Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
 
World of Warcraft skill

Dee from Lost in Azeroth ponders what makes MMORPGs hard, what skills you need to play them. I like her list, but I think that not having actually played Everquest she wrongly judges EQ as not needing any of those skills and just being a grind, comparable to weeding a garden. I think she got that one the wrong way round, so I'll have a look at her list and apply it to World of Warcraft:

#1. They require long-term planning: I would agree that principally you need some long-term planning, e.g. asking yourself whether you want to play a healer, tank, or dps. Unfortunately over the years in World of Warcraft it turns out that this long-term planning is frequently sabotaged by Blizzard's patches. For example if you always want to play the class and spec that gives the highest damage per second, you will be continuously frustrated, because every patch nerfs the strongest class and makes some weaker class stronger. When I rolled my priest, I did so with a long-term plan to be the best healer possible, but over the years other classes were often better as healer. In exchange I suddenly find myself in Cataclysm having one of the strongest DPS classes, an option not even remotely considered when I created that character. A friend of mine plays a warlock, and he paused WoW for 2 years during WotLK because he couldn't stand that his character was suddenly the worst damage dealer around. So, long-term planning and WoW, not a good match.

#2. They require short-term strategy: If I took the list of Dee's example questions here ("What button should I press next? What synergy can I get between skills? What gear should I equip? Is there a spell this mob is particularly weak to?") and posted it on a WoW forum as question, somebody would first insult me as a n00b and then direct me towards Elitist Jerks. In World of Warcraft there are rarely mobs that are particularly weak to specific spells, thus the question which gear to choose and which spell rotation / priority list gives the best result has a single and unique answer. Yes, that is a "short-term strategy", or rather "tactics", but modern World of Warcraft does *not* require you to figure those tactics out. Nor does it require you to figure out boss tactics. You not only *can*, but are actually *expected to* to have looked up the best possible answer on the internet.

#3. They require resource management: Many of the resources Dee mentions are gold. Her question of "should I use my last health potion?" actually should never come up, unless you are woefully unprepared. During most of the game, the leveling part, gold tends to be not a problem at all, and once you reach the raiding part, you should know how to make enough of the stuff to pay for repairs and flasks. Mana management does exist, but only for healers (which is why I play one). If you'd suggest using spirit gear for your mage for better mana regeneration, you'd be laughed at.

#4. They require people skills: This is actually the one point where most people complain about World of Warcraft: WoW *doesn't* require people skills for a huge majority of the game. Not only can you level up to the cap solo, but you can use the automated Dungeon Finder and the Auction House to avoid having to use people skills when interacting with other players. You might need people skills for raiding, but even there I have seen obvious examples of people who raided with no people skills at all. People skills are at best secondary, most raid leaders would rather invite the less nice but better performing player than the other way around. Trade chat invites demand gearscore, not number of friends.

I would say that Everquest had all these skill requirements far more than World of Warcraft. A character that levels up much slower and doesn't have a convenient dual-spec option requires more long-term planning. There being less people analyzing all the options and posting them on the internet ends up with players having to do more of the short-term strategy. Resource management is more important when resources play a bigger role in the game. And if you need other people for most of the content and can't be grouped with them automatically, you need more people skills.

The fundamental problem with World of Warcraft is that you can do nearly everything without having any of these skills. And then there is raiding, where the required skill-set consists mainly of memorizing a dance for each boss and executing that dance perfectly. I totally agree that this is "a skill", but it is a skill which is more akin to completely different video game genres than to pre-WoW MMORPGs or even other computer RPGs.

Thought experiment: Take two people of equal talent who never have played World of Warcraft or any other MMORPG before. Let the one train various action arcade video games. Let the other train various games requiring long-term strategy, short-term tactics, resource management, and people skills. Give both identical information from Elitist Jerks and whatever raid-boss killing site. And then let them both try a raid in World of Warcraft. Which one of them will perform better? I think the guy who trained action arcade game skills will do significantly better than the guy who trained strategy games skills.

Again, I'm not saying that action arcade game skills aren't "skills". But I would claim that there is some bait & switch fraud involved: When you start World of Warcraft you are under the impression that this is a game about long-term strategy, short-term tactics, resource management, and people skills. Only once you reach the level cap you find out that actually it isn't, and that you now need a completely different skill set, which was never trained or demanded from you before in the game. I could imagine two very different MMORPGs, both being better than WoW: The first being a game where you need arcade action game skills from level 1, getting increasingly difficult until you get to something looking very much like WoW raiding. The second being a MMORPG which starts like WoW, and which ends with some sort of gameplay which *still* requires planning and strategy and tactics and resource management, but no twitch skills whatsoever.
Comments:
I know its irrelevant but what you are describing kinda brings to mind RTS games (like warcraft3 ladder) where one does indeed need all of the 3 first skills in exceptional level but in that case of course the fourth one has no meaning since i am not talking of an MMO game :P
 
I would say that long term planning is the bane of WoW's existance in more ways than you describe here, Tobold.

If I were to start counting, I could never reach the number of ways that each expansion has affected me on a personal level. I would say that the ability to make adjustments to ones playstyle, in light of the changes that each new expansion brings, is and should be considered a skill in its own right.

How the hell does one "plan" on making playstyle adjustments in an expansion such as TBC? The insane rep grind, the acquisition of keys to unlock heroics and raids and the stress management when it comes to a GM's job of trying to juggle guildmates acquisition of said rep/keys.....it was a feckin nightmare, to say the least.

Skill is relative to the task at hand, and subjective to each player. The social expectations within a guild forces the players to take a certain path if raiding is on the menu, so the social importance of "skill" can manifest itself in MANY different ways depending upon the player, the needs of the guild, and the progression dynamics of each situation.

Everything else is just a "timesink", meaning that gathering and crafting only require a certain amount of time to be invested before a milestone is attained, so attempting to establish a definition of a "required skill" in that sense is folly.

The incorporation of Badges/Points and whatnot, along with the LFD tool, totally redefined the subset of required "social skills" that players were required to use in order to establish and maintain "progression" - from a content standpoint.

The problem with WoW, and EQ(from what I gather), is that the "toolset" given to a player to manage all of these things, was diminished and/or watered down over time, leading to the issues we now see with time management and goal attainment.
 
In my opinion, and I think your thoughts support it, we should stop talking that much about "skill, challenge or difficulty" and start talking more about "depth of experience".
 
This draws me to my previous comment that the tactical/management game exists for raid leaders who are choosing raid members, planning which approach to try and examining logs between each attempt to see the raid can be successful.

(http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=5584578&postID=2977892822839332152)

Most people never see this side of the game, as they find the dancing hard enough...
 
The skills required to play a MMO rely heavily on how the player chooses to play the game and what goals they have.

In WoW, a way to introduce strategy and tactics is to group with players of lesser experience/gear and try to succeed despite the group's weaknesses.

A goal for some WoW players is to have a level cap alt for every class. Being able to do that in a timely manner requires a lot of resource management and long-term planning.

Because WoW can be a very game-directed experience, players tend to think the game can only be enjoyed when played in a certain way and with defined goals (character progression thru raiding and acheivements). With a little creativity, I think that a player with any kind of skill set can enjoy a game like WoW. You just have to be able to ignore all the people that tell you that you're playing the game 'wrong'.
 
You just have to be able to ignore all the people that tell you that you're playing the game 'wrong'.

It goes further than that. These people consider the way they play a complete lifestyle, and react extremely hostile if anyone opts out of that.

For example somebody linked my post where I said that I wasn't planning on raiding in Cataclysm to the MMO-Champion forums, and that resulted in such an outburst of hate, rage, and insults, that even the normally quite liberal MMO-Champion forum moderators decided to lock the thread.

So not only are there people who want to tell you that you are playing the game "wrong", but they also perceive any statement on how you play differently as a direct attack on *them* playing it "wrong" and react with intense anger. There is a distinctive lack of "to everybody their own" culture.
 
Interesting rebuttal to Dee's post, Tobold. Though I feel your view of the WoW elder game is slightly pessimistic (I can't blame you, I share the sentiment in many ways), it's noteworthy to point out that focusing on difficulty in MMOs (and WoW specifically) is perhaps the wrong approach.

MMOs are designed to be complex. Difficulty stems from the inherent challenge associated with complexity.

The fact is that as players stick to a particular game, while the intrinsic complexity will remain the same, it is not translated into a challenge or difficulty to the player at the same rate. Difficulty diminishes over time.

This is where much of the fallout with World of Warcraft stems from, with there being both a highly dedicated crowd of fans as well as a disgruntled majority that deems the game too easy and too simple. The game is simply dated, with many players having outgrown the game and it's designed complexity.

I elaborate a little bit more in my own blog post.
 
MMOs are designed to be complex, yes, but they are also painfully predictable. That means they can be completely deconstructed, their workings laid bare for everyone to min/max.

Take WoW loot tables. You can check wowhead, make a list, and only hit up mobs that drop loot you want. I suppose that's an intellectual pursuit, but it's not much harder than making a grocery list. Not to mention the list has already been made for you.

The problems the game poses are not personalized to each player; they are static, and generalized for all players, making each intellectual "victory" less meaningful.
 
I actually think there is a fair amount of depth in WoW, but addons and information on websites even this out a lot.

Frex, there are rare spawns on a several hour long cooldown (similar to EQ), but they aren't required for quests because it's annoying and there are addons and websites that make finding them pretty trivial.

I also think we don't really know how to measure difficulty any more except in terms of speed (you can see Blacksen comparing clicks per minute in WoW vs SC2 here. Even in EQ your need to plan in advance is mollified now by countless website, character builders and online advice as to which classes are most needed.

I noticed this with Rift already because there are some puzzles available as easter eggs in zones -- Rift junkies already has details on them complete with maps and guidance.

I feel there is a conflict between players who like to think that everything they do in game will count in some way at endgame, right down to decisions or content they finished 5 years ago, and new players coming to a game later who need to be able to catch up. It may be that at the end of the day, WoW achievements are the right way to deal with this - make it count in a way that obv doesn't count

And yet when they start advertising Titan, expect there to be a way to get some initial advantage by cashing in your WoW achievement points.

So my point is that we'll actually never know how hard WoW is compared to games like EQ because of addons.
 
Long term planning in EVE is a key factor. You need to realize the dependencies of some of the skills, make sure you'll have enough ISK to buy the ship and the fit whaen skills are ready.

Tactical planning is only ok in PVP - making tactical decisions when you actually know exactly what the computer controlled opoonents will do is not that tactical. Your tactics are mostly an extension of the overall strategy. In PVP though the commanders of fleets and squad leaders have to really know what they're doing and the tactical skill requirements are gigantic there. It's the same with logistics and market in EVE - tactical planning is important.

Resource management - ammo/capacitor during combat and ISK/ships/modules when planning a campaign against an enemy corp, or defending a POS.

People skills - well, cheating and barter skills as well as some type of leadership are a great help when playing EVE.

Overall, I think that EVE Online requires every single one of these skills to a degree that neither Everquest ot WoW do.

Hey look, I wrote a post just as if I didn't know, that EVE is difficult.
 
I think you should avoid saying that raiding is about memorizing dance steps and executing them flawlessly unless you are beating heroics raids by doing this.

I find raiding to be much more fluid and require more individual decisions than it ever did before. I know you can read strategies online, but they can't give you a Dance Dance Revolution style list of button presses to win - such a thing does not exist.
 
"Only once you reach the level cap you find out that actually it isn't,..."

Again I find myself agreeing with your post. Except for this part.

Any new player will discover the truth about the skills needed well before level cap. Probably before level 20 in fact.
 
@Sthenno: So if I asked you how your raid's strategy was on some specific raid boss, it would not be exactly the same as the strategy of every other raiding guild out there?

I am not doubting that you are taking individual decisions in a raid encounter. What I am doubting is that these individual decisions are difficult because you have to figure out the right solution. I believe that these individual decisions are difficult because you only have a fraction of a second to decide, and the penalties for acting late are harsh. Basically what exactly to do (e.g. "get out of the fire") is either obvious, or at least known before the fight even starts, and the skill lies in the execution.
 
One of the main skills that MMO require is time management. Time is probably the most under appreciated currency in a MMO game. This is not the argument about time = skill or hardcore vs casual. It is just a simple fact that time that you spend playing a game ultimately defines how far you can go. It is hard to deny that if you can only afford 4-5 hours a week on WoW activities including play time, researching or reading blogs/forums your ability to progress and develop in-game skills is significantly limited especially compared to somebody spending say 15-20 hrs a week. In other words, in order to progress to the next level you have to cross certain threshold of time spent regulary on MMO. It will not automatically get you there but it is a prerequisite.
Equally important is how efficiently you spend your in-game time and ability to balance real life commitments and playing the game.
 
@sthenno and Tobold:

I have to back Tobold on this one - and I shall do so with a 'back in my day' anecdote.

In the early days of EQ (but right after Luclin), my guild got quite a reputation for being people who were good at doing the impossible. Filled with creative folks, we found creative solutions to all sorts of problems - ranging from 'how to camp and not be bored out of our skulls' to 'how to take down that boss that everybody says we can't.'

At one point, we grew tired of the usual camp mechanics: grab one mob, bring it in, start fighting, puller grabs a second, CC puts it 'on deck', puller goes for a third.... ... and so we decided to group AOE.

We rounded up a wizard and a mage (big magic damage dealers), two tanks and a healer, and pulled five mobs at once. We then put a tank or a pet on every mob.. and AoE'd things into the dirt with spells that nobody ever put on their spell tabs. Up until this point? NOBODY worked like this. Nobody. It was such an alien concept that high-level raider types would sit and stare and go 'noway' as we easily dropped entire rooms full of mobs in three or four interesting pulls - and keep in mind, each one of those mobs was designed with a full group of our-level folks in mind.

That's what Tobold means - changing up tactics, no one-right-way of doing things, people willing to try out new stuff just to see if it would work, and no set, rote mechanics that 'always worked'. Sure, there were things you knew would work in certain circumstances, but I'll tell ya, EQ was a wholly different experience than WoW.

Now I loves mah WoW. I do. But this is not a hard game. There aren't tactics, and nobody, but nobody, is brave about trying new things. Not standing in the fire isn't rocket science. Using the boss strats somebody else thought up isn't 'tough'.
 
@The Standing Dragon

Okay... so you made some revelation in how to pull groups of mobs efficiently. Now imagine someone then posting it on the EQ-equivalent of Elitist Jerks (if it existed). Other sites would then post videos of how to position tanks, healers, dps, and step-wise exactly how to make each of the three pulls. Where'd the challenge go now? Only reason this didn't happen is that such centralized resources didn't exist for EQ.

If boss strats, videos, EJ articles didn't exist for WoW, there'd be much more experimentation going on in every single guild. Too bad, that ship's sailed long ago.
 
@Standing Dragon, again I agree that WoW lacks choice these days as boss fights are designed with one optimal solution. However there is still sometimes a glimmer of hope, whether by design or accident, in Halls of Origination on the first boss (Anhuur) we as a guild worked out our own strategy.

He has a 'hymn' phase where you have to pull to levers down on a lower area to either side of the raised platform he stands on. So we worked out how to use Warlocks with their recall teleport ability to pull those levers and beam back up without needing a tank and healer to protect them from the snakes in the pit area. I'm sure others have that strategy, but when we first did the dungeon on normal we were badly under-geared and this tactic allowed us to win through.

@William, I think the point isn't that such EJ style videos and guides exist, it's that there's so little room for other options as many raid bosses have 'insta-kill' abilities or fire to step out of. Raids are overly optimized if anything.

I personally wish there was more room for experimentation and less focus on split-second timing and execution of dull as dishwater/always the same tactics.
 
I actually don't know if my guild's strategies would be the same as other guilds because I don't pay much attention to them. I assume that in most cases they are extremely similar, because at some level the fights suggest some unavoidable approaches - and I certainly don't think this is avoidable in encounter design.

But the strategies have a lot of flexibility, they aren't choreographed. On Al'akir phase 1 the strategy is to spread out evenly around him in groups of two, don't stand in blizzard, don't get hit by tornadoes, don't get knocked off by wind blast. I doubt anyone has the strategy of trying to get hit by tornadoes or knocked off the platform.

But doing all of these things at once calls for decision making. You have to understand the risk of failing at each task and understand how the various tasks interact with one another. If there is a blizzard between you and the gap in the tornado line you can run away to wait for the soon-to-come wind blast to knock you across the blizzard quickly to find the gap, or you can take a few ticks of the blizzard yourself to get to it. Running away risks hitting extra people with chain lightning because your aren't clumped. Which of these is the right option depends on many different factors and can't be generalized.

Similarly, if you are the lightning rod on ascendant council and earthquake is coming, should you run and get in the air despite the fact that it will put you near other people or should you call out that you aren't going to make it and having a healer use a damage reduction cooldown on you. The answer depends on you knowing whether those cooldowns are available, assessing whether you are actually likely to bounce a dangerous chain lightning to other people, knowing your own class abilities and knowing where healers are relative to you.

And yes you have to make these decisions in under a second quite often, but having to make decisions quickly doesn't mean they aren't decisions. After the fight we can talk about whether we made the right decisions, and those talks help us make better decisions the next time because we create more useful mental shortcuts.

I don't think this is at all analogous to memorizing dance steps. The dance steps change every time, and which ones you are supposed to do depend on all the other dancers and a random number generator.
 
@Tobold:
I am not doubting that you are taking individual decisions in a raid encounter. What I am doubting is that these individual decisions are difficult because you have to figure out the right solution. I believe that these individual decisions are difficult because you only have a fraction of a second to decide, and the penalties for acting late are harsh. Basically what exactly to do (e.g. "get out of the fire") is either obvious, or at least known before the fight even starts, and the skill lies in the execution.

Having never played EQ myself, I don't know how hard fights were or what execution required in there, but I still don't see how this is any different from a healer pressing a heal button too late, or a tank not picking up an add fast enough or a dps interrupting something fast enough.

@the article:
Being able to get by without any of the skills mentioned is a boon, not a problem. It provides accessibility to a game, instead of shutting people out. In fact, I'm not even sure why you claim it is a problem, since you don't really extrapolate that point. You just point at it as if letting bad players experience the game is a terrible idea.

And for your thought-experiment: RTS games require a lot of fast reactions. Thinking otherwise is silly. Bringing up turn-based strategy games would be heavily flawed because WoW is not one, and there's no reason why any of those skills would apply.

As for the bait-and-switch, who is ever under that impression that long-term planning or resource management takes a huge priority over short-term strategy and people skills? Short-term strategy is there, front and center, from the start. If you've done levelling in the new world, there's plenty of interactive fights now. Hell, at level 15-ish, it's sending to do fights that require me to consistently use an item to silence a boss mob or I'll die.
 
That's what Tobold means - changing up tactics, no one-right-way of doing things, people willing to try out new stuff just to see if it would work, and no set, rote mechanics that 'always worked'. Sure, there were things you knew would work in certain circumstances, but I'll tell ya, EQ was a wholly different experience than WoW.

Now I loves mah WoW. I do. But this is not a hard game. There aren't tactics, and nobody, but nobody, is brave about trying new things. Not standing in the fire isn't rocket science. Using the boss strats somebody else thought up isn't 'tough'.


Assuming that EQ had the same type of information sharing and communication as WoW does now (at least on a basic level of sharing strategies), I would say that they're the same game, except you're playing it from a different perspective.

In EQ, your guild was the top of the server, doing stuff no one anyone else has before. In WoW, Paragon goes through the same struggles that you did in EQ, since obviously the strats are not written for them. They're the ones writing the strats.

So what's to say that the people who came after you, with strategies all known beforehand, aren't the average raiders of WoW now?
 
@Tobold:I am not doubting that you are taking individual decisions in a raid encounter. What I am doubting is that these individual decisions are difficult because you have to figure out the right solution. I believe that these individual decisions are difficult because you only have a fraction of a second to decide, and the penalties for acting late are harsh. Basically what exactly to do (e.g. "get out of the fire") is either obvious, or at least known before the fight even starts, and the skill lies in the execution.

I don't get why you cling to this argument. Surely in EQ, if you didn't heal fast enough, grab adds fast enough, interrupt fast enough, the same situation applies? Or did everything just move that slow back then and gave you 5 second windows to do everything? If not, then twitch existed back then as it does now, just in a different form.

@The article:

The thought experiment is flawed in of itself. RTS games at times require almost as fast execution as regular action games. If you meant turn-based strategy games, then of course the action-based player would be better, solely for the reason that turn-based strategy games don't apply at all, and you might as well train them with riding a bike for all that matters.

I'm not sure why you or anyone else would think that long-term planning would take precedence over short-term tactics. It's not a bait-and-switch at all, considering that short-term tactics is front and center from the very start of the game. With all the interactive-based quests, more than ever players are taught to do stuff outside of killing mobs. There's vehicle based quests, using items to help you kill boss mobs, etc. throughout the levelling experience.

So color me confused when you tell me that I was baited by a different impression.
 
Or did everything just move that slow back then and gave you 5 second windows to do everything?

Yes, it did. I wouldn't swear on it being exactly 5 seconds, but it certainly was several seconds instead of WoW's sub-second reaction time requirement. That change simply makes *what* you do far more important than *how fast* you do it.
 
I'd actually love to hear about what these decisions involved. I'm familiar with a log of EQ class mechanics because a good friend of mine was in a top raiding guild and constantly pestering me to join, but I have no idea what boss fights were like (other than finger of death abilities - my friend was not good at convincing me to play). Since my friend was a Monk, he spent a lot of time pulling a very little time actually fighting (and fighting was basically auto-attacking and hitting some special attack on a very long cooldown).

What kinds of decisions were actually called for in EQ? What abilities did the bosses use that you had to react to? What did you have to account for in your tactics?

Are there sites that describe early EQ bosses, their abilities and the strategies that were used to beat them? I'm having trouble locating any.
 
Yes, it did. I wouldn't swear on it being exactly 5 seconds, but it certainly was several seconds instead of WoW's sub-second reaction time requirement. That change simply makes *what* you do far more important than *how fast* you do it.

Then, when a boss strat is already known, is there even any challenge in a boss fight? Or was EQ years beyond its time and have adaptive boss fights which constantly changed and required people to figure out what to do on the fly? I'm highly doubting that's the case.
 
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