One fine evening in LotRO, Psychochild and I started discussing some of the ways that player crafted loot systems have so heavily effected how we experience MMOs. If you’ve done any sort of raiding, you’ve undoubtedly come up against some ritual behind how loot is assigned. From a player stand point they’re a necessity. On the design side they color the behavior of the customer and must be accounted for. It was through this discussion that Psychochild and I came up with a couple of problems that impact the community and possibly how to reduce the damage they do. It seemed like a great topic for us to collaborate on and we’ve done so with a pair of articles!
The greatest issue that seems to face MMO designers, guild leaders and the community as a whole regarding these systems is that they largely reward success and only success. The same can be said of the MMOs we play. Neither the loot system nor the game rewards a guild or player for failing to kill a raid mob. This can make it awfully difficult to encourage players to try and learn new raid encounters or do them with appropriate tactics. The focus is just too heavily centered on the end result of earning loot. Having fun, bettering the guild and the pride of winning are secondary concerns at best. What can we do to correct this?
Attacking the problem as a guild leader can be quite difficult. More often than not the guild members you collect over time have been conditioned to focus like a laser on winning loot and bettering their character. Retraining them to do otherwise can be frustrating. Dogma is one thing but to motivate members you also need to look at treats. In Iniquity, to reward encounter testing (something that most players do not like to do) we would award double points the first time we won. This was our version of “testing points.” The major problem with that is that anyone who spent 10 hours testing prior but couldn’t make the day we finally won was cheated. I’ve seen some guilds give small amounts of points per hour of testing and I think that is good but equally dangerous. If you’re rewarding players too heavily on failure and they have other raids to spend points on you run the risk of setting up apathy. If the encounter’s loot is weak or uninteresting and each member sees their total rising why bother to excel? Somehow the fight has to be about the win and the pride in the guild. I am not sure there is any answer from a player perspective. I’ve suggested to Brian that the game should reward the guild as a whole with upgrades. Each encounter could drop a trophy that would give a buff to every member of the winning guild. This would be motivation to win since every member would benefit. Only then could we see a shift from “me” to “we.”
It is also important to change perspective from the attitudes of players to the failings of our systems themselves. They are essentially designed to encourage the “me” centric attitude and alleviate the drama of loot decisions. In point based systems, members earn their currency as a group. Nobody is paid individually since everyone wins or everyone loses. Anyone what showed up to work is rewarded. How that currency is spent, however, is an individual function that breeds competition with one’s peers. It has been assumed numerous times over that competition would keep players raiding and striving. Feeding on that negativity cannot sustain progression, however. Members that only focus on “me” can suddenly have real life issues come up once they’ve geared out on the current content and, as I previously mentioned, few people want to learn encounters. This, to me, is especially ridiculous given that most MMO tactics are now visible on YouTube. You just have to adapt them to your guild. Loot systems nurture this culture all in the hopes of keeping people active while avoiding conflict. Points don’t lie, so to speak. This, of course, isn’t exactly true.
One more issue that plagues a loot system is the question of, “is the system designed to better the guild or reward the members?” Across the board I would say that most systems do the latter because the players designing them don’t know any better. In Iniquity we always saw our system as a tool to reward but, more importantly, move us forward. We would use it to ensure we were fair but the final decision (except in extreme point differentials) came down to the officers. If an item was better served on a main tank than a healer, the tank would receive it. This is also why we spread around tank gear and certain “protected” effects like haste. I was always terrified of stacking too much gear on one player, even a deserving one, and then losing them. This practice served us quite well over the years but frustrated some players. Their peers in other “uber guilds” were usually a bit better. We still got the job done, though. Other guilds who understand what they’re getting into can do the same.
At every turn guild administrators should craft their loot system as best they can to encourage winning as a team and furthering the core values of the guild. If you want to progress through all of a game’s content don’t stack all your best items on an elite core and expect to win once one or two disappears or trades up to a “better” organization. By implementation alone a system can make or break a guild before it ever gets of the ground. Some things cannot be addressed by players, however, and we can only hope with some creative design decisions that developers can take us the rest of the way.