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.)

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7 thoughts on “Ghostcrawler is WoW Game Design Porn

  1. Wynthea

    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. GoW Post author

      @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. Larísa

    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. Lassirra

    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. GoW Post author

      @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. 2ndNin

    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. GoW Post author

      @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.