Tobold's Blog
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The big boost to healers and tanks

Patch 3.3 is a huge paradigm change for World of Warcraft, reversing a long trend away from groups. By making groups easier to find and more rewarding, without diminishing the attractiveness of solo content, the developers made WoW better for all play style preferences. One consequence of this change is that the roles of healers and tanks are made more popular, and given a huge boost. Healers and tanks being inherently disadvantaged in solo content, as many of their spells and abilities for healing and aggro management are useless there, automatically profit more from a rise in popularity of group content. But part of the boost to healers and tanks comes from particular details of the current situation of WoW and the new LFG system.

One important aspect is simple statistics. With solo content having been so predominant and dps classes doing so much better there, the demographics of World of Warcraft have shifted towards dps. Thus if the average player joins a pickup group with the new LFG system and hovers his mouse over the little icon next to the mini-map, he’ll most likely see an incomplete group, with the three dps slots being taken, but waiting for either a healer, a tank, or both. A healer or tank using the same LFG system is more likely to take the last slot, and instantly find a group without having to wait around. This already should increase the popularity of playing a healer or tank role. Many of the current dps players actually have a hybrid class, and with the help of dual spec could change roles to healer or tank. Or they might have an alt. It has often been said that the only real currency in a MMORPG is time, and avoiding waiting queues could be a powerful motivator of moving towards a healing or tanking role.

The other big advantage of a healer or tank in a pickup group is a lot trickier, because it is based on trust. People inherently mistrust pickup groups, for obvious reasons: The rewards of doing a random heroic with random strangers are very much concentrated at the end; you get your emblems and the best loot from killing the last boss. If your pickup group wipes due to the incompetence of another player, it is likely to disintegrate, and you’ll have wasted your time without ever getting the big reward. A pickup group requires trust, but the tricky part is that the trust requirement isn’t equal for all participants: A tank or a healer who is inattentive for 5 seconds is far more likely to cause a wipe than a dps player. The healer and tank each have a unique role, which makes them carry more individual responsibility, while the dps players have a shared responsibility between the three of them to provide the required damage output. A single underequipped or slacking dps player is less of a risk to a pickup group than an underequipped or slacking tank or healer. Now most players are confident in them not messing up, but have trust issues with the other 4 players in a pickup group, particularly the tank and healer, due to those roles higher risk as explained above. So if you play a dps, you need to trust two players very much; but if you play a tank or healer, you only need to trust one other player very much, as you have the other important role covered.

The way the new LFG system works is important here. Previously dps players were able to get around trust issues by only inviting other players which were overgeared and already had the achievement for beating the dungeon, proving they knew the place and could do it. The new system doesn’t allow for such cherry-picking. This is great for let’s say the tank who wants to do a heroic for the first time, and needs some gear from there, because previously he simply wouldn’t have been invited, even if he was perfectly capable of doing the job. But for the dps player it requires a bigger leap of faith, because he now needs to trust a stranger, potentially even from a different server, without being able to check his gear and achievements first. If that dps player has an alt, or plays a hybrid class, he has the option to overcome half of his trust problem by taking over the role of tank or healer himself, which is another reason why more people might be willing to do so now.

I have a mental image of a significant number of my readers suffering from such trust issues and now making a distinctly unhappy face at the thought of pickup groups playing a larger role in World of Warcraft in the future. But in reality the reputation of pickup groups suffers from selective memory: If you do 10 pickup groups, you’ll remember the one which went horribly wrong, and forget the 9 who succeeded. And of course pickup groups in the past also suffered from being mostly endgame heroics groups, with some players trying them having soloed all the way to the level cap, and simply not proficient in group play. By making lower level groups easier to find and more rewarding, in the future it will be more likely that a freshly minted level 80 player will already have some group experience, and perform less badly. WoW players all tend to think of themselves as being good players, and everybody else outside their circle of friends being incompetent slackers and idiots. A quick reality check should allow you see that this simply can’t be true, and that you are statistically most likely to be an average player, with most random strangers being similarly skilled as you are. If you keep an open mind, pickup groups offer you the possibility to see how other people really play, potentially learn from them, and even make new friends.

I think the new patch 3.3 system is well designed to entice people into groups, and overcome these trust issues, and both the reputation and success rate of pickup groups will improve with time. And by doing so the popularity of healer and tank roles will improve, so that one day we might overcome the long-standing shortage of healers and tanks.
not to forget the new "kick player by vote" system, if someone is really under stuffed to do the run 4 votes will kick him and you only have to use the new LFG system to find another guy, did it at the last boss yesterday, worked like a charm.

Damn I really love 3.3
I am excited about the new LFG function as I really want to heal with my baby level 44 priest rather than solo.

So far, my PuG experience has been mixed, but if the group can down the target boss, the rewards are pretty good.

Those two things combined mean I'll probably be LFGing with her all the way to level cap.

If I recall, and I may be wrong here, but the I thought the new LFG system compares gear to ensure people are of more-or-less equal to prevent the undergeared tank from running with TOC/Ulduar dps.
I'm a big proponent of this system. Being a mainspec tank for years, it hasn't been hard to get a group to run the daily heroic in ages, except once last week. There were NO healers ready to go and it took twenty minutes before the mage in the group caved and offered to go on his paladin, which we all thanked him for. Now with this system I have a group in 30 seconds or less, and don't even have to fly over to summon. Love it. Also saw DPS complain in trade chat that it's been over 10 minutes without a group, and I chuckle.
You could argue that the average PUG players is actually of lower skill, since anyone above-average will likely be in a guild of like-minded players. Exceptions exist of course, but good players tend to find each other, and they will need that steady group (guild) to progress through content that is at their level (raiding).

Add in the increased skill needed for tanking/healing, the general shortage of those roles that many guilds are always trying to fill, and perhaps this change will simply highlight the demand and skill shortage of both roles.
Overall it seems to be an improvement but there are still limitations. If you want to do an achievment the new system doesn't help at all. Pugs rarely want to take the extra time or they simply fail. Also, some achievements benefit from a specific class and you are still forced to spam the trade channel.

I have also tried the raid finder and no one seems to use it -- even for the weekly. Do they need to make it easier to find on the interface?

"vote-kick" is handy for groups who do not like the leader. Now, if he's a jerk, he's gone!

My only regret is that all the instant teleporting to and from instances leaves you somehow feeling disconnected from the actual world. I did all three new dungeons and still don't even know where they are!
Me, I hope the tank and healer shortage never goes away. I am quite comfortable with the role of being the attentive guy who keeps the party alive. I have a tanking pally and a healing priest at level 80, which has always made me incredibly popular when finding a group. :)
I have yet to have any major problems. There have been some poorly geared new 80s and some healers who needed to drink "Stop drinking when I need to pull!" but overall I've had an excellent experience.

@Sircefire: Maybe it checks that DPS aren't higher than tanks, but I have tanked for people in mostly greens and I'm in a mix of high-low epics.

@syncaine: And when my guildies are all in groups already? How about if I want to meet new people?

@Shawno: It depends on the group. I've gotten a few to try some achievements.
I do not believe people are unwilling to group. But if they are like me, they do not want their "fun" dictated by the vicisitudes of others. Anything that makes group formation easier though, is a HUGE plus. I will happily group if there are tools available that make that easier, and the new LFG is the first update of that I hope we see.

There are times that people just want to log in and do their thing without having to rely on others. As I've said previously I refuse to believe that developers can not cater to both play styles. WoW has seemingly done well enough so far.
the new tool is a great start for making heroic runs faster. My only desire is that in addition to the gear-checker for the ToC/ICC 5-mans is that they implement a "gear matcher," so that fresh 80s are more often grouped with other undergeared 80s, and well-geared "badge farmers" are more often grouped with their peers. My understanding of the way it works now is with the exception of the newest 5-mans, matching is a bit of a roulette.
LOL, not that I play WOW these days, but I have a room mate that is cursing the new LFG. The problem is that she's leveling a new toon but is a long time hardcore raider. So she knows how the various classes are supposed to interact in a party.

It sounds like she's in Valkurm Dunes (FFXI newbie zone where the basics of party coordination are learned by at a low level) on a level 65+ toon which is hillarious to overhear.

I suspect that this is the result of not making party mechanics attractive at lower levels so that by the time the players are 60+ they know how parties are supposed to work.
My experience as a DPS LFG (Heroic) for the new instances was an indefinite wait time.

When I spec my warrior as a tank. I found a Heroci group instantaneously.

But the DPS was terrible. As a tank in Tier 8 level gear I was 3rd and sometimes 2nd on the DPS chart and the top DPS was only 2.3K. Basically, the Healer and I were carrying the group through very long trash fights.

I like the connivence of the LFG systems but the realities haven't changed much. Every group is like the old trade chat - "LF tank then good to go!"
That sounds too optimistic to me.

I doubt that this new system will change much. As you say picking healing/tanking is about taking responsibility. Personally I hate to lead a pug so I'll still refrain from doing it unless if I know the content by heart.

We'll see how it turns out.
I used to know how to tank and heal in groups in EQ, where I played both a max-level Cleric and a max-level SK for a couple of years. Back then, gear was important, but knowing what you were doing counted for more.

Nowadays I am completely put off grouping as either Healer or Tank in most MMOs because of the stultifying obsession with perfection. There were so many reckless, hopeless or plain insane players we played with over and over because they were good company. Most of them we met in PUGs.

I really hope this new device brings some of that fun back, but given the way that modern MMO players seem to take what they do so painfully seriously I doubt it.
Well, I've finally managed to get a chance to test the new LFG tool. On the plus side, there's no doubt that it gets you a group way quicker than you otherwise would have done, so if you're grinding badges, it's very efficient.

But... but...

It's all so soulless. I'm from an RP server and I'm used to talking to my fellow players during a run. Either IC or OOC to discuss tactics. There's none of that in these new groups, as they don't match players from RP servers together. The groups hardly talk at all. Just blat, blat, blat, collect loot, leave.

So the new tool promotes some aspects of grouping (combined force tactics), but seems to have killed the actual social aspect of it. I'm not sure that's for the long term good of the game, as you no longer meet new friends in the frenzied rush for loot.

Perhaps the answer is to pool together similar servers (e.g. all RP together, all RP-PVP together, etc).
1. Tanking and healing are thankless jobs. Everyone blames deaths on the healer (especially the kind of idiot that pulls aggro). People are very quick to dismiss a tank based on gear before the first pull even. (Although to be fair, this is a problem with WoW's gearing system for tanks. If you are not capped in certain things and have fairly decent gear going in, you probably CAN'T tank heroics.) On the other hand, most people won't say anything about a mediocre DPS as long as they aren't pulling aggro and getting people killed.

2. DPS matters...but only usually on the end boss. The final boss in a typical heroic requires at least 50% more DPS than the rest of the instance can be passed with. It is entirely possible that your incompetent DPS will not be an issue until you have wasted an hour clearing the rest of the instance.

3. Fun with statistics! If 20% of all players are idiots, you have just under a 60% chance that at least one of the four people in your group will be incompetent.

Be prepared for plenty of frustration.
Tanks and healers being at a disadvantage for solo content may have some part in it but these days things are made really easy with dual-spec and for example prot warriors actually kicking pretty much ass in soloing so it seems to me like that problem is mostly in the past now.

I've always thought it has more to do with the added responsibility you have when playing the critical roles but of course it may be vanity talking since I've always strived to either tank or heal. In any case, personally I feel playing a DPS in an instance there is no pressure like there's when you are tanking or healing which might not have something to do with their relative popularity.
If someone complains that every pickup group they are in are terrible, I make the point that the one constant factor out of those pickup groups is the player that is doing the complaining. Personally, I PUGed a lot before and after the patch and only a small number were failures. Some might have been a bit slower because players had to play better (eg. use cc and proper tactics) rather than aoe'ing everything down.

Just the other day I was in a PUG that was struggling a bit, no wipes, but it was messy. One of the DPS rage quit over how bad the PUG was. We got another DPS in and things went much smoother. No deaths, dungeon cleared. The new guy did average DPS, so it wasn't he carried the group. Now I wasn't paying attention to why we were so bad at the start and it may not have been the fault of the rage quitting player, but the impression of the player was certainly would not have been an accurate reflection of the group's capabilities.
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