In the wake of Ghostcrawler’s post explaining the much-bitched-about “hybrid tax,” WoW Insider’s Mike Schramm responded today with a post that said the penalty is justified:

Is that wrong? Not at all — it may disappoint some people (and Ghostcrawler probably knows, but we’ll remind him anyway that posting even this clearly on the forums won’t put a lot of complaints to rest), and it may cause some rerolls, but it definitely makes sense. Flexibility is an asset, and not having that flexibility in a pure class does mean that they should get out of paying that tax. If you only do one thing, you should be able to do it better than someone who has the option to do all three. And as he says, what you want to do with the class has nothing to do with how Blizzard is balancing them overall. It doesn’t matter if all you wanted to do when you rolled that priest was play shadow — they need to be balanced as hybrids.

For the uninitiated, the “hybrid tax” is Blizzard’s design philosphy that the “pure” classes (ie. those that cannot respec to another role besides DPS) should have the potential to do more damage.

GC qualifies his new sticky with the caveat that the tax applies with “all things being equal.” That is, the difference in DPS should be apparent if all classes are geared equally, if an encounter favors all classes equally, if the players are of equal skill, if the person playing each toon has the same latency, and so on. He notes, correctly, that that’s rarely the case.

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Ghostcrawler claims ignorance about the origins of the “5% hybrid tax” and tries to fob that definition — which has caused so much drama over the years — on a player, but conceding that it could have been “something we threw out at some point as an example.”

But here’s the problem: The “hybrid tax” is a PvE-only term, and hybrids do not exist in raids.

In vanilla WoW, it was conceivable that a raid leader might bring a healing/DPS hybrid to a raid (that is, a toon specced to do both, at the same time), but certainly not for anything other than farm content. Aside from that, hybrids were expected to heal, and specs like Enhancement and Retribution weren’t considered suitable for progression raiding. As a community we WoW players have a short memory, and it wasn’t so long ago that even top guilds like Ensidia (at the time, Nihilum) refused to bring hybrid DPS classes to their raids. (“…we’ve always been very old-fashioned regarding specs.”)

If this sounds insane, that’s because it is — remember that, at the time, guilds were requiring all raiders to level Leatherworking for the sole purpose of stacking haste drums to power their way through Black Temple and Sunwell Plateau.

And remember that, before the homogenization of buffs in Wrath of the Lich King, every hybrid brought unique buffs, especially Enhancement Shaman — before the advent of the Death Knight, Enhancement was hands-down the most powerful group-buffing spec in the game, with the old-school Windfury Totem, Strength of Earth, Grace of Air, Unleashed Rage and Bloodlust. Nowadays, all of those buffs can be replicated by other classes with the exception of Bloodlust, and the way things have been going, it would not be surprising at all to see a “Scroll of Bloodlust” pop up on a PTR sometime in the future. (Coincidentally, it was a WoW Insider columnist who suggested Bloodlust should be given to Rogues in a post earlier this year.)

With Wrath of the Lich King, and its widespread homogenization of buffs, hybrids have lost all but the tiniest remnants of the unique raid utility they formerly brought to the game. But that isn’t even the real issue.

Ultimately, it comes down to fun. For all but the most obsessed of us, fun is still the primary motivating factor in why we play the game. It’s why we raid, why we PvP, and why we sometimes sit near a pond for hours with our favorite music blaring, casting a digital fishing pole into a lake made of binary numbers, hoping to catch non-existent fish.

Simply put, arbitrary limits on how powerful a class can be takes away from that fun, causes drama, and causes frustration for the players who rolled hybrid classes in the first place. No one buys World of Warcraft, sits down for the first time in front of the character creation screen, and ponders their damage-dealing capabilities in end-game instances once they hit the level cap.

Blizzard can get away with this because no other MMO has the polish, the reputation, the pedigree or the overwhelming popularity of World of Warcraft. Yet one day, a WoW-killer will come along. It will be as polished as WoW, it will be developed by people who learned from WoW’s mistakes just like WoW’s developers learned from earlier MMOs, and it will do away with the archaic artificial limits Blizzard won’t let go of.

Sure, that won’t be the only factor in a WoW-killer, and in truth it will be only a minor one. But it’s balance issues like this that are among the most frustrating things in the game, and it’s even worse when there’s no logic behind it other than some outdated notion of which classes get brought to raids, or what certain players are “entitled” to. In truth, the hybrid tax smacks of the same lack of backbone that leads to the developers caving on the other demands of a petulant playerbase — hence, rating requirements on arena gear, wide gulfs in statistics on gear dropped in hard modes, and in-game items only available to those with inhuman amounts of free time. Some of that’s improved over the years, a lot of it hasn’t.

As long as it’s the only game in town, World of Warcraft can hold on tight to these outdated notions. When a real competitor comes along, something tells me WoW’s development staff will be very quick to change their tune.

Update: WoW Insider’s Mike Schramm isn’t the only one agreeing with Ghostcrawler. Question: If DKs and Warriors are less “pure” because they can, 1) tank, and 2) DPS, and thus “should” be capable of higher DPS numbers, why aren’t Shaman in that second tier of “less pure” classes?

Shaman can only, 1) DPS, and 2) heal. We don’t have a tanking spec. Druids have a tanking spec, a caster DPS spec, a melee DPS spec, and arguably two healing specs, although I admit I haven’t heard anything about the viability of Dreamstate since TBC. Still, do we get an extra 1.7% DPS because we can’t tank? How about a cookie? But I’m sure I’m not the only one who notices this is a slippery slope…


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