Thoughts on Guides for the Quick and Dirty Audience

A few month’s ago I wrote about the two major audiences I see reading WoW guides. To quote myself:

Guides generally have two different audiences: “I want to jump in and play” and “I want to understand”. The vast majority of a guide’s readers will be in the former group, what I’ll call the quick’n’dirty players. They can range from new players who want to tank a 5 man with a freshly boosted monk, to experienced players who want to try a new class, to casual players who want to spend their precious few hours of free time playing a game instead of reading about it. They are interested in getting an introduction that is easy to digest and follow. Cookie cutter builds are targeted to this type of reader, and they often get frustrated when the answer to their customization questions is presented as subjective. They build the body of a readership and are really important for establishing an audience.

The latter group, the “I want to understand” people, or what I’ll call the comprehensive players, are more interested in why these choices were suggested and how to master the spec they are already familiar with. These are a smaller group that usually starts out as the quick’n’dirty type, but eventually want to know more. They may want help solving a particular problem, or they want to customize their character to their liking, or they simply want to be better at the game. They want explanations for everything, beyond the “do this”. Cookie cutter builds can actually harm this group because cookie cutter builds don’t offer nuance. A talent row that is actually competitive might come across as inflexible because the majority of cookie cutter builds suggest a single talent. Brewmaster healing talents and resource talents often hit this wall, because each row has a popular choice (Chi Wave and Ascension, currently), but there are good reasons to change that choice when need arises.

Today I want to talk about that quick’n’dirty audience, and how to better meet their needs. Right now my Brewmaster guide is sort of in the middle of catering to quick’n’dirty players and comprehensive players, which disrupts its ability to serve either group particularly well. To focus on the larger group, I want to find out what the majority of my guide readers look at, and use that information to craft a better experience.

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On Talent Restrictions, Social Friction, and Cookie Cutter Builds

Blizz, I need your help.

A few months ago there was a little movement among guide writers (you can see my contribution here) on how to discourage cookie cutter talent builds and advocate for individual experimentation. For one, swapping talents is just fun — you feel smart when you pick the right one, and it’s more rewarding when there’s an interesting choice and opportunity cost with that talent tier. Two, players will probably do better when they are encouraged to find talents that work for them and their current struggles, as opposed to the general “best in slot” talent. I mean, Blizzard knows all these things. Some devs even retweeted my arguments. But that all lies in contrast to the significant barriers that will be placed on talent swapping come Legion:

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Guide Writing and Cookie Cutter Builds

Yesterday there was an excellent post on Blizzard Watch written by Zoopercat, one of the creators of Ask Mr. Robot. In it, she shows through data (sims and surveys) that the community’s perception of a talent (or any other character combat customization) effects usage far more than the actual value of the talent would imply. The suggestions from cookie cutter builds, such as those found in guides, tend to present choices as black and white, and discourage customization, even when case-by-case choices are nearly equal or even more optimal. I highly recommend reading it.

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