I first heard the story (and snagged the headline, since the story makes for a better headline than it does a story) from an excellent post at WoW.com on the matter – apparently the folks at Warcry managed to sit down with Rob Pardo of Blizzard to talk about what he thought some of World of Warcraft’s biggest mistakes have been. One of the notable mentions? Arenas:
We didn’t engineer the game and classes and balance around it, we just added it on, so it continues to be very difficult to balance. Is WoW a PvE cooperative game, or a competitive PvP game? There’s constant pressure on the class balance team, there’s pressure on the game itself, and a lot of times players who don’t PvP don’t understand why their classes are changing. I don’t think we ever foresaw how much tuning and tweaking we’d have to do to balance it in that direction.
I don’t think this is quite as controversial as WoW.com and a lot of other bloggers do, and I also don’t think it’s as huge news as everyone seems to think it is, personally. I played on an arena team for a while there in season 2 and 3, back when it was still fun, and while I agree that 2v2 matches were horribly mismatched, I thought the strategy involved with 3v3 matches and the chaos that was your average 5v5 match was fun to participate in.
The downside of course, as Pardo explains, is that Blizzard had to keep balancing classes around one another so everyone had a relatively fair shot to participate in arenas in some regard, or else classes and specs would completely get left out for them. This is a concern that a lot of players raised over the course of arena seasons, and Blizzard did a really good job of trying to make changes so the classes could match up with one another, but in the end there’s just nothing you can do about it.
Pardo points out that the dichotomy to the game – whether World of Warcraft is a cooperative PvE game or a competitive PvP game – is difficult to manage and it’s almost impossible to balance classes and encounters so they can be both at the same time without obviously tipping their hand as to which direction they think the game should lean.
Personally, I think that Blizzard could have done just as well to spend more time balancing the classes for PvE as long as that’s the majority of the player base, and allow PvP players to carve out their own niche. It might be painful at first as a number of PvP players will whine and complain, but the truly skilled players would find a way around some of the obvious class imbalances and others would simply get by playing teams of the preferred classes instead.
It’s kind of a backhanded compliment to the people I used to play arenas with to suggest that the best thing Blizzard could do for arena PvP in World of Warcraft is to ignore it: they’d probably be the happiest making the game work for them instead of being handed changes by Blizzard, and of the arena players that would whine about class imbalances, they’d eventually get shouted down by players who managed to make skill their ultimate competitive weapon, but in the end, Blizzard has a choice – they can spend more development time on the PvE elements of the game that really draw in new players, or they can spend development hours tuning classes for PvP, which is great for people who enjoy it but it’s not adding to the core elements of the game.