wait.

So your options are: Kick people who don’t answer quickly enough (assuming you have been in the instance long enough to kick people), explain every fight where tactics might matter  in a brief sentence without asking whether  the explanation is needed and hope people can read even if they can’t talk, hope you’re overgeared enough it’ll be ok if some people don’t know the fight, or wipe.

But I think it is the lack of response, as if you were PUGging with a bunch of shadows, which drives me most nuts at the moment about tanking pick up groups.  I would really prefer having a squad of NPCs along if that’s what the players are going to do, at least they’d follow orders.

On warriors, and nerf/ buff cycles

I wonder sometimes if players enjoy the idea of a cycle  of nerfs and buffs. Where if a class is overpowered at one point, it is guaranteed to be underpowered again when the wheel turns. And the underpowered classes will be buffed up to be the next flavour of the month. It’s like a wheel of fate. Everyone gets what they deserve. The last will be first and the first will be last.

Except that it’s stupid.

Ideally in game we want to get to an equilibrium where everyone is roughly equal for whatever that means. So that people can just play whatever they prefer and if it is below par in some respect, trust that it’ll be brought back into line, without feeling that they deserve to be overpowered as some kind of reward for having been underpowered in the past.

Who cares about tank dps anyway?

The Blizzard developers continue to experiment with giving players a heads’ up about future changes before the specific changes are announced. I think this is partly to allow people to get through their grieving cycle and also to stop players jumping on the bandwagon of overpowered classes too quickly – if Blizzard say immediately, “We think this is wrong and it’s being fixed next patch,” then it probably won’t seem worth the effort.

Changes coming down the line soonish are a buff to warlock damage, and a nerf to protection warriors damage because the spec has been performing too well in PvP. Naturally, since the majority of tanking warriors are PvE focussed, this raised an uproar. In PvE the spec isn’t remotely overpowered, if anything it is slightly behind the other tanks in terms of threat generation, effective health, how easy they are to heal, and so on; so a nerf was never going to be a popular move.

If a spec IS overpowered in PvP then they do need to act quickly, because top end PvP players are notorious for how quickly they’ll switch to the flavour of the month.

And no one really wants to pick a tank because of their damage. They want to pick them because they’re tough, hard to kill, good at keeping threat, and doing whatever other tanky things the raid requires. For a tank, damage is part of their utility, it’s a small buff to raid damage that you get as a bonus when you slot them in.

So I think the warlock buff will be way way more significant to future raid performance than any protection warrior nerf. But it’s still harsh to be in a spot where you think, “Actually, the best thing the raid could do to make this encounter easier would be to bench me and get one of the bears or paladins to tank.” Even worse if they could just grab a lesser geared alt or offspec paladin and still find things easier.

It just doesn’t make you feel good about the game.