Cookie cutter haters

It has always mystified me why there seems to be a certain disdain towards so-called “cookie cutter specs” in many games. For those not familiar with the terminology, these are basically certain characters/talents/skills that are very commonly espoused to be “best dps” or “best healing spec” etc etc. For example, the cookie cutter warlock raiding spec before WotLK was 0/21/40, with 21 points in demonology to get Demonic Sacrifice and 40 points in Destruction up to Shadow and Flame. It’s not only in WoW, but any game where you have some kind of choice in how to build up a character. There were cookie-cutter builds in Diablo, and even in fighting games there are cookie-cutter teams and strats.

And among the players of all of these games, there is often a feeling of disdain for people who use cookie-cutter strats. “Oh they just blindly follow what’s posted on the Internet. I, on the other hand, am a beautiful and unique snowflake and I like to experiment and come up with my OWN builds.” Note of course that their own builds are just as effective, just that no one else ever discovered them because they are, you know, special.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to experiment, because that is how people learn. The whole reason a cookie-cutter build came into existence was because someone experimented and came up with something that worked out well. It doesn’t matter if you have 3 talent trees with a gazillion different talents, if you are limited to 71 talent points there will be a certain combination of points that will just be better for a particular purpose. It doesn’t matter how creative, or how special you are. If you want to perform the best, you will tend to end up with a cookie cutter spec because it’s normally the best.

The funny thing is, don’t people realise that if their “unique” spec was actually better, wouldn’t many other people also find this out and their “unique” spec would be the new cookie cutter? It’s much more likely that they are actually performing sub-optimally, all just because they want to feel special. Another newsflash: everyone is already special. You don’t need to do something strange just to be different: there are just as many crazies out there thinking the exact same thing. Doing the opposite of what most people are doing isn’t much better than doing the same as what most people are doing; your actions are still being dictated by other people. If everyone stopped using a cookie-cutter spec and started using your special build, would you respec to something else? If the answer is yes, that’s pretty sad.

Some people will say that they just play better with some strange build. Well, quite frankly its not that they play better, they probably are just really bad at using the cookie cutter build for some reason. Instead of actually improving, they prefer to just suck less? I don’t get it…

As mentioned, this isn’t restricted to just WoW. I used to play a fighting game called Marvel vs Capcom 2, which has 56 characters. A player can choose a team of 3 characters to use. Well, of course certain combinations of characters work better than others. This is inevitable if there is any variety at all in the characters, and is the reason why perfect game balance is in a sense unattainable. No one is going to be perfectly equal, the key is to have acceptable trade-offs.

Yet many players, especially new ones, will decry the lack of variety in most teams and boast that they, unlike everyone else, “came up with their own team and it works for them”. Their team usually ends up looking like 3 characters chosen randomly, or because “they look cool” or they have some theme like being all green. Of course, when they get trashed playing against another player who knows what they are doing using a team that is… well, actually a team… inevitably there will come the excuses that they lost because “that’s just a cookie cutter team” or how “ability xxx is overpowered and for losers”.

Cookie cutters are there for a reason, it’s probably because many people developed them over time and there are many strengths. If there is already such knowledge, then it makes sense to use it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single time you drive, you take what works and use it. Occasionally, someone will come up with a real humdinger of an idea. This idea will either be worse, or better than the original cookie cutter. If it’s better, then it will become the new cookie cutter. If not, then it was a good try but something was wrong somewhere.

So really, why look down on people using a commonly used build/strat/team? It only makes sense right, otherwise it wouldn’t be commonly used? I just don’t get it. The only reason I can think of is that this is yet another example of players trying to externalise their poor performance. They didn’t lose because they played poorly… they lost because they are “not like those other sheep using overpowered cookie cutter teams”. Uh huh… just like how their dps is below the tank’s, because “they don’t have gear”.


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