It’s time to talk about a critical issue of any MMO that seems like a vanity feature at first blush, but is truly one of the most important mainstays that exists. I am speak of the Inspect feature. Now, everyone is probably familiar with “Capital City Grandstanding”. This is practice of standing around in a busy city hub in a game and doing something to attract attention to yourself and your sweet, sweet pixels. What this is meant to encourage is people coming up to them, checking out their gear and then saying, “Dag, when I grow up, I want to be just like Xmurderfacex. I guess I better get my grind on!” While that’s nice and all, there is a real, valid use of the inspect function beyond wanting to Be Like Mike. As far back as EverQuest, inspect was used to check out people’s gear and get a rough sense of the encounters and areas they have experienced, as well as their ability to join in a particularly difficult encounter. World of Warcraft was drastically changed by the add-on Gear Score, and it became such an integral part of the game life that the game officially adopted it and publicized their mechanics for random group finder.
It’s about more than a number though. Both Rift and WoW made it obvious what type of role someone was in a group with icons next to their name when in a group. Further, Rift made it obvious by assigning different names to the roles for added transparency. This means that it was very difficult to hide your spec and role when you were searching for a group. When the difficulty is increased, you really need the confidence that you are making informed decisions about your group. Making sure people have the proper equipment for their specialization, and that they are what they say they are is pretty important at even the most basic level. This brings me to the main crux of this piece, SWTOR has the worst transparency of any modern, mass appeal MMO in this regard. This is a three stage failing, even though one of these failings is with restoration of sanity in mind. Those three failings are:
1) Ease of Inspection
2) Lack of Advanced Class information
3) Combat Log
First, why does this stuff matter? To put it simply, people are lying assholes. Without any sort of method of verification, people are willing to say they are whatever role you need them to be, as long as their Advanced Class can fulfill that role. This is particularly true of the DPS role, compared to say, the healer role. People assume that they can slide by in the DPS role as long as they are participating in the fights. However, that’s just not true in the world of SWTOR, where the primary mechanic of the Hardmode encounters is the enrage timer. While I will not going into this design philosophy, I will simply say that I find it uninteresting, and just move along. It does mean that if people are pulling your leg and hoping to slide by, it will be obvious that something is wrong. When this happens consistently, and it does, this becomes a community and system issue very quickly. People will try and game the system if they can, and this system really demands that the player be vigilant against such cons, as there is nothing in place to help them.
Inspecting someone requires you to right-click their portrait, which brings up a plethora of options. Surprisingly, Inspect Player isn’t one of them. Instead, you have to select Additional Commands and then Inspect Player. It’s not much of an extra step, but it’s not exactly intuitive, is it? Any extra amount of effort needed to make this happen is pretty silly at the core. This is basic game functionality, and even then it relies solely on player knowledge of stats and roles in order to determine what possible role the inspected player is actually fulfilling. Now, I consider this the most outstanding failure because inspection has somehow slipped in importance and gone from “just right click the dude, but it generates an informative message to the player you are checking out”, to right-click their portrait, to right-click the portrait, then select it from a menu off the main menu. This represents not only a decrease in usability, but the assumption that this information is seen as frill or gilding. That, more than anything, is exactly the problem. The assumption that the players are incapable of making ration decisions with presented with unfiltered information is just simply incorrect. The proliferation of theorycrafting, player add-ons, and in depth strategy discussions all point to exactly the opposite. The players, the feet on the street, know better than the high level designers about how their implementation is actually working, and they work to show why, to inform others. When you widen begin to not only widen the gap, but begin the process of refusing to acknowledge exists, it just illustrates an unacceptable level of disconnect between the designers and the players. This unfiltered information is important, don’t hide it.
The second point is another information issue. While it is clear what Advanced Class someone is, there is no usable information about their spec, save checking out their buff bar or looking at their gear (see above). There isn’t even anything associated with their selected role based on their specialization when they join a group. This is very incredibly frustrating, bordering on unacceptable. Without this clear information, the onus is on the other people in a group to keep you honest. After two issues with this in the last week, I am going to say that the current method is not enough. The ability to look at a person’s spec, not ideal frankly, or a quick reference as to their primary tree, preferred, is needed. Without the ability to swap specs easily, it’s important to make informed choices. Even a simple LASER graphic to indicate DPS, a helmet for tank, and a glove for healer would be fine. The key is that people can tell, at a glance, what role someone is fulfilling. Frankly, the ability to save other spec lines, even if you can’t swap between them is needed. That’s another issue entirely, but the ability to have some pre-saved specialization choices are long over due. I’m fine with having to visit a trainer in order to do it, but at least make it a little easier.
Finally, combat logs. Without hard numbers, you are forced to pay attention to the other group members and police their actions if the situation breaks bad. You need to have a firm knowledge of class, roles, abilities, and rotations to see if someone is bringing their game or not. Now, this is GREAT knowledge to have, and people that lead raids really should have this knowledge, but to put this burden on every player? Yikes. It’s no small wonder that so many of the groups fall apart on seemingly trivial content. This stuff isn’t hard, but if people are pulling blankets over the eyes of their teammates, of course shit is going to go poorly. Having a combat log, while introducing a bevy of other elitist tendencies that I don’t care for, but am still guilty of, would solve a lot of that. If you can see who is the weak link, you can replace them. Now, I’d prefer to keep this a mystery and just solve for the above two issues, but this is a single fix for both of those issues. This is the easy way out, and would drastically change the game. Still, the more I run into people that are out and out lying, the more I find myself in support of this solution. There is no bullshitting pure numbers. You can make them mean what you want them to mean, sure, but the fact of the matter is that the players need ways to make better decisions.
Don’t make us be the elitist assholes. Give us ways to make meaningful, informed decisions without having to fall back on the crutch of the damage meters. They are great tools, but they can promote behavior that would be damaging to the SWTOR community. Keep the grouping civil and largely unelitist. Help us to continue helping the community. If not, we will eventually get logs and that will be that, or worse, people will stop grouping with strangers entirely, as they simply can’t be trusted. Either way, the community changes for the worse.