Monday, January 11, 2010

No practice makes not perfect

Imagine a scene for me if you will:

You are sitting in front of your computer just having installed a new game you bought at the store.  You go through the introduction, watch the cinematic and start playing.  You solve a few fairly easy puzzles, get a little bit into the game and then hit a really hard bit.  You try the hard bit a few different ways, do some testing and after half a dozen tries at it the game says,

"Sorry, you are out of tries.  You will be able to try again next Tuesday.  Goodbye."

If you are at all like me you would first try to figure out the joke and get back to playing, and the second thing you would do is blow a gasket and go back to the store and demand your money back.  This is exactly what Blizzard Entertainment has done in WOW, though to a less ridiculous extent perhaps.  The actual implementation in the game is this:  There are several new bosses available to for our guild to fight this week and two of them are fairly straightforward while the third -Professor Putricide- is quite difficult.  You get 10 tries to defeat Putricide and then you are done for the week.  You cannot engage him again until the server resets the dungeon on Tuesday.

On our raid this past Tuesday we defeated all the bosses in the new dungeon without too much difficulty and then we arrived at Putricide near the end of the raid.  Normally what we would do with a new boss is just pull him and see what happens and get ready to get reamed.  Generally this is the pattern, you start fighting the boss and he does something heinous to you and you die.  You all get resurrected, cast your buffs, eat your food and resolve to move to the left when he casts the spell "MOVE LEFT OR DIE" and try again.  Of course bosses have many different spells like "SOME PLACES ARE ON FIRE" and "HERE IS A CRUDDY MINION FOR YOU TO SMASH"  and it can take awhile to move left, get out of fire and kill the minions efficiently.  Thing is though, this is the most fun part of the game.  We walk in and see what happens and figure out strategies to defeat it.  Then we yell at whoever is getting killed too quickly because they are standing in fire, and eventually we sort out a good way to defeat the boss.

This new design means that we don't do this.  Instead of just pulling the boss and seeing what he does we end the raid and spend a good chunk of time the next day surfing the web for strats.  We look for all the information out there on how to fight him, how his abilities work and what to expect.  When we finally do engage him for the first time we have already told everyone what to expect and how to play.  Our strategy is still going to evolve a little, but the thrill of discovery certainly is lessened.   The most frustrating aspect of this new way of doing things is that it pits us against each other.  When Corporate Plunderer stands in fire and dies, normally we just die, mock him and come back and go again.  When Barrel Plug pulls an extra pack for no reason we sigh, take our lumps and curse him out.  Now though when someone screws up and plays dumb we lose more than just time; we lose the ability to defeat this boss for the week.  This creates a new pressure to not fail that I don't particularly enjoy.

The reasons that Blizzard implemented this policy aren't bad ones.  They wanted to accomplish a few things:  First, to prevent people from throwing themselves at new, hard bosses for days on end.  The top guilds in the world literally play 24/7 for days sleeping in shifts to defeat new things, which certainly isn't overly healthy.  The second major reason to do this is to slow down the speed at which players defeat new content.  If everything added to the game is defeated on the first day people feel like there is nothing new to do, so if you prevent them from practising then they will take longer to defeat the challenges set up for them.  Unfortunately these measures don't accomplish their respective aims overly well.  Top guilds have all of their players with multiple characters so they can do the dungeons first with one set of characters, then another to give themselves more time to practice.  They still end up playing outrageous numbers of hours to defeat new things and of course get things done first.  The trouble with limiting attempts on a particular encounter is that the truly hardcore people just run through it over and over on more characters and the people like myself and my guild end up just stymied because we have no attempts left and no secondary characters to play on.

We end up in a situation where we can't get in the major predictor of success, practice.  More than innate skill, more than equipment or preparation practice determines success.  Saying to ourselves "We don't have any more time tonight guys, lets go sleep and try this again next week" feels fine, we are living within our schedules.  Saying "Sorry guys, the raid is over because Blizzard has declared that we aren't allowed to try this any more this week" does not.  It is time to get rid of this model and move on.  At the outset it seemed like an intriguing idea, but after fully experiencing it we can safely say it was a failed experiment.

Icecrown Citadel:  Our new target.

Within Icecrown Citadel:  The lair of Professor Putricide.

1 comment:

  1. Just this morning I realized another reason why they might have implemented the limited attempts system: because of raid lockout extensions. Instead of clearing your farm content up to the boss you are working on, you could just save at the boss you are working on and fight it exclusively.

    For most guilds this would be a really bad idea since having success is what makes the failures fun, and getting the gear from the guys you can beat is going to help with the ones you can't. On the other hand, people aren't good at figuring out what's good for them all the time, and many guilds that were in that inbetween zone above total incompetence but below smashing everything would fell that this was the *correct* way to make progress.

    In some ways I think that Blizzard trying to save people from themselves is the wrong idea. Let the people who make bad decisions and run their guild in ways that lower morale have their guilds fall apart and be done with it. But from their perspective, a certain amount of protecting people from making bad decisions is important and it helps the game appeal to a wider audience.

    I think this might have something to do with limited attempts because it is the first problem I have thought of that limited attempts are actually a solution to. Of course the treatment is worse than the disease in this case, and as much as I like extending raid lockouts, I would throw that in a ditch to get rid of limited attempts forever.