Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cata 10/25 Difficulty Balance Issues: Addendum

Dinaer at Forever a Noob had an interesting point today about the 10s vs 25s raid difficulty balance for Cataclysm: healer-to-tank ratio and its impact when tank health is made equal. While my initial reaction was "25s don't let all 5-7 healers spam on one tank! Or so I thought?!"... I read back through his post again and did some quick ratio calculations and saw that he did still have a point.

Here're my thoughts on the matter:

Healer/Tank/Raid ratio:
The relative tank/healer/total-raid-size ratio is different for each raid size. Currently, 10s run either a 1/1 per party or 1/1.5 per party ratio (2-3 healers); 25-mans run between a 0.4/1 per party to 0.12/1.4 per party ratio (2-3 tanks, 5-7 healers). Simply put, there are more available healers than tanks per party in a 25-man raid, allowing for more focused tank-healing without that tank's healer having to worry about raid-healing at the same time. To give an example, 2 healers in a 10-man with two tanks each have a tank to heal AND the rest of the raid, while in a 25 they will have the raid-healing job taken over by 3-4 other players, in addition to some extra hots, bubbles, splash-heals, cooldowns, etc. to help with the tank healing from the raid-healers.

Why does this matter? Well, when gear and raid buffs are homogenized in Cataclysm, the tanks should, in most cases, have the same health pool regardless of their raid size. Damage from the boss will have to be balanced with consideration towards how many healers (in terms of HpS) will have their sole attention on the tank... and to some extent, how many raw healers there are in the raid who have tank-saving cooldowns available to help out in emergencies. Otherwise, if it's the same damage to match the same tank stats, then having more healers available to help that tank in the 25-man (or even just having the complete focus of one healer who doesn't have to OT or raid heal as well) will make it seem easier than in the 10-man. Similarly, designing the boss to do more damage in the 25 (to counteract the higher concentration of healers and cooldowns) will make the tank seem squishier than in the 10, and run a higher risk of a tank being one-shot in the 25 when they could've taken the hit in a 10.

There are other ways to counter this, however: the 25 could require more concurrent tanks (be it by adds or damage-sharing links like Lana'thel/Marrowgar), or adds may do more damage in a 25 than in a ten (requiring more attention from the 25-healer and letting the ten-healer do raid heals in conjunction with healing the add tank), or raid damage could be made more avoidable in the ten, freeing up the "raid healing" to allow those healers to focus on their tanks while keeping the raid healers busy in the 25.

It may also be that 3 healers becomes the accepted standard for raid-balance purposes on 10-man fights (as it has leaned more heavily towards in ICC with 10-strict guilds), allowing at least one healer as a "raid healer" who can cross-heal while allowing each tank a more focused healer of their own, and mechanics in 25s could be made to consume the higher number of available cooldowns to balance them out.

It's stuff like this that makes me happy I'm not the developer/designer tweaking these mechanics :)

~~Please read the comments for further discussion on the topic, as many great points have been raised! ~~


Alyae said...

Tanks in a 10 man and a 25 man will not have the same gear... at least not initially.

25 mans will be designed to drop more loot badges whatever, and 25 man raiders will ALWAYS gear up faster then 10 man raiders. This will help with this very problem as well as try to keep people raiding 25's that already are.

Granted at the end of an instance's life, raiders will be the same, but at that point, the difficulty disparity won't be as much of a problem.

Assuming a similar loot table on each boss as there is now, 25 man raiders will gear up at least 1.5 times as fast as a 10 man. Probably twice as fast on average if the rumors are true with the loot drop numbers.

At the start of an instance, whether the first raid, or subsequent raids, serious raiders will more or less be balanced again gear wise, and then we start again.

All this means is that initial bosses will need to be easy intro like bosses for both 10 and 25. (The lower Citadel in ICC for example) and increase in difficulty as it does now.

That means 25 man raids can have bosses that hit harder without making them feel like they are getting RNG'd. Not to mention the ICC debuff mechanic can scale in 10's differently then on 25's....

It's not going to be as big of a deal as people think I don't think.

Kae said...

Excellent points, all, but I think the gearing-speed differential will really just impact how quickly the guild is able to progress. Some may view difficulty as being told by the speed of progression, but would everyone accept this? I can easily see great numbers of raiders crying foul if a 10-man is made easier than a 25 just because the 25 gears more quickly, and it would go against Blizzard's promised "equal difficulty" in terms of raw mechanics.

Maybe instead of raw mechanics, they will base the difficulty on how many times a similarly skilled group of players (with the same strat) wipes on the fight before they defeat it.

A lot of players have been insisting that they need a bigger carrot to continue running 25s, but I do agree with you that if they're set up to gear more quickly, the 25s will progress faster, assuming skill being equal.

Rul said...

Equalizing the ilvls of the gear was probably the biggest mistake of the proposed change, and if they switch it back to how it is currently they will solve a lot of issues with the new system. It's entirely redundant to the shared lockout since people are only going to be getting one or the other set of loot anyway.

Effectively, ilvl won't matter since each raid is tuned around the gear that drops in the instance anyway. The only reason it's an issue now is because it lets 25-man raiders steamroll the 10s with better gear, and because the itemization between the two sizes is different. With a shared lockout and loot table, this isn't an issue anymore.

Really, ilvl is completely irrelevant if you're only raiding one raid size; gear's only purpose is to make you more capable of completing the content that you are working on. That's probably the reason why Blizzard is just making them equal ilvls in the first place. The problem is that it ignores the psychological advantage of having them be separate, which I like to call the "Zomg Bigger Numbers" draw of 25-man raiding. With disparate ilvl gear, they could also get around the need to further incentivize 25-mans since they can just say "Well, your gear is better".

Rul said...

To further clarify, different ilvls of gear means that *all* the numbers are different (health, damage, healing), so there isn't an easy direct comparison between the two raid sizes. It effectively nullifies comparisons like the one in the OP.

Ram said...

I agree with you Rul. Sharing lockouts would be the simplest method. Though, in past experience people are drawn to 25mans simply due to the higher iLvl. maybe making the 10man people feeling less important.

Keeping the same iLvl between 10s & 25s means they don't have to create as many pieces of gear. Also for encounter purposes they would increase boss hp, and increase rate of dmg on the raid. If all mobs HP is proportionally the same for potential dps output then the encounters may be able to be constructed more easily.

Not saying Blizzard is being lazy, but perhaps more efficient :)

Ram said...

More efficient means more encounters? Which keeps everyone happier.

Kae said...

Yeah, it's not like the raid-difficulty balancing is new... it's just being brought (dragged out with much screaming) into the sunlight with Cataclysm, like a monster hiding under the bed that many 25-man raiders insisted wasn't real: reality was that they usually just didn't care, since they got their best loot from the larger raid. Now it's being stuffed into a specimen jar and studied under microscopes.

OS-3Drakes. 'Nuff said. :)

Kae said...

Oh, I did want to point out that they've said raids can alter their size between 10 and 25 within a single lockout week, the same way we can alter difficulty now.

I'm curious what this will do in terms of achievements and "ten-strict," and makes me wonder if having 10-strict in cataclysm will actually still be valid... as 25-man guilds who are earning gear more quickly swoop in and kill a boss on ten man for whatever reason: be it missing raiders that week, or deciding to split their 35 raiders into 3 teams for the week, subbing in alts to flesh out some groups as needed, or even saying "hey you guys fail at standing in fire, we best ten are gonna kick you out and kill this one boss by ourselves."

Rul said...

That on-the-fly size switching is the only justification for keeping the gear identical between the two.

Really, when you break it down, ilvl is just a bunch of smoke and mirrors to begin with -- the current content is always balanced around the current gear. Higher tiers of gear do two things: 1) Make all older content easier and 2) Make characters who have completed more content more powerful than newer characters, neither of which have any bearing on progression content.

Honestly, I really like the fact that 10-strict consists of people who understand that lower ilvl gear is irrelevant. It really helps separate the wheat from the chaff.

Rul said...

In other words, instead of just incentivizing 25-man raiders to run 25-man raids, they should also be *disincentivizing* 25-man raiders from running 10-man raids. The current system doesn't do that at all (if anything it's the opposite) and I'm not convinced that the proposed system does it to the appropriate degree either.

Rul said...

Heh, this is becoming a bit of a Vortex roundtable. I'd be interested to see what other 10-strict raiders' thoughts on the matter are :)

Hana said...

I'm a 10-man strict raider, Rul, and while I was surprised about the shared loot table for Cataclysm, it doesn't bother me.

If I was solely in it for the gear I wouldn't be doing strict. =P The only time gear bothers me is when a 25-man raider makes fun of one of my raiders for having inferior gear.

Come Cataclysm that won't happen anymore.

Cuantro said...

I am not sure what blizzard is trying to do here. Whether it is just make things easy on themselves or trying to get raiding down to 10 mans, but I just don't see people wanting to do 25's without better incentives than they can get from 10m.

I lead a strict 10 guild and I love it because it allows all the content without the hassle of an extra 15 people. No need for dkp or loot drama and less people to have to please. So when you take away the 1 reason ppl raid 25's (better gear) I fail to see why anyone would do it.

Honestly I think they should do this. Allow for separate tiered raids 10 and 25 like they are now but put restrictions on them. You cannot get into a 10m raid with 25m gear on. That would allow us strict 10's to still do what we do and the 25s can still do what they do. But no longer will they just get their 25m gear and roflstomp their way through content. At least not as easily. A 25 man would still have an advantage because they could practice encounters in 25 and then do it in 10m but at least they have to do it in 10m gear.

Regardless it will be interesting to see how this plays out through Beta and into live.

Rul said...

See, Hana, that's the part that I actually like. I love it when 25-man raiders snub 10-strict people for having inferior gear because I find it really amusing because of how irrelevant it is. I might just have a different perspective on it though since I did progression 25-mans most of the way through Ulduar before switching over to 10-strict and I know firsthand how much more difficult 10-strict raids are and how much better the players are in comparison (all else, such as schedules, being equal).

I was actually lamenting to Attack earlier tonight about how much mudflation really ruins parts of the game. I was doing Heroic UP (Hail to the King, Baby!) and the tank quit (a dps stood in whirlwind and died zomgragequit!) and I had to spend 5 minutes convincing the group all wearing 232+ ilvl gear to just pull trash without a tank. We did it and, not surprisingly, no one took enough damage to drop below 80% health. Unfortunately we ended up getting another tank before I could try to do the last boss, but we probably could have handled that as well. It's disappointing how risk averse the general WoW playerbase is, especially when they've been afforded gear to create these types of fun challenges for themselves. Since when is dying in a video game while attempting something challenging a big deal? Some of my fondest memories in WoW involve 2- and 3-manning low level dungeons at the appropriate level range (pre-BoA gear). It was tough and took forever, but damn did it make you think up creative solutions to content you'd normally steamroll over. Heck, my very, very first dungeon run back in May 2005 involved myself (priest), a warlock (some nub now known as Nazantia) and a rogue tank. We probably didn't know any better at the time, but we went in and cleared it despite our quest greens and total nubbery (we used a VW tank at one point. Seriously). Anyway, this is getting really tangential for a comment, so I'll stop it here. I just really blew me away how passive players of this game have become over the years.

Kae said...

WotLK's "tank-and-AoE" paradigm has also coddled players quite a bit. I'm rather excited (in a cruel sort of way) to see the complaints on difficulty fly back and forth as mechanics like CC on trash pulls and raid repositioning become more common than they are in this expansion.

I like a challenge... I don't want to be handed my candy by just saying "please." Well, figuratively speaking.


Alyae said...

I want to point out something.
I am in it for the gear. I am in it for the gear so we can defeat things, so I can feel amazing about accomplishing something that felt impossible.

As a tank i want the best gear I can possibly get since it only makes every encounter easier.

Having said that, I am NOT in it for the gear when it comes to character epeen and all of that bull crap that goes along with folks who are loot whores. My quest for gear is simply a means to an end. A way to kill bosses easier. There is an important distinction.

I was never jealous of 25 man raiders and their higher iLvl gear, since I was happy with obtaining the best gear I can within the 10's. It makes no real difference to me if 10's and 25's have different ilvl gear as long as 25's can't go into 10's and steamroll the place and saying.. "Hey you 10 strict guild you suck look, we're ahead of you in progression." ZOMGNERDRAGE!!!!!!111!!11oneone

The only thing that pissed me off about 10's and 25's is the lack of Shineys. Blizz treated 10's as second class citizens with rewards.
Hello Mimirons head, Legendarys, invincible.

Frankly, it's only those shineys that made me jealous about 25 man raiding. Yes ... we put in all that hard work on yogg+0, and got... a tentacle ... trinket... yay?

Sure, say what you will. It's about the accomplishment, and it was. There's no reason for us to go and do Yogg+0 aside from accomplishment... cuz the reward sucks!

Tangent back to the point of this topic. And I will be brief.

I don't care what ilvl my gear is come the Xpac. Just give us the same risk vs reward, with the same shinies. Give us the same loot. I don;t care if it is slighly lower ilvl, but just don't make the difference in ilevel be equivalent to a whole tier upgrade in power between 10's and 25's. That's just silly. If it will be the same ilvl. Give the 25 mans something else to keep them in 25's so I can stop swimming in their tears. Give then an incentive. How about an extra boss per instance that drops the same kind of gear, (perhaps a guarantee of an extra tier token or 3 per raid-lockout) so it always makes them psychologically 1 step ahead of 10 mans in progression. Oooh Ahh.. a boss 10's cant get! SHINEY!
As long as it's not an important end boss, i don;t think 10's will be pissed about it.

Anonymous said...

I'm expecting:

- 3 tank encounters to be the standard in 25 man, with some requiring even more

- more of the tank-switch-and-dot mechanics, such as the Gormok bleed

- hopefully less of the damage-split mechanics (saber-lash), which reduce your OTs to /follow bots

Additionally, I've very interested to see how the holy paladin beacon mechanic turns out, and the different effects this change has on 10 vs. 25. It's clear the intent is they will not be able to float 2 tanks on their own anymore.

Rul said...

Yeah, Alyae, that's pretty much spot on the attitude about gear that I think is reasonable to have. Gear is a means to an end; provided that it meets that end (which I would argue that 10-strict itemization currently does), it's a win.

I do agree with you on the itemization aspect though. With a shared lockout though, it's a pretty moot point. There is absolutely no reason that every item could not be the same but a scaled down version of the 25-man one (including legendaries), kind of like what occurs now with normal and heroic loot (instead the normal would be in 10-man and the heroic item would be from the same encounter in 25-man). I just don't see "gearing up more quickly!" as being as quite a big incentive as "have gear with bigger (irrelevant) numbers!" It's all psychological really.

Also, I would be far, far more upset with a 25-man only content than I've ever been about extra shinies like legendaries and mounts. That's probably the worst case solution.

Ram said...

I have issues with 25man raiders getting the mounts, and other fluff items.

I have felt jealous over those, I won't lie. But I feel MORE jealous because of itemization. I've found that 25man loot is generally better itemized. I'm speaking from a tank perspective.

*Off topic*

They're removing weapon skill, can you please remove, or at least trivialize Hit/Expertise for tanks? I switched a couple pieces cause they are really big upgrades. I dropped 2.5% expertise. Because of that my threat dropped 1-2k.... <--My nerdrage.

*On Topic*

I 100% agree with you Rul. iLvl doesn't matter. In fact I often think about if we couldn't see how much dps/hp/heal we were doing... Just the percentage. I have 100% hp. The boss hits me for 10% hp. DPS hits the boss for .01% hp. I know that model is broken.

Avatar said...

I agree, the balancing act the devs need to do is not going to be easy, and do not envy them. However if they can pull it off, I think it would be a really cool choice that guilds could make.

Manbearpig said...

Yes, I bet a plethora of Blizzard programmers are now working on balancing the difficulty of 10 and 25 content. How can they do it? They cannot. Why don’t they realise it? They do realise they cannot. But admitting that won’t get them all a secure job for the duration of expansion doing endless and constant balancing in vain.

Trying to make the same raid in various formats was abad idea from the start. I am “strict 10 man” raider now, I have been for most of WotLK. But I don’t accept all those too easy arguments that 25 mans are too much of a hassle to organise, there is no sense of camaraderie, no pressure on individual performance, etc. Real 25 mans (e.g. TBC ones) were less of a hassle to organise as people actually wanted o do them because they were fun and complex, not just because ilevel, and camaraderie and individual responsibility certainly were present in those too with all the complex, varied mechanics. It was WotLK that reduced 25 mans to mass-zerg version of 10 mans and thus spoiled all the variety and fun in them.

How will progression raiding in Cata look like? It will be chaos incarnate! Encounters will without a doubt vary in difficulty between formats and I wouldn’t be surprised if constant QQ-balancing resulted in the variations swinging from one side to another every patch.

25 man guilds will survive as they will have a huge advantage. They will be able to cherry pick formats on encounter per encounter basis, progressing where fight is easier and farming in 25 man to outgear strict 10 man guilds very fast. Of course they will face the management issue of 15 raiders being sidelined for some fights, but in a progression oriented environment it will just become a necessary practice. Very good guilds should be able to keep strong all around rosters, others will have a core for progress and a bunch of your standard leet-kids all too happy to give that 10 man progression-wiping session a miss as “their cat is ill” or “their internet cable broke” etc.

Strict 10 man guilds will of course be at disadvantage as some encounters will be roadblocks in 10 man and “EZmodes” in 25 man, and gearing will be MUCH slower, not only due to extra badges and higher drop/raider ratio, but also due to all those loots that go to waste on off-specs or are just subject to DE as you happen not to have a specific class / spec.

Surely it will be better then in WotLK. And surely it will give 10 man guilds some sort of credit for hard work put into raiding by eliminating the ridiculous gear ilevel discrepancies between formats. And the tears of “all-so-skilful, 10 mans are for scrubs, leet-kids” that must realise that Cata will deprive them of their leet-lootz as they won’t be good enough to make it to core progression 10 (and thus will have to accept others’ gearing priority), are sweet in deed. Not a perfect scenario but a light ahead nonetheless.

Kae said...

I disagree that 25s in TBC were any easier to organize than they are in WotLK: organization is more than just finding bodies to fill a raid slot. Organization involves the training of the guild--including those slackers who think fire/poison/death runes keep their feet warm--and the rotation of players; it involves dealing with cliques, dealing with loot drama, and attempting to placate everyone to a level of raiding/loot/happiness that will prevent them from leaving and taking their friends with them for "greener pastures."

Those organizational difficulties are seen with any size of raid, and the work load increases with the more players you have. It was harder in vanilla with 40; Cata 25s will be as hard to lead as WotLK 25s in terms of actual raiding-guild organization/management: it's all about the number of people you're having to herd.

I also disagree that it's "impossible to balance" the instances for 25 vs 10. Anything can be balanced, it just may not be per individual boss: one boss may be easier on 25, another may be harder. As long as two groups with the same average gear level and skill level are able to complete the instance in a similar amount of learning time, I'd count that as balanced, no matter that the 10-man spent more time on Boss A and the 25-man spent more time on Boss B.

I *do* agree that 25s will gear more quickly, between higher ratio of gear drops for them, and lower chance of disenchant for lack of a player who'd want it. Gear generalization (especially in respect to spirit=hit) will make disenchants a little rarer, but not by much due to plate/mail/leather/cloth restrictions. Thus, I expect 25s to progress more quickly than pure 10s: is that a reward/carrot in itself for some players to remain raiding 25s? Is it not still balanced in terms of difficulty, in spite of that?

Kae said...

Oh, a note to explain my point of view on "ease" of TBC raid organization: I helped lead a 40/25 through vanilla and into TBC. Trying to herd 40-some-odd cats (via rotations for the 25-man raid) to down Vashj led me to true, physical panic attacks. All those players wanted to be there and I felt at home with them, sure, but they had their fights, they had their drama, there was the share of leeches. The guild split and fractured at times over disagreements on loot or personal problems (drama queens). End-bosses in WotLK don't seem very different to me in terms of mechanics difficulty: Yogg, Algalon, Anub, Lich King. I just seriously don't see the current 25's as any less stressful to organize and lead now than they did in TBC, based on the ever-growing number of burnt out raid leaders and hellish stories I hear from those still leading.

Manbearpig said...

Well, in respect of TBC 25 man raids I used “easier” not in a sense that mechanics of guild / raid organisations were any different but in a sense that they were more worthwhile to attend and as such it was easier to manage a roster as players were more motivated. In general a quality of pool of players available was higher thus making it easier. For one, all those players that moved to strict 10 man raiding were there at disposal of 25 man guilds, also all those players with limited in-game time that were force into pugging in WotLK as “progression raiding” require crazy amount of time due to farming related gear inflation, were at disposal of guilds in TBC.

I agree it never was easy. I agree managing a 10 man guild is easier. But people did run those guilds, and will run those guilds for the same reason people run amateur football teams, choirs, etc.

As for balancing, it is possible to balance a 10 man encounter and a 25 man encounter to provide a similar learning curve and challenged for a similarly skilled and geared group of people (through intensive testing I assume). But trying to do this on every single encounter in game, while keeping mechanics very similar (stressed many times by Blizzard), is an exercise in futility.

Firstly, forcing same / very similar mechanics on different raid formats does nothing more than cripple both of them (especially 25 man format). When I think of the most fun encounters and specific mechanics in TBC for example, I just cannot see the fights being redesigned to 10 man without the best aspects being completely destroyed. I am quite sure it would be easier to design two completely separate raids (one 10 man and one 25 man), both great and unique, and having generally similar difficulty level, rather than copying the fights and simplifying them to match both formats. Would I rather have a fun 10 man only raid and a fun 25 man only raid then 2 watered down versions f one raid? Sure I would!

Secondly, “small differences” in difficulty make a huge difference when it comes to progression. You may say now that small imbalance won’t bother you, but it will. If the playing field is uneven, even by a small margin it causes resentment, no way around it. If you get stuck on a given fight in 10 man for a few resets and 25 man guilds are rolling through it, you’ll feel bad. And what is worse, the “obvious solution” for it will be not to suck it up and improve, but to QQ for Blizzard to “balance it”. And rightfully so! If they said the difficulty should be the same, then it should! And obviously there is only one way the “balancing” goes isn’t there?

Thirdly, what about “in-build” differences? I.e. generally 25 man raids have more lag and latency, more chance of someone DCing, having RL emergency, it is harder to find 25 real quality players then it is to find 10. What about those? Those will vary hugely as well. How in the world will they “balance” the encounters for it?

What I am saying is that it is a poor and silly idea to try to do 2 versions of the same raid (and trying to keep them somehow the same difficulty instead of e.g. designing new content is not something I’d like Blizzard programmers to do). If making 2 riad size versions of the same raid is good, then making 4 versions is better! How about 10 versions? I mean it is easier to organise 2 people “raid” than 10 man raid isn’t it?

Kae said...

We've chosen already to run 10-strict. Currently, balance is tipped in favor of 25s... based purely on world progression, 10-man is actually harder, as no 10-strict guild has succeeded in killing hardmode LK yet. Whether that is from difficulty or from having fewer ten-strict guilds around (rarer to find a hard-core progression 10-strict guild like it is to find for 25s, simply for community spotlights), I can't say, as both raid sizes have different pros and cons going for them. There are examples bosses being easier or harder than for the other size, in both cases, as well. And I'm honestly not that torn up about it, as long as it is POSSIBLE to get it done without having to use (in the case of WotLK) 25-man gear as a crutch.

It's really not as though their attempts to balance ten and 25 are anything new, and there will always be mistakes (in both versions)... but things can be patched. Things can be balanced more closely. And if 25s beat 10s to kills due to faster gearing or some slightly off-balance mechanic? So what. I'm not competing with them... I'm competing with the game's content and, at most, other 10-strict guilds who ARE tackling the same content and raid-makeup problems as I am. ;)