During my World of Warcraft days, I heard an interesting description of the three trinity roles. It went something like this: DPS is a game, healing is a challenge, tanking is a job. That's a pretty poignant assessment of the classes most of us play if you think about it. The description holds water pretty well too. When you're in a PuG, what are the roles you probably wind up filling last? There's a good reason for that. When you strip everything away, healers and tanks are just less fun to play for most people. If the next WoW expansion is going to launch without a hero class specializing in healing, this is an important part of the game to look at. Is class a barrier?
Let's make the leveling game our starting point. I usually play both a DPS and a tank in most MMOs, so I can speak from experience when I say leveling as DPS is quicker and easier to level up. The experience is a lot more gratifying because dishing out lots of damage makes you feel more powerful right from the get go. A warrior, on the other hand, generally does less damage, uses more defensive abilities, and spends more time swinging his sword at each mob. It's slower and, because of the higher health pools and lack of healing usually results in more down time. From talking to my healer friends, it's a very similar experience. They do less damage, so the fights are longer, and wind up feeling like they're grinding more often than not.
See the problem here? Is it any wonder why more tanks and healers don't make it to the level cap? I don't see a good reason why either role has to play that way. Why should their game be less fun because they don't blow things up from a distance? Is the best way to make sure tanks and healers don't out-DPS the DPS to gimp them for the first few dozen levels of the game?
Group play also lives up to the assessment. If the tank messes up, the group wipes. If the healer messes up, the group will probably wipe. If the DPS messes up, the group may wipe. Each role has less responsibility than the one before it. Out of all in the trinity, the tank has to be the most on game. They have to know they skills best and have enough knowledge to know when to push what hotkey. Healers are in the same boat. And if the worst happens and a wipe does occur, more often than not the tank or the healer is going to get blamed. It's stressful and, I don't know about you, but I don't play MMOs to be stressed out.
Why should it be harder to hold aggro than to deal damage? There's no good reason for it. None.
It all ties back to the days of pen and paper gaming. Somewhere along the line, a game maker decided that to excel in one role each class must be gimped in another. And frankly, that's lazy design. Classes should be able to excel in their role so that they're needed in groups without making the rest of the game less fun. We're locked in a cycle of repeated ideas playing over and over again like a tired movie.
These ideas also fly in the face of accessibility. Eurogamer recently posted a couple of great articles on why WoW caught on with the mass market. The key word in that part of the article was accessibility. Yet, for all that it did right, it made the two most important group roles substantially harder than the third and brought on five years of “LFM tank of healz only!” They opened up enough doors to explode the MMORPG market but for some reason clung to the idea of tanking as a prestigious instead of a fun role. Since then, they've been playing catch up by making off specs more viable, yet the after taste that's left is that you're a second rate impression of Class Y.
More damaging is the fact that modern day game design pushes players away from fulfilling their optimum role. The trend right now is to allow players to work through games at their own pace and with their favorite style. What winds up happening though is that healers and tanks get to the level cap with very little group experience and don't develop the skills required of them until they're under the gun. And when inevitable mistakes are made in this process, their group are likely to get frustrated because, after all, they should have learned to play their class before hitting cap. The end result is a frustrated group and a frustrated tank/healer that decides DPS is a funner way to play.
The response from some is simple: “if you don't like it, play another class/game.” That's well and good but I would have to ask why any one role should be less fun than another? Is it because the people who play it well should be proud they made it to the end? I tend to think that anyone playing their class well deserves respect for it, no matter what role they're filling. Or is it to hold up an old flame from the roots of MMOs?
The answer, in my opinion, is to 1) make tanking easier for all tanking classes and give players practice in this throughout leveling. 2) make group success more dependent on DPS, and 3) bring healer and tank leveling up to par with their DPS counterparts. I don't like it when classes get nerfed unless there's a bug being exploited, so why not simply bump up the power up healers and tanks to compensate? Make damage output dependent on group status, so if you're solo you'll do more damage than when you're in a group with actual DPS classes. These are just a couple of solutions to bring class accessibility up to par with game accessibility. What do you think?