On the Importance of Log Parsers

yda_banner

UPDATE 2/6/2016: Since publishing I’ve been reminded that Warcraft Logs actually does have an option to keep parses private that I wasn’t aware of and would have been nice to know about some time ago when I was searching for that exact thing. P: Doh! I never said I wasn’t a bit dim…

I’ve played a lot of MMOs. They’re actually probably one of my favorite genres of game when my social skills are feeling up to it. Somewhat recently I’ve brushed off the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn account that I set up last summer, bought the expansion and finished leveling my White Mage to 60. And then I began the endless, skinner-boxian grind of the endgame.

There are lots of interesting things about FFXIV, but one of the most interesting yet easily overlooked is Square Enix’s policy on game addons; they’re not allowed. At all. This is a far cry from World of Warcraft’s highly-encouraging policy that practically makes several key addons absolutely required for high level play (and is also why I know Lua). Coming from running an extremely addon-heavy WoW client to playing FF with nothing but the default UI and actually paying attention to boss fights like Square intended is… Different. One of the hardest absences to get used to was the equivalent of something like Deadly Boss Mods. Being forced not to rely on timers and instead having to watch the boss’s animations (and *gasp* actually remember phase order) is actually a much more immersive way to raid, and is pretty enjoyable to boot. As long as the bosses aren’t designed so that having DBM installed is assumed (I’ve suspected for a couple years that WoW’s might be leaning that way, whether the designers realize it or not).

But the absence of combat log parsers is another thing. WoW players might know them commonly as ‘DPS meters’, despite the fact that they are useful for far more than just gaging damage. The addon I use in WoW, Skada, can be configured to display just about any information that passes through the game’s combat log. I generally keep one panel open displaying DPS and another that displays total healing done that pull, so I can call out shout at whomever in the raid wasn’t pulling their weight. On some fights I’d have to change the healing window to display total dispels instead, to see who really wasn’t pulling their weight.

But this was progression raiding, and making sure everyone was playing at their best was important. On the flip side, the kinds of guys who post their DPS meters in low level dungeons are generally just doing it to be assholes. They’re probably not even necessary in a good 85% of Raid Finder runs. In casual content like that the only real purpose of meters becomes boasting about things that no one else cares about or bullying inexperienced players in a situation where their sucking wasn’t actually affecting anything. But we put up with all this because, for most mid and hardcore play, meters are really, really important.

Or so we think.

Theorycrafting, at least, wouldn’t be the same without being able to see the ‘real-world’ effect that stat changes have on D/HPS throughput. But FFXIV neglects to include any solid numbers on the tooltips of various abilities, meaning that SqEnix probably don’t want us doing the math to begin with, let alone using parsers to help. If I were to guess, these roadblocks in the way of min/maxing are probably in order to make the game feel more friendly toward newbies who might not know or care how to Do the Math until they’ve been playing for a while.

In raiding, a lack of a reliable way to track numbers means that it’s hard to tell who in the raid isn’t doing their job well enough and causing the whole group to fail. And without being able to practice your rotation on the training dummy and watch the numbers roll in, it’s hard to tell whether you’re the person causing the group to hit enrage. It doesn’t really matter in low to midcore play, because most anything you can queue for in the raid finder (read: normal modes and outdated hardmodes) is pretty damn easy even if one or two members of the raid are AFK. But I wouldn’t be surprised if almost all hardcore static groups actually do use log parsers. 

“Wait, Final Fantasy XIV does have parsers?” Well, yeah. Kind of. As far as I’m aware, only two exist, both of which are applications that run completely outside of the game and that you can get pretty damn banned for using. But although it is entirely technically possible for SqEnix to scan your computer’s running processes for ones it doesn’t like (Blizzard has done so in the past), apparently they don’t actually care enough about enforcing the ban to do so. The only bans I’ve seen from using third party addons like that are when they’ve admitted to having used them in the in-game chat. Specifically the in-game chat, that is, as keeping logs (and thereby an admission of guilt) publicly available on third party websites like FF Logs doesn’t seem to incur SqEnix’s wrath.

It’s hard to get a gage on just how many competitive FFXIV free companies (that game’s equivalent to guilds) make use of parsers because of the taboo associated with them. But at least one guild with multiple world firsts to their name have a presence on FF Logs.

One thing to note is that, if SquEnix’s intention is to design raiding implementation that doesn’t rely on hard DPS numbers to gage success, many don’t seem to think it’s working. In fact, many players seem to have noticed an increase in the amount of “DPS check” bosses/phases in recent patches, fights that are hard to get past if you’ve no handle on how much DPS your group is actually putting out. However, the game’s culture seems to have built up around this restriction and openly judging strangers for their parse results or stalking their logs (two things that are widely acceptable in WoW), is seen as pretty rude, to the point where FF Logs has implemented a feature to allow one to hide their own logs from public view, something which its sister site, Warcraft Logs, doesn’t have or seem to have need for. Or maybe that’s secretly just to hide all our asses from SqEnix’s banhammer. I’m not quite sure. SEE 2/6/2016 UPDATE.

So are combat log parsers really necessary for MMO raiding? I’ve long thought that the WoW community’s reliance on third-party addons highlights places in Blizzard’s design where the game UI lacks necessary functions. Would more MMO’s benefit from restrictions like FFXIV’s, that force the developers to implement more intuitive ways of glocking how effectively they’re playing that don’t rely on hard numbers? Or are Square Enix just kidding themselves and forcing otherwise rule-abiding players to break their Terms of Service just so they can play at a competitive level?

Personally? I’d love to be able to wave goodbye to log parsers in exchange for more immersive raid experiences that can responsively let players get the feel for how well they’re doing compared to how well they should be doing. But we’re just not there yet. I hold out hope for the future, however.