What do you consider when looking at whether a class is doing too much or too little damage? – Merovin (LA)
As you probably suspect, we have a simple counter that measures the number of forum posts on a given class and we buff or nerf accordingly.
Seriously though, we look at a lot of different measurements, which becomes the full-time job of several designers. Our three most powerful tools are doing predictive modeling for how classes will perform under various scenarios and with various levels of gear, actually testing these numbers using characters in the game world, and then measuring the numbers generated by actual players on PTR or live servers.
Remember that we have access to a number of tools not available to players. While theorycrafters have gotten very good at reverse engineering how our damage calculations work, there are still a few opportunities where they get it wrong while we can just peek under the hood to remind ourselves how a calculation is made. Secondly, it's very easy for us to create a lot of characters with whatever gear we want and have them beat on whatever kinds of targets we want in a very controlled environment. We can also change any of the numbers to empirically test the outcome. Furthermore, we can automate character damage rotations to a much greater degree than macros can accomplish, which gives us an idea of the delta between theoretical maxima and more typical player performance (which includes things like human reaction speed, decision making and good old Internet lag).
The specific situation that the character is in matters enormously. Maximum sustained DPS is almost irrelevant in PvP when applying burst in controlled windows is king. Yet both numbers have a huge impact on the game and neither is more important than the other. In PvE, the specifics of an encounter can trump almost everything. We have very few Patchwerk-style fights these days, and sometimes we even buff or debuff characters directly as part of the encounter. Some specs are good on movement fights. Some do better when there is a lot of incoming damage. Some benefit from spreading dots. Some can shoot flying dragons. We tend to focus a lot of our balance effort on the current tier of raiding content, because that is what is most important to players, but even then we have to look at a wide variety of skill sets. We do look at scaling into future content, but we tend to obsess over it a lot less than players do, because we adjust classes quite often these days. We actually do read the forums a lot too, our own and all the others out there that you probably read, just to make sure there is nothing we're missing. Our community team helps enormously in this endeavor, particularly in helping to funnel the feedback from players from Latin America, Europe and Asia. We're in contact with expert gamers from around the world. We also all play the game a great deal and very often we personally catch a bug or something else that isn't working quite right.
As an aside, this is the kind of question we were really hoping to get more of with this series. It's open-ended, potentially interesting to a lot of different players, and not just a thinly veiled demand for buffs.