Stochastically Dominant

There has been much MMO blog chatter lately on optimization, “I just want to have fun,” what you owe your team/raid, exploring mechanics, etc. I wish to add 2.5 small postulates, upon which I hope we can agree.

If one option is better than another by a non-negligible margin in all cases or nearly so, it is a poor decision to choose the inferior option, and it is fair to criticize someone for doing so. This is true even if there are role-playing or decorative reasons for the choice. As an extreme example, it is perfectly valid to refuse to group with someone who is role-playing an ascetic mendicant who refuses to use equipment or someone who wants to raid in level 10 equipment because it looks nice.

A corollary is that if one option is clearly superior in the circumstance in question, one that is readily available and has no meaningful drawbacks, you are welcome to criticize someone for choosing the inferior option. Don’t be a jerk about it, but this guy is being a jerk by playing his class with only two buttons and not even the right two buttons.

The second postulate is that it is usually poor game design to have stochastically dominant options over non-idiotic ranges of comparison. If 1 2 1 3 1 4 really is the best damage rotation in 90+% of fights, you have reduced most of the game’s complexity to eight characters. If there is no point at which a Warrior should trade off Strength for Dexterity, even at a 10-to-1 ratio, your attribute system is not terribly interesting. These problems are doubly so if some aspect keeps the stochastic dominance from being apparent, such that someone might not notice the tiny DoT icons which tell you that you should never add numbers other than 1-4 to that rotation.

: Zubon

I have a friend who is a stochastic dominatrix.

14 thoughts on “Stochastically Dominant”

  1. I think the devil’s in the details when talking about non-negligible advantages. It’s part of the whole MMO milieu that some people will happily pursue hours and hours of grind for a 0.001% advantage and then try to convince the rest of the playerbase that it matters.

    But then again, what happens when some classes have inbuilt advantages? Does it mean people are idiots if they don’t pick them? Were you bad if you played DAO and didn’t pick a mage, even though your character could easily complete the entire game?

    1. 2H/DW warrior here. I did that… but DAO if single player. No peer pressure!

      Right now we are discussing when an “inferior” build is inacceptable because it clearly underperforms. At which -% efficiency does it make a difference that this build/char/player is no longer viable?

      Spinks is right, there are people who consider -0.5% to be inacceptable. But not every raid leader is like that.

      The problem is to design something compelling and challenging that does not depend so much on player stats and builds but rather player skills. Which some players might reject because they are too old to press a damn button within 10 seconds. :P

      1. When did skill mean pressing buttons/moving faster?

        Lag on the internet makes this a nonstarter for skill – that is the person with the better connection ‘looks’ more skilled just by virtue of having less router hops to his house.

        That’s not skill. That’s why frag contests that actually award prizes are done on local networks – to test *real* skill rather than lag.

        Skill based systems can be done – EQ required skill – skill at knowing what 8 spells you needed for the encounter – how to use them and in what order to avoid pulling agro – how to move and CC adds and … you get the idea.

        You may not know this – but you could take the same 8 spells in EQ and get different results based on cast order – one way and you got agro – one different way and you got agro 15 seconds from now – another way and you could chain cast until OOM without pulling agro.

        Knowing what your skills did and how to use them without wiping the raid was skill.

        Moving out of a fire that is obviously bad but dying 3 seconds after you moved *on your screen* just points to crappy code trying to make you feel like you are playing mario with swords.

    2. I’ll agree with what Spinks says. As I’ve posted on my blog, I’ve been on the receiving end of people rolling their eyes at my builds in DDO. But, I enjoy them and I do well enough with them based on my style of play.

      There’s also a huge difference between theory and reality. When I perused WoW builds, they used to assume things like infinte rage for warriors, not moving or melee DPS, etc. Obviously reality intrudes a bit and having skill and a bit of luck helps. Someone with a “realistic” build that does 80% of the theoretical max DPS might still do more damage than someone with the optimized build that only gets 70% out of it because they can’t adapt to situations well in the game. Plus, as my guild used to say, “You can’t DPS when you’re dead,” so sometimes adding in a bit of survivability in your DPS build (or whatever flexibility for your preferred role) can help you come out ahead in the long run.

      In the end, it’s hard to really objectively measure changes and decide which is better. Not that this stops people from trying to do so, of course. But, I guess I’d rather not group with those types. :)

  2. Dude! +10 interwebs to Zubon for breaking out the vocab!

    *bows reverentially*

    Your Fu is strongest.

    (oh, and in response your very eloquently made point; dude- you can’t fix stupid… you can only hope to avoid getting any on you when you run into it…)

  3. I think your second example was why many people were currently comparing WoW to a game of Simon or Guitar Hero. Not only do you just follow whatever some mod tells you to do, but then you just hit a particular rotation. I think that is why I started to fall more in love with my pyro mage, even if she wasn’t highest dps, before I left. She had many more options and kept it interesting for ME. And unfortunately, whether it is optimum or not, I am the one paying the bill. So I either have fun or quit. I chose quitting because of a mixture of your 2 postulates.

    I picked a warrior in DAO and have easily completed parts of the game that others seemed to have trouble with. I guess my sense of pride is misplace, huh?

  4. Powergaming is certainly not the only valid approach to the game, although that is the common assumption. Just because someone has chosen some suboptimal way to play the game does not mean they don’t know what they are doing; they may have chosen to inject some challenge in a mostly easy game by creating a deliberately suboptimal character for solo and likeminded group adventures.

    Such players will be accommodating of requests to bring a stronger character when in a group of powergamers, and if knowingly joining such a group may well switch to a stronger character beforehand. But criticism of deliberately suboptimal choices on characters designed for challenge is neither needed nor warranted.

  5. The problem with the second postulate is that in most games items have a stat budget that makes it very hard to do the trade off at less than a 1:1 ratio. Some items do manage it (mail / leather items in WotLK, TBC having 4 stats instead of 3 on plate making them effectively higher level than the plate items for plate classes), agility rings for tanks in Cata (0.6dodge: agility trade off vs strength which is largely irrelevant due to scaling mechanisms).

    Similarly for rotation, either there are multiple “best” options in which case it comes down to what colour your fireball is or there is a single best rotation for a situation and it becomes popularised. Look at the lengths something like maintankadin goes to to map out the damage of each rotation and finds that there is little difference so for most tanks it comes down to the simplest = best. Without the fight being more interactive there isn’t really a way to make things different – people will find the optimal solution eventually. Now if the fights involved a lot of different mechanics such that there were actually multiple phases of the fight and we needed different rotations to match it / or a trigger mechanism on a random timer to make us switch up between rotations then we might see differences.

  6. I agree broadly with your second postulate, but I can’t accept the first and I certainly don’t see it as something on which it could be expected that we all agree.

    You’d have to state clearly and unequivocally what outcome you desired before you could make the case that “If one option is better than another by a non-negligible margin in all cases or nearly so, it is a poor decision to choose the inferior option”, for a start.

    In a group of five people, there may be five separate and incompatible desired outcomes, each of which has a different “best” option. I think even a limited experience of PUGs in MMOs will demonstrate that not all players in any given group have the same desired outcome in mind.

    I’ve been reading a thread on the Rift forums only this week in which one player is making his case that his only interest in participating in Warfronts is to complete a specific PvE quest which requires it, and he has absolutely no intention of participating in any way other than passively being in the zone. I don’t think this is remotely unusual in attitude, and many players wearing “non-optimal” gear or having “non-optimal” specs may be optimally prepared for whatever their actual purpose is.

    I think what all these discussions that are blowing up on mmo blogs at the moment are actually about is the value of team goals over individual goals. Gear/spec is just a smokescreen for a much deeper disconnect between a wide range of individuals and interest groups when attempting formal content (dungeons) within a relatively artificial and weak social social structure (Dungeon Finder PUGs).

  7. Grr – in the first sentence obviously I meant “I can’t accept the first”. Damn this lack of an edit button!

      1. There’s an edit button?

        I see “Submit” and “Cancel Reply” but not edit.

        Actually, I didn’t see “Cancel Reply” until I turned NoScript off….

        Aha!! And now I see the edit button. NoScript blocks it and since I have it on permanently I never even knew it was there!

        Thanks, Ethic :)

  8. I think the true issue emerges in the second paragraph: “better for what?”. There are some people who can’t imagine any other goal than completing the mission / zone / quest / dungeon in the minimum amount of time. I usually decline to group with such people.

    The important criteria is whether your goal and the group’s goal are compatible. If so, most builds will be roughly appropriate, and most people are be willing to listen to advice at improving their build in the direction they actually want to take it.

    Anecdote: Me, two friends, two power-players, 3 NPCs doing a Guild Wars “vanquish” (kill everyone on map in ‘hard mode’). Wipe twice. Power players give up and quit. The remaining 6 of us finish the map with no further casualties (not wipes, casualties). Conclusion: we were on the same “team”, but weren’t playing the same “game”.

    Last paragraph I fully agree with. I’d also observe that “flavour” and “efficiency” shouldn’t be a trade-off: there’s no good reason for some options to be clearly less effective than others.

  9. Postulate One: To me, the bottom line is what matters. As long as the group is actually succeeding in its stated purpose, I don’t really care if one (or all) of the members are “suboptimal.” If, and only if, the group is not accomplishing its goals, would I try to diagnose the cause. Getting a group together in most games (other than WoW) is already enough of a challenge, without having to worry about details that may not even be relevant.

    Corollary to Postulate One: Only relevant if the “suboptimal” choice is impeding the success of the group. Something that is “readily available” and has “no meaningful drawbacks” to one person may be perceived as “inconvenient” to another. It reminds me of the old joke about Microsoft tech support: “The solution is very simple, all you have to do is uninstall the operating system, reinstall the operating system, install the three patches at this link, reinstall your program, and then run this Service Pack.” Yeah, simple. Right….

    Postulate Two: Agree 100%. One of my biggest criticisms of the current direction of EQ2 is the fact that stats have been completely dumbed down. Fighter archetypes only care about Strength and Vitality. Rogues only care about Agility and Vitality. Why bother even having the other stats, then? And I’ve been complaining about LOTRO’s boss fight mechanics for quite a while, as well. Thank goodness for the Buffbars plugin: it’s the only thing that makes some of buff/debuff mechanics transparent and accessible.

Comments are closed.