Without a safety net

For as long as we play this game, no matter how much changes there are things that will always stay the same. Standing in fire is generally bad (there have been very few exceptions to this and the exception does not make the rule). Cleave and Whirlwind are not things you should stand next to. Don’t break the sheep, and my favorite, always blame the hunters. These are simple truths that we have come to accept as we’ve played the game.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately in the Cataclysm beta recently. I’ve leveled Lodur to the current level cap 3 times now (once as resto, once as elemental and finishing out the one as enhancement) and some of these simple truths are being expanded and brought back to the forefront. In Cataclysm, the developers have a goal to make healing harder and more involved. Our healing spells hit for slightly less than one would expect and mana is at a premium.

You see, previously healers have had an excess of mana either through large base mana pools, stacking MP/5 or getting high returns from intellect and talents. With mana flowing like water, healers have been able to compensate to a certain extent for players who “stand in the bad”. Now, it does not mean that no one died. There are still plenty of things that will kill a person flat out if they aren’t paying attention, but some feel that the game has become far more forgiving than it was in the days of Vanilla WoW.

By making healing harder in Cataclysm, they are doing something they moved away from inadvertently over the course of two expansion. They are placing the burden of living squarely on the entire group, and not just leaving it to the healer to be the sole life-line. I’m not saying healers shouldn’t be trying to heal, but rather just stating that the game is changing. Let’s break it down to the core components in play here as provided to us by the developers;

  • Mana is a concern for healers
  • Healers will be focusing more on triage
  • Fights will be longer
  • Situational awareness will be a factor again with a lot of avoidable damage
  • It will be less about brute force and more about survival and finesse

That is just the short list, since things are constantly changing in the beta.

Mana being a concern and the focus being more on triage is a big thing. Right now healing sort of devolves into whack-a-mole frantically trying to keep everyone up. Come cata however, healers will have to make judgment calls as to how to prioritize heals in order to conserve mana and maximize healing benefit to the group.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. In the Throne of Tides (one of the new 5 players dungeons in the next expansion) the very first boss has a spout / geyser like ability that she forms underneath her. The tank and melee need to move out of this before the ability triggers, or they take a lot of damage. Healing this, I had the tank and a rogue stay in the “void zone”. The tank and rogue both took a massive amount of damage. The rogue was JUST far enough away from the tank to be out of Chain Heal range so I had to decide to drop the nuke heal on the tank or the rogue. Needless to say I picked the tank. The rogue died immediately after my heal landed on the tank (1.7 second cast time for those interested). Had either the rogue or the tank moved out of the ability, neither would have died as I wouldn’t have had to decide who got healed and who did not. A little situational awareness would have gone a long way here.  The boss also spawns adds that need to be tanked and dealt with. One of the ranged wasn’t paying attention and wound up proximity aggro-ing two of the mobs and he was dead before I could even cast a single heal on him. We wiped it after that and tried again, but you can see how paying attention counts for a lot there.

This same fight, at about the 2 minute mark I noticed my mana reserves getting low. The damage throughout the fight was pretty steady, but people not paying attention caused me to burn a lot more heals than I would have liked. The fight in total lasted about 4 minutes or so, but in that 4 minutes I had burned a mana potion, my Mana Tide Totem and ended the fight with around 5% mana. It was a bit of an eye opener. I was forced to figure out which heal was appropriate for what damage in order to conserve as much mana as possible, and had to make decisions on when it was safe to let the tank take a couple extra hits before casting a heal. Spam healing to keep everyone at max just doesn’t work anymore.  Keep in mind this is a normal 5 man dungeon not heroic, and I entered this with ilvl264/277 ICC25 gear. It was refreshing and scary, but not at all impossible. Now this will likely change in the raiding end game, but I wonder how much. The encounters in normal dungeons are already shaping up to be more involved than being simple tank-and-spanks, and one can only hope that the learning curve for endgame will continue along that path rather than decline. After my first run though it got easier, and I ended with more mana, but that is in part because the groups did everything they could to avoid damage and make my job easier. That in turn made it easier to heal through the “oh shit” moments.

Now, what does this have to do with non healers? Well to get to the point of my post, my guild constantly reminds players to “help your healers out”. This means avoiding the bad (looking at you here defile!). We expect the healers to heal and do their jobs well, but we expect all the other players to help themselves stay alive. Use potions or health stones, move out of fire, run to your linked partners on Blood Queen, stay vigilant and react quickly. This is not an uncommon sentiment, but some people seem to think they can stand in the fire and squeeze out one more attack while the healer keeps them up. In Cataclysm if you aren’t paying attention and don’t react to the bad things happening around you, it is very likely you are going to die regardless of how skilled your healer is. With all this going on, it becomes more about surviving for as long as possible in a fight. After all you can’t DPS if you’re dead right? So this means when you see a Healing Rain or Lightwell going down, it will be your responsibility to get to it as much as it is the responsibility of the healer to make sure it is placed optimally. It means managing your threat to make sure you don’t gank and doing things to keep the damage you take at a minimal level even if it means stopping what you’re doing for a few moments to stay alive. You will need to do it. It really seems to be shaping up to have more individual accountability by virtue of taking away what I like to call the “Healer Safety-Net”.

If the trend continues into raids, healers simply will not be able to compensate for bad decisions or poor situational awareness. They wont be able to heal through all the damage being done. Instead it will take coordination of the entire group, people paying attention to their environment and an understanding that the game has become dangerous again. We’ve gone from killing boars to resurrecting gods. The stakes have been raised and we will all have to adapt.

So remember to help your healers out, because it looks like that safety net is going away.

18 thoughts on “Without a safety net”

  1. Excellent post. While I’ll agree that with the “right buffs” mana is not an issue now and that this is going to be a big change for a lot of people, there are times now where mana management comes into play. For instance, if your replenishment source goes down early on a raid boss things become a different matter … I mention that specifically because I think, and most of my friends agree, that the replenishment buff is what made mana such a joke. I remember when we were doing early LK content and sometimes wouldn’t have a replenisher available, it made things really hard and we had to work for it. And we liked it that way.

    I’m really glad to see that the game is going back to a more “skill-oriented” style of play rather than “brute force” aspect. I love to strategize with my guildies, this should be loads of fun. =)

  2. I’m looking forward to seeing all the idiots who try to run Cataclysm dungeons like we’ve been doing heroics in Wrath, the gather and AoE DPS-fest. I welcome bringing back some intelligence to running dungeons, so that it’s not just about your DPS, but about your skill.

  3. Great post, this is what I have been thinking about Cata as well. However I am afraid that another side effect of skill requirements is that healers will be getting blamed for wipes even more. People who don’t play healers often don’t self reflect and think how they could have made a situation better, or make things easier for healers. They just assume they were doing fine and that the healer was simply slacking.

  4. I’m curious if most Bosses in Cataclysm are as punishing to melee as the one you described. It seemed like the developers were getting away from punishing melee in ICC, but from the sounds of it, melee bears a much larger burden of reducing party damage than Ranged.

  5. Sounds like some very positive changes overall.

    “hey are placing the burden of living squarely on the entire group, and not just leaving it to the healer to be the sole life-line”

    I’m totally on board with this idea. I don’t play a lot of healing classes but I do tank a lot and I have to say that I think far too many players (or at least the inexperienced ones) don’t know how to manage DPS or control their actions and just assume tanks and healers will be there to keep them safe. I’m glad to see that Blizzard are making things a little tougher and require more group effort in Cataclysm. Gonna be lots of fun!

  6. I remember that they promised at the end of bc that healers would also had mana problems and they had, till the next big patch (except shamans who had it rough). Sure, in ulduar you still had to pay some attention to mana but it just got better and better depending on our gear. And that’s also what I’m wondering now;
    We might have mana problems at the beginning of the expansion. But gear will keep improving. I wonder if in the last major patch we’ll be spamming again like never before.

    On a different note: I think that, if they succeed, the healers could have a rough time at the beginning of the expansion as people still need to get used to it. But if people are forced by Blizzard to pay more attention to their own hp eventually a culture will be created around it and every player will not only be judged by their dps/tank abilities but also how good they can make the healer’s job easier. This will most likely decrease the amount of complaining about healer’s significantly.

  7. It makes me wonder that a fully ICC geared healer with chants and gems is having mana issues, how is someone in leveling greens supposed to heal that normal dungeon. Very strange.


  8. I´m actually scared about this. Not because I´m afraid I´m not up to the challenge, on the contrary; I’ve been frustrated with the mindlessness of healing for a long time now.

    No, I’m afraid because I don’t think Blizzard will be able to stand against the raging tide of bitching from the community that I fear will be triggered by this. I would be much more confident in the success of this if they would tune normal dungeons to be roughly in line with the current heroics and leave the kind of exciting gameplay Lodur describes for the new heroics.

  9. I know it’s hard to remember that long ago, but heroics in Wrath were like this at the beginning to some extent too.

    Remember your first time in Heroic Azjul Nerub, fighting Anub’Arak? Without a druid or shaman?

    Remember your first time fighting Heroic Loken with your healer in greens and blues?

    Then they turned on the loot faucet, and everybody outgeared everything to the point where heroics are easier than normals should be.

    What Blizzard needs to remember is that their peak subscriber count was back in Burning Crusade… Where heroics kicked your butt, and 98% of the population never saw Illidan pre-nerf. You WANT the vast majority of the player base to think that there’s something out there that they just can’t handle yet, ’cause if you’ve already done everything there’s no reason to play anymore.

    All those self-entitled kids who want to be carried through instances are so addicted they’ll wait in 20+ minute queues for a single heroic that lasts 10 minutes. Why should Blizzard cater to them? They’re not going anywhere.

  10. This is exciting news. When doing randoms currently, I don’t baby the people that have no respect for the “help your healers out” mentality that’ll pull agro or even pull mobs themselves and stand in nova’s and I feel no remorse for letting them die. I’m curious as to the learning curve those people will be facing when they’ve lost their BC edge.

  11. While I appreciate the close attention to detail in attempting to paint an entire picture of the lvl 85 experience, I do believe that this post tends to cater too much to those who have had the privilege to face the toughness of end game raiding.

    I know it feels good to be the 2% that sees the cutting edge content in the game before anyone else. But unless there is statistical data and some serious regressions to justify a correlation with hardness of the game and the successfulness of the Cataclysm release, its only your words of why it should be that way.

    I will go on to say that Cataclysm is supposed to add to the WoW experience. Its degree of hardness or easiness is only a byproduct of this broad goal. I think its going to be a little bit of both. And as time goes on, patches will make the proper adjustments. Beta is just to ensure the current expectations of gameplay is actually playable. NOT how its going to be forever.

    I know a lot of people are veterans in this game and are very proud of it. But I am more convinced that Cataclysm is supposed to offer something NEW. Not something that only veterans can appreciate.

  12. Oh, come on Frekuenzy..

    First of all, the 2% statistic was a BC thing. According to WoWProgress, 10% of the Wrath population that cares to try has killed the Lich King on 25-man mode, and 35% have gotten him down on 10-man. More than half the raiding population is 5/12 in normal ICC 25.

    Second of all, we’re not even talking about cutting edge raiding content. We’re talking about 5-man heroics.

    Third of all, WoW growth is flat. Face it. The vast majority of people who will ever play this game have already played it. And if you start fresh, it doesn’t take long until you will be playing the same content as the veterans. With 18-24 months between expansions, the vast majority of the play time is going to be spent on end game. So that content needs to be able to hold people’s interest for as long as possible. Even people who think that being able to steamroll that content is fun don’t actually want to be able to steam roll it (They think they do, but they don’t know what will actually provide the most fun for them). Decades of collective gaming experience has proven that the Monty Haul RPG doesn’t hold interest. There needs to be something that is just out of reach.

    That means there needs to be some insanely hard 25-man content, some insanely hard 10-man content, and yes, some insanely hard 5-man content. So that no matter what level of time commitment you’re able to devote to the game you always have a challenge to keep you coming back.

    Go back up to the top of my post and look at those stats again. In BC, only 2% of the population was seeing the “high end” content. So how come that was the peak of WoW subscribership? The content is more accessible now, so more people should want to play, right? Nope. Doesn’t work that way.

  13. Vinz.
    Unless you are at the University of Indiana doing a fellowship on Internet gaming research (which from there there was an analysis done on the online currency issue) or any research at all. Before you “quote” any source, it would be good to know who is funding them. Obviously there would be a direct correlation between amount of funding and accuracy of research. So unless you know Blizz is cutting a check to WoWprogress, i would stay way from quoting them for gaming industry facts before you make generalized assumptions about the nature of Blizzard’s consumer demand.

    My issue is credibility….and since WoWprogress isnt an example of something that should be used as a primary source of information, it questions your data, assertion about the numbers, and your notion that people “need something to chase” that is a more successful business model.

    Lets not forget something either. WoW subscription fees is a discretionary income expense. So that means..that other people (assuming rationality and forward thinking people and not completely irresponsible losers) would budget themselves in a way that WoW expenses come close to the bottom of the list. Taking this into consideration, wouldn’t it make sense that people would be more inclined to stick to a game more generous in progressing than making it in any way “unattainable” or “hard to attain?” I think so. Furthermore, I would also find sense in the fact that the rational people are more the steady paying consumers than the ones who live off of ramen noodles and yet have a Shadowmourne on their Ret Paladin.

    And ill apologize since i am not your typical “unemployment check receiving end-gamer” that would easily believe you, your assertions are NOT good enough to make the kind of assumptions you are making or much less to have an attitude that you are more right than I am.

    So be humble and mature about the subjective nature of your assumptions and about what you THINK you know. And realize that you wont find very accurate numbers due to the lack of serious funding in WoW gaming research only. KNOW WHY? cause its just a game.

    Funny how your response is so telling of how far your profession is from Business Development….cause no one would hire you.

  14. Oh and before I forget. ATVI Stock price had post 2007 BC release grew from on 1/17/2007 before the financial crisis up till the release of the WoTLK expansion on 11/2008 was went from roughly $8 USD a share to about $17 USD a share and then PLUMMETED 1 month before the WOTLK release in October. Since then, people have been (according to every financial news release our there) have been spending a lot less discretionary income and have been divesting themselves from ultra high consumer debt…worldwide. Since then, the growth of ATVI’s stock has been relatively stable from roughly $9 USD a share to about $11 USD a share to its latest trading day. This isn’t just a blizzard phenomena, but a global corporate phenomena that is closely aligned to consumer expenditures.

    funny how many more questions need to be answered before any assertions can be made about explaining a business model? and yet….WoWProgress is your primary source or data information?

  15. Clearly I’m not going to meet your strictly defined elitist guidelines such that you’ll be satisfied with any arguments I put forth to refute your arguments. So I expect you’re just going to ignore everything I have to say from here on. Oh well.

    If you don’t trust WoWProgress as a data source, you’re welcome to go directly to the armory, since WoWProgress’s statistics are simply an aggregation of the armory data. I’m not going to do that for you though, since a simple blog comment board seems to be a sufficiently casual environment, and we should be able to trust WoWProgress not to be manipulating their data in order to impact this particular discussion. I wasn’t using them as a source of gaming industry data, of course. Simply as a source of WoW specific data.

    I don’t know what you THINK I know. I do know that gaming has been a part of my life for decades. I have run tabletop games for much of that time. I have a very intimate knowledge of what keeps players happy over the course of a long campaign, and what makes the simply say “Oooh, shiny!”, but not be interested in coming back for another session. I have run a guild, or the equivalent of a guild in this and other games, and I witness the points where large numbers of players grow tired of a game and move on to something else. I have studied math, statistics, and computer science sufficiently to have earned a degree in the field and to draw a very healthy income from practicing in the field professionally. I feel that I have anecdotal first hand experience with what people enjoy about gaming.

    Just so you’re clear about how this fits in as a response to your comment; I am a primary source. I referred to WoW progress as a secondary source. If you’re expecting a bibliography and publishing credentials here, you’ve come to the wrong place. These are comments on a blog.

    Now, you say:

    “WoW subscription fees is a discretionary income expense. So that means..that other people (assuming rationality and forward thinking people and not completely irresponsible losers) would budget themselves in a way that WoW expenses come close to the bottom of the list. Taking this into consideration, wouldn’t it make sense that people would be more inclined to stick to a game more generous in progressing than making it in any way “unattainable” or “hard to attain?”

    You might think it makes sense, but it’s just not how it works. The more generous game might dole out the rewards faster, but that doesn’t keep people coming back for more. One problem is that you run out of rewards rather quickly. Your generous reward system isn’t so generous anymore once you’ve got all the rewards there are to have. Plus there’s more!

    It’s interesting that you bring up Business Development. Business and Economics are two fields that had to figure out on their own what neuro-scientists, computer scientists, and bio-chemists already knew. Namely that occasional small rewards feed addictive behaviors. Managers use this knowledge to motivate their workers without the added expense of existing salary. Casinos use this knowledge to keep you sitting in front of a slot machine even though you’re taking a net loss. Teachers use it to get small children to behave. Credit card companies use it to get you continue paying them fees and interest. BAD business development executives use this phenomenon to continue throwing good money after bad into an existing investment.

    People AREN’T rational when they’re gaming. In fact, since it’s a leisure activity they’re more likely to let their guard down.

    Again, this is a blog comment. I’m not going to write a dissertation for you, or enroll in the graduate program of your particular bias to convince you, but there are plenty of published papers on the subject for you to enjoy a mere google search away. Alternatively, you could purchase yourself a copy of “Fundamentals of Game Design” by Ernest Adams, or take any number of game design courses at your university of choice.

    I will give you this though. You certainly got very passionate about your supposed desire to have Cataclysm be one big long loot hallway. Too bad that if they actually listened to you, no matter how good it seemed at first, you’d feel oddly unfulfilled when you came out the other end.

  16. @Frekuenzy and @Vinz I’m going to go ahead and chime in here before this gets any more heated.

    First of all this post was not written from the perspective of a raider, but rather from the perspective of 5 mans while leveling. When I made this post level 85 wasn’t available yet, and there are no raids. The points I make are not just concerns for raiders or hardcore players but for everyone. Mana is always a concern regardless of content. I think we can agree on that.

    Second, for as long as wow has been out, there have been some basic rules to live by. I.E. Fire is bad, don’t stand in it. If it is twirling with a bladed weapon, don’t stand next to it and so forth. This is not a raider concern but a concern of all players in all content. Current wrath has made it so that for the most part players don’t have to worry about this, even on a level of heroics. Healer mana, spells, and the ability to heal through anything is present with badge and heroic gear. It has been sort of the theme for this expansion for the last 2 years. Expecting players to move out of fire or move away from cleave in order to minimize damage and help the healer is not something that should matter only for raiders, but in fact should be something that all players are learning regardless of content. The heroes in any fantasy novel know not to stand in fire, and you don’t hold a shotgun facing with the barrel at your chest in any war movie I’ve seen. It’s just logical. I don’t feel it is too much to expect players to know not to stand in bad things in a 5 man or heroic. After all, almost every kid touches the hot stove once and learns not to do it again right?

    As far as knowing how many people got to see content, we do have a pretty good idea about numbers. WoWprogress may not be the best example, but how about past wow census reports issued by blizzard themselves? I can’t find the blue posts off hand, but they have released several numbers as to how much of the player base gets to experience the end game of the expansions, and with each expansion that number grows more and more. Vanilla end game ramped up to be sort of elitist. BC did better than that, and now it’s grown to such large numbers that it is almost staggering. In the next couple weeks leading up to Cataclysm’s launch, Blizzard will likely release another set of numbers showing how many people got to experience the end game content, they usually do. That number will NEVER be 100%, but that is a topic for another day.

    Keep in mind too that the devs have to walk a very fine line for balance here. Too hard and no one can see the end goal in sight. Too easy and the more dedicated players move on to other games, losing subscribers. They have to keep the carrot on the stick at just the right length. So far they’ve been doing it pretty well, but this will actually help in the long run.

    Take for example a player who has one night a week to play be it heroics, raiding or what have you. said player doesn’t have a lot of time to gather a ton of gear, but knows their class really well, and avoids pitfalls in any dungeons or raids they do, staying alive longer and reducing the strain on the group. This type of play model rewards that player for the time they spend in the game, and helps shift focus away from “you have to spend all your time in game gathering gear to see everything”. A system like this means that a casual player has an even better chance at seeing any and all content they want in the game, thus giving players even more control over their world.

    Hope that helps clarify my position and this post.

  17. One huge loot hall huh?

    I don’t give a damn what it is. Cataclysm and all other expansions before it face a phenomena that has been studied by some of the most prolific mathematicians, statisticians and social theorists in the world. That phenomena is demand. Blizzard is going to do everything they can do to ensure that their investors (shareholders) are going to see a ROIC higher than the opportunity cost of investing somewhere else. Whether thats making the game super easy or hard with 160mm hp dragons or 2 hp dragons….it doesnt matter.

    My only issue is that you are trying to come to a blog and act like you are entitled to some special merit of having an online gaming demand under your thumb based on a statistic from some crap source only to be upset at the fact that…..it wasn’t convincing enough. Cause the only people that will accept your statement and assumptions as wholly convincing truth are probably the idiots around you.

    I mean, cmon, if you worked at Lazard in their TMT group I’d believe you. But you have no considerable higher point of view experience to know what you are talking about.

    Its nothing personal. But I will highly suggest that you put yourself in an environment where you are challenged a bit more…maybe you wouldn’t be so careless.


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