Gordon, from We Fly Spitfires, recently wrote a controversial guest post on World of Matticus, Tanks and Healers Should Get The Biggest Rewards.
I think a lot of the controversy comes there are several issues entangled together in this piece. If we unravel the issues, I think a clearer picture emerges.
Tanks and healers are the most important classes for any group...These are the two most important classes that exist in any MMORPG. But the DPS? They’re just meat in the room.
This statement is true for certain levels of play, but completely and utterly false at different levels. At the lowest levels of skill--for example, normal dungeons, easy heroics, Naxxramas--yes, the tanks and healers are the most important. A solid tank and healer can carry the DPS to victory. A bad tank or healer will probably wipe the raid.
But at the higher levels of play, the DPS takes on more and more importance. Good DPS becomes supremely valuable, much more so than tanks and healers. Excellent DPS can carry decent tanks and healers on difficult content, while the reverse cannot happen. In my view, the single greatest difference between Royalty guilds and the rest of us is that their DPS players are significantly better than most of the DPS in lower tier guilds.
I mean, it’s in our culture to reward those that do the most and work the hardest, right?
This line goes to the heart of the issue. Gordon assumes that tanks and healers do the most and work the hardest. But he never actually proves that they do.
In my experience, good DPS works just as hard as tanks and healers do. They theorycraft, get the best gear, and hone their rotations on the target dummies. Kind of honestly, the DPS in my guild do more work than I do.
I think a lot of the problem here is that Gordon is conflating "scarcity" with "moral value". Specifically, it is undeniable that tanks and healers are less popular roles than DPS. But that does not mean that DPS players players choose DPS because they are lazy. Or that tanks choose tanking because they are noble souls devoted to the betterment of humanity.
There are many other reasons. DPS is more active. You are actively killing the enemy, not just holding the line the way the tanks and healers do. The DPS archetypes are often more popular and may resonate in the imagination to a greater degree. Hunters, mages, and rogues in particular are very iconic archetypes. Retribution is much closer to the archetypal paladin image than Holy is.
So I don't think that tanks and healers "deserve" the biggest rewards. "Deserve" implies connotations about moral value that I do not agree with, especially given how important superb DPS is in the harder levels of the game.
However, it might still be a good idea to give tanks and healers higher rewards. A higher reward might nudge more people into trying tanking or healing. It's like the new rewards for Oculus. If you complete Oculus, you don't "deserve" better rewards. It simply isn't that hard, especially after it was nerfed. But the rewards do encourage people to stick with Oculus, leading to a better game experience.
Similarly, a higher reward might convince some DPS to switch to tanking or healing. More tanks and healers mean faster dungeon queues for everyone, making everyone a winner. Extra badges would be a bad idea, because that would gear tanks and healers up faster, encouraging them to stop earlier. However, extra gold might be an interesting incentive.
But to reiterate, extra incentives to play a certain role does not mean that role is morally superior to the others.