Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Loot as a Reward in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by DOAM:
I'm working on creating a lawn mower with no wheels or handles. I need some funding, though. Anyone willing?
Well, if it cuts the grass better at the same cost than conventional lawnmowers, then sure, I'll consider chipping in on the funding for an improved version.

Alternately, we could just switch our brains off and accept without question the assumption that current lawnmower technology is perfect and cannot be improved on, and we should just copy it without even trying to think of something that might work better.

Why would we want to go with that latter option?

Seriously, I get your point. If a product you're thinking of making requires buy-in by some sector of the public to be successful, then you need to at least have some reason to think that some sector of the public wants whatever it is you're thinking of offering.

The problem I have with your argument is that from this perfectly reasonable position you make an inexplicable leap to something like "... and people don't ever want anything different from what they currently have." Say what? If some new technology offers demonstrably more capability than a previous generation of technology, of course people will want the new stuff -- that's why we're typing on computer keyboards now instead of banging rocks together.

With respect to the specific question of reducing (not eliminating!) the impact of loot in a MMORPG... well, let's cut to your subsequent comments:

Originally Posted by DOAM:
Everyone brings up the arguement that no-loot would work, if given a chance. Or some form of that arguement. I don't know what to say, or do, other than pointing at CoH. The proof is in the pudding. I can point to games with loot that work, and games that didn't have loot that didnt work, and games that didn't have loot and didnt work so switched to loot and work. Who can people point to for games that work without loot? Cue crickets.
This is the classic fallacy that Bastiat described as "what is seen and what is not seen."

When imagining possibilities, we always give more weight to what we see than to what we don't see. Currently we don't see any MMORPGs that are based on behaviors other than "kill, loot, repeat," so we naturally have trouble imagining what such alternative MMORPGs might look like, or that such things could even exist (much less be commercially successful).

Let's accept for the moment the assertion that CoH "didn't work" without loot (which I don't necessarily accept, but let's run with it for a moment). If after adding a form of looting CoH now "works," two things:

1. Adding some looting to a non-looting game does not automatically turn it into a game that is as loot-centric as most other MMORPGs. (At least not overnight.) Maybe CoH is now a better game than other MMORPGs because it has less looting than they do -- if you think CoH "works" now where it didn't before, why isn't this a possible conclusion?

2. A sample size of one (CoH) does not prove a trend. And the lack of evidence does not constitute proof of anything. We need to see a few more well-designed non-loot-centric games before we can reasonably conclude that the idea is innately broken. Until then, why jump on people who just want to give the idea a try?

Originally Posted by DOAM:
For me, the core of it comes down to this... loots bad because, why? Because other people get it? There is craftable stuff, and it is usually remotely close to being comparable.
"Remotely close" does not equal "better," and "better" is all that most players care about in a MMORPG that's wrapped around collecting ever-larger piles of swag.

Think about the distribution of character skills once a MMORPG has been around for a while: you've now got a bunch of looters at a fairly high level, and some crafters at a fairly high level. The looters are looking for any advantage, no matter how marginal, so they're going to focus on whatever process minimizes their effort and maximizes their gain... and if looted items are even fractionally better than the best possible crafted items, those high-level crafters are out of business.

So loot is not "bad" per se -- what's bad is when looting takes over a game because it drives off other useful kinds of gameplay.

And the problem is that it's so easy for this to happen because loot is a concrete, tangible reward, and creating that kind of reward takes a lot less mental effort on the part of a developer than designing and implementing a new crafting process or new tools for roleplaying.

So new loot accumulates. In onesies and twosies, no biggie... but over the months and years, those individual additions of loot content can unbalance a good MMORPG into one that, because it now caters so much to the loot-loving Achievers, no longer appeals to many of its other former customers. And that's just bad business, no matter how seductively easy it is to get there.

There have already been a number of MMORPGs that make looting a big part of their content. Some have been successful. Some haven't. So if looting doesn't guarantee a successful MMORPG, I see no good business justification for making yet another game that's built around kill, loot, repeat...

...and far less justification for a Star Trek game to go that route.

Originally Posted by DOAM:
Basicly, so what if someone else loots if there is a viable option for non-looters? Why hate on other people? That person having spent 20 hours a day farming/grinding/raiding for an extra 3-5% boost in power is NOT making you worse. (S)he's only making theirself marginally better. You can have a loot game, and still play without loot. You can't have a no-loot game but play with loot. Get off their back. Do your thing, they'll do theirs. Watch your lane, as I used to commonly say in the Army. Just watch your lane.
Thank you for giving me yet another opportunity to knock down and stomp on this old chestnut. :)

Firstly, a MMORPG isn't some stovepiped bunch of specializations that never interact. The whole point of being "massively multiplayer" is that what you do affects everybody else, some directly, some indirectly. As far as I can see, this theory that players should all be able to "do their own thing" without affecting the game for anybody else is completely bogus.

The trick is to give all kinds of gamers as much of the things they enjoy as possible while minimizing the amount to which doing so honks up the game that others are trying to play. That is, admittedly, a much more difficult prospect than just "everybody watch his own lane," but it's the price a good game designer should be eager to pay.

Secondly, starting a MMORPG from the initial design phase so that it doesn't make looting a (or The) key form of gameplay is not some kind of deliberate kick in the berries to people who enjoy concrete rewards. It's an honorable attempt to make a game based on the understanding that different people enjoy different things, and that no one reward style should dominate all the others... at least, not if you want to attract the largest possible audience for your product.

Why is this so objectionable a prospect?

Originally Posted by Bitbrain:
One of Starfleet's most important goals is to better humanity. Without a moral absolute, is it all that wrong to steal from others who have it better than you? ... Privided you take only that which is better than what you have, looting in Star Trek: Online would better humanity in the game.
We have a name for people who favor this approach: we call them the Borg.

Is that really how we want Starfleet characters in a Star Trek MMORPG to behave? If the gameplay of Star Trek Online was designed to reward beating up other people and taking their stuff -- just like every other MMORPG -- wouldn't that be a really effective way of telling players, "Go forth and be Borg"?

I think this is one of those areas where the needs of Star Trek outweigh the needs of conventional MMORPG gameplay. Surely there are other ways to provide desirable rewards to players than mindlessly cloning the loot-accumulation gameplay of yesterday’s MMORPGs!