Geeky Game Design and Automated Character Audits

My guild fell in love with be.imba and wowheroes a while back. Look, they have gear scores! Trumpets played throughout the geeky core of the guild: "Finally! A way to grade and communicate to people their relative progress in the endgame!" For example: "Hey, you're not ready for X because you don't have Y score. Go hit some instances and heroics."

Unfortunately, some time cuddled up to these tools have exposed why they can't be used for this reason.

The purpose of these scoring system is to make gearing/raiding problems simpler. There is a great desire for tools like this, as I say above.

However, Blizzard designs these systems to be obtuse on purpose. The reason that "+12 hit rating" and "+12 crit rating" translate differently to raw performance isn't an accident. It's to add more layers to the onion.

How does this onion affect players? Glad you asked!

  • Geeky players are aware that there are different levels of performance, and dutifully hunt down every article on the internets. They read EJ forums, class weblogs, mmo-champion, and so on. They find mods like RatingBuster and fall in love with them. This is me.
  • Geekish players are aware that there are different levels of performance, and do everything they can to get better short of learning much outside the game. My wife is one of these people. She'll never visit EJ, but she wants to play better, and is glad to take direction on how to do so. She just wants to learn from other people.
  • Non-geeky people might or might not be aware that there are different levels of performance, but they aren't going to go learn on their own or listen to anything people say. I know plenty of people like this. I have no idea how they think, because I've been a geek since my earliest memory: waking my father up at 4:30 in the morning so that we could do math flashcards. (Not kidding) I don't know what it's like to not want to know everything.

I understand the motivation behind obtuse game design. A game that is too simple won't retain the geeks, and we geeks are the buzzing bees.

Imagine that your character had just two stats: Body and Will. Every piece of gear only buffed those two stats. Easy enough for everyone to understand, but boring! The games we enjoy are more complicated on purpose. A game can be complicated and still fun to play. This is the fine line that all of these MMOs try to walk: deep but playable.

So having said all that, let's look at these two tools.


The Wowheroes character sheet is much more beautiful than be.imba's. It's sexy, and it completely scratches my itch called "I really wish that I had a D&Dish character sheet for WoW."

However, the wowheroes gear score is total crap.

All it does is sum up item level (ilevel). Not matched to build, not even whether an item remotely makes sense for your class or not. So if your fire mage grabs an ilevel 141 stabbing dagger, wowheroes says: Wow, nice upgrade over your nuking sword!

Honestly, it's like a numerical translation of "zomgepics!!!"

It's horrible, I wish they didn't include it at all. It's like a beautiful Art Deco house with a big purple and yellow mailbox. I guess that you needed a mailbox, but what the hell?


be.imba is better. It's not as sexy, but it has more and easier information to find. More importantly, its score system isn't as transparently bad.

You get a score, and you click on a link next to your score, and it breaks down the contribution per item that you're wearing. It's all opaque, but there seems to be some thought as to scoring pvp/pve differently, so it's not just an ilevel sum. I'm guessing that for priests (as an example), there's a grading scale that makes +healing worth more to PvE score and +resilience more to PvP, and does that for each build of each class.

But it still doesn't do things right. Here's an example:

A few weeks ago, I was helping another holy priest in my guild along, and the subjects of trinkets come up. He mentions that he's really looking forward to upgrading his last blue trinket. I look at his trinkets, then ask him, "Why?" Well, be.imba told him that his blue trinket is the weaker of his two trinkets. Here's his relevant snip from be.imba:

Bangle of Endless Blessings 4.58%

Ribbon of Sacrifice 5.90%

I'm a holy priest geek. I know that this output is wrong. Any similarly geeky holy priest will tell you that this is wrong. It's not just wrong, it's very wrong. Bangle of Endless Blessings is better than most everything you can get until SSC. It's far better than his zomgepic trinket. I then spend fifteen minutes explaining why, starting with:

Me: "Yes, I know we said to refer to be.imba, but it doesn't seem to always be right. Now let me explain–"

Him: "Wait. When do I know if it's right?"


I mean, look at baseball. People live in those stats, they love to numerically rank people and break stuff down a ridiculous number of ways, and judge players accordingly. But the guy who gets up with two outs in the ninth to hit a come-from-behind home run to win the game? You just can't break a character/player down to a single value, and I say this as a lifelong fan of statistics and numbers. This isn't a problem, this is part of the appeal.

So Are They Worthless?

No! Both websites make fine recommendations/reminders on enchanting and gemming and so on. "Did you forget that you dropped a cheapo gem in that beautiful badge armor piece because you didn't feel like going to the AH? Go fix that, you're embarrassing your class lead." Whoops!

That alone is worth the price of admission, and I check my own toons every now and then to make sure I'm not missing something easy.


Geeky Game Design wins via knockout in round one.

Will there ever be an easy and correct substitution for doing a minimal amount of actual geeking out? No. Addons like RatingBuster can help, resources online will help. But ultimately, if someone figures out a trivial way to circumvent Blizzard's entire game system, and that solution is easy enough to bring to the non-geeks… Blizzard's devs will spread around some obfuscation Miracle Grow, and the onion will magically grow another layer. As they should.

More Words!

2 thoughts on “Geeky Game Design and Automated Character Audits”

  1. Well I've found that the elitist jerks DPS spreadsheets come pretty close to this. Be.Imba is just good for ballpark estimations.

    1. @Glen – I agree. There is ample help out there to help people get better at their chosen role, but these gear scores are supposed to be cross-class comparisons. As far as I know, EJ doesn't attempt to say "I'm a better geared/specced hunter than you are a mage"… which is what these scores are for.

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