I've been thinking about how I choose the stuff I do in WoW these days (yes, I know, loot incentives are kinda the title of my blog, bear with me), when I remembered that there is a poll feature that I haven't used in a bit. So, without further ado:
All else being equal, which do you prefer:
A) Random chance of immediately obtaining a reward (e.g. 10%)
B) Fixed, rapid progress towards a single reward (e.g. 10% of the rep or honor points needed to get a reward)
C) Slower, more efficient progress towards multiple rewards (e.g. if you can do two quests in the same area and make 6% progress each towards TWO rewards in the time it would have taken to do option B)
Go forth to yon sidebar and vote, I'll wait. :)
Alright, so here are my thoughts.
This is my least favorite option by a wide margin, and I'm not alone. And yet, this seems to be the developers' favorite, as the very best loot in many games is often primarily handed out by random drop tables. The problem with random loot is simple; that 10% chance that the boss drops the loot doesn't actually mean that you're going to get your item if you kill the boss 10 times. You might get it on attempt 1, you might get three in a row, you might not see the loot at all in 15 tries. So what's this annoying mechanic still doing in MMORPG's?
Do developers prefer to waste players' time by handing out worthless rewards so players will need to come back for the stuff they want?
In some cases the answer is yes.
Do devs think that the happy day when the boss drops the two best items from his loot table outweighs the multiple unhappy days when he drops things no one wants?
I talked about WoW's current daily cooking and fishing quests last week, and let's just say that I'm not going to be going out of my way to do any of the current cooking quests ever again if I finally get the cake recipe.
Does random loot in group environment help conceal the fact that most of the players present didn't actually get anything tangible for their time?
Maybe this is only a subset of the first point, but it does deserve some special attention. Now sure, most raiding guilds will come up with some sort of out-of-game loot distribution system (e.g. DKP) to reward players for showing up. Anyone who has ever raided can probably produce paragraphs on what was wrong with their loot distribution, no matter what that system was. In my view, once your players are having to post rules and spreadsheets at some out of game location to handle an in-game task, the devs in question fail.
Rapid Progress vs Efficient Progress
Given the option between one reward quickly and two rewards less quickly, I'm going to take the long view. If I'm not planning to stick with the game long enough to get both rewards, it probably isn't even worth my time to keep playing for the first one. If I do obtain both rewards, going for one first and then the other represents a waste of time.
That said, there are situations where this one gets reversed. Maybe you're just starting out with a new raiding/arena/RVR guild and your short term performance really matters. Maybe the amount of time you save by doing the two tasks in parallel isn't enough to really matter.
Still, I find that the most rewarding activities in game are the ones where I'm making progress on more than one front. Perhaps that's gold AND a shot at a random reward, or honor AND progress towards an achievement (whenever patch 3.0 happens) or reputation for two factions with nearby quests.
Then again, I think about this stuff too much. And that's why the polling booth is open. :)