The fallacy of the DPS meter

“What’s your DPS?”

“Really? That’s pretty good”.

“Is that buffed or unbuffed? On a test dummy, in a boss fight, on trash, or averaged over a run? In a 5-man, 10-man, or 25-man?”

Its surprising how many players are completely side-swiped by those questions. I like to imagine the look on their face that accompanies the silence in chat as those little-used cogs at the back of their brain grind slowly to life. In some cases they’d really not thought about it. In others its the realization that quoting their highest ever DPS figure – achieved once while AoEing 20 trash mobs together – isn’t going to work this time.

I know the whole DPS Meter topic has been discussed before in a number of blogs. But I was reminded of this again recently, on a rare pug excursion, where some of the raiders were discussing the recount data and clearly weren’t making a distinction between the AoE trash pulls and the boss fights. They were just starting Recount at the beginning of the run and watching the DPS unfold.

The first rule of DPS Meters: don’t compare apples to oranges.

Don’t choose the wrong raider because one guy told you his fully buffed DPS when being run through a 25-man instance and the other was quoting the number he’d achieved on a boss target dummy after hours of refining his rotations.

We’ve all seen that guy who tops the DPS meter for the raid, yet when you analyze the boss fight data he seems to do surprisingly little damage. You look him up on the Armory and find he’s deliberately specced to maximize AoE damage and/or is massively under hit cap. Or you watch him in the boss fight and realize that the only way he knows to DPS is to stand dead still spamming one or two abilities. Any requirement to move and his DPS drops to the bottom of the list.

The distinction between AoE DPS and boss DPS is of particular importance to Hunters right now. The recent nerfs to Volley have significantly reduced their AOE damage, yet Hunters remain one of the best single-target DPS classes in the game. How many raid organizers are penalizing their best boss killers because they’re misreading the DPS charts?

The second rule of DPS Meters: Use DPS in context.

If you have a fight that involves lots of AoE, then bring the players and classes who have the best AoE abilities. But if you’re only AoEing trash (which is what normally happens in a raid), then you’ll still kill the trash with slightly lower AoE DPS. That high AoE DPS team may struggle on the boss if they’ve sacrificed all their +Hit for +Damage. You want the people who are geared for the boss fights.

And, of course, DPS isn’t even the best measure to use. Its just the most convenient. What really counts is your ability to do damage, so you should be watching the amount of damage a player lays down in a fight. But, of course, if you say to someone “I can do 1million damage” they’ll quite rightly put you on their ‘Total Loony’ list. That’s why DPS is the lingua franca of damage dealing ability outside the instance, but total damage is the language of love inside it.

Here’s a silly example. I took Anelf into a Heroic last week specced as DPS (my first time DPSing in a proper instance since I was level 69 – it was fun 🙂 ). On the first pull, the tank taunted one group too many. Anelf was happily Hurricaning away, and hit 4000 DPS before the tank died and the trash ran onto us. Had the tank gotten mad and left at that point, could I claim I was a 4000+ DPSer. Of course not.

Another silly example. I took Stormshadow to help Hollie with her protopally grinding in Icecrown. Stormshadow would stand back and only start to Mind Sear once Hollie had gathered 15-20 adds. Recount showed Stormshadow’s DPS was almost 6000. But because Hollie had been AoEing away while I was waiting for her to gather up the mobs, she was doing a much larger amount of damage than Stormshadow. But with a much lower DPS score.

The third rule of DPS Meters: Everyone rounds up.

In the example above, Anelf went back in and finished the instance. She averaged a touch over 2000 DPS on the boss fights. If I were writing this in Trade chat and not in a blog, then that would become 2.5K DPS. 3K on a good day 🙂

[Edit: Tinuviel asked me to add that she tends to understate her DPS because she prefers people to know the baseline DPS to expect from her. She also tells me she doesn’t get that many pug invitations 😛 ]

The fourth rule of of DPS Meters: Look at the whole package.

When deciding who to invite back to your raid next week, watch for total damage people do on the fights you care about. But even then you have to take context into consideration. Was that top DPSer riding his aggro too close and causing the tank and healers problems by constantly pulling aggro?

Even if he wasn’t pulling aggro, was he assigned to simple spanking, or did he take on some of the less glamorous tasks like helping the off-tank with the adds. Was he quick to Misdirect that loose add back to the tank, or did he let the healer die because he was so engrossed in his own point and shoot world? Did he offer to put up Aspect of the Wild for that heavy Nature damage fight, or did he keep quiet until another Hunter volunteered?

The fifth rule of DPS Meters: Don’t penalize good players for putting the raid ahead of their DPS.

If you tell someone that their job is just to stand there and hit the boss, then its great that they’re doing what they’re told. But don’t praise him at the end for his DPS and ignore the guy who volunteered to kite the adds or who saved the healer from certain death. If you do, and if you select your raid based solely on Recount data, then you won’t have a raid team – you’ll have a group of individuals who see their only goal as topping the DPS chart. Your raiding will get harder and harder, and your armor bills larger and larger, as people push their aggro luck further and refuse to use abilities that benefit the team but lower their personal DPS.

The bottom line: DPS is just one piece of data.

Don’t get me wrong. DPS is important. And DPS Meters play an important role in identifying whether a player is doing well or underperforming. But the DPS score should be the starting point – an indicator that you should be looking more closely at that player. Used wisely, a tool like Recount can greatly improve your raid. Used badly, it can destroy it.


4 responses to “The fallacy of the DPS meter

  1. Misscritalot

    Good piece – esp as I’ve only just started using recount as an 80 BM Hunter. I’m still not sure what to say when people ask “DPS?” before inviting me on a run. The 2k I’ve laid onto a boss previously? The 1.2k I grind out my dailies with when I’m levelling a pet? The 1.6k combined hunter + pet total? I don’t want to give the wrong figure and looks as though I’ve lied for the sake of a 10-man pug.

  2. Anytime anyone asks me that question I reply with “depends on buffs, group makeup, etc.”

    I also understate my DPS if they are really pushing. Hey, gotta be honest!

  3. Excellent piece.

    Interestingly, in my relatively brief career as an 80 hunter (mostly in heroics), I’ve found that I’m in the opposite boat of what you described — often times I see that I am top dps in the 5-man on the individual boss fights, but 3rd on the various trash fights. Not sure why, possibly because I’m focusing more on bosses.

    @Misscritalot – what I have done is spend a little time (no more than 10 or 15 min should do) unbuffed at the lvl?? target dummy trying to do your best dps. Then your answer can just be the average of what you came up with, and tell ’em it’s unbuffed. That usually seems to satisfy most folks who ask me…

  4. @Jarnow – Actually, that is what I was saying about hunters. Hunter AoE DPS is weak compared to some other classes. But your single target (boss) DPS is up there with the best. So don’t let other classes get away with averaging their DPS over trash and boss and then telling you they have higher DPS 🙂 .

    @Misscritalot – If you’re quoting your DPS to someone else, you should definitely combine your DPS with your pet’s. Your pet comes to the raid with you, so it counts as you. That said, as a BM Hunter, you’re going to find your pet will die a lot in raids (for various reasons). That’s a problem when your pet accounts for 30% of your damage. MM and Surv are considered the better raid specs right now, but that’s a topic I’ll leave to Tinuviel 🙂 .