State of the WoW

I think I’ve found the flaw in Gevlon‘s recent arguments about hard working and time in MMOs (WoW specifically).

The flaw stems from the underlying assumption that all the players are equally capable. That the difference in achievement is simply down to the amount of effort they put in. The poorest performers are the ‘morons and slackers’ who either don’t understand the game properly or can’t be bothered to learn.

I don’t deny that there are ‘morons and slackers’ out there. I’ve come across DKs trying to tank without Blood Presence on. We’ve all seen the stories of hunters in INT gear and warriors in cloth gear. The problem is that these examples are outliers. They sit at one end of a normal curve with the other end populate by, well, here comes the other flaw…

Lets go back to that assumption that everyone is equally capable. So from the game mechanics themselves we can deduce a theoretical maximum output, be it DPS, HPS or mitigation. We can surmise that with enough ‘hard work’ everyone will get to within a percent or two of the maximum physical achievement of that output. How then do we tune our encounters? How do we provide these people with a continuing series of challenges?

There are two problems with this. Firstly, how do we tune the encounters? If our target market is achieving within a few percent of optimal that doesn’t leave us much leeway. Tune it lower and it becomes too easy for them. Tune it higher and it becomes impossible. Tricky. Secondly, what does new content look like? Given we’ve already hit the optimal path then it is just the same tank and spank encounter with different skins.

So, we can see that non-gimmick fights are an issue for people at the top of the game. Interestingly enough, from this it follows on that it is actually easier to provide tank and spank content for the majority of players rather than the best players. We can look at the distribution of ability across our player base and tune fights accordingly. This gives people two routes for progress: get better gear, or get better skill. Both of these, as it happens, come from time played.

This does of course come back round to the ‘no-lifer’ issue. People who play more progress faster and further. We’ve just seen the reasons for this: the capable people hone their skills to beat the encounters, the less capable people get better gear to beat the encounters.

Gevlon dislikes the dance; the gimmicky nature of fights. I contend that this is a natural evolution. We’re already at the point where there are enough people getting within a percent or two of the optimal output that something extra is needed to fights beyond the tank and spank to challenge them. This isn’t even new. Even classic WoW had its own dances. I remember “You are the bomb!” and wiping because someone hadn’t moved. TBC had Lady Vashj; arguably one of the best boss fights in WoW whilst at the same time being all about the dance.

I think the problems we are seeing in WoW now is that it is actually incredibly difficult to create encounters that cater to the sliding scales of competency people bring to the table. Both in terms of output optimisation skill and learning the dance skill. I imagine a graph with output optimisation on one axis and dance skill on the other. You’ll be wanting to optimise stuff for the top right quadrant. Except that knocks out 75% of your players.

You can now see how and why Blizzard come up with differing difficulty levels and encounter nerfs. For the people working on heroic Firelands, the normal mode T11 is fairly trivial now. In fact a lot of the dance can be ignored due to over-gearing. Yet there are still people out there happily playing the game and wiping in that content. Some of those are ‘morons and slackers’. Others though just aren’t as capable gamers.

That said, I’d still rather see new content for extra difficulty rather than heroic modes. To me it feels like heroic modes are catering more for just the very best players. Unfortunately I’m in the group just behind them. Just about finishing normal modes but often finding heroic modes just that little too hard. If we had the next tier available then the heroic people would be working on that tier’s end boss whilst we were starting out. The jump from normal to heroic feels too much like a step function than a gradual progression.

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