24 Feb 2011

Looking For Dramatic Change

If you ever wanted a minute by minute reading of why tanks and healers feel special, you need look no further than the infamous Looking for Dungeon tool. It’s a bit radical to see tanks get insta-pop dungeons and healers have maybe five minutes while DPS are left to sit around for maybe an hour or more.

Ever wanted to feel third-class? Just roll a pure-class DPS and watch as the queue mocks you, again and again.

But why is this? Surely if we got more people to play tanks or healers then we’d all win from shorter queues? I’m not sure. We’ve had two major tanking changes, firstly to make non-Warrior tanks much more viable and secondly to introduce a whole new class to persuade people to tank. I’ll admit that the LFD tool was introduced after these changes, but still – that means that either nothing has got better or (shudder) things were actually worse than I remember.

Is the role hard? I don’t think so. I’ll be upfront – I’ve not played an endgame tank but I have levelled and pugged with them and I don’t find it particularly tough. I’ve found pulling off Warlock rotations or raid healing more of a struggle. I think gearing is more of an issue though – if you’re not wearing crispy-thick armour you’re going to cause problems. But that’s not making the role difficult, it just means you have to spend more care gearing.

Does it require a certain personality? Possibly – there is this kind of “thick skin” approach that I’ve seen tanks take. But I don’t think they’re some kind of star quarterback that you need to lavish praise on. They’re just someone punching their buttons, just like we all do.

Maybe if we made DPS roles harder more people would give tanking a try. If rotations changed so that you looked like you were performing Flight of the Bumblebee during boss fights would it have an affect? But is that right? I mean, do people play DPS roles because they find them easier, or do they play them because they just prefer the role? Because if we’re talking preferences then I’m a card-carrying member of Team DPS.

I don’t think you or I, or any of the other players are looking for a “path of least resistance” to playing dungeons. We just want to have fun playing our roles without becoming bitter, silent and single-minded individuals. And yes it’s easier to get all this done if you’ve got a guild to insulate you from the harsh realities of it all, but you shouldn’t need to rely on the same people all the time just in order to accomplish a task.

Can’t we be smart about this instead?

We have all this information about how queues form, who’s in the queue and how long it’ll take to match them up. There’s even additional data about who’s queued up together. Yet what happens when you’re a DPS who tries to get round the queue? That’s right, you get penalised.

But why is there this fixed mind-set of five people making a group? I know Gordon’s mentioned that a number of other MMOs use six people to form a group instead. My question’s a bit more subtle: why do we need to bother with fixed group sizes at all?

Why not be smarter and make the group size variable depending on the proportion of types in the queue?

What would this mean? Well, if you have more DPS in the queue in proportion to tanks and healers, you bump the group size up to six or seven. If it’s much lower then you shrink it down to maybe four or even three. You expand and collapse the size depending on what you have in your queue.

You could even put a cap on group size – say minimum four maximum six – to stop people abusing the queue to form groups for Heroic Deadmines with one healer, one tank and eleventy-billion DPS.

Of course, if you want to maintain the challenge of each encounter you can upscale and downscale mobs as needed. You’d still balance encounters around the standard team of five, but by allowing for an element of auto-tuning you can keep things fun.

There’s always going to be a hitch, and in this case it’s going to be loot. But is loot still such a big deal in 5-mans? Personally I’d be happy to trade increased loot competition for reduced queue times, especially when all I’d be trading is a Heavenly Shards in most cases. I’d still get my points, and it’s these points that I’m most worried about.

The loot issue gets a bit murkier when you look at tiered heroics. In Wrath we had the ICC 5-mans, while in 4.1 we’ll get heroic 5-man versions of Zul Aman and Zul Gurub. While I’d still trade loot competition for shorter queue times, these places drop epics. Epics mean Maelstrom Crystals. It also means a shot at replacing some of that blue gear that raiding isn’t helping with. But is this such a big deal? In due time we’ll be get the gear we want from there, and if we want loot protection there’s always the fallback of guild runs.

We’ve been dealing with the problem of huge waiting times for dungeons for years, and while systems like LFD have made incremental changes it’s about time we had a radical rethink on the approach. It doesn’t matter if it’s fair to give some classes or roles a shortcut to the front of the queue. What does matter is when you accept it as a fait accompli and then penalise people for trying to get around it.

I think it’s time for something better, and I think we should challenge them to deliver it.

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16 Responses to Looking For Dramatic Change

  1. Arphalas says:

    Great idea indeed. Would make sense to make the group larger in order to provide for the large DPS base. One thing I might add to your reason for the lack of tanks/healers is mentality. Especially with PUGs. Though it is becoming more and more common in Guild runs as well.

    The lack of respect towards Tanks and Healers is becoming very very sad really. Maybe resolving the long wait for DPS solves that part as well, but still, its part of the problem.

    All in all, great post and awesome idea. Would love to see it came to fruition.

    Arphalas recently posted..The Dark Order will cover Rift!My Profile

  2. Grimmtooth says:

    I can’t speak for everybody, but what daunts me the most about being the tank is that then you’re the “guy in charge” by default, seems like. Not everybody likes that aspect. I know it gives me the willies.
    Grimmtooth recently posted..Fancy meeting you hereMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      I’ve never really got the “in charge” thing. A tank should set the pace of the instance, but I don’t see that as the same as being in charge. Do you need someone to lead in the current batch of heroics anyway?

  3. Prelimar says:

    i’ll echo what Grimmtooth said: i could never be a tank because i definitely don’t want to be looked at as the one who’s supposed to be in charge. doesn’t fit me one bit. i have no problem being told “pew pew here!”, though.

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  5. Metaneira says:

    I hate to be a jerk about it, but I don’t think you can assess the difficulty of any role until you’ve played it at end-game, where the mechanics are (in theory) balanced. I’ve healed through level 82, but I wouldn’t say how difficult it is to do in a heroic or raid since I’ve not yet done it. I have two tanks (warrior, paladin) geared from heroics and one pure DPS class (mage), and while I’m not going to say that the difficulty of tanking well is astonishingly higher than the difficulty of playing a mage well, it is more difficult — but not necessarily for reasons inherent in the class. The perception of a tank and the treatment of him or her definitely affects the difficulty — which I will explain.

    1) Tanks are expected to lead. How many people check the “leader” box and actually pay attention to what that means? Do you even notice who has the lead of a party when in a random group? Does that person explain the strats for newcomers, determine who will be handling which interrupt, mark the targets for CC and focus fire? Or does the tank usually end up doing all that? Tanks are expected to have instant knowledge of every encounter, know exactly which mobs do what (healers, casters, ones that turn into giant friggin’ elementals), and they’re expected to explain all this if necessary.

    2) Tanks are expected to have perfect gear. While we can carry a DPS with PVP gear in his or her bags, the same doesn’t really hold true for tanks. It has gotten easier with the removal of defense rating, but unless you have an extremely overgeared healer, your freshly dinged 85 can’t cheese the system like DPS can simply because the tank can’t withstand the hits. Even with the best quest reward gear and blues from regular dungeons, tanks take a serious pounding, which tends to make the other members of the group crabby. Yeah, I know it’s more work to heal a tank in weaker gear, and maybe his/her threat generation isn’t as top-rate as it would be, but for some reason poorly geared DPS and even healers to an extent get a bye more often than tanks do. Which brings me to …

    3) People are just plain jerks. Every single class, every single role, gets picked on, I’m sure. The hunter accidentally breaks the mage’s sheep with serpent sting and suddenly it’s the mage’s fault for not CCing; tank face-pulled a second pack of mobs and it’s the healer’s fault for not keeping it up. If you’ve played with random players, chances are you’ve been yelled at for something out of your control. However, tanks (and likely healers) get yelled at disproportionately more often than DPS. And when you’re forced to take the role of leader by default (despite the tool no one uses), you’re going to get blamed for a lot more. Almost all of us who play WoW do so because it’s fun, but what fun is there in getting subjected to verbal abuse from other players? Better to minimize that, and so maybe that DK decides he or she doesn’t want to build a second set of gear to tank and will instead sit in the queue longer. I’m not the most thick-skinned person ever (UNDERSTATEMENT ALERT), but I try to do my best when tanking for strangers and shrug off any attacks or snide comments. It just wears after a while.

    That all being said — there’s something to the idea of adding another DPS to the group. The instances would likely have to be retooled to give the mobs greater health pools, but the idea definitely has merit.

    • Gazimoff says:

      Don’t worry, you’re not being a jerk about it 🙂

      I should have clarified a little – I’ve played a paladin tank at level 80 normals and heroics, but not raids. I’ve healed through level 80 heroics and raids and found it very easy. I know that healing has become more complex now, but I don’t see how it’s more complex to heal or tank than it is to pull off high-value DPS in a safe manner.

      I was speaking to a couple of people about this after I posted and one said that shorter queue times are a trade off for having more responsibility in the group. For raiding I could buy that, but for 5-mans I don’t think it’s nearly as pronounced.

      And yeah, you’re right. People are generally jerks, which is why the other half of the rules came in. It’s a big bag of nightmare at the moment, but I honestly believe that better design rather than band-aids are what we need.

      • Meli says:

        I play all three roles at 85 (and did so at at 80). The dynamics in Cata are, dare I say ‘worse’ than they were in LK. I think I understand why, but…

        First, by the time the LFD tool was implemented in LK, a large portion of the realms already outgeared the instances to a certain degree, and by the end of Cata, it was to the point where you had ret paladins wearing tank gear tanking heroics rivaling the DPS for damage in the instance. Healers were running in DPS gear and spot healing.

        Now we are in Cata and 3 things have combined to create a situation that has made things favor the tanks and to a lesser degree healers.

        1. Healing and Tanking are both harder than they were. Threat is harder to establish and maintain, heals are smaller and it is harder to keep tanks up when they are eating 30k in damage every 5s and your HPS is maxing at 4k.

        2. Class Designs have removed the ‘hybrid’ tanks and ‘hybrid’ healers from the LFD tools. I don’t mean hybrid classes, I mean the people that would que up to tank even though they weren’t geared specifically as tanks (or healers). The hybrid classes would swap out a few pieces of gear to be defense capped and then go zerg an instance. Or DPS that would do the same to have ‘enough’ healing to muddle through. Removing those from play reduced the tank and healer pool pretty significantly.

        3. Gearing is harder, with BoE gear obscenely expensive, and while a freshly 329 DPS can go into heroics and expect success, going into heroics newly 329 as a tank does nothing but waste yours and others time. ( well do I remember 2 weeks after Cata launched having swapped mains after the first week because of the acute tank shortage, hitting 329 and being drug into a Heroic Halls of Origin pre-nerf. 5 hours to kill 3 bosses ).

        Combine these and you have severely reduced ‘tank’ pool, and I think the same applies to healers, though to a lesser degree. I know that as a newly 329 healer, I really struggled to keep tanks up as I lacked the mana regen to stay even of the incoming damage. Most fights ended with the tank under 10% or dead with the last 1-2% of the boss happening after the tank died. Having tanked these, I know I wasn’t alone.

        Basically, as DPS you have one gear set, maybe two if you PvP. As a tank or healer, you have a minimum of two, and as a new to 85, you are starting with a mixed set, because up to that point you are gearing for DPS out in the world. Not many tanks grind dailies and quests in Tank gear / spec in the days of dual specs. Nor are many healers going to do the same in the world of dual specs.

        Adding an additional DPS to group makeups is an interesting thought, but let me counter point that thought. Does directly addressing the problem of too many DPS by shortening the Q’s solve the problem or mask it? I think the answer is that it masks the problem. It does nothing to increase the tank and healer supply for raiding, where the pool is also thin.

        Ultimately, yes, DPS is fun, tanking and healing is still fun, but it’s also more work. DPS boils down to two things (and it’s surprising how many DPS fail at one or both), maximize your damage output and don’t die to stupid stuff (standing in the fire, breaking CC while the tanks taunt is on CD, not bandaging / self healing when appropriate). Tanking and HEaling means taking on responsibility not only for yourself but also everyone else in the group. Learning to tank and or heal will make you a better DPS. And in so doing, you will help solve the problem, rather than help mask it.

        • Gazimoff says:

          I’m not sure if it masks the problem, but it does minimise the impact of the problem.

          That said, I find it interesting that there’s a lot of talk about new MMOs removing the role dynamic completely. I’m interested in how these pan out – will we move away from the tank-healer-DPS setup?

          And yes, I do think you’re right about how the increased difficulty removed the almost-tanks and almost-healers from the queue. When heroics require you to be fully geared, you really need to focus on your core role.

          As an aside, I was speaking to SuicidalZebra and he was suggesting that perhaps LFD should have been disabled for the first 4 months of Cata.

          • Meli says:

            I guess being a 40 year old business owner and parent my view is a little off kilter from most.

            When I look at the situation I see a reflection of real life dynamics. 10-15% of the people are willing to take on the burdens of leading and being responsible for others. 10-15% need the burdens, and the rest would just assume follow, and blame the other when things go badly.

            When you start taking those leader/responsible roles out of the mechanic, it’s like little league when “everyone wins”. Everyone does not win, everyone may play, but winning and playing are not the same thing.

            I know that the above statements offend some people, but does that lessen the validity ?

          • Gazimoff says:

            I always find this a bit interesting – does playing a tank (or healer) predispose you to leading a group?

            I think that leading people through a heroic is slightly different to setting the pace. I’d naturally see the tank as the person that sets the pace of the group by controlling the rate at which mobs are pulled etc. But I don’t think they need to lead – I’ve often seen DPS players lead the group and direct the tank through a dungeon.

            I also find it interesting in having a difference between organisational lead and directional lead. The tank is usually ahead of the others in a group, and so usually leads in that respect. But in determining the boss kill order, deciding on strategy and so on, it doesn’t have to be the tank that does this.

            I think that your arrangement of leadership desire is true, but I think that newer MMOs have a desire to divorce the leadership role from a logistical one, by making logistical roles largely redundant.

  6. Windsoar says:

    I think the more relevant question in terms of the tank question is: why do people play DPS. Tanks more than any other “role” don’t have an appreciable way to track their “awesomeness.” I think most people play DPS because it’s so much darn fun blowing sh*t up. Tank and healer roles often feel too much like supporting roles to the DPS having a rolling (and competitive) good time. I think if tanking felt more rewarding, more people would be willing to take on the role. I personally tank because I prefer being indestructible over killing things per se, but I think if we ran some kind of sampling of the population, many more players prefer dealing death than just not dying.
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  7. Stubborn says:

    This has more to do with the 1st half of your post than the 2nd, but I thought it relevant.

    I’ve played an end-game tank and healer, even as recently as Cata, so I can attest to the “difficulty.” Being a tank is pretty much mindlessly easy, even in Cata. However, the difficulty lies in dealing with the DPS’s errors (as well as your own). That’s not a knock on dps; everyone makes errors, tanks, healers, and dps alike. However, when you’re tank, you’ve got to deal with them. If you want to tank, you need to be able to react quickly to mistakes and have a head as thick as the truegold your shield is made of.

    Healing, on the other hand, is hard as hell. Here, you also have to deal with the mistakes of others (as well as yourself). There’s a long list of the “he stood in it.” stories, so I don’t feel I really need to elaborate. If you want to heal, you need to be able to think fast, adapt quickly, and be a glutton for punishment.

    DPS requires a much more competitive skillset. If you tank or heal, as long as everyone’s alive and not being hit by a mob, then you’ve done your job. When you dps, it requires you to thirst to be the best. I don’t mean only topping the meters, though, but also taking less damage than other dpsers and CC’ing without flaw. You do occasionally have to deal with the mistakes of others by threat dumping or healing yourself, but for the most part, your role is self-controlled. I’d put this in the medium level for difficulty, but if you’re not a competitive person, stay away.
    Great post!

  8. Chadrassa says:

    I basically play dps because I like to destroy mobs fast. Once, very long ago I tried leveling a tank and it drove me nuts how long it took her to dispolse of a single mob. Although I confess that if felt awesome to take on four or five mobs and survive it.
    Another reason why is my “instance anxiety.” Entering an instance as dps already makes me horribly self-conscious. I don’t want to imagine how much worse it would be if I entered as a tank or healer who are carrying that much more extra responsibility.

  9. Antares says:

    I tend to think of classes being divided into two groups.

    The first group is the group that burns through the HP of NPC’s before their HP gets nommed by the NPC (or other player) These are your DPS characters, they need to kill and need to do so QUICKLY else they are going down and everyone knows dead DPS = no DPS.
    They usually also rely on some forms of CC to make the ‘bigger’ pulls possible, they will die fast if they get mobbed.

    The second group is the ones that outlast the opposition, aka healers and tanks. Some of the healing classes in WoW actually fall under the first category due to mitigation and avoidance issues.

    Either way it is the difference between those two mindsets. It is true that tanks now get a lot more DPS through vengeance and similar mechanics and their threat is more readily spread and accumulated because of it, this does not mean that tanking or healing is easy, but then again good DPS is hard as well.

    I think that the main issue here is the fact that one bad or mediocre DPS does not by default make a group fail at their task, but a bad or mediocre healer/tank will give you plenty to think about during the pulls and bosses. That is not to say that DPS is not important, on the contrary, if DPS was not there, healers would run out of mana long before the boss fight was over and the tanks would run out of HP before the boss. Outlasting a boss is not really a viable tactic on progression runs or instances in general for that matter. The only redeeming factor is that there are 3 DPS spots in a dungeon and only one tank and one healer spot, thus making one out of three being bad (for whatever reason) much less a problem than a one out of one situation. This expectation is carried through in the role you pick. I have played (and play) all three roles in endgame and I can say that all three of them bring their own unique challenges and rewards. I do not think that one role is easier than the other, I think it is easier to play something you enjoy doing than it is doing something you do not enjoy.

    In the end you all want the same thing, kill that boss, clear that content and get those nifty rewards. I would say that it is a good start to say ‘thank you’ every now and a gain for the group you have been in, a compliment can boost morale of everyone involved. A tank who gets ‘great job’ and ‘nice tanking’ after a successful instance is more likely to queue than one who gets slated for being a slacker or not being fast enough for the 31337ness of some of the other players in said instance. Or a healer who keeps the group topped and enables the group to go through in record time, not going OOM after 10 seconds every pull. I think it is that expectation that you are going to be examined and judged on whatever you are doing that is going to be stopping you from playing, as DPS you can hide behind 2 other guys, safety in numbers, the tank and healer have to fend for themselves.

  10. Herr Drache says:

    Well, my “main” is a tank, and I’m shy about pugging myself out. I’d rather play with my friends, who (usually) are a little more forgiving. Forgiving of what, exactly?
    Speed. I know, everyone wants their whatever-points in 60, 50, 40, 30, 10 minutes NAO! Sorry, my playstyle isn’t chainpull-pull-pull-don’t-ever-mark. Apparently that’s the mark of a “good tank” in pugs :/ My memory isn’t flawless – especially in Cata heroics where half the casters don’t seem to come with mana bars, and half the mana bar NPCs come to melee range…
    The entire “pull, don’t waste my time” thing – it’s gotten better, but now it starts creeping up again. You’ve waited 45-60 minutes as DPS to get in a heroic, are 5 more minutes THAT crucial?
    Another thing is that it’s sorta expected that I know the instance inside-out. I’m raiding and I still never completed heroic Stonecore! It didn’t pop, or when it did, people DCed, had emergencies, and what-not.
    Those unforgiving attitudes from pugs are what drives me to not pug. I, on the other hand, don’t care if the DPS are a little low on damage dealing. Hey, I got time. Group effort! And if the healer doesn’t pull miracles out of her robes, so what?! Try a slower, more careful approach – that’s fine with me.
    If more people were nice to each other, work together, and not stress the tank and healer out, perhaps there’d be more healers and tanks that pug!