Wednesday, July 09, 2008

No Room For Johnny

In Magic:the Gathering design, people often speak of three player archetypes: Timmy, Johnny, and Spike.

Rosewater writes that "Timmy likes to win big. He doesn’t want to eke out a last minute victory. Timmy wants to smash his opponents. He likes his cards to be impressive, and he enjoys playing big creatures and big spells." In WoW terms, we'd probably ascribe the "casual" label to Timmy.

"Spike is the competitive player. Spike plays to win. Spike enjoys winning. To accomplish this, Spike will play whatever the best deck is. Spike will copy decks off the Internet. Spike will borrow other players’ decks. To Spike, the thrill of Magic is the adrenalin rush of competition. Spike enjoys the stimulation of outplaying the opponent and the glory of victory." We'd definitely tag Spike with the "hardcore" label.

But there's a third archetype in Magic, one that may be missing from WoW: Johnny. "Johnny likes a challenge. Johnny enjoys winning with cards that no one else wants to use. He likes making decks that win in innovative ways. What sets Johnny apart from the other profiles is that Johnny enjoys deckbuilding as much as (or more than) he enjoys playing. Johnny loves the cool interactions of the cards. He loves combo decks. Johnny is happiest when he’s exploring uncharted territory."

I know that Johnny exists in WoW. He's the guy who is constantly tinkering with off-the-wall builds; who derides "cookie-cutter" builds on the forums; who attempts to challenge a paladin raider who declares (rightly) that you should use spell crit gems instead of +heal/+int gems. (This last one is from recent threads on the paladin forums. Osc is arguing with Aus and an whole lot of paladin raiders on this issue. Osc is wrong, but I understand why he is arguing.)

Yet Johnny occupies a very different place in the Magic hierarchy than in the WoW hierarchy. In Magic, Johnny is respected because occasionally his creations are tournament-level, and often end up being the most powerful decks and/or breaking the format. In WoW though, Johnny's creations are almost never as good as the cookie-cutter builds and options. Johnny is considered misguided at best, a bad player at worst, and generally to be wasting his time. The hardcore guilds are rarely tolerant of Johnny.

So why does this difference exist? I think it exists because the math behind WoW is a lot simpler than the math behind Magic. In particular, the costs in WoW (mana, rage, energy, time) are a heck of a lot simpler than the costs in Magic (tempo, card-advantage, mana-curve). The value of an ability rarely changes in a fight. Thus the best abilities and sequences are quickly calculated. There is no real room for Johnny to experiment.

I think that when designing a game, it's important to try and ensure a place for Johnny, to look at what you can do to prevent cookie-cutter builds/gear/rotations from dominating and stifling that segment of your playerbase.


  1. There is something of a niche for "Johnny". I think people get too focused on high end raiding as the only possible judge of how good a spec is, with perhaps pvp as an "acceptable" alternative spec. One place those of us with odd specs can shine are heroics - and off-specs excel there.

    My arcane mage still partly in blues (and no tier gear) blows away most raiders geared less than t5 or better on the dps charts. Why? Because heroics have shorter battles, so her spec's main weakness - mana issues - mostly isn't a problem there and her ability to generate a large amount of relatively low threat burst dps burns things down fast. Likewise, my shockadin, who has the same need to watch mana closely, is a huge asset in heroics and especially 10 mans where she can dps for trash and heal for bosses.

  2. I have a friend with 50 toons, specifically so he can try all the unorthodox specs. He loves it, it frustrates the hell out of everyone else...

    but I dare say if he was on a RP server, he would be considered a king.

  3. You forgot two important factors: First, there's a huge amount of different mechanics in Magic cards. There's more permutations of card synergies than there are of skill/talent synergies. Secondly, you're more free to mix-and-match. Unlike in WoW, there's nothing stopping you from doing oddball combinations like getting cheap spells from one color and expensive spells from the other. In WoW, you need to pick the low-end talents before you can reach the high-end talents from the same tree. Also, you're not limited by classes. If you want to mix green's critters and buffs with black's debuffs, there's nothing stopping you after you allocate a proper mix of land cards. In WoW, you cannot play a feral affliction lockdruid.

  4. Wow, imagine if you *could* pick your talent trees from any class you wanted. You could come up with some absolutely insane combinations!

    34/27 subtlety rogue resto druid or something, haha.

  5. A Shadow Priest/Warlock build would make me so happy.

  6. You're forgetting magic always brings some new mechanics in a constant cycle the way to play with these new mechanics is often found by the "johnnys" where as in wow mechanics are quite stagnant.

    Not that it is a bad thing considering this is an MMO and to progress that rapidly and change the game so radically would probably annoy a lot of players considering the time involved in developing a character.

    That being said introduction of new spells would be brillant for the "Johnny" type and i definitely would attribute myself with that title as i prefer to think on a different level( wow that sounded arrogant) but this would need to be on a patch by patch basis.

    Honestly pre-tbc i saw the enormous potential for a pally in arena with blessing of sac

    i have somewhat of a philosophy when it comes to abilities use them all no matter how weak them may seem or underused see a druid? scare beast you're a warrior and a hunter has their pet on the healer in wsg taunt the pet when it comes down to it use every spell as not a single one is useless( except firestone not even i could figure that one out)

    But blizzard's patchs are mainly about reducing dominance of previous cookie cutters giving rise to the next line so to speak there haven't been any radical changes since TBC or indeed prior to that other than nerfing a class.

    I.E shamans remained gimped throughout the expansion and no patch could save them as blizzard was unwilling to make any sort of drastic change

    Sure they throw one or two up from time to time but they never make it past test realms do they?

    Simply changing X in an equation doesn't change it it's still the same basic equation if you starting adding Y's well then things need to be rethunk and cookie cutters need to be remade

    in summary Don't change things like cooldowns or mana cost or tack some stupid side effect onto a spell (Arcane shot dispel wtf) add new spells help players rethink new combos for a change

  7. "Sure they throw one or two up from time to time but they never make it past test realms do they?"

    There's actually quite a few counter-examples, but the first one that comes to mind: Instant ghost wolf?

  8. Ah, M:tG. Good times were had.

    I was definitely a Johnny player in Magic. I would constantly rip my decks apart and rebuild them, using different concepts and seeing if they worked. My masterpiece was a zerg-rush deck involving Merfolk and Islandwalk, centered around the Lord of Atlantis summon card, Phantasmal Terrain, and tons of cheap Merfolk summons that I pumped up through Sunken City and other enchantment cards.

    Ah, memories...

  9. I think you've answered your own question. There is a lot of room for weird off-specs while leveling, and even in low-pressure raiding/arena. Unfortunately, your performance will always be worse than someone who takes the cookie cutter spec, because that spec offers the best DPS, etc.

    One of the big factors that makes the difference here is WoW's tiered talent tree. In a game like Magic (not to be confused with the WoW card game), an ability like Crusader Strike would be available to any deck, it just won't be much good in a deck that wasn't built around it. WoW's talent trees say that you MUST put 41 of your 61 points in Ret to unlock Crusader Strike, and that those points MUST be spent in a linear manner. When you absolutely must take one of the two choices from a given tier, and one of them sucks, everyone is going to wind up with the same spec. (Magic has many cards that suck too, but they have many many more total cards to choose from.) The benefit is that we get a markedly different experience playing one spec versus another, but the downside is that the system is effectively designed to settle on the One Optimal Spec.

    It will be interesting to see whether more complicated specs start to emerge as talent trees get longer and longer, and characters get more and more points to spend in them. Wrath will allow characters to have two 31-point talents, a 41 and a 21, or even 71 points packed into a single tree. This has interesting possibilities, but I'm very much afraid of whether Blizzard is going to have a harder and harder time balancing it all. The other caveat is that dedicated specs will move further and further away from the abilities of the base class. Perhaps this is why they're conceding the need for a second talent spec; DPS-specced tanking classes may be unable to function as tanks even in 5-mans, if you're balancing around tanks with 51 points in their respective talent trees.

  10. Wow! (no pun intended) I would have been Johnny.

    But with WoW, once you hit the level cap, there is no room for Johnny, because everything is min/max for raiding or for pvp. There is no place for Johnny to compete against the raiders and pvpers because you can't do it SOLO. That's the key for Johnny, he has to be able to SOLO things. That's why it works in Magic.

    That's also my frustration with WoW. Individual achievement STOPS at 70. From there on you are stuck with a group.

    And when Johnny does discover something cool in the game (hunters being able to tame ghost wolves, or something like that), what does Blizz do?.. NERFS THE HELL OUT OF IT OR TAKES IT AWAY.

    Blizz doesn't like Johnny playing this game.

  11. I read the column on a while back and you're right on the fact that the archetypes can be transferred to the other game.

    But: It's not mentioned in the quoted column, but there is a 4th minor archetype: Vorthos. He is more of a subtype (like Johnny/Vorthos, who makes themed decks following storylines etc.). In WoW, he'd be a lorenut.

    Even though it's not fully transferable, I just wanted to add that.

    Nice to see another blogger that likes M:tG and WoW.

  12. Something to remember is that WoW is an MMO. That stands for Massively MULTIPLAYER Online game. What your character can and can't do affects your entire raid/team. For that reason alone there will always be that pressure to go with the spec that will give the best results. The only way to remove that would be to make talents much less important, which I doubt will happen.

    Magic on the other hand is a single player endeavor. When you make some jutjob Green Squirrel Rush deck (that was mine way back in the 7th edition and damn it was funny) it doesn't affect anyone around you aside from a few chuckles.

    Then of course it has been a long time since I played Magic. Yugimon for the win! :)

  13. I used to play Magic a lot back int he day. Despite all the different combinations, I always went back to U/W Control. CSpell whatever threats you could, blow up whatever threats got past your CSpells.

    Let Eternal Dragons lead the way.

  14. WoW simply lacks the random and luck factor that make MtG deckbuilding so much fun. You always have access to all your abilities in WoW, in MtG every game with the same deck is different as you draw different cards.

    In MtG you had to think of your opponent, and the strength of your deck was based a lot on what cards were in their deck. In WoW, PvE doesn't change and in PvP there is only a small finite set of possible builds.

    MtG also is able to create more powerful cards by making them more rare than others. In a way you could correlate this to gear in WoW, but gear just strengthens your base abilities instead of completely changing them.

    I do miss that aspect of MtG, Thallid or Sliver decks were some of my favorites :).

  15. I think "Johnny" in WoW can be someone who likes to prove weird things can work and bring value to a group, such as the proving that protection paladins have had to do over the last year.

    I recall comments that I shouldn't disenchant all my healing gear, because otherwise I wouldn't have anything to do at 70...

  16. I skimmed some of the other comments, and had a couple thoughts...

    1) I'm no PvPer, but are the PvP builds considered to be cookie cutter at this point? As Blizz messes with stats, Johnny gets to muck with builds...

    2) Another way to look at customization in WoW is to look at Raiding from a much higher up perspective. Boss kill strategies and raid composition are tweakable and some guilds definately spend time mucking with this stuff, even after the cookie cutter strategies have been assembled. Perhaps there isn't as much space for a 'Johnny' up there, but he can definately work up there.

  17. Another thought: I agree that the main thing limiting WoW is the amount of variety possible. In Magic there were too many possibilities, too many ways to make things work together, etc for people to analyze everything and be certain they knew their way around everything. WoW is ultimately a much simpler game. *shrug*

    It's not necessarilly a bad thing. Blizz may have even considered the Johnny persona and decided to exclude it from the game in order to save on other things and to make it more accessible to a different persona (that isn't even listed in WotC's personas).

  18. PvP builds and comps are even more specific than raiding counterparts (2346, eurocomp, RMP, etc. and you get the idea).

    The thing is that you don't really have to be maxed for much of the game. Joe McElementalist Mage can still progress through most of the raid content in the game without maxxing his spec as deep fire. The only instance where you really do need to go absolute min/max is Sunwell, so don't take this as some sort of "it's impossible to do anything" kind of issue. The problem comes with finding people who are willing to allow you to run unusual specs, which again goes back to the fact that this is an MMO and peer pressure to min/max is what causes the problems.

  19. The problem for "Johnny" is forums and thottbot and elitist jerks theorycraft.

    This means that the 5 most hardcore theorycrafters of each craft do the math and determine the best spec and then the other tens of thousands copy that spec/play style.

    Johnny is the scientist in his backyard lab. The problem is that the lab over at Caltech/MIT is bigger and full of smarter guys and they already published results on the web.

    Johnny still has a place come up with one boss specs/gear combos. e.g. Inspiration priests are only worthwhile for a few melee only bosses.

  20. There was a lot more room for Johnny pre BC ^^

  21. There are no Johnnys because for the most part spells and talents don't change. In the over a year of TBC the variables have remained the same so the "best" builds have been established.

    In TCGs they add new cards every few months and when they do it changes everything. Even so, by the time a new set is released the "best" decks are generally well established.

  22. Tharok beat me too it - Johnny should be a casual-guild raid leader.

    "Hmm... how do I get through Tidewalker trash with no mages and five rogues?"


  23. bravo! /applause :) well written and well thought out.

  24. I think that the "Johnny" in wow were the ones that came up with the cookie cutter spec in the first place. The other "Johnny" type in the game is the RL that must use X,Y,Z toons in order to beat a boss while the cookie cutter raid makeup is not available.

  25. I've been playing Johnny in messing around with leveling a Survival Hunter. I pick out a spec that seems to be good and then see how it plays.

    I refine my spec to fit my playstyle and test again....and again....until now I'm pretty comfortable I've optimized my talents for the way I like to play.

    Once I get to 70, I may have to change, but for now, I'm having a lot of fun spending my gold on

  26. I think there's plenty of room for Johnnys in WoW. They're just not what is analogous to what they are in Magic. For starters, Johnny isn't someone who is goofing off. They don't do the fun goofy decks; they want to make their own thing work above all else and not accept things as they are. They want to carve out their own niche. And in that respect, there are plenty of WoW players that do exactly that. Every time you see someone choose to play a boomkin or a ret pally or a prot pally or any number of not quite cookie-cutter specs, they're doing it Johnny style. For every theorycrafting math geek that showed things work a certain way, there's a Johnny lurking there. For every Spike saying that a prot pally can't tank Hydross because of the pull there's someone thinking about using an invis potion.

    The Johnnys of WoW are the ones that solo tank Fel Reavers, try and tank all of FLK's adds and FLK together, or figure out how to launch themselves from Shadowmoon to HFP using rocket-powered boots. They aren't the ones raiding so much, but they're probably the ones informing raiders on how to spec and are talking about gemming for haste when everyone's thinking mp5 is still the way to go. I think WoW is open-ended enough with combinations of items, characters and players that you can get enough creative and successful endeavors; the only thing is that you can't define it as successful in all the generic ways.

  27. In my opinion, the best way for the Johnny archtype to flourish in WoW would be to change the way crafting worked, and give players a lot more control over the types of items they can craft.

    Johnny's thrive in environments with high variability, which is why so many of them are drawn to the combo deck styles. I can only imagine the havoc a dedicated Johnny could wreck if given a plethora of On Equip or On Cast gear effects to pick and choose from. In a sense, Inscription should give everyone a chance to explore their inner combo child, if it lives up to the expectations, because it adds variance to the relatively static game mechanics.

    Btw, mono-Artifact decks ftw.

  28. While a pure Johnny probably doesn't exist in WoW the Timmy/Johnny and the Spike/Johnny certainly do.

    The Timmy/Johnny exists in those people who do completely wacky things, such as running of the gnomes, the all-druid Halaa raid that happened a few weeks ago, a level 70 being a raid boss against 40 level 1 gnomes, that kind of stuff.

    The Johnny/Spike, to me, is more interesting. They are the ones who also do the math to prove that offspecs and weird things are possible.

    The first feral main tank was a Johnny/Spike, so was the first shadowpriest, moonkin, ret paladin, the list goes on. And those "offspecs" become so successful that they get adopted by the more straight-up Spikes and become mainstream.

    The Johnny/Spike also uses their knowledge of game mechanics to do seemingly impossible things. The hunter who solo'ed Azuregos, the druid who solo'ed Onyxia, the rogue who dodge-tanked Gruul, again those are all people who did amazing things due to creative use of game mechanics.

    And finally, the Johnny/Spike is at the ULTRA high end of raiding. The people who go into raids with no timers, no addons to tell you when a boss is going to do something, no reliable meters that will tell you when a boss aggro-resets. Those trailblazers who craft the strats that everyone else follows, those all require creativity and good knowledge of game mechanics. I think, at the very high end, you need Johnny/Spikes or you're just SOL.