Life in Group 5 – A Resto Shaman Blog
A resto shaman perspective on raiding


November 5, 2010

Beta Healing Counterpoint: Fun and Efficiency

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Written by: Vixsin
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I feel fairly confident in saying—playing World of Warcraft is about having fun, in whatever way you define it. Whether you’re a master of the economy, a social scientist, a wallflower who appreciates anonymity, or an extroverted social butterfly, chances are that you generally do what you love inside the game. From quests to raiding to PVP, the choice is absolutely and unequivocally yours to make. And as we divide into categories based on our allegiances (FOR THE HORDE), our race (spirits be with ya, ‘mon), and our class roles (/salute g5) we continue to pursue what *we* consider fun in a game with a bit of something for everyone.

But obviously, there are limits to these good times for all, and fun can be harder to come by as the sheen of new content starts to wear off, especially for us guardians of the HP bar. Which is why (at least in my opinion), some of the focus for Cataclysm has been on the much-touted “efficiency model” and its effects on the healing game. Whereas dps will be striving to do more with more, and tanks will be working to … um … do the same thing they did before … only different, in the xpac healers will be asked to do more with less. It’s a push-pull play by developers, designed to take healing focus off of twitch response and place it on Efficiency. (Yes, capital E.) But is Efficiency actually fun?

(Last week I gave you all the positives about healing in Cataclysm, but it’s another week, another patch, and now it’s time for me to rain all over your parade. mwahahaha)


What is efficiency?

It is a term bandied about in economics, physics, engineering, and other sciences, and most notably (at least as far as we’re concerned), by Ghostcrawler when defining the ultimate fun game that healers play with their teammates’ health bars. At its most basic, efficiency is defined as:

  1. the state or quality of being efficient; competency in performance.
  2. accomplishment of or ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort.
  3. the ratio of the work done or energy developed by a machine, engine, etc., to the energy supplied to it, usuallyexpressed as a percentage.

It is the last definition which I think most aptly applies to what the expectation of healers will be, come Cataclysm. When we talk about healing Efficiency, not only are we talking about spell selection (the right spell at the right time, though Tam recently posited that this in practice is more like “the least I can spare when I’m forced to spare it”), but we’re also talking about overall efficient use of resources. At present, the metric for evaluating healing Efficiency, established back in Vanilla, is to look at the effective output of a given healer:

Efficiency = Effective Healing / Total Healing

where Efficiency also is = 100% – Overhealing %

But looking at this on a total basis (for all healing done), ignores the “fit” metric presented through evaluation on an individual spell basis. If total overhealing is the big picture, individual spells’ overhealing represents decision-making on a much smaller scale. For example, if my GHW consistently demonstrates 30% overhealing, but my total overhealing for all spells is only 15%, then I might need to reconsider when/why I’m electing to use GHW.

Efficiency is not limited by capacity—a small machine can be just as efficient as a large machine. Instead it is a normalized metric across all capacity levels, one which allows you to be able to evaluate how well you do with what you have. Instead of being judged against a druid, or a priest, or a paladin, I can be evaluated based my own class limitations. Sounds good, right?


Characteristics of the Healing Model

But let’s not forget that efficiency is not something that can be achieved independently of the system in which it acts. The same ways and methods of achieving efficiency in a dps or tanking environment will not apply in a healing environment, because the constraints and goals of the system are different.

As I’ve said plenty of times before, healing is a system that is incredibly variable in nature and is entirely circumstantial. Variability is not only found in our system constraints (i.e.: incoming damage) but also in the capacity of other healers. In regards to the former, healers’ “production goal” (in terms of HPS) is unknown for every encounter, every time we go in. If the raid is having a particularly shotty week, incoming damage might swell well beyond expected, as players trigger to ghosts, stand in fire, enjoy malleable goo showers, build up stacks of Biting Cold, etc, giving healers more than enough to handle. But, on a good week, incoming damage declines as players use healthstones, don’t lifetap, click on lolwells, use rocket boots, pop mitigation CDs, etc.

More so, because a healing team’s production goal is finite at any given moment of time (you can only heal the damage that the raid takes), a healer on the healing team is constrained by the output of their teammates as well. With this maximum potential contribution per second, in today’s healing environment, it naturally falls into place that the healing that I do is healing that cannot be done by my teammates unless they beat me to the punch.


Pareto Efficiency and You

Now, I’m no brilliant economist, and I admit that I prided myself on taking the absolute minimum of courses on the topic while off on my academic pursuits. But there is one economic concept that stuck with me all the years—Pareto Efficiency. (Brace yourself for some quick education!) The theory of Pareto Efficiency states that:

… a society is enjoying maximum economic satisfaction when no one can be made better off without making someone else worse off. (Source)

So, a system where one person’s gain only comes at a cost to someone else is considered a Pareto optimal environment. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone’s share is equal in nature, but rather that those shares cannot be increased somewhere with a decrease being made elsewhere. Conversely, an environment where one person’s gain does not result in a loss for anyone else is a Pareto inefficient environment. Are you starting to get where I’m going with this?

In general, DPS exists in a Pareto inefficient environment because, barring any considerations other than the mob should die in the least amount of time possible, the dps of one player has no bearing on the dps of any other player out there. Thus, the uber-mage is free to maximize his dps as best he can without any effect on his teammates. He is free to make decisions which further his dps and thus contribute to the greater performance of the whole. The DPSer’s “fun”, by virtue of his raid role, is defined by a lack of external limitations on his performance; in other words he has the potential to make things more fun for himself, bigger numbers = more fun. This is made possible by the fact that there is no cap on the amount of damage per second that any damage-dealer can do, because boss health only operates on a cumulative basis. (Imagine if this weren’t the case though, and bosses could only take 20k damage per second, from all hostile sources. Would you even try to min/max in that type of environment?)

And yet, this has been the model for healing for the past two expansions. Healing has been a Pareto efficient model, where healing capacity not only could meet basic damage thresholds, it oftentimes far exceeded the damage that occurred within an encounter. In this type of healing environment, responsiveness becomes a dominant healing trait. Judgment, therefore, becomes secondary, because the size and cost of the heal are eclipsed by the need to deliver a reasonable selection as fast as possible. (The extreme of which is spamming one heal for 8 minutes straight … ahem, Rejuv, HL, CH.)

But the reversal of this effect, prioritizing selection over speed, requires not only placing greater emphasis on judgment by making that selection matter, but also making two notable changes to encounter mechanics: namely increasing the amount of incoming damage and increasing the window of time in which player deaths occur. Thus, by making these adjustments, you are increasing the differential between input and output and allowing healers the opportunity to not heal. You are destabilizing a Pareto-efficient environment so that the people operating within it can “have fun” being Efficient, all the while striving for the inefficiency that they used to have. (Brb, I think I just went cross-eyed while typing that …)


Wherein I finally make my point …

As I mentioned in last week’s post on Beta healing, Blizzard has managed (more or less) to establish this perilous balance in the new dungeons and raid instances. And believe me when I say, it is perilous, because as a raid accumulates gear, healers’ stats will narrow the margin between input and output and thus, by no conscious means, they will contribute to the re-prioritization of twitch. Blizzard has, quite literally, created a pseudo-Pareto inefficient environment, where healers can modulate their own healing without conceivably affecting or taking away from the contributions of the rest of their healing team.

But this is where the reality of it hits home—all of our efforts towards this notion of Efficiency are efforts to put us back into the place where we were sniping heals from each other. The more efficient I am with my character and my healing, the less my teammates can do with their own improvements. The more OOM they are, the more dead they are, the better I can do. Upping players’ HP and constraining healing values did nothing to really change that standard. The cap on healing still remains, it’s just a bit less visible than it used to be.

So, in the end, Efficiency becomes a mirage. We will not be Efficient Healing Machines, and best use of resources will not trump sheer numbers because … DUN DUN DUN … output will always matter, because output is what keeps HP > 0. Comparative performance will still matter. It’s simply the conditions in which we perform that have changed. And if anyone tries to sell me the line that a healer could be valuable for making 1 life-saving heal over a 8-minute encounter, I’m sorry to say I’m not buying it. Try arguing for a raise after doing nothing all year except making one good decision. (Unless you’re GC and that one decision is to finally give Resto Shaman a CD, it simply won’t fly.)

But if you take nothing else away from this novel of a post take this: by introducing these constraints on healers, by putting the challenge to us to be Efficient, we can no longer be wholly part of the solution. Try as we might in Cataclysm, a little bit of us will always be part of the problem. And we exacerbate our own problems the more we improve (by gear or by skill). And that, is why Efficiency, at least for me, will always detract a little from my fun.


(If you haven’t already, do check out this forum post from the folks in Premo, including Shifft, their resident Resto Shaman. It’s another great perspective on the cons of the Cata healing model as it currently exists.)


  1. Great post again, but unlike last week, now you’ve made me very un-excited for healing in Cata. :)

    I’m still trying to remain optimistic, while at the same time evaluating why I enjoy healing. I’ve only ever raid healed in Wrath, and frankly, I like the current model for the most part. I need to react quickly or else people die. I need to pick the right heals or people will die. I enjoy that role. It’s challenging and exciting, and if you don’t have good healers, you won’t kill the boss.

    Sure, things could be improved (CH was often the right heal), but shamans were using most of their spells in ICC. I was often using Riptide for the instant cast, HoT and boost to CH. LHW was great to save people quickly, while Healing Wave was great for big hits on the tank. All of those spells felt important to cast, and it was pretty easy to see who was doing a good job as a healer and who wasn’t pulling their weight.
    Wugan´s last post ..Initial Thoughts on Patch 401

  2. Firestyle

    Part of me feels like we have lost choice and judgement based on these changes. Where efficiency is king and we have one efficient heal, there is no judgement. I was not really a fan of the LHW spam that Ulduar was pre-buff for resto shaman – not that I haven’t tank healed that way on occasion in the abscence or death of holy paladins. I’d loathe to relive Ulduar healing with HW in Cata – there is a very awkward feel to single target healing twenty-five people. It feels like operating a telephone switchboard in the 30s.

  3. Urticaria

    I like the huge raid damage in WOTLK. Fun for me as a healer was being to keep people alive though out massive damage. Like you said the dps has more fun with big numbers, well so do I. I’m trying to stay optimistic because I really have no idea what it’s going to be like until I’m there, but it just sounds like more of a mana struggle then anything.

  4. Nabol

    I recently switched to my shaman as my new main for Cataclysm. I had a Holy paladin and was damn proud of it. It was the overpowered feeling that came from being able to handle two tanks alone that was fun for me. Now, with all the changes in place, it’s not so much fun for me anymore.

    I’ve tried, I seriously did. But I just couldn’t do it. I could not heal efficiently while healing effectively. Our shadow priest outhealed me, by a pretty long shot. I’m ashamed to say that, I just can’t do it.

    That was until I tried to heal on my wife’s resto shaman. It was bloody awesome, but it feels like I’m cheating the system. Spamming Healing Surge and Riptde, keeping Earth Shield up. It works, even though mana drains pretty quickly. But there are still plenty of moments in any particular encounter where you have time to do something else. Thus, Telluric Currents comes in play. Now that felt like cheating. Simply spamming heals until almost OOM, then spamming LB until almost full mana. Rinse, repeat. I probably could’ve been more efficient, but you get the general idea.

    Now, healing in Cataclysm will probably be different from this, but according to my experiences in ICC 10 HC, for now, this seems to work just fine. But it does feel like cheating.

  5. […] Vixsin at Life and Group 5 writes another very intelligent post about the disparity between efficiency and fun when […]

  6. […] healing. Vixsin at Life in Group 5 writes another very intelligent post about the disparity between efficiency and fun when […]

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