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Thread: Surprise, Risk, Reward, Challenge, Discovery

  1. #1
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    Surprise, Risk, Reward, Challenge, Discovery

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    I am concerned about World of Warcraft raiding and the future of the Warcraft gaming community. I believe that there are fundamental issues that can be handled better.

    Before going further, I will preface the entire discussion with this caveat: I do not speak for every Warcraft raider, be they hardcore, casual, social, or competitive. It has been three years since I worked in a top-50 guild and six months since I was involved in any serious progression raiding. I have never been in a guild that plays at the caliber and determination of Premonition, Ensidia, Vodka, Paragon, Fusion, or any of the other outstanding top-50 guilds of Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King. Additionally, the following has very little impact on a very large portion of the Warcraft community that is still new enough to the game that they have more to learn and experience, regardless of their level of progression.

    With the exception of 40-mans, I spent the majority of my raiding time riding the 1% line in progression. I've roughly determined this measurement by the number of guilds listed for instance-starter encounters such as Flame Leviathan (using "Shutout" and "Siege of Ulduar" achievements on Wowprogress). In Ulduar, the 1% line was between 250 and 400, which is about where our guild lined up.

    The reason I mention the 1% line is because that seems to be the breaking point between serious, well-oiled raiding guilds and everyone-else. I know that our guild had significant struggles with recruitment during hard modes, and I know that guilds only slightly above us in rank were weeks ahead of us and significantly better prepared for content due to a variety of reasons. The top-50 guilds were months ahead of us, bringing down Algalon and One Light around the time we finished Firefighter.

    I include my own experience as falling on the side of the dividing line with everyone-else -- the 99%, not the 1%. I also identify myself as someone completely in love with Blizzard products and a serious veteran player of World of Warcraft. Finally, despite the lengthy non-Warcraft discussions, rest assured this will all be tied directly into the future of raiding.


    What Makes A Game?
    The most outstanding book I have read on game theory is, "The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses," by Jesse Schell (Amazon). This book suggests core principles that all great games share. Among these:
    1. Surprise;
    2. Risk;
    3. Reward;
    4. Challenge;
    5. Discovery.
    There are many other important elements to games, but those -- especially Surprise -- are the most essential ingredients to any great game. Without all of these, we are merely playing with toys, and we will find ourselves bored quickly. Please note that I will refer to toys throughout the rest of this article, and to me a toy is a plaything that does not carry with it a set of rules that keep it enjoyable in the long-term.

    Reward is something I won't touch on too much through the rest of the article. Reward is something Blizzard has handled amazingly well since Diablo, and it is only diminished when the Risks and Challenges don't make the reward feel meaningful.

    Chess is an example of an amazingly enjoyable game that has survived the ages because it contains everything:
    1. Surprise -- An opponent can make an unexpected move or series of moves that excite your brain and force reaction or open new means of attack;
    2. Risk -- Any move you make can open up new attacks for your opponent; multi-turn strategies must be executed at great risk of being discovered;
    3. Reward -- Capturing a powerful piece such as a Queen through entrapment removes the threat from the board; capturing the King carries the reward of victory, made sweeter depending on the difficulty of your opponent;
    4. Challenge -- Playing against an equal or more difficult opponent forces you to engage your brain at a higher level and to evaluate moves more carefully;
    5. Discovery -- Learning new strategies, new tricks, and new uses for old pieces such as Pawns and Rooks is a constant at any skill level.
    When I was in middle school I had a friend who wasn't terribly interested in learning how to play chess well. He wanted to play a game he called nuclear chess, where taking a piece got rid of all other pieces within four game tiles. This game had no significant strategy and thus had no challenge or discovery -- it was simply a matter of who moved first. Nuclear chess was a toy that he found fun for about 10 minutes.


    When Games Become Toys -- Why Current Encounter Mechanics Must Change
    To the novice player, Tic Tac Toe is a game, albeit a very basic one. It does contain all of the elements of a game to the player who doesn't fully understand how it works. The problem comes when a player learns that he or she can never lose the game once they learn the dominant strategy. At this point, there is no more risk, no more surprise, no more challenge, no more discovery. There is only the reward of winning when a player who does not understand the game plays against them. Tic Tac Toe is no longer a game, but a toy.

    For veteran Warcraft raiders, there is a consistent and worsening problem -- we know all of the mechanics already. Virtually everything that gets introduced has had either identical or very similar mechanics in the past. What few did not exist on the ~54 raid encounters in vanilla were brought in during Burning Crusade (especially Black Temple and Sunwell). There are a small handful of new mechanics such as Insanity on Yogg-Saron, but these are few and far between.

    When a top-50 guild enters an encounter, their analysis probably goes something like this: "Oh, we've seen void zones in these past raid encounters, here's how we countered them then, does that still work given the other mechanics in this fight?" I would guess this is how they handle it because that's exactly how our own guild handled encounters we didn't know, and coming up with the strategy was usually very easy. The last time I recall an encounter where the strategic planning among the best guilds took more than a couple weeks was Four Horsemen 40-man, though I suspect Yogg Zero Light may have fallen into this as well.

    This isn't to say the designers are completely incapable of introducing new encounters, just that it is very difficult to introduce them at the speed the community needs them. The combination of mechanics in new and interesting ways can produce completely new strategic challenges. For instance, the timing of Phase 2 of Yogg-Saron is not immediately obvious to many guilds -- in particular, that the DPS in the brain room controls the spawn rate of the tentacles in the main room. That encounter-changing detail was effectively concealed among a layer of other mechanics borrowed from past encounters (separate rooms from Sartharion/Kalecgos/C'thun, tentacles from C'thun, etc.).

    During Wrath beta I predicted that movement would become the dominant means of challenging raiders during this expansion because they could not introduce many new mechanics. Blizzard has used movement and positioning for exactly this reason (especially on the most difficult encounters of Ulduar, such as Freya 3d, Firefighter, and Yogg).

    They have also introduced vehicles to try and combat this. Vehicles are toys that should -- in theory -- enhance the enjoyment of the game for serious gamers. However, they need to be more polished for the serious gamer to enjoy them. Games should be built around awesome toys rather than the other way around, and the early implementation of vehicles left something to be desired (I personally feel the Flame Leviathan vehicles are the best example of vehicles done well, though they needed a little more polishing for bug cleanup). Vehicles also need to be introduced in a way that appeals to the social community, which has very little interest in serious gaming. In other words, they need to be introduced in limited quantities for encounters where players can also choose not to use them (i.e. Putricide and Gunship).

    It's pretty easy to come up with ideas of ways to change things to introduce new mechanics. One of the first that came to my mind was "What if I had to actually move to avoid an incoming hit?" The problem is, virtually everything I come up with as "new and exciting" is actually already done somewhere within the game engine. I had to move to get out of Shock Blast or Laser Barrage; I had to move to get out of the void zone; I had to move to get through the Heigan dance. Would it really be different if I had to move to avoid individual hits? Would that just get frustrating?

    Another idea is to start giving players more abilities from across the spectrum. However, as a Protection Warrior, I've already received a lot of these completely unique tools (Warbringer allowing blink-like movement, Shockwave being a conical attack like Cone of Cold, etc). I've got tons of utility abilities. Learning each new one was exciting, but only for a short period of time, and they aren't going to keep me playing another five years in the current PVE environment.

    Short of Warcraft becoming a First Person Shooter or twitch-based arcade game, I'm at a complete loss for what Blizzard can do to increase PVE encounter variety. Veteran players simply aren't being faced with new encounters, and they need to be -- but can they be? Are there brand-new undiscovered mechanics out there that will change the face of raiding as we know it? Can the Warcraft engine and server structure even support a fundamental shift to accommodate more diverse PVE raiding?


    The Problem of Surprise
    The lack of new encounter mechanics is part of a larger problem with a lack of Surprise in Warcraft raiding.

    Surprise can exist for many guilds in the top 1%. This happens when these guilds face difficult never-before-seen (or, at least, never discussed) encounters and get to see each new phase, such as Mimiron Firefighter.

    However, beyond those few guilds, Surprise on an encounter level generally does not exist for the rest of the raiding community. This is in large part because we naturally attempt to mitigate failed attempts by learning as much as we possibly can about the encounter beforehand through the use of videos, written guides, and forum discussions. Yes, I fully understand the irony...

    Surprise can still exist within the encounters. For instance, Teron Gorefiend in Black Temple would randomly select from your very worst players to control the first ghost during the encounter. "Surprise, you have constructs in your raid!" Flame Leviathan would randomly select who was chasing at any given time. These kinds of surprises can be good, but Blizzard rarely pushes them as hard as they used to since too much randomness for critical mechanics is often far more frustrating to the players than anything else. A good example of this is the cast rate of Boiling Blood on Deathbringer Saurfang 25-man hard mode.

    Surprise can be implemented in other unique ways, such as the trash mobs between Princess Huhuran and Twin Emperors, who would have a pair of random and devastating abilities that required entirely different strategies to handle. The Opera in Karazhan would pull up different encounters at random. Twin Valkyrs could cast different ultimate abilities from a limited pool of possibilities that required immediate reaction.

    Finally, Surprise exists in the form of Reward after an encounter is defeated. This is probably the largest surprise most guilds will experience, because, despite knowing the loot tables, there is always a randomness that is completely out of our control.

    Let me finish this section out with a general statement: Raiding guilds experience very little significant Surprise during the course of PVE raiding. This should change.


    Risk: The Normal Mode Paradigm & The Top 1%
    As far as Normal modes are concerned, Trial of the Crusader and Icecrown Citadel create a fundamental problem for the hardcore raiding guild -- they offer zero risk. If an encounter can be taken down within the first week it is available (often the first night or even the first half hour for many of these guilds), that encounter does not pose any meaningful threat to the players' time or energy. While this may be justified since -- in theory, at least -- the hard modes will offer a meaningful, long-term challenge for these guilds, it still puts Warcraft raiding strictly in the realm of a toy that players are bored with but keep playing because it's the only way to continue getting prepared for the actual game.

    Given that these hard modes seem to have been designed at the time the normal modes have released, it seems inappropriate that the top guilds are not immediately given access to the hard modes. Gated may still be fine if you're trying to delay the release of content for story or schedule reasons, but you can still gate hard modes.

    In the first edition of Warcraft Magazine, Mike Morhaime, Blizzard CEO, is quoted as saying, "That's the kind of thing we look at: Is this going to add value for the people who choose to do it? Is it going to detract from the people who don't choose to do it?" Though he was referring to faction changes, I believe that line of thought needs to be taken into consideration when deciding whether the top 1% should be given a toy to pass the time or a fully realized game when releasing new content.

    Keep in mind that releasing the content early does extend the life of hard mode content for serious raiders, since the guilds will not be as geared going into them and will often take longer to bring them down. This results in less time between content releases where the top 1% are idling for new content. This also results in a more clear separation of the very best guilds since a large number of guilds don't clear the same hard modes during the same raid week. At this level of play, competition should be embraced in any form, and keeping the most serious guilds from distinguishing themselves is not the best approach.


    Challenge & Difficulty: The Other 99%... Sort Of
    While the top 1% do not experience Risk during normal modes, they experience sincere gaming Challenge and Difficulty when handling the more difficult hard modes, even if they defeat them relatively quickly.

    I say this because I believe amazing players that are in an environment where they are surrounded by other amazing players will more easily push themselves to the absolute limit of their class and role. This is because, unlike less-competitive guilds, the actions of these players -- reacting a few milliseconds earlier, using abilities not normally thought of, and targeting quicker and smarter -- will have a real impact on whether an encounter goes down sooner. These top 1% are also the players who discover completely new and interesting way to use their abilities to handle new encounters (and the same group who find new and interesting ways to exploit encounters... Flower power!). I believe the top 50 -- and especially the top 10 -- guilds are playing at a level akin to the best PVPers and FPS gamers in the world. It is no coincidence that many of the best PVE players are also winning PVP championships.


    Things get tricky when covering the other 99% of gamers. I say this because many of the 99% are skilled gamers who know how to play and, were they put in the position of being in a top 1% and having the schedule to accommodate this, they could potentially succeed. To be clear, there are also a lot of people who believe they'd succeed and would not because they simply do not care about their class or their performance as much as they need to. However, I'd wager that at least a few players in every guild have the base skill level, motivation, and aptitude necessary to be amazing gamers.

    Many more of that 99% are not serious gamers with a drive to perform better. Instead, they are social gamers, who play the game primarily because they enjoy spending the time with friends. If you're in the bottom 99%, this could be anywhere from 5-20 of your guildmates. It could just be your tanks, or your healers. It could be your raid leader. For me, my biggest frustration and source of burnout in the 99% has been when I have been doing a complex job in an encounter without mistake for hours and days and having to deal with the few who seem to always find new and interesting ways to die.

    To be clear, I am not suggesting serious gamers are not interested in friendships. The core reason many serious gamers are not in better guilds is precisely because they value their friendships. That's the nature of an MMO, especially one as culturally widespread as World of Warcraft. The members of top 1% guilds often have extremely close friendships with each other, so there really is no criticism at all on the social front for any level of WoW gamer.


    The issue present for serious gamers in the 99% is that they rarely are given challenges or means of discovering new and interesting ways to play their class or play the game. They only need to be as good as the worst players in their raid, and have little motivation to be better except for personal pride. Comparing WWS parses of middle-ranked raiding guilds frequently shows a small number of players far ahead of the others in performance, most noticeably in healing.

    I believe at least some of the other players -- the serious gamers -- would do better and enjoy the game more if they felt there was a challenge. In school, I did my worst in math classes that were easy for me because I wouldn't focus; I did my best in classes that were difficult for me because I felt a genuine challenge. This is a common mentality in children, and ultimately the act of gaming is a revival of the love and passion we had for challenges when we were children.

    How do we engage the serious gamers who are in the lower 99%? How do we let them feel discovery and challenge without forcing them to sacrifice their friendships in search of better guilds?


    Summary
    1. There is not enough surprise in the game;
    2. Normal modes present no risk to top 1% guilds;
    3. Serious gamers in bottom 99% guilds do not receive enough challenge and difficulty because they are only expected to play at the level of their worst guildmates.
    In other words, every gamer who seeks anything more than a polished chat room is missing at least one core component to a great game.

    Let's get into solutions.


    Solution 1: More Critical Roles In More Encounters

    As often as possible, there should be between five and ten players who have a fairly complex role that is critical to success during the encounter. One example of this (though not hugely complex) is the Putricide abomination controller. Another is the launch/pickup teams for Flame Leviathian hard modes. An older example would be the Razorgore orb controller.

    I use those particular examples because they are not limited to classes and do not encourage specific class makeups the way that, say, Warlock tanking did in Burning Crusade. Not limiting it to classes also means you're not limiting it to specific players who may be exactly the players who don't want to put in the effort. A certain number of critical roles should always be put out there so serious gamers can get involved in the deeper, more challenging game without having a negative impact on their social gamer guildmates. This keeps both parties engaged and interested in the same progression.

    I believe that at least one tank should always perform a critical role, as often as encounter design permits. Tanks become tanks because they want to control chaos; simply taking hits and hitting "Taunt" at the right time is enormously demeaning to those who've loved the role for the last five years (or 1-3 for newer tank classes).


    Solution 2: Hard Modes
    Hard mode versions of encounters should never come out later than normal versions of the same encounter. This is especially true when there are no significant differences in execution between the hard mode and normal mode versions of the encounter.


    Solution 3: Surprise
    More encounters need more surprises more often. The best recent example of an encounter that utilized good surprises was Twin Valkyrs, though this can be pushed much further without making raiding unenjoyable. Another good example of Surprise in raiding are the Anubisaths in the caverns between Princess Huhuran and Twin Emperors, which would randomly use two ultimate abilities that necessitated entirely different strategies be coordinated on the fly.

    A poor example of Surprise came in the hallways immediately after Twin Emperors with the random groups of trash mobs. Pulling too many of the mind-controlling mobs made pulls extremely frustrating. Surprises should not offer significant differences in difficulty, only significantly different requirements in approach.


    Solution 4: Battleground Raiding
    This is going to be unusual, but I believe new Battlegrounds should be treated as raid-style encounters intended for 25-man and 10-man guilds to compete in. This is because Battlegrounds have the potential to operate in a fundamentally similar way to games like Chess -- enormous amounts of depth, surprise, risk, challenge, discovery, and reward, entirely developed and created by the player base. If Battlegrounds had a progression path that operated parallel to PVE raiding and offered rewards that encouraged formal raid groups to queue, I believe it would become one of the most engaging forms of play.

    It is not enough that tanks be given token roles of taking on PVE mobs in Battlegrounds. Regardless of whether Battleground Raiding is formally introduced, justifying tanks as being fine in Battlegrounds because they can tank the generals is reinforcing that it will not be recognized as a legitimate role in a PVP environment.


    Solution 5: Fundamental Rethinking of PVE Mechanics
    This should be the Manhattan Project of Blizzard Entertainment. I don't know what level of genius is required to think of something new and engaging at this point in the game, but I'm worried that long-time veterans have run out of new things to discover about their class, encounters, raiding, and the PVE world in general. Feeling like there is nothing left to discover is disheartening.

    I'm not sure any game has ever given out so much content and given players so much to discover over so many years, so this is not a criticism. I do feel that the game needs something deeper yet, though.

  2. #2
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    I can't say I don't agree. If it keeps going in the same direction it has been, Blizzard is probably going see the subscription numbers taper off. As it stands it seems the number has steadied, so between old players leaving and new players/canceled accounts coming back, the population has not increased. In the long run that could spell disaster.
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    In general, I agree very much with the entire content of your post.

    The one area I would deviate is that I believe there is another distinct progression line other than the top 1%. I would say there is the top 1-2%, which are the cutting-edge guilds, then the top 3-5% which are the high-progress 'hardcore' guilds not on the cutting edge, who invariably clear all the content eventually pre-nerf, even if it's 'months behind.'

    So, to me there is a slight caveat of a 2nd perspective--the people who progress seriously and clear all the content, but perhaps not in the first week/month. These are usually very strong raiders who are in a guild with a slightly different attitude than the top 1%. (I know most of the core raiders in a top-5% guild probably could apply to a top 1-2% guild without much trouble if they wanted to dedicate the time to it.)

    That said, I would say the majority of your post applies to the top 5% and not just the top 1%.

    Most of the top 5% guilds have enough experience and speed in clearing encounters that their learning curve and surprise factor is very similar--just not at quite as much of an accelerated rate. The process, I think, is very much the same overall--especially as it's typically the sub-set of players in those guilds who could probably play at a top-1% that do most of the analysis and learning help for the others.

    The guilds and players as a whole, however, are good enough to play at a high level to beat pre-nerf encounters with some learning curve difficulties, but this often doesn't actually make the fight feel more engaging even though it takes a bit longer.

    These are the guilds that will down most normal encounters without too much difficulty—e.g. < 10-15 tries on the wing bosses in ICC or TotGC bosses and then a number of nights on LK/Anub-25H before they down him. So, even though the difficulty/struggle element is made slightly more apparent than the top-1% (who will down them potentially much quicker) the surprise element is still a serious problem. These are still guilds who would have probably gone straight to hardmodes in TotC if they had been given a chance, even if it would have been a bit rough at first--and thus hardmodes themselves (until the end boss) were just repetition.
    Last edited by Kojiyama; 02-24-2010 at 05:52 AM.
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    I was reading through some figures of number of subscriptions to MMOs the other day:

    http://www.mmodata.net/

    Do browse through the graphs, and many interesting conclusions maybe drawn. First of all is far from doomsday for WoW, it maybe for many of its competitors (Runescape is there with the big ones!). Look at the evolution of EvE, it is the perfect example of how to build an MMO by iteration of core rules, graphs ... And then look at warhammer, perfect example of how one shouldn't create too much "hype". And look at everquest, perfect example of what happens when the player base figures out that there is nothing else for them there.

    WoW is a game designed by hardcore gamers, for all gamers! Not just for the 1%. But they have been able to keep that 1% so the other 99% can have the celebrities to admire.

    The designers have been able to balance all the aspects of reward, sense of achievement, entertainment and distilled them into a series of rules/mechanics for a game.

    I think we are up for small revolution in Cataclysm, they know they have to do it, will the game change much? Not the outside, but they will change considerably many of the cogs, hence keep the factor of familiarity, and add space to discover new things.

    Now the question is: can they keep going much longer?
    Yes, they can. How? through constant iterations of adding content, phasing of areas (this can be very a very powerful tool), add new skills (just one per expansion maybe), different mechanics, new raiding content, new achievements (and tweak achievement system), new vehicles. The revamping of the old continent is a touch of genius (and I imagine it solves lots of logistic problems for Blizz, the amount of servers dedicated to "death" areas is a waste of resources) ... but, this takes a lot of people/resources/money. Not a problem for Blizzard, the only obstacle for them is to realise that they must let new blood experiment and bring new ideas to the table.

    To the question of: will WoW disappear one day?
    My answer: what doesn't adapt, and adapts at the required rate, will become extinct.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ciderhelm View Post
    As often as possible, there should be between five and ten players who have a fairly complex role that is critical to success during the encounter.
    I think one good example of this is Vashj (I can't ever spell it right). I really loved that fight because I could hop on my lock and kite the strider, while players who were not quite up to it could simply follow and DPS. And you could use almost any ranged class to do this. Also you had a few very important people throwing cores, which gave them a more challenging job (not impossible, but at least a little).

    On the other hand, Archimonde was the exact same for every raid member, which tended to make it unbelievable frustrating. The same 5-10 people would die every attempt, while the other 15 could do their job flawlessly. Even though it was a pain, I still feel like defeating that encounter was my happiest and proudest moment in WoW. So I don't know, maybe separate, important jobs are not important- just a thought.

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    I think you touched on why Vashj is probably my absolute favortite boss encounter in the entire game--or at least in my top 3. Not only was it challenging in a way that killing her felt like a massive achievement, but the coordination and variation of the fight from week to week was really compelling.

    On one hand, it was "annoying" that you couldn't initially get the fight on a "let's AFK farm it" mode like many other fights--but, despite the frustration, that was probably a good thing long-term. It was a very engaging fight yet somehow also managed to not be boring or frustrating to learn.

    I wish more fights were like Vashj--not specifically mechanically, but in their structure and design philosophy.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ciderhelm View Post
    Solution 2: Hard Modes
    Hard mode versions of encounters should never come out later than normal versions of the same encounter. This is especially true when there are no significant differences in execution between the hard mode and normal mode versions of the encounter.
    Definitely agree that the hard modes should be released at the same time, this was done well in Ulduar. Most of the ICC hardmodes are also a bit too easy or even a complete joke (gunship). BQL specifically is a bit confusing, hard mode is a pretty standard fight, but on normal mode the healers have less to do as the fight goes on. That feels a bit awkward for the healers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ciderhelm View Post
    Solution 5: Fundamental Rethinking of PVE Mechanics
    This should be the Manhattan Project of Blizzard Entertainment. I don't know what level of genius is required to think of something new and engaging at this point in the game, but I'm worried that long-time veterans have run out of new things to discover about their class, encounters, raiding, and the PVE world in general. Feeling like there is nothing left to discover is disheartening.
    I think generally the whole combat system in WoW could be more interactive. Maybe a DPS will have to hold back a bit at a certain point or maybe he can exploit an opening in combat to do a bit more damage. The tank might be able to react to an incoming hit if he sees it coming. This mostly applies to DPS though, because they usually just go down the same rotation over and over. I think there can be a small reward if you react correctly to the situation at hand. At the same time though, these rewards cannot be too big as the whole thing is probably too complex for a novice player, so this kind of gameplay should never be required.
    It seems that the game is already going a bit towards that though. The devs are toying around with procs and the whole hitpoint/healing changes that might come in Cataclysm can make healing more interesting. Just a random example off the top of my head, a mob could suddenly be attacking 2-3 players instead of just one, and I don't mean that he is spamming the tanks like Marrowgar. He could just randomly decide to hit another tank because of got bored of the first one. Currently, this is not really possible, because tanks would just die with random switches, the bosses hit too hard for something like that. And again, in such a situation, the tank might be able to react in some way and make it easier if he manages.

    By the way, one thing to keep in mind about the critical roles: while these are often cool, they are sometimes also not wanted. A lot of people don't like Occulus because they can't play their own character. That is not to say that these are bad ideas, but I think these kind of 'different' roles should usually be limited.

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    Very nice read, although the group I was healing in Underbog might've not agreed.

    Even if I've never been one of the hardcore gamers, I remember back in vanilla and TBC where you'd have those players that you'd just stare at in awe. Lately, I've seen none. Nothing seems to be as hard, or new and exciting as before.
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    Great article.

    I would say that to me it seems that many of the elements that we would like to see more well developed might very well be that way because of how players are funneled into end game raiding to seek their game play excitement. With tiered reward progression and game mechanics being what they are, there is no real 'danger' in the outside world and very few surprises. Players are driven into raid instances to find challenges where there are a set number of encounters and only so much complexity can be injected into such a closed off system.

    In many ways, this is driven by the whims of the player base. Trash is labeled as it is because that is how the community views it and it has been diminished and limited to please players. In extreme cases, players want loot bag boss mobs that deliver the goods on schedule. Playing in a casual guild that raids, the complaints at Blizzard over fight mechanics that other guilds deal with easily never end.

    I think this goes back to the game culture and of the 5 core principles outlined in the OP, it is clear that the developers lean heavily upon 'Reward' and there are scarce other opportunities for guilds to differentiate themselves and I think many resort to the same progression track but with more emphasis on social aspects. No guild can become an advernturing guild or a crafting guild. They cannot concentrate on building a guild hall or exploring new frontiers because with flying mounts, a player can cover every square inch of the game world in a matter of moments.

    Reward is a powerful attractant. At this stage of my 'career' I am limited in my progression by my situation. Nothing surprises me and little challenges my tank character aside from maintaining consistency.
    For me, my biggest frustration and source of burnout in the 99% has been when I have been doing a complex job in an encounter without mistake for hours and days and having to deal with the few who seem to always find new and interesting ways to die.
    Indeed.

    There are challenges to be had playing a new character or a new role but those are somewhat empty. Yet, I can still gather rewards. There's always a new piece of equipment to obtain and new achievements to complete.

    New content and the expansions are always fun because there are new things to do and discover but so conditioned is the player base to the raiding rat race, it often becomes a blitz to the level cap and acquiring new gear to raid on the entry level ASAP. I think a fair number of casual guilds see this as an opportunity to 'catch up' and 'really do it right this time' while the playing field is more level than it had been.

    I do not see a way to fundamentally alter the game to deliver a more robust experience. I'm not sure how many people truly want that, how many really would rather just acquire things and socially network at their own speed on the platform the game provides. I wonder how many people want a game and how many just enjoy opening up the toybox. I know plenty of people who are not anywhere close to "1%" raiders who only want that next epic or the next non-combat pet and have adverse reaction to challenges and risks.

    I think in the end, Wow is what it is and is not going to fundamentally change. There will be new things here and there but no real danger or excitement until faced with a scripted boss encounter that has been disected ad nauseum by the people who got there before. Is this bad? Well, its got 11.5 million subscribers so I guess not.
    your hat may be nice, but I have the little white tank top that says Legendary right across my boobs. I win. (or more correctly, H wins)

  10. #10
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    Personally, I'm afraid someone's going to see this, link it on the official site, and then a lot of people are going to start crying, "See! Blizzard is out of content! There's nothing new left to do!" which I think simply isn't true. Just because ICC has been a snoozefest from a tanking standpoint doesn't mean they've lost the ability to make new good content.

  11. #11
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    Well I think I have to agree with Ciderhelm.
    I feel it every raid I attend: Something is missing.

    Back in BC raiding was the highlight of my day (yes, it is as stupid as it sounds :P ) locking forward to it as soon as the lineup for the raid was released by the guildleader.

    At the moment WoW is lacking (especially the raid content but also the rest of the game) of things that attract me. Right now my 10 man group is trying to kill the Lichking and in the 25 man version we are at Sindragosa at the moment and I don't know what to expect from the rest of the expansion.
    Sure, the hardmodes wait for my guild and me but it seems that they don't offer anything new (perhaps putricide but the rest just seems like numbercrushing to me). This brings back some bad memories from TotGC, were the hardmodes where boring as hell especially Anub'arak where I had to tank all 4 adds alone and all I had to do was to pop shield block and spam cleave for hours and hours not moving a bit (is this how raid feels for a DpS-class?) just to see in the 30% phase that the healer were not able to handle the penetrating cold correctly again and again.

    Besides the fact that the game is less attractive to me as it was in the past just because I played the shit out of it (guess what I have another level 80 protection warrior just because tanking was so much fun back in the days of Classic and BC).
    It's a combination of:

    Delayed Hardmodes
    Killing bosses several times before entering the "real" challenge
    Hardmodes who are basically the same than the normal version of the boss just with more HpS and DpS requirements
    The delta between the normal mode and the hardmode is to huge for the average WoW-raidingguild (at least for Ulduar and TotGC)
    Being forced to run the 10 mans in addition to the 25 mans just to keep the emblem income going
    And being forced to run the heroic dungeons twice a day (remember my alt :P )for the very same reason
    Hardmodes who are basically the same than the normal version of the boss just with more HpS and DpS requirements

    that make me feel that the game running out of interesting things to explore, to achieve and to beat (which are basically Surprise, Risk, Reward, Challenge, Discovery) much faster than it happened in the past and/or than it has to be.

    Maybe it's true that the WoW-engine can't provide new exciting gameplay mechanics but it can preform much better then it does at the moment.
    Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
    Es ist der Kodo mit seinem Rind.

  12. #12
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    I believe that at least one tank should always perform a critical role, as often as encounter design permits. Tanks become tanks because they want to control chaos; simply taking hits and hitting "Taunt" at the right time is enormously demeaning to those who've loved the role for the last five years (or 1-3 for newer tank classes).
    This is a pretty important point for me.

  13. #13
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    I was not a raider in BC or vanilla. I started raiding with Wrath and already can go into an encounter and know the mechanics of it. Granted, I have gone back and done some of the BC and vanilla raids but if someone who has only been raiding for a little over a year and is not a hardcore raider can pick up the mechanics easily, something has to be changed. Otherwise, it's not going to be just the veteran players getting bored. It may take a little longer but, already, I'm a little burnt out and thinking of taking an extended WoW break. All in the hopes that if I did, when I came back some new, fresh encounters would be waiting for me to bring back the excitement I had when I started playing.
    Don't get me wrong. I love playing WoW. But I can only level so many alts...and I tend to only play a new character when raiding is boring for me. Which it has been the past couple of months I'd say. ToC was when I started raiding with serious thought into it. Before that I was the player who died the same way, every time and probably pissed off my fellow raiders. And now, I want to push myself further and see what I can really do as a raider but I don't have the content pushing back. Maybe I'm a few years too late and that is my fault but I don't want to lose my favorite hobby to boredom.

  14. #14
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    One thing that they could do to make tanking at least more edge of your seat is to make it much more based on survival and mitigation... Shield Block block one shot, and have no cooldown, for example, and put the boss swing timer on a random variable, where he might have anywhere from 1 to 7 second swing timer, so you actually have to pay attention to the boss while keeping aggro.

    That would up the difficulty though, and potentially hurt their subscription numbers, so I don't know that they would do that.

  15. #15
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    [Forgive me if this rambles a bit, I feel like it may have]


    Well thought out, and well said.

    There is a funny dilemma here, a paradox of sorts. WoW's most impressive accomplishment is also one of its most awkward tensions.

    The one thing that WoW can eternally stand out for is that it has reached such a massively diverse audience. You have players ranging from 8 to 80 (of course there are folks outside that range but less often as 'serious') all playing and enjoying the same game. You have husbands and wives playing with their children, you have grandparents finding ways to spend time with their grandkids who live elsewhere, you have professional gamers mingling with snot-nosed high school kids. The game has such a hugely broad appeal that it has become a thing of mythical proportions.

    And it is that very thing that has fueled Blizzards designs for endgame raiding.

    WotLK saw the shift to a far more accessible raiding scene. Where Sunwell saw less than 2% of the game's player base, now a much much larger proportion has gotten to experience LK raiding, for better or for worse.

    So what's the paradox? It is the potential to be realized that you mentioned, and the investment.

    I've spent the last few months contemplating what it means, what it takes to be good at WoW, or gaming in general. And not to put too fine a point on it, but a lot of it revolves around playing the game with good tools, devoted attention, and plenty of practice. There are a chain of items that contribute to being able to play. Personal awareness, cognitive capacity (to read and interpret abilities), reflexes (as executed through game controllers), hardware both for presenting the game (monitor, graphics card) and interacting with it (keyboard, mouse, game pad), narrowing the proprioceptive gap (removing awareness of the A moves B moves C nature of computer gaming), and then all the things that are required of your avatar within the game. Many of these elements can be limited by means and availability, or just your personal nature. A poor video card can make things hard to see and as such harder to react to. A poor keyboard can make your in-game responses impaired as your button presses don't register. Poor eyesight, colorblindness, etc can make it hard for the player to distinguish things they need to. And the considerations go on and on.

    If we side step all that and just consider people playing the game, there is also the matter of investment. Many many many people will not pick up a video game with the desire to devote significant amounts of time to it. They will pick it up to have a little fun, then put it down. A toy, as you said. These people are mixed in with the more "serious" gamers who play at a higher level, and the long long range of shades of gray in between.

    That is where the divide comes, and it is a funny one.

    What is surprising, challenging, risky, etc has a lot to do with where you are coming from. The irony is that you can absolutely play the game without coming to TankSpot or anyone else to learn the fight before you ever step foot in the raid, but few people do (I won't get into a discussion of the value systems). You *could* be surprised by it if you want to be. For some the challenge is still very real and not strictly dependent on complicated mechanics.

    I think that is the core of it. To gamers at a certain level, you need complex mechanics to make things challenging. You need to be asked to pull off precise maneuvers with intricate obstacles to engage that high level of play. But if you were to put those challenges to a less skilled or even just less focused gamer, they would be a wall, not an obstacle. The thing is that what some of us do not see as terribly complicated, risky, or challenging, is actually very much so to others. With the split you described where you have some very skilled players surrounded by less skilled or less motivated players, you will see the skilled players who can navigate the landmines and do just fine, while the others struggle and fail.

    I don't think the elements are missing, I just think they have been tuned below a level for the people who play the game most seriously. Is that a problem? Well, frankly, not for the people who it is a perfect challenge for (defining that as a challenge they can not overcome straight away but can earn in time).

    The real challenge for Blizzard is to create the sort of interactive challenge that can truly scale to match the capacities of the player. I think that ultimately the only way to do that is to incorporate the human element. Computer scripted events are simply that, scripted. The range of easy to hard goes from "don't stand in the fire" to "stand in the green fire, while avoiding the blue fire, and putting out the purple fire with ability type A, and make sure you jump in a blue fire when X happens." The harrowing of a challenge in computer scripted obstacles usually boils down to how narrow the window is for victory.

    Like you mentioned, twitch gaming keeps its potency because you have the human element, opponents that scale as diversely as your skill does. Smart matchmaking allows the game to pit you against people who will make you work for it. Even then though the margin can be so small. If you go up against people who are just playing at a higher level, you will lose, or vice versa, without challenge.


    I think that what we are seeing is the potential progress for WoW. Encounter design has become more interesting, but there is a sort of limitation within the confines of the system as it stands for the challenges it can present. Inevitably without a heavy rethinking of how the game is designed there will *always* be people who can outclass the challenges handily, and people who just can't seem to step up to them.

    But how can we play in the human element without making a game that takes too much to step into and play.

    GC recently posted a great little blurb on the nature of Complexity vs Depth. The question becomes, how can we make a game that has sufficient depth to allow players to spend a lifetime mastering, without creating a hurdle so high that the new player is overwhelmed and discouraged from trying to?
    The (Old) Book on Death Knight Tanking
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    Who f-ing divided by zero?!?

  16. #16
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    That was one well thought out post! Solution 4 is one of the most appealing solutions I could think of at the moment while combining several key components in demand. There will never be anything more surprising than the strategies other humans come up with to beat you to the ground. Makes me want to queue a BG as soon as I hit home tonight (says the PVE player chasing the top 50 at the moment and that says something if it's on the day of a new ID in Europe) Cheers! skaggi

  17. #17
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    Amen, Ciderhelm. Amen.
    "Upon an order we plead, with the lure of a song, a sacred song, to the moon and the stars. An illusionary light is here placed."

  18. #18
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    Nailed it spot on Cider. It is prolly exactly why I've been declenched from the whole WoW world as of late and once again, cancelled my account.

    The fact remains that Blizzard needs to take a look at it's PvE section and look at it from a critical angle; something needs to be done. What Ciderhelm posted up in this thread is a very good analysis of what happened through Wrath that needs to be checked out for Cataclysm otherwise things will start going downhill. With one of the more pivotal characters in Arthas destroyed, it is now going to be far harder to keep people playing for the lore. Personally, I'm just not interested in Blackwing's story and as such, I simply am not looking forward to Cataclysm whatsoever. And from what it sounds like right now, there isn't a HUGE core mechanic being changed. This may be quite the fact that it's still in production, however I just don't see the game evolving anymore.

    But very well written Cider, as always.

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  19. #19
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    the formula that blizzard uses a lot for mechanics is this:

    choose A or B
    if you choose A, then C happens
    if you choose B, then D happens

    the problem is that most of the time A is getting hit by an ability, C is dying, B is not getting hit, and D is not dying.

    one of the times they did the formula sort of "right" during ICC is blood prince council on hardmode. the fact that you are penalized for moving but are required to move is a great mechanic, but they could have done it better. unless you are running around willy nilly you aren't going to die to that mechanic, and all it ends up doing is making the healing requirements harder. if instead never lost your stack of debuffs, and after X stack you automatically die, it could have been much better, but X would have to be a relatively low number so you are forced to think about how you are going to move, when you are going to move, and how far you are going to go.
    execution of boss mechanics has turned in to filling in the blank with one of possible answers these:
    taunt the mob
    don't stand in this
    spread out
    collapse
    run away from people
    kill the adds asap

    thinking has become optional for most boss fights, and that needs to change.

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  20. #20
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    Solution 2: Hard Modes
    Hard mode versions of encounters should never come out later than normal versions of the same encounter. This is especially true when there are no significant differences in execution between the hard mode and normal mode versions of the encounter.
    I'd like to remind everyone (or possibly introduce to some) the advent of Hard Modes: Sartharion 3D (available day 1). The great responses to their flag ship "hard mode" spurred the implementation of every new boss encounter today having a hard mode. I don't think Sarth 3D was really a "hard mode" per say because it wasn't a matter of flipping a switch to make the same encounter more difficult with extra damage done by mechanic x,y,z. The encounter with Sarth himself changed vastly by the addition of the three mini bosses. In addition it wasn't a matter of going from just Sarth straight to Sarth 3D, there was 1D and 2D providing a gradual slope of difficulty and varying difficulties in between depending on which drake was left up.
    The Sarth 3D "hard mode" encounter was a GREAT idea and the promise of new hard modes in its wake was exciting because the differences between Sarth and Sarth 3D created two almost completely different encounters. There are others which are made enjoyable for some of the same reasons Sarth 3D was. Freya, Flame Leviathan, FireFighter, and Saronite in the Morning are some of the most creative and challenging because they required a more thought out, coordinated plan to victory. They each added mechanics to the encounter instead of adding to the existing mechanics of the encounter. I think if anyone had known where the idea of hard modes was going to land we’d have stayed on the other side of the fence. I agree with your solution here but I would even go as far as proposing they remove hard modes and leave the “hard modes” such as Sarth 3D to encounters where mechanics and strategy change. If there’s a particular encounter they feel should be hard just make it hard, make it available day 1 instead of eight weeks after a patch while content goes on farm, and don’t dumb it down by having an easier version.

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