Ghostcrawler's Blog: Threat Needs to Matter

In his newest World of Warcraft blog entry, Lead Systems Designer Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street talks about the importance of threat. Here's a brief summary of his points on the mechanic:

  • "If threat generation is too easy then the entire risk of the encounter drops."
  • "We want tanks to care about the buttons they hit instead of just relying on auto-attacking to control their target. "
  • "When threat is too hard to maintain, it can be exasperating."
  • "We don’t usually want DPS classes to have to stop attacking in order to keep from generating too much threat."
  • "It’s fairly gamey as game mechanics go and we think there are probably better ways to communicate it to players."

For more details, including Ghostcrawler's guidelines for knowing when threat is a problem in a group, check out the entire blog post after the jump.

A tank’s job is to protect the group. A big part of that is controlling the enemy. A big part of controlling the enemy is staying alive. Tanks have a lot of tools to stay alive, and mastering those is a major component of learning to play a tank. On the other hand, some of these tools are on long cooldowns, and on some encounters they are intended for use at specific moments in the fight. Furthermore, staying alive isn’t the sole responsibility of the tank, because there will always be one or more healers present whose job it is to keep the tank alive. As such, staying alive can’t be the only thing tanks have to focus on.

So, let’s back up a moment to controlling the enemy. “Control” includes things like positioning the boss, or doing specific things at specific times, such as swapping with an off tank. It also includes making sure the boss doesn’t attack anyone else. That’s where threat generation comes into play.

If threat generation is too easy then the entire risk of the encounter drops. Newsflash: we don’t actually want encounters to be easy. We want encounters to be fun, and for most players, that includes both rewards and risks.

We want tanks to care about the buttons they hit instead of just relying on auto-attacking to control their target. We don’t necessarily want very complicated tank DPS rotations, because as I mentioned above, tanks do have other things to keep track of. But we want their combat abilities to be engaging. Good tanks should be those who control, survive, and generate sufficient threat.

On the other hand, when threat is too hard to maintain, it can be exasperating. Tanks get understandably frustrated when the game is asking them to do something but not giving them the tools to do it. The non-tanks in the group also become frustrated, because they feel throttled. It’s one thing when overcoming the boss is challenging. It feels worse when you know that another player is standing in your way, keeping you from achieving your top performance.

We don’t usually want DPS classes to have to stop attacking in order to keep from generating too much threat. We do want players to pay attention. We don’t think it’s too much to ask for DPS and healers to wait a couple of GCDs for the tank to get the enemy under control -- we’re not asking for five stacks of Sunder Armor these days. What we really mean by proper threat management is knowing things like when it’s time to go all out, when it’s appropriate to use a threat-reducing cooldown, and most importantly, which is the right target to be attacking. I’m not trying to bash pugs here, but I am amazed at how often a nuker will pick a random target instead of the one being tanked, then blame the tank for not holding aggro (and then blame the healer when they die). In short, if threat is too easy, the game is boring. If threat is too difficult, the game is frustrating.

How then do you guys (and the developers!) know when threat is a problem? Here are some handy guidelines.

  • If a tank is trying to generate threat on a single target, and it runs off to kill a DPS class, that’s a problem.
  • If a tank is trying to generate area threat on a group, and the tanked things are running off to kill healers, that’s a problem.
  • If Vengeance falling off causes the tank to lose threat, that’s a problem.

These problems can have a couple of causes. It could be a problem we caused, meaning that even an expertly-played tank has low threat generation because our numbers are undertuned. Or it could be that only an expertly-played tank can generate threat because you’re asked to manage too many abilities. Or it could be that Vengeance is the only thing allowing you to generate enough threat because the size of the buff is masking low threat generation from your abilities. It could also be a problem you need to fix on your end: if someone is nuking or cleaving a random target on a group pull instead of assisting the tank, that’s not the tank’s fault.

Now, there are things we don’t like about threat as a mechanic. It’s fairly gamey as game mechanics go and we think there are probably better ways to communicate it to players. There are some mods that do a very credible job given the limited information we provide, but overall we’d like to present threat better since we’re asking you to take it seriously in the PvE game.

-Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street is the lead systems designer for World of Warcraft and the skipper of a very nice ship where they serve cute sandwiches with the crust removed. And gin.


Post Comment
The bad tanks
# Dec 20 2010 at 4:49 PM Rating: Good
1,882 posts
As of 4.0 the bad tanks have been put in their place. In Wrath the idea of tanking was aggro as much as you can and as much as you want. If you couldn't do that you were considered a bad tank.

Anyone who was around for end-game Burning Crusade will remember when a tank's skill was judged by how well they requested CC, how well they maneuvered mobs away from CC'd mobs, and how well they compensated when CC was broken.

Wrath required little to no skill at being a tank. As a tank it was fun to aggro everything in sight. But after two years of that, those of us who tank for the unique challenge only a tank can get, it grew tiring.

I am by far not a min-max hardcore raider. I ENJOY the challenge that Cataclysm has brought us in both healing and tanking. I actually get to think.
Painda - 90 Monk <IXOYE> (Christian guild, Medivh, US)
The Adventures of Captain Blazer - Facebook Sci-fi Story
CorpseCamp.Us - Funny, ironic, or pathetic things that happen in MMOs
"Trade Chat" wrote:
We've had talking cows from day one, and you're throwing a fit about talking panda's? Get over it.

# Dec 18 2010 at 8:43 AM Rating: Decent
9 posts
Too many players (kids mostly) are more concerned with DPS meters than group dynamics. My main is a Warrior tank, and needs a bit more time than a Pallie to get and hold aggro. I've tried marking by kill order, but ppl will still attack out of sequence from the jump so they can get those high single target #'s.

Survivability of the group usually depends on how quickly I'm able to change targets to regain threat, the challenge is not to lose threat in bigger mobs when ppl aren't respecting kill order or watching their threat. It's still easier for dps to change targets than let their aggro climb, but for the sake of their #'s they don't. THEN they have the nerve to blame the tank for a wipe. I've also gotten to the point where I'll let the "DPS fiends" die (on both my tank and Heal toons) just to let them learn how to learn their place in the group. FYI: it's a good idea that Tank and Healers are on the same page for this to work consistently.

# Dec 17 2010 at 5:44 PM Rating: Default
79 posts
As most people know here I play MULTIPLE classes... On my main (DarkPoett on Shadow Council) I don't have a single problem with threat... Most tanks shouldn't die within the first 10 seconds of a pull so for pallys having problems with threat I suggest this rotation..

Divine Plea ( generates 3 holy power instantly along with the insta mana regen that your going to burn right off the start)

Hand of Reckoning ( You taunt 4 seconds of auto aggro)

Avenger Shield ( To make you pull on single and MULTI targets)

Shield of righteousness ( Burns your 3 holy power and puts you around 85k aggro )

DEPENDING ON SINGLE OR MULTI Crusader Stike or Hammer of righteousness


holy wrath

and if you want ( but really isn't needed Avenging wrath)

This usually puts my starting aggro all together at or around 150-175k aggro... by that time my seals, damage from Consecrate, and
a normal CS or HR 3x then depending on your health ( if you are loosing a bit more health then you should use your holy power for your insta heal if you aren't just keep adding to your aggro with Shield of Righteousness)

This rotation is extremely hard to out dps by any class. You can then focus most of your time worrying about moving out of the way of crap on the ground or 1 hit kill moves or using your 2 interrupts ( avengers shield has an auto cool-down ability that comes in handy ESP on the first boss in Heroic SFK)

They made it to where tanks HAVE TO BE ACTIVE at all times even more so then DPS at times. You won't believe how many interrupts I pop off compared to any other class out there... I went into SFK with 1 mage, a warrior, and a rogue and yet I had 18 interrupts compared to the warriors 3 and the rogues 1.... ( Mages have a 20 something second cool down on theirs so thats understandable..

Just saying tanking was changed enough to make it a challenge and to where only more skilled players can do it... what is horrible is what they did to healers... if NO ONE uses their CC then most likely you will die... CC is a must now again and its both a good and bad thing... you go into an instance with more then one DPS warrior kiss your CC goodbye...
# Dec 17 2010 at 10:43 AM Rating: Decent
4,445 posts
There is plenty of challenge in the game now without having to fight to hold threat. None of this was a problem before patch 4.0 either.
# Dec 18 2010 at 9:50 AM Rating: Good
the whole point of the blog is to say that wrath was a mistake in the fact that aggro was not a problem at all unless you sucked as a tank. They want groups to have to coordinate and work together, is that so bad? When we used to cc and do kill targets the high end people got to know each other better. I don't know how many times I've gotten praised so far on my mage for actually knowing when and how to sheep something. and on my tanks how impressed people are with me being able to keep aggro. Taking the game old school...thank god.
Kill em all, let Cazic-Thule sort them out!!
# Dec 21 2010 at 10:44 AM Rating: Default
18 posts
I like being able to think while i play, makes me feel AWESOME. BUT. I love this guys' Signiture! "Kill them all! Let Cazic Thule sort them out!" WOOT
~*~Da Gnome Warrior~*~
~*~Minii Tiephoon~*~

you sir, are not feared
remember you cant fear players
If only....
# Dec 20 2010 at 4:19 AM Rating: Good
38 posts
If only DPS were forced to read this post (not that some tanks aren't at fault)
85 Protection Warrior
82 Mage
60 Resto/ele Shaman
Post Comment

Free account required to post

You must log in or create an account to post messages.