In this blog, I’d like to shed some light on an aspect of our design that may unfortunately seem inscrutable or even arbitrary: how and when we make adjustments to our raid encounters once they’re on the live servers. The only changes we jump on immediately to fix are a clearly irritating bugs that never benefit the player in any way (e.g., issues that can cause players to fail to receive loot from a boss, glitches that can cause an encounter to evade or reset prematurely, etc.). Thanks to our internal QA team and the feedback from players on our test realms, those are relatively few in number.
Other than these clear-cut cases, virtually every change has some negative cost to it, such that the benefits must clearly be evident in order to justify making them. If we fix a bug that allows for an unintended strategy on a fight, then the following week there will be raid groups that previously had a working strategy on an encounter and will now have to re-learn it. If we reduce the difficulty of an encounter, there will always be groups who were very close to a kill on the “pre-nerf” version whose victory feels cheapened as a result. And so forth.
Given this background, let’s look at some of the adjustments we’ve made (or not made, in some cases) to the 5.0 raid zones over the course of the past months, broken down into a few general categories.
Our players are ingenious and adept at coming up with clever solutions to the challenges posed by our raid encounters. While we have learned from past experience to an extent (Rule #14 of encounter design: If it’s possible to kite adds instead of killing them, someone will kite them instead of killing them), we are still unable to always anticipate the lengths to which our players will go to overcome a difficult encounter. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and often one of the hallmarks of a great encounter is that it is open to multiple approaches, depending on the strengths and weaknesses of an individual raid group. I can think of three distinct approaches that we saw to handle the Molten Elemental
s summoned by Heroic Ragnaros
, for example, and I’m sure there are more out there.
For example, a common tactic on the Heroic mode of Amber-Shaper Un'sok
in the Heart of Fear is to have a dedicated transformed player who maintains a Destabilize
stack on Amber-Shaper Un'sok
throughout the entire second phase of the fight, when he is otherwise nearly invulnerable and the raid’s attention is focused on the Amber Monstrosity
. This is only possible due to a bug. Amber-Shaper Un'sok
was intended to be immune to Amber Strike
during phase 2 of the fight, and he was in fact immune to it during that phase for much of the beta testing of the boss. However, fixing a separate bug late in development (ensuring that Amber Strike
could always interrupt the otherwise-uninterruptible Amber Monstrosity
) caused Amber Strike
to also bypass Amber-Shaper Un'sok
’s shield in phase 2. Oops
This would have been a simple bug to fix, but we chose to not do so. This was a clever tactic, and while it made phase 3 of the encounter relatively simple, it did so at the expense of adding length, challenge, and complexity to the first two phases of the fight. Kudos to the players who first came up with it.
=As a general matter, unintended tactics are only a problem when they either trivialize an encounter, or when they simultaneously are the “right” (i.e., easier) way to do the fight and make it less fun in the process.
On the first night of Heroic progression through Mogu'shan Vaults
, Heroic Gara'jal the Spiritbinder
proved to be an incredibly tough test for the damage-dealing capability of the best raid guilds in the world. A number of groups were a few percent shy of a kill, but it appeared quite possible that it would simply require another week worth of gear upgrades to get there. We would have been fine with that, but then one raid group noticed that one of the trolls before Gara'jal the Spiritbinder
cast a massive haste buff on itself that was Spellstealable. The raid kept a couple of those enemies crowd controlled throughout the encounter, periodically breaking them out to let them cast their buffs for the mages to Spellsteal
. This gave them the extra bit of damage that they needed, and Gara'jal the Spiritbinder
Other guilds got wind of this tactic, and were attempting to utilize it as well. We definitely didn’t want the fight to require
the awkward use of Spellsteal
and bringing other mobs into the encounter, mandating the use of multiple mages in order to meet the DPS check for initial kills. But we also didn’t want an unfair playing field in the Heroic progression race, with one guild able to continue progressing in the instance while others were stuck behind a slightly-out-of-reach DPS check and unable to take advantage of the trick that had been used to secure the first kill. As such, we made a hotfix that prevented that buff from being Spellstolen, but also reduced Gara'jal the Spiritbinder
’s health by 5% to offset for the extra damage that the mages with the buff would have done.>Exploits vs. “Creative Use of Game Mechanics” – A Brief Aside