Ladies and gentlemen of Blizzard Entertainment,
You do not know me. I do not really know you, either. But given that I pay a lot in order to partake of a product you make that you clearly put many hours of tireless effort into, I dare say that you know even less about me than I do you. And of course, I am just one customer out of what you claim to be millions worldwide.
Excluding one interruption that was around a year, I have, whenever able, played the game through the closing months of what I will call the vanilla period here, all the way to the present. I have seen many changes to the game, all of different natures, all of different results. Most of them, such as the introduction of items that can be passed down to other characters, were an improvement.
However, it is with a heavy heart now that I have to bring up the worst change you have ever made to the game, and how it makes playing the game feel more like bashing my head against a wall.
As you are aware, there are three “roles” within a group that players of any given class or group of classes fill. For the benefit of the audience, I will list them here as Damage, Healing, and Protection (that is, Tanking). In previous iterations of the game, all of these roles have had clearly defined parameters and considerations to keep in mind. All of these roles have also had associated talent builds, little boosts to attributes or powers that either made their job easier or made their jobs doable.
In the latest expansion, you have done away with the concept of talents. Let us not kid each other here. You proclaim that you simplified the talent tree and made it more “effective” in play, but the reality is that you have done away with talents. On its own, this would be a good move. The talent system was already a confusing mess and generally spawned a host of guides trying to make enough sense of it for players wanting to do certain things. But the problem, put simply, is that you have radically changed one of the dynamics of the game, and not for the better.
Tanking and healing used to be very important jobs in dungeons. If a tank was not savvy enough in how to use his bag of tricks in order to keep himself alive with the healer’s aid and keep the enemy’s attention focused on him, it could get a whole group killed. Similarly, if a healer was not on the ball about how to keep the tank alive, it could get a whole group killed.
The natural consequence of that was that when tanks and healers were good enough at their jobs to keep the group running productively, respect was paid by those in the role of dealing damage. This is not unlike the dynamic in real life. I will use my prior job in computer maintenence and general “housekeeping” at one computer training company as an example of a real life equivalent. There were salespeople I disrespected, sometimes severely, but only because they did likewise to me, and I avoided them as much as possible. I respected the ones I got along with because they brought in the money that kept the company running. I respected the senior tech support staff that were based in Sydney and occasionally came out to help with bigger maintenence tasks because they generally treated me like one of their own and I learned from them.
The thing is, Multi-User Dungeons, and that includes World Of Warcraft, are a perfect example of the truth of that old saying about how when the cat is away, the pests will play. In previous iterations of World Of Warcraft, even Cataclysm, if a healer or damage dealer took the attention of an Elite enemy for long enough (a period measured in mere seconds), they would become an interesting splat on the walls. As much as some damage dealers complained when that happened, and I know because I was one such damage dealer once, it was a good thing because it reminded them to respect their protector or healer, and listen to their instructions once in a while.
In Mists Of Pandaria, presumably to compensate for the fact that the severe reduction in talent specialisation has robbed tanks of a lot of their threat retention ability, the consequences of failure to respect this dynamic have more or less been removed. Even the squishiest of players can now suddenly sit and trade blows with enemies, without so much as a reasonable fear of getting killed as a result, never mind the instant death that used to occur.
This is a big problem in terms of actual person to person dynamics within the game. Now, without the fact that the rest of the group actually needs the tank to survive, leave alone get anywhere, the result is that damage dealers are generally far more rude and arrogant than would otherwise be the case. This has a number of effects on players who play as tanks, but they all boil down to the same thing. The tank feels less confident not only in themselves, but in their value in the game.
I have thought about this long and hard, both now and in the past. During the early stages of Mists Of Pandaria‘s rollout, I would joke with people that roles should be done away with. Only I was not joking so much. Let us consider some examples from single-player adventure role-playing games like Silver or Eye Of The Beholder. Not only are there no designated roles as such in these games, but it is conceivable that any character of any designation can fulfil any role if they sufficiently adapt.
That might seem like a far-out concept to the majority of World Of Warcraft players, but it is perfectly valid. Instead of the idea of “he wears plate armour, he is a tank”, or the like, each character is responsible for his or her own survival.
This is both simplier and more complicated than it sounds. In World Of Warcraft, it is basically a game of numbers. The enemy starts with a certain amount of health. The player starts with a certain amount of health. Both attempt to whittle each others’ health down, with certain variations to keep it interesting. In dungeon or raid groups, countering those variations is a good deal more important, with tanks having to interrupt spells and healers having to boost other players’ health levels. But the thing is, when the healers’ ability to restore health to other players is left out of the equation, there is really no reason why a game cannot be effectively designed without such roles. The tanks can damage opponents just as effectively, and the damage dealers can accept responsibility for their own outcomes rather than the constant moaning they do at tank and healer about not doing this or that.
In a nutshell, Blizzard, the problem can be summed up as you having gone too far in one direction, but at the same time not far enough. Or trying to have it both ways. Either get rid of the role of tank altogether, or stop making it so difficult for them to want to keep playing. One or the other. Because, to paraphrase a popular saying, if everyone is a tank, then nobody is a tank.
Blizzard, I am going to point something out that you might not want to hear. Although you proclaim that subscription numbers are up again in the wake of Mists Of Pandaria, there is no reason to not believe you have reached a peak. The reason you lost subscriptions during the Cataclysm period is because you made decisions that upset players enough to cause them to leave. Bringing out an expansion every slightly less than two years and making its purchase compulsory for all intents and purposes whilst demanding a monthly subscription fee does not help matters. But even members of your own design team admit that they extended themselves way too far in Cataclysm.
The point is that for around four years now, you have consistently done a lot of things that the players do not want. Myself, I die a little inside every time I see a new “content patch” with so much Troll-based content in it. Given how unpopular the Troll race is with Horde players, you would think you might get a hint to give the Troll-based content a rest, but no. The manner in which players constantly have to reforge items from critical strike to hit or expertise, when simply changing items to emphasise the latter and let them reforge either to whatever the hell they want would be the smart thing to do, is another example of decisions that make players just want to throw things at your heads.
Blizzard, I am sorry to have to tell you this, but whilst World Of Warcraft was showing cracks and chips towards the end of the Cataclysm era, we are only barely getting into six months of Mists Of Pandaria, and it is looking like something glass-based that has been thrown down against a sidewalk. I would like to say that I hope you take heed and fix the problems I am describing, but your track record leads me to the belief that you will simply make it worse, assuming you do anything at all.