Class vs. Skill

In Tobold’s post about Class vs. Skill systems he says:

In every jump-and-run game or other single-player game as simple as Tetris, your progress is strictly limited by how good you are at the game. Makes you wonder why that isn’t possible in a massively multiplayer virtual world. Both classes and skill point systems are just crutches that enable the game to give rewards to players for not much, creating a permanent illusion of progress. Obviously that is more popular than reaching the limits of your abilities.

This surprises me as he’s often complained about not having the twitch reflexes needed for PvP. I have often reached the limits of my abilities in computer games and that’s usually when I stop playing the game. I couldn’t spin blocks fast enough to get past a certain level in Tetris. I couldn’t handle more than 2-3 AI opponents in Starcraft. There was no longer the opportunity for incremental improvement – one level was trivial and the next level was beyond my abilities.

I think that WoW has done a good job of allowing for that incremental improvement of your abilities as a player. It’s far from perfect but at least there’s a path for progression. You can look at an encounter and see that you wasted your taunt, or didn’t spin the boss the right way, or missed an add and do better next time. If you’re an average player, you will reach an encounter that is beyond the limits of your abilities, be that Mr. Smite or Algalon in hard mode. Your progress is strictly limited by how good you are at the game

For the best players, they will reach a point where everything is within their abilities. I don’t see why this is a flaw. When Michael Jordan takes 3 point shots, it’s a challenge but well within his abilities. Is basketball broken because of this?

I have a feeling that I’m missing something in Tobold’s argument.

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7 Responses to Class vs. Skill

  1. Tobold says:

    The part that you are missing is that the skill I think should be needed for a MMORPG is not necessarily the twitch skill of a first-person shooter, but the tactical skills of a squad-based wargame. Which a MMORPG basically is.

  2. Joel says:

    I can see that. Raiding currently is a one-size-fits all mishmash of real time strategy and squad-based wargame that emphasizes reflexes at least as much as tactics. Then there’s the influence of the random number generator to consider as well. At the same time, I don’t think I’d play an MMO that used a chess-like model for combat. I would love to see how a well done squad-based wargame style of combat would play out in an MMO.

  3. Beej says:

    I don’t think WoW did a very good job of getting the “incremental improvement of your abilities as a player.” If a player is a good healer in the Deadmines, he or she will be as good a healer in Scarlet Monastery, into Stratholme, into Slave Pens, into The Nexus, into Ulduar. There are basics for each playstyle that require mastering, yes, but the real “improvement” in a character comes from gear itself. My healing throughput will be the same as a 80 as any other fresh 80. I might even know more about mana conservation and situational awareness, but Joe Ulduar will be doing a lot better than I am and seem to have more skill because his gear allows his heals to hit 2x harder than mine with 3x the mana pool.

    There is a soft-cap on actual player improvement in WoW (don’t stand in the fire, know when to spam heal, don’t pull aggro, turn the dragon to not face the rest of the party, etc.), but after that, the only significant improvement to a character comes in form of the glass ceiling of gear. I can be a better healer or tank than some other guy, but it doesn’t actually LOOK like I am because I will never be able to get Ulduar 25-man Hard Mode loot. My character will always take more damage than him, tanking-wise, because I only have time to run Heroics, even if I understand the base mechanics of the class better.

  4. Joel says:

    I can see your point Beej – in WoW skill cannot make up for lack of gear whereas gear can cover up lack of skill. It seems to me you would prefer a game where gear is mostly for show and skill is king. For example, it doesn’t matter that you have a chess set made of solid gold, you won’t beat Garry Kasparov even though he’s playing with wood chips marked with a crayon. This is definitely not the situation in WoW – the one with fancier gear will win 99% of the time.

    I want a game where the learning curve helps me become a better player one step at a time. I already have plenty of projects where I see arguable improvements in my skills over months (or years). When I’m playing a game, I want to get better quickly and reliably. That’s what triggers my reward centers. Losing repeatedly to Kasparov may eventually make me a better player, but it’s not much fun if I can’t tell that I’m getting better.

  5. Beej says:

    I don’t even necessarily want a game that has gear that is mostly for show. I’m fine with it being an advantage to the player who has it. I just think that the differential needs to be lowered so that non-geared yet skilled players can at least partially compete with geared yet non-skilled players.

  6. Joel says:

    I like Spinks’ take on Retirement vs Challenge.

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