The "Hybrid Tax"

The debate about whether a "hybrid" class should be able to perform as well as "pure" classes has been around for far longer than I can recall. reported about a post on the official forums by Ghostcrawler on the twenty-sixth of October that addresses this topic yet again.

Before looking further at why I want to call attention to this particular issue, let's make certain some things are completely clear about what this means:

  • There are three roles: healing, tanking, and damage-dealing.
  • Hunters, Rogues, Mages, and Warlocks are the "pure" classes.
  • Druids, Death Knights, Priests, Paladins, Shaman, and Warriors are "hybrid" classes.
  • This does not mean a class is incapable or impractical in use in a DPS role. This merely that the hybrids will not, if all things are equal under equal conditions, perform "as well as" the pure classes. Note that there is a lot of room for interpretation and "grey area" in this statement.
  • There is not a "pure" tank.
  • There is not a "pure" healer.

While in theory this all makes perfect sense, it breaks down when some other thoughts are brought to light. Does this "hybrid tax" get applied further when taking into account the number of roles fulfilled (such as a class that can do all three roles versus one that can only fulfill two)? Should or shouldn't their be some reward for those able to master all available roles? Obviously there are a fair number of other variables that affect whether or not the "hybrid tax" is viewed as justifiable or not based on perception, and the perception of a player is to always side with the class or classes they play. Therefore, how can any measurement truly be applied that states "the fair and/or equitable way to keep things in balance is to do x or y?"

The debate arises so often when speaking of comparisons in healing and tanking that most are able to turn a deaf ear to the noise generated by those who are so blinded by their perspectives that they are unable to think through any semblance of rational thought. These types of questions must be viewed as objectively as possible when evaluating such things as class balance. This is one of those areas where the work done by Blizzard developers is certainly under appreciated.

The Philosophy of "Perception."

Think about these statements and how they are generally perceived, from the wording itself to the underlying meaning we impose on them based on what we think the meaning actually is:

  • "You should not be able to do the same thing I do as well as I do it."
  • "You should be able to do the same thing I do, but I should be able to do it a little bit better."
  • "We should both be able to do the same thing well. I should have a slight advantage because it is the only thing I can do."
  • "If everything were equal, I would be able to do a little better than you due to the way we are designed."
  • "Given equal circumstances, you should be able to do a little better than me as a result of my versatility in doing other things as well."

Each of those statements represents the same concept, yet each is interpreted differently based on the way in which it is worded. Trying to overanalyze something is futile. The overall meaning is, quite simply, that one is going to perform better than the other for one reason (be it skill, inequality in gear, or a number of other variables that simply cannot be taken into account in the scope of this post). The concept is, quite simply, that instead of trying to place some measurable value on what, exactly, it means to be "a little better" is a waste of energy and time. Strive to do the best possible and the decision will come down to which person is desired to be present, not which class that person plays.

Remember that how words are chosen is normally not at the forefront of a person's mind when trying to explain a concept. The overwhelming interest is in trying to get the point of the concept across.

In this case, the point is simply that viability is not a focus of the "hybrid tax." The entire issue is to ensure there is some level of fairness (complete fairness is impossible) when evaluating the ability of a pure class to outperform a hybrid class on completely equal footing while maintaining the ability for both classes to fill the role in question. Let's remember that when trying to provide feedback to the people that have to hear all sorts of variations on the above thoughts, and who try to remain objective in the face of "I can't do the exact same thing as x because I'm y, why do you hate me?" rants from players too blinded by their interpretation of what things should be, or of what things mean, to step back and look objectively at the same situation.