Tuesday, January 31, 2012

DCUO Removes Holy Trinity

Interesting news out of DCUO this week - the next patch will add a set of buffs to the game's group-finder that removes the need for tanks, healers, and controllers in the game's four-man content.  Tankless groups will take less damage, healer-less groups will gain passive health regen, and controller-less groups will regain power.  If there was any question about which role is not scarce in-game, there is no mention of a damage buff for groups with no DPS. 

My post title may be a bit misleading.  For the moment, SOE plans to continue to require group roles in the game's eight-man raid content.  They've even taken a page from Blizzard's book, with a new "novice" difficulty setting for raids.  I can't imagine that this requirement will stand in the long run. 

The team is making this move because we're looking at a playerbase that solo DPS'es their way to the level cap, double-DPS'es their way though the endgame duo content, and will now quadruple-zerg their way through the group content, spending their hundreds of emblems on DPS gear that cannot be used to heal, tank, or control.  Nothing in MMO history suggests that the easier raids will be any more successful in converting solo players to group roles.  If anything, the system raises the bar for new players who WANT to try the roles, by moving the playerbase further down the gear grind and skill curve - I can definitely imagine being told to switch to DPS mode because the group will move faster with higher DPS and automated healing. 

Before dismissing this move as desperation by an MMO that was stuck with weird console demographics, consider the context.  NPC companions are spreading across the genre, raising thorny issues about how to avoid having them become more attractive than a live player.  So is scaling content like public quests, rifts, and whatever Blizzard is calling their new feature, designed around the reality that players are unwilling to tank and heal in sufficient numbers to sustain the old school holy trinity.  Most games are building in multiple roles to most or all of their classes (before shooting themselves in the foot by requiring double the gear grind to support these roles) but DPS queues remain high. 

If Blizzard announced that this feature was in for Pandaria's launch, the only shock would be that they acted so quickly.  Perhaps modern MMO's have too much invested in the old model to change now, but at this point I'd be very surprised if the traditional holy trinity is implemented in Titan. 

If this is the deathknell of the holy trinity model of MMO's, it's vaguely ironic to have the company that made Everquest wielding the fatal dagger. 


  1. I'm wondering first, what do you mean by "weird console demographics," and why would it have anything to do with removing the Trinity?

    If anything, Superhero games are a perfect platform to move the genre beyond the Trinity. When was the last time you read a comic or watched a superhero movie and saw the heroes tanking, healing, and dpsing? That *only* happens in traditional MMOs, nowhere else.

    And frankly, I quit WoW years ago and even then, while groups were still required to have the tank and healer, groups did everything they could to maximize the dps to make the run faster faster faster, go go go!

    It's been the same for every MMO I've played since then, too. And none of them have been on consoles and their "weird demographics."

  2. I'm delighted to see some MMORPGs moving away from the trinity model, I wrote a piece about it with regards to Guild Wars 2.

    But what I've seen from some forum posters is a concern that the lack of a trinity will necessarily lead to a simplification of combat. Even to the extent of people saying that without tanks and healers it is impossible for any fight to be anything other than easy.

    Personally I think this is nonsense. The GW2 design blogs have made it clear that there will be a lot of emphasis on players' personal responsibility to avoid damage, although you could argue that this is also the case with raid fights in current MMOs, they're all rife with attacks that you certainly aren't supposed to suck up and get healed. But also, GW2 is promising a lot of synergies between different classes' abilities - I'm hoping that the measure of good group play that will be required to beat difficult fights will be maximising these synergies.

    Ultimately, I think the success or failure of GW2's PvE will be a big influence on future developments in the trinity / no-trinity space.

  3. @Scott: There are two reasons why I wonder that DCUO (which was 3:1 PS3 vs PC at one point) may have odd demographics. The first are that, neither a keyboard nor a mic is mandatory for PS3 owners, which leaves many with no good way to communicate with other players. More generally, I think it is possible that they are tapping some of the single player console market, who won't know or care about group dynamics. Taken together, I think we might be looking at a much less social audience than you would see in your typical PC MMO.

  4. This is why I like reading your blog - you keep your eye on a wide selection of games, and you call out things that catch your attention. Thanks for pointing this out, it is interesting to think about.

  5. I think we might be looking at a much less social audience than you would see in your typical PC MMO.

    Such as? I read daily complaints about how "anti-social" WoW has always been. I've done plenty of instances in LOTRO last year or so where barely a word was said -- mostly because everyone (PUG) knew what to do. But I also started doing end-game STFs (again, PUG) in Star Trek Online and no one says a word there either, I just had to follow along, watch what was happening and figure out the patterns on my own. Learning is what makes gaming fun, right? :p~

    Unless you run *only* with friends or guild-mates (and I could easily go off on a tangent that you no longer need "MMOs" if that's all you're doing) then I think just in general that the "online gaming internet audience" is by and large "anti-social" no matter the platform.

  6. Responding to what Carson said about "simplification of combat" that could be the case to a point. I don't play DCUO so... there's my disclaimer. :)

    I do play Champions Online with a couple friends occasionally. Champions technically does have the Trinity but I don't think any of us have Trinity Heroes, per se. So when we do group up, it's pretty much just a dps-fest. We're all low-level-ish too (teens). My character does have one support ability: he can put a force field around one player that will absorb N damage until it's depleted. But I don't think anyone gets any type of "heal" power until late teens or early twenties level.

    Modern MMO demographics repeatedly show that the people who want to "work" and "take the blame" (ie. tanks and healers) are a niche sub-section of the overall population. DPS is simply more fun. Who doesn't like kicking ass and taking names in a game? So the notion (hopefully what GW2 can pull off) of eliminating those roles and letting everyone dps + support (and let the player choose their own percentage of each so they can customize their gameplay experience) is the way to go.

    Also AI can be a big part of things. MMOs have the all-time worst AI of any video game genre, hands-down. Playing a straight-up co-op shooter, you might run into slightly better (compared to MMO) AI but usually not. The new Syndicate demo (hybrid shooter RPG) has some of the best AI (again, because the bar has been so low for so long) I've seen in ages and after each failure my group had to discuss what we saw go wrong, what can we try different the next time and so forth. It was not only cool to play and see the AI doing stuff we typically don't see, but refreshing that it actually required some coordination on our part too.

  7. That is a pretty interesting change! To be honest, I'm not surprised. As MMORPGs become less like social worlds and more like games this is inevitable.

    If developers want players to learn group roles than grouping prior to max level has to offer a benefit that exceeds soloing. Until that happens, I don't see the point of making the switch at max level.

  8. Times change, the world moves on. I'd be sad if the roles of healer and tank disappear from MMOs altogether, since I personally find DPS to be the most tedious, repetitive and outright dull of all group roles. Depends how interesting the alternative version becomes, I guess.

    If it ends up with us all playing DPS while passive abilities or NPCs do the interesting parts, I might have to re-assess what I do for entertainment. On the other hand, if we have the option to heal or tank and have NPCs or passive abilities do the DPS, then I'm all for it.


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