Thought of the Day: People vs Text

The slew of new quests in WoW at the moment reminds me of how reliant MMOs still tend to be on quest text to tell their stories. Blizzard is clearly trying to experiment and move away from this a bit (with good use of cut scenes, NPCs who chat while you are leading them around, et al.) but the bulk of the information comes via text boxes.

And it’s usually thought that most people don’t bother reading the text. They just scroll down to see what the rewards are and what they need to do — and increasingly the quest target will be marked on a map anyway so you don’t even need to do that.

My first thought is how great it would be if other important information givers experimented as widely with ways to tell us things we need to know. Interactive bank statement, anyone? How about consumer rights when you sign a loan agreement? Of course, the difference is that in these cases, they might actually prefer you not to read the small print …

And secondly I was thinking that sometimes I really do prefer print. I’m not a fan of videoblogs and prefer text to podcasts because a) I can read them at my speed (which is fast) rather than at the rambling speed of the producer, and b) because I don’t have to dig out my headphones. Communicating via text in games might be slow compared to speech but you don’t lose important information because someone shouted over it. So maybe in games it is as much to do with the size and placement of the text box, and the tendency to info dump, as the fact it happens to use text.

10 reasons why Tanks shout at Healers

 

  1. We’re actually paying attention to you. Here am I, trying to keep the bitey things off your back and when I look round you’re … standing in a fire. GET OUT OF THE FIRE!
  2. We’re actually paying attention to you #2: dps may be nice chaps and chapesses but as soon as the fight starts, they’re deaf, dumb, and blind to everything except their optimal rotations (assuming they are paying attention at all) or will get distracted completely by the occasional high crit. SHINY! They won’t care if the healers are turning cartwheels at the back of the room. I, on the other hand, am paying close attention to at least my own health bar and probably yours too.
  3. We’re actually paying attention to you #3 (co-dependent argument): So why exactly are you not paying as much attention to me as I am to you? If I had to run up some stairs to grab a boss, I may have assumed you were not nailed to the ground and could follow? Why does nobody love me as much as I love them? IT’S NOT FAIR! Am I fated always to be losing my heart to uncaring unresponsive healers? *sob*
  4. We’re not actually paying attention to anyone except you: most tanks don’t notice what the dps are doing and won’t realise you had to run off to heal them. Whereas healers probably keep an eye on everyone by default.
  5. We’re not actually paying attention to you. Oh, you were dead? What sort of excuse is that? OK, moving swiftly on.
  6. We probably know the instance backwards. When I’ve run an instance enough times, I pretty much know what my health bar usually does in conjunction with a healer who is paying attention. I will notice if it does something radically different for no obvious reason. (This doesn’t mean not making allowances when you know you’re with an inexperienced or undergeared healer.)
  7. You just ran off and pulled a patrol by mistake? Oh, it was on purpose because you were getting bored. I see. *RAGE*
  8. I know if I made a mistake. If I’ve taken a wodge of damage, I know fine well if it was my own fault. I won’t shout at anyone for that (unless it’s to hide my own incompetence). But if I know that I didn’t stand in the fire then that dismisses one set of reasons for my health to have dropped unexpectedly. You’re probably what’s left.
  9. You’re married/ partners in RL. Nuff said.
  10. Warriors just like to shout. Battle Shout, Commanding Shout, Shout at Healers (no cooldown on this one but it doesn’t last long either). People also pay more attention if you shout at them, it’s a proven fact. Probably.

OK, so the big reason for all the shouting at healers is because tanks and healers in particular have to work together in fights. And that means sometimes you need to coordinate your efforts and communicate. And when you have to communicate quickly in the middle of a fight with no time for discussion, that may mean shouting. It also means not much time for critical thinking.

The other big reason for shouting at healers is pure frustration. I noticed myself doing this on our attempts at heroic beasts this week, and I hope I apologised to them all afterwards because I felt pretty bad about it.

In the first part of that fight, once your cooldowns and consumables are blown, you just have to sit there and take the hits. As a tank, there’s not a darned thing you can do to reduce the damage you are taking. You can’t move out of the way, there’s no avoidable damage to avoid. You just have to go through your standard tanking threat rotation and hope like crazy that healers are on top of it.

I think it’s that sense of total powerlessness that fuels the shouting. Because when people ask afterwards why you died, the only thing you can possibly say is, ‘Not enough healing.’

Sorry ma’am, I don’t speak text?

What might our games might be like if we couldn’t communicate via text? It’s a difficult concept, because text based communication has been absolutely core to every MMO I’ve played. No guild chat? No whispers? No way to carry out multiple conversations at once? The more I think about it, the more I wonder if text chat is one of the big enablers of massive games. Without them, our communication is limited to the number of people we can reasonably see or hear at the same time.

But if consoles are going to be the next MMOified platform, this is a barrier that they will have to cross. Will it mean more voice chat? Will consoles get keyboards? Will we have to pick our texts from a list instead of being able to input them freeform? Does it matter? Is text an old medium that just slows our games down and adds more pointless information for players need to read?

As a society, we have a long, long history with text. Historically, Victorian text chat — or telegrams, as we like to call them– was the great enabler for the modern internet. And back in those days, if you needed to communicate with massive numbers of people, you put a text advert in the local paper or published a pamphlet.  (If you spend too long thinking about this, you can see why some people hail the printing press as the greatest invention in human history.)

  • Text carries a sense of permanence. Someone can read it later than the time at which it was written. It may not be much later if it is in a text box that scrolls off the screen, but communicating via text doesn’t mean that both the sender and receiver need to be time synchronised. Voice messages can also be stored but it is less convenient.
  • Text is fast, but voice is slow. It takes much longer to listen to someone speak a sentence than it would to read it. If we have to rely on voice for all communications, we simply won’t be able to pass on as much information in the same timescale.
  • Text is easily searchable. You can skim through a box of text to find the amusing typo and copy it to all your friends. Skimming through voice chats means listening all the way through, and hoping that someone has bothered to index which topic came up at what time so that you can fast forward.
  • Text can be used to maintain multiple conversations at the same time. It is easy to be whispering two different people, chatting on guild chat, and having an argument with someone else standing next to you. Voice chat — not so much.
  • People can’t talk over each other in text. They may ignore each other, but you don’t have the issue of more than one person trying to talk at the same time.
  • Texts can mix private with public conversations. At the risk of embarassing mavs, you can have a private and a public conversation at the same time. This is why you can discuss your cat with your best friend at the same time as explaining a boss fight to your guild.

I wonder if text based chat is required for any kind of massive game experience. If we forcibly keep the group size small, then voice chat could totally replace it. You wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone outside the group but maybe that wouldn’t matter. If we make sure that all the information needed is provided by the game, then you might not need to explain fights to people. We could imagine using menus to select what we want to say from a list of options (ie. instead of typing), but that feels restrictive. Or maybe we can communicate via symbols, emotes, interpretive dance on screen?

Or, I suspect, the other alternative is that people still use text. They just find ways to do it outside the game. Maybe everyone has a netbook running IRC, or uses their iPhones to text each other instead. They chat via text boxes and bulletin boards and only log on to actually play instanced content.

Possibly console type MMOs just get less massive. Maybe you don’t need to talk to anyone outside your immediate group ever. Maybe … maybe you don’t need to ever talk to anyone at all.

Why faction identity is so strong in WoW

I love having factions in games, and I’ve always thought that it was a good idea. It gives new players something to identify with immediately, and an inbuilt group of ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ players to work with and against in game.

Without factions, it’s easy to feel alone and directionless. With them, you may inherit some of your faction’s goals right from the start. And I’ve always thought that if you set it up carefully, you could motivate experienced players to recruit and train newbies in order to strengthen their faction.

There are different types of factions:

  • NPC factions (like villain groups in CoH or the Argent Dawn in WoW). You may see these guys around but you can never actually join their gang, although they might sell you stuff.
  • Player run factions. A guild is a kind of faction. In some games player-designed factions are even more explicit than that. In my old vampire MUSH, the various vampire clans were all run by players. It may be possible to switch factions, but that depends on the players and the game.
  • Hard coded factions. This would be like the Alliance/ Horde in WoW, or Order/ Destruction in Warhammer Online. When you create your character, it is a member of a faction. You may be able to change this faction later (like in EQ2) but it’s led by NPCs regardless. This has the benefit that the faction does not collapse if one player leaves.

My first experience of factions in MMOs was in Dark Age of Camelot where your faction levelled in completely separate (safe) areas from the other lot, and also you couldn’t communicate with them in game. So you spent a lot of time with your own faction. They were the only people you could talk to or group with. The only way you could really interact with the other side was by fighting them.

I suspect the main reason for this was to stop people cheating, they wanted people to fight the other faction, not collaborate with them. But it also had the effect of fostering a strong faction identity.

Of course faction identity is strong, it defines your whole game experience

It’s not surprising if people do identify with their factions. It probably dictates gameplay even more than class in a lot of current MMOs. Your levelling experience can be very different between Horde and Alliance, for example. Your choice of races is dependent on your faction. You’ll use different quest hubs, different travel routes, and different capital cities. You may spend more time in different zones and instances. You’ll interact with different NPCs. You’ll also have faction specific lore and history, for those who are interested in such things.

You’ll talk to different people. You’ll see different guild tags. You won’t mix much with the other faction and when you do, it won’t be cooperative. (Actually players will tend to cooperate, even if the game makes it difficult. I know I’ve had my character’s life saved by friendly wandering Alliance dudes before and I bet that’s not unusual.)

In Warhammer, it’s even more differentiated. You could probably level in completely different zones based on your race, never mind just the faction. (So three different levelling paths per faction.) Your faction in WAR also dictates which classes you can play, and there is no crossover. If you want a Choppa, you have to go Destruction and you have to play an orc. It’s less flexible but I quite like it as a way to give the factions a very different flavour (and a lot of replayability).

The problem with giving each faction vast replayability is that somehow the whole mess needs to be balanced.  Ultimately Blizzard gave up on balancing shamans and paladins and gave both classes to both factions. Part of the outcry at the time was because people felt that faction identity was being watered down (the horde has a lot of shaman lore, the alliance has a lot of paladin lore).

In any case, the designers really really want  to foster tension and PvP, dammit. So the game is designed to give players a strong faction identity, and to give them reasons to compete and fight with the other factions.

We can argue about how well they actually implement this, but certainly in WoW Blizzard have experimented a lot previously with getting the factions to compete in different zones. They’ve dropped that in Wrath, probably due to monumental lack of interest (although I rather liked Halaa, the neutral town that you got to fight over in TBC.)

Faction identity vs Server identity

You could argue that a player’s choice of server has just as much influence on their game as a choice of faction. After all, different servers have completely different communities. You can’t talk to people on a different server in WoW from inside the game (I think you can in EQ2). And, more significantly, a PvP server offers a very different levelling experience to a PvE server. Unsurprisingly, players made much more of a fuss when Blizzard offered PvE to PvP server transfers than when they just implemented transfers between similar server types.

It isn’t just about ease of levelling. It’s about server identity being all bound up with the levelling experience. People who played on a PvP server used to know that everyone else they played with had also levelled in the same way. Yes it does mean that they shared similar assumptions beyond just which quests they had done, but part of being a PvP server player was that you’d done your time in the Stranglethorn trenches.

We do get a lot of our identity from nostalgia, and from things we have done in the past, and from making connections with other people who have done the same things. If you get a load of people of a similar age together, it’s only a matter of time before they start discussing TV shows they used to like as kids. (If your friends don’t do this yet, it is only a matter of time.)Similarly, a bunch of Alliance players may joke about Hogger and Van Cleef, both of whom are due to make guest appearances in the next 5 man instance, in patch 3.2. Old School Horde may point to Barrens chat and the Sons of Arugal. These things are shared experiences that helped to form the Alliance/ Horde player identity.

I like having strong faction, racial, and class identities in a game. But identities aren’t always things that people don and doff at the drop of a hat. So it doesn’t surprise me that a lot of people have a strong reaction to the idea of paid faction transfer. In a way, it makes the shared experience just that little bit less shared.

A game that was designed from the start to let people switch classes or factions would probably handle identity and class/ faction switching in a much smoother manner.

It’s hard to say if that’s how trends are going, when SWTOR is boasting that every faction/class combination will have a completely separate levelling experience. Wonder how much they’ll charge to let me switch my jedi to a stormtrooper if it all doesn’t work out :)

What tanks really think of healers

This is inspired by a great shared topic at Blog Azeroth which asks about non-healers view of healers.

And I think this is really typical of WoW in that Nigiri (who is a healer) asked the question, and everyone who has responded so far has played a tank. And they have all said the same thing: I don’t care where the heals come from as long as they keep coming.

Bear in mind that WoW has 4 classes capable of healing and there is some competition between them. Plus support classes always like to feel that they picked the most useful/desired combination because you feel like a tool if you’ve gone to all the effort of levelling and gearing up one group-friendly toon only to find that you aren’t wanted. So healers in WoW are always asking: which type of healer would you prefer in your group. I used to do this when I played my druid too in TBC; maybe I didn’t come out and ask, but I was very sensitive to my ‘groupability’.

But like the other guys have said, no one else cares who is healing as long as it is someone who is paying attention. And that’s a sign that the heal classes are reasonably balanced at the moment, for solo/group play at least.

As a raid leader, my preference is for a mix of healing classes because they each bring something different to the table. In Ulduar specifically, I prefer priests but that’s down to encounter design. In practice, no one is cut out because:

  1. We don’t have many priests
  2. I’d still want to use a mix of classes

I’ll come back to my preferences with healers later because it is a bit more than ‘whoever is there’.

My first experience with heals

I want to share a story from years back in Dark Age of Camelot.

I was playing my first ever MMO and my first ever MMO character which was a minstrel (a kind of jack of all trades class with a bit of melee, a bit of crowd control, a few buffs, and a group speed buff). And I had been soloing on Salisbury Plains with some success – I’d killed a few mobs, died a couple of times, business as usual.

Then I ran into a friendly cleric, so we grouped up. And I knew they were a healing class but it was the first time I’d ever been in a group in the game. We eyed some monster up.

I said to him that I thought we might be ok but it would be a tough fight, because it had killed me before.

He said, it’s ok, I’ll be healing.

I was doubtful. But I figured that two people were better than one and the worst that could happen would be that we died and had to release and run back.

When I fought that monster, I was a living combat goddess!! My health barely dipped. It wasn’t hard, it wasn’t even easy. I swung my sword a few times, and it may have hit me but I laughed off the damage. Then it died. I didn’t just have healing, it was as if my health bar had suddenly stopped being an issue.

I said, wow, that seemed easy.

He said, yes.

So I pulled another one.

So what do tanks really think of healers?

With a healer at my back, I feel as though I can do anything (in the game). I will charge the biggest bosses, I will smash skulls in PvP, and nothing will stand in my way. It’s the craziest kind of team-up – a tank and a healer is one of the most powerful duos in just about any game I’ve ever played. So it can be a really great partnership and lots of fun for everyone involved.

But there are some caveats:

  1. The usual rote goes that if the tank dies, it’s the healers fault. If the healer dies, it’s the tank’s fault. If dps die, it’s their own silly fault.  If the healer gets aggro then I have done something very wrong. But don’t go out of your way to die by forgetting to heal yourself or get out of the fire.
  2. I do prefer being healed by a player I know or have played with before. It’s funny how that works. You do get used to someone’s playing style.
  3. Communication helps. I prefer healers who tell me in advance if there’s anything special I can do to help them out in a fight. As a tank, I may not notice aspects of a boss which only affect casters (like silences). And may not know if one particular type of healer needs a hand on one particular boss.
  4. One thing I learned from playing healers in WoW is that they are not fragile butterflies. All of them have ways to handle themselves which means that screaming like a girl when a not-very-hard hitting add heads your way is somewhat of an over-reaction.
  5. Run towards the tank when you get aggro, not away. We all actually do have ranged taunts now, but it’s still a good rule.
  6. Don’t freak out at constructive criticism, even if it means someone correctly calling you on a mistake that you made. This applies to anyone really but some healers are particularly sensitive. It isn’t personal!