[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.

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.)