Saturday, August 27, 2011

Journeys, Loops, Gray Loot

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.


  1. The future is now: Diablo 3 players have an item in their inventory that automatically "vendors" items dropped into it. You will eventually want to go back to town to AH/bank the particularly juicy magic items, but there is no question this will allow for longer uninterrupted periods of grinding.

  2. I actually wrote a post about how much I love grey loot once. :) There can be such a thing as too much of it, as you shouldn't have to (IMO) spend more time managing your bag space between combats than doing anything else, but in general it's an extra thing to do and I appreciate that. As I also said in the post linked above, I'm a bit disappointed that WoW seems to be moving away from vendor items more and more, with everything just dropping cash.

    Cash looting is not that interesting because as Straw Fellow said in his post, it's a no-brainer. With nothing limiting how much cash you can carry, you'll always want to pick it up. I'd be okay with corpses just sparkling if there's an item on them and the money going into my bags automatically, but I wouldn't want to miss the joy of picking up items.

    I do see Tesh's point about warrior gameplay conflicting with pausing to loot, but to be honest if the design of one class conflicts with a basic gameplay feature I'd rather think about making some changes to that class instead of taking away the feature for everyone else. ;)

  3. Richard Garriott once called WoW a "game of inventory management". There's a lot of truth in that. Which means that on the macro level iterative improvements to loot acquisition may be a problem. You can automate picking up loot as Rift has done. You can automate selling grey loot as Rift has done. You can short cut difficult gear choices as sites like Rawr do.

    What's left?

    Run around killing stuff only stopping to collect Best in Slot? Is that where we're heading?

  4. Looting for me has always been tedious. To the point that often I would skip looting if I was running a lowbie dungeon or in a lower level area. Alos there was always that annoying large mob sitting on top of all the stuff you want or perhaps the 15 mobs that each drop some stuff and die from 3 secs of aoe.

    For me aoe looting has just got rid of the annoying parts of looting and kept what you like. The deciding the worth of items and occasionally getting something neat because you looted.

  5. "The future is now: Diablo 3 players have an item in their inventory that automatically "vendors" items dropped into it."

    After reading Nils' post here, I'm inclined to believe this is actually a bad decision. Inventory management is a part of the game, yes, and Diablo keeps that part, but it removes the loop of returning to town at intervals. And the more I think about it, the more I'm seeing this action as a type of enforced break.

    Consider this: Diablo and WoW have fairly repetitive combat. You use relatively the same abilities on each enemy, occasionally varying tactics slightly for a spellcaster or an elite. Having to run back to town to sell is an enforced break from this so that it doesn't become tedious.

    As for AE-looting, I've only ever seen it as akin to the LFG tool: a convenience rather than an improvement.

  6. I submit this is affected by alts and generation.

    Alts: I understand that if my level 85(s) can earn 720g/hour then my opportunity cost is 20s per second. So Shintar is not correct, walking 15 yards to loot 24s (no inventory issue) off a level 15 mob can be a bad economic decision.

    Yet I loot 99% of the corpses when alone.

    Generational: As a baby boomer, my parents were old enough to remember tough times and I learned a sadly tiny portion of that. So when I see the "cool kids" just going through not looting, I understand it but confess to finding it a bit irritating.

    So the harder they make grey looting, and the resulting inventory management, the more they make it so both people ignore it and ignoring it is the "optimal" thing to do. And i enjoy my pavlovian treats of loot.


    FYI: WoW is breaking down those loops. You don't have to return to the trainer every level and can see right there what the next ability is and the level you need it.

    And quest mechanics were changed to break down the loop, which most commenters seemed to like. A dropped-item-starts it might cause a dialog box to po up where you can start the quest. Or if it is a multistage quest, you can turn in stage 3 and get stage 4 without going back to the vendor.

  7. The vendor that always travels with you and sells your stuff already exists, in Trochlight with your pet. And I love this solution, fits very well into Torchlight.