Tobold's Blog
Thursday, May 05, 2011
The value of virtual rewards

What would you rather have? A raid in which after much struggle you kill the boss, but he doesn't drop any loot? Or the loot without having to kill the boss?

Via Bio Break I stumbled upon The Babbling Gamer, a relatively new blog, where Warsyde is pondering this question of the value of virtual rewards vs. the experience of playing the game. I can only agree with his conclusion that the pixel rewards lost a lot of their attraction over time, and that I'd rather play for the entertainment experience.
I need to be rewarded. When I come home from work and turn on WoW, I am physically and mentally worn out. I want to do something and be rewarded. It might be different if I just walk into a cave and start shooting at a boss. But with all the preparation, and chance of failure, I am in no mood to be given nothing but a kick in the ass for my time and preparation. I accept randomly not being rewarded but if I am never rewarded, I am never going to show up.
I think for me, the pixel rewards became so easy to acquire that they lost their meaning. When I quit WoW, I still had my original mage, with her full Tier 1 armor set, fire resist gear, Drakefire Amulet, etc. From vanilla to Cataclysm, I never deleted her or those items.

Conversely, the only "trophy" I kept from TBC was my voodoo mask triket from ZA, just because gnomes are sexy. And from Wrath, I kept nothing. Why? The items were trivial. They were easy to acquire, easy to replace, and carried with them no sense of accomplishment.

I am not harking for the "good old days" of MC, because they were far from as "good" as we would like to remember. But those rewards were meaningful. Those accomplishments were meaningful. Nowadays, not so much. And it is not just a WoW problem. It's just the only decent frame of reference I have.
In early Wrath my guild completed the "Undying" achievement in Naxx for going through the whole instance without anyone dying. Mind you, this was early in the expansion when it wasn't a trivial task. For that I got a title though the experience itself was well worth the difficulty of the task and with or without the reward I maintain the memory of this undertaking with my friends. No digital reward a game could give me would be worth more than that memory.
I'd rather have an MMO without loot-based advancement, so I don't need the loot to tackle content further down the line.
The point is not about getting rewarded with 'loot' but that the loot enables you to do the next level of content.

It is tied to the RPG character advancement model. Levelling stops at 85 and you need the loot to further improve your character.

Now if you could advance your character without the loot, people would not be so driven by those rewards. If non-progression loot were the only motivator then most people would do content well below their level for the pretty pixels. While some people do that content the focus is on current content for the majority.
For me it's all about the adventure. The loot is important, but it's like a MacGuffin in the movies--it's just a motivation to go out and adventure.

To get the loot without the adventure is like fast-forwarding to the end of an Indiana Jones movie to see Indy get the Grail. It's the journey that's important, and not so much the Grail at the end.
I'd much rather have the experience and little to no loot. The only reason I play MMORPGs is for the other people. A reward for killing the boss is a must for sure but I'd prefer it to be something that would affect player relationships or the game world like guild status, territory, safety, or some big picture event. Or maybe an item that has functionality instead of stats, or one that promotes cooperative or hostile interaction with other players.

So I still like the reward, but don't like the boring stat boosting items. There should be an actual reason behind killing a boss, and 'hoarding loot' is usually not the reason why the boss is standing there.

...Or if it's a particularly difficult boss, maybe I'll just want to beat it for the achievement of such a feat.
A raid in which after much struggle you kill the boss, but he doesn't drop any loot.

^ This.

The devs had better not balance their game assuming you've been rewarded continually for the previous 6 years that you may or may not have been playing though.
Your question misses an important piece of information.

Is that a piece of loot you're going to use for two year because it'll be awesome for two year? Like the crafted chest in vanilla. Or the dire maul quest trinket (for classes that got a good one, basically only warlocks and druids).

Or is that a piece of loot you'll only wear for 3 month until the next tier comes out and it'll be replaced within weeks?
A devious question. I want games that put a carrot in front of me and then allow me to use any means, bar of hacking, to get it.

Just having the carrot is not fun. Not having any carrot, not even the prospect of it, is not fun either.

Now, I could imagine other carrots than items. In fact, I'd love to beat the boss to save my village. But items are better than nothing.

So, would I raid repeatedly without any carrots? No.
Would I raid bosses that are trivial, but offer 'great' loot? Of course not. The loot cannot be great if the boss is trivial, because great loot is rare.
I wonder how general gaming experience skews this question. Are people that have played for years more likely to be interested in the challenge than the loot? Social media games have shown that there are people more interested in the shinies than they are in playing a game (see Cow Clicker), so trying to find the difference between Farmville players and WoW players may shed some light on this question.

Personally, I'd rather have the challenge than the loot.
My 10 man guild just killed heroic magmaw. Unfortunately, it was my night off ( 13 raiders, so someone is off every raid) and my first thought was, "damn, I wasn't there", not "what did he drop". So I think that what's become important to me is the overcoming of the challenge, not the loot the boss drops. Loot is just a means to the end for my guild. We don't even use any special loot system, just rolls ( and usually most will pass on to the other rollers)
To me, the loot is a means to get to next level content. By itself, it is not a reward to me. I would prefer to do the raid with no loot, as long as I don't have to grind it every week to keep up my gearscore so as to be accepted into future raids.

Rare cosmetic items and achievements can be more of a reward than combat loot. Great loot, if available to everyone, is no longer great.

On a side note, the reason why many of us have fond memories of vanilla wow is that the content itself was meaningful (like hours wasted defending SouthShore from those damn horde), not the shinies. The whole product and game experience now has been usurped by the gear treadmill and a lot of people are turned off by it.
I'm more interested in the experience than the reward. Gear really isn't about personal affirmation of success for my guild. It just represents a tool that lets us see more content.

My goal is to see all of the content, face the challenge, and defeat it. Loot is just something that lets me do that.
I want a reward and a game where i get to try and figure out the strategy to kill the boss.

But what I get now is reward sometimes and I get to execute someone elses strategy that got posted on the internet.

I think if the dungeons were at least partially random that would help. I think RND loot would work better if it were a personal drop not a raid drop that had to be shared. Even if you didn't get what you wanted you'd get something.

the problem with RND loot is it is possible to raid an instance for months and get nothing. I've done it before. It really sucks when you can't get your gear and your friends are ready to move on.
My reward was killing the boss. In my short raiding career in Naxx and Ulduar I passed on better than 50% of the loot I was eligible for.

Though as others point out, at some point you need the reward just to move on.

The question begs an "either/or" that is not necessary. The real question is the frequency to which the boss drops the loot and the extent to which the gear is necessary to progress.

IMHO, TBC in 25-man raids got it mostly right. Vanilla WoW had terribly difficult items to obtain with terribly frustrating drop rates with terribly frustrating time sinks.

TBC was still difficult, but had a progression through a good number of dungeons and bosses. Not ALL of the gear was necessary to progress on to the next dungeon, but the drop frequency went up from Vanilla WoW. When you obtained a great piece of gear, it was a great upgrade. It meant quite a bit for your performance, but it did not prevent you from performing well.

In WotLK, from sub-tier to sub-tier, loot was easy to obtain AND necessary to progress. If you tried to step into ICC with 200/219 level gear, forgetaboutit. Not that you COULDN'T do it, but the gear was so easy to come by that it was made trivial. Thus, no one would even attempt to take players geared as such.

In Cataclysm, loot is HARD to obtain AND drops infrequently AND is necessary to progress. And the progression is too linear. There is not much overlap between normals/heroics/low-end raids/high-end raids. Thus, you cannot even attempt heroics (typically) until you have virtually a full set of normal dungeon gear; you cannot attempt low-end raids until you are fully heroic-ed out; you cannot attempt high-end raids until you are low-end raid geared. Everything is extremely linear and boring. No group would take a person who (a) wasn't geared and (b) was performing at peak efficiency with their class.

It was clear from WotLK that they attempted to make progression more linear and easy for the average player. That was a mistake because it made progression trivial, and thus, the gear trivial. It's clear from Cataclysm that they wanted to keep the linearity of progression AND make it more difficult to progress. Big mistake.

The right answer to the right question is to engineer progression so that there is overlap between dungeons and not such a disparity between the tier levels of gear. With the availability of emblems/tokens/etc., and the variety of ways to obtain these, the developers effectively gutted the lower tiers of gear out of the game and made players enter only a small portion of the available world to actually obtain relevant gear.
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