5 Sep 2011

In Defence of the Trifecta

In almost every MMO that I’ve played there have been three classic roles to choose from. A tank is the one who soaks the damage for a party, a healer keeps the party standing and the DPS are there to deal damage.

I like dealing damage. I don’t know if I have a thing for big yellow numbers flashing up on my screen or if it’s just some latent button-mashing left over from my childhood. It even moves into first-person shooters – in Team Fortress I’m playing either the Soldier that only has eyes for the rocket launcher or the Sniper that will camp somewhere for hours to get that perfect headshot. It’s why I’ve also set up DamageBin, a forum dedicated to those who love dealing damage in MMOs

It’s not that I haven’t tried tanking or healing. I’ve tried both. I’ve even tried melee DPS. I just don’t get on with them. I don’t find it particularly hard or difficult, I just don’t enjoy the role. Call me strange but they just don’t click for me.

I’m not the only one – DPS in most MMO outweigh tanks and healers something like 4 to 1. Some people just prefer to DPS, while others have been driven that way due to disastrous grouping with other players. They have a preference to heal or tank, but were pushed away from it because other players made them.

Whichever way you look at it, that’s pretty crap.

This creates a problem which game developers are pretty keen to solve. Currently there are two proposals on the table – make every character able to do everything or change how roles are shaped. Unfortunately I don’t think either will work, and here’s why.

Do All The Things

This proposal cropped up recently on WoW Insider, where pure DPS classes would have some of their abilities replaced to become tank/DPS or healer/DPS hybrids, or even all three. This would mean that everyone would be able to perform at least two out of three in the trifecta.

I don’t like this.

If you play a class that can heal you get pressured into healing. If you play a class that can tank you get pressured into tanking. If you can do both then you get pulled all sorts of ways and spend your days keeping everyone but yourself happy. All this peer pressure is a bit crap considering that I want to play the role I enjoy, and that role is nuking the crap out of a monster and seeing big yellow numbers

Nuke The Roles

The other role proposed by the trend end of the game design spectrum is to remove the traditional roles altogether. There’s the approach being taken by The Secret World, where everyone can pick from hundreds of different abilities to create the character they want. I’m nervous about this, as it’ll have some players just throwing up abilities any old way and getting an ineffective character as a result.

The other option is to use a different role set, like the Bartle Set proposed by Wildstar. I’m not sure if these will act as an overlay on the trifecta or a replacement, but I feel that it’s a distraction from the real problem.

Yes these are cool ideas. Both are fashionable. But do they fix anything?

The Real Fix

We already know that people want to play with their friends. We also know from LFD that people who aren’t your friends are probably going to annoy the crap out of you. So why not develop systems that group you with people similar to your friends, in a similar way to what what social networks have been doing for years? Start putting people together in groups where they’re actually likely to get along.

While I think that Bartle Test roles or full character choices  will be interesting to play from a levelling perspective, I don’t think they’ll fix headaches when grouping for dungeon or mission based encounters. Without solving this problem, I feel that we’re going to keep going round experimenting with different roles for people to play, when all we want is people to play with.

The trifecta of roles isn’t broken. The problems lie elsewhere. Fix them.

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