Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Wow is built and designed around the casual player
WoW is built from the ground up to be accessible to new players. Blizzard’s VP of game design Rob Pardo described the design philosophy of World of Warcraft as the “donut design.” This is where the outside of the donut consists of the casual players, while the center is where the hardcore players reside. WoW is a game built for casual players with enough depth to draw in the hardcore players. When Blizzard designed the Player-Versus-Player (PVP) system for WoW, this design philosophy carried over and resulted in the inclusion of the global cooldown and luck or random number generator (rng) as WoW players call it.
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The global cooldown
While reaction times and the number of inputs does play a factor in World of Warcraft PVP, it is greatly limited by the built in one second global cooldown between inputs. This places a lowered skill cap on how fast a player needs to input commands to be competitive. There are exceptions to this as certain abilities are off the global cooldown, but for most cases this holds true. It does not matter if you have an amazing ability to input commands at a very fast pace, you are limited to the artificial limit imposed.
StarCraft is a good example of a game without such a skill cap. For elite StarCraft players the number of inputs per minute is something to brag about. Some of the players can consistently achieve as high as 500 inputs per minute. These players constantly practice and strive to improve their inputs per minute and their ability to micromanage multiple units.
The global cooldown also lessens the mistakes that players can make. Because a WoW player is limited by the global cooldown and can only input so many commands per minute they are less prone to make mistakes because there are simply fewer decisions and inputs necessary. This makes the game much more accessible to players who are simply incapable of entering 500 commands per minute. The global cooldown supports the casual player by making the game easier for them to be successful. The great advantage of this is that it makes World of Warcraft PVP much more popular and accessible to more people.
Luck gives PVP greater accessibility and helps turn the casual player into the hardcore player
Luck (rng) is a difficult balance in a game like WoW. Too little and the game becomes stale and inaccessible to novice players, too much luck and players become frustrated. However, luck supports the design tenant of the donut by giving less skilled or out-geared players a chance to win or at least make games close.
Luck is valuable because beginners will enjoy the game more when luck allows them to occasionally win against a more seasoned or better-geared opponent. Conversely, if WoW did not have a luck component, a less skill opponent would never win and this constant negative reinforcement will drive away many novice competitors. It is necessary to reward novice players occasionally to keep their participation and push them to get better at the game. For example, the poker variant Texas Hold’em is popular and maintains its popularity because the game rewards new players and keeps them interested in the game by allowing them to win on occasion through luck alone.
Luck increases the skill cap
Without luck (RNG), WoW PVP involving two equally skilled opponents or teams would be a pre-scripted affair whose outcome would be predetermined from the start. The game would play out something like this. The attacker begins with an attack and from then on each player might as well read off of a script and perform the best possible move in succession until the conclusion of the match. While WoW gives players the illusion of a lot of options, there is almost always a best move or path at any given time. If both sides play “perfectly,” the race, class and spec of the characters or the teams’ combination of classes determine the game because certain classes or team matrixes simply outclass others. The only time this pattern can be broken is through human error. For all the negativity that luck in the game of WoW receives, the game without it would be a very straightforward experience without much deviation.
For WoW, luck has the very strange property of actually increasing skill cap. Players need to be able to react to broken patterns not only from human error but also from bad luck. Players need to switch to a different track or branch in the previously mentioned script to adjust for attacks or defensive measures that fail due to bad luck. This keeps matches from degenerating into a stale affair. If a Rogue’s kidney shot (a move that stuns the opponent) fails due to being randomly dodged, he needs to adjust his next series of moves for his now interrupted stun lock. Another example, this time involving a team, is if a Druid’s cyclone, a spell that incapacitates another player, is resisted, the team must now communicate and coordinate another member to use a different ability to continue the incapacitate effect on the opponent. Luck forces teamwork and emphasizes adjustment to failed attacks.
Luck mitigates some of the balance issues
WoW is a far cry from being balanced and with so many abilities and classes and team combinations possible it likely never will be. Luck helps to mitigate some of these issues by giving lower tier classes or class combinations a chance against higher tier class or team combinations. Let’s say a Warrior, Warlock and Druid team dominates a Rogue, Mage and Priest team (whether it does or not is immaterial to this discussion) luck can help to turn the tide and the dominated team can actually pull off a win over the dominate team. When a weaker class matrix can occasionally overcome a dominant one, it helps to mask the fact that the game is not balanced.
WoW’s shift to the hardcore
Games over the course of time tend to eliminate luck and cater more and more towards the hardcore. WoW is not the exception to this rule. The shift to a lessened duration of stuns instead of an outright resist percentage and the removal of Mace induced random stuns are examples of this.
The World of Warcraft design philosophy of catering to the casual player is supported by the global cooldown and built in luck element of PVP combat. These pillars of the design keep the game popular and accessible to a wider audience and mask many of the balance issues in the game. Luck also has the effect of spicing up the game and increasing the skill cap as players and teammates must adjust to failed attacks. Lastly, if you are a hardcore player that does not like luck in your games, the World of Warcraft has already changed in your favor and over time will continue to move in this direction.
See my other related articles also:
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
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What Video Games Taught Me About Life
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
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This entry was posted on Monday, December 15th, 2008 at 5:33 am and is filed under Video Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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