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.

Continue reading The Downside of Endgame Guilds

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.

Continue reading Raid Sizes and Design Inertia