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.

  • This is one aspect of MMORPGs over which we will have to agree to differ. The random factor is a key element of what holds my interest and attention. I want every mob to be a surprise. I want to click on its corpse or open its chest with gleeful anticipation. I’ll happily take a thousand disappointments for the thousand and first “WOW!!! It dropped”!!”

    Indeed, to my way of thinking, item drops in MMOs are too predictable already, not too random. The problem with EQ’s drop system wasn’t that the items dropped inconsistently or too rarely – it was that players knew which named dropped what item and, roughly, at what frequency. That encouraged camping of spawns and turned adventuring into something like queuing in the old Soviet Union.

    I actually follow a semi-random process for acquiring possessions in real life and always have done. I like to go to thrift shops and second-hand stores and bazaars and markets and come home with things I didn’t know existed. Even with series of books or movies or albums by artists I already know and like I prefer to wait until I happen upon a new example by accident rather than go looking for them. I just find it much more fun that way. When I started playing EQ that was one of the first elements of gameplay that struck a familiar chord with me and it has remained one of the strongest ties binding me to the hobby ever since.

  • I think some of the randomness in terms of loot in MMOs comes from its roots in table top RPGs. Think about all of the random treasure tables in old school D&D. I agree with Bhagpuss as well although I am sure I would not have been able to articulate why as well as he did.

    I also agree with you that it is disappointing to kill a boss X times and still not get anything for it. I like the hybrid drop/token system so you can at least be earning a currency to purchase items even if you don’t get the drops you need. In WoD, some item drops now have a random chance to be upgraded as well. I am not sure if this is true in raids, but in the open world if you get a drop there is a chance it is upgraded in quality, from blue to purple for instance.

    I also think that loot drops for gear and drops for crafting mats should have different systems. For example, I like what you described for crafting mats, but I don’t think I would want that power level randomness in gear drops and I am not sure it would resolve the issue you identify since you would not be satisfied when the iLevel 504 BP keeps dropping and you are waiting for the iLevel 536 one to drop for instance. If anything, t seems like it would exacerbate the problem.

  • I immediately had to think of Ragnarok Online, where there was this Urban Legend that when forging weapons, a Priest’s buff to your Blacksmith’s LUK stat would increase the success rate.
    Of course nearly everyone got a Priest with the maxed Gloria skill for that buff and we never found out if it helped 🙂

  • Agreeing with Nuke up there. The Repopulation is bringing back the SW:G style of materials, and even doing it one better. The quality of items are based on material stats, crafter skill overall and specialization in the item. More complicated items are made up of subcomponents as well, so multiple steps of these considerations are important in crafting. Materials are like SW:G in that spawn quality changes, but from there harvester skill impacts the quality as well.

    I’ll be honest, though, I thought I was going to love the system but it is so damned complicated to actually make a thing that I can’t really fathom making an actual piece of equipment. That’s okay, though, since crafting is involved enough to where specializing in a set of subcomponents looks like it will actually be a viable means of crafting as well.

  • I’m going to have to take a look at this Repopulation game. It sounds like you could have someone be known for being the best crafter of weapon components that get supplied to the best weapon crafter.

  • What I love about it is that from what I understand “no man is an island, entire of itself” in regards to crafting. Much like in our day to day lives we can dabble in many interests but if we truly want to excel in a craft we need to focus on it. From what I have read if you want to make a gun you need several parts and you can buy cheap generic parts or buy refined parts from player crafters. This makes it worth it for players to pick a specific focus and churn out those unique parts, even when they are well below their ‘level’, because unlike in some AAA MMOs there will be a demand for those creations. Nothing was more annoying then leveling up a crafting in some games and just making totally useless items for the purpose of only raising my skill… and just vendoring those items for little return because there was no demand for them. Everyone was making them so why would anyone buy them?

  • I think this is where crafting can really shine… and most MMOs drop the ball. WildStar comes to mind.

    It was really the first MMO to try a Diablo-style loot-roll system, but with the infrequent drop rates of traditional MMOs. This would have been a perfect opportunity to make crafting more prominent in terms of adjusting stats on those items, or creating items from scratch, with Crafting talents that allowed the crafter to mitigate the random effects to varying degrees based of other factors the player could influence.

    But no.