Tuesday, 24 April 2012

In Defense of Expertise

I was listening to the TORWars Podcast #74 today and there was a discussion regarding expertise and whether or not it made sense to have a "PvP stat" in the game. Jeff, Deirdre and Brian seemed more or less on board with the idea of letting PvE gear function just as well as PvP gear in PvP scenarios. I really like TORWars and their podcast, but I think I need to step into the pro-expertise corner on this one.

For those readers who may not know what expertise is or how it works, it is a stat which appears only on PvP gear and increases damage, damage reduction, and healing in PvP only. Due to the recent changes in Patch 1.2, it is basically the best possible stat you can have in PvP.

I understand that it can be frustrating to have gear only work in specific scenarios, but I believe that a "PvP stat"-type system is the best solution for preserving balance. I also understand that many people object to it from a design standpoint, saying that it is clunky or that it wouldn't be necessary if class balance was truly perfected. I disagree.

It needn't necessarily take the same form as the one we have (you could make it more complicated, have PvP gear lack essential PvE stats, or have multiple PvP stats that do different things), but overall I believe that expertise offers the developers the best tools to balance PvP while continuing to offer exciting and engaging content in both PvP and in PvE without fear of ruining the prevailing order in both systems.

The problem of motivation

Vader does NOT need to find new ways to motivate them.
Before the Patch 1.2 changes were put into effect, making PvP gear even more effective in PvP, a curious thing was happening. Players who wanted to start doing Operations and Flashpoints were being told by their friends to start PvPing. Sound silly? To most people, it wasn't - because not only was it far easier to acquire PvP rewards, but they were almost as effective as their PvE counterparts. People tend to do whatever is easiest to complete goals, and in this case it was extremely easy to acquire PvP rewards when compared to assembling a group of people and then trying to do a Hard Mode Flashpoint.

Now, not everyone who wanted to do Operations also wanted to do PvP, so these people were left with a choice: do something you're not really interested or invested in for the easy gear, or spend a lot more time doing what you want, but which may or may not be effective and has no guaranteed reward for time invested.

If both sets of gear work equally well in both scenarios, we'll see pretty quickly that most people will feel pressured to take the quick and easy path which, with the current evolution of PvE content, will almost definitely be PvP, since winning is not a requirement and losing continuously, while slow, would likely still be faster than trying to PuG with an 8-person Explosive Conflict group. And again, even if it were faster to PuG EC, there is no guarantee that you get what you need.

Ultimately, the best choice should be to let players to what they love, and reward them by giving them better tools to continue doing it - not to do something else.

Not everyone can be Yoda-like and avoid the quick and easy path.

A controlled environment

Another thing that a PvP stat offers is the ability to make across the board adjustments to all classes in the areas of damage, damage reduction, and healing.

As of 1.2, these things all scale differently with expertise (eg. You get a larger damage bonus from expertise than you do a damage reduction or healing bonus), but Bioware has shown that they are not afraid to re-balance ratings to better accommodate the play experience of their subscribers. They currently have the ability to look at any of those three things via their metrics, decide that one of them needs to be adjusted, and then adjust it across the board. Now that's flexibility.

Ultimately, I wouldn't be surprised to eventually see an "expertise co-efficient" on abilities to change their effectiveness in PvP. We've already kind of seen this with all healing abilities (Trauma, for example), but I'm talking for specific abilities. Maybe particular abilities will be encouraged in PvP, and so they gain some bonus damage or healing in PvP. Maybe some abilities will have their potency toned down for PvP, but some of this penalty will be offset by expertise.

Palpatine calls for a PvP nerf to reactor shafts.
In "that other game", before their first expansion, the roles of the two were reversed - it was far easier to get top-tier PvE gear than PvP gear, but not having a PvP stat resulted in players literally being two-shot by players wearing top tier PvE epics with no way to balance it short of class changes (which honestly weren't the problem). PvE and PvP environments are different beasts that require their own balancing efforts. Getting rid of a PvP stat makes this task even harder, as values in PvP cannot easily be modified without changing core class mechanics, which will also change the character's ability in PvE.

To conclude

I believe that players should be doing what they want and getting rewarded appropriately for doing it. Clearing PvE content should not entitle you to top tier PvP gear, nor should achieving an amazing warzone rating allow you to breeze through PvE content. That they are separate isn't a bad thing! It's just more game to explore and experience.


  1. Thank you. I agree so you must be right. :-)

    I like their podcast but think they totally missed the point (e.g. WoW's past). As soon as something is possible to help with PvE or PvP progression, it will soon expected then required then the devs will have to tune the instance assuming someone got that good gear from the other. PvPers who had to kill final raid bosses for weapons or PvEers who had to PvP did not like it. ( As an aside, I think the MoP change where resilience does not have an item budget cost is brilliant since equivalent PvP gear will now have lower iLevel and so can't be used to get around some instance/raid iLevel requirements.)

    Although I do see their (J, D & B) point. And I actually sort of liked running 80 Alterac Valley's when I got to level 70 for welfare epics. If there were enough people in the queues, then an additional bracket could keep a PvP stat yet accommodate the PvEers who dabble: 10-49, 50 with little expertise (0? 100? the amount on a Recruit set?), 50 with expertise gear, 50 rated.

    P.s., I got here through your wonderful talk with Porter on GPR. In other games I play healers or casters, so my poor 36 Jug/Imm alts needs all the help he can get leveling. And he need to finish chapter 2 as that will give me the fourth buff.

  2. Thanks for the comments!

    A secondary bracket may eventually be a good idea, actually. I do wonder though how many fully-geared 50s we'll be seeing in Warzones once ranked warzones are released.

    I really enjoyed doing the talk with Porter and I'm glad you found it interesting.