Friday, March 12, 2010

Brute Force

Q. How do you feel about the limited attempts mechanic that has been use in Trial of the Crusader and Icecrown Citadel?
A. We're not crazy about how they worked out. They were designed in essence to save players from themselves. In the past, some people would make 400+ attempts on new bosses. That's not healthy and at some point you're not measuring skill but tenacity. Yet, that's not what happened. Guilds just made alts to get around the limitations, and things like disconnects and accidents make losing an attempt really frustrating. We like gating because if nothing else it lets the community focus on more than just the final boss in the zone. If we do limited attempts again it would probably be limited to optional bosses like Algalon.

This is a quote from a recent developer chat. I'm glad they don't like limited attempts because they are probably the worst idea that has ever been introduced in WoW. What I'm really not glad about is that they are denigrating practice with their comment, "At some point you're not measuring skill but tenacity."

I've seen this a lot recently on various forums and fan sites. Most people seem to have jumped on the anti-practice bandwagon. The words "brute force" are often used when people mean to say "practice." It gives it an ugly tone, but it doesn't change the underlying facts.

Yes, top guilds, in order to earn their world-first positions, put in a lot of hours in the form of long continuous play sessions. This seems rather extreme, and I'm sure that the developer is right that it isn't terribly healthy, but they do it because it is what makes them the best. But the key is that it actually does make them the best, it doesn't just mean they lucked into that position.

Practice actually makes you better at things. Malcolm Gladwell suggests that to be a real master at something you need 10,000 hours of practice. Do you have 10,000 hours of practice playing WoW? If you type /played that would be 416 days and 16 hours. The vast majority of players don't have nearly that many hours played, but I would wager heavily that the majority of the players in world-first competing guilds do. They practice and they get good.

And they practice new fights as well as practicing their characters. The Lich King is not roulette. If it takes 10 or 20 or 40 hours for a top guild to get through a fight it isn't because they had a 1 in 200 chance at winning each attempt and they finally hit it. They had basically no chance of winning their first attempt, and probably a pretty decent chance of winning on their winning attempt. They practiced and got better. This is how WoW works and it is also how everything else works.

There is tenacity in being the best at anything. Olympic athletes need a lot of tenacity to get to where they are, but should we insist that you can only compete in Olympic events if you promise not to spend more than 8 hours a week training for them? Eleven million people play WoW, I would bet that is significantly more than the number of people who have ever been in a four-man bobsled. If you have that many people doing something then some of them will have the tenacity to be the best and others won't.

There is no such thing as brute forcing your way through new content by putting in lots of hours. There is practicing and getting better at it until you can do it.

But for those who think that it is not a measure of skill but only a measure of their ability to dedicate the time when the boss come out, you are wrong about that too. Just like the top-tier athletes, you need to get in a lot of practice to be the best, but that doesn't mean that anyone who puts the practice in will be the best. There is natural talent and ability that factors in. Odds are if you practiced as much as the best in the world you would still not be the best.

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