Friday, August 22, 2008

When 0% of a healer is better than 40% of a healer

A professional photographer is on a hike in the woods, hoping to take pictures he can sell. He stumbles upon a man who has been lost in the woods for days and is clearly dying of thirst. The photographer immediately offers up his own canteen.
The parched man cries: "WTF is this lukewarm canteen water, n00b?! If you weren't lugging around all that camera gear, you could have brought me an ice chest full of sparkling mineral water!"

My little story sounds pretty silly, but this happens all the time in MMORPG's, where beggars WILL be choosers. We may be desperate for heals, any heals, but that doesn't mean we won't complain bitterly if a class capable of casting healing spells is doing anything other than casting healing spells. Sanya of Eating Bees used to be the community manager for Mythic, and she once told a story in a Q&A column in which she said that she explained to the devs how players get very angry when hybrid healers do anything but heal. The dev responded that Warhammer would be designed in such a way where the healer would NEED to be using their offensive abilities for maximum healing efficiency. Sure enough, one of Warhammer's three healing archetypes needs to be in melee with enemies in order to get energy with which to heal (sounds kind of like a rage bar in WoW). The second archetype is more traditional, but the third archetype (the High Elf Archmage and the Goblin Shaman), has something more quirky. These classes are designed to alternate nuking and healing. Drama ensues.

Healing is Required
A photographer is walking in the woods when he comes across a camp of nine guys, all of whom are dying of thirst. He offers up his canteen, but it isn't enough water in there for everyone and most of them die. A pack of wolves, which had been staying away because it didn't want to mess with that many people, eats everyone who is left, including the photographer.

Discussing the Goblin Shaman, Keen writes:
"It’s also a tough call on whether or not speccing to deal damage will be socially acceptable. If you’re not healing constantly then people will die. If people die because you were doing damage… it gets ugly."

/random voices a similar sentiment, writing in the comments of this post here at PVD that:
"Also, in the tougher portions of PQ's (second and third stage), you better be healing, or your tanks are going to die, and then you're going to die."

They're not wrong. If there aren't enough healers to go around, the people who can heal need to do so or everyone dies and fails to accomplish whatever they were working on. In a group of ten people, there is one person who wants the Archmage/Shaman to cast DPS spells (the actual Archmage/Shaman), and nine people who want the Archmage/Shaman to heal. If the Archmage/Shaman gets with the program, the team is more likely to win the battle, and thus he is more likely to get loot along with everyone else. So, it's clearly in the interest of everyone involved for him to forget DPS altogether and heal.

A Paradox, Irony, and a Double Standard
A Photographer is walking in the woods to take pictures, only he's carrying a bunch of water coolers instead of camera equipment and.... wait, why is he in the woods again?
The problem with this model is that the player in question doesn't actually WANT to spam heals all the time. If he did, he could have rolled the archetype that actually doesn't do anything but heal. This particular player choose to play the class that both nukes and heals because he thinks it's fun. And people DO think the Archmage is fun (see writeups at Book of Grudges and Archmagery). The player may be happy spending 60% of his time on DPS and 40% healing. In the process, he might be providing some healing where previously the open group (remember, Warhammer is pioneering a come-as-you-are type group system which doesn't run out of space in the group until you have 24 players, at which point the public quest has probably devolved into a zerg anyway) had none. Unfortunately, this isn't "socially acceptable".

The paradox here is that the same player probably wouldn't have been yelled at if he had given up on his Archmage and re-rolled as a pure DPS class. In my experience in WoW, it's pretty rare for a DPS player to tell another DPS player that they should go play a healer for the good of the group. They might declare the group full on DPS when there are only two slots left and neither a healer nor a tank, but they generally don't tell the DPS to go reroll for their convenience. Perhaps that logic is too easily reversed on the questioner ("why don't YOU go level a healer and heal ME?"). Likewise, players will complain to no end if the druid the group invited (without asking how they were specced) turns out to be a nuker rather than a healer, but they are generally careful to say that the player should go respec, not that the player should go re-roll as a pure DPS class. (Can't risk permanently losing a healer if he actually takes the advice, which, ironically enough, happens due to this general attitude.)

The result is that everyone is worse off. Instead of having 40% of a healer, the group now has 0% of a healer. Instead of playing the class he wanted to, the player is now playing a pure DPS class.

Incentives as a solution?
A professional photographer was going to go for a walk in the woods to snap some pictures, when he saw on the news that there were some hikers had been reported missing in the park. Instead of bringing all of his camera gear, he brings a single digital camera and some extra water bottles. The photographer finds the lost hikers, takes some pictures of the rescue and the group being reunited with their families, and is able to sell those pictures for far more than the wilderness shots would have been worth.

A week ago, I wrote a post discussing incentive structure in Warhammer Public Quests. The post in question got linked at Book of Grudges and Waaagh and wound up attracting a fair amount of attention. Massively had advocated Archmages throwing DOT's at everything that moves in the hopes of an inflated DPS count. While this specific behavior may or may not be a real problem in game (I got many comments telling me it wouldn't be), I was actually trying to make a broader point by bringing this up. Players will do what the developers provide them with incentives to do. If there's a lot of contribution points to be had for spamming DOT's and not a lot of contribution points for removing debuffs (I have no idea whether Archmages can do that in particular, fill in the blanks accordingly), most players will spam DOT's and not remove debuffs most of the time. The incentives SHOULD reward things that players are supposed to do and not reward things players are not supposed to do. That way there's a carrot to go with the stick of failing the PQ for lack of healing and being ostracized by your server community.

If there's a serious lack of healing (which would NOT be new or unique to Warhammer), why not weight healing more highly than DPS on the contribution meter? That way players will WANT to heal as much as they can, instead of feeling like they're being forced to heal (eventually deciding to reroll because they hate their class). Two healers each spending 60% of their time healing and 40% of their time on DPS should be able to provide more healing than one healer spending 100% of his time healing. The DPS classes would win out too, because more healing to go around would improve their chances of successfully completing the PQ, and decrease the chance that they will die and not be around when reknown/influence/loot is distributed. That's how you apply incentives correctly to solve game problems.

Unfortunately, it may be a bit late in Warhammer's dev cycle to make that kind of a change. If this is the case (as in many games before), would-be hybrid healers may wind up choosing to save themselves the complaints and become 0% of a healer instead of 40%.


arbitrary said...

It's a really interesting article, so thanks for the good read.

As I've been playing a Rune Priest I thought I'd add my perspective. I can also mess with contributions by casting massive heals over and over again. And group heals.

I'm guessing each class can bias their contribution somewhat. It's just that the AM/Shaman can spread their damage easier than spreading their healing, especially at early levels as they get some great single-target heals, but DoTs end up doing a lot of damage.

In the end, having enough healers so each can do some debuffs/dps as well is the perfect case. In a non-perfect situation more healing is required just so that everyone can finish the PQ. They should still get pretty high contribs for it.

Spinks said...

I think it's an interesting topic that is as old as the first time a developer made a healer with a dps option.

Players love dps classes with a bit of healing. But groups love specialists. Until you can somehow figure out how to make it not so optimal to specialise then this is going to keep coming up, I think.

For me personally, I'm happy to sit back and heal ... but I want something useful to do when my group doesn't need healing or when one of my runepriest friends is in the group. I want to be busy all the time, so archmage suits me down to the ground.

Anonymous said...

It's not socially acceptable to dick off and do less than your character is capable of doing? Oh no! I'm fine with DPS specced heal classes; but you damn well better play your class to the fullest; i.e. heal when necessary. And let people know up front that you aren't going to be main healing this shindig. Imagine a dps warrior who refuses to slap on a shield and taunt a mob off of a healer cause its not his job. Is that guy just playing the way he wants too, or is he a douchebag?

I vote douchebag. You have an obligation to your teammates to play your class to its fullest potential. If doing that is boring, you picked the wrong class.

Especially with these healing classes, where you HAVE to DPS to heal effectively, there is no excuse for refusing to fulfill half your function. Spec how you want, accept the consequences of that spec, and behave like a grownup.

The most annoying guys in WoW where the people who would roll a ret paladin or enhancement shaman and still expect to get handled with the same velvet gloves that their heal specced colleagues got. That ain't how it works; you're not going to get invites to every group ever now. People won't be as worried about being on your good side. That's just how it works.

Green Armadillo said...

If I understand Keen correctly, the DPS shaman/archmage is markedly worse at healing. Remember, this is NOT WoW, where you're going to be spending most of your time solo grinding until the level cap. Warhammer sounds like a game where you're spending the vast majority of your time in small groups working on PQ's/RVR, which are typically going to need healing. You say you're alright with DPS-spec healers, but BY DEFINITION such characters are NOT playing their class to the fullest in the context of a group environment where healing is desperately needed.

The other quirk to Warhammer is that most content is non-instanced, meaning that the DPS spec healer is not taking up a slot that would otherwise go to the non-existent healing spec healer. (You can, I suppose, make a closed group instead of an open group and refuse to invite the DPS spec, but he will still get whatever contribution he is entitled to whether or not you choose to let him see your health bars.) This brings me back to my title. Say the DPS-spec takes your advice and re-rolls pure DPS. Is your group really better off with yet another DPS and no heals than it would have been with occasional heals from the off-spec caster?

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm saying that DPS specced healers in WAR will be able to heal reasonably effectively. Certainly well enough for PQs and the leveling PVE.

Granted this only experience with the game is the preview weekend, but I'm not seeing the desperate shortage you're talking about. The polls on what class you're going to roll indicate that its DPS classes that are going to be rarer.

The desperate shortage is a WoW meme. It is not axiomatic. If WoWs class design philosophy wasn't a ball of contradictions and whatever stuck to the wall, it wouldn't be that way in Warcraft either.

A lot of people want to be healers; but they don't want to be healbots. Warhammer solves the problem quite nicely by making healing classes where you support, heal, and dps as a fundamental part of your design, even if you chose a different career path. While I'm sure the trees make a substantial difference in how you play and how well you can heal/dps, it isn't a fundamental makeover of the class to fulfill totally different functions.

So I'm not seeing a ton of pressure to be heal specced for just running around doing stuff. How you spec re: guild activities is between you and your guild and depends on the needs of that particular group.

Anonymous said...

And btw, you don't even need to go resto to heal instances in WoW until you hit heroics for gods sake. You don't need to be heal specced to heal in War; and I seriously doubt you have to be to handle the leveling stuff.