Number of tanks required, a game design issue

Yesterdays post asking ‘whether DKs are being benched’ appears to have two root causes:

  • tank class mechanics which make a given tank the preference on certain categories of encounter
  • encounter design which requires a raid comp of usually two tanks but sometimes three.

If you haven’t looked over the discussion, it’s a good read; and Honor’s comment could have been a post in its own right.

Encounters which favour one tank over another

DKs did have their time in the limelight with Sarth3D, where the (now defunct) Unholy-Vot3W spec reigned supreme. That spec has been ‘balanced’ away to obscure memory, so it doesn’t work anymore, but looked a bit like this.

Block-tanks have theirs on Anub.

I’d forgotten about Vezax, but Honors hadn’t and nor had Ghostcrawler.

There’s a game design issue here, and the questions include:

  • whether Blizzard equitably balance the encounters across a whole raid for all tank types
    • that implies they have a responsibility of some sort to be equitable, which is in itself a question. They used to bias towards Warrior MTs, and admitted so (finally), which I think was a design mistake. They have now said they want reasonable balance.
    • the question is really whether any random combination of tanks can tank their raid through an entire zone successfully, and (perhaps excepting some hard-modes) the answer is yes (albeit maybe it’s harder, but there’s nothing wrong with ‘harder’)
  • whether the tanks are balanced reasonably between one another regardless of the encounter types
  • if you were to put tanks into a vacuum, you’d say all the classes are reasonably balanced compared to one another. You cannot say a small variation between them equates to a failure of balancing, one needs to have some flexibility in the threshold used to assess ‘balance’

Overall, I think Blizzard do a good job on those issues, but like any subjective measure, everyone will have an opinion.

Raid comps

I wrote a few months ago about the ratio of tank to the other raiders, and how it changes drastically from 10-man to 25-man raids.

The ratio required of tanks to others:

  • In 5-mans, you need one tank  (1:4 ratio).
  • In 10-mans you need two (1:4 ratio again).
  • In 25-mans, you need three (1:7.3 ratio), but mostly you need two tanks (1:11.5 ratio).

These ratios are a function of the encounter design, specifically how many locus’ of control you need: (1) the boss (2) his adds (3) only required if the encounter has bonus spawns or adds that require control, like the Guardians in Kel’Thuzad.

If Blizzard always required three tanks, and rarely only two tanks, by designing encounters with mechanics that demanded it so, you would have a ratio for 25-mans which is closer to 10-mans, which has a few benefits.

Currently in 3.22 (I’m not sure about ICC 3.3 yet), it’s two tanks.

Cataclysm does present Blizzard with an opportunity to change their encounter design philosophy to have three tanks as the default.

If three tanks were generally required, there would be a lower probability of a tank, who loves tanking, being forced into a different playstyle.

Issues around this include:

  • whether encounters can be designed to satisfy Blizzard’s game design goals and also require three tanks, yet also scale down to 10-mans without inordinate levels of studio rework
  • whether they could abandon 10-man raids and change them to 15-mans, so you’d have 5/ 15/25 comps
  • whether they’d abandon 25-mans and go down to 15s, so you’d have 5/10/15s. (They’ve apparently already said no about this, that 25s are here in Cataclysm too)
  • whether Blizzard should care about the ratio issue at all.

Expert opinion?

I’d love to hear from any MMO commentators, and have contacted a few to see if this is interesting. Regardless, I have some further reading on related topics from these kinds of clever chaps.

Related Posts:

13 comments to Number of tanks required, a game design issue

  • Kenshi

    I’ve started a revolution

  • Eldith

    The thing that always gets me anoyed is the as stated inconsistant tanks needed from encounters. Going up from 1 to 3 and keep swiching eavry boss.

    If raid groups formed like (And i know they are not) from groups of 5man partys a 25man guild will be left with 5 tanks 3 of wich will twiddle their thumbs.

  • The bigger problem, in my opinion, is that you run into the tank shortage back at the five man level.
    Gearing up, pre-raid, your 25 man group will have five tanks (assuming they are all their own 5 man group).  These 5 tanks then step into a 10 man, where only four are needed.  One more is cut going into 25s.  Now, you have two tanks who go DPS/Holy – and are no longer tanks.  New 5 mans come out – you’re short tanks.  It was worse in say SSC where you needed a couple tanks for Hydross, 3 or 4 for Lurker, two for Tidewalker, Four for Fathom Lord, 2 or 3 for Leo, and two or three for Vashj.

  • Ulostthegame

    I personally think the current ratio is good due to how few tanks their actually are, looking at trade, I see far more lf2m Tanks raid “x” than lf2m dps raid “x”, and to a lesser extent, lf2m heals raid “x”.
    I think only requiring two makes it faster to put groups together, because generally, you will spend longer looking for tanks.
    Also, looking at boss drops, is the ratio of tank:dps gear not about the same as the ratio of tank:dps in the raid?

    • falc

      The reason why there are so few tanks out there comes right back to where there are so few raid spots in a 25 man raid. You don’t gear a tank just for 5 man content, i mean really gear,  unless it’s a pet alt or something ofc. If you’ve geared a tank for tanking, you want to tank the raid content and we’ll as Gravity has kindly pointed out, a very limited number of spots for the bigger instances. Now if you can’t do that, what’s the point of playing a tank at all? Why not reroll a full time healer or dps as many old tanks have done on my realm… Thank god for dual specs tho, at least now some can be persuaded to maybe run an instance or two when they are bored of their full time job of doing something else ;)
      About the gear: “Also, looking at boss drops, is the ratio of tank:dps gear not about the same as the ratio of tank:dps in the raid?”  No – some loot tables are specifically altered for tanks to get their gear near the start of the instance. 2 Tank items per bosses loot table near the start of Ulduar for instance (Not taking into consideration the non-plate druid class here). Or toC5 man that is simply full of juicy tank gear for you to really get a quick and decent set of tank gear on for yourself, i mean you can see that blizzard has really tryed to make an effort in putting the tanking gear out there so people wouldn’t be able to hide behind that too much. Altough i wish they would put a higher than an ilvl 200 shield out there somewhere, say for badges, but that is a bit offtopic now ;)

      So i completely agree with this article, the fact that 25 mans have such a small need for tanks, really limits the number of tanks out there, even IF the gear itself is there, you won’t really feel well compelled to do something you won’t ever be able todo in a real raiding environment.

  • Kapowette
    Twitter: alexandra_ftw

    Honestly, certainly for pugging, the tank requirement is probably fine, as Ulostthegame says, I know I see pugs needing tanks more often than dps or even healers. Hell, even guild runs fall down for commonly due to lack of tanks than anything else. (Yes, recruiting more tanks is the answer to that, we’re working on it!)
    I’d certainly (with only anecdotal evidence I’ll admit) say I know considerably more people who have their arms twisted into tanking than any other role, both in guild and pugs.

  • evizaer
    Twitter: evizaer

    Balance in PvE is tricky and soft.

    It’s tricky because it’s based solely on the content. Given only a set of classes arbitrarily assigned abilities, there’s no way to determine if they’re balanced for PvE. You need to know what you’re fighting in order to establish some understanding of how effective the available strategies are. Without enemies, there can be no fight, and with no fight there cannot be viable strategies to beat that fight, and without viable strategies, there can be no conception of balance. So the PvE balance of a game entirely depends on content–not on available content, but viable content. If there are 90 raids where a DK is a better tank and 10 raids where a Blocking Warrior is better, the game is unbalanced if no one actually plays those 90 raids where the DK is viable.

    PvE balance is soft because the metric of success is binary. Efficiency doesn’t matter much beyond if the whole raid gets through the content with no wipes (and in a reasonable amount of time). So if a sub-optimal tank can tank well enough that there are no deaths because of his play, that sub-optimal tank is actually balanced against the optimal tank in a way.

    So how can you determine if different kinds of tanks are balanced? If it’s viable to use either in some role (I’m accounting for multiple required tanks here)  in a roughly even number of instances, then it’s roughly balanced. This doesn’t only change with class ability changes, though, it also changes as new content comes out and old content because obsolete.
    (I may turn this comment into a blog post in the near future–you have been forewarned!)

  • Spinks
    Twitter: copperbird

    I think you’re right, and the ratio for raid tanks is one of the big reasons that there aren’t more tanks around for 5 man instances. After all, what’s the point of going to all that effort to gear up, lead the runs, and learn the instances, when you won’t get a chance to really use that gear or knowledge.

    I wrote about this (or something similar) awhile back – the great tanking problem.

    But also, because raids need varying amounts of tanks (usually between 1-3), tanks really need a raidworthy offspec. So as well as gearing up as a tank and learning to tank, you also need a dps set and to figure out how to raid as dps. I guess there are some groups that always force the DK or druid to offspec but in ours we take it in turn. So it’s so much extra work compared to what a healer or dps needs to do.

  • Gravity
    Twitter: gravitydk

    Thanks for commenting, Evizaer and Spinks, as two of the MMO bloggers I’d hoped to hear from.

    I also agree, like Falc said, that it’s the demand for tanks in raids, combined with the gearing problem Spinks mentioned, which creates the number of tanks who are available to pug.  If there was more demand for raid spots for tanks, there would be more tanks around altogether.

    Veneretio’s posted on this topic too; his position is we should have more multi-tank encounters and gave some examples. Some of his commenters’ views are also notable in their own right.
    Next, Tobold posted that he believes the main culprit is the difficulty of gearing up a tank to the necessary level.

  • I am coming to this discussion a little late, but I am hoping I might be able to get some helpful comments or at least another perspective on an issue presently facing my guild.

    In his post, Gravity looks at the number of tanks needed for groups that vary in size from 5 to 10 to 25. He notes that the proportion of tanks needed for 25s is lower and remarks on what this means for tanks, particularly in terms of getting raid invites.

    My guild handles the situation a little differently. Rather than bringing fewer tanks, we take the same proportion of tanks to 25 raids. Also, due to a somewhat unusual loot system we will frequently have an additional two raiders rolling on tank gear (ie, 6 people rolling on tank gear). The loot tables for 25s, however, are built to support roughly 3 tanks, so the chance that an individual tank will get a given piece of loot is substantially lower than expected. So, in other words, the situation with respect to raid invites is ok but is abysmal where loot is concerned.

    Has anybody run into a loot system like this? It seems backwards and unfair, but I suppose I am biased since I am one of those getting screwed over. I’m at my wits end regarding how to get some change. I tried posting on the guild forums in a very careful, understated, unemotional and non-accusatory fashion but that turned into a big furry mess with no resolution. Help!
    .-= Lujanera´s last blog ..Warrior cooldowns: trying something different =-.

  • [...] Pwnwear examines the issue of tank numbers and balance in game design. [...]

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