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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