If your WoW account recently expired (or you never got one), you would have missed out on the GearScore phenomenon. GearScore (GS) is simply put an addon (user made software modification) that assess the quality of other players gear at a glance, providing you with a score that indicate the level of items that player is wearing. The addon in itself isn’t that remarkable, players have always been concerned with gear and evaluating other players. What have grabbed me is the surrounding controversy -that seemingly any mention of GS is a possibility to spark a debate over it’s use.
The controversy is at it’s core very simple: Those pro GS say it’s an easy way to make sure that undergeared players don’t waste your time, while those against it say it can be falsely inflated (as it doesn’t actually check for intelligent choice of equipment, just it’s quality) and more importantly that it is not a gauge of player skill.
I understand reluctance towards being boxed up and reduced to a simple number (especially for those of us who have literally spent years in game honing our skills), as well as the growing culture of efficiency (previously only held by powergamers) which have become quite normative. In such, I see a tool as GS as a expected kind of development. For a long time we have had guilds use application templates or require you to answer questions to join. It has not been uncommon for PuGs to have standards for how much health, spellpower or damage is needed to join the group. Players who are unable to communicate in English have been refused, or even players with really bad names. All in attempts to ensure that the players on your team are the best possible.
In such, is GearScore really that different?
In the light of this conflict, I wonder how we would perceive a gear score if it wasn’t an addon? What if it was simply a feature installed by Blizzard?
Limitations based on gear have been a way of locking of player areas for a long time. In Molten Core you needed equipment with suited stats (Fire Resist) and all along the game’s evolvement there have been encounters specifically designed as “gear checks”. Now, these “gear checks” are not as obvious as a gear score. They are made so that if you do less then X amount of damage, don’t do Y amount of healing or can’t take Z amount of hits the group will not succeed. While those checks were largely mitigated by the ability of the player, it’s not correct to say that the gear score have at any point been irrelevant.
Further more, there is already an internal kind of gear score system in place from Blizzard. It’s simply hidden. It’s used on several occasions, through rarely explicit. When entering certain vehicles (notably on the first boss in Ulduar) the vehicles healthpool will scale with your gear, and further more; if you recently dinged 80 you would have noticed how several heroic dungeons will be locked for you in the LFD (Looking For Dungeon, an automated group searching tool) until you acquire better gear.
In such, the problem with GearScore is that it doesn’t have the legitimacy that Blizzards features have. While it’s ironic that much of the hate against GearScore is how it is used when excluding players based on a simple number, which means that hate should be directed towards silly player practice rather then some code which is quite clearly labelled as a tool to estimate player potential, I do wonder how GearScore would have turned out if it was Blizzard who designed it.Or better yet – if it was a feature that existed from day one.
Would we call it unnecessary? Unfair? Or would we simply accept it as one of the many ways we evaluate players around us?