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Arcane Brilliance: Why I hate DPS meters

It's time again for Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that used this boring screenshot of a damage meter graph for one reason and one reason only: Arcane Brilliance needs more of your pictures! There are still some languishing in Arcane Brilliance's email folder, for use in future columns, but not nearly enough. The strong initial outpouring of excellent screenshots has now petered out, and Arcane Brilliance would like to humbly request more. Send your pics to arcanebrilliance@wow.com, and see this column for the rules.

The comments section of last week's column on mage mistakes was an absolute treasure trove. It was full of wisdom, good advice, relevant in-game experiences, and the occasional trolling warlock (always welcome... we love it when the fireball-fodder comes to us... speeds the whole process up). But one comment stood out to me, so much so that I felt compelled to write an entire column about its topic. It's far too long to simply reprint here, and so I highly encourage going to the comment itself and reading it. There's actually another by the same commenter later on that is just as awesome. In fact, I will reprint one of the paragraphs from that second comment, because it pretty much encapsulates what I want to discuss this week.

Sarabande wrote:

Please don't remark on low DPS or complaining that DPS is barely above the tank's (esp. if tank is doing pretty high dmg) or constantly spam Recount in group, if everything is dying in a timely manner. This encourages the atmosphere of competition and pressures DPS into concentrating only on the numbers. If there is some kind of timer (such as HoR, VH, etc) which the DPS is not able to meet, that's a whole different thing. In fact if you happen to notice some DPS being considerate by holding back on purpose (even though most likely they want to be blowing stuff up, shooting stuff, stabbing things to death) and it's really helping, you might say something positive. That might encourage that behavior further and let the other know that that's something they might want to do as well.

This week's topic: DPS meters, and why I wish they'd just go away.

Now, before you tune out completely and start sharpening the pitchforks, let me clarify. I understand and appreciate the positive uses for damage meters. I have Recount installed on all my characters and use it liberally. Here are the things damage meters are good for:
  1. Monitoring your own DPS.
  2. Using the meter to help you when tweaking specs, gear setups, or testing spell rotations.
  3. In raids.
Here are things damage meters should not be used for:
  1. Linking in party chat during a random PUG, without being asked to do so.
  2. Determining who's a good DPS and who isn't.
  3. Justifying a vote-kick.
I almost feel like I could distill this entire column down into one sentence: don't be a douche.

Seriously, that's pretty much how I feel about the topic. In my opinion, society (and by extension, WoW) is made up of two kinds of people: those who are jerkwads and those who aren't. The people who spam damage meters after every pull to point out that A.) they are awesome and B.) you are not -- those are jerkwads. I can't think of a single good reason for this behavior. It's counterproductive, it's mean, and it's stupid.

The era of the random PUG is upon us, and it has heralded in a new style of instance running. As Sarabande points out, the tank sets the pace more than ever in these random dungeons, and though you will occasionally encounter the patient or uncertain tank, who prefers to take the instance at a slower, more normalized pace, most of the time your tank will be sprinting from pull to pull, daring the DPS and healer to keep up, rushing to complete the instance in as little time as possible. The tank assumes the DPS will kill things, and that the healer will be able to keep everybody up, and heaven help anybody who lags behind. In the rush, groups die with absurd rapidity, and there is no time between pulls to drink, look around, inhale, or even flip off the warlock. This leads me to the first reason I hate DPS meters:

They're worthless on trash pulls.

Beyond worthless, actually. The typical trash pull in a random PUG, with a decent group, lasts such a short amount of time that a mage typically can't even finish a full spell rotation before the mobs are dead. My arcane mage has resorted to using an abbreviated rotation for all non-boss encounters. He waits a second for the tank to pull everything, then spams Arcane Blast until Missile Barrage procs, at which point he fires out an Arcane Missiles, no matter how many stacks of Arcane Blast he's got out. Then, he follows it with a quick Arcane Barrage, because if the mob isn't dead yet, that's the only thing he's got time left to fire out. There are times, especially if the rest of the group is trigger happy, or if I'm lagging behind the group because of an Evocation or because I lagged a little while looting something, or any number of other reasons, that I don't even finish the first cast of Arcane Blast before a mob dies.

How is that in any way an accurate representation of the damage output a player is capable of? The answer? It isn't. Which brings me to my second reason for hating damage meters:

They're largely inaccurate in random PUGs.

Let's lay aside the fact that most DPS meters are still of questionable veracity in cross-server instances (the numbers are still pretty wonky, in my experience). Even if your damage meter is 100% accurate, accounting for everybody in the group without error, you're still talking about a rush-job random PUG. Chances are that most of your group outgears the instance. The tank is rushing. The rogue is spamming Fan of Knives on every pull. The arms warrior can't stop using Bladestorm as an opener. The ret pally only appears to have one button on his action bar, and that button is Divine Storm. The tank is in full tier 9/10 gear and does more DPS than anybody else is capable of. Mobs die swift, horrible deaths, to the point that other mobs in the instance see what's happening and just leave.

What you end up with is an environment where you can't judge anybody's worth by a meter. The entire operation is barely-constrained chaos. There is no semblance of a kill order, of target marking, of crowd control, of anything resembling even rudimentary organization. You end up throwing out spells and burning mana you ordinarily wouldn't, simply to look better on Recount. The numbers on the meter only reflect a player's ability to throw numbers up onto a meter.

Then somebody links recount after the first pull and we come to my third reason for hating damage meters:

They breed an unnecessary sense of intra-group competition.

So let's look at the reasons a person might feel obligated to link the damage meter in party chat:
  1. They were asked to do so by someone who doesn't have Recount installed, but would like to know how they are doing. In this case, I usually just whisper the numbers to that specific individual.
  2. They were topping the chart, and wanted everyone to know it.
  3. They want to point out someone's perceived sub-par performance to the group.
  4. They are the tank and want to shame the DPS by notifying them that the tank is outperforming them.
  5. They suffer from muscle spasms, and accidentally clicked the wrong button.
Of those five reasons, one is justifiable, one is improbable, and the other three mean you are a prick.

The first time somebody links Recount in chat, the group dynamic instantly changes. Suddenly it's on. The game condenses down to a single gnawing imperative: I must lead that meter. Whoever is last on the list instantly feels terrible. They may not have anywhere near the gear they need to outperform the other two DPS members of the party, but they feel bad about it just the same, because if you linked, you clearly want them to know how badly they're doing. The person topping the group feels good about themselves, but might also begin to resent the underperforming members of the group, feeling that they aren't pulling their weight. The group atmosphere goes, in one fell swoop, from cooperative to toxic.

What was the point of linking it? The answer, of course, is my fourth reason for hating damage meters:

Unless the group is wiping, the numbers are largely pointless.

Before you link your meter in chat, ask yourself the following question: are the mobs dying?

If the answer is yes, then why do you care? If things are going poorly, then maybe you need more DPS, and the undergeared or incompetent DPS in your group are holding you back and need to be voted out. If things are going well, though, what would possess you to point out what you perceive to be weakness in your teammates? Doing so has zero upside. What do you hope to gain? Do you think that by pointing out a below-average member of the group, that member will suddenly become better, improve their performance, and top the DPS meters? Are you secretly trying to inspire them? No, you're trying to demean them. Don't argue. That's what you're doing, and you know it.

Do you point out their shortcomings to the group in an attempt to foster support for a vote-kick? If so... what do you expect to gain from the eventual kick and replacement? Again, we've already established that the mobs are dying, right? Do you want those mobs to die... more? Is the time you'll spend waiting for a replacement and then waiting for that replacement to catch up with the group really worth the extra second or two you'll shave off the pulls from then on?

If the mobs are dying, if things are going well, then having somebody on the team who's not up to your standards isn't hurting you at all. In fact, for all you know, the subpar DPS they're putting out may not actually be a measure of their incompetence. It may, in fact, be a byproduct of their utility. Speaking of which:

Damage meters don't reflect anything that doesn't actually do damage.

I was in a group the other day. The healer died during a particularly difficult boss fight. The feral druid was on the ball, though, and very quickly came out of cat-form and took up the slack, allowing us just enough time to down the boss. Then the warlock (have I mentioned that I dislike warlocks?) had the gall to post the recount numbers in chat, and add a comment at the end that the druid did less than half of the damage that he and I had done. He initiated a vote-kick, and before anybody could say anything, it passed, and the druid was gone. I was flabbergasted. I pointed out, angrily, that the druid's numbers had been low because he'd spent the second half of the fight keeping us alive instead of doing damage. And then I left the group.

We become conditioned to look at the DPS numbers as some magical, infallible yardstick for evaluating a DPS character's worth to the group. And yet a DPS meter is only that: a cold, numerical measure of raw damage output. It is nothing more, and nothing less. It doesn't reflect the time we spend decursing. It doesn't reflect time spent on crowd control. It doesn't reflect time spent running out of the pool of green poison so that the healer doesn't have to worry about us when he should be worrying about the tank. It doesn't reflect time spent throttling back our threat generation, or waiting for the tank to grab aggro. It only reflects damage. I can't emphasize that enough. I really can't.

Do we really want to create an environment in which people are scared to contribute to the group in ways other than flat damage? Would you rather the hunter throttled back his DPS a bit so that he isn't constantly pulling mobs off the tank? As a mage, would you rather I spent some time removing curses, taking a bit of the weight off the healer? Or would you prefer that I continue to be so worried about my position on the damage meter that I concentrate entirely upon DPS?

Now, about 2,000 words in, I have come to a realization. I don't actually hate DPS meters. I've focused largely upon their failings in the environment of the new random dungeon finder. In a traditional raiding environment, though, they're must-have tools. You have an organized group, taking on challenging content, and it's vital to know if somebody can't pull their weight in an extended combat encounter. It's important to know if you have enough DPS to swap one out for an additional healer or off-tank, or if your DPS is lacking and you need to replace members, or ask somebody to change specs. No, I guess I don't hate damage meters.

I hate the people who misuse them.

So the next time you glance over and realize that LolpallyXxX is only throwing down 1k DPS in heroic Nexus, and you're suddenly struck by the urge to link his meager numbers to the rest of the group, stop. Take a breath. Look around. Are the mobs dying? Is the run going smoothly? Are you in heroic freaking Nexus? If you're nodding your head to those questions, you need to reconsider your motivation.

And finally, I realize that this is a mage column, and that the majority of what I wrote above isn't exactly a mage-only concept. But I play a mage, and I run random heroics all the time on him, and I use a DPS meter. I'm sure a great many of you mages out there do the same thing. I am concerned by the douchebag who keeps linking Recount. His constant presence in my groups disturbs me. Sometimes, he is a mage. I write all of this in the solemn hope that the mage community can begin to be a part of the solution to this, instead of contributing to it. We're DPS. We remove curses. When asked, we provide rock-solid crowd control. Other classes perform other duties within the group. Let's all do our jobs, and let others do theirs. If the mobs are dying, who cares what the stupid meter says? The answer, of course, is nobody. Except the jerkwads. The jerkwads care.


Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent mage primer for patch 3.3, or our lengthy series of mage leveling guides. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

Filed under: Mage, Analysis / Opinion, (Mage) Arcane Brilliance

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