Buff me dammit! Heal pls.
I played EQ2 last night for a very brief period and hit level 13, which earned my Fury the beloved and dreaded spell Spirit of the Wolf. The reasons it’s beloved and dreaded harken back to oldschool EQ, and got me to thinking about the culture of entitlement that prevails today, and how game design can support or disempower it.
In EQ, the spell Spirit of the Wolf (SoW) was a speed buff that could be cast on any player, available to Druids, Rangers, and Shamans (I think maybe some other classes as well later on). In EQ2, the spell can only be cast on group members. What’s the difference? I have grim memories of people sitting around in EQ spamming chat channels with requests and demands that someone cast SoW on them. Not only were some people outright rude in their imperious demands, they were quite willing to sit around for half an hour or longer spamming demands or sending rude pushy tells to utter strangers (e.g. “SoW me!” “Need SoW now!”). So they’d sit there for half an hour or more hoping for someone to increase their speed by, say, 40%… which might save them as much as 10 minutes on their trip. It made no sense objectively, and it was a serious hassle for the poor characters who could cast SoW. Not me, I played a Bard – my speed only worked on my group, and I neither asked for nor was asked for speed buffs. Anyhow.
My Discipline Priest in WoW had some pretty spiffy buffs he could cast on other players, as did my Druid. I enjoyed being able to help other players out, and would often sit in Orgrimmar casting buffs on every character who went past. It gave me a nice opportunity for some altruistic behaviour, which I appreciated.
So there’s the tradeoff: on the one hand, being able to cast buffs on strangers allows altruism, which is nice from a social viewpoint. On the other hand, it can lead to feelings of entitlement and rude demands, which is not so socially desirable. There’s also the concern that some powerful buffs can make lowbie content trivially easy, which from a design standpoint isn’t ever a good thing. If newbies get a lucky buff and blast through some content, then the buff runs out… they’ll find the difficulty ramps up very quickly, and they won’t necessarily have acquired the skills needed for their level. Then, too, in blowing through that content they’ve consumed it faster than the designers intended, which is a serious problem if all content is static and created by developers. It’s obviously far less of a problem with player-created content or even moreso dynamic content.
Healing is similar but has different pros and cons than buffs. Allowing characters to heal strangers also allows for altruistic behaviour, which remains desirable. Because heals are reactive and not proactive, it’s very rare for anyone to sit around demanding heals – this would only happen in a game with a lot of downtime between fights, and those are becoming more and more rare (thankfully – because frankly it’s boring to sit around waiting). There remains a risk that having a higher-level healer “on tap” can trivialize content, but then if someone is willing to do that for you, is it really a problem? It requires the active participation of that other player to heal the lower-level character, rather than casting a passive buff which might need refreshing every e.g. half an hour.