Game Development: The B Team

At lunch I read a post which I thought was very interesting, by Elder Game: The Warcraft Live Team’s B Squad. There are a number of game designer blogs that I read, since I’ve always been very interested in the art and craft of making games and virtual worlds, and this is a good one.

In this article, he talks about changes in Warcraft development and game balancing caused by the original “A Team” developers and designers being assigned to the new MMO, and the second string taking over maintenance of the game.

This is exactly the same thing that I’ve discussed over the past months with friends and guildmates: Warcraft has seen a lot of wild swings since WotLK in regard to balancing classes, and it feels a lot more random than it has in previous expansions. Hunters are (obviously) quite important to me, and they’ve been yanked all over the place.

A: Hunters are TEH AWESOME DPS!!!!
B: We must change that – hunters are doing too much dps.
*hunter dps goes straight into the toilet*

A: All raiding hunters are beastmastery!
B: We must balance the trees better, give hunters more of a choice!
*all hunters are now Survival. Those who really enjoyed BM cry about it, but they’re Survival, too*

I don’t understand the wild swings and the drastic changes that make it off the test realms and into the live client, before devs realise that the changes were too drastic and must be re-balanced. Surely you nudge something a tiny bit to see what happens, before you make a huge change?  I’m not a game developer, but it just seems logical to me.

The article goes into the experience, and finesse, needed to balance human issues like fun and enjoyment along with more quantifiable things like class balance. It’s a fascinating look into what it’s like to work on an MMO like Warcraft, and why the things that we all QQ about on the forums actually go wrong when designers get too close to their pet issues and no longer see the larger picture.

I’d love to be able to get insight into why problems that we fight with every single day cannot be fixed – why is it so hard? For instance:

Why can they not, after all of this time, fix the pet cower bug, and the problem with pet talents turning themselves off if they’re not on the pet action bar?

What exactly IS the issue with ammo?  Why should a hunter have to spend so much more gold per raid than any other member?  Raid-quality arrows are damned expensive, and then you have your flasks and food and repair bills. I couldn’t raid right now even if I wanted to (if we’re working on new bosses, that is) – I couldn’t afford it for more than a couple of nights. If you admit that the costs for hunters are too high, surely it’s not a horrendously difficult fix?

Anyway, a very interesting article on what happens behind the curtain.

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