Culinary Class Balance and WAR
This is a cross-post of an article I wrote over at Warhammer Alliance about class balance in WAR. Oh yes, I do more than just be optimistic on this blog – I write words elsewhere.
I think we’ve all been at some point victim to what I like to call “Restaurant Dish Remorse”. The situation is pretty simple – say you go out with friends to a restaurant that you’ve never been to before. You peer over the menu and look at items of interest along with everyone else, and because you haven’t been to the restaurant before, all you can really go on is descriptions and words – things designed to idealize the dish that will be placed before you in short order (if the service is decent) and make it sound like the best thing in the world. Something might catch your eye – maybe it’s the words “balsamic glaze” or “accented with a rich beef gravy”. Maybe the words are simpler, like “steak”, or “suicide spicy”. Either way, you decide to order up something that you think looks good, and so do your friends.
But when the plates come out, it’s not as you hoped it would be. Sure, it tastes decent, but something appears to be missing, whether it be in the presentation, seasoning, or overall texture. Meanwhile, your friends, who may have gotten something completely different, have dishes that look absolutely amazing. They smell and appear to taste great, from your friends’ reactions. They definitely seem 10 times better than your own offering, filling you with a sense of regret and longing. Thus you have “Restaurant Dish Remorse”, and most times you’re left to either finish your plate or steal a couple bites off of your friend’s.
Such as it is with the current perception of WAR’s class balance. Perhaps not so much as an elephant in the room as it is something that people have been waiting to get , class balance has been one of WAR’s sticking points from the very beginning. Whether it’s the fact that Squig Herders were underpowered, Bright Wizards were overpowered, or classes were seemingly ignored, it’s been a known entity that it;s been a bit of a struggle, both for the players and for Mythic’s poor and embattled Combat and Careers team, arguably the ones with the worst, ugliest jobs ever.
Mythic’s class balancing philosophy has changed since the release of the game. Before, they were quick to introduce large scale fixes and sweeping changes, taking sledgehammers to general mechanics and reducing or buffing things across the board. The philosophy is seen in patches such as 1.1 and 1.2. While specific class changes were made, they were indicative of an overall direction for balance in general, whether that had to do with resistances, with reduction of crits, with the increase of “white” or normalized damage, and the like. Mythic has become quite a bit more cautious as of late, holding off on implementing yet another larger patch to address AoE, CC, stats, and more until very recently. All the while, Mythic’s C&C team has been taking in feedback, and in response to player concerns has at times taken a stance that the empirical evidence provided and the “big picture” shows something very different from player perception.
But the problem with player perception is that it is extremely strong, and not to be underestimated. No matter how many times you explain to players that, say, scenarios are more about who did the objectives and got the points rather than who did the most damage, players are going to look for obvious markers that make them feel funny about class balance. No matter how many times you might say that normalization and sweeping changes are necessary before specific tweaks, the players’ more immediate pain of being CC’d down or damaged before having a chance to fight back is still felt. Certain classes will always be the target of “overpowered” (Bright Wizards/Sorcs) or “underpowered” (Magus/Shadow Warriors) accusations. But even if the empirical data points to a result that doesn’t match players’ perception, nobody wants to feel like the class choice they made was the wrong one. No one wants to feel as if choosing another class or worse, watching an opposing class dominate, means they have it so much better. This sort of perception wipes out any kind of acknowledged intelligence in taking things like class balance a bit more slowly.
It’s a conundrum of sorts. How do you not compromise your design by going against your observed data while still accommodating and taking action on the very real player feedback data/perceptions that are arguably just as legitimate?
The first is to establish a good dialog with the players, accompanied by some very real and concrete ideas about specific, surgical changes to classes. Make player perception work for Mythic, and not against them. If someone has chosen a class for their main, they feel a great affinity and protectiveness about that class. It makes it harder to sell general, sweeping fixes that are “good for the big picture” because players’ immediate concern is whether or not x ability they have is useful or y ability they possess is bugged. I haven’t seen this as much (with a certain Magus thread in our forums being the most glaring example), and think that the C&C team needs to work closely with Community to establish not only a line of communication but one that is known to be two-way. The worst thing any class balance team can do in my experience with MMOs is to make the players of a particular class feel ignored or shafted, that their feedback isn’t acknowledged. In this scenario, feedback turns from constructive to destructive, as frustrated players who are not seeing the commonly agreed upon problems of a class addressed resort to harsher means to get attention. Taking more time than is currently allocated to send answers to player concerns, showing them the ideas and thoughts behind speciifc proposed class changes, and then acting on that will go a long way.
The second is to provide a little bit of education. While recent interviews here on Warhammer Alliance and on Gaarawarr Gabs have shown us a little bit behind the C&C curtian, the effort could be greater to show players how the balancing works. The issue with a lot of players’ perception about balance is that Mythic’s responses and ideas regarding it are mostly a mystery, relegated to a few Community posts here and there. While all the nitty-gritty need not be revealed, knowing a little about the roadmap of class balance, showing (heavily disclaimed) timelines of when specific classes will be addressed, and regularly doing updates on Combat and Careers issues will go a little ways to making some players understand the overall vision for balance. While you’re never going to convince some players who are adamant that they know better than the developer team, this does not mean that the effort to provide a bit more context to patching and balancing is not worthwhile.
Lastly, it’s really just all about results and delivering. At this stage of the game, talk – even the kind that I am making in this article – is cheap. Results are the only thing that ultimately matters, and that is especially apparent with class balance. If Mythic wants to smash perceptions that they only play Order these days, or that they can’t nerf exploits and bugs, or that certain classes are simply easymode, then they have to make sure they execute their balancing patches – and soon, even in the midst of being cautious. It really all comes down to making all the dishes in the restaurant relatively appealing. While there can be talk about making the wait staff more efficient or getting better cuts of meat in general to make things better, what really ultimately matters is the dish that is put in front of players to eat. If Mythic can do this, they’ll be sure to make all their class dishes tasty enough to eat, instead of the alternative of having everyone order the one or two dishes that look amazingly good in a seemingly average menu.