Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Healing meters

Are healing meters useless? Ulkesshern seems to think so. I think he's taken a pet peeve here and overdone it. I agree that meters can be misleading, especially in the hands of someone unfamiliar with healing who glances at the meters after the fight and uses them as a barometer of skill. But he seems to be saying that the meters are completely useless and should never be looked at, except perhaps in extreme situations.

Now I deal with numbers a lot professionally and often come up against these 2 extremes of thought. One side looks at numbers and sees "big" and thinks "good" then sees "bigger" and thinks "better", without taking any context into account. A little information is dangerous, as they say. But the other extreme is to acknowledge that numbers in isolation are difficult to interpret, but then to basically throw ones hands up and say "well those could mean anything" and dismiss them as useless. Numbers are what they are. If you're unsure of the context, then yes they're meaningless. But the proper response should not be to dismiss them but to try and understand the context and use that to divine their meaning. Both extremes are the easy ways out and the path to true understanding, as usual, involves effort.

What do you think? Are meters ever useful? How much and when? I'd like to address his 4 reasons why healing meters are useless and offer my thoughts on the other side of the issue.

More Healing does not equal Better Healers
This is kind of a scarecrow argument. It's a very good point that healing needs scale inversely and very quickly with your raid's gear level and this will probably be the subject of a future post. But I don't think anyone looks at healing done on a fight and compares it to healing done in previous weeks and says "Our healers are doing less healing and are therefore getting worse." In fact I'll bet hardly anyone remembers the numerical amount of healing from fight to fight. In pretty much all cases, people are looking at the comparitive healing amounts from person to person.

Situational Situations are Situational
This is very true. Different healers can be assigned to different targets and types of damage and this will probably be a bigger factor in the meters than their individual skill. But that doesn't mean the meters are useless. At the very least, we can compare healers of the same class in the same situation and make meaningful comparisons. But even in differing situations, we learn a lot from healing done. Say you have 2 healers each healing a different tank and Healer A is doing twice the healing of Healer B. Assuming neither tank was at risk, we can safely say that Healer B should probably be assisting somewhere else in addition to his tank, either with another tank or with some extra raid healing. Every single class has a way to spread heals to more than one target without losing efficiency (gaining efficiency actually in nearly all cases). At this point if I were really interested in improving the healing group, I might even go into the breakdown of heals by target and see if someone was being too restrictive in who they healed. It's true that certain fights require healers be separated by too much distance to really heal anyone else. And perhaps all the meters can tell you then is how to better allocate your zone coverage.

Or, say you have 2 healers both on raid healing and Healer A is doing twice the healing of Healer B. Assuming no one was at serious risk of dying, this usually tells me that Healer A has got a consistently faster reaction time than Healer B. Looking at the overhealing and the breakdown might tell you if Healer B is coming in 0.1 sec too late every time, or if they simply got frustrated that Healer A was beating them to the punch every time and gave up, or even if Healer B was simply choosing the wrong types of heals with which to 'beat' Healer A. Incidentally, this is probably also telling you that you have more healers than necessary. This is usually a necessary evil for most guilds at some point, but it's still useful information if say next week, one of your healers and can't make it and you need to decide whether to replace them with another healer or a DPS class. You can bet however, that later when you do a harder fight that does need lots of healing, the fact that one of your healers is a little slower than the others will be important. A good raid leader will put them in a less critical position for the fight, and perhaps even look for a replacement in the future.

Some Classes outclass Classes
This is a similar argument to the previous. Just as situations give healers an advantage, so do class abilities. This is very true. But it's no reason to throw up your hands and discard the numbers. Again, at the very least we can compare healers of the same class to our benefit. We can also try and understand why some classes are better than others on the meters and use that knowledge to our benefit. Classes with healers that land on several players for small amounts over time should always do more healing that healers that tend to hit single players with large heals, because pound for pound HoTs are less useful than direct heals. As a druid healer, I should be doing more healing than the paladins because my heals are much less likely to save someone from a sudden damage spike than theirs are. Sure, I could switch to a glyphed Healing Touch druid and try to compete at that style of healing, but I've decided my strength as a druid is to lay a blank of HoTs out that will free up the paladins from having to sweat the small stuff so they can land there big tank-saving heals. The most useful type of healing, even better than direct healing, is a kind that doesn't show up as healing at all: absorbed damage. Pound for pound, 10k damage absorption is way more useful than a 10k heal. This is why discipline priests are always low on the meters. But digging a little deeper into the report, you can probably find the PW:S casts and come to a better understanding of what the numbers are really saying.

I will say this: If every healer is firing on all cylinders and playing to their strengths then in a reasonably difficult fight the healing meters should not show a huge variation between the top and bottom healers.

I'm going to add another "objection" here to healing meters that I think is a much better argument against them that he surprisingly did not bring up.

Meters can be padded
A skilled player who decides he wants to "beat" the meters can do tricks to bring his total healing higher. Some of the common things you can do are: using fast blanket heals way more than is efficient or necessary; pre-healing or pre-hotting someone who might be about to take damage; learning the habits of your fellow healers and trying to beat them to the punch on whoever you predict that they're about to heal. There are other sneaky tricks, some more devious or downright dangerous. But during trash or easy fights, its fun for healers to play these little game of trying to outdo each other. And I'll tell you why. Each of these little skills that lets you pad the numbers artificially in an easy fight will potentially save you in a truly wipe-threatening situation. So you've learned to hot up everyone that might take damage to pad the meters? Well guess what. Now it's Sapphiron time, and everyone is taking damage and you had better know which kinds of hots and how many you can most efficiently spread around. You've learned to predict what your fellow healers are about to do? Great, because the DPS just pulled 2 extra trash groups and now the shit's about to hit the fan, and if you guess what everyone around you is about to do, you might just come out of this alive.

Trash and easy fights are when good healers hone their skills and reaction times, playing little games with themselves and each other. When push comes to shove, those skills will save the raid.

Meters are not infallible
More hand-waving. "I've seen variations in meters before so how can anyone say if they're correct? Might as well ignore them." No. If the meters don't look right to you, pull up the underlying numbers until you find out where they're wrong. WWS allows to actually inspect the entire log the report was built from, and Recount allows a good deal of drilling. If something is out of whack, there's an explanation. These numbers aren't just pulled out of the ether. I agree, things go wrong all the time. A log file could be corrupted and missing pieces, or the logger may have been absent for part of the fight. But better to learn how to get a better quality of logs than decide that since quality varies, all logging is useless.

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