[WoW] To run or not to run, and the politics of good enough

Out of all the things I saw in WoW on returning recently, one has been the most surprising by far. After all these years, there’s STILL no consensus on whether or not to run back into an instance after a death/ wipe.

As a point of comparison, in both Rift and LOTRO, the player base (or at least the ones I associated with) only wanted the resser to run back. They see it as part of the healer/ resser’s job, it’s what they signed up for. If anyone else released and ran too, no one minded, but people would wonder why you’d bothered. They’d laugh one of those, “you’re weird,” laughs. Less so if you got lost on the way back.

Rift makes this simpler and quicker by allowing classes with a ressing soul (and spec) to switch specs after being ressed themselves so that they can help res others. It also lets everyone have one self res every 30 mins or so, which ressers tend to rotate (eg. I’ll soulwalk this time, save yours for the next wipe.) So you usually have more than one resser in a Rift group, and usually at least one of them can self res in situ so that no one has to run back.

LOTRO on the other hand likes to make recovery quicker by letting people who release in instances reappear just inside the instance entrance, a modification that I am amazed has never made it into WoW. But the culture in my server is also very clear that only the healer runs back after a wipe.

OK, so that’s the comparison. Now let me recount a couple of experiences in WoW PUGs this week.

1. The arsey healer

The instance was Blackrock Caverns, an instance notable for having quite a long run from the graveyard if you do release from inside it. My character got killed while fighting the first boss and the rest of the group seemed to be doing fine so I figured I’d just lie there and wait for a res afterwards. It wasn’t as if running back would really save any time and I’d probably get back at about the time it died anyway.

But after the boss died, the healer refused to res and instead had a small hairy fit aimed neatly in my direction for not running. “Fine,” I said, “Have it your way, I’ll run back now.”

So they all sat around while I ran back because that healer didn’t think ressing people who died during a fight was his job. I don’t know what would have needed to happen for him to actually use his res. Maybe if I’d died a split second before the boss did he’d have decided I ‘earned’ it. (Or, you know, maybe if he’d been more on the ball I might not have died in the first place.)

It’s not that I particularly enjoy lying on the ground during a boss fight. It’s very dull. But I don’t especially see why I should spend 5 mins running back from a graveyard when a healer could cast a 10s spell to have the same effect.

2. You can’t run here, this is bat country

So another instance or so later, in the Halls of Origination, I die on one of the optional bosses (probably because I had totally forgotten the strategy – does anyone else find that you can only keep so many strategies in your head at the same time? after that, you just forget them unless it’s a really memorable boss, which this wasn’t.). The rest of the group die too. I have already started running back, and find that the shaman had self-ressed and ressed everyone else by the time I got there.

“Why did you run?” they asked curiously.

“I like that you walk,” added the shaman, “But you didn’t have to.”

Valor points and the good enough doctrine

The trouble with WoW after a new patch, when new grinds have been added to the game, is that a lot of people feel a moral imperative to gather as many points/ badges per day as the game physically allows.

So for example, if WoW allows players to gather X Valor Points per week (which can be done by running a mixture of heroics and raids), ultra-keen people will feel that they are obliged to gather exactly X Valor points per week. Any less means that you’re a slacker. Any more means that you’re an idiot who is working harder than you need to.

And when earning X Valor Points would take more time per week than you have available, people start to crack under the strain. After all, how can you tell a hard working good player who is short on time apart from a slacker if not by the number of Valor Points per week they earn? Surely if you were really dedicated to your guild, you’d find the extra time to get those points. (This is sarcasm, btw.)

Anyhow, sensible people realise that good enough will have to be good enough and if you earn your points more slowly, all it means is that it takes a few more weeks to gear up. It isn’t the end of the world. (And most raid leaders would rather that you didn’t burn out chasing that last 0.1% of raid performance.)

Guild Mum discusses this pressure, and makes the smart decision:

I don’t have time to do dailies, raid AND max out my valor points. I’ve got 240 this week. That will have to do. I’m sorry – anything more is just too much work for me. It’s a GAME!

But it’s a shame that so many bloggers feel that they have to apologise for … being sensible.

WoW really is quite phenomenal (and not in a good way) by how pressured everyone feels to prove that they’re ‘a good player’ when in practice anyone can tell if you’re a decent player about 5 mins after being in a group with you.

In which WoW finally starts bribing the tanks

Announced as an addition for the next patch (and this is not an April Fool):

Any time the Dungeon Finder queue is longer than a few minutes for level-85 Heroics, the Call to Arms system kicks in and determines which role is the least represented. In the case of tanking being the least represented role, the “Call to Arms: Tanks” icon will display in the Dungeon Finder UI menu <…> Regardless of your role, you’ll always be able to see which role currently has been Called to Arms, if any.

Call to Arms is meant to lower wait times by offering additional rewards for queuing as the currently least represented role. <…> Every time you hit these requirements (there is no daily limit) you’ll receive a goodie bag that will contain some gold, a chance at a rare gem, a chance at a flask/elixir (determined by spec), a good chance of receiving a non-combat pet (including cross faction pets), and a very rare chance at receiving a mount.

They go on to discuss why they decided on these incentives, and note also that the pets and mounts come from a variety of sources, but (this is the main thing) they are already in the game.

Understandably, players prefer to take on that responsibility in more organized situations than what the Dungeon Finder offers, but perhaps we can bribe them a little.

My thoughts:

It will be an interesting experiment on a scale that only Warcraft can organise, so I’ll be interested in hearing how it goes.

I know enough people that quit running heroics in any role because they didn’t enjoy them, even with the gold and tokens that are given as rewards, to wonder how many tanks can be lured into LFD with a few random shinies. I’m sure it will improve the number of tanks queueing, but I wonder by how much.  It certainly wouldn’t have enticed me to tank if I wasn’t in the mood. I don’t need the gold and I don’t care about the pets or mounts – if it was a tank specific mount that might have been another question 🙂

Also, to get the reward you need to queue SOLO for LFD. That means you can’t bring your favourite healer with you (or favourite dps player/s) and really do have to take what the random generator provides.

There is a whole other question about whether it’s really a good idea to reward people explicitly for playing needed roles. It tends to attract the people who are most interested in the rewards rather than in the role. Plus it’s generally unfair and if the game is that dependent on unpopular roles then it’s time to look at why they are so unpopular.

In this case: why is tanking instances so less popular in Cataclysm than it was in Wrath?

I’d suggest that it isn’t because tanking is harder than it used to be, it’s just that the dungeons are longer and less popular than they used to be. And the easiest way to get dragged through a dungeon you dislike (esp. where you don’t want to learn all the pulls) is in a dps or healing role. Also, it’s far easier to gear as a dps first in instances and then work on the tank gear  – so even a lot of keen tanks will want to do a lot of runs in dps mode on hitting 85.

My other issue with the bribes is what happens if one role is least popular, and another is just a little bit more popular, and the third role is massively over subscribed? Surely there should be some reward for healers even when tanks are most in demand? Or should we just penalise dps even more than long queue times for LFD would imply, pour encourager les autres?

Thought of the Day: Getting rid of the dps role

People do commonly say that the main issue with the ‘holy trinity’ is the tank role. It’s unintuitive, unwieldy, and greedily snags a lot of the actual gameplay from PvE (ie. setting up pulls, et al).

But what my tank would really like for Xmas is a pet dps. I’m happy to run with player-healers, they’re usually pretty cool. But my game would be so much more fun if I could have NPC dps instead of players. Imagine not having to fight with your group all the time. Or people yelling at you to gogogo. Or people jumping straight into fights before you have threat because that 0.5s at the beginning is oh-so-important for dps.

Plus since your base character is a tank, it’d be tough enough to solo comfortably anyway. (And same applies to healers since they can self heal.) So really, if you have to remove one role from the trinity, it’s the dps that should go.

On rewarding tanks and healers

Gordon of We Fly Spitfires posted a provocative  guest post last week, suggesting tanks and healers should get more rewards than other characters?

His thinking was that this could address both the supply and demand issue (giving better rewards encourages more people to take up the less popular roles) and also rewarding people for taking on more responsible/stressful tasks. That’s how real life works after all … isn’t it?

I think this is a bad idea on several levels, but to come back to the real life analogy, this is the same reason that teachers and social workers are paid less than lawyers and CEOs, even though their jobs are recognised as being very important and they are often understaffed. And the main reason is that it doesn’t much impact the bottom line. The people paying the CEOs and lawyers feel (for some reason) that their market value is higher.

Or in other words, as long as the majority of players prefer dps roles, they won’t want to pay to feel disadvantaged or to feel that the developers prefer the tank and healer classes. I think current gen games are taking the better route by making it smoother and easier for players to try out different roles on the same characters. And the social rewards for playing the undermanned roles will eventually filter through.

The other reason is that a lot of people who take up careers in teaching, the ministry, social work, etc do it because they feel some kind of a calling, or enjoy other rewards of the work. You don’t need to pay through the roof to get these people, they’d do the job anyway.

There is still a balance point where more rewards would attract more and better qualified candidates. Unfortunately, in MMOs, rewarding the social aspects of group friendly classes acts against the other trend which is being more accessible to soloers.

Or in other words, devs could create awesome group content rewards and that would effectively reward tanks and healers because they get to do it more easily … but people would complain about feeling forced to group.

Other reasons not to overly reward tanks and healers

  • Plays into ‘special snowflake’ syndrome which already affects tanks and healers disproportionately.
  • What are you going to reward them with exactly? More gold, reputation, badges or gear will just mean that they gear up more quickly and are no longer motivated to continue running the instances. Maybe a random pet – a little tank pet might be cute, especially if you could get it to shell dps who stand in the fire.

In fact, far from rewarding tanks and healers, I think that if the disparity continues it’s likely that their rewards will be more spaced out. To encourage the players to keep tanking and healing instances so that the dps can have their shot too. Anyone remember Utgarde Pinnacle at the beginning of Wrath – only instance which dropped a purple tanking weapon. It was run a lot. Because all the warrior and paladin tanks wanted that drop.

That’s how to get more instances running.

And on another note, why don’t we have achievements for different roles?

I don’t get behind extra rewards, but wouldn’t it be fun to have some achievements for tanking 100 instances, or healing them? Or completing some instance or raid in all of your character’s possible hybrid specs, just for fun?

Maybe that’s all the reward people would need.

But devs have been very reluctant to include class specific achievements, even when (as in WoW) they’ve been very explicit that achievement points are pointless and meaningless.

Walking in a linking wonderland

Here are some of the posts and threads that caught my eye over the last couple of weeks.

  1. Kurt Vonnegut explains why people become drama queens
  2. tankspot dares to ask, “Has tanking made you mean?” Obviously not in my case, and I’ll boot anyone who disagrees.
  3. Tobold has an interesting theory about the different players who are attracted to different payment models. If all the players who really want games to be free go with free to play then how can that model make money? Similarly, if all the hardcore 40 hours a week guys flock to subscription models which depend on having lots of casual players, can those thrive too?
  4. Cassandri at HoTs and DoTs wants to know how much you’d pay for a battered hilt (leads to a quest which results in the best non raiding weapon in WoW). Does knowing that it has a high value affect whether you’d roll need on it?
  5. We get a lot of gaming genre blending in CRPGs. Some puzzle solving, squad based combat, exploring, maybe even FPS segments. Rampant Coypte wonders if players enjoy the mix of genres. For me, only if I like BOTH genres. I never forgave Prince of Persia for including stupid fighty bits when I just wanted a platform game.
  6. Mike Schramm has an intriguing post on wow.com asking whether Facebook might count as an MMO. After all, ‘players’ have avatars, homes, and can interact with others virtually. This is also his last week on wow.com so good luck to him in the future, I know I’ve enjoyed his writing.
  7. Larisa has some thoughts on how to take command over the random PUG. I’m hoping she will later address the question of whether or not anyone should be taking command.
  8. Hawley loves healers and says we’ll all miss them when they’re gone. He also wonders about Blizzard’s decision not to have a crowd control class; funnily enough I remember at the time thinking that it was inspired to spread the crowd control between different classes, but it’s true that in practice they weren’t all treated as equal.
  9. Jason Henniger writes the ultimate dear john letter, “Nyarlahotep, I’m breaking up with you.”
  10. Megan at Forbearance and the Drama Mammas (sorry but that column name makes me want to spit nails) at wow.com both think that everyone should chill and welcome the poorly performing players into PUGs.

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.’

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!

Annoying things healers do #12: Whining about line of sight

Your feet are not nailed to the ground. If I run round a corner out of line of sight, YOU CAN MOVE TWO FEET FORWARDS TO STAY IN LINE OF SIGHT.

It is sometimes useful to whine about line of sight. In some fights, there are reasons why the healers can’t move –  maybe they need to stay in range of someone else as well.

Or maybe the tank didn’t realise they could take a small step back and be back in line of sight. This happens a lot at the top of ramps.

For some reason characters in WoW are not able to target something that is just over the crest of a ramp when they are below it, even though they can see it perfectly well (this, in technical terms, means that they do have line of sight even if the game swears that they don’t. So annoying.)

But it drives me nuts when I’m doing a line of sight pull and the healer is standing there like a lemon while I’m luring some ranged mob around a corner. Of course I’m out of line of sight, that’s why it’s a line of sight pull. Do I really have to spend two minutes typing that before I do it, or … can I just assume that the healer is watching the tank. In a 5 man instance. Just before a pull. I mean, what the heck else were you watching?

Also, do not get pissed off at me if the conversation during the pull goes something like:

You: Argh … line of sight

Me: So move then.

Do not claim that this was not polite. Believe me, it was VERY polite.