Cordovan, LOTRO Community Manager, has agreed to do another interview with me. This time we focused on upcoming content with U19 but circled back to follow up on some of the questions asked during my initial interviews with the Dev Team back in August. In case you missed them:
October Interview Part 1
The following transcript is paraphrased and transcribed from the audio recording.
Dadi: I’m Dadi here from Dadi’s LOTRO Guides and I have Cordovan here who has agreed to do another interview with me. It is very generous, thank you for joining.
Cordovan: Yeah, hey, I appreciate being here.
Dadi: So I do have a few questions related to Update 19 and I have got a few that relate to our last interview; just kind of follow up questions. There is no particular order here. I would like to just go through a few of them and see where that takes us, if that’s okay with you.
Cordovan: Yeah sounds good. You know my policy is ask anything. If I can’t answer it, I will just tell you that.
Dadi: Fair enough, and completely understood. Again, I can’t reiterate enough how much of a difference we are seeing in terms of communication from the Lotro Team to the community in general since you have taken over, and it is very much appreciated and refreshing.
Cordovan: That’s great to hear, thanks.
Dadi: So let’s start off with the release of U19. There is going to be some new regions and a new area. Will there be costs associated with that if you are free to play? Is it included with VIP? How is that going to work?
Cordovan: Yeah, like typical VIP get it for free. If you need to, or want to, purchase it, it will cost 795 Turbine Points which I believe is that it is listed at on Bullroarer at the moment.
Dadi: Okay and that 795 TP will open up all the regions for the new update?
Dadi: Okay, excellent. In U19, at least during the beta stages (I know U19 is not out yet, but in the Bullroarer releases) it seems to have addressed some of the DPS issues with the Hunter class but they still don’t seem to be the king of single target DPS yet. I know you have stated that this is a work in progress, is there a timeframe for maybe completing that, or is that not the end goal? I guess the question then might be, what is the end vision for hunter and where to they fit in as far as DPS is concerned.
Cordovan: I don’t know that I would want to declare [ed. a title of King of Single Target DPS]. Ultimately the end goal of hunter is to make hunters happy and want to play them, in whatever form that might take. Players like to assign roles to certain classes, and to some extent you are designed to certain roles, but you don’t want to pigeon hole anyone and say yes, hunters are only kings of single target DPS. Now that may end up being the case, but I don’t think that is necessarily the THING THAT WE ARE GOING FOR [ed. capitalized for emphasis]. Clearly ranged in the red line are intended to be good, if not great, ranged DPS. In the blue line they are intended to have various kinds of defenses (with) crowd control capabilities, and their yellow line is meant to be trapping and utility and things like that. So I don’t want to say for example, that there is only one goal with Hunter, and that is to make them king’s of single target DPS. I don’t know that it would be an accurate statement. We do have Rune Keeper that we need to balance, and we do have other ranged classes as well. On top of that, if you say single target DPS, are you talking ranged single target DPS or true single target DPS? Because if you are talking single target DPS compared to say a class that goes toe-to-toe with creatures, the Hunter’s ability to mitigate damage by not getting toe-to-toe with them, basically not getting hit, has to be a factor in the kind of calculation. Because if you have one class that is top single target DPS but is getting hit and taking damage and another class that is top single target DPS but not having to worry about taking damage, well that’s a problem. So we would not want to design a specific class to be only single target DPS. At the very least, you would need to subdivide it into ranged and melee single target DPS. But in general I would say regarding class passes, is that the impression I get is in the past there was an expectation on the community that we were largely one-and-done on class passes. “This update by given number will be this class pass and then we will never talk about it again”. That is absolutely not our intention, and is not a practical way to go about this. Class balance is an ongoing, and frankly never ending, development thing. So we do plan to do some additional work on Hunter changes to address more than just the DPS issue; to more holistically look at a Hunter. The hope is that we can do that over the next couple of updates, but ultimately what gets done and what gets put into those updates will depend on how the development process goes. How the time to work on “X” and “Y” thing goes and the rest. We do have a list of things for, say, 19.1 and 19.2 and Hunter work is on that list at some point, but there are things above it that MUST be done in order to get 19.1 and 19.2 out the door. Ultimately if Hunter work is not ready for 19.1 but will be ready for 19.2 we may put it there. We will have to figure out as we go through the process of actually working on Hunter changes here, but the goal is to do further improvements over the next couple of updates.
Dadi: Okay, fair enough, that certainly makes sense. I think what the community is looking for: there are two factions of the community as you are well aware; there is one faction that is looking at it from a class balance in terms of a PvP dynamic, and then there is the class balance when it comes to PvE. The questions that I am looking at are more geared towards PvE knowing that PvP is a hot topic and not easily addressed. I don’t envy you, or your team, trying to balance a class that has to function in a PvE and a PvP world. That has got to be something extremely difficult.
Cordovan: It is definitely a challenge, but it is good challenge because that means we have both PvP and PvE players. On the Dungeons and Dragons Online side, which I do some work for, the PvP part of the game exists, but is a very small section of the game, and typically we don’t design around it so much. But on Lotro we do have to have those discussions because we do have enough PvP players to warrant that kind of work. Our hope frankly for PvP is to work on that within the next couple of updates as well. Whether or not we get to that is perhaps more nebulous than the Hunter changes. So I don’t want to really promise anything there. I understand what you are saying. We certainly have a lot of feedback on the Hunter. We have at least several years of threads, and thousands of forum posts, that we have gone through and looked at to put together some bullet points. Frankly, the community has done a great job in recent weeks in re-outlining that stuff for us so we have some sense of perhaps where the community would like us to go with Hunter; which is to further work on some debuffs. Right now, Hunters are largely poison only and that doesn’t necessarily put them on an even playing field with some other classes. There has been some talk about self healing, and further defense. I don’t know where we sit exactly on that, but it is certainly something that we have heard from the community about. In addition, there is the whole question about whether it is a T2 raid issue. Is it a Throne of the Dread Terror issue? Is this a PvP issue, or regarding the power balance between Rune Keepers and Hunter? It sounds like the answer is both a yes and no answer on that. Like a lot of things, there is a spectrum of opinion, and a lot of factors to put into play there. But it does look like Hunters feel like they are falling behind the Rune Keepers. To whatever method we need to do to address that, that is something we want to do.
Dadi: I do have a Hunter. I stopped playing it a while ago simply because I did not enjoy playing it as much as I do some of the other classes. I do have plenty of friends and kin mates that do play a Hunter. The real challenge that they are having is not getting invited to groups simply because their DPS can’t perform to the level of an RK, or a Champ, or some other classes that are out there. Conversely, they don’t have some other ability to help compensate for that. So a Burglar for example doesn’t have tremendous DPS, but their debuffs are invaluable. I guess that’s where the Hunter stands of now. Of all the classes that are out there, by far that’s the one that is the least desirable to have in your group if the focus is for DPS to be important. Certainly Throne comes up with that. Even at a T1; the elite players on the servers will tell you that T1 is a joke, and you can have a bunch of Hunters and complete it, but the reality is that the percentage of elite players on every server is pretty small. So the content at a T1 level for the general masses is still extremely challenging when it comes to Throne, and having more than one hunter in the group is extremely detrimental. That’s where they look at it from a “please include me” sort of approach when you are looking at the development.
Cordovan: Sure that makes a lot of sense. You know, for U19 here we have given Hunters at least a 25 % DPS boost over where they are live in the game at the time of this recording. That was done in addition to the Burglar changes for U19, in part because that’s what we were able to get done given the development time that we had to do that work. But clearly we have more work to do with Hunters at the very least, and probably, like I say, class balance is never ending. As soon as we open this can to say Hunter and Burglar changes, we heard from “now put us next, no us, no us, no us” and none of them are wrong necessarily, it is just a matter of constantly working to balance as many of the classes you can given the current state of the game. That thing will always be in a state of flux. So if any development studio is able to say; “yes we have achieved perfect class balance that will last forever”, then I would be extremely shocked to hear that.
Dadi: That’s certainly not a reality. I think the players, at least the majority of them, realize that….
Cordovan: Sorry to interrupt. To your point then, that is why rather than in the past where there may be a perception of kind of one-and-done on class changes, under the current development team, we are going to be doing perhaps small; sometimes larger, consistent changes over the course of update after update after update. So when you see Update 19 we have done some Burg/Hunter changes, right now we have been hearing on the forums; “well I guess that’s all they are going to do with Hunter”. No, that is not all we are going to do with Hunter. Frankly, you can almost never apply that to a future to a class pass because even the concept of a class pass really doesn’t exist given our current development plans.
Dadi: Speaking of the development of classes and continuing to try to find balance, it seems to me that the dev team is taking an approach where any given class is being made almost into a Swiss Army knife. You know, they are trying to develop them to be survivable, get the DPS in there, have debuffs, be able to almost do anything in the game, and Beorning is a big example of that one. Even some of the other classes, it seems like a lot of the things are melding towards that Swiss Army approach where the class can do almost anything. Does that concern you at all from a developer and a community manager standpoint; that the differentiation between the classes seems to be narrowing?
Cordovan: I don’t know that I am particularly knowledgeable enough to be able to give you a good answer on that question. I guess I would turn that around and ask you a couple of questions regarding it. That is, if we look at say red, blue and yellow skill tree lines, you want to make all of those effective provided you do the investment into them. So to the extent that they offer different things, maybe say one is offense, one is defense, one is utility for example. Then if you do achieve a state where all three of those lines is effective provided you do the work to invest in it, then I think that it does lead to a class that could be seen as able to do anything. But at the same time you are right. You absolutely do want classes that stand out and offer specific benefits from other classes. I guess typically when I see that happen in the Dungeons and Dragons side, it tends to come from people you might call more the min-maxers ; the people that will take the one thing that they can really min-max on a particular class and then run with it, and that is the class. Whereas in reality, there is a large breadth of options if you are willing to go outside of that min-max system. I have only been doing this since July, right, so there is a lot of knowledge that I need to pick up on. Do you feel that if we were to achieve a state where all three of those red, blue, yellow lines excel given a certain level of investment, would that be a Swiss Army knife character or what do you think?
Dadi: Somewhat. I guess if you look at a Warden for example, they can tank, they can crazy DPS, they can heal. Look at an RK, an RK can have outstanding DPS. An RK can be a very viable healer. Minstrels have got some outstanding DPS; they are healers. Beornings can do all three; they can DPS, they can heal, they can tank. It just seems like each of the classes, since the implementation of trait trees anyway, have been converging towards the ability to do either tank, DPS and heal or heal, debuff and survivability, or you know what I mean. They have the three different options that basically overlap all the other classes and really the differentiator is assuming we achieve balance and this classes DPS is comparable to that one’s and so on, then really what we are going to boil down to is which class you prefer playing. There won’t be necessarily an advantage of playing one over another if we continue down that path. I guess that is what is concerning me. I am thrilled that we are looking at class balance and at each update picking a different class and tweaking it and continue to go down these paths to make them better, but it does concern me a bit that we may be converging towards the Swiss Army Knife approach of development.
Cordovan: I think it is absolutely intended that our trait lines offer that kind of diversity you mentioned. So how you would then differentiate the classes would have to be in areas that they can do best. Maybe certain abilities that other classes don’t. Certain things that they bring to the table, whether that’s play style, look and feel, I don’t know. Like I said it gets a little nebulous. You would need to then make sure that it wasn’t just a matter of those trait lines being the defining factor of the class. The defining factor of the class needs to be that in addition to X, Y and Z. As long as they are able to achieve that sort of differentiation between one class and another, I don’t think you could say all classes play the same. Unless of course, all classes play the same in which case that is a different sort of discussion.
Dadi: Yeah they definitely don’t play the same. The question was, is it intended to move towards that system and it seems as though it is, but still allow enough uniqueness to each class that they remain attractive to play. It sounds like we are on the right path in terms of not making is so any class you play pretty much can do exactly what the other classes can.
Cordovan: Yeah hopefully. Class balances is something we are going to be spending a bunch of time on I would imagine. Certainly if the community has their way right! So hopefully we will be able to differentiate those classes and adjust some of those concerns in the future.
Dadi: Excellent. So sticking with the class tweaking and whatnot. EdgeCase had started some work to revamp the Guardian class but then upon his departure, the tweaks to correct the bugs and so on, it seems to have gone by the wayside. Is that something that is currently being worked on? Is that on the table? There are a lot of things that got broken in an attempt to tweak and fix a Guardian.
Cordovan: We are well aware of the bug on bleeds so I know that is something that is high on QAs radar. I would imagine that would be fixed as soon as we can. Otherwise it is going to as well get grouped into the small class changes over time. Currently I think our direction is to work on Hunter and Burglar, also Beorning. I don’t know if I can say next, but certainly high up there. When we get to Guardian, I can’t predict at this point, but it is going to have to be included in that mix as well.
Dadi: I guess what the community is concerned with is that when we do these tweaks, often something will break in the process but then it kind of gets left alone and is thrown by the wayside and then we don’t revisit it to actually fix it. The tweaks and balance is absolutely fantastic to be having but when it breaks in the process – Guardian bleeds for example, it was never intended to break that, but we are now three or four months after the fact and it is still not fixed. That is something that really brings ire to the community, especially those that play that class. I guess the second part of that discussion would be hopefully class changes are not coming about because of folks on forums and the community that are crying that their class can’t do what another class does and a Guardian is a prime example of that. There were plenty of people in the community crying about the fact that Guardians can do X, Y, Z and their class couldn’t so what ended up happening is the Guardian got nerfed rather than looking at the other classes.
Cordovan: I can’t speak to past history so much as I can speak to future expectation. I think you raise some good points. There is some reality of if a guy, or gal, on the development team has deep knowledge of a certain class because they have done the class work and then that person is no longer with the team, someone else is going to have to learn that work and then do the work. If that person is say, already assigned to do X, Y, Z, A, B, C for the next four updates, it is not always possible to say; “oh and by the way you also need to do this”. I think that may be part of what is going on here with Guardian. But yes, you are right, if we have a bug after a class pass and it has sat for four months and it is something that is a significant enough bug to really be a problem for a large number of people who play that class, it is something that we are going to have to prioritize.
Dadi: Sounds like good news and I am not bring it up simply because I have a Guardian. It is one of my main characters. But I will say that I have stopped playing red or yellow line as a DPS role simply because the bleeds aren’t working and the Guardian is much less effective than it was in the past. I still use it for tanking, but that bug has really effected how a Guardian performs.
Cordovan: To the second half of your question about whether or not we essentially make changes based on people’s wanting to get a class nerfed on the forums, the answer is no but we do absolutely need to depend on community feedback to tell us what the community wants us to do. So that is not just the forums, it is through in game data, it is through Bullroarer, Palantir, Facebook, and Twitter and Google Plus and Livestreams, Twitch, YouTube videos, in addition to the forums. Clearly the forums are a big center of conversation for Lord of the Rings Online, but they are not the only center of communication. So no, we typically will not see a handful of vocal people on a community site saying; “you need to nerf Rune Keeper” so we go okay everyone wants Rune Keeper nerfed. But when it comes time to prioritize the community wants and needs, we have to depend on the overall mix of feedback to put together a priority list and get a better understanding of what the community wants us to do about it. It doesn’t mean that we are always going to do that thing, but it is really part of my job to hopefully have a good understanding of what it is people are saying; in some cases what they are REALLY saying, what should we do about it, what do they want us to do about it, and then put that into actionable feedback that we can bring up during developmental prioritization meetings that we can then get these issues addressed.
Stay tuned for Part 2 (coming soon) !!!
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