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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22 Responses to In Defence of the Trifecta

  1. Bordy says:

    I would like to see a system (and I think we may have discussed this) whereby when you finish a dungeon, you get a screen to rate the other participants, in a 1-5 scale on efficiency & friendliness. Then to go with this, a system which takes this information when assembling ‘random’ groups and teams me up with well-rated people who are (in order of preference) friends, guildies, friends of friends, frinds of friends of friends.

    I would much rather tank or heal for nice people.

    • Gazimoff says:

      The interesting thing is that you don’t even need a comprehensive rating system. A simple *like*, coupled with a character relationship network would probably be sufficient. Make the rating system as simple as possible but enough to the intelligence underneath.

    • Kierbuu says:

      The general idea is good, but it could just be too easily manipulated. I could see the dungeon equivalent of trolls pushing your rating down or friends pumping each other up. Maybe a thumbs up or thumbs down for each player you are randomly teamed with at the end of a dungeon run. Thumbs down does effectively nothing, but thumbs up marks the player as somebody you like to play with. When the LFD system goes to assemble your next group it tries to find playersthat liked each other before to fill in 1 or 2 of the slots. Still some room for randomness with the other slots, but you might find yourself in groups with at least 1 or 2 others that play in a similar style to yourself.

      • Gazimoff says:

        Aye, you’re right. Although thinking about it, I think if you had trolls voting down everyone they grouped with, their pool of matches would get smaller and smaller as their chances of a non-negative match decreases. And yep, I’m thinking of a system that would only kick in for random groupmembers.

  2. Longasc says:

    “when all we want is people to play with.” – exactly.

    The Trinity/Trifecta is making this problematic, 5 DPS aren’t a group but a dead group.
    How to fix WoW’s trinity? The fix is to fix nothing. The game is based on the trinity and it works. You don’t improve a flying fish by adding more wings, quite the opposite!

    The solution? New system, new game, build from ground up to work without trinity roles.
    Guild Wars 2 maybe? The first 5 skills are fixed and tied to the weapon you use. The last 5 are free choice. This sounds like a compromise of avoiding players picking totally horrible skillsets and still allowing them flexibility. Let’s see how it will work out.

    Without dedicated tank and healer what dungeon strategies will be needed in PvE? That’s the future, the undiscovered country. I wonder what they will do to keep players on their toes without making it a piss easy shallow experience.

    • Gazimoff says:

      Aye, you make a good point and there are always two ways of looking at things.

      One of them is with the cynical scowl that I feel myself wearing far too much lately, where everything must be wrong, or broken, or just not fun damnit.

      The other is to look at games for what they are – entertainment, full of tales and wonder and things to find and places to explore.

      That said, I have a challenge back to you. Do MMOs these days have a difficulty curve, or does that only kick in at endgame? I only ask because it feels like the levelling game is more about story and progression than skill and difficulty. Not that this is a bad thing :)

    • Imakulata says:

      Longasc, that would be so if the system grouped us with people we liked but I think Gazimoff proposed a system which groups us with people we will (probably) like.

      There are two problems with the proposal I can see:
      1) How would the system determine I would probably want or not want to be grouped with person X?
      2) I believe the liking (wanting to be grouped with) is not reciprocal, i. e. just because I like person X, doesn’t mean they like me.

      • Gazimoff says:

        Some great questions. I’m debating doing a follow-up to this in response to the interest. I just need to fine-tune my ideas somewhat. Stay tuned!

  3. Oestrus says:

    I don’t know. You mentioned frequently in your post that people are doing things because others have “made them” do it. I disagree with this. Nobody makes you do anything that you don’t want to do.

    I also think that the stigma of people asking you to heal because you can or to tank because you can hasn’t been prevalent for some time. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. People are choosing to queue for things as healers or tanks because of the privelege that goes along with them. They knew their queue times will be faster, or they may have a priority on gear that drops. They may not always be cut out for said role, but they think if they do it that life will be easier for them and in many ways it is.

    I agree that there is always a shortage of tanks and even healers, but I admit that I wouldn’t know where to begin in terms of fixing that.
    Oestrus recently posted..ChoiceMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      It’s a difficult thing. I’ve always played pure class ranged DPS, and I kinda like my cozy spot. The thought of it being shaken up and changed worries me, and maybe I get a little cranky about people suggesting I should be a little more flexible.

      • Oestrus says:

        I think it’s the people like you, who are DPS, love being DPS, and really have that passion in them to do it that tend to stand out from the crowd. You are the DPS that can be trusted to counterspell, or crowd control something, or not put your damage over your survival.

        I would never ask someone to be more flexible, if they are already leaps and bounds ahead of others who play a similar role.
        Oestrus recently posted..ChoiceMy Profile

    • In addition, I think that if *every* class had the ability to heal and/or tank, then it’s highly unlikely you’ll be the only DPS getting asked to fill in.

      It’s probably too late to retool existing DPS specs for alternate roles, though. All of them have dedicated followings, and the uproar would be immense. This is the main reason I’m in support of fourth specs…but even that idea has it’s problems.
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  4. Stubborn says:

    Very interesting post, and I agree with your core point; however, I think the argument in general misses part of the real problem. I’ll admit I’m stealing some of this from Raph Koster. He says (and I agree) that all fun comes from learning and challenge; when you’ve mastered the Trifecta, you want to (and should) move on to something else (which is why we don’t play that much Tic-Tac-Toe as adults). MMOs at this point have basically failed to produce anything else to move on to, so we get stymied in our desire to have as much fun as we’ve had in the past by learning how to master our role. No new roles means no new challenges to master, so I think when people attack the Trifecta, it’s not because it’s inherently broken but because they’ve “beaten” it and want something new. I’m very interested in some of the things you’ve brought to our attention here, but I suspect that you’re right; they’ll either move in a Rift-like direction where anyone can do basically anything, but really it’s still DPS/Tank/heals, or they’ll move to the Bartle system (which I’d be willing to bet is going to break down the same way once it’s implemented), or they’ll move to a more skill based system, like Fallen Earth and Secret World, but in the end, I’m still willing to bet it’s going to be DPS/Tank/Heals, just with a different way to develop them.

    So you’re right; the Trifecta’s not broken, but the approach may be. We need new ways to learn and feel our mastery growing, or we’ll lose interest, which is happening all over the place. I still love WoW, partially because I’m doing the 10 x 85 challenge, which always provides me with new opportunities for challenges. Without that, I’d probably be tired of it as well; there’s simply no more for me to learn.

    Great post!
    Stubborn recently posted..50% and Something NewMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      You make an interesting comment there. If it in theory takes ten years to master something, where does this leave those who’ve only ever played the one class since WoW launched?

      I feel that WoW is not chess. Once the medium complexity is mastered your performance plateaus. There is no hidden depth to the roles, at least in PvE

      • Stubborn says:

        If you’re thinking the same theory I am, I’ve heard 10,000 hours (speaking of Gladwell’s Outliers). Since you can easily log about 3k a year (and tha’ts at only 8 hours a day), I think after 6 years some people have become masters.

        However, those numbers aside, when I speak of mastery I don’t mean it in the professional sense, but in Koster’s sense, that the game has nothing else to teach. I think some people get like that in a single xpac. Others take longer. I think you’re right; in PvE, you can easily hit a plateau. In PvP, there may always be someone better, but that doesn’t mean you’ve not learned all there is, just that someone else learned it and has more physical capability to carry out the lesson. Really, it’s mostly the same.
        Stubborn recently posted..50% and Something NewMy Profile

        • Gazimoff says:

          The ten thousand hours figure is worrying, as I’m closing in fast on that number (just hit over 9000 myself), although I wouldn’t call myself a master! I think you’re right though. It does leave a question though – what do you do when the game has nothing left to teach?

          • Stubborn says:

            You do the same thing you did when you got tired of Tic-Tac-Toe; you move on. The problem is that games have become sophisticated addiction machines; I don’t necessarily mean that it was an intentional design decision to do that, but the flashing lights, the schoon sounds when you level, the subtle feeling of godhood that some games can give all play right into your primal brain, telling you “Something good happened. Make it happen again,” while you get a nice squirt of endorphins as a reinforcement. Tic-Tac-Toe didn’t do that, but WoW does, so it’s literally habit forming.
            Stubborn recently posted..50% and Something NewMy Profile

  5. Spinks says:

    I think that the people who have been mostly likely to pressure me to tank on my warrior have been dps players and one of the arguments is ‘I don’t have a choice about whether to dps but you do’ and I’m like, “yes and I have made my choice.”

    I hate to say it but pure dps still have a sense of entitlement that hybrids ought to tank/heal so that they can do ‘their job.’ Making all classes hybrids probably would help with that, as well as giving more options to the dps who’d like the option to learn another role.

    • Vox says:

      Actually, the DPS player described above DID have a choice – he chose to roll a pure DPSer. And he is still free to roll a hybrid now, if he is so inclined. The “no choice” argument is bull.

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  7. Arioch says:

    The trifecta is not broken, but the ratios required for raiding (and end game is where most of the development seems to go) do not support the ratios required for leveling or farming emblems at end game.

    In a 5-man group you need 1 tank, 1 healer, and 3 DPS to complete an encounter effectively.
    Take that up to a 10-man. Some fights are 1 tank, some are 2. Some are 3 heals, some are 2 (and in the case of a certain crazy pally I know, 1 healer). The rest is DPS.
    The ratio gets even more bent when looking at 25-man raids. You’ll still only need 1-3 tanks for the equivalent of 5 5-man groups. 5-7 healers and a gaggle of DPS.

    For those tanking on the way up to max cap, there may not be enough room on the roster to raid as a tank. So the character gets shelved. Or in the interest of limited play time, maybe only gets gear maintained for a non-tank spec. Why bother keeping gear current that you may never get to use in a raid?

    I think the trifecta is fine. It’s important to have different styles of play to suit different people. But something needs to be done to make sure that there is a spot for them at the end.
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  8. David says:

    It is great to be the attacker. The attacker/hitter gets almost all the kills and all the attention. Whereas the healer or support takes little credit even though it is because of them that the hitter is performing well. The support acquires higher pressure but receives minimum credit. It is just not fair.
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