Long ago, a developer on the World of Warcraft team laid down the words that would become an unofficial motto when it came to class balance: Bring the player, not the class. The quote is attributed to former World of Warcraft lead systems designer Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street, said during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion as an indication of where raid balance was going. The redone Naxxramas was going to require less hard class buffs and party-only buffs, which led to the raid stacking certain classes and excluding others.
This filtered out to the entire game, allowing raids and smaller groups to be more flexible in composition. Buffs and necessary tools were more spread out among classes and specializations. There were cases where certain classes outperformed others in encounters, but you weren't necessarily shut out completely.Watch Battle for Azeroth Live Developer Q&A - 12:00 PST from Warcraft on www.twitch.tv
In a live Q&A to celebrate the open of the Battle for Azeroth expansion's pre-purchase period, World of Warcraft game director Ion Hazzikostas said words that might put fear into the hearts of veteran players.
"Talking a lot about the class and spec-specific benefits, how are we actually going to prevent that from turning into 'Bring the class, not the player'?" asked World of Warcraft community manager Josh Allen. (Starting at 1:01:46 in the video above.)
"We're not always going to. Sometimes you should bring the class," replied Hazzikostas. "Hey, if you're a [pick-up group] leader and you have three Mages, three Hunters, zero Warlocks, and you have applicants for a spot in your group… there should be a compelling reason to want to bring the class that you don't have."
"To some extent, I think it's the opposite of class stacking," Hazzikostas added. "The goal here is to encourage a wide diversity of class and spec representation. The most successful groups and raids, these should have people with as many different tools as possible."
The designer noted that when they allow classes to bring the same tools, there's still one class or spec that will excel with that tool and there's no drawback to just stacking that class. Instead, Blizzard wants you to bring a wide variety of classes to handle different situations. Hazzikostas noted that in smaller groups "there are some trade-offs", but noted that these smaller groups couldn't cover everything regardless. Those groups just have to survive without those tools, though he also said the design team has to plan encounters with this in mind.
"Your gameplay changes depending on whether on you have a Rogue that can help you skip past a pack, or better [area-of-effect] crowd control," he explained. "That said, it's also incumbent upon encounter design to create situations that make those tools and abilities valuable. If everyone has different tools, but one class happens to be successful ninety percent of the time… then we're not actually going to be achieving our goals that way."
Hazzikostas explained that the original "Bring the player, not the class" mantra is "one of the most misinterpreted phrases" in Blizzard's history. It was intended as a response to a "completely degenerate situation" in Burning Crusade raiding, where there were no raid-wide buffs, meaning you had to construct intra-raid parties to account for things like a Shaman's Bloodlust or a Druid's Innervate. Raids used to have melee groups and caster groups with specific styles of construction in order to function properly, and that's what the mantra and design was intended to address.
"In a time where, ideally, every class has unique tools, there should always be a space for your class. It's going to make to more likely to find a spot in those groups, [rather] than because of this patch, the perception of your spec is a few percent behind the others, so no one wants you anymore," said Hazzikostas.
In Legion, the team at Blizzard may have prioritized spec identity over class identity. They now want players to lean more on what their class is instead of just what their specialization is. The team is looking to have more class-wide strengths in Battle for Azeroth. For hybrids, there will still be tools that are specific to certain roles, especially since the team doesn't want damage dealers taking over healer utility.
"We don't want class-wide utility in a way that stomps on core functionality," said Hazzikostas.
The full Q&A covers the launch of Allied Races, PVP, Warfronts, and Islands and is well worth a watch if you're an active player of World of Warcraft or thinking of returning to Battle of Azeroth.