On Monday, I wrote and published a post looking at the way in which discussions around DPS meters and real-time parsing have been trending in MMOs. I came at it from an approach that analyzed DPS meters as value-neutral tools, and instead turned most attention to the ways in which players use the data they provide to both help and hinder their gameplay experiences and those around them.
The post emerged from a reiteration of FFXIV’s ban on third-party tools and the, frankly, insane reactions to it from some corners of the FFXIV community, mostly the main subreddit (ask them what a third-party tool can do in FFXIV and you’ll be shocked at how easy Ultimate raiding must surely be since you don’t even have to play, apparently!).
I want to be clear, because I do think that my original analysis missed the mark slightly – I believe that the intent behind most DPS meter and parsing tools is value-neutral, but they do expose data that can be used in negative ways against other players. If you give a troll a hammer, he’s gonna hit everything he can (as Shintar put it in the comments on that post, give someone a hammer and every problem is a nail). For myself, here’s my take – I like DPS meters and parsers, generally. I’m not a parsing culture guy (I find trying to clear the top rankings on Warcraft/FFLogs to be something interesting but not worth it to me personally), but I think they have a viable role to play in high-end content and when tackling things with a raid static or guild team. I am sympathetic to the arguments that they open a jar of toxicity by putting performance data in easy reach of players who will use that poorly, but I think focusing on the meters to the exclusion of the people, the social environment, and the other factors at play is misguided. Not to say that everyone against meters is doing that, certainly that is not the case, but I think that people who have a blanket “no meters PERIOD” policy are pushing in that direction and leaving the social issues unaddressed just means trolls find other ways to be dickheads.
What I think we can meaningfully look at with this problem is the social and community side, but also ways that this can be helped through changes to how games present combat data to players and giving a measure of control back to the players themselves.
The First Problem: Learning Your Job/Spec/Class
A problem in the two games I approach this issue from, FFXIV and WoW, is that neither game does a particularly good job of teaching you the nuts and bolts of your full endgame kit. There’s a core rotation that can be found by the way abilities interact and resources build and spend, or in the case of FFXIV, combos, but there are a lot of intricacies that are left unexplored or underexplored by the games. In WoW’s case, there is a lot of gameplay that revolves around fluid execution on procs, turning a rotation into a priority system, along with a lot more scenarios in raiding that deal with multi-target fights, necessitating learning how to switch from single-target to cleave to full multi-target rotations. In FFXIV’s case, the game doesn’t really explain the concept of weaving your off-global cooldown abilities, so many players end up in the dreaded “octo-weave” – delaying their normal rotation by large amounts to hit every oGCD they can in-between two GCD-locked abilities.
Both games have some core principles and design catches that mean a player learning this won’t necessarily completely scuff their performance – both games reward the ABC (Always Be Casting) rule where even if it is the wrong button by raw throughput, hitting something is better than freezing and fumbling to find the right button to hit. WoW’s rotational pattern for much of the game leans on loaded spender abilities, so as long as you build those resources up, you can still do fairly okay. FFXIV, particularly in Endwalker, has made a lot of changes to job balance that allow players to move through their rotations without hitting many punishing DPS losses – there are still a few (if you mess up the Enshroud combo on Reaper and don’t get that Communio finisher in, you lose a lot of potential potency there) but a rotation executed poorly will still be okay, to a point.
But neither game teaches the deep knowledge to players, instead leaning on community, whether that is guides outside the game or Mentors within it, to communicate these things to players. At some point, a lot of this is optimization stuff (personal CD windows in both games, lining up the 1 and 2-minute burst windows in Endwalker) but those things can be where a lot of potential performance is lost or won. I think some tools already in both games could be useful for helping provide players a way to learn those things inside of the game. FFXIV has both the Hall of the Novice and Stone, Sea, Sky, which are intended to give players general guidance on play, HoN for teaching skills and SSS for practicing against a target DPS window to meet a check on a given fight. SSS is already fine for this, but we’ll revisit it later because it has other things it can do better, I think, but HoN doesn’t really teach much about oGCDs, weaving, or burst-windows, largely because it is old content that was created back in ARR and has only rarely been refreshed to meet large changes to gameplay. On the WoW side, Proving Grounds were excellent little tests of skill that gave players a decent mix of encounter design basics and situations to deal with for your role, and while it still exists, it only is really there as an achievement farm and something people who are extremely bored can do. Seeing it revamped slightly to have more current encounter design practice as well as having class and spec-specific teaching in it would be a great change. Granted, in both games, core rotation design is a bit more fluid than yesteryear, so it would be a challenge to upkeep, but I think that a part of how you help players acclimate to the game and get better and more comfortable at it is giving them more tools in-game where you can easily direct them.
The Second Problem: Encounter Design
One of the things that meter advocates, myself included, will often argue is that DPS meters are helpful for progression content because in both FFXIV and WoW, encounter design centers on building challenging DPS checks into fights. WoW has a myriad of hard and soft-enrages, where fights hit a wall and end or force an ending by creating a situation that cannot be survived. Most of FFXIV’s EX, Savage, and Ultimate fights have hard enrages – if you don’t kill the boss in time, they cast an instawipe and you go again. Ultimates do have some soft-enrage mechanics – The Epic of Alexander imprisons a single player at a time to start the enrage phase, so if you are close, you can have the group muscle through the ending, while the newest Ultimate in Dragonsong Reprise has a mechanic that kills 3 people at a time by the group’s choice (it seems based on what I’ve seen), so you can have a plan for hitting that wall and run through a list of pre-ordained sacrificial lambs to try and meet the DPS check of the fight last minute.
Here’s the rub – if your group executes a fight perfectly mechanically but then hits the wall on an enrage, you know you need more damage. Sometimes you can rally the group generally around improving their output, but sometimes you need to be able to identify where there is the most opportunity to improve and try and provide helpful coaching with the players who can use it. In a PUG obviously, you wouldn’t be able to coach or be coached unless you know the other player well or assistance is requested, and that is a gap where some bad things could happen I’ll discuss more later on in the post.
If I’m running with a group that is regular and in it for the long haul, being able to discuss and improve performance is a big part of getting better at raiding/dungeoning/PvPing for the whole group, and outside of personal desire to improve, it is the case I would most advocate for. You could export combat logs or use other methods to try and find the same information, but real-time feedback and parsing is going to get you there faster in most cases. In a group where everyone is on the same page with the same desires and similar styles, you have the best situation to use that information productively.
But a part of why people feel these tools have become necessary over time is because of encounter design that imposes stringent DPS checks. WoW has ramped over time to be a game where you don’t just need last-tier’s best gear to tackle the new one, but often need some pieces from the new tier, including things like tier set bonuses, in order to tackle the DPS checks on later fights. In this state of design, being able to make adjustments to help players improve ends up being powerful for the group. FFXIV has relatively few gear checks (the gear requirement to play well in Savage is not even full normal raid gear but often can lean on uncapped tomestone gear, a weapon that is a tier-old, and some normal raid gear and crafted mixed in) but it has DPS checks that are often harder overall because they also need the healers and tanks being able to max their contributions to meet those checks, especially on week 1 clears, which also means a minimum of mistakes adding damage taken to the raid group.
On top of the general improvements I noted in the first part about rotational mastery, one thing I think FFXIV could do in particular on this note is build a way to use Stone, Sea, Sky not just as a basic training dummy you hit until it dies or 3 minutes passes, but as a full fight practice to a point. Having a training dummy that also asks you to move, process mechanics, or otherwise adapt as practice would be really cool, or having an extension to the Hall of the Novice that discusses raid mechanics like common markers and their meaning – just anything that would let you learn the fights in a lower-pressure scenario as an option would be neat.
At the same time, though, I often think that a part of why DPS meters are popular is that raid fights don’t often have a ton of other ways to keep players from running a single pull of the fight until they win, but I would love to see other models of challenge start to seep in more. Soft-enrages are actually cool and interesting to me because there is some element of choice and control you can use to your advantage, at least over a locked timer enrage mechanic, but I think a slow ramp of danger over the full duration of the fight or more sequences of full mechanical execution sans attacking could help ease that hyperfixation on total DPS as the measure of a raid group. One of the most interesting things about Savage in FFXIV is that it has a lot more strategic focus on uptime strategies, where the boss positioning and mechanical execution are all aimed at keeping DPS, melee in particular, focused on doing their rotations on the boss, where WoW has more fights where players have to break from hitting the boss to do things, because staying focused on the boss will kill you or fail a mechanics check and risk a failstate for the group at large.
There are probably a ton of design options in this space that would reduce players feeling the necessity of DPS meters as a datapoint that can help progress, and I won’t pretend I know what will work here, but I do think that moving away from fixed DPS checks is a good play. You can have a fight or two each raid tier that has something like that, but right now, every fight in Asphodelos Savage in FFXIV has a DPS check and hard enrage component, and the available Endwalker EX trials do as well. I’m not as familiar with the current WoW raid tier, but I believe it does have a mix of soft and hard enrages and I think there is always room to innovate on how you push players in a difficult content setting.
The Third Problem: Privacy and Player Choice
All of these prior issues pale for me compared to a big one, though. The argument around meters is often a binary state – have them or don’t – but it doesn’t consider a middle-ground of coexistence where everyone can get their cake and eat it too, at least in theory.
Into this space, I think the solution is that players need to have some measure of personal control over their own data in the game. WoW logs everything to the combat log, even for players not in your party or raid in the same area, and FFXIV’s external logging via ACT just packet sniffs to find the values and log them, so there’s no way to filter or stop that if you don’t want your performance swept up in that collection.
What I would propose is that MMOs wanting to make use of a damage meter should implement proper damage logging via an API or in-game tool, where the logging of your data is opt-in and granularly controlled. You could choose fully private non-logged combat, personal only where only you can see and log your performance, friendlist/guild/Free Company shared logging where players in your social networks can see your logged data when in groups with you but no one else can, party logging where you share that data with anyone in a party with you, and fully open logging where everyone can see how you’re doing. I think this would be the right step forward, respectful of those who want the data while also allowing players to be exempt unless and until they choose not to be. It wouldn’t be the sole recommendation I would make (more on that in the final section here!) but it would be the best way I can think of to address concerns on all sides – in-game tool with full support, complete player-control over who can see the data including the option to never see it or show it as default, and the only edge case that immediately pops to mind as unserved is if you end up in a group as the sole private or non-logger, where they could theoretically determine your throughput as a measure of how much remaining boss HP is unaccounted for by the numbers they do have, but that bears a resemblance to how things are sans DPS meters now – if you want to find someone’s DPS, you can, but it takes some work.
A lot of arguments I see in the no-meters-ever crowd boil down to just wanting their own data private for whatever reasons, and I think that is something that can and should be done. I would say it comes with the understanding that some groups may note a lack of data as a red flag, especially at the most difficult levels of the game, but that is a social problem that would emerge differently and be handled differently, and I also find myself personally believing that the crossover of “wants to do the hardest content” and “please don’t look at my numbers” is a Venn diagram that is two circles just barely kissing in the middle. That also assumes that external logging is still a thing where you would be able to upload the data collected in-game, which may or may not be a thing in that case – I’d say it should remain a capability, but that moves further afield of what most people think of as DPS meter discourse, so I’ll let that one be for now!
You’d also have to account for external tools like ACT and find ways to defeat that if you want the privacy settings to be serious and respected, and I don’t know that I can speak to ways you could do that from my level of knowledge, so I’ll say that external parsers and packet-sniffers are a thing you’d have to solve here as well, whether by finding ways to obfuscate or hide the privated data in general or to find ways to nuke those tools and their ability to read the data (which may not even be a permanent fix).
The Fourth Problem: The Social Aspect
The actual feelings most people have towards damage meters focus in on the social repercussions and actions taken against them or others that they’ve seen or heard of. It is the ease of data access for trolls and how performance can be weaponized to ostracize or hurt other players. A fair number of people have stories of being left out of groups, dropped from groups, or minimized and talked down to because they didn’t make the number big enough to meet someone else’s standard, and that is the outcome that I think most leads to people not wanting DPS meters around.
A part of this is about social cultivation and picking your circle, but in a modern MMO, that callout misses the forest for the trees, because the modern MMO world is full of games with matchmaking and random queues where you end up with people you’ll probably never see more than once and who may not even be on your server or connected realm, so you end up in a situation where toxicity rarely is paid for by the trolls and where you can’t control who you end up playing with. In WoW at least, an ignore or report stops that player from showing up via matchmaking in the future, but in FFXIV, that is not the case and you can blacklist a player only to see them again, which is slightly more likely in FFXIV since it uses data-center pools for matchmaking instead of game-wide or region-wide ones.
So for me, the final piece of the puzzle as I see it is that you need to have a meaningful social contract with players that clearly defines and outlines what is and is not okay and to follow that up with actual action including warnings/suspensions/bans and to ensure that players have some measure of understanding that account reports are acted on and worthwhile. FFXIV does this already, although it handles DPS meter usage specifically via TOS, which means it has weak points – if you are simply dropped from a group for parses/logs/encounter DPS without a word, there’s not much you can do to prove it, and often unless there is either a direct mention of DPS performance in the in-game chat or a caught in 4k moment like some streamers caught this week in FFXIV, there’s no punishment coming. If you are a real asshole to someone else, you can get the slap on the wrist including an account strike for that, but that means that the don’t show don’t tell rule around tool usage is easily circumvented by just never saying anything. And I feel like I want to say that to a point, players should be able to decide who they want to play with, and if someone is failing mechanics repeatedly even with teaching and coaching happening or is refusing to listen, you can drop them for that reason and it can be perceived very differently by everyone involved, so it may not even be an actual DPS issue or log snobbery. WoW, on the other hand, has a notoriously anemic response to bad behavior from players, something they continue to publicize that they are fixing, so it can be hard enough to get full TOS violations like guilds boosting in Europe looked at, much less individual toxic players being awful about DPS data.
My feeling here is that as part of a comprehensive attempt to improve this situation, both games would need to define clear parameters around the social dynamic in-game and offer meaningful punitive action to correct when policy is broken. This is something where I think the challenge level is very high – there’s a functionally huge difference between gentle coaching and “git gud scrub” type bullshit, and you’d need to review reports properly to avoid incorrect actions, not to mention writing a clear and concise policy that draws the line in the sand with full clarity to avoid misjudgments or missed issues.
It’s easy to say “no critique ever” but I also think that in a team-play environment, that misses the mark, and ” be nice” is vague enough for loopholes like passive-aggressive bullshit (I have been main-playing FFXIV for 6 months now, and boy is that a thing still). I trust a lot of stories of people who talk about their negative experiences with other players and DPS numbers, but I also see a lot of people tell a very one-sided story of “I was kicked for DPS” without mentioning what happened in any actual detail, what was said to them, how they actually did, or the like – and a social system would need to leave players to self-mediate or solve on their own through other means like blacklisting or disbanding in response to negative behavior, with potential punishment doled out for false reports. FFXIV is a good template to start from, as it has a wide array of clarified and detailed policies (“lethargic gameplay” is probably my favorite legal jargon in a TOS ever) but it too has a vast array of places where it can also improve the TOS for clarity, in tandem with such an update.
I also think that players need the ability to bail on matchmade content without abandonment penalties if the social situation turns deeply negative, but I am not sure how you swing that easily. The earliest thought in my head is “if you report a player in the group for a clear social policy/TOS violation, you get a free pass to leave at that moment” but then you’d need to unwind how to handle false reports submitted as free passes to leave and that opens a whole other can of worms about the other players in the group after someone reports and bails.
The other piece of the social puzzle is player-centered, as I mentioned above, and that is for players to pick environments for non-matchmade content that meet or exceed their expectations on what is and isn’t allowed. A game TOS cannot take action on things that happen outside the game altogether, so if you end up in a guild/free company/raid team that doesn’t meet your standards, the game needs to help if those social units are a part of the game design. Both WoW and FFXIV have perks for their main social structures of guilds and Free Companies, and the developers could help here by offering some way to maybe preserve those benefits for like a day or small period after leaving one by choice (perhaps if booted too). There should also be ways to mark that you would not want to rejoin, so any in-game community tools would exclude them from searches, and ways to blanket ignore/blacklist with relative ease if the situation is really bad. I’m also a proponent of the idea that in-game blacklisting or ignoring someone should delete them from your existence in-game in every way – you can’t see them or run into them in-person and they can’t try to find you and hang around you, with an option or control to allow you to apply the ignore/blacklist to the whole account, both all of their characters and all of yours. Technically I know this is a hurdle (do you create a phantom phase for an ignored player so that someone doesn’t see an NPC enemy fighting no one? What about in FFXIV where there is no such thing as phasing?), but I think it would be the best way to make the social tools in-game work for everyone.
I find DPS meter discourse simultaneously interesting and also tedious, I’m not going to lie. I say tedious because I’ve spent a lot of time this week reading vapid takes from people on the r/ffxiv subreddit who tell hyper-inflated stories of what various tools for the game can do while shutting down any clarifying conversation or nuance. In WoW, I think the thing is that it is a settled debate to some point – the game has them and is going to probably always have them, but in FFXIV, the debate is both old (ACT has been used with the game for years, long before any WoW exoduses) and new (the increased visibility given the Ultimate world-first race), and coupled with perspectives mostly outside of both games (Shintar’s tale of her engagement with SWTOR’s parsing and Bhagpuss’ perspective across his illustrious MMO career) it has had some new life this week in particular for me.
My position is simple enough – I like improving my performance as a means of prolonging the life of an MMO for me, which often means real fight logs and uploading those, then running them through analysis tools like xivanalysis or the log analyzers for WoW and seeing what I missed and where I can improve in terms of ability usage, mechanical adaptation, and the like. I also enjoy the “number go up” gameplay loop, I won’t lie – getting new gear to push higher crits and higher baseline DPS is something that still hits with a bit of dopamine and feels enjoyable to me personally. In WoW, especially over my tenure in Shadowlands before that came screeching to a halt, I really got a lot of mileage in the last year out of pushing my gameplay to new limits and trying to drive my performance up – not just in DPS terms, but in pushing harder content, pushing keys, doing KSM early in the season without the benefit of weeks’ worth of gear upgrades, and the like. In FFXIV, I have genuinely enjoyed pushing my raid performance higher with each week of Savage and finding new ways to optimize my gameplay – I still do all the reclear bosses each week because I really enjoy trying new things on them and finding ways to learn more, as well as just playing other jobs on those same fights.
But I also think that a modern game in general needs more ways for players to control their environment – who they play with, what their priorities are, and how much other players can see about them without consent. I think that more robust support for tools like DPS meters is something that can help ease the debate – because if you add official meters but pair it with opt-in, default out logging and control over who can see and how much, I think you can solve the problem in a way that most players would be accepting of, across most positions in the debate today. I am sympathetic to the stories of people feeling judged or actually being judged, and I know that I’ve been guilty of it to people before too – whether I say it out loud or not, I will sometimes look at a meter in WoW and wonder about how a person landed there (I definitely don’t in FFXIV because of course I wouldn’t, meters are against the TOS and I definitely have never installed them, I just get lucky with how many people log in the PF runs I do). I do think that people can be judgmental without a meter, but it is obviously harder and there’s a clear gateway to issues by surfacing data that is otherwise hard to get.
Right now on the FFXIV side, I would say things are not in a good place because the “grey-area/we can’t tell what you have running and won’t snoop” policy in place on such tools is starting to crack under pressure, as more people use these tools, the clear grey area led to vastly more usage and more open usage, and the policy enforcements of the last week coming as responses to mass-reporting and brigading from chan-board trolls in Japan are both fully correct (the streamers broke the TOS, that is that) but also creating a problem where there is some witch-hunting and discussions about cheating that are as tedious, dull, uninformed, and just flat out bad as Soulsborne difficulty discussions. The grey area policy has largely worked, but it also means that you can still have your gameplay logged without consent and uploaded, and while I imagine very few groups are checking logs anyways (you can just flat join most PF groups and if they are checking, I really wonder how I got into so many P3S reclears over the last month with a best parse of 9th percentile haha), I don’t doubt someone has had a bad experience. At the end of it all, most of us are just screaming personal anecdotes into the void – I generally like meters despite having had some bad experiences at points of my WoW tenure especially, a lot of people don’t like them, but I do think that there is a way to better thread the needle, as I’ve discussed here today.
A lot of baseline MMO culture is old and outdated, built on foundations as far back as MUDs, and those elements of the genre haven’t seen a lot of attention since maybe WoW’s initial launch. It has the DNA of a lot of 2004 internet culture in general – crass, rude, “if you want to be on the internet get thicker skin” and the like, and I think that there is a lot of room for that stuff to be excised from the body of the genre. DPS meters and shaming based on them is a relic of an older era we should endeavor to leave in the past, but as long as such tools are in this limbo, we can’t make enough changes to set things right. At the same time, I think removing meters altogether is not the right path, nor is just letting them exist as they currently do and letting them vacuum up all the data they want. Will change happen? I think so, but I would be hard-pressed to accurately predict scale and scope of any changes (I suspect it will start with policy and TOS changes long before actual API or tool implementation, however).
Anyways, I’m just gonna look at my words-per-post tracker, and….oof. The number has indeed gone up and I’ve definitely killed the reader.