More than just Gear(Score): An interview with Gear Score’s developer

Posted: November 4, 2009 in Enhancement Shaman, Patch 3.3, Theorycrafting, Uncategorized, World of Warcraft, WotLK Raids, Wrath of the Lich King
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In January of this year, a first-time add-on developer contributed a simple piece of code to a few of World of Warcraft’s popular download sites.

Dubbed Gear Score, the mod was aimed at raid and PuG leaders, as an alternative to alt-tabbing out of the game to manually check the Armory pages of prospective group members. For the better part of eight months, the add-on remained relatively obscure, a toy for the developer’s friends, family and guild-mates.

It wasn’t until Gear Score 3.0 — which incorporated a built-in Armory tool — was released that the add-on’s popularity spread like a viral video, racking up thousands upon thousands of downloads and becoming a staple in almost every pick-up-group player’s toolbox. It’s hard to pin down exactly when Gear Score entered the wider consciousness of the World of Warcraft playerbase — probably some time between the first angry rants aimed at the add-on’s users, and the sudden use of the program’s name as a verb: “Dude, there’s a Ret Paladin who wants to join, can you Gear Score him?”

…if a player has great gear they need almost no skill or knowledge of the fights to succeed. For example, run Halls of Lightning with everyone in Ulduar gear, and you don’t even have to run away from Loken’s lightning blast, which will one-shot any player who actually needs gear from that instance. So it’s not that GearScore makes users assume that a player with 4000 score is more skilled, it’s that users don’t care what your skill level is, because with high enough gear you don’t need any skill.

Never has an add-on been so devisive, inspiring diatribes that grow into monstruous threads on the game’s official forums, or posts lamenting the growing notion that gear is the most significant factor in evaluating a player’s worth. Even the developers have responded, with Ghostcrawler joking about implementing an iLevel 300 shirt to “mess with mods that attempt to boil down players to gear scores.”

Yet for every player who thinks the add-on makes other players too lazy, too critical of others, or too dependent on gear as a barometer of skill, there’s another who thinks Gear Score — used in moderation — can quickly help them determine if a player is clearly not ready for certain content.

“If someone does have full greens and tries to pug heroic TOC25, addons like Gear Score are a good way to go ‘Whoa WTF?'” notes a Warrior on the official forums. “It’s all in how it’s used.”

It took only a few short weeks for legions of players to catch on, spending their downtime in cities like Dalaran, mousing over passing players to query their scores. As the number of players who were being rejected from pick-up-groups grew exponentially with the popularity of Gear Score, the backlash started to gain traction.

If skill is really more important than gear, the detractors wondered, shouldn’t there be more ways of evaluating players besides — or in addition to — gear?

As it turns out, mirrikat45, the developer of Gear Score, has thought of that. His solution: Revamp Gear Score into a more robust indicator of player effectiveness by offering a baseball card’s worth of totals and statistics. Although busy working out the kinks in the latest iteration of Gear Score, mirrikat45 took some time out of his day to talk with Stormstrike about his add-on, the way it’s used by players, and what kind of functionality we can expect from the newest version.

First I want to ask you about the general response to Gear Score. As a player who took a long break from the game, I came back to WoW (and to raiding) to find everyone was using your add-on. I read your blog, and it seems like Gear Score was added to Curse and the other popular add-on sites in late August, is that right?

GearScore was created in January of 2009, at almost the exact same time as Wow-hereos. However GearScore didn’t become popular until I released the 3.0 version with the in-game armory. (In late August.)

Can you describe the explosion in popularity of Gear Score? Did it take you by surprise? And do you have any information on how many people use it?

The explosion was partly by suprise. And some of that explosion was the cause of a few problems within the addon. It’s hard for me to say how many people are using it. I have several thousand downloads / day from Curse, but its hard to see exactly how many of those are just updates and how many are new users. In addition many websites out there pull addons from other sources and allow people to download them from there. Further more, I don’t track downloads from the blog either.

…the majority of critics have absolutely no idea how the addon works. They make crazy assumptions, such as ‘Your GearScore is simply the total of all your item levels,’ or perhaps the average item level. They don’t realize the addon contains an in-game armory so that it cannot be “tricked.” They assume that putting on “Darkmoon Card: Greatness” will drastically ruin your score and therefore the addon is completely flawed.


From reading your blog, it’s obvious you’ve heard some of the criticisms and are working to make the add-on more robust, so it provides more than just an evaluation of a player’s gear. In the new version,  users will be able to see if a player’s gear is appropriate for their spec, and get detailed histories of their raiding experience. Can you talk a little bit about why you decided to add those extra features? Is there anything else on the horizon, in terms of other categories with which to evaluate a player’s contribution to a raid?

Well, first, I added them because I wanted them! And so did a lot of my friends, family, and guild members. I also wanted to emphasize that GearScore isn’t everything, that there are other aspects you should take into account when inviting players. However usually for a pug leader with a time limit, the amount of time it took to take these other aspects into account was encumbering. These updates allow for more efficient information, in an easier to read display.

gearscorescreen

GearScore 3.1 will reveal if a player is wearing gear itemized appropriately for their spec, among other changes.

Let’s also talk about technical limitations, if you don’t mind. What bits of data do you wish Blizzard would make available for add-on developers like you? What kind of features would you like to implement, but cannot, due to the limits of lag and in-game data mining?

When I first wrote the addon I calculated stats directly off the items, so if it was enchanted or gemmed it would naturally have a higher score. To combat latency issues within Dalaran, Blizzard removed gem information from itemlinks seen on characters in the game. (Which means that when you first inspect a player you must wait a few seconds to receive gem information. For the most part the average user won’t notice anything, but addons will).

This addon was indeed my first. I had messed around with some of the code before but never put any effort into a real addon. I’m very good at learning technical systems of any kind and was able to quickly learn the language and had the first version of the addon out within a couple months…I would love the opportunity to work in any kind of game design and plan to begin writing my own apps for the iPhone.

This caused all kinds of bugs, because Blizzard never added a method to determine WHEN the gem information is actually ready. To combat this change I had to calculate my formula in another way that still came to the same value. Doing so however removes my ability to calculate the value of gems and enchantments, a major criticism of the addon. My wish is for blizzard to add the gem information back into itemlinks or to make an event “GEM_INFORMATION_READY” which we could simply wait for, before scanning a player’s Gear.

GearScoreSnip2

Among the new at-a-glance features is a tab that displays dungeon progress, with mouse-over information detailing the specific bosses a player has killed. (Image courtesy mirrikat45)

For every player who has ranted about Gear Score on the forums or blogs, there are others who see it as an extremely useful tool for quickly determining if players are really ready for certain content.  Is there anything you would like to say to critics, or those who don’t seem to realize that gear is just one way of measuring a player’s effectiveness?

This is a difficult thing for me to comment on. I’ve spent a lot of time on the forums speaking to people about the addon.

The first problem I run into is that people don’t always hate the addon in particular, they seem to hate the words “gear score,” and often times they don’t realize there is a difference between the addon and wow-heroes. The next problem I run into is that the majority of critics have absolutely no idea how the addon works. They make crazy assumptions, such as ‘Your GearScore is simply the total of all your item levels,’ or perhaps the average item level. They don’t realize the addon contains an in-game armory so that it cannot be “tricked”. They assume that putting on “Darkmoon Card: Greatness” will drastically ruin your score and therefore the addon is completely flawed.

Furthermore they make crazy assumptions about “EVERYONE” who uses the addon, saying things such as “everyone who uses it is a moron” or “tanks put on cloth gear just because the item has higher GearScore.” All the assumptions about the addon are completely false, and I highly doubt that even a small number of players act in the way critics assume they do.

Before I continue, let me describe the “misuse” a lot of my critics say the addon causes. They complain that people use my addon to keep those who need gear out of instances because my addon encourages players to ask for “4000” GearScore just to run heroics. This isn’t true. The addon states right on the main screen that 2600 is more than suitable for  Heroics.

The players are using the addon correctly, however they are just looking for unreasonably high values for heroics. Why? Because they don’t want to spend more then 15 minutes in the instance. This is a problem of laziness being rewarded with more emblems. The more emblems per hour you can farm out of heroics, the more benefits you get. So in a way, the game itself encourages players to run speed runs. Without GearScore players just ask for “6000 DPS” or “Link [Overkill Achievement],” or they just inspect you or look up your Gear on Armory, IMBA, or wow-heroes.

Heroics are very easy, and having high gear makes it even easier, so that if a player has high gear they need almost no skill or knowledge of the fights to succeed. For example, Run Halls of Lightning with everyone in Ulduar gear, and you don’t even have to run away from Loken’s lightning blast, which will one shot any player who actually needs gear from that instance. So it’s not that GearScore makes users assume that a player with 4000 score is more skilled, it’s that users don’t care what your skill level is, because with high enough gear you don’t’ need any skill.

Look at it the other way, and when you see players looking for raids or groups for current level content they ask for reasonable GearScores and also tend to say “Must know the fights”. Although many players still make you link the achievement to prove you know the fights. This suggests to me that the users of the addon know the fights wont be easy, and still want you to not suck. And the fact that they tend to ask for reasonable GearScores leads me to believe that most of the “abuse” and “misuse” who-ha is highly exaggerated.

Blizzard has on multiple times stated that they don’t see a problem with gear checks or gear evaluating levels. They have stated that they noticed the problem with the community shifting to “speed” runs and focusing on efficiency. They have also stated that they have plans for Cataclysm to alleviate this problem.

And finally, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to include a little bit about you. Is this your first add-on? How did you get into coding add-ons? Is this just a hobby, or is it something you hope might segue into a full-time job with a games company?

I’m 23 years old, from Oregon originally, but living in Washington at the moment. My main is a Restoration Shaman, but I do have a warlock, druid, paladin, and hunter alts. I don’t have much time to play them because of the time demands addon programming costs.

This addon was indeed my first. I had messed around with some of the code before, but never put any effort into a real addon. I’m very good at learning techincal systems of any kind and was able to quickly learn the language and had the first version of the addon out within a couple months.

I originally wrote the addon because people would just count the number of epics you had on your gear as the only requirement to get into Naxx. However some of these epics were only a fraction of a bit better then many blues available from Heroic Dungeons, and in addition people were inviting those in level 70 epics. GearScore was written to let you see how powerful that purple item should be.
So what’s next for you after GearScore?
I would love the opportunity to work in any kind of game design and plan to begin writing my own apps for the Iphone.

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Comments
  1. […] Stormstrike sits down with an interview of the developer behind Gear Score. […]

  2. Charles says:

    That was a really interesting interview and well worth the read, thanks!

  3. […] Stormstrike sits down with an interview of the developer behind Gear Score. […]

  4. […] Stormstrike sits down with an interview of the developer behind Gear Score. […]

  5. Skill Games says:

    Very informative stuff. Thanks very much.

    Keep it up!

    Regards
    Tom

  6. […] analysis for a Trial of the Crusader/Grand Crusader-geared Enhancement Shaman with an in-game GearScore of 5127. Some readers of this blog will have higher GearScores, and some will have lower — as […]

  7. Ralthor says:

    Very interesting read. I’d be interested to know more about the mathematical mechanics in the creation of the final GearScore (GS) number. I myself use GS as an indicator of ability/survivability as a raid leader. Knowing how this mod creates its values would be useful and may save me time.

    I personally, look at wow-heroes to get the base GS, briefly review the build, then look at kills in the related instance I am recruiting for.

    I’ve done it so often that I can review a player in less than a minute but that means 24 minutes of review if dealing with all unknowns.

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