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.

Ancient roles, and non-negotiation in instance groups part 2

Back in the day, some character classes were known as group friendly classes, and others were solo friendly. The group friendly ones were typically tanks, healers and support classes and they usually had fairly poor dps and were slow at soloing. The others were the dps classes. Group friendly classes asserted their importance in groups because … they couldn’t really do much outside groups. Their whole game depended on being needed in groups. A solo archer could happily knock out the odd level or two, a solo healer was a joke. People used to take pity on their guild healers by helping them ‘solo’.

It’s worth noting this because the idea that tanks and healers are group oriented and dps are solo oriented is rooted very deep in the history of MMOs. This didn’t stop them all being able to work together as a group when needed, older games also had group content that required this. On the other hand, older games also had more downtime so people had time to talk, to discuss their roles, and so on. Plus groups used to go on for hours – it was more a case of camping a location until people got bored rather than going through a directed instance.

So what does this all mean today? Just that if no one wants to talk in a group, then the default position is for people to fall into traditional roles. Tam argues that tanks have some kind of divine right and the only way for dps to assert themselves in groups is to do something dickish. (I would argue that using phrases like divine right is encouraging people to feel oppressed when it’s really just a stupid instance group that doesn’t want to talk to each other.)

But how should decisions be made in a group where the majority don’t care, don’t want to talk and (presumably) just want to get on with it? Standing around trying to decide while the people take the opportunity to each express their own individuality by pulling random trash mobs is probably not going to please anyone. Although who knows … maybe that’s the way the genre is going?

A more pressing issue is simply that some people really do prefer to run instances at different rates. There are definitely players who would be more comfortable chatting for a couple of minutes before each pull and who feel disempowered by the whole LFD/ PUG experience. You won’t see them much in LFD because they either avoid it (probably the correct answer — much better to go with friends who use that style) or sit through the whole thing uncomfortably cowering in terror.

It came from the PUG: I never really wanted to be a healer, I think I’ll be …. a lumberjack!


If you’ve never seen the random dungeon finder interface in WoW, this is what it looks like. You can choose which instance you want to queue for – or let the system pick a random heroic for you, as is shown here. And you tick the little circles next to the shield, plus sign or sword to show whether you want to queue as a tank, healer, or dps. If you play a hybrid who can perform more than one role, then you can tick more than one box.

This isn’t rocket science. If you tick the box it means you are willing to play that role in whichever instance you are queuing for.


Then when the system is able to match you up with an instance group, you get this little window which shows clearly which role has been assigned to you.

Again, it’s all very clear and not very difficult. And at every stage, if you change your mind you can leave the queue and there’s no harm done. You won’t even get the usual 30 minute dungeon leaver debuff which forbids you from queuing again until it has run out.

Because tanks and healers tend to get shorter queues, you’ll hear a lot of stories about people who queued as a role which they weren’t able to play (either through lack of gear, lack of appropriate spec, or just lack of interest). But usually those guys bail on you at the start of the instance, or get one of their mates to drop from the group so that when the 4-man group re-queues to get a replacement, they can sneakily change the role they queued as.

But what about someone who decides halfway through an instance run that they don’t want to heal any more? I was in a group this week with one of my alts where the healer had been getting increasingly bolshier and more agitated. He’d been healing fine – regular heroics these days just aren’t remotely demanding.

But for whatever mad reason, he decided that he’d had enough. He whined at the dps shaman to switch to healing. He whined at the tank to switch to healing and the dps warrior to switch to tanking. He kept telling the rest of the group that he was really dps.

Then he just switched spec between pulls without mentioning anything so no one was healing, which inevitably led to a wipe. This was the point where I started a vote to boot him, which duly happened.

The strange thing? We were right next to the final boss of the instance. If he’d just sucked it up for a couple more minutes, he’d have had his badges and could have done whatever he wanted afterwards. The group did fine, we got another healer in a few seconds, who was delighted to have such a quick badge run. But although I try to understand what is going on in other players’ minds when they do something that seems odd to me, with this one I have no clue.

Dealing with Unfairness in Games

Human Beings spend a large proportion of their lives thinking about whether they are getting a fair deal, whether someone else is getting a better one, and complaining about it. We’ve all heard the adage, “Life isn’t fair,” and it is demonstrably true. Anyone with an ounce of empathy cannot watch the news without having this hammered home.

How societies decide what ‘fair’ means, which aspects of life should be fair, and cope with actual inequities is pretty much the history of humanity. All civil rights legislation, for example, is based on a shift in views about fair treatment for all and what that means.

So it isn’t surprising that players in MMOs also spend a lot of time eyeing each other up and complaining when they think things aren’t fair. After all, in a game, you can design the playing field to give everyone a fair chance. But sometimes, the design introduces something that is deliberately unfair.

I was thinking about this after reading Tam’s complaint about people who refuse to run back to an instance after a wipe, and about how he dealt with it.

So here’s the situation: In Warcraft, if you die then you have three options for resurrecting (ignoring soul stones for the moment). You can release and use the spirit healer, you can release and then run back to your body which will spare you a debuff, or you can wait for a healer to resurrect you which they will do if they are in your group and not dead.

If there is no resurrection spell in your group then everyone must run back. Otherwise, you only need one person with a res spell to be alive in order to get the whole group back on its feet. So if you are the only healer and you die, you must run back. Everyone else can if they want.

It wasn’t quite that simple though. Before Wrath, there were healers who could not res out of combat (druids) and non-healers who could (any hybrid who wasn’t in a healing role). Then they added the ability to the engineering trade skill, shamans could self res as well as ressing other people, and warlocks could give people a self-res buff via the soulstone. So there was never a strong design that said resurrections needed to be rare or restricted.

I never understood why every class didn’t get an out of combat res spell. There was no need to force healers to always run back, just because they happened to heal. There was no need to make that part of the healer role. And also, there was never a need to make the run back into the instance so long. In LOTRO, for example, if you die in an instance, you release to the beginning of the instance.

But instead of complaining about either of those things – which are honestly outdated mechanics from the start of the game – players prefer to bitch at each other. The unfairness of the healer’s long run back has become part of the accepted fabric of the game.

And what I wonder is whether having some unfairness in the game by design makes for more interesting social environments and social challenges. Does the shared experience of always having to run back make the healer role feel stronger? Did druids feel less like ‘real’ healers prior to Wrath because they didn’t have that pressure on them? (No point running back if you don’t have a res handy, unless you just want to laugh and point at the corpses.)

Who is the most important person in your group?

One of the great things about well designed team games is that every single member of the team can feel important. They each have a part to play. If they play their part particularly well, they can see it make a difference to the team.

And that’s good because, for self-esteem, everyone likes to feel that they were contributing. (If you aren’t in the team for self esteem then what you mostly want is everyone else to think you were contributing while you actually find somewhere quiet to hide at the back, in much the same way that I used to pick my position in the school rounders team.) I wouldn’t be surprised if the boost to self esteem from running in successful groups is one of the reasons people enjoy grouping so much in games.

I’ve seen a lot of blog articles and forum posts since the new dungeon finder came out explaining how the writer and their class/ role single-handedly can carry a group. I’ve read posts by smug tanks, healers, and dps explaining how it doesn’t really matter what everyone else does, because they are the sole reason for success. And I think … well, OK, but they can’t all be right. Can they? Even allowing for people playing with rose-coloured blinkers.

If the team game is genuinely good, then each member of the team should have a chance to shine. That means it shouldn’t always be one team member who has to shoulder the burden. So probably it’s right that everyone sees this differently and feels that they personally carry their groups to victory.

From running instances recently in WoW on different alts, I changed my view on this. (Note: this does vary based on different encounters, different classes, and different games but I think it’s interesting to compare how in control the different roles and classes can feel.)

As a tank: Yup, I control the run. I can make it smooth and easy as long as the other members of the team are vaguely together. It won’t matter if all four of them are undergeared and inexperienced, I’ll make things work. It might feel like hard work at times, and I can’t always make up for a really incompetent healer – although I have soloed a few bosses from about 20% to dead in the past couple of weeks. If the group is bouncy and insists on pulling way too many extra groups, I can probably handle it although it’ll make me grouchy. If anything goes really badly wrong with a pull, I can pick it up as long as I get some heals along the way.

So yes, I feel pretty much in control as a tank. If the group is good, I can find fun things to do to keep my interest. I can step up the pace, or give myself marks out of 10 for getting all the mobs in a pull on top of each other when I use shockwave, for example.

As a healer: I almost always feel useful, but I never really feel that I am carrying a run unless something else has gone catastrophically wrong, in which case I still need the tank and dps to be doing something about it. All I can do as a healer is buy them time. I can make up for poor dps to some extent by simply not running out of mana before a boss dies.

So I don’t really understand where healers feel that they can single handedly pull things together. The only way that happens is if everyone else has failed horribly, which isn’t really that common. If the group is really good, it’s quite dull to heal (which is good if you want to sit back and farm some emblems). If not, it can be extremely exciting with plenty of chances to shine – when you spin the random dungeon you don’t know which you might be getting or how quickly a group can switch from one to the other.

I don’t feel in control as a healer, but I don’t heal in order to feel in control. I heal when I want a break from that and want to just chug along behind the group and sling some heals around.

As a dps: This is where I changed my mind after having pimped up my Death Knight to the point where I can talk my way into TotC and ICC PUG raids and have people asking to put me on their friends list afterwards. (6.5k on ICC trash yesterday, I don’t even know how that happened!)

As a high powered dps, I do feel that I am a powerhouse in groups. It barely matters what the rest of the group are doing, I will kill things quickly, can pull annoying mobs into position, have some crowd control, and can even tank in a pinch. So I feel really useful in runs where things are going well, but also really handy in an emergency where everything has gone pear shaped. Plus, even if all the other dps die in a fire, I’ll make up for them in boss fights.

I don’t control the run, but I have a lot of power over the more important side of it – the bits that involve mass slaughter of innocent mobs as efficiently as possible. If the group is good, I can always try to beat the other dps on meters. It may partly be the Death Knight, which feels incredibly potent as a character, since I don’t remember feeling like this on my warlock.

I don’t know which role I prefer, because it depends on my mood. I do like having the options available though – only possible for me because I’ve been playing WoW for long enough to have a few geared alts. But I do find it funny that so many people feel as though they are the most important person in every group they run.