Thursday, December 11, 2008

The nerf bat swingeth

To the cries of "to the ground baby" echoing in the forum, Blizzard announced one of the largest nerfs in WoW history yesterday. Against Hunters no less. Which is unfortunate considering the state of the class for the past couple of years. I can definitely sympathize with the class after the debacle that was the Druid nerf between patch 1.8 and release of the Burning Crusade in 2007. After all, Blizzard makes these design choices, putting real teeth into a class that sorely needed it. Then they go through a lengthy alpha (internal only) and beta test. And then make the nerfs after its been released to the public. Its a process that simply makes no sense to me what so ever.

And this statement by Ghostcrawler really forms the crux of my confusion:
Hunters of all specs, and particularly Beastmaster, are doing too much damage in PvE. We tested this a lot internally in beta and knew hunters were high but we hoped other classes would be able to catch up in a way they have as yet been unable to do.
It's not as if players have abilities and knowledge the developers don't have. In fact it's been clearly stated before by Ghostcrawler that they have tools we don't have. He's described a series of spreadsheets and data collection utilities and touched on the process they use to look at the numbers. Given all of that, how could they not know that other classes would not be able to approach Hunters in PVE?

We want to be careful not to hurt hunter dps too much in PvP, so we’re taking most of the damage out of Steady Shot and Volley. Beastmaster hunters are in addition losing some of their pet dps. We still want BMs to have the best pets, but pet dps numbers are a little high at the moment.

Again, this speaks to the issue of number crunching. How on earth could a situation like this evolve without Blizzard discovering it in their pre-beta testing? And in fact in the open beta, as well as their continued testing?

I don't play a Hunter, so I have no direct interest in these changes. But I do care about the process. And it seems less than optimum to me. We've seen this same process over the years, with the previous example of it having been used on the Paladin class just a few weeks ago. Retribution Paladins made it through the entire Beta process with god like abilities, and in fact made it through release of WotLK despite literally thousands of people on the beta boards commenting on the state of the class. And then thousands more in the first couple weeks after patch 3.0.2. Only at that point did Blizzard make some nerfs to the class. And there have been plenty of examples of this same process before. All of which bespeak of "broken".

But it also shows glimpses into the philosophy of the developers. A philosophy which I take issue with. The developers have created an informal dps hierarchy which seems to govern their class decisions. They expect Mages to be top DPS, with Rogues close behind. Then you have a sort of second tier of DPS classes that seemingly is populated by Hunters, Shaman, Warlocks, Paladins, and the rest. Where exactly the various classes fall out in relation to one another is open to debate. The point being is that it seems awkward to limit the potential of a class based on what you want to see in another class. It makes more sense to me to design a class by itself.

Of course then you'd enter into other arguments regarding balance. But what is balance? If I asked 100 people I'd get 100 different answers. Just one of which would include "if X class was best, then everyone would play that class". Exactly the argument that was made about Death Knights. Yet we still have Rogues, Warlocks, Mages, and the rest of the classes still walking about. Clearly people are more discerning in their choices. People chose their class based on what that class can do. Not on what other classes can do. People more interested in PVP tend to play Rogues or Warriors more often than any other class, do they not?

My own point of view is I hate to see nerfs. Especially when they could be prevented in the first place by a better vetting process in the early stages of development.