Thursday, May 05, 2011

Optimizing and Fun

Several commenters advance the notion that looking up talent and gear optimizations is not fun.

And there's a lot of truth in that statement. Coming up with your own specs and strategies is a great deal of fun. Personally, if I'm looking at something new, I like to make up what I think the optimal spec will be and then go to Elitist Jerks and see how my spec differs from theirs and why.

But you know what isn't fun? Wiping.

It isn't fun to wipe to bosses you know that you could beat if only that hunter over there went to EJ, looked up a decent spec and rotation and tried it out. It isn't fun to watch your guild die because you stalled out at a boss that you know your team had the skill to beat, and optimal specs, gemming, and rotations would have been enough to push you over the hump.

I've been there and done that. To be honest, I've probably contributed to the problem in past guilds.

I'm in a guild now that takes it for granted that players will use the Internet to help determine optimum specs, rotation, reforging, and gear. That every player will come to raids pretty close to the accepted optimum for all those elements. If you app to us, and you differ from the optimum, you will face extra scrutiny.

And you know what? This is enormously freeing.

It takes so much of the "busywork" off the table. We still struggle with fights, but we're struggling with execution, and mastering the mechanics of the fight, not basic elements of how to play the class.

Talents, gear, and rotation are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to playing. They're the basics. Using community resources like EJ allows you to "shortcut" past those basics and work on more advanced techniques1 and fight-specific mechanics.

Ironically, taking optimization for granted allows you to focus on playing the game, and not playing the spreadsheet. Someone else has made the spreadsheet for you, has done the math. Leverage their efforts, steal their results, and you get to focus on making the right gameplay decisions for the fight at hand.

1. For some examples of more advanced techniques, see Kripparian's video.


  1. In the case of talent trees, I wonder why they're maintained at all. Surely it would be better to have three big buttons, one of which you press, and that's your class specialisation.

    Perhaps with Cataclysm's vastly pruned trees - where there's much less wiggle room than before - we're starting to see precisely that.

    I mean, I assume that talent trees were originally conceived to allow players to customise their characters in weird and wonderful ways, create true hybrids, that sort of thing. The thing is, the game community has pretty much optimised talent trees out of the game. Whether you see this as a Good Thing probably depends on how you approach the game; the spreadsheet soldiers would probably be sad to see them go entirely; the vast majority of raiders would probably be happy with being able to just focus on playing the game, as you mention in your post; and there are also people such as myself who lament the fact that there's so little room for variety, customisation and expression of self in MMOs these days.

    What I would like to see, and I expect I'm in a minority here, would be for the talent trees to be replaced with 'flavour' abilities, things which don't affect the performance of the character. Take the Druid as an example: picking the Feral class specialisation would automatically grant the character all the abilities and benefits we have come to expect from picking this talent tree in the past, and the talent tree itself would provide options that allowed the player to customise their character, different animals for their tank and damage forms, for example. It would still leave 'gear optimisation' for those who like to obsess over the numbers.

    Obviously the effort involved for such a thing would be far too great at this stage of WoW’s life, but were I designing an MMO from scratch, I think I'd try to bring the balance between customisation and optimisation back towards the middle ground, and perhaps even tip it slightly in favour of customisation.

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” -- Lazarus Long

  2. I think, considering the Cataclysm revamp of talent trees, that Blizzard agrees with you about talent spec and gearing and such being among the basics on playing WoW.

    The problem was simply that to understand the basics, you had to go to an external out-of-game website to do some research on the subject, so Blizzard revamped the talent trees to make them easier to approach and made it so that the effect of stats on your character is more transparent. This means that any new player has a much better chance of picking up the basics of WoW in-game than ever before [though, as I think I've seen them express recently, they're still looking for ways to improve that].

  3. "Talents, gear, and rotation are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to playing. They're the basics."

    Bear in mind that it depends on what you mean by "playing". Your goals in playing may differ from someone else's, and you may be measuring them along a different axis than they measure themself.

    From your posts, I assume that your personal goal is fast heroic dungeons and successful raids. But always keep in mind that others may have goals that prioritize PVP, and so pick PVP talents. Or someone may want to play WoW while watching hockey on TV, so that person uses simplified rotations.

    Different people have different goals in the game. And the language of "right" and "wrong" is clumsy, because it implies that one's own goals are right and others' goals are wrong.

    There's definitely tension when people with dis-similar goals are thrown together by the random Dungeon Finder. Myself, I hate trying to defeat dungeon bosses with people who can't pay attention - especially bosses like Corla or Erudax, where paying attention matters.

    But I try to watch my language, and speak in terms of "good enough for this fight" and "not good enough for this fight", instead of simplifying down to "right" and "wrong".

  4. I beg to differ - for me, wiping is fun.

    3% wipes are shattering, but still fun. You know you can do better.

    3% kills are really lift everyone's mood - especially after a 3% wipe. Far more enjoyable than a one shot kill. This is despite knowing that you failed at some part of the fight.

    The difference between a wipe and a bosskill is not gear, it is learning the fight.

    Good spec vs Bad spec can make 10% difference to total DPS (if I am being generous). Player who is prepared to learn the fight (or who has already learned it) can make 50% difference to total DPS.

    The reason it gets muddy is that those who are prepared to learn fights are also the ones prepared to learn talent trees and optimisations.

  5. I think the issue is less about how people actually play and more about how they enforce, and arguably how they need to enforce those playstyles on others.

    Being told your gearscore sucks or you don't have an achievement for the pug raid you want to join is upsetting to many people. However putting together a pug raid without standards is a waste of everyone's time.

    Being told you're a retard or a moron for having a talent point in the wrong place is extreme but at the same time commonplace.

    I can see that in your case Rohan you have an island of people who are like-minded but WoW isn't aimed at small like-minded communities but at everyone and in that sense it's not fit for purpose. It doesn't help that the state of current WoW is essentially unplanned with the developers themselves sometimes publicly bewildered and dismayed at the direction the game is taking (cf Ghostcrawler on the phobia of inefficiency).

  6. is it really the wiping or the having to run all the way back?

  7. WOW can't be all things to all people. Honestly, if character customisation, roleplaying and creating a unique style is what your after, then WOW may not be for you. MMOs might not be for you.

    Why spend SO much time moaning about how everything is geared towards the en game when you could better invest that time in an amazing single player RPG? I've been playing The Witcher for the past week or two and have been loving how I get to make real choices and define my own character. I hardly see WOW as an RPG anymore, more as I only raid. It's more of an execution game as people mentioned.

    BTW, best post on the subject that I've seen!

  8. Amen to that! Great post.

  9. @Krisps
    "I hardly see WOW as an RPG anymore, more as I only raid."

    100% spot-on. WoW is an action adventure game, with a large number of character choices, more than any other action adventure game I can think of. You can choose your class (tank, dps, healer), you can choose style (range vs melee, hot and trot druid versus turret healer shaman), you can choose loadout (threat or avoidance set).

    That's three choices you can make - most action games will limit you to one or two "setup" choices.

  10. The biggest problem is that people who don't know what optimal is can look up your spec and build and then just boot you from the raid, 5 man etc.

    Players have too much information about each other and they abuse it. The argument about being able to verify players specs etc only works with rational, educated well informed human beings. On any given issue That's only about 10% of the population.

  11. @Sam: Given how easy it is, as you mentioned, to look up an optimal spec, there is no excuse for having a poor build, especially if you are trying to raid (as in your example).

  12. Just as there is no excuse for people suffering from information overload to just look pick one site and base all thier decisions on that topic on on unverified source. Yet it happens every day.

    The biggest problem we are going to have moving into the future in real life and gaming life is information overload. People's decision making process is actually more negatively impacted by too much information than not enough. If they don't have enough they resort to thinking it through. If they have too much they effectively throw a dart pick where it landed and call that the trusted source.

    In your specific example if you join a raid group sure you need to meet your groups requirements.

    But the problem occurs when people start doing "global" activities and raiders, or pvp'rs, or anyone start using the oversupply of information to overcontrol the game by booting people. It's just a lazy mans way of reducing the overload of information. it's far easier to kick everyone below a certain amount than to figure out which ones can play well and wich ones can't. I honestly believe if you take most of that information away from the players they'd have more fun. But with the information there they overplan, overanalyze and work most of the fun out of the game. But they are efficient at it.

  13. I think what Melmoth is largely true, although a lot of specs still have a couple "fun" points that can wind up making a big impact particularly on a 10 man raid. Did your hunter take Survival Tactics or Entrapment? EJ lists both as "optional" but that could make an big impact on whether your guild 10 man can down Cho'Gall or not.

    Another example might be whether a holy paladin should take Tower of Raidiance or not. It's virtually mandatory for 10m, but I've seen debate to its utility in 25m (where TOR might only generate 3 or 4 Holy Power in a boss fight). EJ lists it in the cookie cutter spec.

    Anyway, I guess the point is that the cookie cutter optimizations granted by EJ, etc. are a great starting point for most folks. It's a wonderful teaching tool to just outline the basic play style for each class/spec. Strictly adhering to them will allow you to down the normal modes and probably some of the hard modes, too. But the folks pushing hard mode end bosses (think your royalty or aristocracy guilds) are probably comfortable enough to tinker with their specs to optimize for specific encounters.

  14. @sam: Efficiency is a huge part of it. I don't have as much time to play as before, and most of the is raiding. If an hours reading online saves me a few hours of experimenting with talents in game, then I'll do it everytime.

    Similarly, in the scenario you me pines of kicking people with non-standard talent/gear setups. I don't have time to give everyone with a wacky spec a chance to see if they have stumbled onto something amazing.

    Odds suggest they havent, and are far more likely to do 2k than 20k.

  15. Foo, in my experience, sub-optimal talents, gemming, and rotation tend to go hand in hand. And optimizing those often makes a *much* larger difference than you think it does.

    Take this post from 2007 as an example. The hunter requested help, and was helped to the optimums by a more experienced player. The hunter's DPS jumped by over 110%!

    That's far more common than the increase you think would happen. Any raid that saw some of their members double their dps would see a jump in success.

    We don't push optimums because of a tiny increase. We push optimums because the gap between a non-optimized player and the optimized player is staggeringly large.

  16. The level of optimization is always up to the player. But how that is accepted is up to the people making the decision to include them on the team.

    What would you say to a Retribution Paladin that had Blacksmith and Mining as professions? Mining is a sub-optimal profession for raiding. But generally it would be accepted as not important by most guilds because unlike talents and rotations, it is not an easy or quick change.

  17. The biggest issue is that WoW is a team game. Almost anything you do at level 85 is done in a team. BGs, arena, 5 mans, raids etc. It's very hard to justify someone using a "fun" spec instead of an optimal one, since there are a minimum of 4 other people that suffer for it. It is simply disrespectful to do so.

  18. Ghostcrawler said (prior to Cataclysm) that they considered eliminating talent trees entirely, in effect making the optimum talent trees the only choices. They didn't, but only because they thought it would be a step too far.

    I will not be surprised if they eliminate talent trees in the next expansion, and if Titan doesn't have them.

  19. Well Blizz made WoW a scripted game, you have no room to improvise on end bosses.

    Do PvP, no matter how many times you do the same battleground over and over again you still need to do something different each time.

    Why not test your skills against real players instead of some stupid AI with fixed script and predictable rotation.

  20. Dyermaker said "The level of optimization is always up to the player. But how that is accepted is up to the people making the decision to include them on the team".

    With as many players that play WoW the issue can be a complicated one to debate back and forth. However i can agree with the simplicity of that above statement.