The complexity, it burns! Do you use gear lists?

We know that players love collecting gear because devs tell us so. It isn’t just so that we can customise how our characters look, but  so that we can tweak their stats as well. Even City of Heroes which always shunned the gear upgrade option has  stat-items that you can slot in to improve your skills.

So it’s a very common in-game decision point to pick up a new piece of gear and ask ‘Is this better than what I have now?’

In fact, it’s one of the classic MMO questions. Games are designed so that you have to ask this a lot (i.e. every time you get a drop, there is a decision making process). This is in the same way that the classic player question in a RPG is ‘what do I see?’ Or the classic GM question is ‘what do you want to do next?’

So how do you go about answering that question?

  • Maybe check how the gear looks if the game gives a preview option.
  • Maybe you have a rough idea which stats are best for your class so you can quickly compare.
  • Maybe you ask a friend (or your guild).
  • Maybe you did your homework in advance and already have a shopping list of items you want.
  • Maybe you have an addon which helps crunch the numbers.
  • Maybe you look it up on a website where someone else has calculated long lists of ‘best in slot’ gear.

If you find yourself drifting towards the lower half of that list, it means you needed to do some work outside the game to make that in-game decision. I personally think that gear is more fun when I feel competent to make a snap choice rather than go in with a shopping list approach. But I know for some collector types, they like to tick things off on lists.

In some ways, gear sets (ie. tier sets or matching sets) provide a game-generated shopping list. They don’t even need to be great in their own right to hit the ‘gotta have them all’ collector instinct. But in general, designers like to leave the gear complexity as a toy for players to play with.

But the one thing you do know is that to keep the decision making interesting, there need to be some bad options. Some poorly itemised gear. Some drops which are absolutely worse than what you currently are using. And if you grab one of those and sell your old gear, you’ll never get it back. It’s not necessarily a critically bad decision, there will always be more gear in future, but it may be an irrevocable one.

The complexity curve

Back in my pen and paper days, I did some writing for GURPS. It’s a universal RPG system that covers just about every genre imaginable with a variety of rules and background supplements. And they had one rulebook which was an odd outlier in rule complexity. GURPS Vehicles gave really complex rules for generating just about any type of vehicle you needed in a game – it had lots of physics based rules to make sure that you didn’t generate anything wildly implausible (for some value of wildly implausible). You really needed a spreadsheet to work it properly.

And we always expressed surprise that they were still selling it. None of the other rulebooks came close in complexity. It was just a strange case. But in fact, at the time, that rulebook was one of their strongest and most consistent sellers. There was a core of players who adored the complexity and were happy to sit around creating vehicles, whether or not they actually played the rest of the game. Some of them posted up their designs for other people to use or took requests from other games. They liked it as its own minigame.

So you get this odd complexity curve where things become more and more complex and then … people decide it’s too much hassle and go look it up instead, and only hardcore complexity fiends do the number crunching.

I know that I’ve been using gear lists for awhile in WoW. We don’t receive that many drops and I need to spend my hard-earned DKP to win one so I just want to get the best value that I can. And not feel like a lemon for missing a great item because I didn’t get how the stats worked.

But I feel lazy when I use gear lists. It’s taken the decision making part of the game away from me. Sure, I could do it myself but I’m not up for making complex spreadsheets (especially when I know that other people have done them better – see: landsoul’s dps warrior spreadsheet for example). I wanted to play an MMO, not a spreadsheet. Is that really so unreasonable?

Gear is fun. Upgrades are fun. But crazy complexity is only fun for a small minority. Do you use external addons or gear lists to help decide if a new item is better or worse than what you already have?

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8 thoughts on “The complexity, it burns! Do you use gear lists?

  1. One of my favorite parts in WoW is making a gear plan. It’s probably why I love hitting 80 on characters. Yay, another character to gear. I enjoy it. That’s why I post gear lists in my blog as well. Sure, it helps other people, but it also gives me an opportunity to do something I enjoy: researching gear, dreaming of the day the top piece ends up in my hands. :)

  2. Generally I just have a look at the drop and decide there and then.
    Trinkets are probably the biggest issue; some sound awesome but prove to be turkeys. If you are going to research anything, research trinkets.

  3. I do not use gear lists, especially not lists of “This is the best you can get.” Half the gear I can’t even get because it’s off content I’ve not done or it requires various caps which I don’t yet have because random loot is random and I don’t get to take whatever I want just by screaming “It’s BiS! GIMMEEE!” I must admit I’ve not actually tried that…

    I did recently start using Rawr though. I have my prot and ret profiles and when I see an item I compare it. If it’s a small upgrade I tend to pass. Before Rawr I was very bad at comparing relative stat values and ended up passing on a lot of what I thought were marginal upgrades (they turned out to be HUGE).

    The exception is when I’m in heroic territory. Then I have a mental list of “I want to do this for that and this for that and…” Then I get invited to one naxx and my list gets completely ruined.

  4. I use an addon called RatingBuster to display the changes in stats like attack power, defense, dodge, etc. that an item would give me, but I make my own decisions about what stats to prioritize and thus what gear I need, without a spreadsheet. RatingBuster just helps me make more informed decisions, but I do the deciding–I’ve never used an app like Rawr or a spreadsheet.

  5. I’m something of a complexity nerd and I tend to do my own maths.

    Interestingly many of the best lists are not mathematically very sound. Either they use a grossly over-simplified model or they use a model that is out of date. How many of these sites re-worked their algorithms when patch 3.1 changed the value of some of the less desireable ratings (such as ArP and Haste) for hybrid dps classes? Probably not many.

    Having said that usually I just eyeball upgrades and guess. If I reach a point where gear upgrades are infrequent then I’m more likely to stop and calculate but at the moment with my casual WoW character and my eve ships stuff changes all the time.

    • It was actually armour penetration that sparked this post. I picked up some dps gear for Spinks in Ulduar-10 and it was the first time for me that I looked at a piece of gear and had absolutely no idea at all whether it was an upgrade or not.

      So I downloaded the dps warrior spreadsheet and plugged my stats and gear into it. But I am now feeling oddly divorced from the whole process.

      • Well if you don’t want to feel divorced from the process you need to research the theorycraft and apply your own formulae.

        I find that quite fun myself but it can be very time-consuming. Also do you want to do it for every alt in each of your many games?

        Anyway I’ll get back to my Eve spreadsheets now, grats on the new purple!

  6. For the most part, I start with some research on basic stat ratios, and use Pawn to attach them to my gear to quickly see how much it’s worth. I’ll rarely be using the same exact spec or rotation that’s on ElitistJerks or wherever, but it makes a good base, and I tweak it a little until it feels right to me.

    I might not have the highest optimal theoretical DPS, but I’m not hardcore enough for it to matter and I’m beating the pants off of the random PUGs I play with either way.

    But once I’m going in to raiding, I like to take those numbers I’ve tweaked and go through the drops one at a time, to find out which items are best for me, and which items I’d be better off letting someone else have. Make myself a wish list for each slot so I can check things off as I find them. The WoWHead stat weights page can be great for that, I just wish they’d let me change the gems. I can be pretty obsessive about matching sockets.

    I do really enjoy spreadsheets and planning out a new character. It’s one of my favorite parts about getting a new character to the level cap.

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