Ignore the hilarious awfulness of what this article is called. I promise I’m not drunk. But, I will try to work in a cereal analogy at some point. I owe you that much.

If you haven’t gathered, I’m going to be talking about loot in video games. I mean, we all love loot. Right?

The thrill of cutting through swaths of goblin fodder and making a necklace from their teeth.

Oh look, it seems this goblin had a few cavities.

That tense excitement of slitting a dragon’s throat, ripping off one of his scales, and tying it to a stick to create a sweet new axe.

My new axe is great, but I wish i’d killed a green dragon instead of a red one. EVERYONE has red scale axes.

The satisfaction of tearing out a troll’s eyes and turning them into… wait, really? Earrings?

Hey, Steve! Check these out. I’m gonna give ‘em to my lady. They’re gonna give me +1 to my chances of going to the Bone Zone.

Gross, Terry.

No, seriously. My voodoo priestess needs them to transport me to the Bone Zone, so I can fight the Lord of Bone.

Oh.

Then, when I get back, I’m gonna have sex with her!

Oh…

The pleasure of shooting a bandit in the face and just… picking up his gun.

This isn’t as good as what I already have.

Are monster body parts that effective? Adventurers are a practical bunch, at the very least.

Anyways, fighting creatures for loot is like constantly pulling the handle on a slot machine. Without the old people smoking right next to you, or the crippling debt of a severe gambling addiction. Unless you’re addicted to loot and you don’t go to work; I suppose that happens, too.

Loot has become an ever pervasive and highly marketed aspect of RPGs. It’s to the point where it’s the selling point of many games.

“Millions of combinations!”

“Shoot! Loot! Rob the caboose! Get more loot!”

“Monsters drop loot in our game!”

“LOOT!”

Loot, with either random or fixed properties, has always existed. But it’s this constant focus as a game mechanic that has really started to bother me. It’s gotten to the point where it now exists outside of RPGs, worming its way into games of other genres. “Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor”, “Dynasty Warriors”, “Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-”, “Smash Bros. Wii U” all have loot. Even “Munchkin”, a popular board game that I have a strong distaste for, has loot as its driving mechanic.

It’s a lazy and uninspired way to lock content from players… or to hide the fact that your game isn’t as well designed as it could be. Sure, make them play endlessly with the hopes that they may SOME DAY get the item they want. Let their fun be determined by how generous the random number generator is feeling. It’s the same thing that makes gambling addictive.

Dangle the IDEA of a reward in front of players, but make the odds work against them. The house always wins, but if just one person every now and then gets what they want, then it will encourage everyone else to waste their money, or in the case of video games, their time.

Courtesy of Unicorn-Soup.com

Courtesy of our friends at Unicorn-Soup.com

Unless we’re talking about mobile games with loot, then it really is them wasting their money, because I’m sure those games encourage players to pay money for the stuff. I have no personal experience, but a quick Google search confirms a plethora of mobile games featuring the mechanic. If the mobile market is exploiting a mechanic to make money, then we probably have a problem.

The fact is that many games are using loot as their sole reward mechanic. Instead of letting the gameplay or other growth systems act as incentive to continue playing, games are using loot as a crutch. Over-emphasizing its importance and relying on it, and its randomness, to supplement sustained interest in playing.

This really is a false reward system. You think you’re getting cool stuff, but it’s either required to progress or it’s all useless junk. So, it’s either artificially extending the length of the game or making you believe that you’re being rewarded more than you actually are.

Let’s talk about that latter point first. In almost every game that features loot, almost all of it is trash. It sees the player wasting time picking it up, looking at what it does, realizing that 99.99% of the time it’s not as good as what they already have, then selling it in bulk whenever they get back to town.

That’s crap game design when that loot could just exist as money or resources to begin with. You’re giving players more work to do, while obscuring the harsh reality that your loot system sucks.

The player will never realize they rarely ever get upgrades because they’ll be getting too much loot to care!

This is true, most of us don’t care. Getting something, ANYTHING, triggers an elation response in our brain that makes us happy. Satiates the part of us that craves material possessions or the part of us that likes opening gifts. It’s like Christmas over and over and over and over and over and over again, but every single gift was given to you by that weird aunt no one really likes. The one that gives everyone socks made from the rough fibers on the outside of a coconut.

That loot you’re getting; it’s all coconut socks. And it’s all worthless.