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How is World of Warcraft not a cheeseburger?

Matthew Rossi
I love analogies, but sometimes they get used to the point where they cease to be useful. And I find the idea of comparing World of Warcraft to a cheeseburger you ordered to be one of those times. But this forum thread, started by forum poster Otsego (who is surprisingly not undead) comparing the changes in the hunter class to ordering a cheeseburger and getting mayo on it (I hate mayo, by the way) and not being able to get the burger without the mayo. The thread ended up getting a lot of posts from players and Ghostcrawler alike, so I thought it worth some analysis. Seriously, I freaking hate mayonnaise. If this wasn't a family site I would be filling this post with profanity and vulgarity right now about how bad mayo is.

Ghostcrawler's first response to the thread interests me for a variety of reasons. The first reason is this quote:

I've actually used the restaurant analogy myself, because few restaurant patrons have the impression that they're going to be able to go back into the kitchen, give the chefs pointers, rearrange the menu and so on just because they think highly of their own opinions on food.

Clearly he's never gone out to dinner with me. (I kid, I kid, I'm actually a very quiet and shy person in public.) But his later point about the desire to try and satisfy a very diverse playerbase with the game's design resonated with me, and it got me thinking about how World of Warcraft is, to a degree, a victim of its own success. Not only do you have to design each class to fill specific roles in a way dictated by its thematic roots (hunters and mages are both ranged DPS, but how they ranged DPS is wildly different for instance) but you also have to design for a very wide variety of players. That's much harder than simply slapping a variety of options up on a big menu board and being done with it.

No, I do not want fries with that mage

To give one example, the warrior class can tank or DPS. To a player who only plays on weekends, runs maybe one dungeon a week, does a lot of dailies and random battlegrounds as an arms warrior, the class's tanking ability could be completely superfluous. It serves no purpose to her, she does not care whether or not her class can tank a raid. She cares about the class in BG PvP and for soloing, and yet, the class design that accommodates her must also have room for the warrior tank who has never even touched a DPS spec, has been tanking since MC, and wouldn't even play if he couldn't tank anymore. You could please the first player with a design focused entirely around warrior DPS and PvP, but the other player would quit the game. The goal is to please both of them, and every player in-between them.

This gets further discussion in a follow up post that I'm going to reproduce in its entirety so we can look it over before we discuss it. I'll break the post up into sections so we can look at it constructively.

Ghostcrawler - Cheeseburger dilemma (how players see devs)
I think there are a couple of points here worth addressing that either came up since my initial post or I missed the first time.

I think part of what the OP is asking for is alternatives to the hunter (IIRC) rotation with fewer buttons. That's a reasonable request. We tried in the talent trees overall to make sure there was always a passive option for every tier so you didn't need a button. The level 60 tier has 2 active buttons and one that is somewhat reactionary, and the level 75 tier has 3 active buttons. We like the hunter tree overall and are unlikely to change it at this stage, but I think it's a fair criticism for players who like fewer buttons.

I originally loved Impending Victory, the active attack that heals in the level 30 talent tier. After a few days, I've switched all my warriors over to Second Wind, because I don't have to do anything with Second Wind. I don't have to remember to use it, I don't have to actively time its use, I don't have to ever curse it for not being active when I need it because I already used it. There's always a line between enough buttons to keep you active and engaged vs. too many buttons to allow you to feel like you're able to do anything productively. Some players may need or want more buttons to hit, to feel like they're in control, while others would love to leave more automation in place.

The maximum contentment potential

This is always going to be a subjective issue. Enraged Regeneration, a strong heal on a 1 minute cooldown, is certainly also a strong talent and one I took on my backup tanking spec. I like Second Wind's automatic nature but I also like having a button to hit when I want to hit it, and the design has to take this struggle between active and passive abilities into account, again trying to satisfy both. In essence, it's like trying to paint fine lines with a spray gun.

Ghostcrawler - Cheeseburger dilemma (how players see devs)
Second, there is a lot of supposition that we somehow baited and switched players by changing the game. We have to change the game. Many of the rules and mechanics in vanilla wouldn't be acceptable to players these days. So I think we're just arguing about degree of change. Some warlocks are saying their class changed too much and some rogues are saying their class didn't change enough. Those are all valid opinions and the kinds of things we try and take into consideration when we're deciding on class changes going into an expansion.

I hope you take my word though that every change we make, even the ones that end up not working out again, are made because we are ultimately trying to make the game more fun for the players, and not because we're bored designers trying to entertain ourselves by experimenting with your characters. We weigh every change. You still may not agree with them all, but I want to reassure you that they aren't made on a whim, and nearly every one began with player feedback at some point.

As someone who has been playing this game for years, I often find myself dizzy when I sit down and contemplate how much the class has changed since my old MC days. We've gone from the days of massive Heroic Strike spam to hold aggro to the days of threat at 500% and Heroic Strike being absolutely not something you want to spam, from defense capping and combat table coverage to active mitigation. If someone who stopped playing a warrior half-way to 70 came back to the game today they would have no idea what half of the abilities we rely on now even do. Over time, class change, even incremental class change adds up, and the desire to keep change from overwhelming players has to be part of its design. And World of Warcraft's class design is remarkably conservative in terms of change to the game, believe it or not. It took them almost 8 years to dump the old talent system.

I personally don't agree with certain changes this expansion. I don't like the new glyph system. I don't like having to cap rep with various factions for valor gear. I don't like the 3000 point valor cap, I don't like how rage worked out (it still feels too low to me) and I don't like losing abilities I've had for years. (Goodbye, Retaliation.) I'm on record as arguing for a more fluid, get and spend rage system like Diablo III. All of that disagreement is still there. But it's manifestly true that Blizzard simply doesn't make changes to World of Warcraft on a whim. Class changes weren't made because the designers want to show off. If that were the case, why would they have repeatedly admitted that the rogue class design and resource system, one that is possibly the oldest mechanic in the game and which is older than many people on the current dev team, has survived almost unchanged? Blizzard doesn't want to make changes, they do so when they believe they have to.

Ghostcrawler - Cheeseburger dilemma (how players see devs)
Finally, it has been mentioned a few times in this thread that when most players feel a certain way, that the developers should absolutely take action. I'd generally agree with that statement. The main problem with that strategy is that we don't really have any idea what most players want. (And no, you can't just extrapolate that if 4 forum posters feel one way, then 400,000 non-posters must as well).

Instead, we fall back a lot on logic, common sense, professional experience and a lot of gut instinct. We do use a lot of ways to capture player feedback, and the forums are one of those tools. They're good for pitching ideas or points of view, but bad for trying to figure out how many other players agree with you.

What happens nearly every time is some group of players advocates position A and another group advocates position B. What sometimes happens after that is the A players try to argue that they are smarter, more experienced, or more important players, therefore their opinion should count more. :) As you have all experienced, it can escalate into an argument quickly. We try to take both positions under advisement, consider what A or B would mean for the game, maybe try some things out internally, and eventually come to a conclusion. Sometimes we do A, sometimes B, sometimes nothing, and sometimes C. None of that means we ignore player feedback. It definitely does not mean that we ignore these massive groups of sensible players who are unified on a given position that is so self-evidently correct that we're obviously derelict in our jobs for not implementing their changes immediately. Those scenarios just don't exist. It would make our lives much easier perhaps if they did.

Consensus in World of Warcraft is almost impossible, and it's even harder when it comes to class design. Even when players agree on something, they often don't agree at all with each other as to what the solution is, and every time a change is made in the game's design it risks alienating people. For every player who loved the introduction of Holy Power, there's a paladin sitting unplayed somewhere, abandoned by a player who was used to the pre-Holy Power paladin and who didn't want to learn the new system. Warlocks weren't heavily redesigned in Mists of Pandaria because the dev team loves the ides of a class redesign (I'm not saying they do or that they don't love class redesigns, mind you, just that it wasn't the reason for the changes) but because the class had significant issues that they sought to address.

Never change, you stagnate. Change too much, you shed identity.

Earlier I mentioned that the warrior class, as an example, contains casual soloers and weekend PvPers and dedicated tanks and all the options in-between. There are hardcore DPS warriors, dedicated PvP warriors, warriors who are a beloved alt played forever at level 70, warriors who respec between prot specs for PvP and raiding, warriors that will never even see the inside of a dungeon or BG and which just run arenas constantly. Each of these kinds of players, and thousands upon thousands more I haven't expressed, are present in the class. Now imagine suddenly changing warriors so that they couldn't tank and making them a pure melee class.

Would some players be happy? Absolutely. Warriors could be balanced to be pure damage dealers. But imagine all the players who rolled a warrior to tank. What happens to them? Are they going to be happy with this change? No, absolutely not. Now, amazingly, the majority of these players (and of all World of Warcraft players) do not read the forums, do not even read sites like this one. Even if Blizzard told everyone six months in advance "Warriors won't be tanking as of patch 6.0.2, we're going to have a trade feature that lets you trade in your warrior for a member of one of the tank classes when the patch drops" the majority of warrior players would not know. They would only find out when they logged in on the day of the patch and were asked if they wanted to keep their warrior, or switch to a tank class.

And many of them would just stop playing. Some would take the trade, sure. Some would be thrilled at their new, pure melee warrior. Some folks might even start playing a long abandoned warrior alt to see what they were like. But some, maybe even most, of those players who rolled a warrior to tank would simply stop playing. This is absolutely an extreme example, but it's only different from the way people feel when they log in and their characters' rotation or skills have changed by degree. So while Blizzard understands and accepts that sometimes you have to make changes (even extreme changes) to the game, they simply can't go and do so based on what players want entirely due to the fact that with so many players, you're never going to know what they all want. It's just not possible. The forums are useful, yes, but they're just one tool out of many.

In the end, neither the cheeseburger analogy (I hate mayonnaise) nor the restaurant analogy are useful here. World of Warcraft is neither of these things. It is the largest MMO in the world, and it has to try and please a wildly disparate user base. Let it be a game.

It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!

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