Wiping By Design

I have many disagreements with the dominant theory of raid design, one of which is gear-based alternative advancement that divides content into tiers based on arbitrary numbers rather that create fake difficulty. Whether or not you like synchronized dancing online, you should see something perverse in a system where everyone might perform all the steps perfectly but still fail the dance because they have not spent enough hours grinding gearscore.

The math on this gets interesting when the target gearscore is above what is possible as you start a new tier. This is one way to spread content over time. The first time you visit a new tier, let’s say that your gear plus tactics plus random rolls give you a 20% chance to beat the boss; the other 80% of the time, your tank is not geared enough to take back-to-back crits, your DPS does not down the boss before a lag spike leaves someone in a pit of fire, etc. An 80% chance of failure sounds pretty bad, but many players seem willing and able to accept it, especially given that you can try more than once per night, and you have a (1-0.8^5=) 67% chance to win before you wipe 5 times.

That sounds pretty standard for raiders. You wipe a few times, but you down the boss. As you practice and improve your gear, you wipe less, and then you get that boss on farm status. You might be performing exactly the same dance steps, but your gearscore is higher, so you no longer are facing a 4-to-1 odds for exactly the same sequence of button presses.

This strikes me as perverse and unsatisfying for the same reason that Desktop Dungeons did. You might have been a few percent more on-the-ball that time you won, but more likely the dice just fell slightly on your side of the margin of error. You get the illusion that you did it, yay team, but you are just grinding finite probabilities (or, when your gearscore is higher, grinding near certainties).

On the other hand, all my respect to those who overcome massive gaps in gearscore to succeed through perfect execution. The folks who are consistently getting server firsts a month before most people can beat phase 1 are not just hitting 5% chances consistently.

: Zubon

13 thoughts on “Wiping By Design”

  1. Great read… really put hammer to nail on one of the inherent problems with so called “end-game” thinking in MMO designs.

    Also identifies one of the many intrinsic flaws of the “trinity” system in MMOs imo.

    *crosses fingers hopefully* Won’t know with certainty until the game is released, but I’m really hoping that GW2 will at least alleviate, if not remove all-together, these sorts of problems… probably not, but I can hope…

    I had hoped that SWTOR might provide relief from these sorts of things also, but unfortunately it’s pretty clear now that BioWare is not only NOT moving away from “holy trinity” game design, but is in fact going completely over-board with it… case in point; Boba Fett… as a medic (wait…. what?!?!)

    It’s hard to believe they could come up with something that would throw me more than Darth Sidious applying boo-boo strips, but I gotta admitt, the concept of a “gun-for-hire” bounty hunter being the healer for a group pulled off the mission impossible in spades.

    1. Boba Fett isn’t a healer. He can either be a tank or ranged dps.

      It’s the imperial agent that can heal or range dps. Which means that’s what Hans Solo can do, because the equivalent of agent is Smuggler.

      Jedi Consular = Sith Inquisitor (heals/melee)
      Jedi Knight = Sith Warrior (tank/melee)
      Smuggler = Imperial Agent (heals/ranged)
      Trooper = Bounty Hunter (tank/ranged)

      It’s pretty boring layout and it just continues the holy trinity. However having a techie/gunner healer is at least different.

      Still, that is why I am waiting for GW2 more.

      1. I guess you haven’t been following the game as closely as I have… during the recent PAX East con the SWTOR DEVs revealed that the current build incorporates a “healing spec” inside the Commando (Trooper AC) and Mercenary (Bounty Hunter AC) advanced classes…

        So, yes… Boba Fett can now be a medic.

        http://darthhater.com/2011/03/13/pax-east-james-ohlen-interview/

        Take a look at the 2nd question and answer in the transcript.

  2. Re: trying even with an 80% chance of failure. In Reality is Broken, McGonigal talks about “fun failure” – the feeling that games create whereby you don’t mind failing (oddly enough, she also reports the average % of failure to be 80%). She says you don’t mind failing because it leaves you feeling optimistic about your eventual success – it leaves you something to work towards.

    This is a problem I have with all “gear” based MMOs. There just doesn’t seem to be much skill to it.

    1. That would be the distinction on the 80% failure rate. If I do it wrong 4 times before I get it right, that is learning. If I do the exact same thing 5 times and it works one time, that is randomness.

      1. The (usually) nice thing about traditional raiding is it’s a combo of skill/gear/luck.

        If raiding was pure skill, most people would be in for a rude awakening (or the content would be on farm for some after the first attempt).

        If it was all gear, most players would pick up on the fact that what they are doing does not really matter. There are plenty of games like that already, and while some enjoy them, most see right through em.

        All luck is a slot machine, which again, most see it for what it is, some still enjoy it.

        Mix the three together in the ‘secret formula’, and you have good raiding.

  3. This pretty much sums up why I have never liked certain types of computer games and don’t consider myself to be a computer gamer, despite having played video games since the late 1970s.

    I have never enjoyed that “keep failing until you succeed” process that was almost the default for gaming in the 1980s. I played a lot of games like that because that was what were offered, but it felt more like scratching an itch until the skin was raw than actually doing anything pleasurable.

    I took about half a decade out of computer gaming largely because of this “fail to win” model. When I came back in the mid-90s I was delighted to find a lot more options available. I don’t consider trying the same repeatedly until you get the exact pixel-perfect position or the exact dance-sequence of actions right to be “learning” in any meaningful sense. It seems to me to be attempting to get as close as possible to being a machine, which isn’t something that interests me.

    Consequently I avoid anything that ressembles this in MMOs. I don’t raid and I don’t do content that requires reiteration to match a particular set of predesigned requirements. That doesn’t mean I don’t do repetetive content. Like The Fall, I dig repetition. The difference is, I like to repeat things that worked the first time, or that I enjoy doing for the sake of doing them.

    I also have no problem with failing to learn to succeed when the successive failures arise from trying different approaches any of which *could* have worked. I learned in Baldur’s Gate to try many different approaches to overcome various encounters. I never felt that I had to keep trying until I found the method that the designer had predesigned for me to use. When I failed I felt it was because I hadn’t thought things through sufficiently clearly, or hadn’t executed my plan well enough, or both.

    I found that Everquest very much rewarded this approach and I’ve looked for this flexibility in all MMOs I’ve played since. And generally found it so long as I stayed away from Raids and other heavily scripted content. I look for systems that reward, or at least don’t punish, imagination and creativity in problem-solving. They are out there now, but I hope that the next wave of MMOs will move more in that direction and away from The Dance.

  4. You are grossly mischaracterizing how things work. In Cataclysm, gear does create a minimum check, and higher gear does give you a bit more leeway, but the vast majority of what determines your success is all of the tons of tiny adjustments people make when they learn. Heroic Chimaeron on 25man, took us about 3 hours of wiping to learn the timing on things like tank taunts, how to do our cooldown and LOH rotations, melee positioning, etc. etc. 2 weeks after we got our first kill, we one-shot it, and our gear has not significantly changed at all (like 7-8 new items spread across 25 people, whoopee).

    If you want gear to be involved AT ALL, then it has to be both an important part of the fight, and also an important reward. If you don’t like playing that way then fine, but it is a model that makes sense, and you are never just “doing the same thing” many times in a row to hope that RNG plays out in your favor. The “grinding” you speak of is time spent figuring out all of the small little quirks of the fight, and once you can do that you are going to get the kill.

    1. I don’t see any reference to WoW in this post. No need to defend the 100000000 lbs. gorilla – it does so by sheer #’s alone.

      To take your point however – WoW has swung the pendulum so far to the gear corner – that it’s not funny.

      When Burning Crusade was released – people ground out the raids – then Black Temple was released – 5/22/07 – date that the boss was cleared – 6/5/07

      Mind you this was after months of gearing and clearing old content.

      (why do I bring this up…) BC had better raiding than WoTLK *and* Cata for one simple reason – other than flagging/keying all content was doable with gear from the previous expansion.

      Case in point: http://www.realmhistory.net/news/china-the-seven-clears-the-black-temple/607.html

      China had burning crusade released with black temple included. 52 days from launch and the big bad was dead. Most of the guild that did this was wearing naxx gear. You can’t even farm enough raid content to gear 25 people in 52 days. Yes they had strats – my point isn’t about learning strats – less than 1% of your playerbase will *ever* worry about learning stuff new because of the web – the rest read how to do it anyway.

      52 days – in old gear – that’s making encounters that allow execution to win.

      Now show me anyone wearing top end Lich King gear that could even do a heroic in Cata. Simple fact – you can’t they changed the game so that gearscore > skill.

      1. You casually brush over the fact that Cataclysm came with a rather hefty rebalancing of gear stats, not just from one tier to the next, but in the distribution of stats on each single piece. The most important change here being that Cata gear has significantly more health at any given tier, with encounters balanced around this. That makes comparisons to the situation in TBC or WOTLK very questionable.
        Blizzard did in fact change the game, but not in the way you’re suggesting.

        Seeing that there are guilds who clear raid instances in blue quality gear should speak volumes about how much leeway Wow leaves for skill > gearscore.

        1. Ah, I retract the last statement. I should have clarified that was in WOTLK. With the build-in gearscore threshold in Cata, that is obviously not possible anymore. They will have to settle for another self-imposed gear limit now,

      2. “Now show me anyone wearing top end Lich King gear that could even do a heroic in Cata. Simple fact – you can’t they changed the game so that gearscore > skill.”

        That is a bad argument. They intentionally made the gear between Heroic LK stuff and entry level heroic stuff (277 to 333) have a huge increase in stats, because they didn’t want people to not have to improve their character between one expansion and the next. Which makes sense! If gear is supposed to be one of the motivating factors to raiding, then you have to make that gear valuable SOMEHOW.

        You claim that gear is too important because you need stuff from a current expansion to do current expansion content. I don’t understand why you think you should be able to do Cata heroics with WotLK gear. Counter-point: there are plenty of people with Cata level gear who can’t do Cata level heroics! Even after constant constant nerfing!

        When it comes to raiding, gear doesn’t do ANYTHING for you. You need some of it, but you absolutely don’t have to be well raid geared to do most of the encounters. It is all about interrupt timing, cool down management, and other skills that were not tested in WotLK hardmodes. Gear was > skill in ICC (LK being the exception), since you could do well with good gear and a vague understanding of the fight mechanics. Cataclysm’s raids are nowhere near as forgiving, and demand a skill level high enough to the point that your argument is completely incorrect.

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