Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Lowering tank responsibility

After 7 years of people discussing how the holy trinity of tank, healer, damage dealers is broken, after 7 years of tank shortages, after even the attempt to bribe people to tank failed, Blizzard is finally caving in. They are finally making a tank as easy to play as a damage dealer by making threat generation easier and automatic. To the point that "We expect the community to gradually stop using threat-tracking mods as players realize they don’t need them."

Now lots of people are going to discuss these changes in terms of "nerfing", "making WoW easier", etc. But the actual point of the changes is that it distributes the responsibility for success and failure more evenly in a group. If a large enough number of players would have actually liked to shoulder a higher responsibility, they had 7 years to express that by taking on one of the roles that tended to get all the blame in a group, tank or healer. It has been blindingly obvious that this wasn't the case, and that 80% to 90% of players preferred the less stressful, less responsible damage dealer role which was only foreseen for 60%. Even after handing out extra bribes for tanks, it was faster to find 3 damage dealers than 1 tank.

World of Warcraft always had the tools for a good group to share responsibility. Damage dealers always had the option to /assist, to throttle their damage, and in many cases help with crowd control or other aggro management abilities. People who only played in such good groups with highly skilled guild mates will probably fail to see the necessity of the announced changes. Unfortunately the reality of the Dungeon Finder and the pickup group was a very different one. The old model resulted in mediocre players of DPS classes to expect to be carried by overgeared tanks and good healers, throwing hissy fits if they happened to be grouped with a tank who wasn't geared and skilled any better if they were, or a healer who couldn't work miracles when the damage dealer's bad play resulted in drawing aggro. The old model channeled all the bad players into the damage dealer role.

In the end it was always the tank or healer who got blamed for a wipe, while the damage dealers measured their epeen in pure damage per second with zero regard for the survival of the group. As a social experiment of collaboration it was a complete failure, you can't have 2 people responsible for everybody surviving, and 3 responsible for "winning" by killing the mobs. You end up with 2 players either being blamed or being taking for granted, while the other 3 either do the blaming or congratulate themselves.

Note that while the threat changes principally affect tanks, there will be a corresponding strong effect on healers as well. If the tank holds aggro, a healer's role gets a lot easier than if the damage dealers constantly draw aggro and then blame the healer when they die.

The main disadvantage of the change is that it will move tactics back to where they were in Wrath, with the little restraint that damage dealers had in Cataclysm evaporating in an instant. It'll be AoE damage all the way, with DPS classes that aren't good at dealing area damage becoming less useful. But the alternative would have been a change which instead of lowering the responsibility of tanks and healers would have increased the responsibility of damage dealers, at which point group play would have become a niche activity. Making it easier for a tank to overcome the lack of tactical gameplay of the average damage dealer was probably the best option Blizzard had.
I think this new Trinity model is about to get blown away by Diablo 3's Everyone is Dps model.
My Mage during Burning Crusade would have liked this change very much. It is not fun to only scorch your way through a whole dungeon because the tank or the tank's gear can't generate appropriate threat.
Makes you wonder what the point is in even having 3 roles when they end up doing everything 'automatically' in the end because it's too hard or too boring otherwise.
Don't get me wrong, the holy trinity can work and might be fun to some players, but the way things have gone for healers and tanks in WoW over the years, they might as well drop that system altogether...
One reason to look forward to GW2 and give new class/role concepts a chance.
It seems to me that threat is managed in the wrong direction. Tanks should generate moderate threat and DPS should have specific threat reduction abilities they need to employ to avoid gaining agro.
Well, if you read the entire post you see that the point is not really that one. The changes have not been dictated by the fact that they want the random dungeon to be easier (threat is already a non-issue, overgeared DPS pulling aggro don't die as fast), they want to split the trinity even more, by giving tanks more active mechanisms of survival. Right now a lot of button pressing for the tank is pure and simple DPS (which becomes threat after a fat multiplier), i.e. what was called "dps-ing from the front", this makes the gameplay of the tank similar to that of a DPS with the difference being:
- positioning of the mobs
- pressing a survival CD every 1-3 minutes, hoping that it's at the right time.

Moving the tank survival to active abilities makes the gameplay of the tanking classes more different than the DPS ("survival cycle" instead of "threat cycle"). DKs have this kind of mechanic with their self-heal/self-bubble. I understand that they want to focus on this, extending the idea and porting it to all tanking classes.
Feels to me as if Blizzard is trying to mend a broken bone by applying a little band-aid. All it will accomplish is even more outrageous behavior. Tanks can hold aggro easier? Then we are going to see DDs pulling from 30 yards away and expect the tank to pick up the mobs before they reach him as a new standard. Just look at our short WoW history. Whenever some role got more powerful it led to the other expecting that role to work even greater miracles.

The problem in most groups is not that the tank is not able to hold aggro. The problem is that most of the players in the group are totally unwilling to play with any regard to the rest of the group. They treat the rest like a bunch of NPCs who are there for their pleasure only.

Sure, some players don't play tanks because they want an easier job. But I know several people who actually like a challenge but still won't play tank because playing tank forces you into teamplay. A tank interacts with his healer for his survival. Thats a two-sided interaction, if the tank messes up the healer has a harder job, if the healer messes up the tank has a higher repair bill. However the tanks interaction with the DPS is onesided: If the DPS behave like assholes they make the tanks job miserable. The DPS on the other hand are not overly hindered by tank-misbehavior, they just have to slack a bit more until Aggro is sufficient.

Now how has that changed now?
DPS are out of problems even more, if the tank has reached the mobs you can expect him to have the Aggro.
Nothing has changed for healers (at least I never had problems getting Aggro as a healer).
Tanks are pretty much at the same spot as before, thanks to growing expectations.
I think it is telling that when I talk to my guildies, all the guys who play dps absolutely love their classes and their roles and think this expansion is awesome.

Tanks and healers are getting burned out and tending to grit their teeth and go with it for the sake of the guild.
Sad. Looks like the effort to restore some necessity for player skill in Cataclysm has been abandoned.

I won't be going back to WoW. I prefer to remember it like it was.
Looks like the effort to restore some necessity for player skill in Cataclysm has been abandoned.

That effort was bound for failure as it was only attempted for 2 out of 5 players in a group. Guess what, if you don't make skill necessary for every role, people just move towards the roles having less responsibility.
Sad. Looks like the effort to restore some necessity for player skill in Cataclysm has been abandoned.

One million lost customers (and likely more) say "hi".
I find it interesting they attempted to make the DDer's job harder (and succeeded at it, at least partially), yet general perception is that DDing is still a very relaxing job.

I can think of three reasons that might play into this:
1) It's just something inherent in unholy trinity and the only way to salvage it is to abandon it altogether.
2) The perception comes from 5-mans with a single tank, a single healer and 3 DDs. Maybe if WoW's 5-mans were 6-mans with 2 tanks (who would deal very little damage unlike tanks in WoW), 2 healers and 2 DDers (Rohan from Blessing of Kings blog proposed this idea a couple of months ago), there would be no problem with abundance of DD. At this moment, DDers have very little personal responsibility as opposed to a group responsibility which leads to some people assuming other group members will pick their slack up.
3) There's little what can DDers do to cover up for tanks' or healers' mistakes. Tanks and healers have more options to help others who don't perform perfectly and, as a consequence, are asked to do so more often.
Looks like the effort to restore some necessity for player skill in Cataclysm has been abandoned.

That was gone when they revamped the talent trees - because people would have ignored whatever new 'omg' talent at the bottom so they could get two OMG talents at the 21 point mark - really they just didn't want to deal with how many broken combinations that would be possible with 5 more talent points, so they revamped it.

Skill now is picking one of three trees - you really can't mess up your talent build - or be creative in any way.

What other 'skill' is there? Move out of the glowy stuff on the ground - hit the *same* keyorder that someone else figured out on EJ to get max dps... oooh - sorry that's not skill - that's learning to play simon says without random patterns.

Gear? It's even worse than Wrath now - you get stats on gear - and you then reconfigure it to cookie cutter stats like everyone else. There is no more 'looking for that one blue that is rare for this slot because it's the only way to make my numbers' - instead everyone has the same stuff.

The 'skill' truck left long ago - and Blizzard has systematically hammered out any customization and flair so that they could manage the game from a spreadsheet.

(Here is a hint - the wierdo combinations/gear choices that sometimes broke the game are part of what made it fun. When everyone is the exact same thing with different swirly graphics the overall feeling you get for your effort is ... 'meh')
The problem in most groups is not that the tank is not able to hold aggro. The problem is that most of the players in the group are totally unwilling to play with any regard to the rest of the group. They treat the rest like a bunch of NPCs who are there for their pleasure only.

We have the answer here. Back when MMOs were actually MMOs, people would claim they didn't require skill. But they did. They required basic human social skills. You had to act decently and cooperate to succeed. WoW should just move to the Guild Wars model with a group of heroes that you set up to do what you want and leave the MMO genre to the people who actually want to play with others.
Tobold, you make a lot of blanket statements here suggesting that DPSers all all selfish jackasses and tanks and healers are longsuffering heroes trying to help everyone. I played all 3 roles extensively in LFG both with guildies and with 4 randoms and I can say definitively that things are a lot more complicated than that. There are DPSers who are jackasses of course but there are plenty of tanks and healers who are the same. There are DPSers who are bad players, but there are tanks and healers which are the same. I wouldn't even say I noticed a particular trend in the directions you are suggesting are ubiquitous.

The thing I can say for sure is that I would have liked the option to get an instant queue as dps. I liked tanking and healing but I would even moreso have liked the option to get a fast queue as dps occasionally so I could switch it up a bit. Any other broad, sweeping, "everybody is like this" statements about all players in a particular role is just biased punditry.
@Delurm: a question I often ask: what changes would you make to bring back "skill" in the game?
The announced changes will not lessen the burden to the tank in future instances DF groups.

Sure it will be easier to hold aggro, but if tanks will have a higher responsibility for their own survival sub-par tanks will die a lot.

My main char is DD and now I can carry a bad tank to some degree. By CC, assisting, interrupting, throttling damage, kiting and whatever. I will not be able to do much when a bad tank doesn't know how to use his survival skills.

So the burden of the healer will rise, and twofold. Not only will the DF healer have trouble keeping a tank up who won't correctly use his survival skills. But when aggro will be almost a non-issue the new instance design will have to feature a lot more lethal effects DD have to look out for. But of course DD will just mindlessly fire away, standing in fires needing to be healed.

I have a few tank twinks in various levels and I am fine with the proposed changes, if done right it might be interesting gameplay to be more actively responsible for survival than just stacking mastery on gear now. I just can't see a positive effect on random DF groups.
There are DPSers who are bad players, but there are tanks and healers which are the same.

I'm not claiming otherwise. I'm claiming that a system in which how bad a player is is being pointed out publicly for the tanking and healing roles, but well hidden from view for the damage dealing role, will over time accumulate the bad players in the damage dealing role.
People seem too focused on how "they're making tanking easier" instead of on the more relevant "they're making dps not limited by the quality of their tank".

From my perspective, the main problem in group or multiplayer play is when another player is able to prevent you from enjoying the game as much as you would otherwise.

Look how this applies to a 5 man.

If you get a bad healer, the tank's life is a lot more hectic, he has to spend more time working to stay alive instead of relaxing.

If you get a bad tank, first your healer is stressed from having to keep him alive, and the dps are stressed from having to keep from pulling aggro.

If you get a bad dps, it almost doesn't matter. A bad dps makes the tank's life easier. As long as all 3 aren't bad dps, it doesn't really effect the healer at all, as long as he has enough regen. The other dps aren't effected either.

Bad healers stress the tank, bad dps stress nobody, bad tanks stress everybody. It's unbalanced! What this change does is fix things so that a bad tank isn't as stressful to work with for a dps.
I'm claiming that a system in which how bad a player is is being pointed out publicly for the tanking and healing roles, but well hidden from view for the damage dealing role, will over time accumulate the bad players in the damage dealing role.

I'm wondering whether Blizzard had something similar in mind because with the new system:

- the tank's and healer's survival will be tank's and healer's shared responsibility

- the deeping will be DDs' shared responsibility

- the DDs' survival will be shared responsibility of the healer and the particular DD
"From my perspective, the main problem in group or multiplayer play is when another player is able to prevent you from enjoying the game as much as you would otherwise."

It's not true that bad dps stress nobody. Bad dps who pull half the instance because they're bored stress the tank and healer, which is the main reason you are seeing this shortage of tanks (and to a lesser extent healers). It'll still stress them because survivability hasn't been improved so if they pull crazy amounts, a lower geared tank will just die.

It's so odd that anyone would think that bad dps wouldn't annoy people. LOW dps don't annoy people (unless they have a mission critical role) but bad dps always do.
I think the need to take out the ilvl and the gearscore or take your pick measuring sticks currently in use is first.. they are digital in assesment, and do not take into acount the spec, PVP vs. PVE gear, and enhancements to gear.. A T11 piece gemme and enchanted is probably a good bit better than a piece of T12 that is not... thats broke imo if you use the ilvl measuring stick...
Achievements say you have been there, but nothing about how much you did carry, or were carried...

IMO, fix the problem a new way... I posted an idea recently on my blog about how this might be done, but it is a huge programming and developement consideration that Blizz is likely not going to implement anytime soon, more content, new content, cater to casuals... allow everyone to get things... they are in danger of losing what got them going..... EPICness... A sense of effort to obtain things... though attunments were a bit rough, I think new ones need to be put in, and better than the ilvl crap in game now... For LFD that is totally broken... PVP gear no gems enchants enhancements, wrong spec, wrong gear... the early dungeons while leveling also feed this... they are way too easy... they teach nothing, you can in heirlooms and decent gear 2 man most of them at level... my shamman healed as enhancement till level 30ish, my rogue tanks, tanks do more damage than anyone in many cases... the only value that comes to mind by running dungeons is more gear and good xp for faster leveling...

The game does not teach and does not enforce or reward good play in any measurable way, until you are trying to raid in progression or PVP over 2Kish... hmm, another blod idea comes to mind... thanks for another great post and stimulating conversation in the comments all
Regarding the tanking shortage: IMO - it's not the more technically challenging role that drives players away from tanking, it's the social stigmas that come with it.

I agree 100% with Kiseran, "The problem is that most of the players in the group are totally unwilling to play with any regard to the rest of the group."

There will still be DPS that blow all their cooldowns and do 30k DPS in the first 10 secs of a fight and pull aggro. There will still be new tanks trying to learn the ropes, and not be up to par just yet. In either case, it will be the tanks that get the tongue-lashing from (mostly) DPSers.

It's OK for a damage dealer to be doing sub-par DPS as he/she is "still learning". For a tank to perform sub-par is unacceptable.

Changing threat mechanics will not change this.

RE: Michael, "From my perspective, the main problem in group or multiplayer play is when another player is able to prevent you from enjoying the game as much as you would otherwise."

I agree completely. Which is why I no longer tank in the RDF. There's practically no change they can program into the game to change this - as it's not a game design issue.

Last comment:
bad dps stress nobody
Assuming you only judge "bad" by the numbers on Recount, then yes, I agree. Although I would argue there are many other ways for DPS to be "bad" irrespective of their damage output.
Bah. This does nothing except give all tanks something for snap threat. Vengeance had already assured you didn't care about threat after 10 seconds anyway, which was good because there aren't any tank-n-spank encounters left (even trash mobs are rarely that simple). Every fight has something else you have to do, like pick up adds or drag the boss out of the circle or hit the burning thing or click the blue cauldron or ... whatever the gimmick is. Managing threat wasn't even on the list of things to worry about before this change.

More broadly, I don't understand the masochism that makes people believe it was more fun when you had lots of stupid fiddly bits to fiddle with that were only tangentially related to the point of the encounter; why are you playing WoW instead of "Squad Leader" if you really believe that?
>It's not true that bad dps stress nobody. Bad dps who pull half the instance because they're bored stress the tank and healer, ...

That's true. Fair enough! I was thinking of bad dps in terms of peeps with very low damage done. People who do mean things like pull half the instance or intentionally screw things up aren't necessarily bad at their role, they're more just acting like jerks. Jerks are bad regardless or role.

I suppose a dpser who is bad at cc'ing would make things harder on the tank and healer. (Do pugs still use cc?)
"bad dps stress nobody"

laugh·able adj \ˈla-fə-bəl, ˈlä-\: See above comment.
Why not make it so that every character has to manage threat, damage, and health?

We've sent human beings to the moon, but we have to have 3 separate roles?
I have a question to all those commenting about why have 3 roles or saying the holy trinity is junk here in the comments.

In what team games have you had engaging boss fights that didn't have the holy trinity?

In diablo 2 and borderlands, I just see everyone nuke dodge nuke dodge the bosses basically, with no real planning needed at all EVER. Diablo 3 will not be any different.

Give me an example of a game with complex boss fights that required different people to do different things. Can you give one that isn't superficial?
This may be the case if the reason there were so few tanks was that tanking was hard, stressful or unfun due to mechanics.

Anyone who has tanked for the LFD knows that isn't the case.

This won't really solve much if that's their goal. Tanks and healers will still be the most-abused role, especially now that snap threat is back to Wrath levels when pulling for the tank was common (though still rude) because all it took was one Swipe and everything was hting the tank. Threat will be seen as easymode, and anyone failing to hold it will be lashed at even more than bfore.
I almost exclusively tanked in WoW.

I can’t speak to the experience of others, but I didn’t play very much of Cataclysm. The fact that I’m not in there shortening some DPSer’s queues today is not because I had trouble holding threat or dealing with uncooperative DPSers who wanted to pull too much, too quickly, killing us all. It’s not even because DF groups were 2/3rds ass-hats of the ‘gogogo’ mentality or silent to the point that they may as well have been NPCs.

It’s because WoW got old. It may have been the best-tasting, longest-lasting piece of bubblegum in the store, but I’ve been chewing that gum for the better part of a decade. It has lost its flavour and my jaw is sore. When Cataclysm landed, I was initially excited and played the hell out of it for maybe a month… but after hitting the cap and staring down the barrel of a selection of daily quests and rep-grinds, along with the dungeon>heroic>raid loot/token grind for varying difficulties of exactly the same content… I realized I was done.

In much the same way as it takes a mature mindset to realize that you don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to, it takes a certain degree of maturity and self-awareness to realize when you’re done having fun with a game and it’s OK to say goodbye to your friends there and walk away to spend your leisure time in more rewarding ways. I strongly suspect that tanks have a high representation in that demographic of folks who knew when it was time to walk away. It takes a very similar degree of maturity and awareness to want to tank.
Tanks do shoulder a large portion of the responsibility for a group; they're where the rubber meets the road. The quickest way to get more people into tanking roles, would be to make it so the padding between the rubber and the road is so thick that decent tanks would be able to afk-tank trash packs + boss in a ZA Bear mount without losing agro taking easily healed dmg. Since I'm sure we all agree that's not "fun" or "interesting", I don't see a game change that could bring more tanks in immediately.

First, I'd say some good PR would go a long way. You guys (blogosphere in general) paint pretty dismal pictures of the life of a tank (and healer) in groups. Its portrayed like a 2nd job. I just wanna say there's at least 1 tank out there tanking PUGs 95% of the time and having fun doing them. 97% success rate!

Also a little bit of common sense from the newbies...I know WAY too many plate wearers (and Bears) that got to the max lvl, built up a Tank set (dpsing the highest lvl heroics and raiding), then flipped to tank to do one of the current heroics. They got burned by the DPS (that had a right to feel gyped!) and gave up tanking saying "It's too hard. QQ" Recipe for disaster.

What I think would maybe work out is modify Luck of the Draw to buff tank survival + threat gen (if they must) for tanks, nerf DD dmg buff a bit (so threat gen buff isn't cancel) and come up with a way to psyche those Arms/Fury Wars Feral DPS/Boomys that got burned tryin to Tank long ago into swappin one of the DPS specs to a tank spec and giving it another go.

This is mostly looking at things from a PUG tank perspective...It doesn't make sense to me that a guild tank would be need such tools. If you're in a hostile env. in a guild raid, you should probably find a new home...
I dunno. The tank will still be low dps. They will still have to pick up ads and do whatever dance the boss requires. So you'll have more or less the same responsibility (and honestly the last time holding aggro was a problem was in freaking vanilla), but now the tanks that enjoyed the hustle will have less fun. Sounds like they are spoiling the role for those who like it without really doing a whole lot to entice the people who aren't interested.

This will not solve the tank problem.
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