This is an extended version of a reply to a comment on Rhidach’s latest blog entry. The poster (Selyndia) suggested that boss expertise, which is functionally not very different than a progressive Sunwell Radiance debuff, is a bad mechanic:
Also, for those that will bring up the “Boss Expertise” argument. Honestly, until I see it, it sounds like a brainstorming idea that won’t pan out. “Boss Expertise” sounds like a good way to keep tank itemization in check, but it’s a really bad end result, because it makes it so that no matter how geared a tank is, they perform exactly the same in the new tier of content. Imagine if, to handle over inflation of healing gear they had bosses put a blanket “All heals do X% less” aura out there, or if bosses all naturally took a fixed percentage less of damage than normal. It would be a similar situation. The biggest problem with this also, is that you don’t feel like you’re character is improving. Your avoidance and mitigation remain pretty constant; the only stat really changing is your HP total as Stamina scales higher, unless you are doing older content. Who really wants to play a character, that tier after tier isn’t really improving performance? No DPS would want to deal 10k DPS in the first tier of an expansion and 10k in the last tier due to passive boss abilities.
I’m not posting this to pick on Selyndia, because this is a common sentiment. But I do want to raise awareness of a fact that most people overlook – the Sunwell Radiance mechanic is actually necessary as a balancing tool.
As gear improves, everyone gets better at their jobs. DPS hits harder (INT/STR/AGI/SP/AP), hits more often (haste), and crits more frequently (crit). Their overall DPS goes up significantly from the beginning of an expansion to the end. In a similar fashion, healer throughput and longevity increases significantly, everyone’s health increases from extra stamina on gear. Tanks get an even larger health increase, and they improve their mitigation and avoidance to reduce total damage taken.
To keep boss encounters interesting, each new tier of bosses has to raise the bar slightly. They have to demand higher DPS output, higher tank survivability, and higher healer throughput to keep the game fun and challenging. That’s the way the raiding amusement park works – you must be this tall to kill the boss, and if you’re not, go back to the previous ride and “grow” a little (gear up) before you come back.
The game already has natural ways to most of these things to keep boss encounters difficult. I like to call them “counters,” because they’re numbers the developers can tweak to counteract the increase in player strength. Most of the counters are pretty straightforward and intuitive, which is good – it means the game design allows for scaling and expansion.
Most of the counters are pretty simple. Player DPS went up? Great, we’ll increase boss health to tune the encounters in order to our desired time-to-kill. Note that it doesn’t matter how DPS increased. The boss doesn’t care whether you hit it more often or hit it less often but crit more frequently. It cares about one metric or “observable” – DPS (or in boss-speak, “OW OW OW THE LITTLE PEOPLE ARE HURTING ME”).
Similarly increased health, healing throughput, and mitigation in the form of armor and block are countered by making the boss hit harder. For a tank this means that the bosses melee hits get larger or more frequent to increase the total damage taken per second (DTPS), which stresses the healers and tank health more. For the raid, it means an increase in the amount and size of random raid or AoE damage events.
What the game doesn’t have a natural counter for is tank avoidance increasing, or in other words the boss’s success probability going down. The developers can increase the amount a boss hits for, or how frequently he attacks, but those are both indirect solutions that cause collateral damage. They’ve increased boss DPS output above what it takes to properly stress tank health and healer throughput/mana in order to combat the extra, unreliable damage reduction of avoidance. That puts a tank in a situation where you’re more likely to get a bad string of RNG and die to a larger-than-intended boss spike. This is exactly what happened from Naxx-ToC in Wrath, which is what prompted the changes in 3.3.
The natural counter to a tank’s avoidance increasing is to make the boss more likely to hit you. And that’s only possible by suppressing some of your avoidance somehow. It doesn’t matter what you call it: boss expertise, Sunwell Radiance, Chill of the Throne, or Deathwingcrown Throniance: Electric Boogaloo; it’s the logical way to counter increasing avoidance without introducing side effects. In that sense, it’s no different than boss health or boss damage increasing – it’s a fundamental mechanic that should be part of the core game mechanics.
It doesn’t have to counter all of your new-found avoidance, just enough to make sure that avoidance doesn’t reach levels that start leading to imbalance between tanks and/or excessive amounts of RNG. If we gain 3% avoidance in each tier, the boss expertise mechanic might only offset 2% of it, leaving us with a small net gain and a slower, more gradual increase in total avoidance from tier to tier.
I do agree with parts of Selyndia’s comment. This mechanic is not best-implemented as a debuff. A debuff feels like you’re being nerfed. You’re sad, because you spent all that time collecting dodge rating only to see your character sheet read 1% dodge. That’s depressing, and in some part expected. You can bet that DPS players would complain loudly if they got a -10% damage done debuff in each tier of content.
But interestingly nobody complains that boss health goes up each tier, despite having exactly the same net result as far as encounter balance is concerned. The reasoning is pretty obvious – we’re hitting harder, faster, critting more, and generally feeling like more of a badass all-around. The boss’s health is just the finish line we’re racing towards, and while the race might be exactly the same if we ran half as fast and half as far, it’s more fun to go faster and longer. It lets us retain the feeling that our character has significantly improved from previous tiers.
The avoidance equivalent should be implemented in a similar fashion. Instead of a debuff on the player, it should be a buff on the boss that reads “BossName’s attacks ignore X% of their target’s dodge and parry.” That way you don’t feel like you’re being nerfed, but the game still raises the bar for each successive tier of content by increasing X. Think “Firelands Precision” instead of Chill of the Suncrown.
It’s semantics, of course, but I think that the buff vs. debuff issue is one of the primary reasons players hated Icewell Radiance so much. So even though the numbers work out the same, this is one of those cases where psychology makes one route much more appealing than another. Because at the end of the day, what matters is that we’re having fun playing this game, and fun is not always something you can distill down into an equation.