For the loot, honey, for the loot.

I hate dungeon instance loot. Ok, that’s not entirely true: we loves it, we wants it precious. What I hate about dungeon instance loot is the way, like so many other things in MMOs, its awarding is perfectly designed to make one or more people in the group feel rubbish about their evening, and how it turns nice normal people into quietly seething Sméagols or outwardly furious frothing Gollums. I hate it most when it does such a thing to me, especially when I’d promised myself that loot did not matter and I was only there for the companionship of others and to enjoy the World of Warcraft. Yet it manages to do so, loot distribution in WoW is like the One Ring of Middle Earth, it has a will of its own and evil intent.

We’d finished a run of the Deadmines and I’d upgraded my character with two pieces of Defias leather armour, making out like the proverbial bandit. I’d rolled Need on the items, and professed the niceness of them on our VoIP channel, but only because they were, indeed, nice. Our healer, who can also wear leather, did not roll on the items, and I was pleased with my new preciouses for a short while before being hit by a wave of guilt towards the end of the run when I considered that my proclamation of their niceitude had perhaps put the healer off of rolling on the items at all, which was not my intent. Indeed, I was still in my premeditated mindset of The Loot Does Not Matter, and frankly there’re very few healing leather items at this level so any leather loot is free game, although I obviously wouldn’t roll on anything that was clearly healer loot. Things will even out a bit at level forty, as my Shaman moves up to using mail armour and the only other mail armour wearer in the group will move up to using plate armour at the same time, thus making the loot boundaries fractionally easier to determine.

We moved on to Shadowfang Keep, and still feeling a bit of loot windfall guilt (which I think afflicts some players more than others), I passed on the leather pieces that dropped there, one of which was blatantly a healer piece anyway, and the other was a nice upgrade for either of us, it having a chunk of stamina on it. The other two members had grabbed a few useful drops by this point too, and it was all looking like a fairly balanced evening of loot distribution. But the loot system is treacherous, it will betray you, and it is always trying to find a way to ruin an evening’s play.

So a really shiny two-handed axe dropped. I’m currently using two-handed axes until the point I can dual-wield in twenty levels or so, and this item was a huge upgrade for me, with its lowest damage range number being greater than the highest damage range number on my current weapon. That’s a pretty tasty boost in DPS. I think we all professed the shininess of it at the point, and I apologised for rolling Need (why do I feel the need to apologise each time I roll need on something, is this just me?) and rolled for it, so did the Paladin tank. And of course they won.

I think I hid my frustration quite well, and again I like to think that my Loot Does Not Matter mindset at least partially brushed it aside as just one of those things, but as we continued through the instance the loot system pulled at me, taunted me, and drove me to dark thoughts.

(I had posted my reasons for being annoyed here, but I was informed that it looked like a castigation of that person, and that’s not the purpose of this post at all. It’s the loot system that is primarily at fault.)

I wonder if the healer felt the same way about me rolling on those leather pieces, and whether they felt that I expected them to be mine and shied away from rolling. I wonder if I would have been annoyed to not win those pieces either and have come out of the evening with nothing, or whether, having gained a couple of nice items, the loot system took over and twisted my thoughts towards expectation and rightful ownership, exactly the things that I’d sworn to avoid, having been on the receiving end of such rolls in the past, and had evenings ruined by what I perceived as… no, not unfairness, what happened was fair by all the rules. Perhaps thoughtlessness? It’s all very subjective, and that’s the biggest issue with these loot systems. The boundaries of who has a claim to what are often blurred, grey and misty, like putting on the One Ring and trying to see clearly.

I wonder if anyone else even cares about this, or if I’m just someone who spends too much time reading things into situations that don’t exist. I’m not writing this to try to shame that person into giving me the weapon, hell, they may very well have a point of view that, when explained to me, will make me realise that they had just as much claim on the item as I felt I had. And I most definitely wouldn’t want the item now, there’s something odious about getting an item from someone because you whinged about it: it’s just what the loot system would want. No, I’m genuinely writing this because loot systems in most MMOs are utterly rubbish, and instead of just copying the Need/Greed system and forcing the players to come up with DKP and other overlaid systems in order to make things more fair – and often still failing and causing grief between players – developers should really put some effort into coming up with something that is an enabler of group play, not something that causes discord and resentment between otherwise friendly and reasonable players. At the end of the day your character in most modern MMOs is nothing, gear is everything, so why is the gear distribution system in most MMOs such a hideous archaic throwback that has probably never once worked well.

Developers wonder why so many people will happily Play Alone with Others in MMOs, and yet when you look at the odds stacked against having a good time when playing with other people, even people you consider friends, it’s no wonder that more and more players switch to solo play wherever they can.

Firstly you’ve got to be on the right continent as your friends. Then you have to be on the right server. Then you have to belong to the same faction. Then you have to be of a comparable level. Then you have to have the same quests. And if all of that comes together and you can finally run an instance together, you have to hope that the loot which drops is easily apportioned and that nobody is going to feel that they deserved the piece more. Which when it comes to players and loot, is an almost certainty no matter how good their intentions, the loot system bends all to its will eventually.

I’ve resolved to do what I normally do in these situations, and that’s to not give the loot system a chance. Let’s face it, nobody outside of the end-game in WoW (PvP twinks excepted) needs to care about gear, I could probably perform well enough as a meleer in a set of cloth caster gear that we’d still make it through an instance, but quest items are plentiful enough that I will be able to pull my weight with ease. Yesterday I was tempted again, and though my brooding Galadriel-like thoughts almost brought me to a bad place, I think I have resisted the temptation well enough, and hopefully this will allow me to not worry about the loot and just enjoy the dungeons of WoW and the companionship of others.

No longer is the loot is precious to us, we don’t wants it no more; nice friendses, that’s all we wants.

8 thoughts on “For the loot, honey, for the loot.

  1. ikew

    A good final postion – but let me just shed some light on the situatuon. Noone really levels a healer from 1-80. Druids, shamans, paladins, priests – all use another talant distribution to get to 80 reasonably fast. Nor is anyone tank before 80 – retribution paladins level 2-4 times faster, and retri means 2h. Loot is not spec-bound untill the endgame, really. Both my druid and shaman have healed more instances than they have damage dealed, while still being total mele dpss, needing stamina, str and agi on their loot. Still, most low level healers are caster specd – elemental for shaman, ballance for druid. And healer items are also combat caster items. Checking people’s specs is usefull, do it often. It tells you when you can take without any guilt and when you should really say “Feel free to need that item as i have done, for it is great one for your spec.”

    As for the real subject of the blogpost – yes, losing rolls makes people feel terrible – but gives loot some weight. It is not unlike pvp, really – To win you have to have someone who loses. Sometimes the loot is only useful to one person in the party and noone feels fkued up- sometimes for every one who wins there are 15 who wet their pillows in the evening (dps rings in raids). It IS a lousy system, but it works for most people and it helps maintain the value of loot. You have to lose the rolls a few times to learn the value of items. And seriously, without valuing items most players wouldn’t do intances, so the rest would have a hard time making a group.
    It is a loot-centric game after all.

  2. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    I really hate loot-centric systems. Random numbers aren’t and it really sucks to get screwed out of loot with a string of bad luck. Just tonight I did a raid against the infamous Turtle in LotRO with my kinship, and I lost a 2nd page weapon and mithril flake by a few points to the same person. Sure, it’s not about the loot, but it’s nice to walk away from encounters with something for your effort besides a repair bill. Having one lucky person win a bunch of stuff can get frustrating.

    To this specific instance, however, I’ll agree with ikew’s post: healers don’t gear up just as healers. But, loot flows so fast and free in WoW at the lower levels you’ll probably find yourself replacing that cherry gear within the month if not within the week with some regular playing. I think we’ve all been bit by the loot whore bug, even when friends are involved, and it made us feel dirty.

    The real solution here is to change the concept of loot. I went into a bit of this in a previous blog post, near the end. I talk about xp being freely shared, why not loot? But, this requires a major change to the way loot is seen in games, not only as something to improve your character but also as something to sell for a large chunk of change.

    My assorted thoughts.

  3. Modran

    I’m currently playing DDO, and I kinda like the loot system in it: each time you come across a chest, 1 to 4 items appear for each group memeber and are reserved for said group member. It is possible to forsake one’s rights on a item. But what it ensures is that EVERYONE loots something from an instance/a boss. Sure, luck does play a role in what appears in the chest. But there’s less of a sense of being screwed up. Unless, like me, you don’t loot things for you often (at level 4 (ie level 15 in a WoW equivalence), I’m still using my starter weapon). But I don’t mind: magic is supposed to be somewhat rare to me, and the rest gets vendored for some plats :).

  4. Stabs

    I think it’s about group-centred game design.

    WoW is a triumph of non group-centred game design. They took the EQ model and added soloability. And that increased over the years as they empowered lowbies, speeded levelling and de-elited world mobs.

    Now you don’t even need to be sociable to raid. On EU Kazzak, a very developed server, people regularly pug raids perfectly successfully. Or you can be a goblin and buy a raid spot.

    The loot system is part of the empowerment of the individual and the cult of The Character has replaced the temple of The Guild.

    For any future group-centred games they absolutely should read this blog post and adjust their thinking.

    DDO does it pretty well with everyone getting their assigned loot with the capability for people to be unexpectedly nice. In other words you get your expected share plus someone might give you the big axe because it’s no use to him and it turned up in his loot share.

    Eve does it pretty well because it’s kind of expected that looters will be corrupt. So if you’re feeling hard done by just quietly take a few high value modules from some of the wrecks – no one will know because there’s no loot notification in chat. Eve is designed with theft in mind as a viable playstyle so it’s expected and people are comfortable with it.

    With regard to WoW what works for me is to generally be a loot ho. If I need it I roll on it. If a friend needs it too I’m happy to come back and run the place again.

    You see I think if you go down the route of making each roll a moral dilemma – eg I won 2 in a row, maybe I should pass this time – then you start unrealistically expecting others to show the same courtesy. If you roll everything you start to expect everyone else to do the same so it’s no surprise to lose a roll.

  5. Capn John

    Modran beat me to it, but yes, DDO does have a much fairer (IMO) loot system where everyone gets something from the Chests and/or Bosses in an Instance and nobody can Ninja anyone else’s items.

    Also (again, as Modran noted) if there is an item slated for you but you think to yourself “Our Fighter would love this, and it’s not that useful for my Priest,” you can change it in the Chest from being ‘your’ item to your Fighter friend’s item. It’s not like passing on a Roll where anyone can grab the ‘passed on’ item, you designate ‘your’ item to go to a certain character and only that person can loot your former item.

    Very fair system.

    Wizard101 has something similar where people don’t even Roll on items. If you’re there when a Boss goes down, you get a random Loot Item. Now because it’s random it might not be the best item for your particular school, but there’s no Rolling, no discussions, no Ninjaing; the game says ‘This is yours’ and it appears in your pack.

  6. Melmoth Post author

    @ikew: It’s a fair point about tanks and healers needing gear to level with, but again the loot system seems to have a disparity in it in this respect: if an item with healer stats or a shield that is clearly meant for tanking with drops, even though my character can use them, I would be absolutely wrong in rolling on it if a healer or tank is present in the group. As it happens we’re currently playing in a static group, so our roles and specs are known to each other, and I think the Paladin is indeed Retribution spec for levelling, as is the wise thing to do, but generally the aim is to play together and most of our levelling will be done as a group.

    You’re right, it is a loot-centric game, and I wonder if that isn’t one of the reasons that I’ve tended to play solo and avoid instances in recent years. It might also explain why I wasn’t able in this case to restrain the green eyed monster of envy, despite my best intentions.

    @Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green: That’s why I had to make a post, because our characters are currently low level and loot matters so little at this stage, that I really couldn’t come to terms with why I felt so miffed at having missed out on an item that, regardless of whether I perceived it as being put to better and more frequent use in my character’s hands, would remain useful for a matter of a few play sessions before it was replaced with something else.

    I really think the loot system is poor, because it is designed to reward the few and punish the many, when all members of a group have put equal effort into reaching the end of a dungeon. Maybe it is as ikew says, and this adds an extra sweetness and value to loot when you do happen to win it, but for me it just makes me feel guilty that someone else had to lose out for me to win. I imagine this is why I don’t do well at PvP, I don’t take pleasure from defeating other people, I feel sympathy for them.

    There’s no doubt, as I tried to convey, that this person had every right to roll on the item. Heck, anyone in the party should have the right to roll on the item, because they all contributed towards the effort it took to defeat the boss, and this is why I feel the loot system fails, because it is then down to the players to decide who ‘really’ has a right to roll on the item, based on class, spec, etc, and, as I also tried to convey, one person’s opinion as to whether they have a claim to the item may well differ to the point of view of someone else. Not discounting the fact that there are many grey areas where someone may feel they have been deprived, when in fact from a different point of view they haven’t.

    @Modran: Indeed! I’m playing DDO at the moment, and I have to say the loot system there is an improvement. There is always the issue of random loot, meaning that my Cleric is constantly being assigned +1 Throwing Darts of Clerical Uselessness, but at least I know that the loot is mine, and I can deal with the inadequacies of a computer based system much better than the complexities of a human nature based one.

    @Stabs: I certainly make each roll a moral dilemma, and I’m sure you’re right that this is a Bad Thing. The reason for this is clear, though: it’s quite easy for one person or more in a group to come out of a dungeon run with nothing of worth, while others have made-out like bandits, yet everyone contributed to making that dungeon run a success. And as much as I resent runs where I get nothing at all, I equally hate those runs where the dice have shined on me. What I hate most of all is that I should have to care, it should not be difficult to make a loot system which, at the very least, has some semblance of fairness, even if some players will come out richer at the end of it than others. DDO does this, as you and others have pointed out, in that you will always get a reward, and there can be unexpected kindness from others who gift you items that they were awarded but cannot use.

    What I resent most is that running a dungeon with friends should be reward enough, and I hate the fact that the loot becomes something more than a bonus at the end of a run. I honestly believe that this coveting could be avoided with a better loot system, but then, perhaps such a thing is desirable in these loot-centric games.

    @Capn John: I still have a problem with random loot systems, why can’t developers just assign me an item that’s useful for my character? Why do we have to cling to this archaic need to have random loot that means that, for my specific class of character, 90% of the loot I receive will be useless because it’s for one of the other X number of classes in the game? But at least games like DDO and Wizard 101 are trying to make the loot less of an area of contention, which is definitely a Good Thing.

    I just don’t understand why, after all these years of MMOs, developers are still intent on punishing their players for playing their game, rather than rewarding them. Surely in a set of games where most of us are aware that we’re participating in a giant Skinner Box experiment, a system where a group of players perform the same task and yet some are rewarded and others are not, runs counter to everything that we have been otherwise trained to expect?

  7. pjharvey

    That not all loot is created equal may be a good explanation of the intensity of your agitation, but I think you reached the real conclusion without fully realising so.

    nice friendses, that’s all we wants

    Right, and if someone shows such inconsideration by denying you a major gear upgrade, your primary weapon and one that no one else will use during group play, can you really call that person a friend? Maybe the dilemma gnawing at you is a desire to play with friends and an uncertainty that this is actually the case.

  8. Melmoth Post author

    I think the frustration genuinely comes from the fact that a system of randomly awarded pixelated items can make me so much as care; I certainly hate to think that loot would ever make me question whether the game was worth my time, let alone something as important as the value of a friendship.

    The advantage of being able to think out loud about these things is that lots of people offer useful and alternative viewpoints on the subject, which often brings one’s expectations and opinion to a more sensible and realistic level.

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