MMO’s have generally accepted principles much like accounting. Rules and systems that have been adopted over the years. I recently signed up to try the Age of Conan Trial (haven’t played it since I dismissed the game as ‘not for me’ in beta). I’ll most likely discuss how things have changed there in another piece, but playing through the first 3 levels reminded me how loot systems in our MMO’s really kill immersion.
In AOC I awake on a beach wearing only a loincloth and slave tattoos. A broken oar is my only weapon. My character, a Stygian Ranger, must find Tortage. I look around the beach and see a slaver of particular interest – full leather armor, a bow by his side and a quiver full of arrows on his back. Wielding my broken oar with the fury of a thousand raining arrows I down the slaver, and begin to rummage through his gear.
Now, being a ranger myself, you would think that I would be overjoyed at the opportunity to pick up my weapon and ammo of choice to make my way to Tortage. No, though. The golden tooth of the slaver is the only thing I find of value. Perhaps I neglected my own dental hygiene and am obsessed with teeth – either way, I discard the weapons, armor, and arrows, rummuge through the guy’s mouth and remove 1 gold tooth and tuck it somewhere in my loincloth. (I won’t tell you where – use your imagination.)
MMO’s have come a long way with loot, and some try to make that experience even better. Building my private set of dentures in AoC just left me with one thought – ‘why didn’t they even try something here?’ As a ranged class, providing loot that fits my class, from an NPC that obviously also slings arrows is a missed opportunity. In fact, I didn’t even find a bow or arrows until level 3.
Why didn’t they even try?
As MMO gamers we know the routine. Kill mobs, get levels, get loot. That really is the core of most MMO gameplay. Once you get your levels, all that is left (in current MMO iteration) is to get the loot. We spend hours each week doing that at max level. Now, I could rant here how silly it is that random Boar carries a platemail chest piece, or that Poisonous snakes somehow find somewhere to put a 2 handed great sword. Developers are trying hard to distance themselves with ‘new’ and ‘innovative’ features that they often miss the most basic of ideas that the average gamer would appreciate. Because they know we are trained to accept a GAMMOP, they can focus their dev dollars elsewhere trying to make a bigger ‘splash’ for marketing to take advantage of. I suppose it’s hard to argue – what would a marketing department rather drool over – ‘innovative 4th Gen MMO Combat!’ or – ‘a looting system that makes sense!’. One is sexy, one is sensible.
Games didn’t always loot this way. Heck, back in EQ I fondly remember that if I saw an Orc wearing a chainmail helm and wielding a mace, when I killed him I could loot either of those items. Fun was always to be had – I could give my city guards a sword, and they would equip it. If a player from the opposite faction killed that guard, he could loot it. If I sold a shield to a merchant, it would stay on that merchant – and others could buy it. Items existed in Norrath (or at least had the illusion they did – it has been a long, long time).
The issue is how we have been trained that when we kill something it must have something worth taking. Entire MMO systems are based off of ‘rate of return’ on adventuring – if I do 20 quests, I should have 400 gold. To counter that gold influx, we need gold sinks. Both the influx and the sinks are in constant war with each other, as developers increase rewards as mobs grow, then find ways to force us to spend that cash to show some semblance of economy balance.
To change this GAMMOP a brave developer would have to decide if there is value in having a player not fill up all bag space while questing – that the spoils are the gameplay experience itself, not the 90% vendor trash, 9% auction house sellable, 1% keepable items insensibly placed on random defeated creatures. I am worried though, that like puppies we have been so well trained that if we don’t get our treat after rolling over, shaking a paw, or sitting pretty that we’ll just all pee on the carpet if we don’t get our ridiculously itemized per mob loot tables.
WoW has done some things I can appreciate in this regard, with the badge and token system. I can live with the fact that an armorer might give me a special piece from his collection because I defeated certain mobs that perhaps ravaged his village in the past. There is an arguable point there. In Cataclysm they are moving to a points system, which I can also buy into – not as ‘this is the best way of doing this!’ but a ‘meh, it’s better than having a 40′ dragon having swords and armor stuck to his scales on display, that you can only take off once he is dead’. The system I like the best that I have seen in a few games is having a chest, or cache that the Mob has in his lair. It could be things he has stored from killing past adventurers. That makes sense. Having a giant plate armored-wearing evil knight with a 10’lance, that once killed, gives a leather helmet and a tiny dagger is just plain silly.
I do understand that it is just another way for developers to gate content, to force you to keep paying and playing, but surely there are other less insulting ways to provide that loot in an immersing manner? Any games out there make looting make sense?