The most important thing during a journey is to keep the player's mind busy. This applies to all journeys. It's the reason why the salesman at your doorstep talks so much. And it's the reason why the playboy doesn't even stop talking. (Of course, both absolutely love it if you start to talk back). And it's the reason why there is gray loot in WoW.
There are many loops in WoW. Trainers are a loop, you must return to them every level. Combat is a loop. As is collecting loot, selling loot, walking to the next mob, walking to the next quest giver, returning to the quest giver, replacing items, and much, much more.
Grey loot is a wonderful example for how important it is to keep the player's mind busy and what properties that, which keeps the mind busy, must have (and need not have). Most players, even most bloggers, would consider you crazy if you suggested to introduce loot that needs to be picked up, is marked as useless, and has to be sold.
Well, gray loot is also funny, because you could argue that it exists for simulation purposes. But even someone like me would consider this pointless. There's lots of stuff that you could take from mobs that is useless. To have some of it drop is ridiculous.
Gray loot exists to keep your mind busy. It's good at that, because it has a foundation in the simulation, makes you pick something up, makes you execute a decision and makes you sell it for a 'reward'.
The foundation in the simulation is important. If the game designer used something completely arbitrary, like clicking on three lights whenever you loot something, you would think that you shouldn't have to do that. And that means that it made the journey frustrating.
It is important that the gray loot doesn't just keep you busy. It has to keep your mind busy. When picking it up, you are gathering and perhaps you are even making a decision about the space it takes up in your backpack and whether it's worth it. When you sell it, your brain has 'reward' and 'goal' written all over it.
But that doesn't mean that more gray loot is good. If the game designer puts too much gray loot into each mob's corpse, you become bored. The task of picking it all up is tedious. The reward is not enough to justify the journey. And while the question of whether to pick it up or not (because it's too tedious) is an interesting decision, it is the wrong kind of interesting decision: it is a frustrating decision. You shouldn't have to make that decision!
That's a problem WoW had for a few years already, because the number of mobs slain per minute had increased so much. But it became a terrible problem once players returned from Rift and the Rift-AE loot. Gratz to Trion for shifting the players' expectations. Now, suddenly, we consider non-AE loot frustrating. We shouldn't have to do that!
And some players even call AE loot an innovation. I don't know whether that should make me laugh or cry, really. 3D graphics are an innovation. The basic idea of raiding is an innovation. But AE-loot? Is that the kind of thing that takes a few decades to be discovered? No.
AE-loot is just part of the ever-ongoing breakdown of boundaries. We look back, we remember that single-mob looting was fun. And we have no idea, how! We wouldn't want to do this anymore.
Oh, and we love to watch how the backpack changes when, in Rift, we AE-sell the loot we AE-looted. But don't worry, eventually that will be automated as well. It will happen soon after your merchant always travels with you and the loot per minute has multiplied again. The merchant will pick it up automatically and in return put money in your inventory. You don't believe me? Well, 8 years ago you wouldn't have believed me if I had told you about AE-loot.
This post has been inspired by Tesh's and Straw Fellow's posts.