Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fixing the Randomness of Instance Loot

Over the past six months we've seen a major change in how people are gearing up their characters in World of Warcraft. It used to be that group and raid instances were the best way to gear up your characters but with the introduction of multiple sets of arena gear it’s been quickly overshadowed by PvP. It's only understandable that people would eventually get tired of PvE content since its static and the enemies never change tactics. However, the problem is that even new players are skipping dungeons simply because of the random nature of rewards in most instances. Most players simply see it as a smarter decision to collect honor which guarantees a small bit of progress towards an epic item. This beats the small chance of getting an item from a dungeon to drop and actually winning the roll.

Several ideas for fixing the loot system in PvE content have been thought up and the developers have even used one recently to make raiding a bit more rewarding. The developers basically copied the token system idea used in the battlegrounds and made it so that badges of justice would drop from bosses in 10 man and starting today 25 man raids. This has the effect of giving better equipped raiders a motivation to visit lower end instances and perhaps help newer players with the content. This has had the negative side effect of draining away most of the heroic dungeon players but it seems like a small price to pay to better balance raiding against PvP.

Another idea for improving instance loot is moving away from gear which is only good for one of the classes that can wear it. You can see the developers starting to implement this by the itemization changes for paladins where their gear is having spell damage replaced by melee haste. This way in the expansion a piece of plate armor can have melee haste or strength on it and be good for both paladins and warriors. Blizzard apparently has plans to do this for most of the different types of armor so that more loot dropped in instances is useful to the classes who can wear it. This would help to a certain extant but still wouldn't address the problems caused by the different talent trees for each class. For example a holy paladin wouldn't be interested in anything a fury/arms warrior or retribution paladin would use.

I think that there is a nice solution to addressing the different itemization needs for classes caused by talent trees. Quite frankly the current gem bonuses on gear are underused at the moment and most people don't even bother getting the correctly colored gems. The bonuses are simply too small and really don't add anything to the gear. In the expansion though I can seem them being used to increased the number of different classes who could use an item. Picture an item with different gem bonuses and the one that is active is dependent on a master gem slot. Put a red gem in that slot and the item gains intelligence and spell damage. Put a blue gem in that slot and it gains intelligence and +healing.

Example Item:
Gauntlets of Extreme Usefulness
Type: Plate
AC: 1200
Sta: 25
Master Gem Slot: ( )
Red Bonus: 20 str and 20 critical strike
Yellow Bonus: 20 int and 40 healing
Blue Bonus: 20 sta and 20 defense

Why would an item system like this be more useful than simply switching all dungeons to a token based system like badges of justice? This was the first question that occurred to me and it was easy to answer once I thought about the benefits to talent respecs. This system would easily allow players to change their talent tree focus without forcing them to collect an entire new set of gear. A tanking warrior who wants to go mortal strike for a bit could simply buy a few red gems to change his gear.

This would almost eliminate the problem of loot dropping in a dungeon which no one in the group could use. Players are already used to customizing their gear with gems and I think this would be a logical expansion to the system. The only problem of course is that it would make fights over items much more common. Though there would be a high amusement factor in seeing a feral, moonkin, and resto druid all fighting over the same item.


Anonymous said...

That seems like a superb and logical solution with no downside I can see at all. Have you made this suggestion in the official Blizzard forums already?

(random 70 paladin noob here)

Mallika said...

I agree, that's an awesome idea!

Captain Angry said...

This is a real small change that would have a real small impact. It would be easy to just modify the itemization. It would be better if they truly added some intelligent selection to the loot instead of still employing the very tired random drop system.

What decent pen and paper DM would allow you to run a dungeon week after week and not get a decent item reward? For that matter, how sadistic would it be for that DM to dangle that shiny bauble in your face but not let you have it? Would you really bother to show up after 3 or 4 weeks of going home empty handed? Why do we tolerate it in MMOs, sometimes raiding the same places for months for that one specific item that we desperately want/need? There needs to be a better system.

One smarter solution could be to simply not drop anything that is not usable by somebody in the group. We already know this subroutine is in the client: the completely unused "need before greed" loot policy. They would just need to tune it out a little because obviously if you have a plate wearer in the group who can also equip any kind of weapon then that completely screws up the matrix. Hopefully it could be smart enough to know that there is one primary armor type for each class. (Of course, off-spec characters will crucify me now for not letting them grab caster cloth or healing leather.)

Its only one suggested solution but the bottom line is if you have no shaman or hunter in the group we shouldn't be seeing shaman and hunter loot pieces drop. Your solution is an easy fix, but its only a band-aid on a serious wound. If you have a druid tanking, with a rogue, resto shaman and 2 clothy casters, all the plate armor will still get sharded, no matter how creatively it is slot bonused.

Still, this is a far cry from actual intelligent loot selection--in a perfect MMO it would take into account what items have been already obtained and/or equipped and throwing those out of the selection.

Going even further you could develop a looter friendly system that knows how many times you have killed that boss and not seen certain items--consequently increasing their odds--so you know eventually you will get your item if you keep running the same place.

Can you imagine how WoW raiders/5-manners would benefit from that? The average 5 man boss drops ~12 items, 2 on each kill. Thats 1:6 odds. In a fair system you shouldn't have to run that dungeon more than 6 times to see the item you want. We all know that due to the randomness that number can easily double, or triple, or hell you just may NEVER see the item you wanted.

I don't think some intelligent loot selection in the players favor would break the game or make treasure gathering trivially easy. Yes, it would likely significantly speed up progression on an individual basis, but that is a change that I would welcome. Its stupid that a player who is just lucky and gets their upgrade on the first kill can be ahead of another player who can do the fight with their eyes closed because they've run it so much trying to get their piece.

The fact that all the loot in the game is fully based on a completely random dice roll is one of the things that makes MMOs feel cold and unalive compared to a single player CRPG or a PNPRPG. A little bit of intelligence and friendly odds-boosting would be a big step towards creating a more fun and more rewarding DM-like experience in MMOs.

Relmstein said...

Some nice ideas in that long comment Captain Angry. Intelligent loot options should exist so that items which no one in the group can use don't drop.

As for balancing loot on items in a player's inventory or past items dropped from a boss you are going to run into problems with pick up groups. Basically if someone plays with new people every dungeon run then its possible that intelligent loot rules would criple their chance of getting a specific piece of loot when:

1) Another person in the group already has the item equipped/banked making it less likely to drop.

2) The player has lost the roll on the item in the last run making it very unlikely to drop again.

Anonymous said...

I still prefer the gem idea because of the flexibility with specs. If it wouldn't making gearing up too trivial, being able to try retadin or protadin with just a gem move-about after respeccing would be great. Atm, I'm likely to stay holy for a long time when it would be fun to give retadin a try, but not fun to try to gear him up from nothing!

( The same random 70 paladin noob as before)

Galoheart said...

It be nice if the Dungeons had an intelligent loot system. Afterall when you do quests and talk to NPC's they know your Name & Class both. If they know that already them its easy for the boss NPC to know that also what group of players is before him fighting him and upon death to drop the matching loot to the gathered group. That would seem so much more intelligent that random loot drops that no one in group can use.

Anonymous said...

True. Perhaps, it should be noted that the 2 suggestions are not mutually exclusive?

Captain Angry said...

My ideas are far from perfect, but they are ideas!

It just seems absurd to me that you could set your mind to getting an item, and literally never get it because of random chance. Luck should not be such a large factor, or at least the defining factor.

Sure, your luck can determine whether you get a drop earlier or later, but you should eventually get it. With a true random roll it isn't impossible, however unlikely, to never see 1 particular number come up. Then when you DO get lucky enough to have an item drop, you have to win a dice roll again to get it. Sheesh.

There has to be a better way!

Relmstein said...

I think the random nature of loot was originally included in the game to introduce a little bit of the same excitement that gambling holds. Most people nowadays though would seem to prefer less randomness and a more steady progression. Why should a run of bad luck make us have to do a dungeon 10 times to get one item?