The Downside of Endgame Guilds

I’ve been read­ing Tobold and Pot­shot late­ly. They’re talk­ing about loot and game design as it relates to endgame guilds, specif­i­cal­ly guild hop­ping and pro­gres­sion prob­lems due to it. I haven’t seen a decent expla­na­tion of the prob­lem, but as a guild officer/leader I’ve seen it in action twice now, once with the orig­i­nal WoW endgame and now with the TBC endgame. I don’t have a solu­tion, but I can frame the problem.

For me, the most fun time in WoW is right after an expan­sion hits, when there’s lim­it­ed col­lec­tive endgame explo­ration. All the con­tent is new and fresh, then I find myself group­ing with not just my long-term guild friends, but also my friends who left to get on the pro­gres­sion roller coast­er. It’s glo­ri­ous! This is what the first two months of TBC was like.

Then, endgame progress starts to hap­pen, and a tiered sys­tem begins to form.

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Take the Group Role

If you like to group in these big social MMORPG games, then choose the hard but essen­tial role, what­ev­er that role may be.

In World of War­craft, my pri­ma­ry char­ac­ter is a heal­ing priest. My close run­ner-up is a pro­tec­tion war­rior. Say what you want about inabil­i­ty to solo, but every sin­gle time I log on, I’m asked to group. Every sin­gle time.

My dps friends tell me how hard it is to get a group, or how many groups get four play­ers but nev­er get that last per­son because they need either a tank or a heal­er and nev­er end up find­ing one. I can imag­ine how they feel, but I do not under­stand these peo­ple. Once you have seen that groups always stall on tanks and heal­ers, then why not just solve the prob­lem? That’s how I start­ed tank­ing, and I grew to enjoy it near­ly as much as heal­ing, and cer­tain­ly more than dps’ing. Instanc­ing is one of the most fun parts of the game, and when you’re a need­ed role, you have the abil­i­ty to write your own tick­et for group­ing and raid­ing forever­more. But more than that, I enjoy the fact that I make groups any time I want.

Let me try an anal­o­gy. If you’re of legal age of con­sent and enjoy hav­ing sex, then when you go to an engi­neer­ing col­lege (typ­i­cal­ly around 6:1 male-to-female ratio), would you rather be a guy or a girl?

This anal­o­gy did­n’t real­ly pan out like I hoped. Let me try again.

Pic­ture a loose­ly-orga­nized foot­ball league where there are fif­teen teams and only five quar­ter­backs. How do you think those five quar­ter­backs are treat­ed when they show up at the field? That’s right, they get to have hot engi­neer sex as often as they want and they get to be choosy about what jer­sey they wear.

Just like tanks and heal­ers do. This is your guild and your server.

The down­side is that you solo at 30–80% the speed of a pure dps class. This isn’t as bad as you’ve heard, unless you’re absolute­ly in love with grind­ing. Even on my lit­tle pro­tec­tion war­rior who’s dual-wield­ing, I can go fast enough if not fast. Just be sure that in all those instances you’re run­ning that you grab unwant­ed dps gear that’s appro­pri­ate for your char­ac­ter. And hon­est­ly, if you’re not a com­plete social mis­fit, you’ll prob­a­bly have game friends who will group with you for dailies or oth­er solo con­tent because you group with them. If you do love grind­ing (or you are a social mis­fit), then just have a dps alt. Who does­n’t have a hunter in their pock­et nowadays?

I’m not say­ing that dps isn’t fun. It is, and it’s very relax­ing as well. I have a hunter who I bat­tle­ground with, and it’s a great time. But if group­ing is what you like best, then why would you want to com­pete with the mil­lions of oth­er hunter­s/rogues/war­lock­s/­mages/hy­brid-dps spec peo­ple for the large num­ber of dam­age spots in a raid/instance, when you can just walk into the big-leagues by being a role where demand is far greater than sup­ply? My guild is per­pet­u­al­ly short on tanks, we’ll take any­one with 9k base life and the abil­i­ty to fog a mir­ror. I’m exag­ger­at­ing, but dip into the Guild Recruit­ment chan­nel and you’ll see this mes­sage in the first ten minutes:

X of Y is raid­ing Z con­tent and is look­ing for a offtank/maintank/healer to join and “raid casually”/“raid five nights a week”/“oh god please join us, I don’t care if you’re an alt of anoth­er toon in anoth­er guild, just give some back­up to drop cross-eyed-Joey the holy pal­ly alt who still looks for his Mend Pet button”.

Heck, even my dps wife loves that I’m a tank/healer com­bo, because our group is already half-made when­ev­er we want to run togeth­er. Her pri­ma­ry alt is a druid heal­er. And while she’s still warm­ing up to heal­ing, she loves the ease at which she can find a group.

So make your next alt project a tank or a heal­er, and get to the hot engi­neer sex.

There is no healing spreadsheet

A rogue in my guild is work­ing on mak­ing a com­pe­tent heal­ing priest alt. He asked me where the priest spread­sheet is. Like how you actu­al­ly know for cer­tain, the way a rogue can just say “Well, this sword is just flat-out bet­ter than that one because I put them both in the rogue dps spread­sheet and the answer is: the new one yields +10 dps.” I answered, “Ha ha.”

Heal­ing is much hard­er to diag­nose than tank­ing or dps is. I mean, triv­ial­ly the ques­tion for heal­ing is: Did we wipe? If yes, the prob­lem might be heal­ing, or it might be lack of exe­cu­tion or under­stand­ing of the event. If no, then you did fine. That’s it. Bonus points for nobody dying.

When you’re a dps’er, every choice regard­ing gear and tal­ents and so on can be boiled down to one ques­tion (two if you’re advanced):

  • Sim­ple: Am I per­son­al­ly doing more damage?
  • Advanced: Am I mak­ing the group/raid’s total dam­age out­put higher?

For each event, the raid has X time to do Y dam­age with Z con­straints, now get to it. You can run Recount or Recap or any num­ber of oth­er tools to diag­nose dam­age. It’s triv­ial. You put on a new piece of gear, go raid, and then say,

“Well, I thought bonus crit rat­ing this would help, but my miss rate went up by 2% and I did less over­all dam­age. Guess I’m back to this weak­er look­ing +hit rat­ing blue.”

As far as research, a class’s dps is bro­ken down into a for­mat sim­i­lar to this: If you are build A, stack stat/rating B until Bmax, then stack C stat/rating infi­nite­ly. For frost mages it’s “stack spell hit until the spell cap, then spell haste and spell dam­age infinitely”.

Tank­ing is hard­er than that. You’re try­ing to both keep aggro and not die. Keep­ing aggro is about gen­er­at­ing threat, which also has par­tic­u­lar gear choic­es, but more or less works like doing dam­age (stack hit rat­ing, exper­tise, spell hit, shield block, attack pow­er, and shield block val­ue in var­i­ous amounts depend­ing on which kind of tank you are). Not dying involves a few vari­ables like sta­mi­na and avoid­ance, as well as pre­vent­ing as much of the spike dam­age as you can. There are trade­offs to be made, but you have a max­i­mum health total that’s easy to see, an avoid­ance rate that’s easy to com­pute. You know you’re doing the right amount of threat if your raid does­n’t have to hold back on dam­age. You bal­ance accordingly.

Heal­ing? Like tank­ing, the suite of stats changes between classes–some mix of heal­ing, mp5, spir­it, intel­lect, and spell crit. But the act of heal­ing depends entire­ly on each par­tic­u­lar event. Your tank might get crushed, get hit nor­mal­ly, block, or dodge. Every­one in your raid might take steady, con­stant dam­age. Your tank might nev­er drink potions or use health­stones. Your dps might get cleaved by the boss for stand­ing in the wrong place. Your job is not just to heal the tank, it’s to patch the mis­takes in mid-event.

Also, two dif­fer­ent attempts on the same boss with the same raid can go com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent­ly just due to the inher­ent ran­dom­ness of some events. Think of Ilhoof in Kara. If a heal­er gets sac­ri­ficed, it’s extreme­ly tough on the remain­ing heal­ers for those ten sec­onds. If not, that’s nine min­utes of (heal­ing) plea­sure! Switch­ing one piece of gear in that event, and most oth­ers… you can’t actu­al­ly tell if it mat­ters. You just know that a high­er val­ue in your key stats is better.

On top of all of that, in raids you also must instant­ly and silent­ly adjust to the heal­ing style of the peo­ple around you so that you’re not wast­ing group efforts. That abil­i­ty to adjust is the whole essence of raid healing–it can’t be quan­ti­fied and it does­n’t show up on your char­ac­ter sheet. If I was going to land a slow, mana-effi­cient heal for 5000 and some­one else throws in a mana-inef­fi­cient 2000 heal, caus­ing me to over­heal by 2000 and waste that time and mana, who’s fault is it? (Trick ques­tion, it does­n’t mat­ter. That’s wast­ed mana on some­one’s part, and if you don’t work it out, the raid will wipe at some point due to your col­lec­tive waste of mana.)

So giv­en how neb­u­lous and ran­dom and instinc­tive heal­ing is, how can you tell that you’re doing bet­ter by swap­ping one item for anoth­er? You can’t tell, because you can’t run tests out­side of com­bat. Your heals might hit for a tiny bit less or more, but the actu­al trade off between 6 mp5 and 22 heal­ing? Can’t tell. Your playstyle influ­ences your gear selec­tion more than oth­er roles. Dam­age deal­ers just do dam­age, and every piece of gear they have is about doing more dam­age. There’s no opin­ion as to whether 900 dam­age is more than 800 dam­age. Tanks want to sur­vive and gen­er­ate threat, that’s their balance.

A heal­er who loves mana regen­er­a­tion is going to cast weak­er heals con­tin­u­ous­ly, and make it work. A heal­er who loves larg­er heals is going to try to time their larg­er heals cor­rect­ly so they aren’t wast­ing mana, and make it work. The final grade is: Did we win? Yes. Great, your gear and spec is cor­rect for that event!

Most of us just learn the stats that are nec­es­sary for our build (for exam­ple, spell crit plus heal­ing plus mp5 for a holy pal­adin), and try to get decent lev­els of all of them.

So unfor­tu­nate­ly, there is no heal­ing spread­sheet. This leads to the huge learn­ing curve in learn­ing to heal (and tank), but that’s anoth­er article.

Raid Sizes and Design Inertia

When I was raid lead in vanil­la wow, I arranged and lead many many runs on Molten Core, a few on Black­wing Lair, and many in Zul’Gu­rub and AQ20. When news of The Burn­ing Cru­sade’s reduc­tion in raid size came out, that the new raids would be 25 and 10, I cheered. My guild thought I was being sar­cas­tic (a rea­son­able guess), but hon­est­ly I was thrilled. I still am. Larg­er raids are for masochists.

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