Population balance in MMOs: Thinning the Warrior Numbers

This is bound to be a hot topic in warrior circles at the moment, Ghostcrawler (WoW Lead Systems Designer) dipped his toe into the murky waters of social engineering on Tuesday with this post; it’s about halfway down the page, in blue.

— Warriors are very popular main tanks.
— This is probably because they used to be the best tank (by design) and because many MTs have stuck with the class for many levels.
— We think they are slightly under-powered in Ulduar relative to other tanks.
— If we are not careful and buff warriors too much then there are going to be more of them, which only feeds into the perception that warriors are designed to be (or should be designed to be) the best tank.
— We’ve worked very hard to make sure there are 4 viable tanks, just as we’ve worked very hard to make sure there are 5 viable healers. We want to have paladins, druids and DKs tanking Coliseum, and not giving up (or being replaced by the raid leader) because they aren’t warriors.
— We don’t balance around popularity. However we do take it into consideration. WoW is a social game and despite the excellent work by the theorycrafting community, player perception and psychology play a big role and often change very slowly.
— We don’t balance around past history. However we do take it into consideration. WoW is a game and players can form an emotional attachment to their characters. Emotion enters into it. While my team deals with cold hard numbers a lot, that is not the only part of game design.

This is very interesting, and not just because it made me feel down all day (I’ll come back to that.) Some classes in MMOs are always more popular than others, support classes are less popular than dps for example. Melee is usually more popular than ranged.

When one class shows a population spike over and above this, it’s usually because they are either overpowered or perceived to be overpowered. That’s the flavour of the month (fotm) trend, people roll or reroll classes that they think are most effective. Usually, devs will spot this and correct any actual overpowered elements and the rerollers will move on to the next fotm.

In any case, warriors are still popular. It isn’t because they are overpowered, quite the opposite in fact. From comments he’s made previously I’m also sure GC understands the various issues which the class has. Blizzard would prefer it if warriors were less popular – they take popularity into consideration. Even though they understand that people have an emotional attachment to their character (this is part of the reason that people keep playing their warriors despite being a bit behind the other tanks, the other reason is just the general barrier to change) they’d like less people to play them as tanks in order to balance out the numbers.

I’m actually not convinced that raids pick warrior tanks nowadays because they are still perceived to be the best. I  haven’t seen any guilds on my server specifically recruit for protection warriors. I’ve seen them recruit for Death Knights and Druids, but not warriors. If warriors are raid tanking these days, it’s either because the player has a history with the guild or because someone was recruited because they were a good player and they happened to pick a warrior.

And if people are going to switch out their warriors for other tanks, it means that guilds will be ignoring their guild and player history to do so. The only reason to do that is because the player either burns out or switches mains, or because one of the other tanks makes the raids much easier. Why else would you boot your main tank who has been your main tank for months?

I don’t feel that Blizzard has any case for this level of social engineering. All we ask is that they make all the classes as viable in their roles as possible. Yes, people get emotionally attached to their characters after they have played them for a few months, sunk hours into gearing them up, earning reps and achievements, and learning all the ins and outs. That’s how they designed the game. If they wanted players to be jumping class whenever they said ‘jump’ then maybe they needed to make it easier to have account based achievements, trade skills, etc.

Can you imagine the outcry if they’d said that mages were weaker than other dps in Ulduar but that they were cool with this because the class was overpopulated? Or that priests were weaker than other healers in Ulduar but that was OK because lots of people still played them in raids?

We want to have paladins, druids and DKs tanking Coliseum, and not giving up (or being replaced by the raid leader) because they aren’t warriors.

But is it OK to have warriors replaced because they aren’t paladins, druids or DKs?

So, what’s the future looking like?

I have really appreciated in Wrath that GC has been so forthcoming in sharing his views on the different classes and where Blizzard plans to take them. I think that as a player in an MMO, I need to take in-game decisions with the long term in mind so the more information I have with which to do that, the better.

But there is a downside to this. What if the longterm vision that devs have for your class is that they want to discourage people from playing it and keep it weak?

Personally I feel gypped because I wasn’t playing my warrior through any period of the game where they were overpowered. I tanked at the beginning of TBC when druids were the tank of choice. I tanked heroics in TBC when everyone wanted paladins for easy mode. And I’ve tanked in Wrath where warriors have been fine, but a bit behind the rest. I think I’m personally overdue for my overpowered few months. Sure, that’s the history of the class, but it isn’t MY history with the class. And it won’t be the history of anyone else who started their warrior more recently and wasn’t tanking the Black Temple (which is most of us, I’m sure).

I’m not planning to switch mains. I still like playing my warrior and she’s been fine for the content we’re doing. Also, I’m cool with my dps offspec so if I have to spend more time as Fury and less as Protection, I can do that. I do feel down about the game though, I never needed to be the bestest tank ever but there are only 3 spots for tanks in a 25 man raid. How far behind will they let us get? Is it always going to be the hard mode class, where we work harder than the others and still end up behind?

I’m also not looking forwards to having to listen to all the druids and paladins and DKs boast about how cool they are in the tanking channel for the foreseeable future. And I’m like … well, I have Intervene! Beat that! And it gets this really cool bonus in T9, bet you’re all jealous now!


But what I really wonder is what Blizzard are going to do next if explicitly stating that warriors are intended to stay weaker than the other tanks doesn’t do the trick. All I’m saying to my fellow prot warriors is … if you get a knock on the door at 6am, hide.


29 thoughts on “Population balance in MMOs: Thinning the Warrior Numbers

  1. The notion that warriors are a bit underpowered, but it does not matter because the class is very populated is indeed questionable.

    But well, they tried hard that everyone will see that DK’s get many goodies and are quite good (too good IMO). DPS and Tank in one package, what do you want more. Psychology at its best, balance at the loss.

    I wonder what they will do to make Warlocks more attractive. The IMBA fear whoring fotm players of the past are gone, WLs are the least popular class by now.

    But well, the problems are so apparent that it can only get better… Death Knights are probably getting slapped back to mediocrity/balance before the next expansion, where the next hero class will be released in an imba state and nerfed down later.

    Warriors as main tanks will suffer for now, just for the reason to make undervalued tanks go up in popularity.

    I guess you are right about that. Warriors are among the loser classes right now, I wonder how long they will wait.

    “Master, the warrior ranks have been decimated according to your wishes”
    “Well done! Let’s give them a slight buff and nerf Death Knights, there are too many of them.”

  2. Yeah, GC’s statement was really disappointing. I also have stuck with a prot warrior because it’s the class I fell in love with 4 years ago, and I don’t want to change. It wouldn’t hurt to maybe reward all this loyalty old-school warriors have to their class, when they could have re-rolled any of the other tank classes. It does hurt when people cheer when we get any of the other tanks for runs.

    I don’t expect to be more OP than any other tank class, I just want to be just as good and excel at something.

  3. Is he suggesting all Warriors are tanks? Is that because melee warriors are a bit sucky at raiding compared to other classes?
    As far as tanking is concerned, from my own experience, Paladins and Bears seem to have been relegated to off-tanking duties (or even play dps as their main spec), whereas Warriors and DKs still make MT; whether DKs will continue to do so after the next round of nerfs we will see.

    I think the future for Warrior tanks is good right now. You might have to work harder at tanking than the other classes, but is that a bad thing?

    • I think they’re more sensitive to tanking balance because there are more limited slots in raids. But tbh with dual spec, I’m not so sure that they make the distinction any more.

      Or at least I suspect it’s pretty common for warriors to have at least one tanking spec. Protection was always the most popular spec, even when it wasn’t that strong.

  4. I guess that means that underplayed classes should get buffed into popularity? I wish Turbine had the same idea when it comes to Burglars!

    • I know! I feel very unlucky at the moment. If I pick an unpopular class, it doesn’t get buffed and the popular ones do. If I pick a popular class, then the unpopular classes get the buff.


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  6. Agree with your post, Splinks. GC made a bit mistake. He keeps trying to backpedal and claim “that’s how you interpret it, but it’s not what I said”, but EVERYONE gets what he did wrong: he clearly admitted that warriors will be purposely underpowered until their population goes down.

    He might as well have said “everyone, stop playing your warriors!” Seriously.

    And then I look at wowcensus, and see that DKs and Paladins each make up 30% of the total population at 80. That’s right, nearly TWO THIRDS of the level 80 characters are a paladin or DK. I see some nerfs to DKs, but are they enough to counter the allure of the “hero class”? Where are the brutal paladin nerfs? Where are the admissions that Paladins and DKs will be underpowered until their population levels out?

    What is GC thinking?

    • Going by 3rd party figures for total popularity of a class can be misleading. DK’s start at 55, and have been OP since inception. I’d be surprised if 1% of people haven’t played a DK at least into Outland by now, if not fully to 80. Also, all Paladins are not tanks, although a great many of them are, I’ll give you.

      Nowhere did GC explicitly say that Warriors as a group would be intentionally left underpowered. He said that they didn’t *balance* around population or past history (which is neither positive nor negative), and that they wouldn’t *over*buff.

      The closest comparison I can remember is the fallout of the Ret Paladin nerfs after 3.0. The quote was roughly “If there’s one spec we never want to overbuff again (so that we don’t then have to nerf it as a result), it’s Retribution”. That was months ago. And you know what? Ret Paladins didn’t suddenly disappear overnight because they were left intentionally underpowered.

      I know that one gets emotionally attached to the character, and by extension, the class, but it does verge on the silly to hatch Blizzard conspiracies by inference from a post that doesn’t say anything of the sort.

  7. Welcome to WoW, where nerfs are the common thing until everyone can do what the other person can to make every class happy. Up and down and up and down and how long do players accept this?

  8. What I noticed about GC is that he sounds like a politician. Always saying this and that and trying to appeal the customers with carefully chosen words but only do nothing about it really. They will buff one class, then nerf the sh*t out of it next time. They have been nerfing my chosen classes (DK/Warr) from hell to oblivion if I should say.

    Their goal is to make casters OP like in TBC, or the pure DPS classes. Where’s the fun in that?

    Then some of these nerfs come because of balancing out PVP. They try to say DKs are OP when they are not. In BGs, any sane ret pally can 2-4 shot any class. Bubble, stun, judge! If you’re not down, heal or LOH. By that time, any non-healing class will be low on health. Bam, you’re dead. LOL! Just the other day, AB was won by just a 3 ret pally and a drood healer going around the nodes, dominating their way thru all the flags while the rest of their raid just stood guard. That is OP! =P

  9. We’re overpopulated? Really? Not on my server. You can’t swing a dead frostsaber on Feathermoon (US) without hitting a tanking DK or a prot paladin, but prot warriors? Not that many. And far fewer dedicated bear druids than even that…the vast majority of ferals I know nowadays are kitty full-time.

    I’m used to it, though. For 4 1/2 years almost, I’ve played a warrior, DPS or tank, who’s never been among that elite few with top-end gear until now. I’ve always been one of the ones that got screwed over when Blizzard nerfed the entire class because the top 1-2% of warriors were doing insane PvE damage or tearing up the stats in PvP. I remember the days of 20%+ miss rates, and missed Executes still eating all my rage, and “rage normalization,” and being effectively all but unable to tank TBC heroics because of all the 5- and 6-pulls. I thought, with the massive boost prot warriors got in WotLK, that our moment in the sun had finally arrived. Sounds like our forecast never got past partly cloudy with a chance of afternoon thundershowers.

  10. Read carefully.
    They WILL buff, but if they cross a thin line, people might think, they’re back to tank=warrior, warrior=tank, as seen in vanillla. Thats wrong! They want them equal, but different.
    And warriors are still the essence of tanking, not by mechanic, but by the players identifiing with the class. Blood and steel, nothing else, no holy sh*t, no pandemics, not pets, no frost. Only blizz-baby-bear-tank comes close!
    Beeing the ultimate core of tanking, they might have some disadvantages at the moment, but this happens often, if U are THE first in a long evolution…

    • I think he wants people to stop thinking warrior==essence of tanking. I just don’t think it’ll happen like that, with dual specs we all know that druids are essence of everything and paladins are essence of everything. Only warriors and DKs are restricted to tanking and dps and dps DKs are just more useful than dps warriors. So it doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the class.

      I also think people are pretty accepting of non-warrior tanks right now. I know I’m the only prot warrior in my raid and I don’t think that’s unusual. This is weird to me, because I know they see the stats, but it’s so different to what I have been seeing.

      • Paladins and druids are capable of everything, druids, on top of that, can even dps in two ways!!!
        But beeing the essence of something is far beyond just beeing able to succeed.
        It’s a good thing, to clearly state, no class is (supposed to be) superior to another class.
        If you’re interested in progress, it’s against any logic to roll a warrior tank at the moment.
        For normal encounters paladin is easy-mode, for impossible content dk is progress-mode, dunno, what druid are especially good for.
        Maybe some players one day just want to hear:
        “Yes. We always thought of the warrior tanks as the hard-mode tanks! Not for hard-mode encounters, but for those who like to work hard to succeed. DK is just a hero-class. Warriors are hero-PLAYERS!”

  11. As a primary healer, I prefer healing warrior tanks. I don’t know if it’s because I’m just old school, or because I know what to expect. The warrior tanks I run with have been tanking since vanilla WoW and know their stuff really well. They’re consistent and reliable, and I’ll take them over a DK anyday (and I say that as someone who’s tanked naxx on both my DK and my pally… I hate tanking and only do it when we’re short a tank.)

  12. I find it interesting that the nerf/buff cycle is (presumably) more popular than the simple static roles that you found to some extent in games like AD&D.

    While it’s unpleasant to be nerfed and perhaps even more so to be nerfed simply for social engineering it seems to be something players tolerate whereas if Warriors had never changed from their level 60 role and status presumably people would have got bored and cancelled.

    We get the games we deserve.

    Presumably Blizzard has metrics that encourage them to run classes through nerf/buff cycles, the frustration and elation it causes are more conducive to players maintaining their subs than if relative strengths were unchanging.

  13. I think that devs should never engage in social engineering. Make a great game and let players do what they will.

    I’m curious as to what their new Hero class will wind up doing, though. What sledgehammers will be perceived as necessary to make them useful? Who will lose out this time around?

    • Not sure if they’ll do another hero class, but if they do, everyone will roll it next time around. I mean, unless they psych the playerbase out by making it underpowered for a year instead of overpowered 😉

  14. This is one of the problems from a developer’s point of view. People want to glimpse behind the curtain, but if a developer says something that doesn’t please everyone, someone goes and writes an angry blog post. 😉

    Despite what Tesh (and others) says, an MMO developer can’t help but engage in some social engineering in design by default. Popularity is a factor in balance for multiple reasons. Even in Spinks’ original article she puts her complaints in terms of popularity: Druids and DKs are more recruited, so there must be a problem with Warriors. (Actually, it might be that raiding guilds already have all the prot warriors they want/need, and are trying to find other tanks to round things out.)

    On the face of it, what Ghostcrawler said makes sense: Warriors are popular, Warriors are slightly underpowered, buffing Warriors could lead too people thinking Warriors are the only viable tanks. Sucks to be playing a Warrior and hearing you’re not going to get a bunch of goodies anytime soon, sure. The problem is that if they didn’t have this philosophy and they did buff warriors and they are right, it would lead to more screaming from DKs, Druids, and Paladins about why they’re not viable tanks.

    In my opinion, for any competent player, this is no big deal. The philosophy of “bring the player, not the class” means that things won’t get too far out of whack. As someone who did 5-man offtanking in Druid Bear form in vanilla WoW, I know a good player can play despite what the actual nature of class balance is.

    Sadly, the sin here seems to be that Ghostcrawler actually spoke what the devs were thinking in terms of class balance. This is why it’s not always a good idea for a developer too be too honest about things.

  15. Brian, you’re right of course. I just thought it was quite interesting to document my reaction. Obviously I don’t play with the entire WoW population. In my guild I’m the only prot warrior and I don’t see why I have to always be behind the rest because of what the rest of the population do. Plus I now feel like a lemon for not switching classes at the start of the expansion. Competent players may be fine (I will be curious to see whether more hardcore progression guilds do ditch their warriors now that they know they will never be optimal progression tanks) but that doesn’t mean that they will be happy.

    So it’s not really going to change anything. Just now I feel more miserable. Also I am forced to examine my assumption that if I put the same amount of effort into my character as the other tanks, I’d be on par with them and that there was a sense in which all classes were equal.

  16. Fair enough to document your reaction. Despite what you may think, however, you’re not the typical player; that’s one reason I’ve kept you in my RSS reader. 😉 But, a lot of people are going to get all cranky and they’re not going to be level-headed enough to really think things through.

    Again, the sin here is that Ghostcrawler explained things, and he just upset a lot of people because of it. Would you have even reacted to this if he had not said anything? Probably not. But, yet, people always want the developers to explain things even though it often just leads to pain.

    At any rate, I find it risible that you think you would put in the “same amount of effort.” There’s a link at the top of this page called “Warrior Guides”. Usually someone who knows enough to write a guide has put in more than the minimum amount of effort. 😉 If some überguild won’t take a Warrior tank just because they come out to be 2% (or whatever) weaker, then they’re stupid (especially given the hue and cry about how all the hardcore content is being made so simple).

  17. Hmm. My 2p on this rather intresting debate.

    My view on reading GC’s post is that Warriors are a little behind the curve and will probably get nudged slightly towards it…no major buffs coming but a minor plus some nerfs to the DK’s. However its easy to read positive when its not your class thats behind the curve.

    Of course my (main) class is behind the curve right now so I’m told [As Spinks will already have guessed I play a Resto Shammy]. And there I do really feel that pain. I have never once had ‘my moment in the sun’. My first raider was a Hunter:- not the top DPS of the time and my guild had two much better geared hunters that happened to be Raid Leaders. Right when I was being told Resto Shamen where the Kings of Raid Heal I was ‘stuck’ in Kara and heroics.
    So I rolled an alt affliction ‘lock. Got to 70 the major nerfs were announced.
    Getting stuck with ‘uncool’ characters that arnt the flavour of the month will I think mean that hard-modes and top end raids might not be open to you. That does suck. However at mid-low level (ie non hardcore) I really dont think it matters.
    My ‘non flavour of the month’ resto Shammy does just fine on healing and normally edges out the other more ‘cool’ raid healers on the meters (which means nothing) and I’ll tell you….we missed having our Prot Warrior Tank along last night. No offense to the Off-tank who stood in but really if we’re not running with full set of Main Tank _players_ then we’re in a world of hurt…..and I’m not talking about new Bosses or those that we’ve only killed once or twice but things we’ve had on farm for a fair while. Tanking is an art and Warriors may not have every latest fashionable tool but they still deliver the goods.

    • Eek *deletes posts slagging off healers*.

      Hi 🙂 And I do feel for you with the resto shaman, being told that your class was overpowered in Sunwell isn’t really what you need to hear. But just as you say, we really really notice when you (the player) aren’t there. Especially when relying on paladins-who-must-not-be-named 🙂

  18. Heh. No dont alter anything.

    I’ve held off commenting on this rather good blog becuase I didnt want to have a impact on what got said. Cats in boxes and all that. Whilest surpressing guilt at ‘listening in’. I’m pretty good at surpressing guilt and other such fluff mind.

    Blizz have harped on about ‘Bring the player not the class’ and I dont think they’re quite there yet at the top levels…but its not a bad maxim for all that.
    I’d rather have a good warrior tank than a mediocre Dk tank. Would I pick x good tank over y good tank? I should be so lucky….I’ll worry about that when Ensidia head hunt my l33t Restoness….

  19. The only time I see a difference between tanks is when we’re fighting for AoE aggro.

    I understand, theoretically, that certain tanks are better in certain situations, but in my guild we only have 4 tanks: 2 druids, a warrior and a paladin. Usually a druid and warrior tank while the other druid and paladin DPS, not because one is better than the other, but because the other druid and paladin are damn good DPS while the first druid (me) and the warrior are not.

  20. Honestly, how can you read that and infer they’re trying to get people to stop playing warriors? Are you really so self absorbed and ignorant that you think Blizzard is manipulating you and other Warriors into changing classes?

    All he said was that Warriors are more popular. And have a certain history to them which brings with it expectations from players. And that as a result he, and his team, must be more careful in making changes to it.

    The more people playing a given class the greater the impact of changes are to the game as a whole.

    And the more history people have with something the more critical of change they become. And they’re apt to see the worst in the Blizzards well intentioned efforts to balance game play for everyone.

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