Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Problem With Tanking

The hot topic out there continues to be tanking design. It is obviously high on Blizz's to-do list, and it's been getting a lot of air time and little tweaks.  Most recently, Ghostcrawler discussed some of the finer points on the Dev Watercooler blog.  There have been some responses, but in particular I'm fond of Ratshag's article.  Not only does it pretty much represent the single longest buggerthumpin' article we've seen from the loquacious orc, but I feel it also makes some darned good points.

The overarching message of the article is that Ghostcrawler seems to be missing the point a bit.  He seems to be discussing button presses and abilities, when perhaps he should be focused more on what tanks believe to be the essence of tanking.  Namely, things like positioning, control, and situational awareness.  Or, as Ratshag puts it: Tanks don't want to be Mages.  (To which I might reply: who does?)

In any case, I agree wholeheartedly with my green-skinned fellow blogger.  Furthermore, I think a lot of the loudest complaints right now are from people that just shouldn't be tanks.  They don't really want to do what tanking requires, but are looking for some way enjoy a role that, quite simply, they don't want.  They would be happier as a DPS, and just don't want to admit it.  Call it tank denial.  And should we ruin a role to accommodate this?

I would say that most tanks, true tanks, were relieved at the threat change.  Maybe it does trivialize button pressing to some extent, but only in the area of throughput.  Now tanks can focus on the more important aspects of tanking without worrying about losing things so much.

In my musings about this topic, I've tried to go back and figure out how we got here.  What was the history that has led us to this point.  It seemed pretty clear, actually.  In Wrath, there was too much dependence on AoE that led to a trivialization of encounters.  Blizz wanted to make things harder, so the answer was to "make AoE harder."  However, instead of relying on innovative mechanics to do this, we got a higher mana cost for AoE spells, and AoE threat nerfs.  They controlled it by punishing us for using AoE, and, at first, it worked.  But there are always consequences.  In this case, tanks became too focused on threat throughput, and lost a bit of the soul of tanking.  It made the role less fun.

Maybe we should step back, though.  Maybe to truly solve this problem we need to stop trying to put duct tape on a band-aid and actually deal with the wound.  Maybe we should ask "Why do we AoE?"

In that, the response is quite simple.  We AoE because it is faster.  Easier.  But what if it wasn't?  Right now, it's still easier, once you get geared enough, to simply group everything up and burn it down.  The answer shouldn't be to punish players by nerfing abilities to keep them playing "slower."  Why not innovate, and deal with the core issue.

For example, if we're talking trash mobs, make sure you have a healing mob with every pull.  A simple design philosophy.  And make that healer badass.  Make him able to nullify incoming damage unless he is CC'ed.  Shift the CC decision from one of limiting incoming damage, to one of actually controlling the mobs.  Currently, we CC because we'll die if we don't.  Why not make it a choice not of death, but of timeMake it longer and harder to AoE.  Then, I would bet good money, people eventually wouldn't do it as much.

In fact, we might see some awesome consequences like people looking for the healer.  As it stands now, I hardly pay attention to the role of mobs.  If CC were an answer for easier and faster instead of easier but slower, it might be significantly more attractive.

We've proven, over the years, that we, as players, are going to find the quickest, easiest route.  We want to maximize our rewards for the time spent (for the most part).  Then design around that.  Make that the core philosophy and embrace it.  Reward the proper usage of ability with faster completions.  Punish it by making it take longer.  CC doesn't do that now.  The punishment is supposed to be death and corpse runs (time), but that's becoming more and more trivial.  Make it actually rewarding to plan your pulls.

Getting back to tank design, if follow this design path, it seems to me that we can get away from threat throughput based designs, and focus more on the essence of tanking.  Tanks can look less at threat meters, and focus more on positioning and location.  To me, that is the kind of solution that would make tanking more fun and rewarding, not any amount of clever button pressing.  Like Ratshag, I believe the Devs seem to be missing the point a bit.  Maybe they're listening to all those tanks that are secretly Mages.  And we all know what happens when you listen to Mages...

The bottom line: the game should be about more than button pressing.  If tanks are standing around, contemplating Magery, then they should be doing it wrong, and the game design should teach them that.

I have faith that the Devs are smart guys, and I'm sure Ghostcrawler was simply relating one, small, poorly communicated sub-conversation of the greater tanking discussion.  I would shudder if that was the only avenue they're pursuing.  Still, it's up to us, the customers, to use our voices to make sure they don't corrupt the true soul of tanking... which may sound odd coming from a Warlock, but there it is.

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