Blizzard Design Philosophy

When WoW first came out, it was designed mostly by hardcore EQ players.  There was a system-first mentality to the game where the player had to find their spot within the system.  This did make it hard to compete and had optimum builds but the system, once understood, was extremely solid and easy to tweak.

A lot of lessons were learned in Vanilla and Burning Crusade got rid of a lot of the stuff that didn’t work and built on some interesting ideas – factions, keys and varied combat mechanics.  A lot of people will say that BC was the high point of WoW and though I wasn’t able to fully participate in all of it, I agree with a lot of it.  Lich King basically took the BC model and opened it up to the masses but at the same time, they changed their dev team during development and started making very weird changes to the core mechanics.  No one disagrees that more accessible content is bad but the scaling of things was all wrong.  Armor Penetration was a god stat, Haste was a god stat and people were breaking the system because of incredibly poor design decisions.  The ICC debuff on tanks is a prime example of bad design.

Cataclysm kept going down this path of poor design – reactive design really.  A game with 10 million people playing cannot be reactively designed, it’s a recipe for failure.  You need core metrics and benchmarks for given points.  You can’t just put things in the game and then 2 months later realize that everyone is well beyond what you thought they could do.  You gave them the tools to do it!

Get players back into the game design process.  Real gamers, the ones who run through all the raid content in a day or 2 and track how they are playing.  Use that as the top level of your curve.

To finish, here’s a prime example of my issues with Blizzard over the past few years.  This is why I uninstalled Diablo 3 and got a refund.  The core issue is that Life Steal needs about 120,000 DPS to be on par with Life on Hit in Inferno and the design decision behind that.  Taken from a Reddit AMA.

mkautzm: This is fine and all but this line: “I think Life Steal will come into it’s own in the future, as it scales exceptionally well with gear – if a few months from now people still aren’t using Life Steal, we’ll probably make changes.” This makes me very nervous.

How difficult is it to put these numbers on paper and simply figure out with math when a stat will be ‘worth it’, when it will be ‘good’ and when it will be ‘broken’. The answer is that it’s not hard. How can you design the system for a game like D3 and not at least have a target in mind. something like “At this difficulty with this expected gear, we want players to steal up to X%/Y HP as a function of DPS Health/Z Health per second/shot/spell.” I understand that picking such a number can be pretty difficult but even that can be derived based on what you want the function of life steal to be.

See, it’s things like this that make me incredibly nervous. If your approach to balance and system design is, “Well, lets see if the stat is attractive to players and then nerf/buff based on that”, something is seriously broken in the decision-making phase of ‘making the numbers work’.

It’s phenomenally frustrating to see the developers in charge of the systems of game like this literally say, “If it’s not attractive, we’ll buff it”. No! That’s not how balance works. You should be able to tell me the value of life steal at 30k, at 60k at 120k DPS. You should be able to tell me what exactly those breakpoints you mentioned are and Youshould have already planned their existence, and their means. You should be able to look at Lifesteal and point to a number and say, “Here! This is when Lifesteal becomes attractive”. You should be able to take it a step further and say, “If you have this much health, this much damage and this much lifesteal, More DPS actually becomes more attractive than Effective HP as a survivability stat under these conditions.”

This isn’t what’s happening and it makes me both frustrated and nervous to play a game that’s built under that design philosophy.

 Wyatt Cheng:  Let me clarify. When I say “if a few months from now people still aren’t using Life Steal” what I mean is that I think people will be using it. But I could be wrong. Humans being fallible and all that.

I believe people will be using Life Steal months from now without us having to make any changes. I’ve done the math, I’ve got some spreadsheets, I’ve tested with chars. At the same time I’m not so arrogant as to say “You will ALL be using it ’cause I mathed it out!”. I’ve been wrong many times before, I could be wrong on Life Steal too.

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