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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