Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Towards a token reward system
After some difficulties your group finally did it: The last boss of the heroic dungeon is dead. With the previous bosses just having dropped blue gear, you'll finally get an epic reward. Hmmm, it's plate with +int and +spellpower bonus. There is no paladin in your group. Disenchant, and get a shard which isn't even worth much any more nowadays. Fortunately this was the daily heroic, so you also get 2 Emblem of Triumph, and you picked up Emblems of Conquest and maybe some stone keeper's shards as well if your faction controls Wintergrasp. Sure, the handful of tokens you get from one run won't buy you anything yet. But ultimately the gear you will be able to buy with the tokens is even better than the potential epic loot drop. To the point that even people who couldn't possibly find a gear upgrade in a heroic dungeon are still doing heroics for the tokens. Is World of Warcraft moving towards a reward system which is more and more dominated by tokens? And is that the reward system of MMORPGs of the future?
Epic loot drops are a bit like a lottery, and many people like lottery systems like that. Oh joy, the tanking trinket in Trial of Champions normal dropped! But the other side of the coin is the frustration of the guy who does toc normal ten times and never gets the trinket. The vendor sale value of an epic nobody needs is just a few gold pieces, the auction house values of a shard if you have a disenchanter not much better, and so there is a huge gap between getting a bad drop, or a useful epic, which if you compare it to the price of BoE epics on the AH can easily be worth a thousand gold or more. So without tokens, a heroic run is either rewarded by less money than you would have gotten doing dailies in the same time, or something extremely useful. That appeals to the gambler in us, but can be extremely frustrating if we have a bad streak.
Epic loot tables also influence who wants to go where. Trial of Champions on normal potentially giving that extremely good tanking trinket means that this is the one dungeon for which you can easily find a tank. But not necessarily a healer, because there isn't an equally attractive piece of healing gear on the loot tables. Meanwhile the healers are queueing up in front of a another heroic, where the healing gear is to be found, but can find no tank, because the place gives no tanking gear.
Add tokens to the mix, and things are looking up. Getting a group together for the daily heroic is a lot easier than for anywhere else, because of the guaranteed reward. And as everyone can spend his tokens on whatever gear he needs, everybody is equally interested. You can even use your tokens to buy gear for your off-spec, without the holy priest getting into discussions with the mage on whether the priest is allowed to roll for dps cloth for his shadow spec.
As the latest WoW patches showed, tokens can also revive content that was threatened with becoming redundant. In vanilla WoW, once you had the gear from Molten Core, there was absolutely no reason to still run 5-man dungeons. Today doing 5-man heroics is still a very big part of the WoW endgame, even for people who will find no gear upgrade on the heroics loot tables any more. That also involves more mixing between raiders and non-raiders, which can be a good thing. Instead of being stuck with one particular slice of content, the one which is just easy enough to yield loot upgrades for you, players in the end game now have a good reason to go back to 5-man content, which is a lot easier to get going outside typical raid times.
So the question now is, will loot drops become less and less important, until they completely disappear in some future WoW expansion or next-generation MMORPG? Will we arrive at a situation where ninja-looting and DKP systems became a thing of the past, because everybody just gets some tokens for the boss kill? Or is the gambling aspect of epic loot drops a necessary attraction for the end game?