Enrollment of threat meter addon, part 3

This is part 3 in a series where I’m posting drafts of the dissertation chapter I’m currently working on. Much of this is wordy and stream-of-consciousness, but I figure putting it out there and soliciting feedback can only be a good thing.

The chapter is on how the introduction of a threat meter addon changed my raid group’s practice over time.

Continued from http://markdangerchen.net/2010/01/19/enrollment-of-threat-meter-addon-work-in-progress/ and http://markdangerchen.net/2010/04/06/enrollment-of-threat-meter-addon-part-2/

About four months into our raid’s life, in February [or March?] of 2006, we started using a new addon called “KLHTM” or “KTM.”

Created by a player named Kenco, KTM did the work of keeping track of which abilities a particular player used while fighting a monster, how much threat those abilities generated, and then visually displayed that information to that player. What’s more, any instance of KTM could talk to other instances of KTM installed on other people’s machines and thereby aggregate all of the threat data for all players who had the addon installed, displaying relational charts of everyone’s threat level to each player.

<more after break>

[image of KTM here]

This allowed the offloading of human cognition to a nonhuman resource, effectively eliminating much of the guess work that went into World of Warcraft fights.

Before the addon, my raid group had progressed to the last boss in Molten Core. The write-up about our practice found in the Communication, Coordination, and Camaraderie paper describes how our chat was multi-threaded and interleaved, hierarchical and specialized, roughly divided by class role. Among many other things, one thing this allowed us to do was to be highly coordinated in our tactical take-down of a raid boss. By the time KTM was introduced, we had become quite proficient in dividing up our attentional resources and communicating along certain channels, escalating which channels were in use when necessary. After KTM became the standard, the necessity of using those chat channels was not as acute as before. Suddenly, any player of any class could keep track of the threat generated of all the other players. Not only did the addon help us with our cognition, it’s use also forever changed who communicated with whom about what, most notably allowing raid leaders to caution specific raiders about their threat generation. This effectively substituted knowledge-based trust in others with a technological advancement where trust or faith in other players’ ability to manage their threat didn’t matter. Yet, at the same time, KTM let us be much more efficient in our monster killing. We could ride the edge much more effectively, thereby taking down monsters faster than we had been before, which also lowered the learning curve associated with new encounters.

Kenco’s Threat Meter is an interesting example of Latour’s recognition that objects within an activity system may have multi-layered complex histories. The emergent network or arrangement of the objects in circulation, likewise, is complex and multi-layered, both in a micro to macro scale of physical closeness and across multiple timescales. [find quotes from Reassembling the Social to use here.. multiple ways of thinking about the shape of the network] KTM’s history is rooted in a gaming tradition of deconstructing [decrypting/decoding?] the underlying mechanics or math of a game, which, as a practice, probably existed shortly after the first game. Games, after all, essentially present players with some sort of system of rules or simulation to uncover. Pattern recognition is the main learning activity a gamer does. Early widespread understanding and taking advantage of the game rules probably came about with the rise in table-top role-playing games, most notably Dungeons & Dragons, where the practice of creating a character that exploited the game mechanics was called min-maxing–minimizing resources spent on relatively useless abilities and skills to maximize resources spent on the most effective abilities and skills. This was only possible after a player was able to grasp the underlying mechanics and figure out particularly effective combinations of abilities for specific situations. With the rise of digital role-playing and strategy games (particularly Starcraft) and access to web forums where players could discuss, debate, and co-construct their models about various game mechanics, the practice became known as theorycrafting, taking the name from the IC [double check this and reference Chris Paul’s work maybe].

[something about how D&D became about numbers rather than role-playing?]

Kenco was one of the early theorycrafters for World of Warcraft. In January 2006, he posted to the WoW European web forums that he thought it was possible to run a number of in-game tests, systematically testing out different variables, to uncover how WoW calculates threat. At the time of his posting, in fact, he had run several of these simulations, and he proceeded to discuss his findings, dispelling quite a few myths about threat generation. This was counter to the general thought that exact threat mechanics were forever going to be hidden from the player community.

It’s often said that we will never be able to work out the way threat and hate lists and mobs’ AI works, because it’s too complicated and unknowable, that we’ll only ever have crude approximations and guesses. I’ve conducted some decent, rigorous tests, and i have what i believe is a good list of hate values and explanations of gaining and losing aggro and the behaviour of taunt. I am also able to debunk a few myths about how threat works.


After carefully describing his major findings, he gave a list of suggestions for strategies to use in future fights and then ended his post with this: “There’s no amazing super secret randomised blizzard aggro algorithm. The concepts are simple and the values can be fitted with nice numbers. Even formulas for threat-reducing knockbacks can conceivably be worked out, if threat values are carefully monitored.”

In February [or March?] players started testing out Kenco’s first stabs at a threat meter addon, and on March 1, 2006 (according to Curse’s records), he released the first public version of KTM to Curse.com, a website devoted to hosting a World of Warcraft addon repository.

Since then, theorycrafting became common practice, probably most popularized by the site ElitistJerks.com, where class-based discussion boards devoted to damage and threat calculations feature players using sophisticated spreadsheets and custom tools to model and number-crunch every known, manipulable in-game variable. Figuring out threat and then exposing the underlying model to all players via the addon became so successful and so widely adopted into common raiding practice that Blizzard began to tighten up their raid encounters to depend even more on players’ ability to manage their threat and aggro levels.

[something about how WoW became about numbers and not role-playing… parallel to D&D’s evolution]

7 thoughts on “Enrollment of threat meter addon, part 3”

  1. A brief thought regarding D&D and roleplaying vs. Min-Maxing:

    The introduction of online D&D (including WoW, EQ, etc.) may be an interesting turning point. In a physical game, ‘enjoying the evening’ is more likely to be a significant part of it, and your ability to find situations that maximize your skills is limited. What confronts you is what the mind of your DM comes up with, and your ability to maximize is limited to his ability to allow room for that. *Some* can still go on, certainly (ie, charisma is a dump stat), and people definitely skew to the ‘norm’ of a campaign.

    Online, you have much more ability to seek out the sort of situation that rewards your maximization. Being a raider vs. a casual player vs. primarily PvP will all reward slightly different sets of skills.

    Would be fun to have some sort of game played both LAN and MMO, and see if specialization is the same or different in those cases.

  2. I really like this thread you’re pulling out here about the parallel reduction to number gaming (pun intended) between (A)D&D and WoW. One thing which I think is personally interesting is how table top has become very attractive for me again after being immersed in WoW because it doesn’t need to be a min/maxing game. The GM has the opportunity to run the campaign or session towards grinding or towards RP, and to give the boot to any rule lawyers if they so choose.

    Of course, I’ve had almost no opportunities to indulge in table top over the last few years. That said I have LARPed a handful of times, and the joy I’ve taken in it is definitely tied to it’s RP centricity. Notably, these were theatrical LARPs where use of number based mechanics is very slim.

  3. Hey again

    Think it’s great get get a chance to follow your work in progress, and a cookie for you for having the guts to allow other readers along the way ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s really nice seeing it develop. I love the idea for the paper and think it’s coming along nicely, but since critique is what we do – I have some for you :

    1) Your descriptions of game mechanics (especially that of rogues in part 2) is longer and more elaborated then necessary to make a point about how threatmeters are used. While the points being made (such as slice and dice > ss due to threat) are valid, they can be condensed and simplified to give more room to your theoretical argument.
    2) In part 3 I think you are getting onto the real interesting stuff. In attempting to describe KTM and its uniqueness – how setting it into a context of other addons? I’ve interviewed a few players about their addon use, and one thing that is consistent is that threatmeters (together with oRA or CTRA) is not actually considered addons, they are seen as necessities. They are not a personal selection, but rather something enforced by the guild/community, and in such have a different position to other addons.
    If you bring KTM up in regards to other addons, it’s worth nothing how many addons is actually making code and features visible and measurable. From having location displayed in coordinates to keeping track of monetary gain/losses in a session – showing bars and icons for things previously hidden, and in such turning the gameinterface more into a controlroom.
    3)As for history of min-maxing: I think linking it to the general powergamer culture might be all thats needed to put it into a context.
    In that regard I found this article to be quite wellwritten on the history and ideas of powergamers:
    Silverman, Mark, and Bart Simon. 2009. Discipline and Dragon Kill Points in the Online Power Game. Games and Culture 4, no. 4: 353-378. doi:10.1177/1555412009343572.

    They continue on the work/play distinction which atleast I see as central to the idea of powergaming/hardcore gaming.

    4) As a theoretical point I think a focus on delegation will really strengthen your argument. What exact jobs are being delegated to the threatmeter? Who would otherwise be responsible?

    In such Latour’s Missing masses article is always a fun re-read ๐Ÿ™‚

    5) ah, and a last point to follow up on the ideas of min-maxing and using the game to the fullest. Mia Consalvo writes some interesting stuff about cheating, and how cheating (and sharing cheats) is a part of playing. Might be a bit on the side, but who knows. Just a thought ๐Ÿ™‚

    6) Theorycrafting – Dont know if anyone have done anything meaningful on this yet? I know Torill Mortensen said she was working on something, but haven’t seen anything published. Have you come across anything?

    Think that was the most immediate thoughts. Good luck with further work, looking forward to reading it ๐Ÿ˜€


  4. Thanks all for the great comments! This is why I find it valuable to put up works in progress. ๐Ÿ™‚

    It’s all very drafty and likely needs to be edited down, so thanks for the feedback about that Kristine.

    Moses, et al., I’m not sure how much I can say about D&D and min-maxing actually. I was just throwing ideas out there, but I suppose I can do some research and reference people who’ve written about it (if any). Brian, my admittedly novice group of D&D players in high school started trending towards monty hall playing, which is what made me think of the parallel… well, that and the fact that each new edition of D&D seems to refine combat mechanics… esp. when they introduced all those feats…

    As far as theorycrafting, I know Chris Paul talked a bit about theorycrafting at the Internet Researchers conference, but I’ll have to follow-up with him to see if he’s published stuff.

  5. Oh, and for KTM as the norm… I’m going to argue that it definitely was not the norm when we first started, as it hadn’t been invented yet. Some of the players I played with considered it bordering on cheating or exploiting and thought Blizzard would ban the mod. Now, of course, no one would dream of raiding without Skada or Omen or something similar to KTM installed, and Blizzard started including threat monitoring into the base UI…

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