While most MMOs on the market are content with the status quo, there is a diverging population amongst developers and players looking to break the holy trinity of healers, tankers and dps with a special focus on the healer. In a nutshell, your user experience as a priest-like class boils down to what is essential digital whack-a-mole as HP pop up and down for your amusement. I was recently in a beta chat with people making light of being a priest in Warcraft's Molten Core to the affect of "Content? What content? All I remember was health bars and a red haze."
And really, that pretty much sums it up; you end up forgoing content just to do your job.
As alluded to in a previous blog entry, it's not just play mechanics that are the problem, but developer imposed class scarcity. Many MMOs have a single priest class, ensuring you'll be waiting a lengthy amount of time for that person that wants to watch your HP bar bounce around. If your MMO has more than one priest class, it's usually a main priest class and 'that other priest class that doesn't heal quite so well,' with the very same waiting bottleneck as before. Likewise, that marginalized secondary class is the one you'll choose only if you have no other choice. So how do we fix the healer class? How do you allow your players to have a rich gaming experience that is more than just raid whack-a-mole when grouped? How do you ensure other players aren't always waiting on a Priest to get up and go? Hell, how do you balance it all?
I've got a feeling...
A few brave developers have tried to break the healer monopoly and so far I've seen only limited success. I say limited because their attempts at reinventing the wheel usually create other new problems that end up souring the experience. To keep you from chasing HP bars, some franchises rely heavily on cone and AoE healing, usually watering down the skill it takes to play the class in the process. Warhammer has you fight for the energy to heal. Other devs- like Arenanet -are trying to break the trinity coimpletely by delegating healing to self responsibility, not a central class/role. I've never been a fan of reducing player options and feel this fundementally changes what an RPG is in the first place, but what are the options?
Let's take a step back, first. Back before Warcraft. Yes, Jimmy, there was an RPG before Warcraft. Back before Everquest and back to pen and paper. You know, old skool Dungeons and Dragons. They faced the very same problems as today: It had one main healing class, the cleric. If you had a pally you could pull very limited secondary healing. Beyond that you had your pots and that was it, and yet somehow it worked. Healers were balanced and fun to play. HP bar spanking heppened, but was usually kept to a minimum. What happened?
The modern MMORPG happened.
The Clerics of old couldn't spam healing, for one. You had a certain number of pre-memorized spells and once you were out, you were out until you rested again. The game was far more tactical in nature. Today, your heals are on a three second cast time with a one second cooldown until you ran out of mana to cast them. The modern MMORPG has serialized healbotting by design. That's all you do because you can. Your other players know it and expect it the heals to flow without cessure.
...That Tonight's Going to be a Good Wipe.
I would submit that you don't need to break the trinity. You don't need to dumb things down to AoE and cone healing (a spell here and there won't hurt, obviously) You don't need to build up healing rage. The very first thing these games need to do is to eliminate heal spam. How? Easy. D&D had a memory system worked out. You can either replicate this in real time MMO combat and/or just utilize a really long cooldowns on all major heals for the same effect. The healer can no longer healbot due to the innate scarcity of resources, creating a more tactics driven game and one in which the healer is freed up to do other things...
...Like play the game with people, not HP.
The second thing I would consider is reducing the demand for the healer. Most MMOs have instance content that cannot be completed without at least one priest class present by design. Why? This, in my opinion, is a mistake. If the average MMORPG has a single major problem attributed to its name, it is that you have two scarce, must have classes paired against a plethora of DPS options. The tanks and healers will always have a group. The DPS might have to wait (a while) because of class population bloat. Even looking at more cutting edge games like TERA you can see this problem already looming on the horizon-- A single primary healer, a marginalized secondary healer and more DPS than you can shake a stick at.
It doesn't have to be this way and you shouldn't have to have a healer to complete every instance. Sure, it may be a tad more difficult without, but hardly impossible. It would go a long way toward allowing the priest to play the content while allowing the DPS lovers a way to enjoy it as well and not about their slot in a 5-man so much.
No class should be that indispensiable, and yet they are made that way by design.
In fact, the constrast between most instance play and PVP battlegrounds is huge when you thnk about it. In an environment where people die in seconds, nobody rightly expects timely heals. Some rounds won't even see a priest. Players are left to their own survival and tactics, and if you recieve healing support while you're wailing on somebody, hallualuah. It also allows priests to play a game other than the pidgeonhole of hunting for hitpoints. They PvP like everybody else and if they can, they throw out heals without the pressure of expectation.
The above only works, however, with a priest unable to spam healing all day long. Without the spam, a 5m instance now has the same expectations as they do in a PvP battleground-- Heals are great, but you can't expect them 24/7. Priests do what they can, when they can and actually get to play the game. Bonus.
Hoepfully that makes some sort of sense, and without the silliness attatched to the current methods of crippling clerics content under the guise of improving their gaming experience.
Next, a look at tanks.