On nerfs and hotfixes

Please take into account that these opinions are purely my own and do not reflect the ones of the guild, and especially those of the raiding team. Myself I haven’t been participating in the race, so I do not know all the details there are to this matter. Please leave a comment to share the details.


Some people might say that there have been certain kind of themes with every progress race we have witnessed. These themes make them memorable, and often surface when people talk about the raiding scene of World of Warcraft. Sometimes those themes have been more dominant and have actually had an influence on the race itself, sometimes it just had made the tier a bit different; like in Trial of the Crusader where Blizzard introduced the limited attempts.

Let me give an example: many people remember Icecrown Citadel and the limited attempts, the ban, and the time Paragon first used their alt team to help the mains in the progress. After the last boss of Wrath of the Lich king, the start of Cataclysm was a lot of mess. Many bosses were broken and got hotfixed, and/or nerfed on the way. Firelands was pretty solid with a really hard 4th boss dps check, and again in Dragon Soul we saw a lot of bans and a very different second last and last boss which resulted in very different kind of guild ranking compared to the past.

So what seems to be the theme of the start of Pandaria then? To me it looks like hotfixes. When in the past bosses have usually gotten nerfed after we had seen the first kill (like Hodir, Al’akir, Nefarian), this time the nerfs have been handed out while guilds were still progressing: some of the “original” versions never got beaten by anybody, even when some guilds might have been close. Of course we have also seen this in the past, for instance on Sinestra. The boss was quite unbeatable (let’s say extremely hard) in its first incarnation where the slicer would cut through the whole room, so at least that nerf was indeed called for.


Innovation in raiding

So, our old friends nerfing and hotfixing, what are they really about? The meaning of those two words is to either make the bosses easier or to fix something that was broken (either to make the boss easier or in some cases harder).  People seem to have very different opinions on the benefits of these two. For instance there was a lot of discussion of 10-man Gara’jal the Spiritbinder when some individuals were demanding nerfs even when the boss was killable. I do not want to comment on whether the third boss of the instance was in fact in a good tune or not, but the feeling in many top guilds has so far been, that the harder the boss, the better.

The reason for this opinion is, that the harder the boss is, the easier you’ll be able to see who is the best guild out there: who has the widest and deepest roster, whose player skill is the highest, who comes up with the best tactics, which guild has the best dps compared to others, and who executes their tactics perfectly first. The idea has always been, that every team is fighting the same fight with the resources they have, and the fastest, most innovative and skilled will win. That is what the race is all about.

So, sometimes top end raiding guilds have been giving out harsh statements about the nerfs. This is because nerfs and hotfixes disturb the progress in a very fundamental way. The reason for this is the following; when a boss is hard guilds need to come up with new ways to improve their dps/tanking/healing. They might come up with a very complicated tactic to work their way to survive a mechanic; one that might take 3 days from the whole team to learn to execute perfectly. Some others might stack a class and gear up alts to bring in better dps. The idea of these actions is to get past the obstacle that keeps the raid from killing the boss.

Sometimes it’s arguable if the boss was designed to be killed in a way that usually comes from this kind of thinking, like with the second phase adds on Ragnaros or spirit soak on Lich King. So some guilds might abandon the idea of coming up with these innovative ways to solve the situation, and rather keep on practicing the boss in the “normal”, more obvious way (like aoe:ing the spirits on Lich King).


Effects of hotfixes and nerfs

When the boss gets nerfed/hotfixed it greatly disturbs the progress in a couple of ways. First of all, it might “ruin” a guild’s tactic they have been working on. The gear stacked alts might become useless in a second, and all the time spent on learning the “hard dodging tactic” might have gone to waste. At the same time a bit less innovative guild which has been practicing the “normal” tactic might suddenly have an advantage: they got the gear on right players and they have more experience on the now-best-tactic. The guild who might have gotten the first kill if nothing had changed, the one who came up with something new, might be pushed back on the progress.

Another thing which is very important, and which especially has had an effect on the race we are seeing right now, is when exactly the bosses are getting hotfixed. Last night, around 1am European time the last boss of the race was nerfed. The nerf affected the numbers on the encounter, not the mechanics itself, and the boss is now obviously more killable than before. “How much easier” is the question the top guilds are thinking now, when Europeans are going to sleep, Asians are raiding, and the Americans are waking up and starting their raids.

Another interesting question is, would the boss have been killable without the nerf? Would it only have been killable with the best gear available, we will now never know. Or well, someone who has been playing the boss might be able to do some math and comment on this, but the point is that no one got to kill the first version of the boss, like no one got to kill the first version of Lich King (0% buff with the gear guilds had at the point).

Yet another good question is the one I already mentioned before: how much easier is it now, and how much did the nerf affect on the progress the guilds have done so far. If the boss is remarkably easier, we might see a kill quite soon.


Easy bosses make the race less interesting

When the boss is easy, the first guilds to reach the boss will get the first kills. Usually we can see it for instance in US and Eu guilds having a head start on Asians, or in the past when Paragon got the heroic Lich King 10-man kill because they extended the lockout and went to the boss straight. The world second kill came just hours after that. The “skill” in killing it first was all in getting to the boss first.

When obviously the high end guilds often do not like the nerfs that mess up the competition itself, the changes to bosses keep on happening. This time the nerf timing favoured the US guilds, who got the fix just before starting their raids: they’d be the ones who would get to practice the new, easier boss longest the first. The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be a perfect, equally fair time to everyone to hotfix and nerf bosses. Whenever Blizzard does it, there is always somebody benefiting from it more than others. This time another option of the timing of the nerf would have been to wait until the end of the reset, but in a way that would have been even worse when considering the fairness of the race. Then the US would have gotten the fix almost a day before, when now everybody got the fix at the same time and would have the chance to raid if they wanted to. So if we consider the race, the best way might have actually been to not change the boss at all.


Do you want your bosses “clean”?

Now that the race is still going on, it will be interesting to see who will get the first kill, and how much the hotfix will affect the progress. Myself I have never been a fan of Blizzard changing the bosses during the progress, but sometimes it have had been a necessity (in my opinion). Still, I rather would have liked to see this race played out without the nerf (if the boss would be killable in maxed out gear). This might have resulted in “innovative usage of game mechanics”, which many people consider being straight out exploits.

What is your thought on the matter? Should the bosses stay the same for everyone until they have been killed for the first (few times) before any nerfs would be given out? Would you rather see a “clean” boss kill done in a way Blizzard planned it, or rather see how someone comes up with something completely ground breaking? Also, do you get your kicks from killing the super-hard bosses in their first version, or would you rather fight against the fixed and neatly tuned version?

In my eyes these are the most important questions people should ask themselves, as the answers affect the comments they post on wow-related forums. Because these comments affect the bosses Blizzard designs for all of us to enjoy.



I agree with you that hotfixes and nerfs should be considered as unwanted and undesirable during heroic progress because it has too much effect on the progress of top raiding guilds. It would be terrible if a guild misses out on a world first kill because of a hotfix or nerf that makes a much practiced tactic or gearing of alts less favorable. I also agree with the fact that an easier boss kill makes a less interesting race. In my opinion a raid boss ,especially a boss on heroic mode that has not been killed before, should be as hard and challenging as possible. A guild should be at his absolute best to get the kill.
Maximum gear requirements for the last heroic raid boss of a tier is something I would very much like to see because It makes that boss extremely challenging, as it should be.

I am however very much against the ‘innovative usage of game mechanics’ which I personally consider to be exploits and cheating. A raid boss is designed with certain mechanics and abilities. Those are the boundaries set by blizzard. If a guild kills the boss with ‘innovative usage of game mechanics’ then that guild went outside those boundaries and is therefore in my opinion cheating. I personally prefer ‘clean’ boss kills.

I also think that ‘innovative usage of game mechanics’ leads to the wrong type of race. The race for the world first boss kills should in my opinion be focused on killing bosses in the way they are intended. A race, won by the guild that has the best dps compared to others, and who executes their tactics perfectly first. It should not be the race, won by the guild that is best in finding flaws in raid boss designs.

Although "innovative usage of game mechanics" sometimes undermines the difficulty of bosses, I believe that the most interesting kills require BOTH non-obvious tactics and amazing execution. For instance, Paragon's first kill of Heroic Al'Akir 25 man was just brilliant. If Blizzard had hotfixed the broken spacing issues in P1, we all would have been deprived of that clever kill.

What did they hotfixed on Sha? Can you guys share any details?

I understand why top guilds hate nerfs and hotfixes. But before I can fully wrap my mind around an "unkillable" boss I have to ask you guys; how close can you come to taking down a "unkillable" boss before nerfx/hotfixes?

Are we talking the last 5-10% so you actually still feel it's possible or are we further from the kill?

I would like Blizzard to provide a perfectly fair race, really i would. However it has never been the case in the past (since EU, US and Asian resets are never at the same time, and also since some servers are overloaded, or otherwise bugged), and seems technically quite difficult to ensure.
What I like even more than a fair race for top guilds, is for the boss to be in the best condition it can be when *I* get to it, and for that to happen top guilds have to provide beta testing. Heroic Sha has not been tested on the PTR for the sole reason to provide a fun surprise for top guilds when they get to it. This surprise is really a gift from Blizzard to top guilds, since clearly the surprise will be spoiled by the time guilds like mine get to the last boss. In exchange for this gift, top guild provide beta testing on live servers, suffer hotfixes and nerfs, so that when I (and million others) get to the boss it is in a shape comparable to PTR-tested bosses.

TL; DR I think top guilds have to suffer hotfixes for the sake of the rest of us who pay for the game :-)

Yes, we know, you managed to defeat Lich King... You're still not over it, right? You're so called «Innovation» ist nothing else than a simple logical conclusion following quite limited boundaries. Beethoven's 5th or Janacek's Sinfonietta are innovative. I actually laughed when I read the term «ground breaking». I don't suppose that a strategy in World of Warcraft could be called ground breaking... Marxism is ground breaking or maybe the discovery of the Higgs-Boson.

So, stop feeling all high and mighty, definitely stop talking down on - in your words not innovative - people and start investing your precious time in real innovation and ground breaking achievements.

Over and out
Jesus Christ himself

I think comping up with an alternative, better, and a more efficient way to solve a problem enhances your thinking skills overall. This can also be applied to real life situations.

Also, believe that we do not consider ourselves being nuclear scientists or anything while playing. Of course everything that happens withing the game is within its boundaries.

Speaking about not getting over Lich King. I'm curious appels, do you personally consider tactics like spirit soak exploits? Would you have preferred us to rather kill the boss with aoe:ing the adds? Because that definitely was Blizzard's intention.

Since my background is the theoretical sociology, I'm fully aware of the contingency of our world. Therefore I could not agree with you more, not solely from an epistemological but also from an ethical perspective. It is of utmost importance to be aware of the difference between "actual" and "potential". This awareness opens up a whole cosmos of new possibilities to deal with problems. Whether a so called "hardcore-player" has the time to make use of this skill in everday life could be another point to discuss (imagine all the participants in this so called "race" would invest their time with the same passion in something that would not simply entertain them but also help others...).

I wouldn't say that a nuclear scientist is actually innovative per se. Taking the definition of "normal science" by Thomas S. Kuhn in account, I actually don't see a huge difference between this very "normal science" and the enconters in World of Warcraft. We could compare the range of possibilitis that a scientific paradigm and World of Warcraft provide, but I guess that's another question. I have a problem with the inflationary usage of the word "innovation". Not that I could spontaneously give a definition of "innovation" - there's a huge philosophical discourse on this topic. Reading you're text I just felt like reading a communiqué by Steve Jobs regarding a new apple product. Apple also labels their products as innovative and ground breaking, disregarding the fact that they simple reproduce 1930's desing by Bauhaus. We could compare my design-example with World of Warcraft. Both are constituted by a self-referential reproduction of it's specific elements.

You made me smile by turning my quite shallow and polemical comment back into a question. Well, in my perspective the factor time is currently way to important. To make progression raiding interesting again this factor should completely be avoided by allowing every guild only limited time per week in an instance. Also they should drastically reduce the amount of players needed for a raid to 3 or maybe 5 players. Another possibility would be to standardize the gear. I don't argue to abandon the raiding in it's current state, but if you want a race that is based on skill the factors time, gear and roster should be avoided as much as possible. So for the future I could imagine two paralel existing forms of raiding. On the one hand the form we currently know and consume, on the other hand a form that takes the above mentioned aspects in account. 3, 5 or maximum 10 player-raids in which everyone has the same gear (so no items drop) and which are only accessible i.e. 9 hours a week divided on three days. I really enjoyed the challenge mode dungeons that are the first step in this direction. This concept should be further developed and take the place of current progression raids. The world ranking would look quite different than the current "7-raids-a-week-ranking".
To actually answer your specific question: I think the idea of Blizzard that there's one intended way to defeat a boss is wrong. There should always be different possibilities to win a fight, not only because of inaaccurate programming by Blizzard. So I think - even if someone (or even Blizzard) calls it an exploit - variety is a value per se. If Blizzard - or any other game developer - wants to provide only one sole way to defeat a boss, they should hire some new game designers and programmers...

Over and out
Jesus Christ

I have to say I agree with nerf/hotfixes. I am not in one of the best guilds but I do respect and enjoy the challenge like the best of them. I understand at times hotfixes are necessary due to it being broken and impossible but aside from that it is great to see what the world best can do. As mentioned in the article we cannot really see who is the best if things are being nerfed after the first couple nights or weeks. There need to be a little time to see if it can be done and a fair amount of time for everyone to get shot at it (world best that is).

One thing that actually hurts the real competition is PTR. Many of the world best guilds as well as any guild can see, practice and work the strategies out on the PTR. When the encounter goes live they know what to do and how to do it because of wiping 100+ times on the PTR. I understand that the PTR is not always tuned correctly and there is a slight difference when it goes live but it does give people an advantage to the guilds that cannot always get the time to see PTR content like guilds that are the best. It also comes down to how much time one put into the PTR that makes it easier or more knowledgeable once it is live. If you want a real test of feat, I say go in cold in the live raid and see who is the best. That to me is the real test.


Unfortunately, most of your post is forgetting something; namely, everyone who isn't in the top hundred. You won't need reminded that only a tiny percentage of players lock themselves away for the race and raid upwards of 14 hours a day. What I feel you might need reminded, is that the game isn't designed exclusively for you.

The developers don't design encounters exclusively for the world's best guilds because there's no future in doing so. The top guilds house players that can, quite literally, beat any encounter given a relative level of gear. Nothing is too complicated for the players at the top. The logical inference to take away from this is that the developers simply cannot win if they design content only for the top 100.

"Innovation" is a funny word, but I see precious little of it in many of the top guilds. I'm serious. Yes, players can reach extraordinary levels of output in the gear they've got in the top guilds, but the sole reason the imagination is ever engaged is because tuning is too tight for an encounter to be tackled in the intended fashion. I'm not trying to be dismissive, but you're over-romanticising a level of imagination that doesn't exist.

The other problem that you're ignoring is that players in more casual guilds can, and will, follow what the top guilds do, tactically. This is why hotfixes are so important. The Geyser on Ragnaros was an example of a mechanic that ended up being handled incorrectly by the top guilds, and everyone then just followed suit. Let's say for argument's sake that Paragon tackled a mechanic in a specific way, a way that only the best players in the world could manage, but that mechanic was then denoted to ONLY be handled in that way. It happens. The developers then have a conundrum on their hands, fixing the (admittedly inadvertent) damage caused by Paragon.

I appreciate what you're trying to say, I really do, but you're making no effort to appreciate the developers or the rest of the playerbase. The top hundred guilds in the race aren't there because they're the best players, they're there because they have the time to put into it. This isn't suggesting there's not a high skill level, of course there is, but there are some pretty mediocre players in top guilds who literally just brute force their way through encounters by sheer weight of averages giving them a lucky pull.