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.

35 thoughts on “Gearscore, and why we need to evaluate other players

  1. I think addons should play for me. Sometimes I wonder why I play MMOs, the level of automatization and rather inane human interaction is appaling. Gearscore and Recount are just some examples of taking the rpg away and replacing it with a shallow game based on very primitive formulas and statistics. Combine that with repetitive content. Yeah, MMOs suck so much and it does not get better. 😦

    • Relevant to both your “automation” points and spinks’ brief discussion of skill and gear’s comparative effects on character power, I wrote an article that outlines what the meaning of skill really is in WoW and why WoW’s easiness is actually a good thing for a game of its kind.

      Gearscore is directly correlated to how much time you can spend in game more than it is tied to skill. Sure, some people will acquire gear faster because they’re better at the game, but given enough time (and I’m not saying “given infinite time”, but simply given a bit more time) anyone will be able to achieve a certain gearscore. Success in WoW is a matter of time, not a matter of skill, and WoW would be worse off if it changed that.

  2. I have an alt on a friend’s server tht I like to mess around with sometimes. I didn’t bother to join a guild, because I am on this character so rarely.
    What I did find is, if you are a solo player at 80, it is incredibly difficult to pug any raid, simply because of these achievement demands.
    “LFM for Naxx, show Kel ach”. Ok, I have been to Naxx a zillion times, my charcater has 200 ilvl gear and upto 219 in some slots, but I can’t go, because I havent been there on this particular character before.
    Now, why are people going to Naxx anyway? If Naxx isn’t for characters with poor gear looking to upgrade, and it’s not for specific achievements, then what is the point?

    Another case of where this all falls down: I joined a pug for Heroic ToC 5 man. The tank had 22k health, buffed.
    I queried whether the tank had enough health.
    “I do, I have done this plenty of times”, he said, then proceeded to link his Waking Nightmare achievement, thus proving he was competent.
    Of course, we wiped on the 3 minibosses at the end of the first joust.Who got the blame?
    “Healer, wtf?”

    • This really varies with server and with the raid leader. I know I sneaked my DK into a PUG TotCrusader raid where they didn’t seem too bothered (although I did get gently mocked when we killed the last boss and my achievement spam came up).

    • A few options

      1) Fake the achievement. There are addons that let you link achievements you don’t have.

      2) Start your own raid. People generally don’t check up on the raid leader, especially if you sound competent. You probably want to require achievements from everyone else though. I tried leading a few No Achievements Required pugs myself and got a harsh lesson in why people ask for them.

      3) Make friends, join a guild or whatever and get taken to Naxx the old fashioned way as part of a progressing guild or group of raiders.

      4) You may have more luck with an offspec. You’re a healer? Try your dps spec and see how hard you hit. If you are over 1500 in heroics you’re probably about 2500 in a well synergised raid.

      5) It’s often worth trying to get into Link Achievement raids. They’ll probably say no but if you are friendly and knowledgeable they may let you in.

  3. To put it bluntly, we are back at the “one needs Kara gear to run Karazhan” stage, only automated. Which is more a problem of the human mind than of the game or addons. Still, Gearscore freaks me a out. I want at least a player to judge me and then i can blame him for his ignorance. Blaming a script is so pointless. 🙂

    • See, most people really do not understand the difficulty of various raids in the game. They aren’t experienced enough to evaluate other players themselves, but they want to run raids. Or else they want a shortcut to filter out some people quickly, to save some time.

      I think this is how it happens. The addon can help them to do something which they’d find difficult otherwise. Even if the addon is wrong, or the arbitrary gear score is stupid, it gives them a better chance of a successful raid than they’d have without it.

      The answer? Maybe involves moving away from such massive games. In tighter knit communities where players are more likely to know each other (or know people who do) then the whole addon and gearscore thing isn’t so important.

      • The answer I’d like is the removal of fixed raid sizes.

        In Eve no one cares about your stats – you’re an extra gun and an extra body that might get shot instead of me.

      • That works too. I remember in DaoC we never cared about individual stats, it was more of a numbers game. I enjoyed it that way. Only the hardcore raid guilds raided with strictly limited numbers.

        I think people do enjoy the number limited instances, but tbh they’ve trivialised instances with the last patch. Maybe making raids more number dependent would encourage hardcore to play alongside more casual players.

  4. Is there a recommended gear score for each instance? As a new lvl 80 I do need to run instances to get better gear after all. Is there a list of instances that are designed for an under-geared toon? I realize I will not last long in some instances. Would hate to waste the time queuing for an instance that I probably will not last long in….

    • If you use the LFD tool, you will automatically be accepted or rejected by the system based on your gear level.

      Additionally, all heroics should normally be done on Normal levels first. This allows you to learn the heroic fight mechanics and gives you an indication of how good/bad your gear is.

  5. Gearscore is useful if used wisely. The problems arise when people demand 3000 DPS and 25k HP on clothies just to run Naxxramas.
    Or worse, use it in 5-man heroics. Even RANDOM heroics, which will, 9 times out of 10, put you in a group with 1 undergeared new-80 (it’s part of the algorithm)
    The same principle covers abuse of Recount. I have it, I have it running most of the time, even in 5 mans, but I don’t post it (unless asked, and even then I’m reluctant) I like to see how my DPS fares comapared to other classes. In raids, one more recount helps balance the stats out when we pool them.
    Mods are useful, they’re helpful, they’re a guide. They cannot distil the skill and worth of a person down to a number.

  6. I don’t have a GS addon.

    I actually came across a situation where it would have been useful too.

    Just one though.

    Alliance side my tanking warrior is 80, mix of 232 and 245 gear, 5100 GS (I asked someone who has the mod).

    My Horde tanking warrior is 70. Random dungen heroic is Utgarde Keep–3 for 3 or so. I have gotten used to chain pulling it–and was doing so until I fell over. Only then did I realize the healer was 68.

    I figure GS would have warned me about that–or I could have just noticed the character’s level.

    • It’s not the healer, it’s your missing avoidance.

      A healer gets very little from leveling/gearing up. A bit more heal, a bit more mana regen. If you heal for 2000 or 4000 doesn’t make a “huge” difference.

      A tank gets way more. If you dodge/parry/get missed 20% or 60% and block the rest is a “huge” difference.

      I doubt that the best equipped and most skilled healer can keep you alive if you ran rampart in UK in level up gear.

  7. So a friend of mine has 5 80s. He has some great gear on some and not so great gear on others. He’s a damn good player with a touch of ADD. His GS probably sucks on some 80s but is fine on others.

    We don’t have a problem with PUG raids b/c we typically only (randomly) raid with our guild.

    However, if someone wants to play a lot of alts, or is a fresh 80, why the fuck are you bothering with GS. I just wish people would remember there are circumstances where it’s not a case of L2gear or low gear means someone can’t play.

    I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had a pally healer (in full epics) with the random dungeon LFG tool that just sucks because they haven’t learned to heal certain fights. GS != player skill

  8. I have an admission, I have GearScore installed. My main is a Dis Priest and I will check people’s score to see what kind of a time I am in for. People with a high score tend to nuke through everything meaning quicker and better than those with a low score. I only really check on the DPS as low scores mean low DPS (in general) and if I know I’m in for a longer fight I can prepare myself for the group I have. Other than that I wouldn’t use it to rag on someone else. I’ve seen people in better gear than me perform worse after all.

  9. I’m glad that this addon is completely unknown in my battlegroup as far as I can tell, if it wasn’t for blog posts like this I wouldn’t even know that it exists. And for all the dodgy pug experiences I’ve had, I don’t think I’ve heard a single disparaging remark about anyone’s gear since 3.3. Not one.

    I remember still pretty early after WOTLK release, some people from my guild started a late-night Naxx10 run and we had to pull some puggers in. I asked the raid leader how he had determined whom to take, and he said that he’d asked in chat and then simply exchanged a few whispers with the people that volunteered to find out whether they weren’t obviously rude or stupid. We only ended up clearing two wings as it was getting late and the puggers weren’t the best players ever, but they were decent, friendly and fun, so we ended up having a good time anyway. Taking a minute to talk to potential raiders still strikes me as better than looking at some random numbers.

  10. This add-on is already coded into the game. You cannot put yourself into the LFG system for the 3 icecrown 5 man instances nor for ToC5 if your gearscore is not high enough.

    They increased the required gear score now twice for HoR heroic, which is very interesting and got no attention on the web. Yes. They did not nerf the Instance! The increased the criteria who is allowed to do it! (I consider the changes they made tuning and not a nerf. (No double mage + double rogue group and a little bit less damage from flame strike))

    Also, there is a gear score requirement for ToC10/25 and ICC raids in the new raid browser. Although my paladin has successfully tanked ToC 10 normal in a guild run I cannot put him into the raid browser for ToC10 because of a to low gear score.

    I wouldn’t be too surprised if we would get an interface option to show the official WoW gear score with some patch down the road. Of course, someone would have to detect the WoW algorithm first. 🙂

    And with Cata, when you only have one important stat, like int for caster, gearscore might be even more accurate. 🙂

  11. I use gearscore, but not to reject someone, but to tune my behavior to their gear and the necessary efforts and learning to get that gear. Where the 3k-gearscore-lock gets a misassisted mob taunted off, the 5.1k-ret-pally in on his own.

  12. I always rejected the use of gear score or sites such as beimba or wow hero to check other people out.

    Then I started using them to check my own gear/gems/enchants out. Then I started using recount to help spot people ‘doing it right’, check their gear out, compare it to my own and pick up tips.

    Then I started using it when forming PuG’s to filter obvious idiots (Warriors Gemming for Spell Power anyone?)….and then we’re really on that slop arnt we? I still dont use gearscore or have it installed…but for a Raid Leader selecting PuG’s? Who you going to choose The badly geared unknown possible moron or the well geared and correctly gemmed/enchanted possibly not a moron? It’s like filtering job applications by spelling and handwriting:- You may loose a gem but if your trying to filter quickly your duty is to the Company/Raid not the Brilliant player with bad gear choices.

  13. I love this post spinks. I completely agree with everything you said. Gearscore, when abused, can be a bad thing, like anything else. But as someone who has formed a ton of pugs, you need *something* to go on to know who to pick, and you really can’t tell someone’s skill in a simple way. That’s the very nature of a more complex and valuable asset like “ability to play”: you can’t see it by inspecting someone.

    That said, on some servers it’s ridiculous. There’s a difference between a raid leader looking for reasonable gear and a raid leader demanding that every member overgear the instance.

    BTW I have gearscore installed and LOVE IT. Enter pug, mouseover group, quickly find the [bleeping][bleep] who couldn’t be bothered to gem the pvp gear he was wearing to H HoR. 🙂

    The biggest problem I have with it is that it goes on ilevel and is unable to recognize gear choices based on stats instead. For instance, Darkmoon Card: Heroism is the best trinket available to a DK unless they got lucky in both ToC 25 and ICC. Without running 25-mans, it will continue to be in one of my 2 trinket slots. It’s ilevel 200, compared to ICC’s ilevel 251/264. So even though I’m making the right choice by keeping it equipped, my gearscore is significantly lower because of it.

    But that’s only a nitpick for close comparisons. In reality, I only use the addon to quickly catch people who are trying to run something they are *vastly* undergeared for.

  14. Gear score is a terrible goddamn thing for a number of reasons.

    As mentioned, it ignores clever gearing or realising which items are actually BiS or better itemised instead of having a higher ilevel. It stops people thinking about their gear. Consider something like Perdition from MC, whic was freakishly hard to actually replace for most rogues until well into BWL, yet did not have a particuarly high ilevel.

    Also, more importantly, it lags the damn raid. By having gearscore on during a raid, you are actually contributing to wipes. Which will be more expensive in your fancy high ilevel gear. The mod is constantly asking ‘What’s your gear like?’ ‘What’s your gear like NOW?’ ‘How about NOW?’

    • There seem to be some reasons, gearscore shouldn’t be the ONLY source of information to evaluate players.
      So there’s no need to propagate fake ones:
      The performance issues (addon chat spamming) should have been resolved with one of the latest versions. But even before that, I think scanning was disable during combat.

  15. On my server, gearscore as well as asking for achievements is completely unknown. If I lead a PUG-Raid I will armory everyone who wants to participate and have a look at every single piece of equipment. Gearscore? I don’t need it.
    When I’m gathering people for a Naxx-Raid I expect at least blue gear level 70+ fully gemmed with at least green gems, with cheaper enchants on the more important pieces. A player who is geared like that will be accepted. But a player geared in full iLevel 232 but without a single enchant will be rejected because he has written “I don’t care” all over his equipment.
    I also don’t need Gearscore to find out how to heal, I will always try to heal as mana-efficient as possible. I never stopped trying to be as mana-saving as possible since classic, even if it means that I end most fights with a completely full manabar. Its not like I’m giving up anything for that, I just don’t give in to sloppy playstyle. And if the time of mana starvation comes back, I will be ready.

    So tell me again: Whats the use of gearscore if it doesn’t even catch that DK who simply bought every cheap epic (including cloth and spellpower leather) in the auction housee to sneak himself into HoR heroic? It can be tricked, it tells me sometimes that good players are actually bad and sometimes it claims that bad players are good. If I need to doublecheck everything anyways there is no sense in even installing this.

  16. I’m kinda glad somebody came out in favour of Gearscore – I mean, I still think it sucks, but somebody obviously thought it would be useful enough that they bothered to write it, and other people obviously agreed enough that they use it.

    You’re obviously right that WoW is a gear based game, and all else being equal a well geared player will perform better than a badly geared player, but as a lot of people have pointed out, Gearscore doesn’t really tell you how *well* geared somebody is, only what ilvl their gear is. There’s a correlation certainly, but it’s very possible that the DK with 4000 GS is actually wearing a whole lot of Holy Plate.

    Perhaps it’s my inner scientist, but I’m always leery of assigning numbers to things that aren’t really measurable. I think there’s a genuine danger in reducing complicated things to single numbers.

    • “Perhaps it’s my inner scientist”

      Ah, there’s the difference! I’m an engineer so I know that a flawed model can still be useful, as long as you understand the flaws.

  17. I run gearscore, mostly because as a tank, it lets me know who in the group I may have threat problems with. Mages and Warlocks who outgear me, give me fits on threat.

    Also, I updated gearscore last night and noticed they have a new section in recount. It calcualates your effectivness of gearscore vs how much dps you did. It’s kind of neat, you can see who is living up to thier gear. On the flip side, it makes healers and tanks look like slackers. I can’t wait to spam it in our next guild raid.

  18. I dont use gearscore, but i do run a similar addon called EKinspect, and i also use wow-heroes on a regular basis. I use it mostly to see where my char would do well in raids (wow-heroes) or to quickly see someone else’s “range” of instances/raids he/she would get the most upgrades from or do well in.

    As a lvl80 tank, i use my EKinspect quickly before starting the dungeon to see what the healers average rating is like and store that information in the back of my mind, and i check to see at a glance which (ranged) dps has the highest rating, so i tend to stick my vigilance on that person.

    I never, ever, ever put all my trust and faith in an addon like that tho. After the initial few pulls i will adjust accordingly…the other ranged with a lower rating turns out to do more dps/threat, then i will change my vigilance. If the healer keeps up with my pace i will speed up and pull larger groups, if not i will be more carefull.

    I’ve even a few times used wow-heroes to turn down a player for a raid i was organizing, not because they were undergeared, but because i actually preferred to take along that guy with lower gear and less achievements, because i knew thát person would benefit more from the raid, get some upgrades and have some fun, while the other übergeared person from a top-end guild who would only want the badges might have been pushy, wanting things to go faster, etc.

    Also, i would never, ever (and have never) kicked a person from a group because of gear, or left a group because players in my group were undergeared.

    I have had some comments myself though from others, for example when using the LFD to go to Gundrak heroic with 24k health unbuffed and def capped, and the healer asking me “are you tanking with thát gear” and leaving the group instantly…when i remember the good old days when this was fine for Naxx10…

  19. Being in Iraq since the release of the ToC patch I’m dreading going back to play. All my gear is mostly 219 with all my 80s. I was in a top guild in BC “beating” the game before all the nerfs to BT and Sunwell.. IMO I’m a skillful player but now I only have shit gear.

    I’ll be back in 2 months but by then everyone will be saying you need 251+ gear to do anything in this game. In Naxx I was pulling 3-4k dps on average with 4-5k on Patch. But when I get home none of that will matter as I won’t have the gear score or achievements to do any raid.

    Shit happens. I might just wait to start playing again when the Xpac comes out.

    • Really, don’t worry about that. It’s never been easier to gear up with emblems from heroics with the dungeon finder, and the people who make the most fuss about gearscore are often the ones who take it all out of proportion and don’t really understand the game anyway.

      Good players will always be wanted.

  20. Pingback: 3 reasons why we need damage meters « Welcome to Spinksville!

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