Hybrids and the economics of specialization
Massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) typically have multiple classes of characters, some of which are specialized for a single role, and some of which are hybrids which can serve in multiple roles. These hybrid characters are a common failure point for MMO design, often ending up much weaker or much more powerful than more specialized characters.
Fortunately, there are some basic economic models of behavior that can be used to understand the design pressures that can distort the role of hybrids in MMOs. By having a clear concept of why these pressures occur and what conditions enable these pressures, we can systematically create conditions which promote both hybrid and specialist classes simultaneously, creating complex and fun gameplay for our players.
What#DY#s a hybrid?
In classic role playing game (RPG) design, there are commonly three primary character archetypes: tank, DPS ("Damage Per Second"), and healer. These archetypes have their roots in old-school pen and paper RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, and were carried forward into early single player RPGs like Ultima and then into MMOs.
The three primary archetypes are:
Tank: a character specialized for survivability in the face of attack
DPS: a character specialized for doing damage to enemies
Healer: a character specialized for healing and supporting their teammates
In the standard model of RPG combat, the tank holds the dragon#DY#s attention and takes the brunt of the dragon#DY#s damage, while the healer keeps the tank alive and the DPS kills the dragon. Each player is performing a single role using a character specialized for that role. For example, tanks generally do little damage themselves, but maximize their ability to withstand damage for others.
In the nomenclature of MMOs, a "hybrid" is a character that bridges two or even three of these areas. In MMOs set in fantasy worlds, a tank is commonly embodied as an armored medieval knight while a healer takes the form of a priest or cleric. If we create a hybrid between a tank (knight) and a healer (priest), we get a paladin who can wear heavy armor and cast healing spells.