We know that developers attempt to balance around all sorts of mathematical factors like itemization, target hit points, burst vs. sustained dps, etc. However, they evaluate non-mathematical factors as well. This post discusses how developers balance around hunter class identity.
We know from a blue post on Freezing Traps that developers employ their beliefs about who hunters should be as constraints upon what hunters are allowed to be. Ignore the bit about how the blue poster does not know the actual name of our trap.
We want Freeze Trap to be a trap. We actually tried a frost shot in the beta for Wrath of the Lich King, but it just diminished the trap vibe. It wasn’t a hunter trap anymore, it was simply a freeze. We understand that traps have some inherent limitations but ultimately we want to make them cool, rather than just cutting the concept and letting hunters do everything with shots.
Here a Blizzard representative is saying that a fix that caused a hunter ability to be be more functional was scrapped because it made the ability less `huntery.’ We should not claim to have identified a complete developer strategy from this single blue bost but we can make reasonable, cautious inferences from it. The blue post suggests that developers want to satisfy their sense of a class before they implement a change to it. In other words, we can cautiously suppose that a balance change has to fit with the devs’ sense of a class’s identity before it can be patched in.
If hunter identity matters for what we can be, we should question what it is. The developers’ vision in this respect remains a permanently open question but we can make speculations based on what changed and what stayed the same in the class overhaul with the release of patch 4.0. Given the holistic and deep nature of the class changes we can reasonably guess that if Blizzard kept something, they probably thought it was `huntery’ enough to be worth keeping. If they got rid of it, they probably thought it was not essential to hunterness. Using this criteria we can reason that we hunters are wedded to our traps, our aspects and our pets; that we are supposed to deal elemental and physical damage; that we are a class that avoids damage rather than one that heals itself through it. Only our damage is magical; the rest of what we do is supposed to have some physical grounding (Disengage is a physical jump, Deterrence is spinning blades, etc.). We are not to be thought of like rangers in other games that are weak druids that shoot arrows; rather, we are a ranged physical dps class. Fixes that would move us out of these niches would probably be preempted by developers. It’s doubtful that we’ll ever see a petless MM tree or a truly powerful self-heal no matter how many times forum users request these things. We likely won’t ever get a freezing shot. Some such non-huntery changes would be nice and could go a long way toward balancing hunters (particularly for PVP). However, such changes likely won’t happen because they don’t fit Blizzard’s vision for who and what the class is supposed to be. Again, to be clear, this is speculation on my part.
All this does not mean that developers are above preserving or creating inconsistencies within classes. For example, Arcane Shot makes no sense in terms of hunter identity. Hunters don’t even use mana anymore, and when we did we had far more in common with shamans and druids than we did with mages. Indeed, arcane magic is often seen as antithetical to the elemental side of WoW that hunters partly reside in (think of the longtime ban that night elves had on practicing arcane magic). Giving hunters Arcane Shot is about as class-appropriate as giving warlocks “Bolt of Penitent Holy Love” or giving rogues a pet fire elemental. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice having an instant magic shot that ignores armor and is not subject to typical resist buffs; I’m just saying that Arcane damage is not remotely `huntery.’
Despite this oddity of mage damage in our rotations, Blizzard has done much to preserve pillars of hunter identity over time, even through the transition to Focus, suggesting that they will continue to do so in expansions to come. This means that whenever we see innovative and helpful but nevertheless non-huntery suggestions proposed in the forums and elsewhere, we can have some confidence that they’ll never happen. This is not merely because Blizzard’s default motivation is to preserve the status quo; it’s also because they’re deeply invested in preserving class distinctions and identities. In our feedback to Blizzard (be it through the official forums, beta testing, or some other avenue) we should strive to cater to this constraint on hunter class development, even if only because we do not want our suggestions to be rejected out of hand. We should offer suggestions that are functionally proper, yes, but also aesthetically `huntery.’
However, the burden of ideas does not rest solely or even mostly on us. Blizzard developers ultimately make the decisions. Returning to the blue post at the beginning of the post, it is curious that they cannot envision a CC system for us that is both not horribly clunky in pvp and class-appropriate. It amounts to a failure of imagination on their parts. And, unfortunately, such failures of imagination consign hunters to the lowest levels of representation in rated pvp. Our class identity then can be said to be both a blessing and a burden. When all is well, developer fidelity to class identity maintains the hunter as a fun and distinctive class. When there are problems with a pillar of hunter identity, such as traps, and no solutions are deemed class-appropriate, then developer adherence to aesthetics can actually preserve and entrench the problems. It engenders questions about how much class distinctiveness should be sacrificed for the sake of class functionality, and whether that tradeoff can be avoided with imaginative solutions.