Thursday, January 20, 2011

Encourage Heals With Fun

Last night, I equipped my Discipline priest with all the heirlooms I don't usually use for solo content because they make things too easy.  I bought up some stacks of water (which I didn't end up needing), set some keybindings, and told my twitter followers that I'd miss them if I didn't make it out alive. Then I clicked the "healer" button on the dungeon finder, and signed up to be the healer in a WoW dungeon.

Healing through DPS

I was out to test the new smite-healing spec.  With a combination of talents and glyphs, the Discipline priest converts their smite spell from a modest nuke into a smart heal that never misses, can be spammed indefinitely, generates mana and a healing buff, and incidentally still does modest amounts of damage. 

The intent appears to be a character that plays like a DPS who is doing a bit of off-healing on the side.  The smite spam deals with topping off incidental damage to the party, so you're only watching for situations that require more attention (e.g. an instant Power Word: Shield followed by a Penace instant/channeled heal).  It's not any more difficult to play than being a DPS was back in my raiding days, when I had to keep myself out of the fire and occasionally watch the raid for curses to remove.  If anything, it was a bit too effective, in that I really could have coasted through the instance (Scarlet Monestary GY on level) by just spamming the smite key.

Incentives will not motivate DPS to heal...
Before Tobold dragged 18th century German Philosopher Immanuel Kant into a discussion on whether it's morally wrong to queue for WoW dungeons as a DPS, he suggested that "Blizzard isn't rewarding tanks and healers enough for taking their social responsibility".  I Kant say I'm qualified to evaluate the philosophical question, but the incentive question is more my area, and I don't think Tobold's idea is going to work.  

Tobold doesn't specify exactly what reward he would like Blizzard to hand out to good team players, but I'm presuming he means loot since tanks and healers already have shorter queue times, and since he suggests that Blizzard could alternately dock rewards for overpopulated roles (DPS).  The recent history of MMO's in general, and WoW in particular, suggests that loot is particularly ill-suited to this goal. 

For example, PVP rewards have been effective in getting players to AFK instanced battlegrounds, but have done very little to encourage players to cooperate with a team in the hopes of actually winning the battleground match.  In fact, just last month Blizzard managed to demonstrate that a large enough honor reward will convince players to deliberately throw world PVP matches without any in-game means of communicating their intent to do so to the other faction. 

Lest you think that this trend is specific to PVP, you need look no further than the PVE dungeon finder.  Raid quality loot was able to motivate players to zerg down trivial Wrath-era heroics with complete strangers each and every day for a year, but it did absolutely nothing to convince players that they want any part of this activity if it actually becomes difficult or time consuming.  (Thus, the current situation.)  In fairness, the minimal need to actually tank and heal the mob probably ensures that players won't be able to AFK their way to the Tobold bonus, but I have every confidence that WoW's exploitative community will find a way to subvert any system that Blizzard implemented in this department. 

(Perhaps a trio of hybrid characters can run the dungeon as DPS and votekick the tank and healer with the final boss at 1%, nominating themselves as the new tank and healers to ninja the bonus loot?  Stranger schemes have been tried.  A more pedestrian approach might simply be to ignore Heroics for a patch or two until they can be trivialized with raid gear, which seems to be more or less what's actually happening.)

... But making healing fun might.
All of which brings us back to WoW's discipline priest, which is actually in good company these days.  Rift has at least two souls that I'm aware of - the Rogue Bard and the Mage Chloromancer - that also heal by doing ranged DPS, and I think there's a melee healer in there somewhere.  Warhammer also put a fair amount of work into DPS-like healer archetypes.  I seem to recall hearing that Guild Wars 2 was going to eliminate dedicated healing altogether, though I haven't been following that plan closely enough to know if it's still being implemented. 

(Interestingly, the Warhammer Chaos Zealot is the only other class I've ever actually used to heal in an MMO, and it also focused on instant casts.  This makes me wonder if my main reservation about healing is a UI issue; let me ignore a few of the health bars with a smart heal, or remove some of the lag between when I notice someone is taking damage and when they start regaining HP by letting me use instant cast spells, and I actually start to enjoy healing..) 

As long as this particular spec remains viable, I am never going to queue this character as a DPS instead of a healer.  This is not because of the queue times (which don't bother me while leveling alts, since I can usually go level while I wait) or because of the incentives (which are identical), but because I enjoyed this particular style of healing more than DPS.  Somehow, approaching the tank and healer shortage by addressing the design issues that make these roles less fun to play seems more productive than branding the majority (60+%) of players as selfish and immoral for failing to enjoy the current design of tanking and healing in MMO's.

Immanuel Kant may or may not believe that it is immoral for a gnome mage to use the dungeon finder, because he cannot switch to another role to meet the group's needs. 


Carson 63000 said...

Good post! I'm a huge fan of the Atonement/Smite spec healing myself. I would name the DK Death Grip ability as an addition that made tanking fun. Yoinking one mob out of a pack into your death & decay makes me giggle, anyway.

Yeebo said...

Great post. The major point that Tobold seems to miss is that these are games. Games exist to provide experiences that we find fun, not to reward us for doing things that aren't fun. The latter are called jobs [though to be fair I actually love my job most days], and the last time I checked playing a healer or tank in WoW is not going to pay my bills.

If a high intensity beam of loot is enough of a reward to justify spending your spare time doing something you don't find fun, more power to you. However, that's sure as hell not me. I'm in these games for the experience of playing them. Day to day, moment to moment, that experience needs to entertain me or I'm gone.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is not that healing (or tanking, if you can dissociate it from the responsibility for herding the rest of the group around) isn't fun, it's that heroics aren't fun.

Jacob said...

Green said: "This makes me wonder if my main reservation about healing is a UI issue"

If so, you wouldn't be alone. Many healers on the WoW forums swear by addons that make a subtle but dramatic change to the UI - the addons give you a grid with one box (button) per person. A person's displays that person's health bar, and clicking directly on a person's box (button / health bar) will cast a heal on that person.

Collecting the health bars in one place and making them clickable (whack-a-mole) makes it so that healers are playing a somewhat different game than the rest of the group is.

There's three or four popular addons that do this kind of UI tweak, each with slightly different features. The common core features are "change the UI to display health bars in an easily scanned area" and "change the UI to turn the health bar itself into a button that casts a heal".

Jacob said...

Spinks said: heroics aren't fun

Mmm. I'd be more nuanced. Heroics are tough right now. It can be fun to beat a tough fight... if you feel that your skill and your performance are what let you win. I raid for this feeling.

Heroics are tough, and tough fights can be UN-fun if you feel that your skill and your performance are being wasted by unskilled or sloppy teammates whose poor behavior causes you to lose.

Kiryn said...

Mmph. I stopped playing WoW last summer, but if anything would make me come back, it would be this build. I was a priest for a long time, and loved the idea of making a somehow viable build based on Smite damage, and here Blizzard has gone and finally done what I asked for and I'm not playing any more =( Almost makes me feel a sense of obligation to come back and play again =P

Green Armadillo said...

@Jacob: I do use Clique to bind spells to the mouse buttons (e.g. control+right click for PW:S and control+left click for penace). A full grid setup is probably overkill for five man content, though I'll concede that the stock UI could have a bit less art and a bit more "this is the health bar that you don't want to go empty".

I'm with you on the difficulty; I actually ran a bunch of heroics in the very early Wrath era, in PUG's, prior to the dungeon finder, when the majority of those running them were not overgeared. I also ran Wrath Dungeon Finder heroics and have run Cataclysm leveling dungeons in PUG's as well, and I think that PUGs have a worse reputation than they should.

Yes, some of these groups crashed and burned, but the vast majority overcame the challenges within a wipe or two, and that was pretty satisfying (in a way that raiding for weeks to finally get a mob down isn't for me, because the return on time investment is lower than I'd like).

Ysharros said...

I Kant understand Hegel.

I also have never dared to use the dungeon finder.

Maybe if I were offered much better incentives I would be more willing to do my social duty. Right now, I'm more into rolling my eyes.

Imakulata said...

Spinks, that does not explain why the queues for tanks are so short. If heroics were not fun (for DPS), there would be a lack of DPSers too and the tank queues would probably be a bit longer (as they used to be pre-LFD tool). Or the DPS queues would be shorter.