The Toxicity of Damage Meters

I've been thinking about damage meters lately, for three different reasons.

One is that I found it interesting how in a recent post by Kaylriene about toxicity in the WoW and FFXIV communities, a lot of the bad behaviour he talked about seemed to at least be partially inspired by people's reading of damage meters. The second reason is that part of the feeling that my Classic guild became too competitive for me to continue progression raiding was due to people suddenly talking about damage meters a lot. Thirdly, in our little retail levelling group, one of my guildies decided to install a damage meter and started commenting on people's dps, and I was surprised by how much that instantly irked me.

First off, to get the obvious out of the way first, obviously damage meters are not inherently evil, and in harder content they are a useful tool to diagnose problems. The problem I have with them is their seeming ubiquity in WoW and the way players use them to turn absolutely everything into a competition, no matter the circumstances. (When I returned to WoW two years ago, I never bothered to install a damage meter addon myself by the way.)

When I expressed some of my disappointment in the constant damage meter talk during raids on the guild Discord prior to stepping back from progression, I got some pushback along the lines of: "But people are only saying nice things, such as congratulating the top dps [after every single trash pull...], what's wrong with that?" At which point I disengaged from that conversation because trying to get people out of that box was clearly getting too deep for random guild Discord chatter, but the question behind it has continued to bounce around in my head ever since.

It's not that I don't get where they're coming from. I, too, used to be that person who unthinkingly had their damage meter open all the time. There's a post on this blog from back in Cataclysm when I mused about how odd it felt to do some dungeons without it after a patch had briefly broken my addon. Back then my ultimate conclusion was that while I kind of enjoyed the experience of not having to worry about anyone's numbers, harder content simply made it mandatory, as wiping all the time without understanding what's going on isn't exactly fun either.

The thing is, since then I've spent the last ten years playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, which doesn't have universal combat logging, and found that to be an improvement in pretty much every way. The thing is - and while I initially found this system kind of clunky I actually think it's genius now - SWTOR allows personal combat logging, so if you care that much about your own numbers, you can see them, but you can't see anyone else's without their explicit permission. The latter requires you all to log into a third party program together, which is absolutely what we do when we do harder progression content and need to see in detail what's happening. But that random pug you decided to do? Has no idea about your actual numbers, and neither do you about theirs, and I'm glad because not everything has to be a bloody competition. (Also, it means that if there's a problem, everyone has to work together to try and solve it instead of simply trying to identify the weakest link according to the meter and kicking them, but that's just a bonus really.)

There is nothing wrong with competition, I can be quite competitive myself under certain circumstances, but there's a time and a place for it. There's nothing wrong with running a race, but if I invite you to a stroll in the park, you starting a stopwatch and constantly bringing up our current walking speed is going to feel odd at the very least! At worst, loudly comparing and rating people in various categories of your choice is generally considered quite rude.

And let's be clear here: A lot of MMO content is definitely not designed to be competitive. Sure, you can absolutely do a Maraudon speed run to see who can clear the place the fastest, and if I see that sort of thing on YouTube I genuinely admire the effort, but that doesn't mean that every Maraudon run ever should be a speed run from then on and that people who just want to see the sights and kill bosses are in the wrong.

And that is my problem with talking about damage meters, in a nutshell. It shifts the conversation away from the stuff that I enjoy, the stuff that we all got into the game for in the first place. We choose the framework through which we view a game like WoW, and fixating on damage meters is a choice to turn the game into a competition, even in content that isn't meant to be. It doesn't matter to me if your constant talk about "pumping" is positive or negative, because I reject the whole idea that we should be spending our evenings measuring who's got the biggest coloured bar to begin with. I log into an MMO for the explorative aspect of solo play and the fun of grouping.

I know that different people have different priorities, but I do find it frustrating that we seem to have reached a point where many WoW players seem to struggle to even conceive of a world where we simply don't think about things like dps very much, and don't understand how it can be a burden to be unable to opt out of that, to be publicly rated every moment you're grouped whether you want to or not, whether you're struggling to hit a dps check in a raid or merely breezing through a lowbie dungeon.

And I do think it's telling that for the dozens of different addon functionalities that Blizzard has incorporated into the base game over time, live damage meters are something they have refused to touch with a bargepole to this day. I think it's because they know that this functionality is something that actually makes the game worse for many people, and if things like dps numbers were literally visible to everyone, all the time, by default, it would make for a horrible experience. Just something to think about next time you feel like giving unsolicited commentary about someone's position on your meter addon I guess.


  1. Great post! I completely agree. I haven't used a damage meter in well over a decade but there was a time during my grouping years in EverQuest when I had a third part program installed that gave me huge amounts of information about all kinds of things including damage dealt by everyone in the group. You could see it in real time but if you had logging on you could run all kinds of reports later (I could run reports now on fights from fifteen years ago if I found that program and fed in the logs i still have somewhere).

    I found that weirdly compelling. We used to talk about who was doing how much damage in group and sometimes for a long time after but I can't remember if we ever changed much about how we played as a result. Fortunately I also don't remember anyone falling out over it either.

    What I do remember is, as you say, how inappropriate it ended up becoming and how very much it changed not how we played but how we thought about what we were doing while we played. It turned the whole thing into an excercise in looking at numbers and stats instead of exploring and having adventures. In the end I had to uninstall the program, even though it did a lot of other useful stuff, becuase I couldn't leave it alone.

    Snce then I have avoided damage meters like the plague in any game that has them. I don't care how much damage I or anyone else does. I even turn my own in-game flaoting damage numbers off most of the time. All I care about is whether I win or the mob I'm fighting does and I can see that by looking at who ends up face down in the dirt. How long that takes is mostly immaterial (although not in those stupid boss fights that go on forever!)

    1. I found that weirdly compelling. [...] What I do remember is, as you say, how inappropriate it ended up becoming and how very much it changed not how we played but how we thought about what we were doing while we played. It turned the whole thing into an excercise in looking at numbers and stats instead of exploring and having adventures. In the end I had to uninstall the program, even though it did a lot of other useful stuff, becuase I couldn't leave it alone.

      It used to be pretty similar for me in WoW really. I'd find myself paying less attention to my environment in order to stare at the meter, and doing dumb things like standing in fire or pulling aggro just to get in that bit of extra damage on the next trash pull. In pugs, I'd judge people by the length of their bars - because once it's there, you can't look away.

      Yet at the same time, I really didn't like myself being like that and playing like that, which is why I can't see myself ever installing a live damage meter again. It's definitely been a relief not having to deal with it most of the time.

  2. You are awesome. Damage Meters are a bane on innocent dungeoneers just leveling their way through the game. I can understand using them with a group of people you know or are guilded with to try to help everyone work together and succeed. In a PUG, where I live eternally, if you are that person who wants to help other players get better, then you go ahead and talk to them as you move through the dungeon, giving them useful tips. If you're that smug person tossing out a damage meter to prove you're Biggest The Best The Braggingest, turn it off. You notice that nobody ever puts out a damage meter where they are not the top listed damage dealer. I like the idea of the information only being available to the individual player.

  3. I think damage meters became a disease that Wow is now stuck with. Too many people assume top DPS means they are are a great player or that they have free rein to comment on everyone else. Heaven forbid that you're in LFR and killing bosses just fine or that top DPS is standing in stupid and causing the healers to go OOM trying to keep them alive. It's even crept into people ranking tanks by the amount of DPS they can do.

    It would be one thing if folks used it properly as an analytical tool on progression fights, but sadly that mindset is long since gone in a large part of the player base. :sigh:

    1. Oh, I can't see WoW ever putting that genie back in the bottle either, and I know that wishing upon a star for people to just be better is pretty pointless, but if even a couple of people were to read this and maybe have a think about how their love of meters affects both their own play and that of others, it'd be at least something.

      Just for a moment, can you imagine though? Players not being able to see others' damage numbers by default anymore? People would lose their minds at first I'm sure - but then maybe be surprised by how rarely it's actually needed and how much time it frees up to look at other things. :)

    2. I would be happy to try it. That's one of the things I enjoy about Swtor: none of these addons exist as a routine item. Not being able to have a bunch of addons installed showed me that I really don't need them to enjoy a game.

      I could see a simple meter - I think it was Rohan who suggested one which worked like a traffic light. Red, you aren't going to beat the timers, green you're just fine, and yellow being it is touch and go. (At least, I think yellow was that.)

      I'm glad you made the post. As you say, even if a few people take more care with how they use damage meters it is well worth it.

  4. Given that Retail has speed running championships, Meters are here to stay. While they don't explicitly condone them, the WoW Devs "grew up" on WoW using them like crazy. I can't imagine Ion Hazzikostas ever stop using Meters for his Mythic runs, and there's an unconscious bias built into group content that requires meters if you want to complete content.

    When I returned to Classic, I didn't bother with hardly any add-ons, and it was only when I was required to have it for raids that I installed Meters and most of my other add-ons. (I still run minimalist compared to most other raiders.)

    But Meters --and their cousins, the Raid Logs-- are pretty much required for a lot of guilds to determine if you're "any good" at playing WoW. Even I got a request to talk to someone on the other raid group today, because my DPS is pretty far down comparatively speaking. (I know what my issues are: lack of BiS gear, lack of enchants, and --personal opinion-- a need to be less conservative in raids in terms of waiting for interrupts when they're required. Probably need more Expertise as well.)

    1. I think there's an important difference between meters and logs, in that logs are something you look at after the play session, outside of the game. That's quite a different kettle of fish from watching everyone's performance live and trying to influence your position in the rankings in that very moment.

      Also, in Classic my guild was so casual that we didn't have any dps requirements whatsoever. In Naxx I looked at the logs sometimes and we had people below the tanks (usually the ret pallies) - but while I'm sure there were mutterings behind the scenes about how that was making things more difficult, I don't recall ever hearing anyone make an issue out of it. It was almost like an unspoken taboo, but it really emphasised that feeling of community, that once you'd been accepted in you had a space no matter what.

    2. Yes, there are differences, but now that I've been privy to raid leadership discussions, I've found it enlightening --and not in a good way-- about how a guild that aspires to be a Top Five raiding guild on a server dives into logs and examines meters to try to be as sweaty as possible.

      I was told by someone who'd taken a bit of a sabbatical during Naxx that while part of the reason they stepped back was personal/family, there was also a sort of unconscious pushback from the amount of prep and pushing to be elite, which was not how the raiding was originally conceived.

      And from what I've seen, even the "non-sweaty" raid is slowly being infected by the sweaty push. Part of that is because there have been some grumblings among some raiders that we should move to 2-day raids/week because they don't believe we're capable of clearing SSC and TK in one night.

  5. I'm missing my personal use case here. Run a damage meter and if you're in the bottom half, kick yourself to improve. If in the top half have a smug smile and never mention it. :P

    But yeah, I was in a guild with damage meter tryhards once and it made me stop playing the game for like 5 years. Not good.