Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Is Viewable Gear Ruining Our Attitudes?

I recently had a rather long and involved conversation with my co-raiders regarding gear. In fact, we often discuss gear. It goes well with strat and a side of comparing calendars.  I would even go so far as to say gear discussions are a WoW staple food group.  I mean, how much time and effort has gone into the armory for Lightssake, and it's whole purpose is pretty much to facilitate gear conversations.

Through the course of the the group musings, it began to dawn on me just how much time, energy, and emotion we waste on gearing.  Gear lists are big biz in blogging.  Simple suggestions about gear can easily degenerate into rage-quit inducing fights.   There's a whole closet full of addons designed to help you analyze gear.  "Best in Slot" might as well elevate a simple collection of pixels to Arthurian glory.

Has anyone ever stopped to ask themselves if this is a good thing?  Is this what we want to have such a large impact on our gaming experience?

Think about it.  We use gear as an almost exclusive scale of judgment.  The first thing most people do upon meeting a new player is to either visit the armory or /inspect them.  I suppose it's sort of like in real life, when you are forming your first impression of someone, the clothes have a big impact on that.  It's the same in WoW with gear.  Initial impressions are often dictated by what we're wearing, or at least steered in a certain direction.  We're in the habit of judging a book by it's cover.

I understand there are a lot of positives that can come out of being so gear-centric.  I count myself among many who have consulted the gear of another character before in order to better my own character.  I've been guilty of not grouping with someone because I could tell at first glance that they would be useless where I'm going (we don't need roads, Marty).  I've been privy and party to many a conversation where a guild member's or a raider's gear was put to the question without their express written consent.

Is this good social behavior?  Are we fostering a positive gaming environment?  Being helpful is all well and good, but with Blizz really opening their programming playbook in an effort to give maximum gaming flexibility, I feel I have to make a simple suggestion: Why not make gear "hideable"?

Think about all the problems that we've discussed ad nauseum in blogs and in game that might be solved by the concept that you can't see everyone's gear.  How many times have you been the victim of unsolicited advice?  How many potential friendships have been missed out because people were relying on an addon to tell them who to invite instead of a conversation?  How many asshats might have been thwarted by not being able to size you up at a glance and spit you back out?

Again, I reiterate my question: Why not hideable gear?

I'm not saying we should hide all gear all the time.  I'm just asking for a choice where, if I want to, I would be able to be selective about who views my gear.  Now, it's like having a facebook page without any privacy settings.  People can size me up and pass judgment on me without even taking a millisecond to say so much as "hi".  Is this the direction we want for our online games?

My proposal is simple: implement a system where privacy is valued and supported.  Make it a true, two-way friend list system.  Right now you can add anyone, even if you don't know the person.  Friendship is a two way street.  How hard could it be to make the system shoot a confirmation to the other party, so that person can say that they are, indeed, friends.  Once you fix the friend list, then you can make gear only viewable to those on your friend list, thus controlling your own privacy.  You don't have to be naked in front of everyone all the time.  You can hold something back.

If someone wants to set up a PuG, they'll have to (*gasp*) actually converse with people and trust that they're not being lied to.  They'd have to take those first baby steps in developing a relationship.  Sure there would be people that would take advantage, but it would certainly encourage people to form a solid list of friends and guildies.  As things stand now, I feel like we're trending away from social networking in MMOs to a random queue system where you don't even need to know anyone.  There's nothing social about the trend, but I guess it's "massive".  It's all about being simple, cold, distant, and big.  Is that really what we want?  Queue up for an event, it'll check your gear score and flop you all together and off you go.  Great, right?  Working as intended: no ties, no problems.

Has this really made the game better?  People bitch day in and day out about being the victim of a spontaneous gear check.  About being left out because their clothes weren't nice enough.  Gone are the days when we judge by performance, but shouldn't that be the only measuring stick?  Shouldn't we be choosing our friends and raid members based on how it actually feels to group with them and not some arbitrary rating system?

But that would require time and interaction!  We want instant gratification!  So the masses cry.

And that's what we'll get if we're not careful: a virtual world where everything is at our fingertips... except for meaningful relationships formed with once complete strangers.

Okay, okay.  I'm catastrophizing.  There will always be people who look deeper than gear.  It's just that I hear a lot of my good friends judging other good friends based solely on gear.  Never once is performance brought up.  I mean, if someone is getting their job done in a group, who cares what they're wearing!  Why do we all think we have some sort of obligation to inform someone how they're "doing it wrong".  Like we all have to become professors of theorycraft when we see someone gemmed inappropriately.  Doing this in real life nets you an achievement that comes with a title: "the Asshole".  It's their toon and their game.  Who the hell are we to tell them how to play it as long as it's not negatively affecting our game?  Where did common courtesy go?

I'm not talking about bleeding edge raiding here.  I get it, those guys need to min/max.  It's what their groups exist for, but you are the one signing up.  It's a choice to throw yourself in that mix.  What about the rest of us?  The casuals.  The ones who don't always want to spend the time and effort to collect best in slot equipment, but can still preform just fine in end game raids.  Yeah, we're not going for any world firsts or speed records.  We're just playing the game.  Our way.

Why should any of us have to put up with the judging that runs rampant in our game?  Why do we have to throw it all out there? 

Now I understand that even if we made gear selectively viewable to a custom audience, others would still be able to tell by the actual skin of the thing.  I mean who can't pick out tier x shoulders at a glance?  Still, it wouldn't tell the whole story.  You wouldn't be able to see how they're enchanted and gemmed, and that's really none of your business unless the person asks for your advice and help.  It's like in WoW we're allowed to come up and give other toons everything short of a colonic to find out what they're made of without even having to ask "was it good for you?"  Shouldn't there be some sort of "personal bubble"?  You know, that space that we all have and need in public settings and if someone comes inside of it they might get punched in the face on a Monday. 

People might actually have to converse again.  They might actually worry about things like their reputation and who their friends are, and what sort of burned bridges they're leaving behind.  It might be more like actual social interaction as opposed to some wonky anonymous, faceless, speed dating service.

Then again, maybe I'm alone in this.  Maybe it's what the masses want.  Maybe we want speed sexting relationships.  It certainly works for some.  I guess I just have to openly wonder if this is the correct direction for massive online games.  Do we want to the quick and easy, the "known at first glace"?  Or do we want to have an element of the unknown? I think sometimes you have to ask yourself: what is the cost of convenience?  What is the cost of simplicity?

Is selective viewing of gear a panacea?  No.  Might it help correct some of the negative directions we've seen the game taking with increased emphasis on gear and random queues?  You decide.  If nothing else, it's something to think about next time you're offering unsolicited advice.  Gear is but one piece of the bigger performance picture.  We'd do well to remember that.


  1. As fun as gear can be I see what you're getting at. I've lost a few friendships over gear.. mostly because they're games began to solely revolve around where their next upgrade came from and if they weren't getting it WOOF they were mad and that got on my nerves in the end when it was all they talked about.. Well, sometimes they talked about how bad other players were, but that's a different story.

    You could implement the hiding your gear system with.. and I'm half asleep so can't remember the exact wording but.. being able to show items you want based on their appearance. So, appearance slots. If you wanted to, you could make it look like you were running around in full Tier 6, or the Haliscan Pants and Jacket, and nobody would have to see what you're really wearing unless you clicked an option to make it visible. Something like that at least.

  2. back in the day, EverQuest had the option to prevent other players from being able to inspect you... I think I'd enjoy being able to do something similar in WoW (in game and out).

    Too many flashbacks to junior high school and being picked on because my polo shirts didnt have lizards or horsies on them, I guess....

  3. Outfitter. While in town Dalaran, I have a profile that I use. It's totally cosmetic; I run around in my Green Martial Shirt and Tuxedo pants, but if anyone running GearScore takes a peek, they'll see a lovely 1100 score. :)

    Of course, it's not going to stop the in-fighting when a big-deal, every clothy wants, item drops.

  4. We've always had viewable gear. I remember gawping at Thunderfury outside the Org AH waaaay back, probably about when I'd run Strat or Scholo with strangers if my friends weren't about. I'd look at other folks gear back then too.

    I don't think viewable gear is the problem.

    Overgearing for content, then being a pussy about wiping is the problem.

    Back in the pug Scholo days, wiping was expected. Completing a 5 man was an achievement in itself - I know I failed more Emperor runs in BRD than I suceeded at. If someone in the group was causing all the wipes it wasn't the fault of their gear, they were probably just a poor player. No-one much cared so long as folks thought there was still a chance of getting to the end. It was all fun.

    These days a lot of folks are decking themselves up in end-game gear to run heroics that by rights are swathes of content beneath what might be called a challenge, and quitting at the first sniff of a wipe. Bunch... of... pansy... assed... babies.

    Why so serious? These folks have such a stick up their ass they have no idea anymore what fun is, or why the hell they're playing the game. It's turning into an alternative location for retards to express their status anxieties.

    I'm playing a demo lock right now, and my favourite thing in heroics is to go mental with a meta/immo/soc aoe frenzy whenever I see a big pack of mobs. I get to turn into a big, burning purple demon of death and see how many enemies I can destroy before they wear me down. I couln't care less if I get heals or not. There's some people that understand how much fun that is, but plenty seem outraged by it, like my tiny pixellated existence should be treated as something sacred.

    I like games. I like playing them for fun. Give me gta and I'll die over and over in the biggest collisions of flaming carnage I can make. In tomb raider I looked for the highest spots to swan dive from and couldn't care less if there was water below. My digital "life" is a toy, it's only value lies in how much amusement it can provide me.

    And this isn't about griefing, but about playing. All the crashes and dives disn't stop me completing gta or tr. Mucking around in Azeroth hasn't stopped me from getting to 11/12 in ICC10. I actually think that my enjoyment of playing helps me play better.

    My guild did VoA25 last night and were short a tank so we took the first to respond. Happened to be a 3.5k GS bear. A pugging pally healer (5k+ GS) quit over it while everyone in guild chat thought it was funny. We didn't bother replacing the healer, and cleared the place without a death. We had fun and the bear was a dude. Choosing between some crazy, up-for-it bear in blues and greens, and some up-their-own-butt purple geared pally who'd rather quit than try? No contest.

    It's not viewable gear thats the problem. It's that folks are forgetting why they play this game, and are turning into morons.

  5. From Fulguralis Via Email to me:

    @Jaedia - In Aion, you can pretty much re-skin anything. My experiences there are sort of the basis for this since a lot of people choose to hide their gear (/inspect can be turned off pretty much). That's definitely a solution, but that may be a major implementation on the part of Blizz... I would think just adding the "inspect off" function would not be.

    @Artie - Yeah, we see the same attitudes in the real world, and a lot of us felt the draw of going online to avoid such juvenile behavior. Online, you're usually judged more by what you say than what you look like/wear. It's one of the nice things about it, but humans will be humans...

    @Elk The Caz - I have a similar cosmetic get-up. I think I use a purple shirt cuz, ya know, <lock.

    @Anon - Well, I think it's pretty obvious what your main complaint is with the current state of things. Still, I think you're muddling the issue here. I'm not saying viewable gear is the source of All Evil (TM Warlocks, Inc). I'm just of the opinion that it causes a lot of drama from mostly unsolicited advice. I think you'll still have the folks that "flaunt it" and that's cool. I like ogling top end raiders and seeing what's out there too. So while you make a good point, I just think there are always multiple parts to any problem (especially when it comes to attitudes in society), and I'm just offering one suggestion for a small part of the problem. I'm not sure there is a way to fix the "new school" vs "old school" attitude clashes since a big part of it is the "accessibility" vs "difficulty" discussion , which has no easy solution, IMO, that will please all of the paying customers.

    As a side note, I too love to do the demo thing where I totally get myself squished but put out ridiculous AoE. Luckily, I'm almost always with my tank wife, so I give her a warning and she puts her Hand of Something Righteous Something or whatever on me that helps me live. Usually we get through it. If I get squished, I just make sure to let any other tank/healer know that I totally "meant" to do that... A lot of times I think they automatically assume I'm going to blame them for "no heals" or "poor tanking" since that's a pervading attitude.

    TL;DR - It's definitely a good point as I've noticed the "new" v "old" attitude differences as well.

  6. As Artie mentioned, back in the EQ days of yore, you had the option of hiding your inspect (it was even on by default, I believe). As well, you got notified whenever anyone inspected you (this was made an option to toggle later). It was even considered rude by some to inspect without asking, since it notified the person. It was akin to actually requiring manners (and judging those accordingly) and social etiquette. The popularity of WoW (notice I blame the popularity, not the game) has long since changed the way we perceive online social responsibility. But, I miss it..

  7. I like the idea, even having never been an EQ player. I wonder how much effect such a system would have...