On Timing: The 4.1 Keybind Action Change

Have you ever had something that you do all the time suddenly feel completely uncomfortable and unfamiliar? Like when you write a word that you've written a thousand times before but then look at it and find no connection between the specific arrangement of letters and the meaning, as if you've never seen the word before? It's an odd feeling.

Something like that happened to me after the 4.1 patch.

One of the less heralded features that Blizzard included in 4.1 was a change to the way key presses work. In the past, when you pushed a key down the ability that is bound to that key would not activate until you released the key. Or put more simply, the ability activated when the key was going up as opposed to down.

Blizzard added an option to change this behaviour in the form of a check-box in the Interface>Combat part of the main menu. Having this box checked would change the action of the key press to activate when the key is pressed, rather than released. Blizzard also set this option to ON by default.

For many, this was a welcome and long overdue change. Add-ons have existed for a long time to provide this kind of functionality, and many people have been using them for years. In theory it should save a split-second every time you activate an ability. It's kind of a mystery as to why they did it the other way in the first place, really.


I swear that I tried to give this change an honest try. I can completely see the advantages of the new key action, and before the patch I was very excited about this change. I figured that it would make healing much more natural and responsive and in the long run would make me a better healer.

However, something happened that I did not expect. Every time I tried to heal things just didn't work right. My timing had been completely thrown off by the change. I would press the button too early and get a That Ability Isn't Ready Yet error and my spell wouldn't cast, forcing me to press the button again and waste precious time. Or I would press the button and it would cast on the wrong target because I had selected the target I wanted a fraction of a second after hitting the button. My timing was off so much that everything felt completely foreign and I was having a really hard time healing.

That split second made a huge difference.

I ended up having to spend more time looking at my Stuf cast bar (which shows latency) so that I could time the button presses just right, which meant spending less time looking at the giant globs of green goo that the boss was using to try to kill me. My fingers just didn't want to cooperate, and were fighting years of muscle memory in trying to learn the new timing.

I tried for a week or so to get used to to it, but I ended up having to turn it off. Once I did everything felt alright again and the natural flow of my healing rhythm returned.

I guess the moral of this little story is that any little change can be a big change. Given more time I probably could have got used to it, or I could have switched to Clique or Mouseover Macros to solve to problem. But the simplest solution was to just turn it off.

Did anyone else have any problems adjusting to the change, or am I just weird?


  1. Although I didn't have any issues with this change in particular, I can relate to your feeling. I used to play no a computer that always had a slight delay. Not much, but I could press the button some half second in advance, and that would just do the trick. Then when I got a new faster computer, this exactly happened to me as well. All my healing was knocked off balance when I pressed too early and I had to basically re-learn my timing. It's funny really how such a small thing can make such a big difference.

  2. You're not weird - people are sensitive to keystroke timings.

    If I had to guess, the original design may have activated on key-up if the code was closely tied to the button-like clickability of your hotbar. In most UI design, buttons don't activate on button-down, they activate on button-up, giving people a chance to change their mind and move off the button before pressing.

    So - "hotbar buttons activate on mousebutton release" might have affected "hotbar keyboard shortcuts activate on key release"

  3. I felt broken on my hunter for a while because of this and the change to targeting that we got at the same time.

    I am sure it happened to a hell of a lot of people, oddly enough, very few understood what I was talking about when 4.1 came out and I said everything feels wrong but as time passes I see I was not alone, as your post indicated.

  4. It didn't happen to me, but a warrior tank friend of mine got hit with it hard. He almost gave up tanking and playing that toon just because it felt so "off" to him, until I mentioned in Vent that change had been pushed through.

  5. I didn't have problems, but I think that as a melee I don't need to be hitting buttons as soon as my cast ends like a caster does, so the timing is very different anyway. I've not noticed a difference either way, faster or slower.