So you want to play a hybrid, do ya? You log into character creation, thumb through the options, and wisely select the class that can do it all. Two months later you're ineffective and forced into a single role. Sad tale indeed...
There are two issues with why games have slid too far in the direction of pure specialization. The first is the balance of a hybrid against a pureblood, and the second, more prominent is the design of class balance against content requirements. Attacking the latter, then former...
Because I Say It
The designer of content always has a goal in mind. It's impossible to paint a picture without an idea of what one even wants to paint. Of course, there are exceptions, but these only carry arbitrary, highly subjective meaning. We are not operating inside of said space.
A designer cooking up content has a goal. Their goal involves a playing field, and pawns. They are crafting the playing field with a given concept of what kinds of pawns are present. The rules of the game are dictated by the meta-game at large, or at least other game designers involved with that aspect of design.
A certain degree of push-pull is involved. The goal is to generate a conflict that must be solved. One must know what the given opposition will most likely be. Lazy design will resort to the trinity, but inspired design will grow beyond it. Those crafting content are charged with taking these assets into consideration, and spawn the conflict knowing what tools the playerbase have at their disposal. From a content designer's point of view, a world is crafted knowing in advance who the inhabitants will be.
If I Have 2 Dimes And 1 Nickel...
After running a tally of possible combinations and potential tool assets that can be brought to bear, a designer will craft content. Extremely poor design would require a comprehensive toolset that exceeds player abilities. Stringent design would require as a minimum the maximum of what players would be able to provide. Relaxed design would ask of the players what they are readily able to provide. (upcoming post on the true value of .1%)
The problem stems from design that incurs class balance requirements that do not take into account hybrids. If you have a given piece of content that (using a simplified HT example) requires 1 tank 2 damage 1 healer, and you have 1 tank 1 damage 1 healer and 1 hybrid... guess what the hybrid is now? For the duration of that content, the hybrid is now a damage dealer. Herein is not a curse outright, but quickly becomes one. You can shift a hybrid into a role, but it is still a hybrid.
This is where the second struggle for viability is birthed. Purebloods (rightly) argue that hybrids (or those with hybrid characteristics) shouldn't be as viable in a pureblood role as the pureblood themselves. Hybrids (rightly) argue that they need to maintain viability on that level so they are not passed over. Both views are valid, so where is the middle ground?
Not A Line, A Circle
The defining point of interest involves a dynamic design that asks for a hybrid to perform skills that they are able to: that of filling multiple roles. I've given examples around the blogosphere of the ways this has been accomplished in the past, and it's worth illustrating again here. The hybrid doesn't want to be a dedicated tank, a dedicated damage, a dedicated healer. A hybrid wants to perform them all at various points in time. Nor do they (or should they) be able to perform multiple at the exact same time.
Recall these charts? They denote a fact needing reiteration: the power of any one party in a balanced system cannot exceed that of another. While different parties can specialize in different fields, the area used to define the limits of their abilities and effectiveness must match.
Therefor, the limits of a hybrid must be defined, along with those of a pureblood. As no one class can ever purely be a 'tank' or 'controller' or what-have-you, I've elected to represent the range of roles being able to be performed in a 2D system as lines dissecting the axes of healing and damage. This is to say a generic damage-focused person might have the ability to spec/gear/etc in a way that yields a 2 relative to others along a damage axis. Because of this, and the requirement to keep areas equal, they are only able to spec/gear/use abilities etc in a manner that would yield a 0.5 relative value in healing. This is to provide a simplified introduction to a slightly more proper visual representation.
Tradeoffs are rarely 1 for 1. Thus, a linear system isn't entirely accurate in representing the kinds of tit-for-tat involved with specializing. The more one wishes to become a specialist in any one area, an increasing amount of another area must be provided. We can liken this to life in general whereby with an identical time investment, I can cover much broader ground with a new discipline than improving on an existing one. The level of commitment involved with maintaining top physical shape, for example, is legendary compared to applying that same time commitment to learning a new language. The progress becomes smaller and smaller the more one invests.
For our sake, we will content to just keep the areas identical. We can use the linear or oval representations interchangeably as they both hold the same geometric relations with the other representations within the respective chart. I just enjoy really intricate, proper representations. We're all wired differently, I suppose.
There is a takeaway in the charts above. I've mentioned how area uniformity needs to be conserved to deal the proper hand to those arguing for fairness and balance. When we take that into consideration in our simplified 2D version of all possible roles people might be able to specialize in, we witness plenty of overlapping area(s). Our location of interest is the area that only the hybrid can cover, not the areas that are better suited for specialists. This is the location that designers fail to include over and over and over again.
Easy For You To Say
So what do you do? You call for everyone to perform the functions that they are good at. This means a purebred should be doing the things they are 'great' at, and hybrids should be shifting between various roles that they are 'good' at. It's been designed in the past, so there's a precedent to work from.
We'll continue to use the example outlined in the graphs above. If I design content for a 3man group that asks for a relative contribution of 3 for damage and 2 for healing, I'd be better off bringing 2 damage purebreds and 1 healing purebred. If I ask for a relative contribution of 2 for damage and 3 for healing, I'd again be better off with 3 purebreds, as they could accomplish the requirements with room to breath.
If, however, I ask for portions of content to ask 3 for damage and 2 for healing in some parts, and 2 for damage and 3 for healing in others, I can only accomplish these dynamic requirements through the usage of a hybrid. I've now just changed hybrids from being under-performers to being the reason content success is made possible. Repeat this simplified concept across the whole range of combat functions, and you can truly generate interesting content. This gives both purebreds and hybrids reasons to be happy and fulfilled in their character choice.
Hybrids are force multipliers, they are not standalone performers. Trying to apply them in this nature results in a disconnect in game design.
Anything Anytime Anywhere
Design content that allows the hybrid to... be a hybrid! Stop making the hybrid compete with the pureblood nature of a specialist. You're confusing the playerbase with this design: purebloods lose their reason for specialization, and hybrids have unfounded expectations of themselves. Just as content is designed to cater to the forte of different roles, so too must all content be designed to cater to the style of play whose forte is the ability to be a force multiplier for a role in need. Hybrids are the ticket to truly engaging dynamic group design, but only if you use inspired design and engage them accordingly.