Follow your nose… to lazy game design. And coconut socks.on February 19, 2015 at 8:00 am
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.
No, seriously. My voodoo priestess needs them to transport me to the Bone Zone, so I can fight the Lord of Bone.
Then, when I get back, I’m gonna have sex with her!
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, 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.
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.
On the flip side, .01% of the time, that loot is going to be something really useful. It’s going to outclass your other gear or it’s going to be the thing you needed for a raid. That’s going to feel awesome when it finally drops! You’ll feel so good that you’ll run out and try your hand at the lottery, because you’re feeling super lucky.
But, if you needed it, then why was it so hard to get?
That’s the other thing that bothers me about loot: its frequent necessity.
Loot would be a much more digestible and welcome mechanic if it weren’t so damned compulsory so much of the time. If you take “Borderlands” as an example, the scaling is so bad in that series that a weapon, even a couple of levels under the enemies you’re fighting, is obsolete and useless. This game creates a constant need for you to engage in its perpetual motion machine of greed and desire just to progress.
This is an instance of malpractice in game design… but it’s such an accepted part of many games that no one even bothers to question it.
If you look at the world of MMOs, it’s not enough to have simply leveled up your character and built it correctly. You also had to have gone through an uncomfortable and tedious amount of work to gear up for content. You’re not able to compete or contribute unless you’ve got all of the same stuff that everyone else has.
What is the fun of loot, when everyone is attempting to get the same drops? What is the point of a persistent influx of items when none of them are worth using. Hell, most of the time, they aren’t even worth selling. Players frequently leave stuff lying on the ground.
“It’s not rainbow rarity? Fuck it.”
These systems aren’t being implemented to support the other aspects of the game. They ARE the game. Loot is what drives the player forward. Loot is what tells the player they can progress. Loot is the economy of these games. Loot is everything.
This is an instance of malpractice in game design. An oversight which could be avoided, but it’s such an accepted part of many games that no one even bothers to question it. It’s expected that this is just the way many games work.
Well, we shouldn’t accept things as they are just because it’s the way they are. We can make it better.
Actually, we don’t need to come up with any fancy ideas to improve it. It has already existed in RPGs all this time. Just let us buy our upgrades from shops and find them in treasure chests. If you want to add a dash of randomness to the proceedings, then make it so those loot drops aren’t the focus of the game, but a nice thing that happens.
Even if you want your game to be loot focused, you need to make it so that loot isn’t the most important thing you can do for your character. Make it so that equipment isn’t forced into obsolescence almost as soon as you pick it up. Make it so that your other growth systems are more important and meaningful than gear.
This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if these games were balanced properly, but they never are. Of course, most RPGs aren’t, but in games that don’t feature loot, you’re not left to random chance on whether or not you’ll be strong enough to tackle a challenge. You have a defined and consistent growth path you can follow. One that gives you a clear path you know you can take to get stronger, if you want or feel you need to.
Loot has become a buzz mechanic. Something developers throw into games to get the kids exciting and wanting to buy their product because, on paper, it sounds SO GOOD. In reality, it’s cheap crap.
Loot is like the prizes you used to get in cereal boxes. You never wanted the cereal. You would pour it all out, searching for the toy like a crack-addled street walker. You didn’t just want that prize, you NEEDED it. Of course, once you got it, disappointment typically set it pretty quick. They were trinkets meant to fool kids into getting their parents into spending money on the cereal. You’d then see a commercial for another toy in a cereal box and the fervor would set in all over again.
This is what loot in video games has turned into: shitty prizes in cereal boxes. Useless, meaningless garbage meant to distract you from the nutritionally deficient sugar bomb you’re ingesting.
Loot is no longer exciting. It is no longer cool or tempting. It has become a tedious and unwelcome presence in many of the games we play. Games that use it to hide weaker parts of their design. We’re all falling for it and our games are getting worse because of it.