Since everyone's talking about guides and theorycraft today....
So, class/spec guide writing for World of Warcraft.
While it's objectively true to say that "Anyone can write a guide", it's also true that not every guide is created equal. You'd think this was obvious to some, but apparently it comes as a surprise to others.
When I think about guide writing, I'm struck by the duality of leading a community of DK theorycrafters on one hand and also having written "Fresh to 100" guides for new players. If you know me well enough, and were to read my Wowhead guides right now you'd probably be horrified. I commit cardinal sins such as letting people think an absolutely awful talent like Plaguebearer is an option. I tell them that they can opt into Runic Empowerment. I tell them that Breath of Sindragosa is a "niche" talent (despite the fact that if someone actually asked me to do a log analysis, I'd likely chastise them for not taking it in most situations).
Why the seeming cognitive dissonance? Because, I'd like to think at least, I'm aware of my audience. I understand that someone who's just levelled a Death Knight is likely only going to be getting familiar with the intricacies of the rune system. I understand that as massive as gains such as Plague Leech or Blood Tap are, presenting them as the sole "correct" option would be a mistake for players that literally don't know what they're doing for the first time.
With that said, there's also room for nuance here: Just because I don't present a talent as a *sole* option (the way I would for a Mythic raider who was looking to min-max) doesn't mean that I don't also mention it having merit. I try to lay out a case for a player that can feel justified in taking particular "sub optimal" (from my perspective) talents, but can also be aware that there's more to their class once they've become familiar with the basics.
In some ways, I envy these players. If I've done my job as a guide writer correctly they'll begin playing the class with fairly lacklustre abilities, but hopefully also become aware of advanced talents/playstyles that my guide only made brief reference to. If I'm lucky, they'll reach the end of my guides where I've posted links to the corresponding advanced versions on Son of a Lich. There, they'll be introduced to a series of guides that assume a player has understood the basics of their class/rotation, and possesses the drive needed to bring it to its maximum potential.
But it doesn't end there. Yes, the SoAL guides recommend talents/builds in a more rigid form than my Wowhead guides- and that's absolutely by design. The real issue, as I seem to note, is the tension between explaining oneself clearly and risking oversaturating a guide. For example, I could go into exhaustive detail about why Plague Leech is an infinitely better talent than Plaguebearer for Blood by describing the way in which each talent works, how/why Blood's mechanics actually turn Plaguebearer into a non-talent, and even throw in theoretical math on the difference between the two.
*And that's for a choice that you could just as easily eyeball by reading spec tooltips and using basic sense*
So why don't we do it? Why don't we give every single talent/glyph out there an exhaustively long description and list a variety of conceivable situations in which they could come into use? There's the oversaturating issue that I mentioned- we don't want to scare off readers either by making them think that they just came from 5th grade math into Advanced Calculus in one leap. More importantly however, there's also a question of time and assuming people are competent. If, for example, you understand the basics of the Wowhead Blood guide then you shouldn't *need* an exhaustively in-depth explanation for why Plaguebearer is an awful talent for Blood DKs at the Mythic raiding level.
In both cases, guides are tailored towards a specific audience.
Perhaps most importantly, it is with the intention that a Mythic level raider will be able to think for themselves and judge our recommendations against what they've currently got (in terms of gear, their raid situation, etc). In our Unholy guide, for example, we recommend Necrotic Plague for Mythic Gorefiend. On the other hand if you're in a raid where spirit damage is high enough that your Necrotic Plague won't tick for nearly the amount that would usually be needed, the guide contains enough references to also lead you to the next logical choice: Breath of Sindragosa.
What I am trying to get at here, is that guides at the Mythic level will often rightfully expect their readers to not solely take their recommendations at face value but also pit them against their own circumstances. Now I can't speak for other class communities, but the good news here is that if a player is still lost they have multiple options they can turn to. They can register on the forums and post a direct question for the guide authors. Better yet, they can log into the #Acherus IRC channel for DKs (Links for which are helpfully found on both the Wowhead and SoAL guides) and ask for help directly from a thriving community of high end raiders. They can also consult Warcraft Logs to refer to how guide recommendations seem to be performing against real bosses, though admittedly this is hard for Tanks and Healers to gauge.
I don't know if my rambling seems to be going in a general direction here, so let me make it clear: I believe that a great deal of the upset over the "tyranny" of guides saying "Do x, not y" has more to do with players either failing to contextualise what the guide is saying with their own circumstances, or engaging with a community that is equally fixated on the guide. And don't think that I'm trying to imply that the DK community hasn't been guilty of this in the past- we've absolutely screwed up in the past and let groupthink cloud our judgement in regards to a particular talent.
That said, we've also worked to *correct* that error as well. I'd like to think that today's DK community is especially self-critical and that this is why we've fostered an environment where we expect players competing at a certain level to push themselves. We don't sugarcoat things here: If you're looking to maximise your performance and come asking for advice, we will give you that advice with the understanding that your actions are ultimately your own. No, we can't prevent you from speccing Defile when you could probably be doing a lot more DPS with Breath of Sindragosa. If our math about why Plague Leech > Unholy Blight won't convince you, then we're not sure what will. If our lengthy explanations in chat (Aha, yes! We did sneak them in somewhere!) won't convince you about why Blood Tap >>>> It's competing talents, then so be it.
Now, I want to be clear: When we say "X is better than Y", it's under the assumption that you'll consider our advice as being what it is: A theoretical maximum, assuming your have the capability and willingness to learn. If you flat out tell us that you simply can't stand Blood Tap and want to stick with Runic Corruption, then we won't argue on a personal level- that's your call. The only time we will respond is when self-proclaimed "theorycrafters" attempt to mislead the community without actually providing any evidence to support their conjecture. I am, of course referring to this little debacle from a few weeks ago: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1snt64u
So, to cut an overly long post short I'll sum up my thoughts in a few sentences: Guides provide a good reference for tools, but it is ultimately up to the player to decide how to use those tools. In some cases (like Wowhead), guides are aimed at people that can/should get a feel for all tools before trying to move on to advanced play. Once we're at the advanced play stage however, we have no qualms about aiming our guides at the very audience they were written for. In this case, that just happens to raiders looking to push themselves to the max. What people decide to do with that knowledge, and how they behave towards others with it is entirely up to them. At the end of the day, it is my greatest wish that people recognise that the problem is not and has never been "theorycraft"- it's how the game itself is constructed. If you intend to play at a certain level of competitiveness, then understand that the current manner in which the game is built will inevitably lead to people trying to calculate an "optimal" route.
This is NOT to say that this route shouldn't be vigorously tested, debated about and challenged if necessary- that is a strength, not a weakness- but that the faux annoyance about there being an absolute best choice at a high level needs to come to an end. If anything, I think that the fact that it takes such a journey to reach that conclusion is a good thing. It gives us a minigame within the game, and it also means that we get to challenge ourselves beyond simply executing mechanics that the game throws at us. No, it's not for everyone- but that doesn't make it any more flawed than the concept of different difficulties within the raiding world.
I'll conclude with a request: If you'd like to discuss this further, you know where to find me. Please don't clog up my Twitter timeline if your points are going to take up more then 2-3 tweets.