How information is like water
One of the things that I found an interesting social dynamic in World of Warcraft is the fact that information is actually a rare good. In this case, more than anywhere else, the adage of “knowledge is power” is coming true in spades. Some people seem to be walking Wowhead libraries, able to spout details on even obscure quests when asked in Guild Chat, while others seem to have difficulty comprehending that Hit is not a good stat for healers. In the middle lies the gamut of people, who have difficulties with choosing between Haste or Crit, attempting to decipher the Defense score, or trying to grasp at rotations and procs.
A few basic properties of water that are akin to information:
- The source of all water is the sea
- Water evaporates, but also rains down again
- Water rolls downhill to the lowest altitude
- Water is the source of life, yet you can drown in it.
The source of all water is the sea
Like water starts its cycle in the sea, Blizzard is the main source of information on the game itself. Whether the game explains you things, the tooltips show you information, or things are clarified on the forum – all basic information is found inside the game or its peripherals.
Now, the cycle does not work unless this information is spread. The greatest weakness of the game is its complexity, and the unwillingness of Blizzard to divulge most basic information. Without external sources, who will let you know Spellpower plate is not good for Death Knights? How will you know what Defense skill you need to be uncrittable? How much Hit do you need to never miss?
Part of this problem is that Blizzard ran the policy that people needed to experiment, and left this information out of sight to make the game more challenging without having to alter its components (Chill of the Throne, for instance). Another part is that knowledge of these stats would make people chase after them, min/maxing to become the best they can be. This is, of course, Human nature.
Water evaporates, but also rains down again
It only takes one clever person to calculate the scores, do thousands of tests or get an answer slipped from an unobservant Blizzard representative to gather this information. Now, if one person would know it, nothing would change. But like water, information becomes publicly available. Theorycrafting sites run rampant to provide calculations and simulations, allowing people in the know to tailor their character to meet the minimum standards (say for Hit) and then crank up all other scores. Once you meet the basic demands, and know you need no more Hit, you can now ignore Hit as a gear choice component.
The rain falls when Blizzard realises that information of this type is released. Content now needs to be harder, conforming to people’s optimized gear and talent spec. Encounter dynamics become harder, but Bossmods tell people what’s happening and what to look out for. This again rains down as encounters become very busy, whirling chaos, with many tasks to keep many busy. Blizzard now assumes every raider uses a Bossmod, so designs encounters accordingly.
Bossmods are now practically mandatory – raiding without it is very hard, and coordination would become a logistical issue.
Water rolls downhill, to the lowest altitude
Hardcore raiders, skilled PvPers and achievement jockeys all need information badly. They need spreadsheets to calculate gear, strategies to follow during raids or in arenas, or information on that one missing Parrot for their “To all the squirrels I’ve Loved before” achievement (incidentally, that’s Un’goro Crater). Some people are real storehouses of information, on several classes and raids, and divulge this to their fellow raiders, arena mates and guildies.
Rolling downhill, information spreads according to the individual’s needs. If the information is not readily available, someone can come up with a link to a blog or forum that has the answer. But some people never get reached by the water.
Some people run the game without addons, finding them restrictive or difficult. Others do not read strategies, wanting to find things out on their own. And some simply never found a kind soul to tell them that being a Hunter in Spirit cloth is simply a laughable idea.
Playing the game is still fun, you can still make a lot of mileage out of it, but basic information on how to play the class, or even roughly what gear you need, is never given.
A final consideration is that water also gathers into lakes, symbolic for guides being sold on the internet telling people how to play, how to make gold, or how to succceed at PvP. Like the self-help guides available from bookstores, many capitalize on the lack of information people have, and the need they feel to better themselves. Many derive a real-world income driven by the angst and ambition of people without realizing that the knowledge can also be gained for free with a bit of work. However, it is generally not possible to get that information by just playing the game and not consulting external resources.
Water is the source of life, yet you can still drown in it
Blizzard has added quest objectives to the game, showing where to go to complete your quests, because without that information people where frustrated at times finding out where to go. Tooltips were clarified in order to show people the real improvements their talents gave to their abilities. Without this, the game became more frustration than a game, and that is why it was changed.
Some more basic info might improve the game. Perhaps class trainers would offer a dialogue option explaining what kind of gear to go after (Gruk the Mighty want plate armor that makes Gruk strong!) or perhaps a basic tanking or healing guide in a help function.
I am aware that Blizzard wants social interaction as well – experienced tanks teach you more about tanking, for instance – but some things you should be able to find out with less fuss. It is so frustrating for a poor new tank to be laughed at in an instance because he’s wearing DPS gear. Who ever told him that he needed tanking gear to tank? Not everyone’s lucky to find a good mentor.
And like with water, information can drown you.
Forums are full of discussions on the minutiae of a talent spec, or filled with pages of math that is too complicated for Joe Average to grasp. Cookie cutter builds are exalted and reviled depending on who you ask, and people have difficulty deciding what to go for – and might give up in the process.
The information flow in World of Warcraft mostly takes place outside of the game. Without the assistance of external help sources, like blogs, fora or addons, it becomes hard if not impossible to access or succeed at certain parts of the game. Beginning players often do not receive enough basic information to get them started, needing experienced mentors or guides to find their way.
In PvP and raids, those with access to correct and up-to-date information often succeed over their less-informed and savvy rivals. This also brings with it a continuous need to keep themselves informed, spending as much time mulling over stats and strats as actually playing the game.
My hope is that starting players come Cataclysm might receive more information at the start, so that their transition into the first few levels become a discovery, rather than a grudge match with impossible (or forced) choices. And finally, I hope that the changes in raids and PvP (some of which have been given sneak peeks of by Blizzard) will allow PvPers and raiders to get more enjoyment out of their game, instead of having to run the rat race.