Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Letting The Mat Out Of The Bag : GW2

Syp, wearing his work hat and his Sunday best name, was kind enough to link yesterday's Argo post on Massively, which makes for a nice synchronicity since I'm opening today's with a link to his colleague Anatoli Ingram's opinion piece on GW2's reward system. I was planning on writing something on the topic but Anatoli beat me to it and he's covered much of what I was going to say.

One of the most regularly-heard complaints, both from players inside GW2 and from people giving reasons on forums outside the game explaining why they aren't playing, is that the rewards are terrible. In the absence of a standard gear progression ladder it's hard to say what a good reward would look like (although the palpable excitement and envy in map chat every time anyone links a rare Ascended drop gives you a clue), but as Anatoli's analysis implies, if you design your game around aspirational cosmetics and then put the majority of skins, mini-pets and toys behind a cash wall, you're not likely to endear yourself to those who already see the F2P model as a machine for separating fools from their money.

So, I largely agree with the premise that GW2's reward system is broken and I largely agree with the reasons given in the linked piece as to why that is. No need to go over the same ground again. There's one extra twist that doesn't get a mention, though: boxes. Yes, boxes. Boxes and bags, chests and purses, containers of every shape and size, Tyria's stuffed to bursting with them all.

We're all familiar with the Lockbox concept, loathed by many, loved by few, used by every F2P marketing team to eke the odd few thousand extra dollars out of customers with a poor grasp of probability theory and a low threshold on self-control. GW2 has had its own version since launch in the form of Evon Gnashblade's Black Lion Chests, the icon for which got a flashy makeover only this week and for which you can buy keys at the Gem Store for around a dollar a throw or occasionally (very occasionally) find for free in game.

Compared to other MMOs, though, Black Lion Chests are a background detail They don't even drop all that frequently. I doubt I see more than two or three a week. Even when they were a lot more common they were always easy to ignore and since the drop rate was heavily reduced a long time back they barely register as a thing any more. No, it's not the pay-to-unlock boxes that are getting out of hand. It's the unlocked ones we get for free.

Every type of content has its own goodie bags to offer. Simple monsters drop bags and every monster seems to have his own copyrighted design. Even players drop them in WvW. A quick countdown of the varieties available on Trading Post comes to over a hundred.

Then there are the Champions, each of whom also has a special kind of bag to keep his greens in, along with his skill scrolls, crafting mats and all his other odds and ends. Achievements pop up chests in windows and World vs World ranks set little chests jiggling in the lower right corner of the screen. That's the same place you find the daily chest, the World Boss Guaranteed Rare Chest and last week's Tournament Reward Chest (if you were lucky enough to get one. It's still bugged). Not to mention the whacking great chest every World Boss leaves behind him on the ground when he dies.

There's a positive plethora of chests. A bonanza of bags. That has to be good, right? We all love loot. Well, yes, you'd think so. Within reason.

I love goodie bags. I love random loot in principle and I love opening containers that have random loot in them. Yet even I'm beginning to feel this might be too much of a good thing. It's not just the sheer volume, overwhelming though that has become. It's the nature of the contents, particularly the crafting materials, which so many of these bags contain.

It's one thing to feel a thrill of excitement as you open a chest from a slain creature anticipating, perhaps, a magical weapon or ring. It's entirely another to have every single crafting material randomized across scores of mobs. That's not entertaining so much as it is irritating.

And where's the consistency? The parity between crafts? If I want copper I can go mine copper nodes. If I want wood I can go chop down trees. If I want cloth, though, or claws or scales, or one of the hundreds of body-parts that mysteriously make the mundane magical, it's off we go to slaughter hundreds of not-so-innocent creatures and even that's not the end of it. Its a trope of MMOs that metal and wood come from nodes while cloth and leather come from mobs but in other MMOs at least you know for certain sure which mobs. In GW2 its a lottery.

And therein lies the nub of the problem: in GW2 everything's a lottery. Worse, it's a nested set of lotteries. Kill the mob, see if he dropped a bag. Open the bag, see if it has the thing you want. As someone who positively wants to open boxes to see what's inside (it's the credo of this entire blog for Pete's sake!), if I'm starting to feel worn down by the sheer number of bags to be opened, then other people must surely be screaming with frustration by now.

I never thought I'd see the day when I started to see opening goodie bags as a chore but some days, when I have a stack of fifty or more to get through, it begins to feel that way. It's taking the edge off what should be an exciting moment of gameplay and turning it into a humdrum task that needs to be gotten out of the way in a hurry.

It would be nice to see the whole loot delivery process get an overhaul. Fewer bags with better things inside them. Crafting mats as standard body drops tied to specific mobs. More control handed to players to seek out and obtain the things they need and desire. Less reliance on RNG for absolutely everything. Return some agency to the player and some structure to the play.

Until that happens, like Anatoli says, GW2 will go on being all about the gold.


8 comments:

  1. I dislike loot in general in most MMOs. I was spoiled with the "oh look - he has a fiery sword!" and if you killed the mob he had a fiery sword.

    Crazy, I know.

    The box concepts drives me a bit batty - I have 79 boom boxes from my participation in Windstar Beta - and I fan only open one every 24 hours. Nice reward? Or two month+ guaranteed subscription?

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    1. I'm totally with you on this. I like MMOs where if you need a sword you look for a mob waving a sword about, kill him and take it. I started my MMO obsession in Everquest at a time where not only was that true but you could even charm a mob, hand it a sword of your own, watch it equip and wield it, have it fight on your side until charm broke, kill the mob and take your sword back.

      That's how it should work.

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    2. I agree completely and am an EQ baby as well. I made a big post about it some time ago, the oddities of loot. It actually ruins immersion to some degrees

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  2. Rewards in MMOs are all about trying to make the smallest discrete amount of "reward" you can give to the player. Everyone wants to get "Rewarded" for killing a Champ, but it happens so often that anything given out by killing champs quickly loses value since champ killing happens so frequently.

    If it's not random, it means you're given a small thing that's worth 1/500th of something desirable. Which leads to people complaining about the "grind."

    I think MMOs with free economies will always end up with screwy rewards. There's absolutely no way around it. Make something easy to obtain, and it becomes worthless very quickly. The only way to give items value, then, is to make it be consumed at high rates or lower its random drop chance.

    Ultimately though, I don't mind that it's all about the gold. Gold is something that can be earned in a huge variety of gameplay options, unlike dungeon armor where I'm forced to dungeon. Yea, I won't be uber-efficient if I WvW/PvP a lot, but meeeeeeeeeeeh.

    -Ursan

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    1. I'm not against against brokers and auction houses per se but I feel they need some very considerable restrictions if they aren't to have exactly the overwhelming and trivializing effect you describe. Unfortunately even MMOs that start with good intentions, splitting their brokers by region or faction limiting them by time or access in some way almost always end up bending to player pester power and removing all the checks and balances. GW2 wet with the most extreme end of the scale, a global Trading Post covering all servers, and the results have been predictably stultifying.

      In my ideal MMO I'd go for small, limited, regional brokerages and also make most desirable gear non-tradeable, whether obtained by questing or as drops from mobs so that you had to go get it yourself or go without. I'd also use a consignment system for crafting (EQ2 has an excellent one ) so there would be no need for direct player-to-player trade. Obviously all that would just create a whole new set of problems but they're problems I think I'd find more interesting and involving to deal with.

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  3. I actually rather like it. It all ties into the economy this way and evens itself out.

    Speaking as an inveterate mob-killing farmer, I'd personally love to have more loot drops tied to specific mobs being pumped out at higher frequencies... but from an objective game-design standpoint, what's going to happen next? One, crowds in certain places - as if the spark farming and karka farming crowd isn't big enough already, and two, bots. Lots and lots of annoying as hell bots.

    I think I'll take the more randomized crowdsourced loot than deal with seeing multiboxing bearbows again.

    Three, increasing the drop rate means increased supply, lower demand and lower prices. Which isn't that great a thing except for people wanting cheap Legendaries. Selling these mats, which are in demand, is what helps casuals get money from the hardcore Legendary builders and dedicated dungeon-runners and distributes the wealth around more.

    And as Ursan says, tying it all to gold means that you can do any activity you want and still have a kind of progression (even if it's not obvious to some.) I gather nodes and TP them and get money. Someone else gathers champion bags and TPs the materials and gets money. I stroll by Southsun and hit a few lvl 80 mobs and get a couple T6 mats which I can TP for pocket money. Someone else plays WvW and can get gold off champ bags, badge conversion and selling loot bags. Others hop on the rare-dispensing train and can TP the yellows for gold.

    There are actually ways to get more reliable supplies of T6 mats, they just involve less obvious and somewhat inefficient currency conversions that factor in time. Going for mystic clovers can produce some. You can buy 'em via laurels or the current festival tokens. And when I was topping off my accumulated mats for the Legendary, I used skill points and crystalline dust to convert my absolutely-overflowing T5 stash (since I tend to hoard them instead of selling).

    Perhaps the only criticism is that these tend to be less obvious and directly in your face as receiving them via lucky drop. Token-buy, while giving a sense of control similar to that of going farming for something, tends to create lots of weird currencies that you sorta have to be in the loop to know what they're for.

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    1. It's far, far too late to turn GW2 back into anything other than the combination economic sim/psychological experiment it's become, I fear. About the best I'd hope for is that the method of delivery might be streamlined and made less hysterical. The trend appears to be heading the other way though.

      As for bots, when did you last see one? I have quite literally not seen one in well over a year. We went on holiday in October 2012 when the plague was at its height and we were seriously contemplating giving up on GW2 when we came back specifically and only because of the bot blight. When we got back after a week away there had been an update and 90% of the bots had just vanished.

      They persisted after that for a few months in ever-declining numbers and by the time The Living World began they had vanished, never to return. I always assumed ANet had implemented an incredibly successful software fix. It certainly didn't appear to have any connection to any randomizing of loot. I actually don't remember loot having changed in that respect - didn't mats always drop in bags anyway?

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  4. awwww.. my comment didn't post. Oh well

    Anyway, I remeber talking about the gold grind lost year of some time, a couple times and how the focus on gold to attain what you need was going to change player habits. The grinding tool may change but it's always the same, just maximise gold per hour.

    I hated all those RNG parts as well, a chance at a chance at what you needed. It always made my actions feels so much less rewarding.

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