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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