Tobold's Blog
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Elements of Performance

So there you are, looting the freshly killed raid boss in World of Warcraft, and checking your performance with some addon like Recount. It shows you how much damage you dealt, in total and per second, or how much you healed, and even what spells you used on what target. But how did you get to this level of performance, and how could you improve it? The addon can't tell you, so lets analyze the elements of performance:

1) "Skill", as in arcade game skill. You pressed every button you had to press at exactly the first possible moment the cooldown allowed, while in parallel moving your character to exactly where he should stand. The importance of this element varies a lot from boss to boss. At some bosses like Patchwerk or Loatheb you might have been standing perfectly still all fight long, while other fights like Heigan require a lot of movement, Malygos phase 3 even in 3D. As long as you don't move, pressing your spell and ability buttons in time isn't a huge problem for most classes, due to a relatively long global cooldown. Some classes need to move more or press more buttons than other classes.

2) "Skill", as in tactical skill. You had to make some quick decisions during the fight, and you always chose the right option. That means you need to keep your eye open and notice what is happening around you, see whether there is some area effect you need to move out of for example. Some classes are more likely to have to take decisions during a fight, for example healers that might need to decide who to heal with what spell. Taking a decision includes the option of taking the wrong decision, so raid strategies usually try to minimize decision making. In some fights that works so well that you don't have to decide anything at all, you just follow a fixed spell rotation. Other fights are more random in nature, and need you to decide more.

3) "Skill", as in knowledge of your class, coming from theorycrafting. You don't necessarily need to have done the math yourself, but then you need to be aware of the results of other theorycrafters. What talents, stats, and spell rotation give the maximum performance? This element of performance is one you don't do during the fight, but well before, and often even outside the game, reading up on forums like Elitist Jerks. There is often a "best" solution, even if frequent patches and nerfs make this seem to be flavor of the month. In most cases the best solution does not depend very much on which boss you are actually fighting.

4) "Skill", as in knowledge and experience of the particular fight. Bosses in World of Warcraft differ by their special abilities, and you need to know what special abilities they have, and what are the relevant countermeasures. A part of this you can acquire before you meet the boss for the first time, by reading boss strategies, or watching videos on YouTube. But practice makes perfect, especially on some of the bosses that need more arcade game skills.

5) "Gear", or rather the stats that gear gives. All other things being equal, a caster with more spellpower bonus performs better than somebody with less. A caster who runs out of mana in the middle of a fight is only marginally useful for the rest of it. A tank with too low health or insufficient damage mitigation stresses the healer's resources to the limit, or over the limit and dies. Gear is what Blizzard uses to regulate raid progression. Raid dungeon A is "before" raid dungeon B, because you need the gear from A to succeed in B. If there was no gear requirement, there would be nothing to keep you from going to B directly, now that there are no attunements any more. Gear is also what keeps guilds repeating raids they already succeeded in. A raid dungeon doesn't end because you killed the final boss, you're going again next week, and the week after, and the week after, until you are well enough equipped for the next raid dungeon.

It is important to stress that your overall performance is the sum of these 5 elements, arcade skill, tactical skill, theorycrafting skill, practice skill, and gear. And there is no fixed proportion, it isn't as if each of them made up 20% of your performance in every fight. Different boss fights depend on different elements, some are more gear dependant, others need more arcade game skills. And you can often compensate deficits in one area with better performance in other elements. Guilds that are stronger on the various skills often dismiss gear as not important for that reason, although of course that only means they need less of it, not that they are doing boss fights naked. More casual guilds, which spend less time studying and practicing, can compensate to some degree by gearing up more. But of course that doesn't help much on fights that don't depend much on gear, which is one reason why vehicle fights are contentious. The Malygos phase 3 fight has zero influence of gear, and in the first fight of Ulduar gear gives a comparatively small bonus only, plus of course all theorycrafting you did for your character goes out of the window if you play a vehicle instead. By reducing a boss fight to arcade elements which only depend on your reaction time and practice, you're stripping away a lot of what defines a MMORPG, and end up with massively multiplayer online Super Mario Brothers.

Another problem is that some people sum up all the various skills into one big "leet skillz" bundle. That makes discussion complicated, and often unfruitful. The different skills I listed have different prerequisites. For example intelligence obviously helps for theorycrafting, whether it is done on your own, or understanding the results of others. But intelligence doesn't help your reaction time or muscle memory at all, so calling somebody "stupid" or "moron & slacker" just because his arcade game skills are low is totally misleading. While I don't like the term, nor the disrespect implied in it, there is admittedly some justification in calling somebody a "moron & slacker" if the lack of performance comes from that person not having read up on his class, the fight, or failed to understand the basics of either. But it is actually easier to teach somebody the things he hasn't understood about his class or the boss fight (or simply do his talent distribution for him and show him the 3 buttons to press) than it is to teach him better reaction time. Especially if you consider that the average age of the World of Warcraft player is around 30, with a wide distribution from small kids to pensioners, and that things like reaction time and decision time are highly correlated with age and gender.

Thus is summary I think that raid encounters that are based on a variety of skills and gear are better balanced than those which are reduced to an arcade game. The more elements there are that determine performance, the more inclusive the game becomes, enabling people with deficits in one area to compensate with other strengths. Of course some people prefer World of Warcraft to be *not* inclusive, because the less people are able to beat an encounter, the more special those who can feel. Understandable, but somewhat petty. And exclusiveness is not necessarily a good business strategy for a company trying to hold onto the maximum number of subscribers.
Nice overview - think your piece misses a few things still:
1. for both healers and dps it's important who they heal/hurt - wether they are able to focus on the right target at that particular time... something that an addon doesn't show you either.
2. how about other assignments like MT, OT, decursing, cc (or is that nonexistant nowadays?), etc...
3. most important factor in performance in my opinion is motivation, having fun, feeling at ease in the raid and being able to learn as a person and a team... you can't perform as a dps or tank if you can't count on being healed when you need it, and you can't perform as a healer if your tank can't hold aggro or your dps keeps standing in the wrong places and decides to hurt the wrong targets...
What holds back DPS

Most common is surely people not using the right rotation. Followed by poor talent or gear choices...

However, as far as what holds people back in DPS that most (greatest impact, but not the most common) the biggest factor I've found has simply been not pressing buttons fast enough. ie, a Hunter with the right gear and rotation (priority) based on % of damage done by each skill. However the number of times he used each skill is way low. WoW is a casual game and some people are "shocked" when they are told they should be pressing something after ever GCD or cast. These also tend to be the same people that die to Void Zones, and whirlwinds. WoW is a casual game, they don't naturally expect you need to "rush" to press buttons to increase your dps or not die. If you have a tank that can't keep aggro it is prob due to this same reason, just not pressing keys fast enough.

I think Tobold covered almost all of your points as well. Your (1) is covered by Tobolds (2) (with a little slice of 3 & 4). Your Number (2) boils down to a mix of Tobolds (4)+(2).
I have to agree that there is maybe a additional Area which contributes to the "1337 skillz" => Mood and Motivation. Even if my other skills are the same every raid - I (and even my guildmates) recognize with a few looks into recounto that there is something wrong with me. It happend more than once or twice that i get some whispers "Hi what is wrong with you today? do you want to speak?". They know that it is not my motivation but my mood.
1. for both healers and dps it's important who they heal/hurt - wether they are able to focus on the right target at that particular time... something that an addon doesn't show you either.
2. how about other assignments like MT, OT, decursing, cc (or is that nonexistant nowadays?), etc...

I do think the same type of skills influence all these activities, but it is certainly true that they aren't always as easy to measure as dps. I mentioned choosing a healing target as a typical tactical skill.
WoW is a casual game, they don't naturally expect you need to "rush" to press buttons to increase your dps or not die. If you have a tank that can't keep aggro it is prob due to this same reason, just not pressing keys fast enough.But is it that he can't press the buttons fast enough, or that he can't decide fast enough which button to press?
In any case I completely agree that the skills I list here are more needed for raiding, and only very little needed for soloing your way up to the level cap. If you plot difficulty vs. time, you get a horribly huge step increase when a player for the first time reaches the level cap and enters his first raid. That is a design flaw of WoW. It doesn't change what types of skills would be needed to succeed, but the poor guy has to acquire all of them in a rather short time, having lived so long without really needing to care.
> Especially if you consider that the average age of the World of Warcraft player is around 30

Where did you get that number from? Or is that your guess?
I had a hunter friend I helped geared up in purples/blues and got him to spec the basic survival spec. Previously he was BM than Tri-specced... Going from leveling greens/Blues > heroic Blues/Greens his overall dps through a instance rose from 650 to 750. Spec by itself had no impact. Spec and linking him to the survival rotation increased his dps to around 900 on bosses while overall was still lower. At the end of a 45min run recount shows he did maybe 150 actions the entire run. All you can say is click faster… woot 200 actions the entire run and 1.1k dps? Whether the cause is slow thinking or physical prowess, someone that plays only to the ability this guy does will never be able to carry himself in a raid. Who knows, he may have a handicap that doesn’t let him press buttons as fast, or he may just play WoW with the pacing mindset of playing chess or solitaire. Regardless, as a reputable raid leader you can not admit people like him to a raid without asking the permission of the rest of the raid for him to come. It is pretty much the same as deciding to 9 or 24 man something without letting the rest of the group know.

I guess this is where the problem lies. Do you exclude that person from your raid lineup, or let them in. Depending on which you pick you will some number of people will be upset on either side.

My recommendation is to put as much as possibility can be into written rules. Wotlk Raiding “DPS that wishes to join “guild name” on raids must be able to sustain >1500dsps on the training dummy for 5minutes or have >1500 overall dps through a heroic run. Once acknowledge as a raider DPS for 10mans is expected to be > 2000 and 25mans >2500 on bosses.

You can pick any numbers you want. The point is the above rule “ties your hands.” Opinions no longer matter. If someone doesn’t meet the above requirements they can’t raid with your guild. If someone complains about the rule because their DPS is too low, help them if you can. Point is the guild no longer has to worry about making a decision on a case by case, or raid by raid basis and all future members will know about these rules upfront before they even apply. In raiding guilds it doesn’t matter because if you suck your gone and 10 other people are waiting for your stop. But in casual guilds that raid on occasion it is hard to say no, because you didn’t set any expectations up front and you care about your guild members outside of just raiding.
Tactics skill missing from WoW: The group working together to obtain a group attack or combo point or group bonus (could be buff or exp gain). That has been replaced with an achievement.
Hmmmm....not sure I agree...the forums in are always alive with this sort of accusation. Personally, I don't agree.
Tobold, I would like to mention UI (addons and keybindings) as a part of #3-Theorycrafting. I would rather go into a fight without gems and enchants rather than without my custom UI. I remember playtesting WotLK at Blizzcon07 and found I could do almost nothing, since my keys were bound differently (ZXCV+shift instead of 1-9).
Excellent post, Tobold.

I like how you break down skill into a variety of flavors. I hate it when people say "WoW takes no skill" when they just mean that they find it easy. Easy =/= no skill needed, you just happen to have the skills and not notice. So maybe next time I will point them to this post. =)
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