The extraordinary Cynwise published his latest class distribution numbers over the weekend; let’s take a quick look at the rogue bits.
I very much recommend reading Cynwise’s summary of the new data, in which he takes snapshots of various class-population measurements on U.S./EU servers at the start of Patch 5.3 and compares them to earlier patches (and expansions). There are oodles of charts and lots of numbers and it’s all very overwhelming for a former English major like me, but there are several key takeaway points worth noting:
- At the start of Patch 5.3, 6.2% of toons at max level were rogues. That’s up from 5.8% at the start of Patch 5.2, but still the lowest percentage of any class other than monks.
- Not including monks, rogues were the least-popular class in heroic raids and the second-least-popular class in competitive arena (after hunters). It may be that the PvP overbuffing we got for Patch 5.2 wasn’t around long enough to seriously alter rogue representation in arena, although it does look like the proportion of arena players who were rogues did increase quite a bit. (It’s just that the percentage was so low to begin with that increasing the proportion “quite a bit” still wasn’t enough to make them objectively “popular.”)
- Despite their low overall representation, rogue popularity at endgame grew more than any other class except monks during Patch 5.2. The number of level-90 rogues jumped 32%. (They just appear not to be finding their way into heroic raids or arena as frequently as other classes.)
- The total number of rogue toons in the game (across all levels) dropped during Patch 5.2. The drop was slight — only about 1% — but rogues were the only class who saw a reduction in total toon number between the start of Patch 5.2 and the start of Patch 5.3.
And then there’s this (quoting Cynwise):
At all levels, there are more Rogues than Monks, Warlocks or Shaman. There are almost as many Rogues as there are Priests! But Rogues are not making it to level 90. […]
Some of this might be due to Rogue populations swelling in late Cataclysm for the legendary daggers. A large number of leveling PvP rogues might also account for it? I’m sure that the Rogue community will have much greater insight than I over it.
But right now, Warriors are behind the other hybrids by a little, and Rogues are behind the other pure DPS classes by a lot.
Rogues are more popular than they seem but are struggling to make it to the endgame. Those Rogues who make it to the endgame can do well, but so few of them do compared to everyone else that there’s something abnormal with them. Rogues are less likely to experience Pandaria than any other class, and that is worth investigating.
To illustrate his point, Cynwise showed us this chart:
It shows that, compared to all other classes, people are much less likely to finish leveling a rogue. This made me wonder: Where the heck are they “stopping,” and why?
To begin to explore these questions, I took a look at rogue population numbers and percentages at every stop along the way from levels 1 to 90. (Oh, Realm Pop, thank goodness for you.) Actually, I took a look at the numbers and percentages for every class in the game — you can see that massive dump o’ data here — but for now I just want to look at rogues specifically.
Here are two graphs: The first one shows the sheer number of U.S. rogue toons at each level. The second one shows the *percentage* of toons that are rogues at each level.
There’s probably a lot more here than I’ve made sense of so far, but I want to point out a few things:
- Rogues are actually quite popular at early levels. But at virtually every step along the way, the class appears to lose players. Rogues aren’t the only class to experience this, but the trend is clear and pronounced.
- The first graph shows that there are far more rogues at level 85 than at level 90 right now. This is not unusual — in fact, only hunters, monks and warlocks have more toons at level 90 than level 85 — but it’s more pronounced for rogues than for any other class.
- Both graphs show (but you can more easily see it on the second one) that rogue popularity spikes at the “twink” points — the top levels of every traditional PvP bracket (19, 29, 39, 49, 60, 70).
- The biggest spikes in the first chart are where expansions end: Burning Crusade at 70, Lich King at 80, Cata at 85. These are logical “stopping points” for people who level any toon and then don’t pick it back up again in the next expansion. Every class has these spikes — except monks, of course.
- That massive trench you see in rogue percentage in the 50s and 60s is caused by death knights. Every class is affected by it, and it’s understandable: DKs begin at level 55 and have a unique starting area. (At level 58, when the starting quests generally end, DKs comprise 70% of all U.S. characters.)
I’m going to save any in-depth analyses for future posts; my thoughts aren’t organized enough yet for me to offer too much in the way of my own theories regarding, and potential solutions for, our class’s issues. Generally speaking, there are almost as many theories for why rogues aren’t popular as there are bad M. Night Shyamalan movies, including (among many others):
- Rogue abilities aren’t interesting enough.
- Rogue animations aren’t flashy enough.
- Rogues don’t have an AoE damage ability at lower levels.
- Rogues don’t have enough group utility.
- Rogues rely too much on passive damage instead of hard-hitting abilities.
- Once rogues lost their ability to stunlock players (i.e., keep them immobile until they were dead) a few years ago, many players lost interest in the class.
- Figuring out how to play a rogue properly is confusing, especially at lower levels.
- Other classes are more fun to play, some of which offer aspects of a “rogue” experience as well.
- A class that consists only of melee DPS specs can never be very popular.
- A lot of people have rogues as alts, but Mists has been very unfriendly to alt-leveling/playing (especially for the first couple of patches).
- Rogues have too much of an “evil” image to be very popular. (I think our numbers at lower levels pretty solidly prove this wrong, actually.)
I don’t think any one theory is “the” right one — I think the data above show that we’ve likely got issues with keeping players engaged through the leveling process, we’ve got issues with ensuring end-game appeal, we’ve got issues in PvE and issues in PvP.
We have, in short, issues. And I don’t doubt that forums and the twitterverse will continue to churn out an endless array of sure-fire solutions for these issues that each individual human is absolutely convinced must happen to stave off the imminent demise of the class.
But as we ponder the good and bad aspects of rogue gameplay (in both PvE and PvP) and the rogue leveling experience, please keep in mind that in a game as huge, as old, as complex and as diverse as WoW, there rarely are any easy explanations or easy solutions to… well, to almost *any* problem, really, much less the chronic unpopularity of a class. Be open to possible explanations, and be open to various possible solutions.
Also be open to the reality that, despite all the downsides to our class, nearly 170,000 of them have been leveled to 90 so far in the U.S. alone — and many of those people may well be perfectly happy with the way the class works. You’re just not very likely to see them posting about their satisfaction on Twitter or in often-toxic online forums.
So while it may be nice to dream about WoW’s design team overhauling the class for the next expansion and trying out some truly innovative or radical ideas, that isn’t necessarily the right way to go. Just because a class is least popular doesn’t mean it’s *unpopular*, and balancing the needs of the vocal few against the good of the class (and the game) as a whole is never a simple matter.
I’m going to close with a text-only dump of some back-and-forth that Ghostcrawler engaged in with some of us yesterday over Twitter.
- @wowcynwise: There’s definitely an alt/main dynamic going on with Rogues, but they lag so far behind other pure DPS it’s noteworthy.
- @SvelteKumquat: You (and @Ghostcrawler, ofc) get at an important point when noting that in the endgame (raids), rogues are fine.
- @SvelteKumquat: But they don’t appear to be “casual-friendly.” Is it that they don’t get leveled, or don’t even get picked at start screen?
- @Ghostcrawler: Our data suggests they are as common as everyone else at low level, but drop to a lower proportion every level.
- @Tophersz: #bestdesignedclass
- @SvelteKumquat: I think there’s a big difference between a class that’s designed well and a class that’s delivered well.
- @SvelteKumquat: GC has said this before, but maybe the rogue gameplay experience doesn’t deliver on the initial promise.
- @Ghostcrawler: I also think it’s fair that rogue spell visuals (or at least basic attacks) haven’t kept up with others
- @SvelteKumquat: For you personally, do monks offer a more engaging gameplay experience while leveling? (Too loaded a q?)
- @Ghostcrawler: If you were asking me, I’d rather hear that answer from players.
- @colhac: GC I recall you saying that a reason for decline was you cant 2-shot gank people anymore
- @Ghostcrawler: Does that affect population? Who knows? Warlocks have never been super popular either, and much of this doesn’t apply to them.
- @Ghostcrawler: I’d say it this way: WoW PvP can’t deliver on the fantasy of a true assassination. It wouldn’t be fun.
As you read GC’s tweets above, keep in mind some of the previous things GC has recently said about rogue popularity, which I have ever-so-lovingly noted in these older blog posts. They help put his comments in context and speak to the large number of different possible issues at play here:
- On Twitter: What Makes Rogues (Un)popular? Ghostcrawler Opines — Updated 12/19 (Twice)
- On Twitter: It Ain’t Being Melee-Only That Hurts Rogue Popularity, Ghostcrawler Opines
- On Twitter: Rogues Don’t Need the “Warlock Treatment,” Ghostcrawler Done Sez
- On Twitter: A Little More Pizzazz May Be in Rogues’ Future, Ghostcrawler Suggests
- On Twitter: Rogue Population Fell as Ganking Grew Harder, Ghostcrawler Feels