Time to remove the Tank

RPG – it’s an acronym of course and, within the gaming world, stands for Role Playing Game. Role playing games have been around for decades ever since Dungeons & Dragons started in the early 1970s.

MMO – another acronym that stands for Massively Multi-player Online. Usually seen in association with RPG to give us MMORPG.

The three roles that have been around ever since that first ever RPG has been tank, damage dealer and healer. These three roles have been declared the holy trinity of RPGs and thus not to be meddled with.

The mechanic of the online game is fairly simple. The tank wanders in, picks up all the mobs (usually through the mechanic of agro), the damage dealers then damage the mobs to death and the healer heals everyone with a specific focus on keeping the tank alive. The tank dying usually results in the entire group dying and long run back to where the group was in the dungeon. This long run can be made more tedious by having mobs re-spawn and slow things down.

The entire game-play, except for those aspects which are for single-player, revolves around this mechanic. Thing is, its not a very good mechanic and results in boring game-play for the majority of players.

The first reason why its not a good mechanic has to do with each roles’ popularity. The tank is the least popular followed by healers and then damage dealers. If anyone wants to go to a dungeon then they need to join a group and that group is going to need a tank, a healer and two or three damage dealers (Game dependant) and the chances are that there’s not going to be a tank available (and probably a shortage of healers as well). I recall, when I first played World of Warcraft, waiting for up to four hours for a tank for the pick-up group I was in. In all the MMORPGs that I’ve played, from ArcheAge through to WoW, that lack of tanks has been true.

Many developers have tried many ways to address the lack of the tanks. Tera, after a certain time, asks if the group is willing to do the dungeon without a tank to which everyone inevitably clicks ‘yes’. Blizzard has made tanking easier to increase its popularity somewhat and several developers have implemented the Random Group Finder. The Random Group Finder is there to bypass the normal social blocks that comes with dealing with people you don’t know as well as the clunkiness of communicating through a text interface.

Although these ways have relieved the queues somewhat none of them have truly worked and the majority of players are still stuck in queue which is, inevitably, boring. Talking about it on game forums usually lead to replies from other players of either ‘rolling a tank’ or ‘joining a guild’. I can honestly say that joining a guild never worked as most people were off doing their own thing and not the same thing as every one else. Rolling a tank works only for that player – most other people are still waiting for a tank.

The second reason as to why the tank role is a bad mechanic is that it is, in fact, the tanks role to ensure that the mobs are focussed upon him which means that those mobs are not engaging with anyone else. Damage dealers just stand there and do damage the majority of the time while the healer stands there and heals the tank. PvP (Player vs Player) players have a valid point when they say that PvE (Player vs Environment) is boring because, for the majority of players, it really is.

The third and last reason is because of what a tank role does to PvP. PvP requires some sort of balance in damage and healing on an individual level whereas an RPG and its three roles that is designed around individual imbalance. In an RPG it is the group that is balanced.

The tank, designed to take in massive amounts of damage from multiple mobs and hard hitting bosses. Healers designed to be able to heal most of that massive damage and then the damage dealers dealing out huge amounts of damage to the to take down all of those mobs before the healer either runs out of mana or just can’t heal fast enough.

If an RPG damage dealer wanders onto a PvP battlefield they pretty much kill every opposing player in one shot making it both irritating and boring for those players. There are large number of complaints where PvP has been brought into an RPG (World of Warcraft springs to mind) resulting in players being one-shot by the opposing team. Player characters simply aren’t designed to take the same sort of damage that NPCs (non-player characters, mobs) have been – except for the tanks of course.

An RPG healer won’t kill anyone in PvP (To maintain the RPG balance healers do little damage) but they probably won’t be killed either as they can simply out-heal any incoming damage. Such fights are boring and irritating and end mostly in both sides walking away.

The tank can, of course, take the damage as they’re designed to do so but they can’t do enough damage by themselves. Its that RPG balance coming in again. So, again, we end up with fights that are long and boring and where the players are most likely to walk away rather than finish it.

This has gotten longer than anticipated so I’ll suggest my solution in another part.