Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to use damage meters

In my guild we use damage meters. We use them a lot. Results are posted not only within the raid or the party after completing an instance run, but sometimes in the guild chat as well - during a break, before the raid is even finished. Some of the players have different addons - Recap or Recount - in different versions, and they post their results to compare it and see if they give the same picture or are diverting somehow.

Most of all damage done is compared. Sometimes someone also link the dps, while still declaring that it really doesn't say much, that damage done is more important. Healing done is usually posted as well. But not much more than that, in spite of that there are numerous other things that are documented. I guess there are just too many numbers for people to bother to discuss and analyze them in depth. Or sometimes they seem too complicated; we don't quite understand what the graphs actually mean. Then it's easier to just point out the hands-on-number for damage done.

I'm no exception to this. I've got a damage meter just like anyone else, Recount at the moment. But I usually keep it hidden during the fights- it's somewhat distracting. For me it's far more important to keep an eye on Omen than to be tempted to watch the damage at the moment. I usually only have a glance at it during brakes. And the further analysis will have to wait until we're done for the day.

This big focus on the damage meters (which I'm pretty sure is common, not only in our guild) - is it for good or for bad? Well, most of all for bad if you believe a couple of posts written by the blogger The Big Bear Butt. He wrote them last autumn, but I think they're still well worth reading. I hate Damage Meters and I hate Damage Meters - The Return!

The essence of the posts is that he points out the dangers of putting too much attention to those meters: they make people focus on the wrong tasks during the raid. Sheep won't be sheeped, traps won't be laid, mobs won't be kept banished, just because those hunters, mages and warlocks look more to the damage competition than to the common goal for the raid, to bring down the mobs effectively. And worst of all - from his tanking perspective - the constant chasing for the top places on the lists will make the dps taking unnecessary risks, pulling aggro from the tank and causing the raid struggles and from time to time even wipes. Even though he admits that those addons can be valuable tools for self evaluation and improvement, the disadvantages are so big because of the constant misuse of them, that he'd rather be without them.

So where do I stand? Should the damage meters be banned because of all the harm they make? Well, I do sympathize with some of the points from The Bear, but honestly, I still think these tools are extremely valuable to me. They really help me when it comes to evaluating my spec, spell sequences, gear, consumable and other stuff that we're switching around, trying to figure out the best combinations. Without them it would be quite hard to know if changes I do are for the good or for the bad. Of course I can do it theoretically, experimenting with Rawr and other spreadsheets, but after all, it's got to be tried out and measured in practise as well.

I was discussing this with a more experienced raider, and he made another good point about the value of the damage meters: "They help people keeping focused during the raid", he said. And suddenly I realized it was true. We all function differently. Personally I have no problem at all keeping focused on what I'm doing - the game is such a challenge to me that I really can't do anything else at the same time. As a matter of fact it's one of the reasons why I raid, that it takes all my attention. But some of the younger players seem to split their focus much more. Sometimes they start discussing musical preferences in the guild chat - while raiding - which make me wonder how they do it - do they use some kind of auto attack so they can write while fighting? I need both my hands for the fight - and sometimes wish I had another couple of hands as well in order to move and nuke quicker, doing more at the same time... From time to time they're obviously watching a football game on TV. I guess if the damage meters weren't there they would be tempted to split their attention even more. As it is now they know that if they slack and think about other things more than about the raid, they'll end up far down on the damage list, and that isn't an attractive scenario. The damage meters is a good thing to keep them on track.

I think the right way to go about the damage meters is probably not to stop using them, but rather to use them even more than we currently do. But I think it's important not only to focus on the damage done list, but also on other necessary tasks in a raid. If there are several mages and only one decurse and the others don't give a damned about it since they're chasing the damage meters, it certainly will hurt the raid. But as long as nobody notice it and report it the same way as the damage list is reported, the slacking mages will get away with it. Their behaviour will rewarded - after all they'll probably end up higher on the damage list then their poor colleague who bothered to decurse. And of course the same goes with counterspell and sheeping, anything that hold you back from dps-ing. If you want to tell the raid about who did well on the damage list - tell them also about who did well in other aspects, so people know that everything in your performance is noticed - also things which don't result in damage done-figures.

Feedback is great and I think a guild which is a bit serious about progressing in raids should get used to give and take it. They should do it all the time, it should become natural. And for that purpose damage meters is a handy tool.

If you haven't done a lot of it before it may seem a bit unpleasant to begin with - hey, how much feedback do you give your colleagues in your RL work? - but I think it's just a matter of habit and - of course - of creating a good atmosphere in the guild. You should be able to discuss performances openly, in a generous and constructive way, where especially class leaders should take on themselves the task to actually analyze the damage meters in depth and try to help the players who underperform, pointing out things to improve. This shouldn't cause any drama or bad feelings. It isn't about making players feeling inferior or superior to each other. It's about always aiming for improvement - which should be natural to anyone into raiding. To reach out a hand to those who need it. To listen to advice from others.My conclusion is that there's no reason to be afraid of damage meters. Just learn to use them in a mature way and they'll be an invaluable tool for improvement and progression.

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