MMO Bits and Pieces: Looting
*You loot 2 Copper and a Frayed Belt*
You do it so often you probably don't stop to think about it too often on your journeys in MMO land. Looting. A mechanic as ubiquitous as last month's topic: Inventory. Wracking my brain, I can't think of an MMO without some type of looting mechanic. Why is there looting? What are the best loot mechanics? Is auto-loot taking the fun out of looting? Group looting... the drama! Player looting... THE DRAMA! The members of MMOFringe take on Looting in this month's MMO Bits and Pieces.
So, you think "Looting... *crickets*". You've done it so much, and for so long, it's more of a pavlovian response to killing something than anything else. And this gets to our first question. Why is there looting in MMOs? TUX426 hits off with "because there needs to be a way for players to acquire "stuff". "Stuff" is what adds progression and purpose to games, be it credits, crafting, collecting or loot whoring." Kazara echoes this, and adds that it's an incentive to go out and grind. And I think this gets close to the heart of it. I mentioned Pavlovian response earlier, and if we can all recall our Psych 101, we know that Pavlov's dogs were conditioned to salivate at the ringing of a bell, in anticipation of food, whether or not food was provided. And right on cue, MMO_Doubter asks in the first post "What loot do I get for posting?" The loot is the food, the bell is the killing of a mob. We have been conditioned to expect some loot for doing some action, whether or not we get loot. If we do not, we move on to the next mob and kill it.
It sounds a bit perverse to think of us as just lab rats, and we are not, but pschology plays a huge roll in game design. We need a reward for our actions or we will stop doing them. Call it a profit motive, call it reward for risk, call it whatever you like. Who among us would go out and kill pixel critter after pixel critter for nothing, not even XP? Maybe once or twice for fun. So, I think TUX, Kaz, and MMO_D all have it right. We need stuff, we need gear, we need gold, we need crafting materials. Why do we have looting in MMOs? Because we MUST.
So, what are some good examples of looting mechanics? Kazara likes that the companion can sell the low-quality items in SWTOR. TUX likes that in some games the loot drops make sense. "I loot weapons from people who had them, armor from people wearing armor...not randomly generated filler items." An MMO that I know of that does this is Darkfall. Whatever the mob is wearing or using, you can loot it after you kill it. TUX also likes the Area Loot mechanic from SWTOR, that allows you to auto-loot from any dead mobs in the area. And I have to second this as well. Anything to make the drudgery of looting easier. But, this begs the question: Why perform an action to loot at all. Why not just have things fly into your inventory automatically? At least the money. That probably wouldn't work in all games, games driving on realism like EVE, or Darkfall, make looting the manual, menial, and sometimes dangerous task that it would be in the depths of pirate-ridden space or bandit-skulking medieval fantasy land.
In many of the broadly-marketed AAA Theme Park type games, we've seen, with WoW pioneering (AFAIK), the Need vs Greed rubric when it comes to group loot. It would be nice if we could all trust our fellow man, but when it comes to some e-gear... there is no room for trust. Kazara reminds us that group looting will always be controversial and wishes for an improvement on Need vs Greed: that only those of the class that can use the gear would have the "Need" option. I agree, if this is an option the group leader can set. There could be instances where you want to roll on some gear for an alt of another class (then again, is that a need?). TUX also thinks Need vs Greed works pretty well, though he'd like to see a fixed limit on the number of Needs a player can roll on. That's an interesting idea, TUX, but maybe modify it a bit to be a limit on the number of need rolls a player can win? I'd hate to have a limit of 10 need rolls, lose all 10, then have an epic drop on the last boss and not be able to compete for it.
Maybe this next topic could possibly spin into a new topic of the month: Item Binding. What do Fringers think about item binding? Both Kazara and TUX seem to think that item binding is a needed component to support player crafting. I can't disagree more. In the most player-craftastic game of them all (no bias here) Star Wars Galaxies, there were no bound items in the heyday. Player crafters did very well. This is because of item decay. Just like in real life, a resale market does not really hurt manufacturers. Yes, there are yard sales, but that doesn't seem to hurt The Gap. At some point, you're going to need a new shirt. In games that treat crafting as a checked item on some marketing guy's checklist, I think that bound items help preserve the 'epic' nature of items won from very hard bosses and other special mobs. I just can't see the argument for having 'green' quality items as bound at all. I look forward to any counterargument on that point.
And speaking of crafters, well at least gatherers that support crafters, Kazara thinks that unwanted resources left on a mob should stick around a bit longer to give more time for other players to happen along this unwon bounty and claim some of it for themselves. I have to say that I like this idea.
I promised you drama, and I'm going to deliver... some, well, not much. Player looting? OH YES! Well, that's my opinion, and it's not widely shared. TUX emphatically states "No! Never." To him, player looting is dumb and would only encourage players to group up with each other. I'm not sure grouping is such a bad thing in MMOs, but soloing amongst thousands of other soloists is the trend, and I am just an old fogey. I think most of TUX's argument is derived from imagining player looting in a game like WoW or SWTOR, and I agree, this could never work. But, in a game designed around it, like EVE for instance, it works. Items come cheap, and items can be insured to help repay (to some degree) the loss. But I fully understand this is not for everyone, and the game must be designed with this mechanic in mind. While acknowledging the thrill of the risk, Kazara has no interest in games with player looting and agrees that "this is one mechanic that has to be very well developed or the game will crash and burn." I couldn't have said it better, Kaz.
And now on to a topic we can all agree on, and alluded to in last month's Bits and Pieces, JUNK LOOT... BURN IN HELL! Nobody on the face of the planet likes junk loot. Think I'm being hyperoblic? Think again, I personally polled every person on planet earth and none of them liked Junk loot. There was one guy who wouldn't answer his phone, but I'm going to assume he doesn't like it either. Kaz liked that in SWG it could at least be used as a decoration, but then, is it junk? Like American Pickers, perhaps one man's junk is another man's art. But in games where you can't place items anywhere, and the junk item merely fills your inventory with generic names, icons, and greyness... no thank you. MMO_Doubter wants a universal option to not pick it up. TUX agrees! Shayde would like to see junk items transformed into something that's not junk, by being able to melt them down into some valuable crafting material. I agree, if it must be there, at least make it useful to some degree.
One question we never really got talking about is "What about an alternative to looting?" I tried to spark some intrest with the following:
If you are some kind of ruffian, out to waylay people coming down a path, is it likely you will have broken binoculars and 4000 credits on your person? How about more realistic loot, like the visible items on the NPC and some spare change? Most of the time you'd leave most of it lay there, sometimes not. If it's a creature, you'd have to process it somehow to get anything worthwhile, like a hide, bones, teeth, meat, etc.
I guess that would make looting, and just obtaining things in general, in MMOs less important. But then, would that break the human psychology aspect that keeps us all mindlessly killing the e-creatures and denizens of our favorite virtual worlds?
If you have an alternative to looting you would like to discuss, feel free to add to the original discussion here: http://www.mmofringe.com/forum/8-News-Insights-and-Theories/24871-March-Topic-of-the-Month-Looting! Or chime in on the discussion thread for this article.