Thursday, October 29, 2015

4.50. Relatively Difficult

Mature and co. pull out a clutch kill of Heroic Hakkar,

Cruel Irony

The lay of the land hadn't changed much. Trails snaked through the brush in familiar patterns. Large creeping voodoo masks and totems peered out from behind hunched over trees and epiphytic ferns.

"This is a lot easier than I remember it."

Both Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman got a face-lift at the end of April (via Patch 4.1). Exploring the changes hadn't ranked highly on my list of priorities. A month later, we were teetering at the precipice of Patch 4.2, and I couldn't shake the feeling we'd been shortchanged. DoD had run out of time. The 25-Man progression team had missed its quota.

"Yeah, remember when 10s were hard?"

"10s were never hard."

I compared our current predicament to the freshest tier in my mind: the last one, the end of Wrath. Icecrown Citadel: all heroics completed, save The Lich King himself. 11/12. A respectable 92%. Tier 11, by contrast, had not gone nearly as well. Five full months of raiding yielded 4/6 in Blackwing Descent, 1/6 in Bastion of Twilight, and 0/2 in Throne of the Four Winds. Fourteen heroic bosses, and we hadn't even hit 50%.

That wasn't the most embarrassing part. The 25-Man still had two unfinished normal encounters.

Unable to complete normal modes? Way to scrub things up. 

I shuddered, thinking of the effect it would have on the guild, its members, and its morale. 

If you can't hack a normal mode, why are you even here?

"Not the ones you grew up on, skippy. I don't mean 'Ulduar' hard, I mean 'Karazhan' hard."

"Ulduar wasn't hard."

"My point exactly."

The tier 11 normal modes were a stark contrast to the the cakewalk handed us in Wrath. Cataclysm's top-heavy design forced raiders to digest the complexity of each encounter at the onset. A barrage of mechanics were force fed down our collective throats. And while the truly old school veterans of WoW reveled in the return to glory days, those lacking a pre-WotLK perspective were unprepared for their egos to withstand that much damage.

I dare say they were coddled.

The realities of raiding in Cataclysm slapped them silly. Like clockwork, indignance followed, precipitating the demise of an increasing number of 25-Man guilds throughout those first five months. Even DoD hadn't been saved from this outcome. But in a cruel twist, the 10s did not flourish as I suspected they might, and for a reason I did not see coming. Blizzard's struggle to maintain parity between the difficulty of both 10- and 25-Man raids produced something far more disruptive to their community.

Mature and co. maintain tight positioning as
they defeat Daakara, earning "Ring Out",

Perception vs. Reality

Gamers demanded that WoW return to its former, more challenging glory, as it was in the days of pre-Wrath. Blizzard responded in kind, and the resulting raids of tier 11 were decidedly tougher. And, since the men in the high castle mandated that Cataclysm's raid design be such that both 10s and 25s provide an equal experience, Blizzard took great pains to ensure that same "front-loaded difficulty" design was present in both the 10 and the 25.

Any raider you speak to that's worth their weight will tell you that an encounter's margin of error is inversely proportional to the difficulty. As the challenge increases, your chances of recovering from mistakes decreases. 25s have the numbers on their side (so the naysayers claim), and it is of this skewed reality that was borne the sentiment that "25s have it easy, the 10s are the real challenge." They claimed we straight up had more opportunities to recover from a failure than a 10-Man raid.

Honestly, I can't disagree with that sentiment. We absolutely did have more opportunities to recover from emergencies than 10-Man raids, and it absolutely was a major factor the community used to differentiate the 10 from the 25. But raiding is complex; it literally involves thousands of variables that combine to paint a complete picture of what is easy and what is hard. "That we had more people to recover from an emergency" alone is not enough to declare the 10s the winner in the which is more difficult? contest.

But it was enough for the majority. So they did.

The widest cross-section of raiders, those holier-than-thou ego maniacs that were fresh off the slaying of the Lich King, were now hitting brick walls after giving their former 25-Man guilds the middle finger. Rather than stick with the tried and true strategy of practice makes perfect, they opted to take the easy way out: re-assemble as a 10-Man guild, and target the smaller, "easier" versions for equitable loot. After all, that's exactly how it worked for them in the previous expansion.

But these new 10-Man raids were more difficult than they imagined. At least, at the onset, anyway. The normal 10s of Cataclysm were eating WotLK raiders for lunch. And, being the lackluster players that they were -- already good at finding excuses as to why they shouldn't have to participate in a 25-man -- were equally good at blaming everyone but their own laziness for their own 10-Man's downfall. The vast majority of them quit raiding, and in some cases, walked away from WoW altogether.

And reader, we're not even at the cruel twist part yet.

For those elite few raiders who remained in their 10-Man guilds, carrying the hardcore torch, channeling the tenets of effort and skill, when those guilds punched through the normal modes...well, that is when the tables truly turned on guilds like DoD. Because when those same players stepped into 10-Man heroic raids, they enjoyed a decidedly easier time than the 25-Man guilds -- ironically, for exactly the same reason whiners claimed the 25s had it easier.

Remember the Cataclysm raid design: front-load the difficulty in the normal mode. Force players to learn 85-90% of the mechanics, right out of the gate. We saw it. We lived it. Heroic: Magmaw, Heroic: Chimaeron, Heroic: Atramedes, and so on, and so on. The shift from normal to heroic only ever involved slight adjustments to the original design. It meant we only had to practice and refine small bits, added in to the mix. Things could certainly go wrong in Heroics (and when we failed, we failed spectacularly), but over time, those weakest links in the raid, those outliers -- they'd get it.

Which meant the faster you could identify the weakest links and fix them, the sooner you could close out a heroic kill.

And, by comparison, how many weak links do you think a 10-Man raid would have, in comparison to a 25-Man?

The defense rests, your honor.

Everything is Awesome Relative

To the layperson, raiding looked exactly the same as it had in Wrath. 10-Man raids were being completed much faster than 25-Man raids. The difference between the two, however, was subtle, and only the hardcore nerds could be counted on to take a magnifying glass to these nuances.

Raids were more difficult, period. When distilled down into two different sizes that were meant to equal one another, 25-Man (normal modes) ended up being easier than 10-Man. And since the 10s made up the majority, this was the most vocal group dominating forums with their complaints. The echo chamber only grew larger.

Meanwhile, attention to actual raid progress was measured only by those who had punched through normals, and were enjoying healthy success in heroics. These were the most dedicated, most skilled players...that simply chose the 10-Man as their preference of raid size. For these elite players, just as it was in Wrath, their execution of content came noticeably quicker than it did to their 25-Man brethren. Because these 10-Man heroics were also tuned to be as close in difficulty to their 25-Man heroic counterparts, there was far less complexity for them to have to refine, shifting from normal to heroic. The 10-Man argument went both ways. Yes, we 25s had more opportunities to recover from emergencies, but conversely, the 10s had less loose ends to tie up when mastering a heroic strategy.

The verdict, then, read as follows: From easiest to most difficult, it was 25-Man normals, followed by 10-Man normals, then 10-Man heroics, and finally, the 25-Man heroics. Yet the community remained eternally locked in conflict over which size was easier, passionately defending their "preferential size" while failing to acknowledge the nuances of how a normal vs. heroic ended up manifesting in Cataclysm's front-loaded design.

Sadly, neither the community nor Blizzard would paint clarity around these nuances. And why would either of them choose to vilify themselves?

The vast majority of the community (read: the most vocal, via the forums, blogs, etc.) overwhelmingly claimed 10s were harder (referring, of course, to the normals). To state the opposite would be admitting they were wrong, that it was they themselves who sucked at raiding -- not something gamers would readily admit. Blaming others for their own injustices is something gamers have become quite adept at.

And as for Blizzard, whose design vision for Cataclysm mandated they aim for equality in the difficulty of both 10s and admit the opposite would be to go against their "commitment to quality", an edict their designers live and die by. "We promised the WoW community an equal experience to 10s and 25s, and by the GODS we are going to stick to that path...even if we're still actually sort of turning dials, and iterating over certain choices...WE'RE ON THE PATH!"

That's what's most important, right? That the intent is to deliver?

Blizzard has a good track record of admitting defeat and back-pedaling, but only when there is nothing left to try, nothing left to tweak, no final recourse. There was still plenty of time left in Cataclysm to try new things.

Plenty of time left...for Blizzard.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

4.49. New Dimensions

The weapon of choice, MSI's
GeForce GTX 560, "Twin Frozr II" (Source:

Death of a Video Card

The only thing I love more than video kicking video kicking out in the middle of a raid. Take solace in the knowledge that my guild was spared from the profanity that followed my graphic card's demise. When that happens, your entire system tends to lock up as a result, and digital f-bombs have nowhere to land.

Once the rage subsided (and I'd texted the raid to let them know that, yes, I was sans computer), the shopping began. I wasn't so much angry that I had to buy a new card. It was the total lack of control around the situation that upset me the most. For years, I preached to my guild the gospel of being prepared for emergencies like these. But what did that mean, in this context? Have an extra $400 video card just lying around in a box? Unless you're a huge computer nerd that sits on boxes of unused hardware (or perhaps a pro gamer)...who does that? Some contingency plans just weren't practical, even for the seasoned gamer.

At least I had leftover hardware that I could fall back on, inherited at the demise of my former job. The tether to the guild lifeline remained intact. Often, when guildies suffered hardware fatalities, they were out for the long haul.

In some cases, I wouldn't hear from them again.

A forced break from the game caused more than one of my guildies to gain some perspective on their game / life balance. In the early days, the loss was temporary. But as of late, breaking from the game did not work out well in DoD's favor. "I'll be good to go next week" was now taking a backseat to the more popular "I've had some time to think...", a sign that I shouldn't expect to see them sign-up anytime soon.

I surfed through the available video cards, until finally landing on the MSI GeForce GTX 560, aka the "Twin Frozr II". It seemed a half-decent step up from where'd I’d been, framerate wise, and ordered the replacement. It was dead out of the box.

Profanity feels good, but isn't a particularly effective way to RMA broken hardware.

Two weeks later, a replaced and functional card was in my machine, and I was back to a full, glorious frame rate…

...along with a bonus feature I hadn't planned on.


Maloriak was being...uncooperative.

Expand. Collapse. Move back. Move forward. Do the hokey pokey. Turn yourself around. It felt like I was in a constant state of movement. The multicolored phases, named for the vials Maloriak tossed into his cauldron, were superb in keeping us preoccupied with everything but killing him. Was it too much to ask to just get some concerted, uninterrupted DPS on the boss?

Yes. Yes it was.

Blue treated us to Flash Freeze, repeating the nightmare of Hodir, encasing ranged players in blocks of ice. The raid was forced to free them, while Biting Chill debuffed melee at random, forcing them to flee the group, lest they spread the effects of AoE frost damage. Breaking frozen players out of their icy shell rewarded with a blast of AoE damage to anyone near. More stress on the healers. Maloriak just chuckled.

Red forced us to restrict our positioning to only melee range, in an effort to distribute the damage of his Scorching Blast. Meanwhile, Maloriak belched Consuming Flames onto specific players. Awash in an inferno, these players enjoyed the benefits of increased fire damage, making them a likely candidate for an early death.

Whether Red followed Blue, or vice versa, Green was always next. Debilitating Slime sprayed out from his cauldrons, dousing everyone in the room with a 100% vulnerability to all damage. It was our one catch up on aberrations, burning through whichever of the creatures remained alive.

Did I mention the aberrations?

There were 18 in total, trapped in cages that flanked Maloriak's position in the center. The aberrations begged for a Goldilocks strategy: release them -- not too fast, not too slow -- but at just the right pace. In a perfect world, you'd spread their release across two cycles, which meant 9 per cycle. The aberrations would be off-tanked until moments into the Green phase. Then, we'd group all nine of them up at the entrance to the room, blasting them down with every cleave and AoE available. The cycle would then begin anew.

Maloriak made certain that we'd be as far from a perfect world as possible.

Maloriak puts up a good fight,
Blackwing Descent


The boss's kit required a keen eye and steady, confident timing to endure. Mixed amongst his spell-cast to release aberrations, he would also Remedy himself -- a heal over time, solved with a purge or a dispel. Remedy grew in potency with each tick, so slower reflexes punished us more severely. Maloriak also called down bolts of lightning which leapt across the raid in an Arcane Storm, another ability requiring an interruption.

Maloriak cycled through these abilities so frequently that no one player could hit them all. It was very easy to mix them up. What am I interrupting next? Release Aberration? No, Arcane Storm. Dammit, I just interrupted Aberration. Aberrations hit with just enough destructive force to make one too many unwieldy to off-tank. Mistakes were costly.

I was reminded of the Reliquary of Souls, back in Black Temple. One wrong interrupt, and the attempt unravels. Blain kept protective watch over which spell was next, calling them out over vent, alerting each group of handlers -- mains and backups. We pushed for excellence, and had contingencies when mistakes happened. They happen. Plan accordingly.

The classic burn phase came at the 25% health mark. With every cooldown popped, we unleashed our combined force into Maloriak's warped, pathetic frame. But even now, there was encroaching danger in the periphery. Prime Subjects -- two new adds -- had to be picked up and off-tanked. Absolute Zero began spreading, orbs of periodic frost damage which would explode if coming into contact with another player. And Magma Jets continued to flood Maloriak's room, sparking memories of Mimiron's hard mode, as large paths of fire shot out from the boss's position. The scarred, burning trails left by Magma Jets slowly painted us to a fiery corner.

But of course, dear reader, you already know all of this -- because I've already told the tale of Normal Mode. That's right. This...all of this...was Normal mode, and we knocked it out on the first night in Blackwing Descent.

Tonight, however, Maloriak wasn't being as cooperative as he was that first night in Blackwing Descent -- a weekend now infamously associated with off-handed remarks from former guildies claiming we weren't as efficient as we could've been.

Our "efficiency" was about to take a huge hit.

Heroic brought a fourth color to the cycle. Dark was the new color on deck. Like Green (always ending a cycle), Dark began every cycle, and was incredibly effective at getting us off on the wrong foot. Entropy reigned supreme.

Each Dark phase produced five vile swills at our feet. These gray globules would immediately begin spewing Dark Sludge: puddles of black ooze hitting for shadow damage twice a second. Puddles spawned quickly, one every second. Off-tanks kited the sludge away, ensuring the puddles wouldn't spawn in stacks that destroyed the raid with a flurry of hits. Melee and ranged had to burn the sludge down while avoiding the cloudy trail of slime left behind. The old "expand for Blue, collapse for Red" strategy had an entirely new component to it. How fast can your roster re-position after having chased sludge and dodged slime?

Sounds easy. It wasn't.

Falling behind on slimes and dying to various puddles only made the transition to a Blue or a Red phase that much worse. The raid was well behind its quota by each subsequent pass. It all came down to the Green phase, the final chance to catch up by grouping the Aberrations at the rear entrance and AoEing them down. Thanks to various deaths from the thousand-and-one gifts Maloriak had in store for us, Green seemed a better term to describe our skill, rather than the color of the phase.

I watched as each successive attempt ended in misery. Neither fire, nor frost, nor even shadowflame could cut through the pack of aberrations. As the next Dark wave began with Aberrations still alive, there was little reason to continue.

We left the raid weekend of May 13th/15th without a Heroic: Maloriak kill.

The 25-Man progression team defeats Heroic: Maloriak,
Blackwing Descent

All About the AoE

Interest in raid progression surged to such a degree that, for the first time since Cataclysm's launch, I actually had to bench several players, heading into the May 20th/22nd raid weekend. This was a welcome boon, because it meant I was able to hold players accountable. During Wrath, a bench was present week-to-week, but these days, I barely had enough to fill the roster. Once the concept of overflow returned to rotations, I could pick the dedicated, while pushing players that needed practice back to the end of the line.

The raid's energy was focused on how best to maximize their AoE, and a forum discussion kept them busy in their class forums. I sensed the excitement and renewed purpose, and wished there was a way to sweeten the deal. Something fun and different that the roster might perceive as a reward for their dedication.

I hopped out of the "Raid Rotations" forum, then glanced at "Accomplishments" -- the place I posted all our kill shots, the celebration of past victories and a focused channel of guild spirit. Players seemed to get a thrill when they were a part of kill shot, that one moment etched into eternity that proves their commitment. See me on the left? I was there. I helped DoD make this happen.

Then, an idea popped.

I finished up the raid rotation post, and mentioned that whomever was present in the defeat of Heroic: Maloriak would receive a small but "fun" surprise.


Hells keeled over dead, going from full health to zero in a fraction of a second. Stacked puddles were unforgiving, even to the mightiest of our roster.

"I've discovered the secret of keeping up with Hells," I said, dodging slime, "he has to die early."

"I still show him fourth," said Amatsu.


Slimes were done, just as Red began. We collapsed at the boss's feet. Moments later, a protective golden shell, Power Word: Barrier, shielded us as Maloriak hit Littlebear like a flamethrower.

"Littlebear, get out", said Blain. Lit with Consuming Flames, the hunter side-stepped and continued to unleash a barrage of shots into Maloriak.

"Keep going," Blain commanded. Littlebear turned and sped away.

With Red complete, we spread apart for Blue, our raid meters alerting us if anyone was nearer than 10 yards from each other. "We're quite far, healers. Just FYI."

Blain issued his next order, "Alright, interrupt the next aberration."

The off-tanks reported in.

"Amatsu has four."

"Ak has five."

Aktauren, Jungard's cousin, was off-tanking the second set of aberrations. Normally relegated to DPS, and certainly not one of our primary tanks, Aktauren maintained his post, despite his health meter spiking. Unchained held Maloriak in place.

"Phase change in three."

"Group up."

Everyone in the raid, along with Maloriak himself, were knocked back across the room, near the entrance. Amatsu and Aktauren raced to join the group, their aberration in tow. The floor lit with the colors of each school of magic laying waste to Maloriak and his minions. Howling Blast. Mind Sear. Impact Combustion. Shadowflame. Multishot, Serpent Spread and Explosive Trap. Wild Mushroom and Starfall. Maloriak and his ilk were ablaze with red, blue and purple explosions.

DPS had done its homework. And it showed.

Green ended...and nothing remained. The aberrations were disintegrated. Maloriak returned to his cauldron, and we followed. Still in shock from the ludicrous display of damage, I shared my thoughts in the most succinct way I knew how.

"Fuckin' shit."

We repeated the cycle. Kept cool, kept focused. Sludge put the pressure on healers as we ate through it, desperate to avoid puddles. We wrapped them just in time for Red, followed methodically by Blue. Blain called for a DPS reduction, to whittle away excess aberrations. Then, Green. The knockback. The magical AoE lightshow. Back to the cauldron, and a push into phase two.

Bloodlust out. Pull Maloriak around the outside of the room. Watch for the spread of fire. Get away from those ice orbs. Close those open mics, keep it down in Vent! Eat a healthstone. Burn that Divine Hymn. Keep it going, keep it going. Three dead...Amatsu is down. Prime Subject is loose, stay alive, stay alive...

Maloriak's lifeless body fell to the floor. Temporary titles popped above everyone's name. I zoomed the camera in to get a better look:

Mature, Slayer of Stupid, Incompetent and Disappointing Minions


In vent, I heard Bonechatters immediately go off like a broken record:

"Wutsthesurprise, wutsthesurprise, wutsthesurprise..."

I motioned everyone over to Maloriak's corpse, prepping them for the official DoD killshot. But before snapping photos, I alt-tabbed to the desktop and switched on a new feature of the Twin Frozr II; more specifically, a feature present in all of this next generation of nVidia chips. Once I had the right amount of shots taken, I posted them to our "Accomplishments" forum...

...and reminded the guild to have their 3D glasses on before viewing.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

4.48. Insufferable Sanctimonious Fanatical Jerk

A player works through the gypsy's questions,
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

Thou Hast Lost an Eighth!

There were at least a dozen pages, all laid out in a multiple-choice style quiz. The last page of questions revealed the total count: 70.

Damn. That must be some quiz.

I paid no attention to the person discussing corporate policies, continuing to examine the quiz and its related paperwork. The back sheet listed a set of titles.

"The Architect"

"The Mediator"

"The Entertainer"

I counted sixteen titles in all. Continuing to ignore the presentation unfolding before the audience, I began penciling in answers.

The questions were bizarre. Answering them without context was difficult. They seemed to drift back and forth from acutely personal, to wildly broad and ambiguous. Unsurprisingly, I found myself seeking to fill in context with what I knew best.

"Common sense is: A) rarely questionable, or B) frequently questionable?

Depends on which of my guild members you're talking about.

"Are you more interested in: A) what is actual, or B) what is possible?"

Well, if it’s bench-filler night, we’re not going to be pushing heroics, are we?

"Writers should: A) 'say what they mean, and mean what they say', or B) express things more by use of analogy."

Parents scold young children for misdeeds, free from the confines of logical self-awareness that the children, by their very youth and innocence, lack the necessary perspective into the very issues on which they're being reprimanded! I penciled in my answer and moved on.

"Is it worse to be A) unjust, or B) merciless?"

Damn. This is some quiz.

I agonized over each answer. Years earlier, similar questions were asked of me. The difference was, back then, they were presented in all the glory of 4-color CGA.

"During a pitched battle, thou dost see a fellow desert his post, endangering many. As he flees, he is set upon by several enemies. Dost thou A) justly let him fight alone; or B) risk sacrificing thine own life to aid him?"

Let him fight alone! He got his own damn self into that mess! What a coward!

"Thee and thy friends have been routed and ordered to retreat. In defiance of thy orders, dost thou A) stop in compassion to aid a wounded companion; or B) sacrifice thyself to slow the pursuing enemy, so others can escape?"

Man, this is tough...I guess I would stop and help the wounded guy.

"After 20 years thou hast found the slayer of thy best friends. The villain proves to be a man who provides the sole support for a young girl. Dost thou A) spare him in compassion for the girl; or B) slay him in the name of justice?"

...uh, I don't...know. I mean...both of these things needs to happen.

...I don't know.

Why were the gypsy's questions so difficult to answer? And why did I care so much about getting the right answer?

A fifteen year old, growing up in a small town in British Columbia, Canada, had few opportunities to fight in actual holy wars. There were no clash of iron sword, no lords nor fiefdoms, and certainly, no reason to make judgement calls about who lives or who dies.

The only way I could answer Lord British's carefully crafted questions was by translating them into real life situations. In doing so, I became aware of a troubling reality: not all scenarios have a positive outcome. The gypsy in Ultima IV was my very own Kobayashi Maru.

Sometimes, you have no choice but to decide on what sucks the least. But you have to decide.

You have to.

...I...guess I spare the guy.

"Thy path is clear!"
The 16 personality types in the MBTI
(Source: 16

What'd You Call Me?

I glared at my results in denial.

"ISFJ: The Defender"

Come again?

"The Defender is filled with a deep-seated need to serve others; they 'need to be needed'."

Is this some kind of joke? How do you pull servant out of 'programmer'?

"ISFJs are perfectionists and often under-appreciated. Their reliability is unquestionable, and because of this, they are often taken advantage of. The fruits of their labor are frequently enjoyed by other personality types less inclined to harbor feelings of guilt around getting others to do the real work."

Oh. A programmer that builds software for billion dollar companies. I guess that would be the way.

"ISFJs are notoriously bad at delegating…"

Well, if you want something done right…

"...but rarely seek acknowledgement, as they have a deep-seated belief that it is somehow wrong to want to be rewarded for demonstrating effort."

...or maybe it's because pride isn't a virtue? That walking around, pounding your chest like you're some kind of bad-ass only makes you look foolish and embarrassing and…

...and why I am sitting here, trying to come with excuses why this isn't me?

The more I fought with the analysis, the more it made sense.

"ISFJs are methodical and accurate, and have a good memory, particularly as they relate to situations involving people."

So, it would be pretty easy for me to, say, recall the events of eight years of guild leadership?

"They are pleasant and loyal as a member of a team, but are prone to feeling stressed and overwhelmed in roles in leadership."

So it would seem.

"The loyalties they form are personal rather than institutional."

...which makes it difficult to kick people out of a guild without feeling guilty. Or giving people more chances than they deserve.

"ISFJs provide emotional and practical support to what few people they consider their close friends, and the longer the relationship, the more an ISFJ values it."

...which might explain the constant need to dwell on relationships now ended.

"ISFJs aren't terribly good at managing or discussing distress…"

Go fuck yourself.

"...which manifests as unexplained moodiness to those not acquainted with the ISFJ. It is important to remember, when dealing with an ISFJ, that hidden under apparent 'bursts of outrage' is a personality type destined to think of others before themselves, and is very likely bearing the burden of an issue, so that you do not have to."

I sat back in my chair and stared off into the abyss of the auditorium's extremities, oblivious to the shouting costumed musketeers around me, their plastic toy sabres dancing in the air.


To be honest, I expected the geeks populating my guild to be dismissive of a personality test. They'd want to see the numbers, the proof, the analytical data backing up the "assessment". It wouldn't have surprised me to see them theorycraft every vague rationale to the point of elimination. That was, after all, the type of culture I was trying to foster in DoD.

If you don't understand something, don't guess. Do the research.

To be certain I'd get involvement, I promised a little forum Karma to sweeten the deal. They dove right in, awaiting their evaluation (shared in confidence upon completion). I encouraged them to discuss their findings in the forum; many chose to do so. And over the course of the next several weeks, the thread grew hot with activity.

The data continued to pour in. Word trickled down from the heavy forum users to those who preferred the isolation of the game, and with it, came more piqued interest. By the time the quiz's fifteen minutes of fame were up, I had enough entries to field two full 25-man raid teams...and still have several on the bench. And the data itself was rich with trivia:
  • The most common personality in my guild: ESTJ (The Executive, 15.4%), the fifth most common personality type out in the wild.
  • Conversely, the rarest type in real life, INFJ (The Advocate) made up 6.1% of the guild. In fact, 6.1% of the guild (4 players) was split among four types:
  1. INFJ (The Advocate)
  2. INFP (The Mediator)
  3. ENFP (The Campaigner)
  4. ENFJ (The Protagonist)
  • Rarer still, within DoD (and conversely, more prevalent in real life) were ESFP (The Entertainer) and ENTP (The Debater), both at 4.5%
  • The four most common types in DoD were paired mirrors of each other:
  1. ISTJ (The Logistician) and ESTJ (The Executive)
  2. INTJ (The Architect) and ENTJ (The Commander)
  • ISTJ (The Logistician) made up the brunt of DoD’s leadership.
  • ISFP (The Adventurer), ESTP (The Entrepreneur), ISTP (The Virtuoso) and INTP (The Logician) all shared the exclusive 1.5% slice with me -- DoD had only one of each.
That last nugget was of particular interest. Of the sixty-six guildies having completed the quiz, only five entries represented their type in isolation. Yes, I was the only ISFJ in the group, but I wondered how many more were out there. How many just didn't get around to taking the test? And why?

Perhaps they knew the truth -- the truth I wouldn't find out until months passed.

The Myers Briggs was a complete and total sham.

The most accurate horoscope reading for 2015 available

A Constant Four-Point-Two

People much smarter than I figured out long ago that the validity of the MBTI as a means of gauging personality is...problematic, at best. A critical examination begins with its creators, Katharine Briggs, and her daughter, Isabel Myers.

Katharine and Isabel were social scientists much in the way that Brian Fellow, Tracy Morgan's SNL character, was an accredited zoologist that held an advanced degree in environmental studies. That is to say, they were not. The very test taken by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe was created not by the scientific rigor of the academic community, but by "enthusiastic young individuals with a love of sociology."

I adore enthusiasm. It's what got me interested in programming and learning about the mechanics of people management. But I am not an expert, and I'd want to be sure my readers knew that when examining my writing. Unfortunately, when considering the MBTI, the industry behaves in exactly the opposite manner, often citing the many studies that back the MBTI as a means to prove its academic rigor. But those "studies" are not as academic as one might expect.

At least half of all published material on the MBTI comes from the Center for the Application of Psychological Type which, coincidentally, also provides training for the MBTI. And training does not come cheaply. The advocacy and sales of the MBTI clock in at nearly $20 million annually. A core contingent that both totes a test's scientific accuracy while simultaneously benefiting from its lucrative profits shrouds the MBTI with an ethically gray cloud that grows uncomfortably dark with each new glance.

Perhaps the most telling piece of evidence to the MBTI's inefficacy came in 1948, just five years after the test was first published. A psychologist named Bertram Forer devised a personality test of his own, one that harbored a secret. The first set of students he administered it to were amazed at its ability to accurately identify each of their own traits and behavior. As part of the experiment, Forer asked them to rate that accuracy on a scale of 1-5. The average rating came back consistently at 4.2. That's when Forer revealed the secret...

...the evaluations were pulled at random from the local newspaper's astrology column.

Forer's experiment has been repeated hundreds of times since he "amazed" his initial subjects. The results are nearly always 4.2.

This was the Forer Effect in action: the tendency for us to accept generalized descriptions that could apply to a wide slice of the population, merely because we wish them to be true. To many, who we are and why we behave the way we do is a conundrum that troubles us, it is a puzzle we must solve.

We hear what we want to hear, agree with what looks like it is falling into place, unaware that confirmation bias is a Texas sharpshooter, drawing targets around the bullet holes so that we can agree, nay, insist that the test has hit its mark. It's enough to keep the Horoscope publishing industry alive and well, long after science has proven that (as the meme goes) the alignment of the stars and planets will not affect us in any way shape or form.

I heard what I wanted to hear. Perhaps not at first...but as I read through it, contemplating how much I agonized over those questions...they had to be right. It had to be right.

Maybe part of it was right?

Maybe just a bit of it was?

Or maybe it was just right in the sense that it was right for everybody...and nobody.


Questions remained.

Are there other, more accurate personality tests out there? Ones that have real scientific proof in identifying a person's type? Perhaps. The Big Five may be one such test, featuring traits that are easily both positive (agreeableness) and negative (neuroticism), which may help to keep the Forer Effect at bay during test administration. As the story goes, "more data is needed."

Why a company would ask its employees to take the test? For the exact same reason I wanted DoD to take it: I thought it would give me that insight, show me those patterns, help me connect the dots, so that I could understand my people better. Help me find the leaders and the followers. Just as I wanted to understand myself better, even after my gut instinct ate at me with the very first glance. This isn't you.

There are no shortcuts to understanding people, no slots you can easily place them in. But when companies grow large, they don't want to hear "no easy solutions". They want you to get it done. They want the "people" part of people management a little more efficient, a little more streamlined...

...a little more automated.

Any org (guild or company) that cares about its people should invest in tools with care, rather than grab at whatever is most "brilliantly marketed". The Myers Briggs test is popular and successful because of wishful thinking...and little else. But neither popularity nor success are a measure of accuracy, which is the one thing the MBTI needs, but lacks. Anyone who states otherwise hasn't done the research, and is merely guessing.