Antisocial: That word doesn’t mean what you think it means

Tobold kicked up a stir yesterday by opining that dps deserve their long LFD heroic queues (40 mins or so, compared with much shorter queues for healers or tanks) because they are shirking their social responsibility. Commenters on the post have been even stronger, claiming that dps are antisocial and that it’s all because hybrids aren’t using their socially responsible roles.

Apparently socially responsible people play tanks and healers because those roles are more in demand. I just wanted to point out the words ‘socially responsible’ and ‘demand’ in the same sentence. Because it shows that there are two ways of trying to use game mechanics to equalise the roles, and neither are working.

  • Social responsibility. This is the stick. The idea is to guilt people into playing the little used roles. And to suggest that people who value how they are seen by ‘society’ will tend to veer towards them.
  • Demand. This is the carrot. And this angle is all about letting ‘the market’ correct itself. Tanks and healers get rewarded via smaller queues so more people will play those roles, is the argument.

Personally I’d rather have people playing tanks or healers because they enjoy it, but there you go.

Anyhow, I have a few issues with this argument:

1. Social makeup isn’t the same in LFD as it is in guilds. In guilds or raids, a good dps is at least as valuable as a good tank or healer. Arguably top dps are currently the rockstars of the game. (Actually in LFD a good dps is at least as valuable as a tank or healer too, as you will find out if you end up in a group without any.)

Gevlon noted in an earlier post that the better players had tended to gravitate towards tanking and healing in his raids. Similarly, we have lots of good healers in guild at the moment. In that case, it’s probably just as socially responsible if not more to roll what your guild needs.

2. You have to be a bit crazy (or at least have tons of time and enjoy herding cats) to tank LFD heroics right now. Hats off to those of you who do it. Lots of tanks don’t. It’s not because of being socially irresponsible, it’s because it isn’t fun. Does socially responsible have to mean not fun?

So in this case, it doesn’t really matter how great the reward is, it’s not enough. People are making their choices, and that choice is that they’d rather wait 40 mins than run a random heroic as a tank or healer.

As to those pure dps who don’t have a role choice. Well, if you did, you’d probably make the same choice as everyone else for the same reasons.

3. It’s another angle on the old argument that hybrids shouldn’t be allowed to play as dps. Apparently it’s socially irresponsible. Never mind if you hate it, or if you’ve just run an instance with your guild as a tank/healer and would like a rest.

4. The ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument. It’s only a short step from saying that people should play more socially responsible roles to saying that only good players should be allowed to use LFD. I’m sure a lot of people would be down with that. And it would make queues even longer than they are already.

In any case, the bottom line is that if people are faced with playing a role they dislike or waiting hours for a group, they will probably go play another game. The reason this is more marked now than in previous WoW expansions is partly because of the availablity if the random dungeon finder, and partly because everything in the game seems less permanent than it used to do.

When you feel that what you can accomplish matters longterm, you’ll be more willing to weigh that up against a few stressy dungeon runs. Or rather, if you could get a permanent benefit to your character, it would be worth a bit of grind or ‘pain’. Nothing is worth anything, so no one can be bothered.

How do you decide on a class?

So, we’re practically on the starting blocks for Cataclysm. Blizzard have made some tentative class previews and announced plans for raid changes. They finally confirmed yesterday that the Friends and Family Alpha test of the new expansion has begun. And amidst all the intense discussions between raid and guild leaders on how to adapt to the potential changes, people have started to think about which class to play or which alt to pick for the new Cataclysmic era.

But how do YOU go about picking a class?

  • Do you take the pragmatic approach? (What might I want to do? Which class is most likely to let me do it? Which class looks as though it’s going to be stronger/more desirable in PvE/ PvP?)
  • Do you have a list of desired qualities, and just mark off different classes until you end up with the best match? (e.g. must be able to heal, must be mobile, must be able to be a gnome, etc.)
  • Do you like to try something new? (e,g. must be something I haven’t played before? must be able to be the new race/ class? must be the one with the cool new mechanic?)
  • Do you stick with an old favourite?
  • Do you pick that class that always made you jealous? (e.g. if you can’t beat them, join them!)
  • Do you secretly admire a character in your guild/ raid and plan to emulate them? (e.g. I always wanted to be …. a shield tank?)
  • Do you get together with a bunch of friends and pick classes together for a levelling group?
  • Do you like to do a lot of research, or just try a few different classes and see what sticks?
  • Do you just say ‘oh, to hell with it’ and plan on having loads of alts so that you don’t have to choose yet?

Class Population for Cataclysm

Hatch has written a great (and quite daring) post, predicting what percentage of the player base will pick each class in Cataclsym, based on the current previews. I suspect that I will fret about it briefly before sticking with my warrior because she’s still fun, dammit. And that’s why no major changes are a good thing.

Of course, there are still potential worgen and goblin alts to pick – and the lure of hybrids who can switch roles is undeniable. But then, some of the new race/class combinations are also appealing: troll druid, tauren paladin, undead hunter, dwarf shaman, night elf mage …

We still haven’t seen the new talent trees, and a lot of the detail will be in the tuning. But what do you think? Have you seen enough to make your decision? Do you agree with Hatch that paladin population will go through the roof, or do his predictions not go far enough? Are hybrids too appealing right now?

The growing rift in WoW between hybrids and non-hybrids

The ideal with character classes in MMOs is that there should be a wide enough choice that every player can find one that they like, and then use that character to pursue all of the in-game goals which appeal to them. They might involve different mechanics, different lore, a different look and feel, different levels of complexity, or different roles, but there should be something for everyone.

But what happens when some choices start to seem objectively better than others? Well, those should get fixed in some kind of balance patch. But what if the advantage is so core to the game design that it’s never going to be changed?

With the dungeon finder tool, players are finding (to no ones surprise) that if they queue as tanks or healers, they get into instances much more quickly. It’s widely held that the main shortage is on the tanking side, and that fits with my experience also. So the pure dps classes will have a longer wait, and hybrids can choose whether they prefer a dps role with a longer wait, or the hassle of gearing and learning to play a different role that will get them into instances more quickly.

The game isn’t just dungeons (and once everyone is geared up, it won’t really matter how long they have to wait), but they are at the forefront of people’s minds at the moment. So I’ll be surprised if the majority of new alts created right now are not druids and paladins (the two classes which can have options to tank, or heal, or dps). Suddenly, role flexibility is the new black. Then there will probably be a lot of other new hybrids, less flexible than the paladins and druids, but still able to either heal or tank as well as dps.

This is not only a good thing but also the only real solution to dps queue times. When these new alts come down the levelling pipeline, it will inject a bunch of new tanks and healers into the dungeon finder. But still, now that role flexibility has become so useful and marketable, it isn’t fair that some classes are restricted to one role.

One thing to bear in mind though, when you’re done being jealous of non-existant tanking queue times  – there has always been an oversupply of tanks who wanted to raid. That’s going to get worse, when everyone and their dog has a geared up tanking alt. Established groups will discover that if they lose a tank, it’s easier to ask an existing member to hop onto an alt or offspec rather than recruit a stranger to a role that traditionally required a strong commitment to the raid group.

What do you think? If you are considering a new alt, would you pick a non-hybrid right now?

How’s dual specs working out for you?

I’ve been looking forwards to dual specs for a long time.

Perhaps it’s chronic indecision or just liking to explore different options for my characters. Perhaps it’s  the lure of saving gold on something that I was doing anyway (ie. switching specs a lot). Or perhaps it’s just that I hate being locked into a single role the whole time, especially when it gets in the way of something else that I wanted to do.

And Ulduar has been cool and all, but the dual specs is hands down my favourite part of 3.1.

This really came home to me the other night, when we were able to get a 10 man run together. Dual specs gave us some options in the raid to have people switch specs for one boss encounter or other so that we could try different tactics.

I switched to Fury so that we could fight XT-002 with one less tank and one more dps. We had a shadow priest switch to Holy for one fight where we felt that we needed an extra healer. We had the retribution paladin switch to Holy for a different fight where we needed an extra healer but wanted the priest helping to nuke adds.

I didn’t specifically look for a paladin and priest when lining up the dps section. But since we had them, and they had dual specs and were happy to heal occasionally, we used them.

As far as I can tell, everyone was happy. We killed a couple of new bosses. The dual specced guys got to feel that their investment was immediately and actively useful. No pure dps were shut out to make room for hybrids, it just happened that I invited anyone who wanted to come as long as their dps was up to scratch.

And yes, in future, I’d be comfortable running Ulduar (10) with two full time healers and one hybrid who had a healing spec and knew how to use it, rather than three healers.

Is it unfair to hybrids?

One of the issues people foresaw with dual specs is that it would put pressure on hybrids to gear up and learn to play an extra role, whether they wanted to or not.

In a casual guild and alliance like mine, that really isn’t an issue. Obviously if we are short on healers, it is a bonus if a hybrid offers that option, but then again, if we’re short on healers we’ll be recruiting more healers.

This may change later when people are less enthused about the new raid instance and signups dry up. When you can only just make the numbers, it’s a huge bonus to be able to assign people to multiple roles as needed.

For a more hardcore guild, this is likely to be an issue. If, for example, you are recruiting a new boomkin and one applicant has great resto gear and experience and the other doesn’t, it’s going to be a factor.

But how much of a factor really does depend on the guild. It’s probably no worse than the pressure that already existed for hybrids to zip off and respec as needed.

Playing a hybrid now in WoW probably does involve being able to fill more than one role. Maybe those classes were always bad design decisions, maybe it’s unfair that some classes have access to more roles than others, maybe it isn’t fair on the players who really did want to just specialise.There will always be some players who buck the trend and stick to one role anyway. And not everyone needs to play and gear both specs to raid level. I think it will work itself out in time. But expectations have changed and when experienced players reroll hybrids, they should figure on learning more than one role. (Probably they did anyway.)

But at least we now have an answer to: Why should I play a hybrid in WoW?

A: Because you want to play more than one role in game and are willing to spend extra time gathering gear and learning your different specs.

It still doesn’t answer the question: what if you don’t know what you might want to do at endgame when you create your character? It does give more options, but there’s extra pressure too.

Is it unfair to pure dps classes?

I honestly have not seen any situation where a pure dps class was benched to make room for a dual spec hybrid. The game simply doesn’t require that level of role switching.

I know there was some concern that a dual specced hybrid could enter a raid as either dps or healing and therefore had more raid spots available, but no one has equally good gear and practice in playing two specs.And in the case of people with PvP specs, the other spec may not be raid relevant anyway.

So in practice, everyone has a preferred spec and one which they can switch to if needed. No one would take a dps hybrid as a healer if they could take someone who specialised and geared for healing as their priority instead. It’s there as a backup.

The most difference it might make is that 1/2 dps slots might be reserved for hybrids if the raid leader likes the extra flexibility. And frankly, if you weren’t already taking at least two hybrids in your 25 man dps team then you’re running an unbalanced raid anyway.

The future for dual specs

To me, dual specs raises at least as many questions as it answers. I know that I enjoy the flexibility of playing more than one spec to raiding levels. It will be hard for me to go back to another game where you’re fixed in a role.

I also feel bad for all the hybrid players who face increased pressure to dual spec when they really didn’t want to. It may not have been the devs intention but the game is now making it easier and easier to do this.

But what does that say about the whole core design features that players should pick a role when they first create a character and never deviate from it?

Character classes in MMOs have tended to specialise. Games have rewarded specialisation and players who try to make jack-of-all-trade characters are mocked as noobs. This isn’t just true in WoW, but in pretty much most of the MMOs I’ve played.

This is also true in pen and paper games, but a large part of pen and paper games involves talking to NPCs, investigating mysteries, and … basically doing non-class specific activities. Fighting is a small part of the game. Also, a human GM can tailor the game to the players. If one player really wants a jack-0f-all-trade character then the GM can make sure that they encounter situations where being average at a wide range of skills really pays off.

I think that if we’re ever going to really escape the tyranny of class specialisation, MMOs need to provide more non-fighting things to do. It doesn’t matter what class you are when you are crafting or making your fortune on the auction house, after all.

How’s dual specs working out for you? Does it make you want to try a multi-role class if you aren’t already playing one?