Monday, September 27, 2010

Ghostcrawler joins the crusade against efficiency

Larísa and Gronthe are discussing recent remarks of Ghostcrawler on the World of Warcraft forums, in which he speaks out against efficiency:
"Posts like this make me very sad. You're portraying yourself to be at the mercy of uninformed yet tyrannical raid leaders who are quick to judge your performance based on perceived "tells." I know you need some basis to evaluate potential recruits or even pug members. But I do wish there was some way to turn around this virtual phobia of inefficiency -- this terror of being WRONG -- that we have managed to instill in our player base. I honestly think it's one of the greatest challenges facing the game.
the WoW community has evolved in a direction where being badly informed is worse than being a bad player. We're all very quick to judge each other based on litmus tests, such as gear scores, achievements, or proper talent builds, that likely don't measure performance half as well as we want them to.
How many attempts can you name in your lifetime as a WoW player where your doing 1% more dps would have made the difference between success and failure? And how many of those attempts could you have gotten 10% more dps if you had just totally nailed your rotations etc. on those fights instead of worrying about a theoretical 1% dps gain from a different talent?"
Or as Larísa summarizes it: "If you’re just following the EJ recommendation to 99 percent and not to 100 percent you’re per definition perceived as a moron and a slacker, if not by everyone, at least by most other players." I don't know if anyone ever calculated how many different talent builds there are for one class and role; it must be thousands, but if you don't have exactly the cookie cutter flavor of the month one, you're not getting a raid invite.

From Ghostcrawler's "virtual phobia of inefficiency ... that we have managed to instill in our player base" follows a discussion of whether the situation is Blizzard's fault or the fault of the players. I think that question answers itself easily if you zoom out a bit, look at other games, and ask yourself obvious questions like "why is there no perfect strategy for Rock, Paper, Scissors?".

Back when I was still playing Magic the Gathering and judged tournaments, people were discussing two games: The game of Magic the Gathering, and the so-called "meta-game". The meta-game discussion went like this: "Knowing that deck X is currently so popular, should I bring deck Y (which crushes X) to the tournament, or should I rather bring deck Z, which crushes deck Y and does well enough against X?" At no moment in the long history of Magic the Gathering was there ever an unbeatable deck.

The problem World of Warcraft has, and specifically for dps classes, is that there *is* that one perfect talent build and one perfect spell rotation which works for everything. It is just a matter of number crunching, and given a large enough player base that number crunching is already finished before a new patch or expansion leaves the beta. And given that there is only one best build, and that one build is easy enough to find on the internet, the judgement that anyone not using that one build is a "moron & slacker" is quickly done. Whether some other talent is more fun doesn't matter once it has been proven that taking this other talent would be 0.38% less efficient than the standard cookie cutter build. In that respect World of Warcraft is in the worst possible configuration, being "hard to learn, easy to master". Somebody who *gasp* actually tries out different talent builds to see which one works best for him will take a long time to learn, while any idiot can find the perfect build in less than 5 minutes on Google.

The only way out is to change the game in a way that the same talent build and same spell rotation is *not* optimal in every situation. What if any given raid boss over time was developing a resistance against the abilities most often used against him, while simultaneously developing a weakness against the abilities used the least? What if damage wouldn't be possible to condense to a single universal "damage per second" number, but would depend on various circumstances, like random elemental damage types and resistances? What if players actually had choices to make, for which there was no single best solution? What if exotic talents could be extremely powerful in the right situation?

I don't think World of Warcraft will ever get there, but maybe some future MMORPG will. But I can answer the question why everybody is playing that one best cookie cutter build: Because it exists! And that isn't the player's fault.

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