Ghostcrawler is WoW Game Design Porn

A few months ago, I wrote my guide to WoW PvE. At the time that I wrote that, Blizzard was tight-lipped in their design. Without their express design goals posted anywhere, everything had to be reverse-engineered from our experience in the game. In other words, my guide was a collection of guesses. I happen to think they're good guesses, but when you get right down to it, the amount of public data regarding those game design decisions I talk about was minimal.

All that's changed recently. Blizzard has a new and official voice speaking to the WoW class community, Ghostcrawler. I say the following with all due gravity: Ghostcrawler's posts are game design porn.

I don't know or understand what motivated the change in their communication policy, but Ghostcrawler is shockingly open and honest about Wrath's design goals (from classes to instances and more) than anything we've seen in this game.

Here's a sample, talking about current issues with Druids (thanks, mmo-champion):

The problem we were trying to solve with Feral was that they could only be 75% of a rogue and 75% of a Prot warrior (to be fair, the warrior part sometimes got to be 102%, but the rogue part never did). We wanted to let people who liked the melee hybrid playstyle keep doing that, while also having true dps and tanking Ferals.

The problem we were trying to solve with Balance was in some ways easier and harder. Balance just needed to get a spot in the group. Balance needed reasonable CC in 5-player instances and good dps, AE, buff capacity and mana-efficiency to be a credible caster. Making sure raids didn't need all 10 or 25 spots devoted to stacking buffs helps open up space as well.

Resto druids are pretty amazing on Live and have a pretty good healer niche. What we wanted to do with them is expand on their healing a little so they had more group-heal capacity and more spells to cast besides rolling Lifebloom.

With regard to PvP, we want to try and get some of the under-represented classes and specs in there more, but that's a much, much harder problem. PvP balance is enormously sensitive to certain small changes and to the presence and absence of certain abilities. We try to avoid just handing out the mandatory abilities to everyone (hello Mortal Strike) for fear that we end up with 10 classes that are just art differences. It's a non-trivial problem to solve, complicated by the fact that testing it is hard and requires not only skilled participants, but also for the rest of the game to be in a really stable state. We've changed the game so much, that I can almost promise that PvP is going to be very different. How, exactly, I'm not sure anyone could say yet. I guarantee that we've broken something for good or ill for at least a couple of classes, because that's the reality of the situation. Hopefully we can be more proactive about fixing problems when they arise.

This is a game design clinic! This isn't company-speak, this is honest-to-goodness game designer talk. She writes three or more posts like this a day. Insanity! I could write a whole blog just discussing her statements and the expansive view they offer of WoW design. This stuff is rocking my world.

I'm not saying I need a box of tissues every morning when I read mmo-champion, but how is everyone not excited about this kind of open discussion?

The ongoing design and mechanical adjustment of the most successful MMO in the world is happening right before our eyes. Did the change in communication policy just go unnoticed?

The downside is that there are going to be more emotional reactions of well-intentioned but single-class minded people. A more open conversation about game design means that people can just read the news that affects their class, not read the rest, and then infer only bad news. For some people, the continuation of what they have an emotional investment in is more important than an improved overall system. An open design discussion is unlikely to make this kind of person happier.

However, if you're a fan of the whole game, the kind of person looking at all the pieces fitting together, then Ghostcrawler's posts mean that you can see those pieces much clearer than before, and gain a better feel as to how the whole system is going. If you care to, you can know more while guessing less. As a former raid leader, former guild leader, and permanent system geek, this is exactly what I like to see. This is the biggest surprise of the whole Wrath buildup.

By the way, in my opinion, the game is looking better than ever.

(Disclaimer: I link BBB and Wyn because I'm a fan of both and I read what they write, but I disagree with those two posts in particular and they're good examples of what I'm getting at.)

More Words!

7 thoughts on “Ghostcrawler is WoW Game Design Porn”

  1. No, you're totally right, I'm VERY single-class focused, and emotional about my class to boot. But, although I will remain quite a single-issue player (Holy Priest PvE), some good, open communication on the matter WOULD mollify me significantly. Unfortunately, Ghostcrawler hasn't made her (yup. GC is a she) presence known in my neck of the woods.

    Hopefully she will soon. Meanwhile, just getting my QQing out of my system has gone a long way towards emo reduction.

    Cheers!

    1. @Wynthea – Gah! I even remember reading that GC was a she! My main's a holy priest too, and I'm hoping every day for her to swing around our way and dropping some knowledge. :)

  2. This was indeed very intresting. I don't read the official forums much, I've definitly got to check out the posts by Chostcrawler. I hope there's something about mages as well.

  3. It seems to me that perhaps Blizzard has discovered and capitalized on something few other game companies do: making sweeping changes to classes people have played for the better part of three years can be a bitter pill to swallow, but when players see a logical explanation of why the changes are being made and what's being done to make sure the changes are adequately balanced engenders a lot more trust in the development team.

    Players respond much more positively when presented with the why. It's easier to place trust in devs when you can see and understand the logic they've used to make the changes and what other changes may be in store for us as a result. Seeing the emphasis Ghostcrawler has put on class balance in his discussions, as well as the honest acknowledgment that they aren't necessarily sure what obscure impacts to game-play the changes might have but that they're watching for them diligently and will address them promptly when they do arise is comforting.

    They say the key to a good relationship is communication. It would seem that Blizzard may finally have taken this to heart. I say it's a step in the right direction.

  4. As a player I really appreciate them doing this (well GC at least, not seen so many other posters on at 1am giving us hints :P), however it would be nice if they would post on the EU forums or give us some hints, there are so many areas that we could give more appropriate feedback or ideas in if we knew what direction they were heading in, instead because we are left in the dark and guessing we just leave semi-random feedback and hope it gets seen in the chaff.

    I would love to see more game developers getting involved with us, while I know its really a one way street, the number of hours logged and played by the players and the ideas that get presented offer many unique and feasible ideas for the game.

    1. @2ndNin – Blizzard forums should be global. I never understood the design in splitting per region. I remember the first time that I read a class guide on the European forums and thinking, "why are they splitting these communities?"

      I hope that Blizzard people like GC are the start of a new direction and not just one awesome person. I guess we'll find out over time.

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