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Item Luck in MMORPGs

Luck plays all sorts of roles in MMORPGs. I’m wondering how much randomness we really need, and how much of this random luck based gameplay can be replaced with the player actually engaging with and doing something in the game.

There are those moments of luck when you crit that monster right before it kills you and you survive. I think those elements of luck are less avoidable and are generally ‘okay’. They add to the spice of life and the thrill and dynamic nature of combat. Sometimes twitch based play isn’t always necessary, and even most twitch gameplay has elements of random luck.

The kind of luck I want to see change mostly has to deal with items. I’ve experienced a variety of item drop luck. EverQuest monsters would often have a loot table, and one particular mob might drop a pair of pants I need. I could kill that monster 100 times and it might never drops the pants, but it could drop them twice on the 101 and 102 kill. Raiding in WoW is another type of luck. When 10-40 people go into a raid the luck factor becomes much more complex: Does the item you want actually drop? If so, are you the one to win it?

That kind of randomness leads to frustration and is purely “Did it drop? yes or no?” Almost no skill or active input is required from the player other than attending and making the kill. There are slightly better ways which I admit do not remove luck entirely from the equation but use it more as one tiny cog in a much larger system.

One of these forms of item randomness I did find workable was that in SWG. For example, Krayt Dragons on Tatooine could drop an item called Krayt Tissue.  The Krayt Tissues would have stats like “Enhances: +30 (to 300) to Max Damage, -0.3 (to -2.0) to Speed.” The +30 was common and low end, and anything around 100+ was really good but pretty rare. This item was used in crafting by Weaponsmiths to make Acid Launchers, DH17 Carbines, and a couple of other weapons better. They would take the tissue, use it as a component, and rely on their skill levels, modifiers, recipes, etc., to output a weapon that itself could have a range of stats.

The difference between item luck in these examples (EQ/WoW vs. SWG) is significant. One is luck or “randomness” (call it whatever makes you sleep better at night) worked into a larger system and the other is simply ‘did it drop or not’. One feels integrated with the game, and the other feels lazy to me.

I want players to have more control over this randomness. It’s not enough to simply craft 100 swords and have 30 of them crit into pristine quality. What else can the crafter do to have control over that end result? Is there a way the crafter can use the materials or a skill he can acquire? It has to be more than whack-a-mole or combine and pray. It has to be more than “did it drop for me?” These all have to be combined into something more dynamic and complex.

I still think SWG was on the right track. The raw materials had variability in their quality based on several factors: Conductivity, Decay Resistance, Flavor, Malleability, Overall Quality, Potential Energy, Unit Toughness, etc., etc. Any combination of these could have a different quality, and it was up to the crafter or a supplier to find them in the world and harvest enough to be used.  Crafters then combined the resources, used experimentation points, and crafted an item that itself had varying degrees of stats and qualities based on the outcome of the components and experimentation. Very few items were the same, and crafters could leave their mark based on their recipes — this is what made someone the “best weaponsmith on the server.”

Integrating this all into a crafting system seems to be the easiest way to remove the dumb or lazy luck factor. While I get that some people enjoy loot pinatas, it’s way too one dimensional for me and won’t ever lead to something new or better.

Social Progression vs. Gear Progression

In yesterday’s entry I hinted around the idea that players often want the newest gear because they want to look ‘cool’. I’m not necessarily speaking to just the aesthetics of the gear itself either. Many people want the latest and greatest for the ‘standing in town on the mailbox’ effect. It’s the idea that people are inspecting them, drooling over their gear, and wishing they could be just like that cool guy wearing the newest items.

Gear Progression is about being able to go past the gate standing between you and the next tier of content. It’s the treadmill. Gear Progression is the mechanism through which MMOs halt the speed at which players consume content. The actual stats on the gear and what it adds to your character matter far less to people than what they feel from being the “best Paladin on the server.” Such a notion does not imply that you truly have the skill, but rather you got the items to drop for you first. You are the cool guy standing on the mailbox and that makes you the “best.”

Once we understand that people seek Social Progression over Gear Progression we can begin evaluating other ways in which players can achieve the social side without having to raid or run on one type of treadmill. Social Progression can be weaved throughout a game. What if players sought after being the maker of the finest weapons in the land, or provider of the rarest gems, or the guy who has the coolest new pets following him around? These social transactions can take place all around us in a virtual world and achieve the same level of goal setting and progression as raiding without the need to always go through raiding.

Outlandish Gear

wow-tier-17

World of Warcraft started the whole crazy gear trend. Gear in raids has always been more elaborate, but when it comes to massive shoulder pads, flaming eye-hole-thingies, and ridiculousness, WoW remains king. The preview for Tier 17 (sheesh) was revealed by Blizzard today. Is it outlandish (pun intended) enough for you?

paladin-original-cats

Paladin from Dark Age of Camelot

The point of today’s post is not necessarily to discuss WoW latest fashion trends. I’m thinking about gear in general. On one extreme there’s WoW. The other side of the coin is realism with basic chainmail, leather, etc. It’s plain. There’s something authentic about it, especially if wearing it matters more than looking cool in it. More on that tomorrow.

I like somewhere in the middle. I remember the raid gear in EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot. Those looked just cool enough for me. Ornate enough to stand out yet at least within the realm of fantasy believability.

What do you prefer? Do you prefer the glowing eyes and flaming swords or the realistic metal?

The Ebb and Flow of WoW

As predicted by anyone with a pulse, WoW subscription numbers (fuzzy definition as you’ll see below) are up after the launch of Warlords of Draenor.

World of Warcraft subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet game room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Subscribers in licensees’ territories are defined along the same rules.

Warlords of Draenor had a day-one sell-through of 3.3 million copies. I believe that includes pre-orders, etc. To me the 3.3 million number is telling. The next sentence is wild and highly speculative without any claim to accuracy. I think 3.3 million is probably the rough number of North American players who can be considered part of WoW’s ‘core’ group of players, with probably 1 million of those drifting off late in the expansion cycle.

Let’s evaluate why their numbers surged.

People like new content. When there’s no new content subs go down. When there’s new content people come back and play. This isn’t indicative of a game succeeding or failing. This is indicative of people wanting something fresh to play.

Orcs are cooler than pandas. Warcraft hearkening back to its roots, pandering (not pandaing) to its lore and fans, works best.

The MMOs launched this year have sucked. While some of the MMOs (ArcheAge) had redeeming qualities, and others none at all (Wildstar), the collective result is a resounding “Blah!” People are/were desperate for something to play. WoD was the easy place to throw $60 for a month of something to do. It’s a SAFE bet. Few people are going to pay that box price and first month’s sub and feel cognitive dissonance. If anything, people are going to play WoW longer now because it rescued them from a state of suck.

Haters gonna hate. The “stop liking what I don’t like” crowd will roll on through. Ultimately nothing changes. WoW is successful. Business models are irrelevant. Good games sell. Good games retain players. Whether it’s 1, 3, 8 or 10 million players — it’s more than most games can say they hold on to longer than 3 months.

Now, promise me none of you will be surprised when WoW’s numbers fall in 3 months.

Why I’m Not Playing Warlords of Draenor

I’m proud of myself. A WoW expansion is coming out and I’m not going to jump right in and play again. Every time an expansion comes out I think, “Ooooh! I love Warcraft and the world and the story and it’s all so awesome!” Then I play and that magical illusion I create in my mind dissolves quickly. My thoughts turn away from Orcs vs. Humans and glorious cutscenes and imagining epic adventures. I start thinking, “Time to log in and get that loot. What’s my gear score?” My immersion is shattered and I quit a month later.

I’m going to avoid shattering my illusion this time and pretend everything is just as I imagine.

Speaking of Warcraft and fond memories, have you checked out Blizzard’s Looking for Group documentary? It’s an hour long but worth watching. They start right off by giving all the right props to UO and EQ for inspiring them to stop their current projects and go the route of an MMO.

My memories of WoW will always be better than what I’m actually thinking while I play the game. Realizing that, I can honestly say I love World of Warcraft. I just don’t love playing it.