Friday, October 5, 2007

Loot as a Reward in a Star Trek MMORPG

Originally Posted by writerguy731:

For many MMO's, there are two types of rewards for winning a battle - I'll call them character-driven rewards and world-driven rewards. Character-driven rewards advances your character, be it experience, reputation, honor, prestige, or more opportunities for that character to further advance (like new questlines, unlocking new areas, etc.) World-driven rewards are rewards that are tangible, and end up affecting the world through the character (via economy usually).

In my opinion, you simply HAVE to have world-driven rewards. Because if there is no communal incentive for your accomplishments, then the game will quickly feel like a single-player game.

I will be extremely surprised if you're not rewarded in some tangible way from succeeding in battle. "Prestige" could simply be a thinly-veiled currency in STO, one which you would gain after defeating an enemy ("Well done, Captain. That last battle really turned some heads."), and yet, this is "looting", it's only shown in a different way.

[W]hat is it about looting that makes it necessary? The fact that it is called for by most gamers. ... Players like rewards for actions, and "looting" is one of the most well-known. And, like I said, there's nothing about looting that has to conflict with canon, it's all in the matter of how you present it.
1. I agree with the distinction you make between character rewards and world rewards... except that I call them "abstract" and "concrete" rewards, respectively, and think of them as what people want based on their innate temperaments.

Some people trust what they can see and touch; others march to the beat of their own internal drummer regardless of what others say or think. Both these kinds of people play online games, and both are looking for the kind of in-game reward that fits their beliefs about what really matters.

2. Following point 1, I also agree that most gamers prefer concrete rewards. But I'll go a little past that to suggest that there are a couple of reasons why this appears to be so:

a. There are more concrete-oriented people in the world than abstract-oriented. (Myers-Briggs sampling seems to bear this out.) So it's not surprising that, given millions of gamers, they become a statistically valid sample population of the larger population -- ergo, most gamers probably do prefer concrete, accumulatable rewards like objects (loot) and money over more abstract rewards like reputation and knowledge.

b. Most MMOGs are designed to appeal to this kind of gamer... so of course that's the kind of gamer we see in MMOGs. In other words, deducing that most players must prefer concrete rewards because they're the ones we see playing these games is fallacious -- what if we only see those players (and not the others) because they're the only ones being catered to with loot-centric games? To really answer this question properly we'd need to also have a similar number of well-designed games primarily offering abstract (character-based) rewards to see how popular those games might be.

Overall, then, I'd caution against concluding that a Star Trek MMORPG needs to offer mostly concrete rewards like loot simply because current MMORPGs do so and some of them are popular. If the Star Trek license attracts a different kind of crowd, if it holds a special appeal for people who are driven more by internal goals than by external tokens -- as I think it will to some meaningful degree -- then Star Trek Online could wind up seriously alienating a significant portion of its potential subscriber base by being yet another loot-centric game.

In short, I'm not opposed to there being tangible rewards in a ST:O. I just don't think they should be allowed to take over this game as they do in other MMORPGs.

3. A problem with looting that your objection didn't address is what it does to crafting.

If I can get some object I want by grinding enough missions that it eventually drops as loot, why should I bother interacting with (or giving my money to) crafters? And am I not even less likely to need crafters if the best loot drops are better than anything the best crafters are able to make?


All in all, I believe there are already enough games in which loot is one of the two primary gameplay drivers (the other being XP) that it's just not necessary to make another such game. And I think it's even less necessary to embody that "most gamers want to collect tangible stuff" assumption in a MMORPG based on Star Trek.

That's really the bottom line question: How can a loot-centric design be squared with the Star Trek ethos that people, not stuff, are what matter most?