The so-called hybrid tax has been the subject of much debate since early Wrath, and the topic has recently gained momentum again. The theory is that hybrid classes are slightly more desirable in raids since they can respec to fill a different role if needed, so they should do slightly less dps in their dps spec than a pure dps class would. Most references to the hybrid tax suggest that it is, or should be, or was said by Blizzard to be, a 5% dps difference.
Almost all discussions of the hybrid tax include a lot of references to something Ghostcrawler said or promised, but very few actual quotes, and a lot of mistaken belief about what was said.
So I thought it might be worth some time to research the history of Ghostcrawler quotes about the hybrid tax and collect it all in one place. This was somewhat complicated by the WoW forum change in Cataclysm that wiped all previous posts, but through various blue trackers and blog and forum posts quoting the blue posts from back then (and collecting a nasty computer virus in the process of digging through dozens of sites years dead), I’ve been able to piece together what I think is the history of the hybrid tax, including where the hybrid tax discussion started.
This post (which will be horribly long) will detail the history of the hybrid tax and the relevant Ghostcrawler quotes about it. Here is the short version:
- In reworking the game for WotlK Blizzard buffed hybrid class dps, while homogenizing buffs in an effort to lessen the need for class stacking
- In 2008 in the WotlK beta forums Ghostcrawler indicated that hybrid classes should do slightly less dps than pure dps classes
- Ghostcrawler later made if very clear that this small dps difference was part of their design theory
- Ghostcrawler never directly said that the hybrid tax was 5%, that I can find
- A hybrid class is any class that can fill a role other than dps
- There has been no blue post I could find that says their philosophy changed in Cataclysm, or that there’s no longer a hybrid tax
It’s also worth noting that throughout the history of both Wrath and Cataclysm so far, that while the hybrid tax may be an element of WoW design theory, there’s no hard evidence that it really exists in practice. Hybrids often out-dps pure dps classes. Of course when you’re balancing to a margin of under 5%, the slightest boss mechanic differences can throw that out the window.
The Beginning: Sept 2008
As far as I can tell, the whole hybrid tax thing started in the Wrath beta forums. The earliest mention I could find was in September of 2008, a couple of months before Wrath released — though the beta forums had several conversations about it, and there may have been one earlier than this. Ghostcrawler responded to a ret paladin question and followed up a couple of times, stating that a ret pally might be a couple hundred dps below a pure dps class. See the full thread here.
Ret should be as close to the top as anyone else. Our buckets at this point are basically DPS, Tanks, Healers. When the tank and healer are doing dps, it’s even closer.
You may be a couple hundred dps lower than a pure dps class (hunter, mage, warlock, rogue) but for most players, the numbers will be close enough that a raid with a good Retadin and an okay rogue will see Ret on top.
This is a change in philosophy from the BC era, where we would engineer hybrid classes to be 25% to 30% and sometimes much lower than dps classes.
You’re trying to read too much into my words… which is the kind of thing that makes blues reluctant to post.
If there are dps differences, it’s going to take a very, very skilled guild to be able to accuately decipher them. That is because a boss is not a training dummy. For almost all of us, it’s going to be impossible to tell whether the rogue doing 2500 dps and the paladin doing 2300 dps is because of the class or the player. And it is likely to be a different number on the very next boss.
We’re trying to hedge out bets and NOT promise that every class will do 2500 dps in all cases, because that just won’t happen. There are too many other variables. But you won’t be far below other classes… as you often were in BC and Classic WoW.
If your guild fills up with 10 rogues instead of taking you, that either means your guild leaders are misinformed or you just need to L2P a little more.
Again, this is a goal. If a month after we ship someone discovers that the best way to play a mage is to get some obscure combination of trinket, set bonus, enchant and flask that allows them to do 3500 dps at no mana cost, well that’s clearly not the kind of thing we expected to see and we’ll take steps to adjust it. We have a lot of clever players though, and it’s going to take some time before everything has been fully explored.
Oct 2008: Buff Changes and the Hybrid Tax
Still before Wrath released, Ghostcrawler explained how the hybrid tax (still not yet named) had to do with the massive reworking of the way buffs functioned in Wrath and the subsequent increase of hybrid dps — and the birth of the concept “bring the player, not the class” which was largely a reaction to the imbalances that class stacking caused in Burning Crusade. Here’s what Ghostcrawler said (full post here):
Ghostcrawler: Our logic worked out like this:
1) Buffs are breaking the game. There are many examples you could insert here, but here are a few:
— Ret paladins can’t get into the melee group because of all the buffers in there.
— Stacking shamans for Bloodlust rotations.
— Stacking Shadow Priests so mana conservation would be irrelevant.
— Mages getting shut out of raids, in part because it was better to bring yet another lock to benefit from Curse of Shadows.
2) We decided to consolidate buffs such that similar ones would not stack, but we extended the effects to raid wide.
3) Thus, in a 25-player raid, you need far fewer than 25 players to get the buffs you need, allowing you to fill those remaining slots with who you want.
4) Without the benefits of those buffs, those remaining slots would most likely just go to pure dps classes. Shamans, for example, might go from 5 per raid to 1 (or 1 death knight instead).
5) So we buffed hybrid dps a lot.
6) But we knew at the other extreme that pure dps classes risked getting shut out of raids if hybrids could do their damage.
7) So we made sure the pure classes could still do superior dps given similar skill and gear. We wanted you to risk having lower dps if you brought all hybrids.
We don’t go into a lot of detail about how much higher or lower certain classes should be, because we noticed that players respond to this by posting WWS parses that shows their class in the #10 spot and get all bent out of shape about it (and totally ignoring the bit about equal gear or skill).
The net result is that hybrid dps is much higher, but not as high as pure classes. If you are an awesome hybrid player, then you will sometimes top the damage meters depending on your gear, skill and the specific encounter. But you probably won’t do it as much as a rogue, mage, warlock or hunter (again depending on their skill).
I know the edge here sometimes seems fuzzy. It is. WoW’s combat system is pretty complicated and hard and fast rules can only get you so far. But that is the basic model in very simple terms.
Dec 2008: More Talk on DPS Balance
The topic started to heat up in early December, a few weeks after Wrath launched and players were working through Naxx. In this post Ghostcrawler talks a bit about balance between pure dps classes, and reinforcing that hybrids should be a bit lower, but can certainly out-dps the pure classes. I believe this post was in response to someone complaining the rogues could out-dps mages on Patchwerk, and started a big debate. See full post here.
Ghostcrawler: If you balance rogues, hunters, locks and mages to all do the same dps on target dummies, then what you find in a raid is that the ranged dps comes out on top because the rogue has to spend a lot of potential dps time on positioning and running out of fires. This isn’t true of every encounter, but it is true of a lot. (If there is an encounter where a rogue should shine, it’s something like Patchwerk.) So rogue dps on a combat dummy probably needs to be higher so that net dps in a raid is about the same as other classes. Make sense?
And once again, if you are taking an inexperienced rogue in blues and PvP gear in a raid, then don’t be surprised if expert Moonkin, Retadins, Fury warriors and Enhancement shammies (and all the other hybrids who will Suspect Something Is Up if I don’t mention them) blast past him on the meters.
Dec 2008: First Mention of 5%
The first reference to the hybrid tax being 5% that I could find came from a player (who said “5% or less”) and Ghostcrawler quoted the player, essentially confirming the sentiment, though not necessarily any exact number. See full post here.
I am not sure what you are saying. If Blizz reached their stated goal (which I will boil down to equally skilled pure dps should have a slight advantage (5% or less) over equally skilled hybrids (i.e. good ret beats so-so rogue, etc.)), then I see no problem with DPS races and enrage timers.
They’ve not met that goal yet, which I think even GC would admit. So far that’s not a problem as all raid content available is tuned to be entry level. However if the class imbalances that currently exist persist when more challenging content is released and said content contains a hard-DPS timer, I for one will feel guitly (depsite being the raid leader and GM) about bringing myself to said hard-DPS timer, instead of another hunter/lock or DPS warrior.
Q u o t e:
Blizzard never stated that. Ever. They did say classes would be close, but they also specifically said rogues would top DPS by a small margin (at least on rogue friendly bosses). And with all classes close, classes wouldn’t matter, just player (and their gear). There is no problem with the theory.
Ghostcrawler: I wanted to quote these two because they said what I would say probably better than I would have.
What we don’t want is for your class mechanics to hold you back if you are vying to do the best dps you can. We are not at all guaranteeing that every raid will end up with all the dps classes within 5% of each other. The biggest factor will be skill, followed by gear and then just random luck.
March 2009: Patch 3.1 Released
Ghostcrawler clearly states the basic logic behind the hybrid tax (full post here):
Ghostcrawler: Our logic is actually pretty simple. If hybrid classes can do the same dps as pure classes, then why have pure classes in the game? So we design the pure classes to do slightly higher dps.
Again, the difference is so small that realistically, very few of your guilds will even notice it. If you have bad rogues and good warriors, the warriors will be on top of the meters. For nearly all of the people reading this thread, you have many things you can do that will improve your dps by 5% or more, such as get good gear, experiment with a better spec, or just learn to play better. If you are in the top one or two guilds on your server, then you probably will notice dps differences among the classes. However, you are probably not the ones at all worried about losing your raid spot.
August 2009: No 5% Rule
Ghostcrawler comes out clearly and states that Blizzard does not use a 5% rule for the hybrid tax. See full post here.
Ghostcrawler: The “5% rule” isn’t a rule we use. I’m not sure at this point if the community came up with it or we tossed it out as an example and it stuck. We generally don’t like to offer players concrete “speed limits” like this because then as soon as they see their own dps not measuring up to the official mark, they generally blame us instead of trying to improve their own game.
October 2009: Sticky on the WoW Forums
As hybrid discussion continued, about how certain classes or specs didn’t seem to be paying the hybrid tax, Ghostcrawler stickied a thread detailing the hybrid tax theory. See the full thread here (which also explains the reasoning for the hybrid tax).
Vaneras: We only recognize two types of classes for PvE purposes:
Can respec to fulfill a different role = hybrid.
Cannot respec to fulfill a different role = pure.
The roles are tank, healing and damage.
In our design, the pure dps classes (hunter, mage, warlock and rogue) should do slightly higher dps than hybrid damage-dealers all things being equal. All things are rarely equal. Player skill, gear, raid comp, latency, random luck and most importantly the specifics of the encounter will often favor one class, spec or player over another.
The reason we want pures to so slightly higher damage is that pures can only fulfill one role. If your guild or raid has no more need for damage-dealers, there is no way for these classes to raid with you. By contrast, the six other classes always have the option to respec for another role either temporarily or for the long haul.
The Blizzard definition of hybrid in this context has nothing to do with whether you can perform multiple roles within a single fight or even within a single raid. It has more to do with the potential for your class to ever fulfill more than one role.
Likewise, the Blizzard definition of hybrid in this context has nothing to do with the power of certain buffs or class synergy. We want all classes to bring useful tools to the raid.
April 2010: Hybrid Tax Staying
Ghostcrawler emphasized once again that the hybrid tax is still part of the game design as they start discussing plans for Cataclysm. Source.
We’ll continue to polish it, but we’re not fundamentally changing the design. We think there is plenty of evidence to suggest that pure dps would die off if more flexible classes could do everything they could do and more. Again though, in most cases gear or skill will have a much bigger influence on your performance than the potential maximums we engineer into the classes. While the averages more or less follow our general design (with some exceptions that we need to address), you can find plenty of individual parses where a hybrid “wins” or a pure “loses.
2011 April Fools Patch 4.1.11 Reference
The hybrid tax was mentioned in an April Fools post, referring to warriors. See post here.
The Arms and Fury warrior hybrid tax is now slightly taxier than other hybrid taxes.
Hybrid Tax Today
I haven’t seen any recent Cataclysm blue posts about the hybrid tax, though there’s a lot of conversation about it: some players claiming it no longer exists in Cataclysm, other saying of course it does. Of course since the trolls chased Ghostcrawler out of the forums, we don’t have as much information coming at us as we used to.
Again, the hybrid tax is supposed to be a small enough difference that it will be almost impossible to measure, especially with different boss mechanics. But thus far the most recent direct quote I could find about it was during the pre-Cataclysm info releases, and stating that the design philosophy has not changed.
Whether you agree with the concept of the hybrid tax (and being hunters here, I suspect most will) or disagree with it, I thought it was a good idea to document the main factual references to it so at least we can discuss what was really said. If you find any major references that I’ve missed (anything earlier than Sept, ’08, anyplace GC actually says 5%, or anything since Cataclysm came out) please post it in the comments and we’ll get it added to this list!