Time spent leveling to 85? Three days. Time spent grinding dungeons to have enough gear for heroics? Four days. Time spent grinding heroics to get enough gear for raids? Two weeks. Time spent learning a single boss in a raid and finally downing him? Two weeks.
Finally downing a boss only to have him drop THREE pairs of plate tanking boots? When you have a single BEAR tank? Skull bashing frustrating.
Random is not fun. I have said it before and I will say it again.
So if random is so terrible, why is it used so WIDLY in Massively Multiplayer games? It is an archaic and ancient method used by designers to increase difficulty, include “surprise”, and artifically inflate playtime.
My Issues with Random Drops in WoW:
1. Random is a complex idea, frequently misunderstood.
Casinos are completely based on the misunderstanding of random. People pay money into a slot machine believing they will eventually hit the number needed to win.
I frequently have to explain the difference between random chance and probability to players. So why stick to this misunderstood random? We are not trying to con players out of their money. If they are playing, we already have their money. If the general group of players don’t understand random then when they hit a bad streak they will feel a sense of betrayal, like the game is cheating. Or that the game “hates” them. One of a designers common issues is how to match player expectation with what is happening in the game. Why not remove this and instead put in a progressive random, or a even a weighted random that takes into account the player’s time and dedication to the task? This falls in line with player expectation.
2. Random is not fair.
Quell the urge to say life isn’t fair. Games are not meant to parrot life. Even the Sims did not stay true to life. When the player is competing against an AI or the game there is no reason not to be fair. It has a dedication to be fun. I don’t want to endlessly make futile attempts at something while watching another player succeed with seeming ease. This creates a stepping away point, where player one says, “Screw this, I can go play a better game.”
In a game where the acquisition of the newest thing is the goal and success identifier, the player who gives the greatest amount of effort should be rewarded first. If a player spends all their time focused on a single goal, and then spends a great deal of time, proving their dedication, shouldn’t they be rewarded, as opposed to someone who accidentally stumbles on it through a mathematical coin toss?
3. Removal of Random allows the experience to be defined.
If we remove the random element we can truly design the experience the player has. We take control over the fun and can tailor it to be precisely what we want for that point in the game. Also this allow a definable goal or time line to completion. The player knows how long they will be at a task.
The ability to determine the length of time allows the player to set goals and builds excitement towards the reward. As a player gets closer to a reward, they work harder, faster, and more diligently to get closer to it. As I near the required number of badges to buy an item I am far more likely to persist and keep coming back every day to get my daily dungeon done.
4. The inflation of time is unnecessary.
Portal proved a game doesn’t have to be long to worth it’s cost. I would even go so far as to say Portal is so exceptional because it’s experience is so cunningly condensed into it’s purest form then spread over an appropriate amount of time. As the industry gets better at making games, there are more games worth the time to play. But our time is limited. We don’t need artificial inflation of time to keep the player playing. Make each experience engaging and worth the time spent to play it.
In MMOs, it is all about keeping the player playing and thus paying. Interestingly, using rng to artificially inflate the playtime of the game actually drives possible customers away. It also makes the game stale for older customers. If I got 1k gold for every time a friend of mine quit playing WoW because they just didn’t feel like doing the grind any more, I could open my own gold selling business.
The interesting thing is seeing people who will grind on a dungeon for an item for 2 or 3 weeks and never get it. They invariably cancel their account and then return at a later date, only to get stuck in the same situation. I also see where people reach this point of frustration, get convinced to run it one more time, and then get the item, at this point their interest is renewed.
5. Blizzard is ALREADY combating this problem, just not consistently.
One of the big themes that was beat into us at the Guildhall was make your design decision consistent. If you can’t do x in the game, that’s fine. Explain it, and go on, but don’t change the rules, without re-teaching the player. If a barrel that explodes is red, it needs to be red the whole game. You can’t change it to blue without telling the player and giving them a reason why.
Blizzard already has a progressive random integrated for their quest items. They already use badges, crafting, and reputation rewards as partial backup for bad drops. They just need to make it consistent across the board.
There is no reason to cling to this outdated design idea. The difficulty should come from challenges, not in gearing. The surprise comes from new experiences, new raids, new classes, and maybe getting that item early. With the sheer size and scope of classes, raids, professions, dailies, quests, achievements, and even pvp, there is no reason to artificially inflate the playtime. The play time on WoW is already insanely high and they add new content every few months. Even with tweaks to speed old content, there is still more here than a standard player could ever hope to experience. So why not at least give them the chance to see more of it?
It may take a bit more code and a bit more design thought, but doing away with rng would also make a better game. And isn’t that our goal as designers?