Thursday, February 23, 2012

Quoth the Crab: The Choice Doesn't Matter

One of the important philosophies of game design is that interesting choices are fun. The word 'interesting' is key. Choosing between a talent that grants 10% damage and one that grants 5% damage, all else being equal, isn't interesting.
This is a quote from Ghostcrawler on the merits of the new talent tree in Mist of Pandaria. However, I'm not here to talk about talents, or Mists of Pandaria, or even anything Ghostcrawler works on. I'm here to talk about the Power of the Aspects buff in Dragon Soul, which will soon be ratcheted up to 10%.

With the impending increase, it's uncorked a mass of discussion on the matter, and once again, WoW Insider draws the lines, on both sides. Dan Desmond wrote an editorial on the effects that these sort of nerfs have on the raiders in the instance.
Well, it seems I was wrong, for in the very next tier of content Blizzard released, we saw progressive nerfs to these difficult fights. Personally, I prefer to keep these encounters the way they are, at least until a new tier is released. Something just feels wrong to see the hardest fights available made easier through a series of hotfixes. Even with respect to my own guild's progression, having sweeping nerfs hit Firelands just as my guild was putting in some really good attempts on Ragnaros felt like Blizzard moved the finish line, taking what would have been a very gratifying kill and turning it into an accidental one-shot that contained none of the catharsis we had felt during previous boss kills.
In response, Adam Holisky wrote an editorial on the merits of the nerf for all guilds, and in the end, he fell back on that same flawed defense that so many others have leaned upon.
Because there's an easy answer if everything I said in this editorial rings false to you.

Just turn the nerf off.
Now, there's a lot of flawed thinking in Adam's editorial, and I'll get around to those flaws in other posts. What I want to talk about now is the supposed "Choice" that raiders have to turn off the Power of the Aspects. Ghostcrawler said that a choice that had one option that was obviously more beneficial than the other isn't interesting, it isn't compelling, and ultimately, it isn't a choice at all. This is the situation that the non raiders who fall back on this line don't understand, there is no choice to turn off the debuff. Any guild that has already cleared all the content has no reason to do so, and any guild that hasn't cleared the content gains no benefit from doing do. Raiding guilds live on three things, interesting content, recruiting, and consensus within the group. While the nerfs may or may not undermine how interesting the content is for your raid group, it can only have a negative impact on the other two aspects.

Consensus: One of the primary arguments that people make against these kind of nerfs is that they wanted to see what the content's really like, not to be given their kill as charity by the developers who take pity on them. The dissenters claim that they can simply turn off the nerf, and everything will be the same as it was before. This is not true. Raiding is a team activity. You need nine or twenty-four other players to go along with you in order to raid with any serious degree of success. While you might get enough satisfaction to justify turning off the debuff, you need consensus within the group. The odds of everyone in the group agreeing with you is slim, and even one person in the group who would rather raid with the debuff will put the group in a very awkward position. You're asking them to sacrifice their personal progression, not for an achievement, not for loot, not for a mount, but for something even more trivial, for your pride. If they give in, then they feel resentful at your imposition, and if you give in, then you feel disappointed with the instance. Ultimately, the very fact that a choice had to be made alters the dynamic of the raiding experience, even if you choose to turn off the buff.

Recruiting: Just as dangerous as the volatility of forcing the issue into a group dynamic is the impact that the buff has on recruiting. If you're in a raiding guild, your guild is recruiting. There's an almost constant rate of attrition that takes its toll on a raid's roster. Kids, school, work, burnout, and new games are all among the factors that might drive a player to set aside raiding. If the group wants to continue raiding, they need to replace those people. One of the primary things that players look for in a guild that they choose to raid with is progression within the current instance. All else being equal, a prospective raider will tend to sign on with a guild that's further progressed. With no way to differentiate themselves from guilds that do use the debuff, a guild that decides to pursue raiding without the buff deliberately hamstrings themselves on the recruiting front. To make matters worse, any guild can claim to have gotten their kills without the debuff, because there's no way to prove it one way or another.

There is no choice here, it's akin to being given the choice between a raisin bagel or a kick in the crotch. These nerfs aren't about tuning, they're about longevity. Just like ICC with the Strength of Wrynn, we're going to be stuck in Dragon Soul for another six months. There is no tier of gear after this to help the flagging guilds. So they give us the Power of the Aspects, and jokingly tell us that we have a choice, while they cite the exact opposite logic to justify their decisions in other aspects of the game. If Blizzard had made it an actual choice, they would have given an incentive to raid without the Power of the Aspects. A title, or a mount, or even just a simple achievement for clearing Dragon Soul without using the Power of the Aspects would make it an actual choice, not this mockery that we're faced with at the moment.


  1. You and I had exactly the same thought yesterday, and posted blogs saying just about the same thing. Adam's 'editorial' and then the blue posts on the topic are so inconsistent with reality that I wonder if we were just being trolled.

    Your post is a lot more pointed though and I love that you bring up GC's own comments on choice to talk about the fake choice of turning off the buff. Nicely done.

    Anyways agreed completely, but you've seen my essay on the topic :)

  2. Excellent idea: I think

    1- they should quickly put together a mount, a pet, and an achievement for clearing DS with no nerf. That will motivate people to clean it with the nerf, then come back turning it off.

    2- more generally, they should differentiate achievements done in the thick of things vs with 10 more levels 4 years later. Even the mounts should be different, they should put a crown on the real ones.