Currently I am playing the endgame of Outriders, and if you hop on the game’s reddit or take a look pretty much anywhere that the game is being discussed, you will see that one class, the Devastator, is often kicked from groups before an Expedition starts. The reason? Devastators are the tanks of the game and have to be built pretty specifically to do a lot of damage, and in Expeditions, damage is king.
The endgame of Outriders is completely based on time attacks of various levels. You run in, kill everything as quickly as possible and reach a drop pod full of loot. If you take too long to kill everything, you get fewer rewards, with lower chances at the higher tiers of loot. So while the game gives a nice breakdown at the end of the Expedition of damage absorbed, the amount healed, time spent DBNO and your weapon accuracy, for most people it might as well just have a single line: DAMAGE DEALT. Because this is the only line that matters when it comes to being invited for another Expedition or getting kicked out of the group.
People Can Fly haven’t helped the situation at all by making everything a time attack in the first place. If there were other things that mattered for getting the gold level of awards, like the number of deaths being a penalty, or specific mechanics that were easier to deal with if you had a tank or debuff character. Or just different Expedition types that aren’t about rushing to do things as quickly as possible, forcing everyone to use a small pool of mods and passives to dish out massive amounts of harm. The game also has no tracking of one player giving buffs to the damage of others, leading to some “Tech Shamans” also getting the boot from parties despite the massive boosts they provide.
Outriders isn’t the only game where damage dealt is put on a pedestal. One only has to look at any MMORPG to see how damage dealt or damage per second is probably one of the most discussed aspects of endgame content. Massive charts that compare each class and spec and their performance in certain content get referred to all the time, with any change to a spell or ability in the patch notes potentially drawing the ire of any player who likes that specific class, spec or job.
For many, the various graphs and their rankings are just something interesting to look at, because they refer to and are made specifically for the highest levels of play. But just like how non-professional players attempt to copy the strategies of esport champions, the same happens in these MMORPGs, with those graphs creating bias over the best class to play, the best choices to take to a raid or a dungeon.
Of WoW’s two big endgame activities, one is explicitly timed, while the other isn’t, but it honestly is. In Mythic+ dungeons, a group of five players must attempt to finish a dungeon within a time limit for the best possible rewards. Every boss needs to be killed and a specific percentage of the mobs in the instance need to die too, so you can’t just sneak by the enemies to save some time. As a result, the more damage you do, the quicker you can hack your way through the various enemies in the way of the final prize. Yes, there is a time penalty for deaths, so you want a great healer around to deal with mechanics getting ramped up over +100%, but in general all that matters is how much damage can be tossed at bosses and minions as you run the gauntlet.
Raiding is the other big PVE endgame activity and while it doesn’t have a big clock ticking down in the corner of your screen, time is often a limited resource in fights. Many bosses have an enrage timer, be it a hard enrage that causes them to suddenly do triple damage or a big effect that instantly kills everyone, or a soft enrage where the various mechanics pile up to the point that everyone dies. Damage per second is extremely important in raids, with a lot of damage in the right places often making the whole fight easier for someone else. By killing adds that cast spells that hurt everyone in the room, or getting a boss to phase before some timed mechanic runs its course, or avoid another wave of enemy reinforcements, there is a benefit to doing high damage.
In most MMOs that use a role system, the non-tank, non-healer role is called Damage Dealer or DPS (I could write a whole post on the issues I have with this moniker, but let’s leave that for another day) and guess what, there are whole websites, in-game tools and more dedicated to helping players do more damage.
Even other roles end up chasing damage dealt in Mythic+ and in raids because every scrap of damage helps. Dying when the boss is at 1% or lower HP because you hit the enrage timer is devastating, making everyone alive question if they couldn’t have done just a little bit more. It doesn’t help that for tanks, the metrics are so biased towards providing detail on the damage dealt that it is easy to get swept up in it and chase the numbers. On top of that, the main threat generation tool of a tank is dealing damage, meaning it is easier to keep enemies hitting you instead of someone else by doing as much damage as possible.
This hyper-focus on damage has been caused by many things, from being highly measurable to the small part of our brains that gets a kick out of seeing big number get bigger, to games being built with timers forcing you to do things efficiently, and players always looking for the most efficient way to do things. Developers need to be aware of how easily this can creep into their game design, and how it can enable a toxic environment where certain classes or specs are kicked from groups before even having a chance. At the same time, players need to be aware of falling into the numbers trap and realising there is a lot more to a good player than high damage. Of course, that specific topic will be saved for another day.