Gear(Score) Doesn’t Make the Player

Posted: October 24, 2009 in DPS, Enhancement Shaman, Theorycrafting, World of Warcraft, WotLK Raids, Wrath of the Lich King
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Fresh from my aforementioned break from World of Warcraft, I was hanging out in vent with my guild after my first-ever Trial of the Crusader run, when one of my guildies piped up:

“Dude, there’s a Paladin standing near the north bank with a 5,200 gear score!”

That was followed by lots of, “Who is he?”, “What guild is he in?”, “Oh, he’s got the weapon I want!” and so on.

I got the familiar feeling that I’d missed a lot in my time away from the game.

What is this gear score you speak of, how do you see it, and what does it mean?

It turns out it was a product of a now-popular add-on, and 5,200 was (and is, I suppose) particularly good. I also learned that, in my nine-month-old Naxxramas and Malygos gear, I was running around Dalaran and other locales with a score that, unbeknownst to me, broadcasted a serious lack of gear.

Ah. That would explain why an old acquaintance had to fight to keep me in an Onyxia pug just a few days earlier. (“Don’t boot him, I remember him from TBC — dude can put up some good numbers and you don’t have to worry about him dying to stupid shit.” I sincerely appreciated that.)

"I wouldn't be caught dead in anything lower than iLevel258!"

"I wouldn't be caught dead in anything lower than iLevel258!"

In the four weeks or so since my return from the game, I’ve raised my Gear Score to a respectable 4674, and any close inspection will reveal some smart choices — I’m gemmed to the Expertise cap because of a distinct lack of that stat on my gear, I’ve got Berserking on my new Frostblade Hatchet and Blackhorn Bludgeon, and I’ve wisely invested my first cache of Triumph emblems on the sweet new Enhancement relic.

That does not, however, mean it has been easy to secure — and keep — my place in groups for heroics and raids like VoA and Onyxia.

The initial assumption is that I’m a member of any number of “fail guilds” that are still working their way through WotLK’s first two tiers of raids, and that my (at the time) Naxx weapons, Sartharion helm and four-piece Tier 7 were indicative of scrub status. Annoyed, I changed my title from my favorite (“of Thunder Bluff”) to one that I hoped would indicate I know how to play (“Twilight Vanquisher”) and found myself assuring group and raid leaders that I know the fights.

But now that I’ve been back for a month, I’ve seen something that doesn’t really surprise me at all, but seems to come as a shock to quite a few other players — Gear(Score) does not equal skill.

We actually talked today about adding an item level 300 shirt that did absolutely nothing but mess with mods that attempt to boil down players to gear scores. 🙂 – Ghostcrawler

Now we’ve got a whole series of toys aimed at helping us better evaluate players — from the in-game Gear Score addon, to WoW Heroes, to more traditional gauges like WowJutsu — yet we still don’t have any way to accurately measure a player’s overall effectiveness.

Sure, that healer may have jaw-droppingly good gear and the legendary mace from Ulduar, but if she dies halfway into every encounter, she’s a liability. Likewise with the DPS rocking the latest tier gear and high-powered weapons while impotently hitting the boss for less damage than the tank.

How do we separate those players from the good ones? What’s more, is there a way to consider gear as only one factor, so that we don’t accidentally pass over those otherwise solid players who may not be rocking the highest iLevels?

We’re limited by the bits of data that the game mines, but with achievements, some enterprising addon developer might want to incorporate some of the following things into a more robust measurement of a player’s quality:

  • Reduce a player’s gear score to only one component in a multi-tiered evaluation based on the available data
  • Implement a scoring system for achievements, and weight it against pure gear score: Hard mode achievements should contribute to a player’s meta-score, along with adjustments that take into account when achievements were earned — a player who earned “of the Nightfall in January of 2009 would get a small number of points over those who got the achievement in ToCr gear
  • Combine gem choices, enchants and itemization into its own category weighted on spec-appropriate choices: Do you want to be rolling against an Enhancement Shaman with dual +50 Attack Power enchants on his weapons and Intellect gems on his gear? A player’s choice of gems, enchants and itemization says a lot about them — whether they’ve taken the time to learn the appropriate theorycraft for their spec, how seriously they take maximizing their gear, and how familiar they are with their own class mechanics. Simply assigning a flat value to all tiers of gems and enchants only tells you a player’s spent some gold on their gear — but weighting gem and enchant choices by spec could give you some real insight into whether a player knows what they’re doing.
  • Create a (non-weighted) talent specialization indicator: This sounds controversial, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m envisioning three categories — Raid Ready, PvP, and Custom. If you’re looking to fill out your guild’s 25-man ToGC run with one more healer, your decision would definitely be swayed by knowing that Resto Druid who wants the spot is specced strictly for arena. And while custom talent specs are part of what makes this game great (who doesn’t love that freedom of customization, even if you mostly stick to cookie-cutters?), you probably wouldn’t take a DPS/healing Paladin hybrid to a hard mode raid. The talent spec indicator could be separate from a player’s overall weighted meta-score, but it would still provide invaluable information on whether a player is right for the job.
  • Allow players to rank each other based on character and performance: This feature might be the most controversial, and it certainly has the potential for abuse, but if you’re a believer in data evening out over time, a peer-ranked weighted category could have an enormous upside. I’m envisioning a simple, easy interface that still allows room for nuance and detail. Say, for example, a maximum rating is five stars — players would be able to rank another player on their own server from one star through five on categories like Friendliness, Trustworthiness, Skill, Game Knowledge and Leadership. The addon could restrict voting to once per player reviewed, per account, with built-in safety measures like diminishing returns on similar votes from players in the same guild. That way, a truly great, unselfish and helpful player will earn his or her reputation through a mix of votes from guildies and non-guildies alike, but a universally reviled ninja with a penchant for nerd raging won’t be able to escape a bad reputation, even with a name-change.

I realize addon developers don’t make money for their efforts, so the vast majority of the UI tweaks, data-mining mods and helpful simulators we all use are a labor of love for the people who made them. And obviously, this would be a lot of work. But I’d like to see it happen, and I’d be more than willing to brainstorm with any talented coder who’s willing to give something like this a shot.


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