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.

    1. @Lassirra — I agree entire­ly. I’m hop­ing that GC sticks around after the Wrath launch and talks just as open­ly about instance and raid con­tent and bal­anc­ing.

  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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