A zoomed-out view on healing
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 April 2013, 4:46 am
My newsreader is full of blog posts complaining about LFR in World of Warcraft, and a lack of healers. Meanwhile Pete from Dragonchasers writes about Defiance saying: "In theory you could set yourself up as a kind of healer but I’m not sure there’s enough there to make that a rewarding career path.". To me the two cases look like two sides of the same coin, with the same core problem. And it is a problem all collaborative multiplayer games with different roles have, even pen & paper ones.

Basically people have favorite classes and play-styles. Thus if you take any population and let everybody play whatever he wants, you get a "natural" distribution of everybody playing their favorite role. But in a group of a given size there is a mathematical optimum for maximum efficiency of the group that depends on the role distribution. That mathematical solution will differ not only for different group sizes, but also for different games, because it depends on factors like how much damage do players deal, how much can they withstand, and how much can they heal. The fundamental problem is that the mathematical optimum is rarely a fit with the natural distribution of everybody playing their favorite role.

The overall effect is that if you take one group of hippies with ultimate freedom, allowing each member to play whatever he wants, and compare them to one military group in which who plays what role is determined by a tyrannic leadership, the military group will always be more efficient. If you pursue maximum efficiency, the needs of the collective beat individual freedom. Which is a somewhat weird concept if you consider that you started out by joining a game to have fun, and not the military to fight for your countries survival.

I haven't played Defiance, and wasn't planning to after reading the first reviews. So I can't say exactly how efficient a healer is in that game. But there is always an optimum solution for efficiency, which could be zero healers, but also could be something higher, depending on group size. Whether that is a "rewarding career path" only matters as long as you let every player decide for himself what he wants to play. As soon as you get some sort of guild structure or similar organization, and players find out that having X healers around is improving their win chance over not having them around, somebody will be "forced" to play a healer. Or inversely, if zero healers is the optimum, somebody choosing a healing spec for fun will be looked down upon.

This is pretty much why I don't play in any guild structure in any game any more. I value my personal freedom very much, especially in a game that I choose to play for fun. I already submit to the greater good of the collective when for example I am at work, or with my family. I find the choice of either playing what the collective needs or spoiling everybody's fun by being selfish to be an unpleasant one.
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