It came from the PUG: The Infinite Healer

One of the things I have noticed lately in high level PUGs is the effect of having a big variation in gearing between group members. It is very common these days to have three or more characters in a 5 man group with well over 5k gear score (that means they’re using a fair amount of raid gear).

Not a bad thing, you’d think. Better geared groups get through the instance faster.

But if I’m playing a lesser geared alt and I am thrown in with really well geared dps, there’s a chance that mobs will die before I’ve had to chance to use my full rotation. On my new Death Knight, if the overgeared chap is a ranged class and is especially keen, the mob might be pulled over to the other side of the room and almost dead before I even get a touch on it. So I am in two minds, I guess faster instances is good, but actually I want to play my new alt and get some practice. And having seriously overgeared dps in the group means that the mobs just die too fast for me to do that. I would probably have more fun in a group which had a much closer gear score variance.

Or the other side is when you have a really high geared healer thrown into the mix with lesser geared/ experienced tanks or dps. “Pull faster,” says the healer with infinite spellpower and mana regen on their gear, “You can pull as fast as you like with me here.” Well, no. Actually the main limiting factor on fast one can complete an instance is not usually the healing.

Sure, it’s possible that the infinite healer could keep a tank alive as she pulled the entire instance in a single land-speed record breaking rush … but someone still has to actually kill the mobs. Plus some pulls can’t be rushed anyway.

In fact, I have come to the conclusion that having an overgeared healer in your PUG is a waste of otherwise useful gear score. They get bored, and it doesn’t actually help anyone else make shorter work of the instance (if that was your goal). Even my resto druid, sporting a few emblem items and generally teetering just below ICC entry levels, can snooze through a 5 man with just a few sleepy HoTs and nourish spells to keep things going. I can’t imagine how bored a player would be with 1k more gear score than that. I guess that’s a bonus if you want an easy life as a reward for all the hard work in raids.

This is really a design issue with the holy trinity (tank/ heal/ dps) and that if there is limited damage being taken then the healer part of the trinity doesn’t have much to do. I personally think that if Cataclysm does encourage healers to throw some dps into the mix it will be a step forwards, although I know a lot of healers won’t share my opinions.

So my proposal this week is this: how about the notion of an average group gearscore? When you zone into a PUG, the game could tweak everyone’s gear appropriately to make sure that any differences were evened out. Maybe things would be more fun if the average gear level was even a function of the instance and not of the individuals. That way the challenge level would be more stable.

I know this will never happen. People like their individual rewards too much. But gear scaling in Wrath has made the 5 man game very strange indeed.

Gearscore, and why we need to evaluate other players

The rot set in as soon as Blizzard allowed players to check each others gear. Adding achievements to the game and then conveniently storing everyone’s statistics on the Armoury were just the icing on the cake. It was only  a matter of time before addon writers figured out ways to automate these gear checks to make it easier and simpler to give another player the thumbs up or thumbs down for whatever group content you were planning to do.

Enter Gearscore, an addon which neatly totals some arbitrary ratings for each piece of gear (probably based on item level, which is fair game since Blizzard use it too) and sums it all up into a single gear score. If you have this addon installed, all you have to do is mouse over another player or their name in a group or raid and you’ll get the gearscore number. The latest version of Gearscore also hooks into one of the popular damage meters (recount) so presumably it is also going to try to gauge dps … or something like that.

There’s nothing controversial in making up arbitrary numbers to prove how badass you are or aren’t, but naturally players are now using the gearscore as a gating mechanism for PUG invites. I haven’t seen this so much on my server but it’s right up there with ‘show your achievement’ on others. Of course the number doesn’t adequately represent a player’s skill. Of course it can be arbitrary. Of course there can be some items which work better for a spec/class than the higher gearscore ones. So the harder nosed players criticise the use of the gear score, it doesn’t tell the whole truth.

Yes, it’s unfriendly to new players who are just going to the right places to gear up. Although it’s hard to really argue this point with the influx of badges from the dungeon finder these days (pro tip: run Oculus :) ).

But there is another side to this. WoW, and MMORPGs like it, are gear based games. Part of your skill as a player is knowing what the best gear is for your class/spec and knowing how to acquire it. And sometimes, gear really is a gating factor. Given two players of similar skill, the one with the better gear will perform better; that’s hard coded into the game.

Of course looking at a single number is no substitute for checking over someone’s gear in person, if you really want to be sure that they understand their class (note: you will also need to understand their class if you hope to make any sense out of this.) And of course a poor player with badly chosen gear could still have a good gear score.

Gear Score isn’t a guaranteed way to show whether someone is a good player or not. It can be gamed in a lot of ways, and it will also miss a LOT of great players whose gear choices just aren’t recognised properly by the addon. A lot of players dislike it for that reason – Aislinana at Empowered Fire writes a spirited and well argued dismissal of the addon.

But the reason the addon has taken off is because it helps automate a task that PUG raid leaders need to do. They need to evaluate possible members before they invite them, so that they can try to put together a successful raid.Gear is a part of that, experience is a part of that (hence why people ask to see achievements), and when dealing with strangers, that’s pretty much all you have to go on. This is why in a lot of PUGs, the leader will ask existing members to ask around their guild for possible interest before they dive back into one of the world channels to look for random players.

It does feel unfair if you know perfectly well that you could perform well in that raid or group, and are being rejected because of some addon or lack of achievement. But put yourself in that raid leader’s place. Maybe you don’t want to have to explain the encounter to people who haven’t seen it before, maybe you just want a quick smooth run. The easiest way to ensure that is to take well geared people who have seen the raid before. Or poke your social network and trust your friends to recommend other people who will also perform well. The addons take the place of personal recommendations. And just as one of your friends can recommend a partner who actually turns out to be a rubbish healer (for example), the addons can make mistakes too.

One thing is for sure though, this need to evaluate random players isn’t going to go away. Raid leaders need to do this. Even the nicest players in the world can’t carry someone through a difficult raid, whether they want to or not. And if addons can make this job less onerous then people will use them even if the addon is programmed to be cautious and reject players who would be perfectly fine in the raid.

We could ask why people are so risk averse in MMOs. The answer might simply be … because they can. The great success of the random dungeon finder is simply that it is now easier to get a group and run an instance than to painstakingly evaluate four other people. ie. even if someone in the group is undergeared or underskilled, it’s quicker and easier for the others to just take them along than to be picky about looking for replacemnet.s

The only real question is what arbitrary way to evaluate their fellow players will people think of next? Nibuca writes at Mystic Chicanery about an alternative evaluation addon that she’s tried called Elitist Group (this one lets you save notes about different players after having grouped with them.)

So what can you do if you are hitting the gear score ceiling?

Firstly, don’t stress over being turned down for groups. Shrug and move on. Wish them luck if you are feeling polite. Particularly don’t stress out if their requirements were stupidly high, it’s their raid and their loss.

Secondly, work on your gear. Even if you know it isn’t necessary, you might as well collect more emblems and see if there are any easily available upgrades you might want. Don’t fool yourself that you’re such a great player that gear doesn’t matter – in a gear based game, all you are doing is making things harder for yourself.

Third, try to make some friends on your server. Maybe join a guild that does occasional raids for newer player or alts. Offer to help PUG raids that are less geared than you are.

Fourth, keep an eye open for people looking to fill PUG raids. Particularly the weekly raid quests, which are often to easier instances. When a raid is almost full, raid leaders will be more open to relaxing their initial requirements so that they can get things going. But if you do this, try to sound polite and as though you know what you are doing, and take it nicely if you are turned down.

Fifth, consider whether you want to start your own raid. I wouldn’t recommend this unless you know the raid instance, but there’s plenty of information around online if you fancy your chances.

It will work out. It just might not work out immediately.