Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling reports from the front lines* of the Massively Multiplayer Multiverse.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Doom Raids and Dice Rolls, or Chasing the Loot Piñata

Today, I am responding to a continued discussion Balkoth and I were having in the commentary of my Guild Drama post from earlier this week. Since the conversation was dragging on, I decided to cheat and get another post out of the deal.

Some of this might not make sense if you haven't followed that thread, especially since some of the points Balkoth brings up are less about Guild Drama, per se, and more about Raid mechanics, and why I personally do not participate in raids in any game (all quote blocks from Balkoth unless otherwise noted):
I'm mainly curious in what's making you tick here since game design is something that interests me and I admit I find many of your desires perplexing. They make sense from an individual perspective but they would seem to be terrible game design — hence my questions to probe at the heart of the matter.
This is ME!

Before I take this any further, I want to point out that I feel Balkoth is operating from Whatever I Think Is Un-Fun Is Bad Game Design Syndrome. I have repeatedly stated what I enjoy about about MMORPGs and what I do not; even things that I used to enjoy that I do no longer—like raiding—and why. And I am far from unique in my opinion that certain aspects of raid design and gameplay are not enjoyable.

Keeping Up with the Proudmoores

Jeromai had brought up ArenaNet's personal reward system wherein each individual player gets a private reward for killing a boss. This works out generally well in Guild Wars, where "grouping" is often no more formal than standing next to someone and shooting at the same thing they are. We won't go into here how the lack of competition for resources and kills creates a friendlier player atmosphere in the game, in my opinion.

Needless to say, I agree with Jeromai's assessment. However, Balkoth begs to differ, because it "eliminates part of the raiding meta-game."
Except we're talking about a social group, right? Where you know what gear others have? And can see that some of their gear has changed? . . . You will remember what your guildmates have, though (especially if you notice that they recently obtained an item you want).
There is only a certain subset of player who care enough about the gear of others to bother to inspect them. Even in my closest Guild groups, I think I can count on my fingers and toes the total number of times I have inspected someone's gear with more than mild interest in a given piece of gear. In seven years of MMO gaming. And to know whether it's changed since the last time I looked? Not a chance.

No Wonder It's Called Playing Craps

Balkoth had asked whether I disliked the pace of gearing or the randomness to which I responded, "The Randomness."
So let's say the current averages you at 0.5 items per boss killed and you will, on average, get your ideal set in 50 boss kills. Would you prefer a system where each time you kill a boss you get 0.1 items and you're guaranteed to get your ideal set in 250 kills? You'd always make progress toward your goal...but you'd make it more slowly.
I'll ignore the fact that Balkoth changes the rate of progress between his two scenarios and go with the faulty reasoning of the "average." Most RPG designers use Random Number Generation to determine what drops out of a loot table on any given kill, in addition a host of other game events (fight damage, etc.) I saw an article a few months ago, I cannot for the life of me remember where, that discussed a problem with this system when dealing with a quest drop. The scenario follows as best I can remember.

Let's say the devs design a quest to collect a doodad off a specific type of mob. Since I can't remember, we'll call them "Zhevra Hooves." They build the loot table so there is a one in ten chance for the hoof to drop, and then place ten zhevras in the general vicinity of the quest. The assumption here is that by the end of the killing the ten zhevras, the player will have the hoof. The problem is that each kill resets the dice roll. The player's chances of getting the hoof are no better on the tenth zhevra than they were on the first. A certain percentage of players will get the hoof on their first kill and a certain percentage of players will not get a hoof within ten kills, therefore having to wait for the respawn. In fact, it's within the realm of possibility (though highly unlikely) that a player will never get that hoof. (Just for journalistic integrity: the actual drop rate for Zhevra hooves is about 31%, overall. The article proposed a way of increasing the drop rate based on the number of kills already done, but it hasn't been implemented in any game that I aware of.

Now back to endgame gearing. In the scenario Balkoth favors, he says the average of 0.5 items per boss killed leads to an average accumulation of an ideal set in 50 boss kills. By that I infer that there are 25 components in an ideal set; and that, at a minimum, a player would need 25 successful boss-kills to get the set. (This ignores the possibility that a single boss might drop more than one component of the set, but these numbers a complete ass-pull, anyway. I suspect that the true mean rate of gear progression is far lower than 50 boss kills, or even 50 complete raids.) Such a lucky person is likely being carried by a group of friends—who don't need any of the gear—doing this person a favor. Remember, it's not just about the loot dropping, but winning whatever system is in place to actually receive the loot over everyone else in the group. (Full disclosure, I have been carried in such a way, fairly recently.)

Since there is a discrete non-zero minimum and it's fairly close to the mean that Balkoth references, I'd guess that a majority of players might get their gear between 25 and 50 boss-kills, in that scenario. The reason I'd guess that is because there is no upper limit in that probability curve. It's entirely possible that some players would never complete the set in any number of boss-kills, certainly not within a reasonable number like 150. And the Game devs, with every new raid tier and every expansion, slide the goalposts further back, meaning this patch's ideal set will be next patch's vendor trash, at least for those hard-core souls on the bleeding edge of content. So for many players, maybe most., the slow, steady progress of tokens or currency is at least an alternative to "striking it rich" with dice rolls and loot piñatas.

And I'm not just talking abstractly. Poor drop rates on RNG loot is a significant source of angst for many players. How many players like me have decided the loot is just not worth the time and effort? The grind through the first four or five bosses to get to the next one, to bash our collective heads against it until it's down, to get it eventually "on farm" and move on to the next because we're finally all geared up enough is simply not interesting enough, in and of itself, and then the rate of extrinsic reward is pathetic as well. In the case of WoW, the gold sinks of repairs and such were so onerous they had to create dailies, just so people could make the gold they needed to be able to continue raiding. And don't get me started on the disparities between PvE and PvP gear, and gear progression.
Yes, people will argue that the RNG of loot drops is what makes killing a boss exciting, but after killing a boss for the 20th time and still not seeing that sword you want, I don't think it's really excitement that you're describing.
~Dan Sz, Altoholism, "The Problem with Boss Loot"
This video from the excellent folks at Penny Arcade discusses the Skinner Box of RNG, and the difference between compelling gameplay and engaging gameplay:

"L2P" - The Warcry of the Hard Core

I also said, "In end-game raiding, the only progress is gear-based (especially if you're a guide student, not going in "blind" to learn the fights)." To which Balkoth responded:
I think you're seriously underestimating the difficulty of execution. Even something like "Dodge the lightning orbs on Heroic Jin'rokh" — that's a lot harder to actually do than it is to read in a guide.
Balkoth, I think you're terribly underestimating my ability to gauge difficulty. The Gatekeeper DPS challenge in Rift (with no other reward than unlocking Nightmare modes [EDIT: and some XP]) is simple: don't stand in the fire, purge at the right time, and stay away from the add—all while while maintaining a steady rate of damage on Oscar himself. Anyone who's actually done it can tell you how difficult those instructions are to execute. I'd estimate it took me at least 8 hours of actual game-time—and countless attempts—to learn the "dance" and complete the challenge. And that was after I made sure I had an "ideal" set of gear, not to mention "spell" rotation. Even then, my preparation was probably sub-optimal.

But my point was that unless a group is on the bleeding edge or going in blind on purpose, there are plenty of guides out there on every boss fight in every MMO. Raid leaders (and members) are expected to study them to learn good strategies for beating each boss. Execution is a different story, and folks going in blind will have to the learn the fights "the hard way." In all honesty, I prefer this method, because there is an element of surprise and excitement to the dungeon. But hard-charging loot hounds would rather get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Make no mistake, I love experiencing new dungeon mechanics, and mastering them. But then I want to move on. I want the challenges to be skill-based, not gear-based.
Think about this the next time you see some player character in truly Epic Pixels strutting their stuff in Orgrimmar, Destiny's Reach, or Meridian: Despite what may be months or even years of raiding, learning strategies and tactics for epic battles against nigh invincible foes, everything they're wearing boils down to good luck on some random dice rolls.
~Me
As a concrete example of a game in which I have found my "desires" fulfilled, I greatly prefer The Secret World's system of gear progression. While there are loot tables and RNG, the crafting system is set up in such a way that gear no one needs can be broken down into materials that can be combined into things the players do need. The endgame dungeons have tokens that represent steady progress toward better gear, in addition to the random drops. And then the mysteries, narrative, and other features of TSW—while not necessarily unique to the game, as shown in the PA video above—are engaging enough to keep me interested, without the top-end gear chase.

Perplexing Playstyles

There is no One True Game ideally designed to appeal to everyone. If there were, I suspect we would all be playing it. But there isn't, hence the proliferation of different games, not just in the MMORPG genre, but all forms of "play."

I've said it before: "You may not be an "always-on" hardcore player, but you clearly find enjoyment in doing different things in game than I do. And that's OK." [EDIT: I felt my style of play was being criticized.] I find that all too often devs and players forget that the R in in RPG stands for Role and not Roll. But I'm not saying you have to stand around a tavern speaking pseudo-archaic English; something I almost never do, either. If you're into min-maxing and raid progression through lucky rolls on loot, that's great. Not everyone wants to play that way.  I hope that clears up my perplexing position on Gearing and Progression.

8 comments:

  1. Here, this is for Balkoth to understand that there are statistically many different types of players and that different games' game design can be directed at catering for a subset of them:

    I prefer to remember the people in my social groups as people, rather than as what gear they had on. Whether they are friendly, flexible, understanding that everyone is human and forgiving of mistakes, inclusive and have a good sense of humor is more important to me than overall group progression - though I will look for other avenues to further individual progression.

    I am in two different timezone guilds in GW2, one far more efficient and hardcore than the other and much better suited to my timezone, but I tend to enjoy the atmosphere of the casual one a lot more, which is why I don't leave it.

    I end up supplementing my individual progression via PUGs more often than not, but I'm entirely alright with this arrangement as I just don't have the personality for a long-term socially bonded log-in-at-this-time affair.

    My Bartle profile is EASK. Socializer is third last after Killer, so you can see that I don't rank social bonds that highly. Knowing a bunch of loose collections of friendly people is really all I'm after in an MMO, not a tight knit band of brothers.

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    1. Explorers unite!

      Unless you want to strike out your own, of course. :P

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  2. Oh, you dirty cheater. I think I'll cheat as well, but might take a day or two.

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    1. Hehe, thanks for understanding. ;) And forgive me, what is your blog?

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    2. Never mind, I wised up and found it. Added to the scrolling roll. :)

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    3. A response, good sir.

      http://balkothsword.blogspot.com/2013/10/why-have-gear.html

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  3. Whoa, people are still arguing over this? I thought winning tokens for boss battles that you could turn into the actual loot you wanted rendered discussions like this moot. You still need the skill, and if you want a whole set, you still need the patience and dedication, but if you are someone like Rowan, you can run the scenario a handful of times, face the challenge, and move on to something else.

    I suspect the real angst from hardcore raiders is that this system reduces the number of new recruits and interested parties, since the less dedicated can cherry pick their rewards and probably are not interested in grabbing all 25 components (or whatever the number is) to complete the set.

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    1. My office-mate said almost the same thing about the tokens system. One of my issues with the entire system is the need for constant repetition of content that has been mastered. Of course, I still play Monopoly, occasionally. I guess the question is how many times can I repeat content before it becomes completely so completely un-fun that even hanging out with my social group is not worth it. The answer is different for each player.

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