Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Healer : Tank : DPS ratio

Triggered by recent discussion here on the eternal "healer shortage" problem many MMORPGs have, Ben wrote me with an interesting proposal: If groups had 7 members instead of 5, there would be more spots for dps classes, and only 14% of players would need to play tanks, and another 14% healers. Problem solved? Not so fast, I'd say.

In my opinion the number of people interested in playing healers or tanks depends on many things, not just small group content. Consider a typical "career" in World of Warcraft, where you start out playing solo, then do 5-man dungeons, later 10-man raids, and maybe one day 25-man raids. The problem is making tanking and healing equally attractive in *all* of these situations. Blizzard already started that process by addressing the first issue, that damage mitigation and healing isn't very effective in solo gameplay, by giving every tank and healer a dps talent tree.

But when you consider the progress from 5 to 10 to 25 man content, you will see that the tank : healer : dps ratio isn't constant. In principle a simple tank and spank boss would just need 1 tank, even in 10- or 25-man raids. Thus Blizzard already had to give most bosses some special abilities which forces a 10-man raid to invite 2 tanks, like some debuff which forces a tank switch. But it is difficult to set up encounters in a way that they require 5 tanks. On the other side, a 10-man raid will often rather take 3 healers than 2, and a 25-man raid also needs more than 5 healers. Thus the bigger the group, the less players are needed as tanks, and the more players are needed as healers.

This is why I, as a casual raider, play a healer as my "raiding character". It isn't as if I wouldn't want to try tanking or dps in raids. But the increased demand for healers when going from solo to 5-man to raiding means there is always an open raid slot for a healer, and I don't feel as if I'm leeching, even if I don't raid on a hardcore schedule. My tank and dps don't have that advantage, and the tank is further hindered by the fact that tank performance more than that of other roles is gear-dependant. Thus a casual raid tank is a badly equipped raid tank, which makes him a bad tank.

So if we made small groups have 7 members, we would need to create 14-man raid groups in which the optimum composition was 2 tanks, 2 healers, and 10 dps. And 28-man raids in which 4 tanks and 4 healers were needed. So how do you design raid boss encounters like that? In a way that comes back to a previous proposition of mine, where I proposed that raid bosses should drop more loot when killed faster; if timing doesn't play a role, but survival is crucial, people will always tend to bring more healers.
Class role ratios being skewed, was discussed as soon as Molten Core was playable. Guilds coming from EverQuest back then were puzzled by WoW's design. In the beginning it did not make sense. EverQuest for a long time scaled class ratios pretty steady. It was easier for EQ cause no talent trees exsisted. Especially the tank role was and i guess is 100% dynamic in EQ. Your offtanks - wich later raids required lots of - could switch into DPS mode instantly and vice versa. It also made sense, cause crowd control was a central element in EverQuest, wich could be solved by many classes, tanks just being one possible solution. WoW needed to cancel that concept, cause EQ-like crowd control would've killed PvP in WoW. Remember enchanters in EQ PvP? Good times.

WoW needed to invent new generic mechanics (kinda the equivalent to EQ's crowd control) to give players tasks outside their DPS roles: welcome your "Move out of the fire" overlords. WoW can not scale class ratios well, cause of PvP, difficulty and "fun" aspects. Let's talk 5 tanks, 5 healers, 20 DPS raids. The only possible solution to keep healers hooked, is to diverse healing tasks. I don't think people would like to single target heal for years and years. On the other end, that would cancel out AE damage and it would make raids trivial. The solution would be to make healers so powerful that 5 of them can cover 5 tanks AND raid wide AE damage. Those kind of healers would be unkillable in PvP.

Blizzard - as usual - looked at their options and reducing tanks openened up the most room for encounter design. As of now it don't like how this turned out 5 years later. Controlling dozens of targets was my personal raid hightlight in EverQuest. The closes thing to this was the 2nd boss in Karzahan. 10 players, 4 targets made a a very intense and dynamic encounter. I don't missed the "Run out of the fire!".

The more pure DPS you add, the more twitchy your encounter design has to be. The Lich King is the best example for that. It's one of my Top-5 worst boss designs in WoW and that's sad but legacy of their choice not to scale class ratios well. It's also my guess, why we won't see large scale PvE in the future of that genere anymore. Cataclysm will mark the end for 25s and i bet TOR won't even offer "raid"-like experiences on that scale too.
The idea of large raids has always bothered me. I have never enjoyed it. I did a 40-man raid once, and it bored me to tears.

I did a few 25-man raids, and it was more bearable than the 40 man, but half the time I didn't know what half of the raid was doing.

At least in 10-man raids, I know what is going on. I'd say I could go up a few over the 10-man experience, maybe 15? or 12....

As for Party sizes, 5 is good for a trinity of roles. If the roles were bumped up to 4, than I imagine 6-7 being more optimal. Interestingly, many role-playing games I played before WoW had teams of 3-4 (yes this includes my D&D experience).

This meant that you'd have a Defender type, a healer type, and a damage type, sometimes with an extra of something (usually a Bard that kept dying, or a Rogue who never unstealthed until the final blow).

In video game RPGs (mostly the jrpgs), you'd have teams of 4, but later in the Playstation era, they were reduced to 3 at a time (Suikoden had 6 at a time though).

Looking at final fantasy 13, and the 13, and the whole shift idea, where someone suddenly becomes a tank, and another becomes a healer, it seams that things are going full circle in the RPG genre.

So where do we go from here? I'm thinking we see what D&D added back into the mix with 4th edition and instill that back into the games.

It wouldn't be the first time Blizzard messed with our classes (Shamans used to be viable tanks while leveling), and I really wouldn't mind a rework on how we group. I haven't played the Lich King battle, but from descriptions, it does sound more twitchy. The whole get out of the fire game play sounds twitchy. Question is how would you add challenge to a raid boss?

In traditional games (see non MMORPG), a boss's difficulty may come in figuring out a weakness, timing attacks while its guard is down, blocking when necessary, etc etc, and this would be with all characters (or in solo games, the main character, who usually plays like a hybrid if you think about it).

To me this means that the future is all classes are hybrids, and all trees are hybrids. This goes back to my idea for how class roles should function in a game, but the more I look at it, the more plausible it seems to being a fix to how the MMO genre as a whole functions.
Pangoria Fallstar said: "At least in 10-man raids, I know what is going on. I'd say I could go up a few over the 10-man experience, maybe 15? or 12...."

I remember doing some Sartharian runs with about 16 people and feeling that was about the perfect size for a raid group.
as far as I see it, the point is not about trying to think of ways to get people to tank/heal, or to design encounters to require it. Rather, since that problem is on the player end (not _wanting_ to do it, for a variety of reasons) then the problem should just be embraced and worked around. Enlarging the "building block" group size would make things more equitable; and in fact in vanilla 10-man dungeons were fairly common at end-game.
Ben, but that assumes that there is a "natural" percentage of people who want to play tank / healer, so the game could be designed to require just this natural rate. I'm not sure that is the case. Very often in MMORPGs players react more to incentives than to some natural inclination.

If I just look at myself, I have a tank and don't play it, because World of Warcraft puts a lot of disincentives into my way. If gearing up a tank would be as easy as gearing up other classes, and there would be actually demand for a casual raiding tank in my guild, I would play one.
I don't think there really is such a thing as a casual tank for raids. Learning a new fight as a tank means wiping your raid. Probably a couple of times. And everyone is going to know it and see it. You fail, they die.

While not standing in the fire is important for DPS, as a tank learning a fight you have to figure out what priority moving has over other things you have to do. For example, on the Iron Council, moving the big dude out of the blue is top priority--you have to recognize the blue circle and get him out of before the buff really gets applied. Contrast that with the Twin Valkyries. When the tank is of the wrong color, so they are going to take damage, the tank ignores it and stays put.

Applying the wrong priority to the wrong mechanic will wipe your raid.
AOE tanking and the removal of CC in wotlk, has made the need of a 3rd tank redundant. In tbc, 25s needed three tanks and three tanks meant more healers. Except only a small percentage of players enjoy tanking and healing so goatcrawler made tanking and healing " easy".

Players who found tanking/healing changelling in tbc now find it boring, dps has become a more challenging role in wotlk.

Making some easier doesn't make it better
Just remember in Vanilla UBRS was a 10 player dungeon, which was generally pugged. I remember it fondly (design, concept, story and artwork as well as playability) except for being outrolled on dal'rends for my hunter. MC and bwl were the 40 player raids (later AQ40 and naxx). Playing those 40's as a capped 60 was epic. Much more so than 25's ever are. 40 feels like a small army working together to win a war. Personally I'd like to see the return of 40 player raids. If larger raid groups can create a better Tank:Healer:DPS ratio then please bring it on.
I'm not worried about the numbers.

I do like your idea about gear drops differing on time to beat the boss. You could also throw in other factors, like the classes that survived, the amount of people who survived total, whether anyone died or not, etc. Maybe even make the bosses drop gear based on the raid encounter makeup.

That could definitely be used to change raid makeup and allow for different fights to call for different classes.

I realize the heroic and achievement modes do this to some extent already, but adding this in as the raid encounter strategy could breathe some new life into what I would consider is boring, stagnant raiding.

It might also change the ratio as an aside.
Isn't the problem really that with tanks and healers, you have to have a minimum number alive to succeed?

ONE goes down and the fight's over. That increases the responsiblity and stress of playing the role, and diminishes the players willing to do it, much less really enjoy it.

I think viable dps/healer and dps/tank classes have to be on the table. Tank goes down, a dps grabs a shield and moves in. Lose a healer, drop your bow and grab a...stethescope(?).

Flexibility on the fly would make hybrid classes more interesting to play. IMO they should also be more difficult to play, as well.

Perhaps it could take some work/time for a max-lvl DPS class to pick up the secondary class abilities? Maybe some base achievement score based on raids to start? Then a fairly involved questline and a requirement to actually tank and heal heroics or something?
Gearing a tank is pretty easy tbh in wotlk. You have the fewest competition for gear of any role, and once you know the magic defense number for your class (which is 0 for druids!) the rest is just stacking stamina while balancing threat/avoidance. There are plenty of incentives now to tank (instant queue LFD anyone?) but people still don't want to do it. Not for game design reasons, but because they want to be able to afk in a zone without anyone caring and they don't want to be killed because other players didn't do their job (healers didn't heal, DPS didn't interrupt, etc.)
It's a good point. My tank does great in heroics. Advancing to raids? No way.

You can still outdamage worse geared players as DPS. As a tank however your gear matters a lot more. Plus as a tank you're required to know the entire instance.

Tanking raids is not exactly "noob friendly"...
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