Maximum Performance Isn't Always Maximum Fun

This is a thought in progress. A little rambling.

My wife is a combat rogue. Always has been. When she joined the game she fell in love with being a rogue, and she asked what the highest damage version of rogue was. I went off to the internets, and came back with the answer: Combat Sword build. So that's what she chose. When we got to the endgame, she did the most damage in our 40-person raids, virtually every raid. She gave the other dps people fits. (although she never spammed damagemeters) She flourished in that role.

When TBC was released, the raiding game was suspended and everyone is back to the beautiful leveling game for a while. In TBC leveling, there are quest daggers given throughout the leveling process, with rogues in mind. She thought, "why not experiment?" and then rebuilt as Combat Daggers.

Guess what? Combat Daggers is simply more fun to play than combat swords. Managing position and Backstab is more fun than mashing Sinister Strike x1000. To non-rogues, I'm sure this sounds like a minor distinction. It sounded that way to me, and I told her so.

I happened to have a very infrequent rogue alt that wasn't far from TBC content, and I had gone the whole way as Combat Swords (following her lead). I picked up that alt again, partially out of curiousity regarding her experience. Once I got to TBC content, I switched to Combat Daggers.

She's absolutely right, of course. Backstabbing is simply more fun for entirely vague and hard to quantify reasons. For me, it just feels more roguelike. When I was Combat Mace rogue, I couldn't tell the difference between that character and a dual-wielding warrior or shammy, but I didn't care because I was effective. Now I had seen for myself: backstabbing is just more roguey, nothing like any other class in the game, and simply more fun to play.

According to the Elitist Jerks class forums (who will apply their glorious theorycraft polish to any facet of the game) given everything else equal (two robots playing two identical characters perfectly, with identical gear except for weapons)… Combat Dagger rogues do 3% less damage overall than Combat Sword rogues. It's like refutation in chess.

Chess is a fixed game with fixed rules. Some combinations of moves simply have an answer that wins 100% of the time. At that point, the refuted move in question is no longer a difference in strategy, it's a guaranteed loss if the opponent is aware of the correct response. Those are called refuted moves.

Combat Daggers is a refuted build. Rogues and mages have but one job in a raid, so they can maximize on damage. There is no situation in which Combat Daggers outperforms other Combat builds.

It gets worse! From what I've read, Mutilate (assassination) is even more fun to play than the entire combat tree… and is even less effective. Never mind that it's overall harder to play a Combat Dagger/Mutilate rogue perfectly, because Backstab and Mutilate are position-dependent and Sinister Strike isn't. So these builds are not only less effective, they're less likely to bring all their tricks to bear with the ease that other combat rogues do. That 3% difference is really 5-7%.

Back to the now.

My wife remains a Combat Dagger rogue. She's not going to switch back to swords, even though she knows that it will make her better at her role. She struggles with wanting to be more effective but not wanting to have less fun, and is resolved to being the best Combat Dagger rogue she can be. And she's great! I completely support her decision, because more than anything else, I love to play this game with her and I want her to have fun. If she stopped playing, I'd stop. Furthermore, I know firsthand that her chosen playstyle is simply more fun for that character.

I also know that it's suboptimal, and it used to be part of my job as GM and Raid Leader to help people play their characters better. I'm still a quasi-leader in my guild, in that the leadership looks up to me. Many of our new recruits don't know that I used to run the guild (for which I am quite thankful) but I still get asked "how do we handle stuff like this?" from officers all the time. One of the perennial question is: "How do we push for higher performance and stay true to our casual roots?"

Luckily, she still does a mountain of damage. So the raid leadership never wonders about her in particular. She has a low error rate, and is basically loved on every group quest, instance, or raid she goes on.

However, there's another rogue in my guild who is also Combat Dagger, but this rogue's skill level is much lower. This rogue does not do a mountain of damage. Raids and instances that include this person go slower, and overall find less success. When gently prodded about perhaps rebuilding to a more effective spec (not by me, obviously), this friendly and awesome guildmate says, "Well, what about [my wife's character]? I copied her build."

Hmm. Yes, there is that.

Could this be another axis on the design of PvE? Fun vs performance?

Nah. It's just that although Blizzard is great, they don't get everything right on the first try. Heck, it took them until TBC to get pallys and druids right. Compare the previous endgame to the current one. I think that Blizzard is still trying to figure out a way to have dagger-rogues do the most damage without completely removing the other kinds of rogues.

Or is it that good players play well enough to overcome suboptimal choices?

Probably. Excellent execution is always better than perfect character design, but try telling that to someone who has neither. There is the real problem. My wife's choice doesn't scale to other people, who in part look to her as an example.

Anyway, there's something meaningful here about "leadership, performance, and being an example", versus "raw numbers, optimal builds, and the need to succeed".

More Words!

3 thoughts on “Maximum Performance Isn't Always Maximum Fun”

  1. It always comes back to casual versus hardcore, doesn't it? :)

    We all pay our money to play the game in the way that is the most fun to us. Once we align into guilds and set ourselves to take on content, of course, we aren't just impacting our own fun any more.

    I've always said, play the game that is the most fun for you, and adapt your goals for the game accordingly. Of course, doing that second part requires a certain level of self-awareness and game knowledge that some people might have trouble achieving.

  2. The problem with Combat Rogues that I know if is that except for Arena swords, there is no sword equivalent available at current end-game, or so says my husband who is a combat rogue. He had to respec combat daggers for that reason.

    The question of fun versus effectiveness is a tough one. When you're in a raid, you could have fun and ruin the raid. Or you can have fun and do well in the raid. Or you could not have fun and do well in the raid. Obviously, #1 is a self-centered way of looking at the game, and in solo play is 100% fine. But if 9 other people are looking to you to do your job and you don't because you're having fun rather than playing?

    #3 is probably going to burn you out quickly.

    #2 is the best choice, but not something everyone can do equally well. Your wife sounds like the type of rogue who can have fun and at the same time, continue to do their job well.

    The problem, like you said, is how do you tell someone who is having fun and feeling like they're doing a good job and doing the same as someone else… that they're not doing well enough and have to change?

    Sorry if this reply sounds disjointed. It's a random smattering of thoughts I'm trying to put down while my husband is poking me in the side. :P

  3. The problem with going a non-optimal spec is of course that your theoretical damage potential is lower, on a spec like a warlock you might take an affliction warlock for the Malediction (+3% damage to mages + lock + shadow priests), you might take a Retribution Paladin (+3% raid crit, +2% party damage), or you might take an improved expose armour rogue (+x% physical damage, loses 80 personal dps roughly, balances at 2000 physical raid dps, so more than that is a bonus). These off-specs trade their personal dps and role for that of utility, and as such are valued by a raid, its fine in Karazhan if you slack off, everything bar the bosses can be done with 1 tank, 1 dps and 1 healer once your gear level is high enough, in contrast fights like Bloodboil you want to maximise your dps output.

    Rogues simply lack the utility in another build to truly justify not taking combat swords, and if you don't have that utility dropping your dps for "fun" isn't likely to impress the rest of your guild. You wouldn't accept a warrior tanking with his T4 set vs Illidan if he has his T6 because he finds it more fun (well you might if he doesn't get enough rage :P), its the same issue, and I think it should really be addressed. Adding utility to the other builds, or normalising the DPS potential would help massively, giving rogues some kind of good debuff from their different builds such that taking 1 of each build (ok maybe not 1 of each build :P since we might end up with 6 rogues in a raid :P) is a better dps tradeoff than simply reducing the class to 1 spec.

    Its exactly the same as locks, they spec 0/21/40 because thats the dps build, I think its possible for a 0/40/21 build to come close to the 0/21/40 build, but the fragility of the pet makes it inviable. In short, most dps classes need a real reason to spec out of their optimal dps role, and Blizzard hasn't really given them one as yet.

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