Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
Fear of the sub-optimal

Having quit World of Warcraft, I now have a lot of time to play other games. Over the years I missed a lot of great single-player PC games, because I was too busy with MMORPGs. Thus it was only recently that I unpacked my still shrink-wrapped copy of Mass Effect 1 and installed it. I started playing, and very soon I had to make decisions on how to distribute skill points for my character. And for a moment I was paralyzed by fear: What if I click on the wrong skill to improve? I simply don’t know which is the “best build”, so what if I choose something sub-optimal?

I’ve been playing computer role-playing games since the days of the Amiga, and I’ve never had that sort of fear of the sub-optimal. It is something I acquired in MMORPGs. My very first Everquest character was a Halfling druid, and based on the in-game description of the stats I had distributed his starting stat points in part into intelligence. Of course “everybody knows” that A) Halflings aren’t the optimal race for druids in EQ and B) druid spells work on wisdom, not intelligence. Thus after playing that Halfling for weeks and learning how EQ works, I deleted him and replaced him by an Elven druid with the proper stats. It has been downhill from there for the next 10 years. One of the key moments that lead to the decision to quit WoW was one of my guild mates chiding me for wearing a sub-optimal piece of gear in a heroic.

There is a wide-spread cult of optimum efficiency towards a single goal in MMORPGs. If you don’t have the same goal, Gevlon will compare you to a pedophile. If you have the same goal but aren’t on the optimum path towards it and moving sufficiently fast, you’re only a moron & slacker. Now Gevlon is just the most disgustingly outspoken high priest of that cult, but the attitude is everywhere. “No, you’re doing it wrong” is something a MMORPG player gets told all the time. Unless you get vote kicked before anybody actually telling you what you do wrong.

The very definition of “playing” involves trying out stuff for fun. The absence of real consequences allows the player to experiment, because it is “play”, and not serious or “for real”. The fun is in learning what works and what doesn’t work, not in getting the answer from somewhere and just applying it. Good games allow you to play around, to make those famous “interesting decisions”, which are interesting because one solution is not obviously better than another. My fear of the sub-optimal in Mass Effect is unfounded: If I make a “wrong” decision, let’s say neglecting defense over offense, the game itself will give me gradual feedback, by making me notice that I’m more often heavily wounded. Until I get the clue and put points into defensive skills at the next level-up. It might even be totally viable to play the whole game through with very different builds.

In principle that isn’t much different in MMORPGs: I could try out different talent builds, and see what works best. The times of Everquest where I needed to reroll to respec are over, I have a lot more freedom to reconsider in modern MMORPGs. Unfortunately that only works in the less interesting single-player part of the game. The multi-player part is not only much harder and thus a lot less forgiving of sub-optimal alternatives, but it is also packed full of the harshest possible critics: Your fellow players. In the case of World of Warcraft, Blizzard made a serious mistake by arming those critics with the ability to inspect you in every detail. If players could opt out of the armory and their gear and build being inspected by others, at least some individuality would be possible. But with millions of players having crowdsourced the best solution, these days you simply aren’t allowed to “play” or think for yourself. The devious cult of efficiency is working in a vicious self-enforcing way: Efficiency makes players want to rush through that dungeon as fast as possible, and that forces them to require from all players in the group that they are optimally equipped and prepared. There is no room for experimentation or “learning how to play”, in spite of the sad fact that the single-player game spectacularly fails at teaching you the skills necessary for the multi-player part. There is no room for actual “playing”, you are just supposed to be a robot doing optimal moves in perfect execution. Where is the fun in that?

One escape from that trap is starting to play a brand new game. It takes the player base a while to figure out the optimal builds, and as long as nobody knows your build is sub-optimal, you can have fun trying out different things. But if the game is sufficiently popular, that happy state of affairs will only last a few months. Once the bulk of players arrives at the level cap, and challenging endgame content looms, players will get less and less forgiving of their group members doing anything sub-optimal. Thus to permanently escape from the cultists of efficiency, one needs to play either single-player games, or multi-player games which are less targeted at the Achiever Bartle-type. Which is why I’ll be playing single-player games or more exploration-based MMORPGs like Glitch in the coming months.
The fear of the sub-optimal isn't really a bad thing. I like that there *is* an optimal way to do things and that I can find comfort (and guidance) by seeking it.

I'm horrible at make choices just for the sake of making them (in fact the main reason I avoid most Bioware games like the plague is because I hate making sporadic choices just for the sake of it). I want justification in my decisions.

Instead of cheapening the optimization and refinement aspect of the experience, I think a better route would be to make the resources readily available for the players who want to dig deeper. Design the experience to allow for levels of depth to potentially dig into: generic versus specialized approach(keeping in mind things are balanced).
I am not sure calling it a "cult of efficiency" is much different than Gevlon's asinine "pedophile" argument.

The reason people berate other players for specing/geming/enchanting sub-optimally is precisely because your exploration negatively impacts my gameplay when we are randomly grouped together (in PvE or PvP). Indeed, look at what you wrote:

The absence of real consequences allows the player to experiment, because it is “play”, and not serious or “for real”.

The real consequence of pulling 4k DPS in a heroic is wasting four other peoples' time by wiping the group. You sort of already acknowledge this in the post, but seem to blame the "cult of efficiency." The fact that heroics are daily group quests by design does indeed create an atmosphere of wanting to get things done efficiently. But there is a disconnect here, when you seem to place more value on an individual's sense of exploration than meaningfully contributing to the success of the group he/she voluntarily joins.

Not caring about the impact one's actions cause to the group is the definition of sociopathy, is it not? Certainly it is selfish, at a minimum.

Exploration is great. Just do it on your own time.
Optimal playing is only needed in end game, If you can not stand in fire and can handle the basics of tank-healer-damage dealer triage, and you are not aiming for Amani Battle Bear, you can enjoy the game, have fun in it, do lower level content like tbc or wotlk raids, optimal playing isn't needed there. Thats what I do when I'm bored with my min-maxed heroic raiding warlock, I log on to my green geared paladin and just Holy Light spam through a random dungeon, no one ever said me a word about me being sub-optimal, never ever I red any elitist jerks stuff about paladins.

And I have people in my guild who are there just for fun, not interested with hi end content, they just play, enjoy the game and the guild they are in, roll a new character from time to time, and have no problems here for 6 years already.
I've always hated the idea of having limited choices from a big pool of abilities. I hated that more when it's a "Talent Tree". I'm not a fan of that. I like the idea of "Eventually you will have them all, but choose which one you want now." Just like EverQues't AA system. Yeah, it will take forever to get all AA (maybe impossible to do but the psychological effect is that if you keep playing you will get more AAs).

I don't mind Stats and choosing to spend Stats. But they must be clear what they do so you won't repeat that mistake you did with your druid (even though if you've played D&D you'd know where to spend those points!).

I hate picking from feats/talent trees but I love improving Stats. stats were trivialized by gear and starting stats nature. Gear now improve your stats in a crazy manner. This makes choosing different races really doesn't matter. I like to play different races it adds to the role playing element. I want Ogres to have more HP than Elves no matter what. The EQ system in "Classic" EQ was good.

But in the end I agree with you. Deciding on an optimal build was never fun to me I always get stuck and spend a lot of time researching everything just to avoid a gimp build. It's getting old and frustrating.
I've never had this problem in EverQuest. That's weird you had such experience. It's your mistake to let it affect you. No one EVER asked "where did you spend your initial stats when you started your character" in everquest. Ever. No one asks you that. It's weird that you deleted your character just because you spent 10-15 stats on INT which can be fixed with gear. Missing 10 Wisdom points is really nothing, compared to WoW Talents for instance.

I find it surprising that you complain about EQ's stat system more when it was happening the least. Besides your initial stats investment what else is there that makes you "reroll"? I bet you many people made bad stat investment when they rolled their character and no one knew about or ask about it. Unlike in WoW when your talent choices are clear because there are unique skills that you get based on your decision.

20 stats investment are hardly worth detroying 2 weeks of work. They can be fixed with simple gear and hardly even noticible. Again I doubt anyone even cares where you spent your first stats because 10 wisdom is like 50 more mana at level 50 right??? It's nothing.

Shame on you Tobold.
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Since I play a healer, I can't comment on DPS. However, your guildie is wrong because for a healer, you get to make quite a few "interesting decisions". Your guildie just blindly follows the "EJ route" without thinking.

Unless you're using something that is obviously wrong (e.g. strength), you have many choices on how to gear your char. Ok, there is a less obvious sub-optimal choice (i.e. crit), but there is quite a bit of flexibility for the other stats. Here are some examples:

1) Int vs Spirit - The common consensus is that int > spirit but I disagree with this. I found that when I used a spirit flask, I get a noticable increase in longevity compared to the int flask.

2) Haste vs Mastery - The EJ recommendation is haste to 12.5% (for the extra renew tick) then stack mastery. Many players regurgitate this as the "best method" because it's from EJ. However, several highly progressed players have shown that increasing haste over this recommended 12.5% is useful, especially for hard-modes. My own personal preference is indeed the EJ recommendation but that is because I choose to play in an "efficient-style".

3) Priest builds - When the "recommended" talents are taken, there is 4 pts left over to distribute freely.
the thing in my opinion lies in the fact that online games naturally nurture competition - the very fact that you're playing with other people drives you to compare against them

that's not particularly evil in itself, but becomes kinda evilish when you mix self-expression role-play elements (such as: i'm playing a halfling that's a druid!) with combat performance in a game where combat is the central form of gameplay.

i'd be glad to see a game that recognizes style :)
That's a reason why I prefer playing on an rp-lite-server. There you can hide your choices behind some made-up story :D

At the moment I am leveling a dorf warrior in Rift. I actually want to sticj to my rp-bit that a dorf only handles a 2h-axe, not a sword (that 'ummie stuff) or other 2h crap.
But I hope I can resist the power of the ultimate weapon.
Hmm I have to admit, I'm firmly in the "play optimal" camp here. It isn't specific to MMOs at all, if you play competitive badminton and won't play at the net when needed, you'll get chewed out by your team-mates. If you rock up in walking boots instead of trainers to your match, people will complain. Of course, you can *as I do* play for giggles at evening class with a bunch of other hopeless people, but it's *very important* to make sure that if you want to play for fun and giggles, you are doing it with like-minded people, and not wasting the time of people that are seeking to achieve something else (like play badminton to a higher standard).

So, in all honesty, I think this tells us nothing about MMOs per se, and tells us something about the importance of being with like-minded people when engaged in any group activity.
I actually like the "cult of the optimal", at least when it works. In WoW, if I just want to play a reroll I don't have to bother with optimization: it's already done for me on countless forums. I just copy the spec and stats and start from there. If I really find I want to try stuff, I'll do it when I know enough to make a choice.

This is something which I find annoying in LotRO: I play a hunter and I don't care about theorycrafting it: just give me a guide with what to trait/which stats to take and I'll do it. But the whole thing is unclear, LotRO provides no tools to theorycraft your character, and it doesn't even provide a stupid training dummy for me to test how long my mana lasts....
So I've concluded that it's irrelevant and I play it "the DK way" (when I first leveled my DK, I chose the talents with the most impressive names and put on my bar the attacks with the biggest numbers, screw anything else. It worked perfectly....).
The only problem with LotRO is that it's NOT irrelevant if you want to raid.
I am sure you already have a long list of single player games to work through but at the risk of sounding like a broken record let me once again recommend Magicka.

It is short, it its gimmicky and was plagued by bugs at launch. Nevertheless it has a spark of genius and I believe it is one of the most important games released last year.

A game where you have to learn the skills by trial and error (sure you can use a faq but why would you?). A game with a deliberately awkward control scheme because making mistakes under pressure is part of the game.
I think that if it can be optimized, then it was designed with the expectation it would be optimized. I.e., I think very, very few 0 if any - problems in any MMO are the fault of the players. It would be nice if humans were better, but they are what they are. So if there is griefing in game X or inequalities in game Y, they are there not to the personal failings of the people who play them but rather due to poor game design decisions.

So if 33/0/8 is almost always the proper build, then it is not the fault of the players they would want to play it. Why is it not the fault of the game company who designed it so there was no interesting decision to be made here. What if you had to distribute points across speed, health, defense and multiple damage types; where there is no real consensus as to the optimal build? And even the anointed consensus EJ build for phase 1 would be different than for phase 2 or 3?

As I think you argued with some of Game R fans, new games start out with "better" communities, but at a certain level of success, you get essentially the same sort of people playing the game as lay WoW. The game mechanics can have a huge impact (e.g. EVE and griefing) on behavior. But my theory is that once you have a half-million to a million players that:
1) they will claim they are smarter, more skilled, more collegial and better endowed than WoW players
2) and that they end up being about the same level of intelligence, honesty, trolling etc as WoW players - humans are humans. You can't get to a million subscribers advertising in Collaborative Polite Pacifist magazines.
I agree that this is an issue. It really takes the fun out of games if you aren't allowed to experiment yourself. And the worst part is that the game is even built around everyone having the optimal builds, or close to it. I know it has been said in the past that devs have to take into account all the min-maxers also.

During the leveling game it's usually not an issue. There's often plenty of room for error there, although some builds will of course be slower than others. But in the end game (often raiding or heroics or whatever) is where the tolerance drops almost completely. This is one of the reasons why I hate raiding or instancing at the end game.

If the game was designed so that it wasn't so hard to beat content then I suppose this would be less of an issue. But then all the hardcore players will whine that everything is too easy and the ball is rolling again...
I consider myself a play to win type, but honestly when choice A, B and C all basically let you win (maybe C is a minute slower or whatever), who cares about which is more optimal? Were gunna win either way!

In other words I don't want the play to wins tarred with the obsessive compulsives sins. I think your talking about obsessive compulsives.
Very interesting - for the last 2 days a thread about precisely this has raged on the Rift official forums general board.

I think a certain amount of thick skin is needed to put up with other people in online games. If you think MMOs are bad you should see online shooters or Xbox live.

I do however think it's possible to create islands of sanity within the madness. However it's a culture that needs to be continually reinforced since modern MMO game design does work against it.

I think the ideal is that people should try and be open to improvement but not be subject to ridicule over marginal mathematical assertions. It's a very fine line.

It doesn't help that theorycraft is often misunderstood. Most theoretical arguments are complex but all that 99% of EJ's visitors want to read is a simple statement such as CRIT IS BETTER. So people skim mathematical discussions until they see this then run off with a half-understood piece of maths and a smugly superior attitude.

On the other hand it's quite annoying when someone is significantly underperforming and you can't clear the content because of this and they're hostile and angry at any suggestions that they could improve.
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From a developer PoV, there are two ways to deal with this:

1) Make it harder for players to optimize. For example by not showing numbers, having no "armory", etc.

2) Implement no options for the player that allow him to change his efficiency.

Which of the two ways would you walk, Tobold ?
No one would care if you were screwing around while playing basketball in the park with your buddies.

But let's say you joined a serious competitive amateur basketball league, and then screwed around. How well do you think it would go over if you told them "it's just a game," or "I'm here to have fun," or "you take it too seriously?"

At a certain point, you have to recognize that high level content is made for serious players. If you aren't serious and don't care about "optimal gear," why do you need to do the heroic? Why not do the normal version?
Why did you remove my comment? What was wrong with it?
At a certain point, you have to recognize that high level content is made for serious players.

I question the sanity of even the *concept* of "serious players". These games are entertainment products. At the end of the day EVERYBODY in the game has just killed his time and hopefully enjoyed the ride. The day the servers shut down, none of us will take away anything of lasting value, except happy memories. Whether you get those happy memories from your heroic Lich King kill, or from having collected all mini-pets in the game, or from having made lots of friends, is completely irrelevant. And people like Gevlon, who think everybody who isn't pursueing exactly the same goal as him is at least an idiot, if not a pedophile, bug me.

Why not do the normal version?

I would very much like a game in which people like me can do the normal version, and there get gear which allows them to do the normal version of raids. While the "serious players" would have to do the heroic version of dungeons to gear up for the heroic version of raids.
Why did you remove my comment? What was wrong with it?

You mean the comment that started with some negative personal remarks about me, and then went on to say that Rift is the Jesus game which doesn't have any of the problems I discuss in this thread? Well, if you can't figure out why I removed that one, I can't help you.
You mean the comment that started with some negative personal remarks about me, and then went on to say that Rift is the Jesus game which doesn't have any of the problems I discuss in this thread? Well, if you can't figure out why I removed that one, I can't help you.

I pointed out that you are often defensive based on some of your responses on here, the above being a perfect example! My point was that in any MMO you will get players that like to tell you what and what not to do, and they are best ignored. Otherwise single player games might be more appropriate.

I also suggested that you should play more of Rift rather than just dismissing it as I think you would enjoy it, especially in the later levels.

I really don't see what is wrong with that.
Personally, I think this is largely a game design problem.

The real issue is, what do you give up for efficiency? The answer is, nothing. The reason for that, is combat is the only thing that really matters in MMORPGs.

Look at table top RPGs, you can build your character for maximum combat efficiency, and many people do. If a good DM sees all of her players doing that, she can decide to either go with it, and run a hack and slash campaign, or throw challenges at them for which they are manifestly unprepared, such as investigation, or arcane research, etc. There is no mechanism to do any of this in modern mmorpgs.

If dungeons were always the same basic layout, but included random quests required to complete them, and if all characters actually had access to non-combat skills which were frequently required for those quests, well, then you are going a long way towards encouraging players to build more robust characters, and preventing them from optimizing before they enter the dungeon.
I really don't see what is wrong with that.

First of all I'd like to remark that your reaction proves that you are at least as defensive as I am. As at this point you probably resent this personal remark about you, I do hope you understand my point that I only allow comments without personal remarks, to avoid degeneration into a shouting match.

The second point is that your actual comment after the personal remark did not add anything to the discussion of the subject of this post. In fact I noticed that you already posted pretty much the same comment on several of my threads. I write about some general MMORPG problem which has nothing to do with Rift, and you automatically reply with "Play Rift, it is the Jesus game that solved all problems".

Worst of all, you don't even argue your point of WHY you think that Rift handles this particular problem better than other games. You just make a blanket statement, which in this particular thread is even obviously a lie. Just read Stabs's comment of "Very interesting - for the last 2 days a thread about precisely this has raged on the Rift official forums general board.

Sorry, I don't allow blind proselytizing of any game here. If you want to make your favorite game look good in various comment threads, you need at the very least make the effort to argue its advantages, and engage with the differing opinions of other people on the subject. If you can't contribute anything but personal remarks and mindless cheering to the discussion, your comments will be deleted.
I don't remember race being that vital in EQ other than main tanks needing to be ogres because of the stun resist--a horrible horrible game decision. But yes, wisdom was the stat. Not going for wisdom was not so much non-optimal as much as it was completely wrong. Ditto for the constant debates during the game's time about "melee clerics who don't heal" and so on.

I think WoW has the harshest people on the perfection thing. I think there's a few reasons. Some are structural. The escalation of gear is extremely steep, meaning the right pieces really do make a difference. And the talent trees never really did offer much chance to experiment and what little there was is gone.

Another item I'd advance as a reason is the proliferation of mods that virtually play the game for you. Raids have to be challenging, that's their point. And with so many of the old human-player skills being handled in WoW by computer, the devs have to make up for that lack of difficulty in other ways. And they seem to prefer two. Intricate idiotic dances and more reliance on character skills and character gear rather than player skills.

Oh yeah there's a culture that would rather overgear in order to make things like heroics trivial rather than have to deign to discuss strategy for 30 seconds.

Not all games are like this. I raided regularly in multiple guilds as a mystic MT group healer in EQ2 as the MT healer. That's not optimal, the mystic is usually OT healer, but it worked just fine and I was able to find spots in raids. Likewise, I'm sure cookie cutter specs and such will come up in Rift eventually, but at least currently, the spec trees do allow a great deal of diversity and there seems to be a preference for the player not the character.
"I would very much like a game in which people like me can do the normal version, and there get gear which allows them to do the normal version of raids. While the "serious players" would have to do the heroic version of dungeons to gear up for the heroic version of raids."

I would very much like that too, but I recognize that is not true of WoW. The way the game is currently, I think any raid guild has every right to expect its members to be fully optimized. I think heroics have lower expectations, but it is still reasonable to expect things like minimum dps, knowing the fights, not standing in the fire.

Normal instances are where there are no expectations. This is where you can go to see that same content, with whatever gear and spec you want, and experiment all you want.

As with the sports analogy, I think you are joining the "serious players only" game, and then complaining that they are taking it too seriously.
Regarding Rift, Dave you're just plain wrong.

Look at the Rift official board. The thread on this topic started two days ago has blazed white hot and reached 343 replies already.

For some people this exact issue has ruined the game for them.

Fwiw I'm a rift fan. The one area where, as a guild leader, I get to be non-elitist as a result of the game's design is expert rifts and raid rifts. We had a raid that varied from 8-13 doing 5 man Expert Rifts on Sunday and will have somewhere between 12 and 20 doing 10 man Raid rifts tomorrow. It's great that I can solve my Need More DPS? woes by adding players rather than improving players but sadly only applies to a tiny part of the end game.
So your post could distill down to "MMO's have embraced the perfect as the enemy of the good(or fun)).

That pretty much nails everything currently wrong with WOW. If you aren't near perfect you are a slacker and a moron. So your choice is play with assholes or don't progress.
No one would care if you were screwing around while playing basketball in the park with your buddies.

But let's say you joined a serious competitive amateur basketball league, and then screwed around. How well do you think it would go over if you told them "it's just a game," or "I'm here to have fun," or "you take it too seriously?"

that would make sense without LFG and shoving the "proffessional, Serious hobbyist's and kiddies all together and forcing them to play"

I find it odd that the same people that defend thier elitist, perfectionist behavior in a game find now fault in thier destruction of the fun of others. The prevailing attitude seems to be if you can play well you don't have to be polite, or even try to be nice.

You can politely tell people I don't think we want to play with you but in wow the "good" players tend to be so competitive they feel obligated to be the schoolyard bullies and make sure they know how bad they are.

I suspect there are too many 'nerds" that got beat up by the football team acting out thier own revenge on the poor fun seeking players.
At the risk of being deleted...

Stabs, simple response, read this:!!

408 replies.

Never ever use forums to judge the state of a game.
Mass Effect is pretty forgiving at normal levels of difficulty as long as you can take cover and shoot straight.

Higher levels require punishing efficiency, but you know what you're getting into when you choose it.

Not unlike WoW...but unlike WoW there are no rewards for winning other then the thrill of being perfect.

Gaming as it's own reward, in other words.
And I'll quote a good response (that also applies to this post) from your link Stabs:

"All MMOs are the same.

You need todo what you said and stop caring about min/maxers because frankly they are the vocal minority, chances are if you got in a group and your build is semi-decent they wont care aslong as you do well.

Warfronts will always be like that, you just need to encourage people to keep trying."

You've successfully proven that 408 people enjoy Rift. Now, if you could start a thread that reads, "Post here if optimized builds do not factor into your endgame decisions." and receive greater response than Stabs' suggested thread, we've got a real election going :)
@The Man:

I might just do that :)

My point is that min/maxing certainly does not spoil the game for everyone. Min/maxing is really only needed for raiding, I've done it many times myself and I think in that situation is totally appropriate otherwise you will have a lot of problems attempting to progress through the raid - wipes happen, sometimes often, but there's a limit to how many players are prepared to go through due to underperforming players. I think that is a simple reality of endgame raiding.
How many of the commenters here would be happy to carry a new player having 'fun' in their 'own way'?

You might do if it was an IRL friend, but what about a complete stranger in the Dungeon Finder?

I think we need to get back to a position of guilds being groups of like-minded friends with shared goals. This would stop people from complaining about "The Community".

People join random dungeons for lots of different reasons, but it tends to be Achiever types that grind them longer.
I think our friend Dave here has still a lot to learn about the art of discussion.

Look, the question is not whether WoW or Rift or another game is a good game, or whether people enjoy it. I'm pretty certain there are over 408 people left who enjoy WoW. That doesn't mean there is nothing wrong with WoW. Nor with Rift. Nor with the MMORPG genre in its current model with the raiding endgame.

I think one fundamental problem shared by most of the current MMORPGs' endgame is that it is static enough that a unique best solution is possible. Compare that for example to serious hardcore tournament level Magic the Gathering: There is no best deck! Any deck has a counter, which leads to people having to make decision about whether to make their deck do only one thing well and fail to the counter-deck, or whether to make the deck somewhat less optimal but more resistant to the counter.

I think there is a connection between the point you make in this article and your previous thoughts on the responsibility of players to the community. Perhaps the cult of efficiency is enforcing a social norm: provide the best you can to the given social engagement. Any less is harmful to your randomly established, 5-person community.

Of course, being human and, worse, anonymous, this enforcement comes through cruelty as much as kindness. If your guildie, instead of an offhand judgment, whispered you with a thoughtful consideration of the benefits and ills of your gear choice, would you have responded better? If it evolved into a meaningful discussion of current heroic tuning and gear acquisition, wouldn't that be best?
I think one fundamental problem shared by most of the current MMORPGs' endgame is that it is static enough that a unique best solution is possible.

Unpredictability helps. Which is why I am tyring to push (as hard as I can ;) developers into procedurally generated, unpredictable, content; for example dungeons.

If you don't know whether you will need to fight a dragon, it's good to have some fire resistance gear ready. But it doesn't make sense to be fully equipped with fire resistance all the time.

Of course, such design also has its troubles.

"Compare that for example to serious hardcore tournament level Magic the Gathering: There is no best deck!"

A fair point - although this kind of PvP play is arguably similar to Arena.

Also from memory, there was no best deck, but there were optimal cards. I remember a friend being laughed at for the absence of 4 x Black Lotus back in the day.
"I would very much like a game in which people like me can do the normal version, and there get gear which allows them to do the normal version of raids. While the "serious players" would have to do the heroic version of dungeons to gear up for the heroic version of raids."

I would probably also like that. Well probably not raids because they inherently have some parts which I don't like, but I guess it depends how it's executed.

But there are problems with that which I'm quite certain will make it not work. First of all, all the normals would in that way be just stepping stones to get to the heroic counterparts. And even if that can be avoided almost everyone will not be content with staying there but move on to the content where there are better rewards. Players in general as a while go for the rewards. That will in time make the normals not have any other players, or just very few.

Also, in a gear based game with PvP it works even worse since you will fall behind a lot compared to the ones doing heroics. But then gear based games really don't work well with PvP at all anyway.
I think the key is that we all play MMO's for different reasons, which may come as a shock to our favorite goblin. The problem is designing a game that allows different people to pursue those different goals without constantly tripping over each other. This is the problem with WoW. If you are a person that wants to improve your character statistically, there is really only one path to accomplish this, raiding. And the way raiding is currently designed, it is very unforgiving to the "suboptimal," therefore you have very little choice in what to do with your character if you pursue this goal.

I think it would be interesting if, as Tobold suggested, normal dungeons led to normal raids, and heroic dungeons led to heroic raids. Separate the two paths based on the goals of the people involved. Those who are ok with the "suboptimal" can stay on the normal path, and those who seek the accomplishment can choose the heroic path. Both groups can advance their characters statistically without compromising their other goals.
My wife asked me about the end-game in wow. I explained that you need to have "this" gear, get "this" build, and do "this" rotation, and always stand here, not there, otherwise people will think you are a complete idiot. She replied, "that's not a game, that's no fun at all."

I couldn't agree more. One choice is not fun, which is why we quit wow. I have more interesting choices in a game of solitaire!
I think you're misunderstanding Gevlon a bit - he's just saying that you can criticize somebody's goal, albeit in his typical brash way. You think somebody does something stupid, and they defend themselves with "hey, it's what I find fun", then you can still criticize them for having stupid goals.
I completely understood Gevlon's point. I just don't believe there are "stupid goals" in a MMORPG.
First off let’s cover EverQuest. Yes you could allocate a few stat points at the start of EQ but for the majority of classes it didn’t make a difference by level 30. Ogre tanks had slightly more HP at max level so they made good tanks, Trolls had regen so they could solo slightly better, and Iksar had regen + high armor making them great solo’n monks and Shadow Knights. Other than those minor differences starting stats didn’t matter. Religion mattered only slightly and that was mainly to Enchanters. I’m sorry you felt you had to reroll in EQ Tobold, that game wasn’t one I cared to level an alt in… even though I did.

The game that comes to mind that actually allowed for me to make my own decisions and allow them to possibly be sub-optimal was Borderlands. I had a static group I played with every night and we would mess around with specs to find the funniest one. Myself and another Siren created a “suicide bomber” spec where we would run in stealth and blow everything up then someone else would come rez us. Completely sub-optimal but it was a blast.

My issue isn’t that there are sub-optimal builds, it’s that there is normally only 1 optimal build. I want to have 3 or 4 choices of being optimal.

As for Rift, just stay away from it Tobold. The quest grind is taking a toll on me and I wasn’t burnt out on WoW when I came over. It is a fun game but the reason it doesn’t suffer as badly from the social strong arming as WoW is because it is still new. In another 2 or 3 months it’s going to be no different though.
But haven't you gone on about how it's silly to relentlessly chasing the end of content, by mindlessly copying strategies from EJ and other sites?

I agree with you (and I'm looking into "blind raiding" guilds, but they're hard to find). How is this different from Gevlon saying that "slackers, killers" etc are playing it wrong?
@Nils and your two choices. Can't we have a game design that is not optimize-able? You solutions seem to just be about making it harder to optimize or harder for others to audit your optimizations. E.g., Tobold's "there is no best deck?" Maybe it's not possible with the "we need to finely tune this static encounter" PvE? Perhaps you could allow the player to select 20 of 50 talents, none of which were direct DPS increases: e.g. PursuitOfJustice speed increase or cauterize might be less optimize-able than increase spell haste by 1%.

The usually more interesting "meta" question is "What is the purpose of talent trees anyway?" With the current system, I think just choosing "arcane" for my mage with no talent points to spend - fixed build - would be much simpler for beginners while not taking that much, unfortunately, away from people not in realm first progression tweaks. ( I thought it was neat that Paragon came up with a 7/2/32 resto shaman build where the shaman got hit capped and casted enough lightening bolts to be able to spam HR. But that sure seems to be the exception not the rule for talent builds.)

At the risk of derailing the derailers, but I think there is only limited market research you can get from
*ANY*forum. What % of customers have posted on a forum in the last month? What % of the 13million WoW players have posted? I have a theory, complete guesswork, that Cata is the result of listening too much to forum and blog posters and not enough to random representative surveys and focus groups of customers and prospects. Implementing too much from EJ or the goblin forums would be a financial disaster for Blizzard while making it a better game for a minority.
@Bernard: "How many of the commenters here would be happy to carry a new player having 'fun' in their 'own way'?"
Why do you assume that playing one's own way means playing badly?

"You might do if it was an IRL friend, but what about a complete stranger in the Dungeon Finder?"
Just another reason why the random anonymous cross-server LFD isn't a good system.
This is one reason I rarely group. Too much like work. I prefer to do my own thing some if which Gevlon would consider stupid but I consider fun. And fun is the whole point of games is it not? Once it stops being fun it is no longer a game and rather another job.

One thing I love about Rift is the ability to mess around with builds. I can have my good build and then my experimental builds.
ffxi seems to mostly avoid sub-optimal fear. I think this is because 1. observable difference between optimal gear and average gear is small. 2. the best gear is insanely hard to get or costs a insane amount of money. 3. sub-optimal gear doesn't mean instant death. Potentially stuff/fights just take longer. 4. monsters are unpredictable & Even the best geared players can get killed.
Hagu said:

"Can't we have a game design that is not optimize-able?"

No. At least not in the rigid PVE raid encounter environment that currently exists in all the MMO's I've played.

For any fixed encounter there will be, can only be, one *best* solution. The others might be close but they're not the *best*.

Which is okay. The problem arises with the players when they adopt the position that the *best* solution is the *only* valid solution and anyone is not the *best* is a slacker.

So the player base gets into a situation where it becomes a social requirement to spend hours of playtime grinding gear in order to save five minutes on a dungeon run.

Lotta folks commenting here be equating "sub-optimal" with "so glubbernuggin terrible what ya end up bein' a waste of oxygen." Is poor thinking. 90% be less than optimal. 99.9% be less than optimal. Yet it still manages fer ta get the job done.

You ain't Batman, so yer body be less than optimal. Yet, ya still manages ta get up in the morning, eat yer Wheaties, and build ice sculptures or whatever it be you do. You ain't forced ta lie there on the floor, gasping fer air, until some bugger what can do 18k dps picks ya up and carries you.

You ain't Albert Frankenstein, so yer brain be less than optimal. Yet you still manages fer ta recognize yer dog, raise yer kids, and solve non-linearalized equations, or whatevers it be you do. You ain't forced ta sit in a corner wettin' yerself and sayin' "buh-buh-buh" until ya get vote-kicked.

I's just a simple orc, so I ain't optimized. Ain't never gone ta EJ and asked'em ta spoon-feed me me spec and glyphs and BiS list. Yet ya know what? I read a bit, I practice a bit, I think a bit. And I manages fer ta not just clear heroics with other buggers what ain't been spoon-fed, but we kill raid bosses too. All without bein' pedophiles.
Mike is spot on. Any pre-programmed encounter is going to have one "best" solution. It's just a matter of time until someone discovers it. The problem arises when people equate "best" with "only" and any other solution is considered unacceptable. I would argue though, that WoW in its current form forces people down that path to a very high degree. The slimming down of the talent trees, the existence of the armory, etc. all serve to promote the "best = only" problem.
@Hagu, I wrote more extensively on my blog. There are 5 choices, I think.
I agree with you about inspecting and the armory. The game would be so much better without them. In the end, what matters is how you perform. People should be juding you on how you perform, or your reputation based on what others said about your performance. The armory spawned an even more evil offshoot, the gearscore addon. I like armory for looking at your own characters and checking possible upgrades for each slot. But not for checking that on other people. I would rather make my judgement of them by real experience.
I absolutely LOVED World of Warcraft's talent trees until Cataclysm. It is way more interesting when people have more choices, including the choice to fail and build a sub-optimal talent tree.
Gevlon's pedophile argument was one of the most interesting things he has said in awhile, because usually he tries to make his points using straight logic. The pedophile argument begs a question, "Is it acceptable to dislike somebody just for who they are, and their choices, even when they do not harm you?"(I am not saying pedophiles do not harm anybody, if you read orignal post you will know that). He does not actually say it, but I get the impression he does not like people who collect vanity pets, just for that itself. I doubt there is any person alive who does not have any sort of prejudice whatsoever. Sometimes it's nice to just hear somebody's opinion without a bunch of logic afterwards to "prove my point". Hey, guess what? I hate dwarves.
@Mike "For any fixed encounter there will be, can only be, one *best* solution. The others might be close but they're not the *best*."

Horizontal progression? There can be more than one "best" if there are more than one approaches with equal potential. Also there can be a level of complexity so that there can never be a conclusive "best". If you factor in layers of other systems. Unfortunately this isn't a mainstay of the genre yet(doesn't mean it can't be done though).
@Gilded "Horizontal progression? There can be more than one "best" if there are more than one approaches with equal potential."

With the games designed the way they are around stats for doing damage, preventing damage and repairing damage even horizontal progression is almost certain to give each class a single best approach.

It's definitely possible that you could wind up with two approaches giving exactly the same damage but I think that is so unlikely that it can be safely ignored for the purposes of this debate.

"I would argue though, that WoW in its current form forces people down that path to a very high degree. The slimming down of the talent trees, the existence of the armory, etc. all serve to promote the "best = only" problem."

I think this is incorrect. The point of slimming down talent trees and simplifying stats and gear choices is that, even if you are using a suboptimal build, you are still perhaps 90% efficient if you have a clue how to play at all [in the sense of not gearing for Intellect as a Warrior or just trying to spam one attack]. It doesn't mean you can't be suboptimal, it just limits how suboptimal you can be. This is a benefit for people who simply don't have a clue how to start approaching WoW; these people are not suboptimal by choice, but instead because the game does not give them enough information to improve [which is one of the things Blizzard has been trying to improve with WoW].

In addition, I don't see how the existence of the armory has WoW "force" people down a highly optimal path. In fact if I recall correctly, the in-game Inspect function existed before the Armory did [I'd double-check on Wowpedia, but it looks like it'd be annoying to do]. Instead, I'd argue that it has nothing to do with WoW itself; the player base is what is forcing other people down a highly optimal path.

You are correct in that the problem is not unique to WoW and that the players drive the problem to a high degree. However, I would argue that WoW has given the players the TOOLS to make this possible. Without the armory, in-game inspection, and childishly simple talent trees, the player base would not have to tools with which to persecute other players for not "being optimal." All they would be able to judge is their performance. And if they perform well enough to do the job, does it really matter if their spec/gear is "sub-optimal?"

Somehow I'm unsatisfied by your argument, because the three things you've cited ["the armory, in-game inspection, and childishly simple talent trees"] have nothing to do with the optimal/suboptimal issue at all. Rather, their removal would simply prevent people from being mocked for being suboptimal by hiding their choices. I think I'm not happy with this idea because it seems to support the idea that being suboptimal is bad and shameful and should be hidden away from other people. Rather I feel that if you're willing to experiment and be suboptimal that you should be ready to show and defend your choices.

I, personally, would blame the optimal/suboptimal issue on precisely two things:

1) The transparency of combat mechanics, allowing you to understand what affects what and how effective various abilities are.

2) The proliferation of the internet.

The size and popularity of WoW simply magnifies the effect of these two things, with significantly more people exploring and sharing the results of their experimentation [the point of which, after all, is to find the optimal, be it boss strategy or talent spec or gear].
I completely agree, in 4 different ways, in fact. The first, and I think most important (though probably most overlooked as it was subtle) point you make has to do with "play." It's so important, in fact, that I shall steal it for my own blog and say no more here. Thanks (;

Secondly, I think your main point is quite true. It's basically made me stop playing my mage. Because I've been incapable of breaking 11k in a clearly OP spec, I've become more and more frustrated with dpsing. Now, I've gone back to tanking and healing on my other toons simply because as long as everyone's alive, I'm okay with my performance.

Third, I think you make a point about how single player games are "forgiving" in that the gameplay lets you know what changes you need to make without criticizing or judging, when any changes are needed at all (I've found that to be rare, as the games are made to work no matter what you decide). WoW doesn't work that way because you cannot determine how much dps you're doing compared to others without out-of-game tools to help you, often which causes other people to judge. This is an unfortunate side effect to a multiplayer game, but probably unavoidable without removing all measuring devices.

Lastly, I think your point about playing new games is very good. I remember reading (on Jaded alt or Spinks - I can't remember) about "The Window," the time in which you're allowed to play a game, experiment, ask questions, and just see what's what without being judged a noob or poor player. That is my wife's favorite time in a game, hands down, when you can just have fun.
The thing about this cult of efficiency is that it isn't real. There. I said it. Instead, it's the pairing up of inexperienced players with experienced players. We have people entering heroics who clearly don't have any idea of what they're doing, grouped up with raiders who want to clear their daily for the umpteenth time and get out ASAP.

And then there's the problem that there's no good way of identifying eachother's respective skill level. Gear is not skill. Clean and simple. So with that lack of information, people can only assume that they are of at least a passable skill level. Many players have been playing for around 3+ years now, so they assume that the knowledge of their 3+ years is common sense.

We don't expect a 1 year-old to understand mathematics. But we can recognize that he is a 1 year-old, and we won't bring him on our team to a math contest any time soon.

The same cannot be said for dungeon grouping.
Actually, the design "solution" to this problem is implicit in Tobold's observation that new games reset the theorycrafting progession and don't have this same problem, at least for a while. Now obviously as a developer you don't want your player base to move to a new game, but you also don't want to have a stagnant game system thats been min-maxed and analyzed to death. So the solution is obvious: constantly renew your gamesystem to reset the theorycrafting and give your entire player base, from serious to casual players, the sense of exploration.

I remember Tobold from back when he was a big Magic the Gathering Online player, and MtG is actually a really excellent example of this process, but not for the reasons he suggested upthread. It's true that there is no one "best deck" in MtG, but there are a small number of well-identified "Tier 1" decks (builds). And as another poster has pointed out, playing with "suboptimal" decks will still get you mocked at a competitive level.

Similarly, in many games there are a small number of "Tier 1" builds for each class. Rift benefits here as each class is itself so complex thanks to the soul system, which creates lots of room for purpose-built specs. My endgame mage has optimized an AOE DPS spec, a single target DPS spec, a heal spec, and a burst DPS (PvP) specs. And indeed each of those specs could be tweaked to be situationally better or worse in different scenarios. For example my heal spec is intended for raiding, not instances, which affects some of the choices I've made.

But this is clearly not enough. If all MtG ever was, is the same group of Tier 1 decks that never change over time, that would still be a dull and stagnant game, as some people feel Rift is becoming despite how many different "best" builds there are in Rift.

The brilliance of the MtG model is that the entire game is built around the assumption that the underlying mechanics will shift over time as new sets, cards, and mechanics are released. To keep up the T1 decks must also change over time. The competitive MtG scene has room for both "netdeckers" (those who simply download the latest "best deck") who are good deck pilots, and innovators/metagame readers who push the envelop of theorycraft in order gain a bit of an edge on the competition. Typically the best deckbuilders have an advantage early in a MtG "season" and then as it progresses the latest theorycraft is widely disseminated and then pure deck "pilots" start to take over. But sometimes a new deck can still come out of left field and surprise everyone. MtG has the added advantage of being essentially a "PvP" game. In PvE the challenge is static and unchanging, so it's easy to define the optimal build for a given challenge. In MtG, the player base is constantly evolving and shifting as new builds become more fashionable or a deck that is too popular starts to see competition tuned to specifically defeat it. The fluidity of a PvP metagame, combined with the underlying mechanics "resets" every few months, ensures that MtG remains an excellent experience for explorers, even on the competitive level. Obviously it works in much the same way on the casual level too, with the same process playing out in casual game groups.

This system basically grew out of Wizards of the Coast's desire to sell new cards to old players. But in doing so they've discovered a great way to create a game that constantly feels fresh and new.
As an addendum:
Players will get less and less forgiving of their group members doing anything sub-optimal.

It's basically the equivalent of you being in the 2nd grade, and needing to wait for your teammates (who are actually 1st graders) to finish their problems, learn their lessons before you can move on. But there's a solution: don't put first and second graders together.

Your post's words generalizes players as everyone degrading those below them. But that isn't true. If you put the players where they belong, then the newcomers will have the time they need to grow and experience the things they need to experience on their own time.

There are plentiful examples in the thread above that the "cult" does exist. Paradoxically, you even appear to recognise it yourself.
Somehow I'm unsatisfied by your argument, because the three things you've cited ["the armory, in-game inspection, and childishly simple talent trees"] have nothing to do with the optimal/suboptimal issue at all.

I call bullshit......

Prior to the armory I on more than one occassion ran raids with oddball specs that I was testing. It made very little difference in my numbers with one exception and everyone was happy.

show up in a 5 man today with a talent point out of place and its not uncommon for someone to point out to you that it's wrong. I believe a huge portion of the angst and stupidity in wow is because of the ability to check out every character choice, achievement and action of a prospective teammate. Give people too much data and they'll misuse it everytime.
lets be honest, the Armory is the WOW equivilant of Credit Scores.

Yes theres some correllation to player skill level there but a lot of good players who actually "play" the game instead of "working a second job" get misclassifed or worst case accused of being the equivilant of pedophiles by gevlon.

The problem with is that you're just saying "Before the armory I could use random specs. These days I can't." But certainly a whole lot more changed between now and then than just the addition of the armory, like, perhaps, the increase in general knowledge among the playerbase that causes, among other things, simple tank-and-spank bosses to be obsolete.
There are plentiful examples in the thread above that the "cult" does exist. Paradoxically, you even appear to recognise it yourself.

I don't believe that the average player min-maxes to 100% efficiency, nor do most raiders. There's a point to their laziness and their ability to micro-manage others. I don't go around proactively inspecting other people's gear/talents, and I would say I would definitely fall into the group of high-efficiency.

I start out, and when I sense deficiencies in performance (i.e. DPS is low, tank not getting aggros, healer spamming flash heals and OOMing), then I start looking at people at stuff. But the problem isn't me or them, it's that I, a hardmode raider, got grouped into a bunch of beginners doing their first heroic. I'm mad at their inability to do their job, of course, but the situation only arose because of this mis-matched pairing in the first place.
Thought Experiment:

Assume Fire Mages do 1% more damage than Arcane with no compensating disadvantages. Just trivially better.

I posit that if you looked at World of Logs, you would see fire mages out performing arcane by a considerable amount because the more knowledgeable players would choose to play Fire.

But that means, all other things being equal, I would choose a Fire over an Arcane. It is certainly not a guarantee but it is a mild Shibboleth of knowledge.
I just realized a personality difference: I submit one's opinion is colored by what you consider "playing the game"

If you consider playing the game to be interacting with the game client, then being forced to go to EJ is a distraction.

While I consider doing anything in the WoW ecosystem as "playing WoW." For example, if I have 20 hours to play WoW this week, then that is not 20 hours in WoW and 3 reading EJ, and 7 reading blogs and 1 hour in a crafting spreadsheet; it's all "playing WoW." And I will quit reading EJ and WoW blogs when I unsubscribe. For me, going to TheUndermineJournal, looking up a price and entering it in my spreadsheet is as much playing WoW as casting fireball.

This is colored by the fact that I find reading about specs, attributes and talents more enjoyable than twitching around Cata raids. I loved
where the raid boss leaves and you just fight the floor.

I think you can regard third parties web sites as
a) Cheating
b) Unfortunate Distraction and a symptom of bad game design
c) extended user-generated content that is effectively part of the game and makes for a much richer game.

Yes, a lot of the min/max crowd are just Gevlon sociopaths who want to insult people. But people in the (c) group above are going to be much less resistant than the others.

My metaquestion is that min/max is just a special case of "should you be able to play your toon in an above average manner just using ingame resources?" I sympathize with the idea that that should be true. But Blizzard sometimes takes two months to correct tooltips; they simply do not have the resources or desire to document the game the game that well. Not to mention provide the tutorials. How much "just playing the game" would it take to figure out that spirit no longer helps my mage in Cata but intellect does? Versus reading WoWInsider. Certainly external reading is extremely valuable if you are competing in the Auction House.
When playing Dragon Age 2 I just had to look up some "optimal builds".
I didn't find much and just started distributing my points in what I thought what best.

But yes, for an mmorpg like WoW? You only have the illusion of choice. There are hundreds of potential builds. And maybe 3 viable choices for raids.
I've accepted that outside of the solo game, I need to be "optimal". My frustration oddly then becomes knowing exactly what the optimal build/gear/rotation is (from patch to patch and from class to class).

I'm aware of,, and others, but it takes a ridiculous amount of time for me to just find the answers. At this point, it would almost make more sense if Blizzard just told you up front how to maximize your raid dps for your current class. At the very least they could warn you about sub-optimal talent points spent and sub-optimal gear, and tell you where to go to get better gear.

No, I'm not being sarcastic. Would having the game itself tell you what to do be any different than having the internet tell you what to do? Either way, there is still only one right answer and you can't really continue playing until you look it up.
I just quit a few weeks ago only to learn that WoW had almost killed my desire to play video games at all. Like you have been playing since back in the day (Vic 20).. and before WoW I was perfectly happy.. Now, I can’t quite put my finger on why but single player games seem a bit hollow. I still play .. the time off has given me time to catch up on Dead Red, Dragon Age .. Mario Bro, Guitar Hero. The issue for me is that I just don’t get as into them as I did WoW .. Even though I played solo mostly .. I miss the dynamic feel. One thing I don’t miss however .. jerks. .. I hope you keep on blogging, I’ve been reading yours for a long time and I enjoy your non-jerk non-elitist insight.
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