There's an interesting trend unfolding in multiple games; the once sacred random loot table appears to be under attack. What's going on?
The Multi-Game Roundup
Tobold writes that the revamp to 5-man loot in WoW's patch 3.2 effectively shifts the game to a token-based loot system. The loot that you obtain from the tokens you gradually earn through dungeon runs is actually higher quality than the loot that was on the dungeon's loot table in the first place. He's got a point - I got the very last 5-man upgrade I wanted back in February but continued to run 5-man dungeons anyway for tokens I could spend on heirloom items, even BEFORE the patch.
EQ2 hasn't had quite so much gear inflation, so their token loot does not blow their RNG loot out of the water. However, SOE has apparently decided that there should be an upper limit to the amount of times some item can fail to drop (see Stargrace's celebration after finally obtaining a shield upgrade). In the new patch, you'll be able to cash in a very large number of shards for many of the rarer dungeon drops. If I understand it correctly, you get 1-2 shards per run, and the vendor wants 150 of them, so this is really a very last resort measure, but it's a step up regardless.
LOTRO will also be getting a token barter system for its "radiance" gear. Raid bosses in the game give off a "gloom" aura that incapacitates characters and can only be overcome with compensatory gear, which was only available as random drops in group content. Where most grinds in an MMORPG are optional in that you can compensate for your decision not to wear pants with better gear everywhere else, radiance is actually mandatory.
I seem to recall that Warhammer had made a similar shift with their originally much-decried Ward armor system, which, like LOTRO's system, was mandatory for later content.
What changed their minds?
Overall, it seems like developers are beginning to come around to the view that unreasonably low drop rates can eventually cross the line from "great, cause we can make players repeat the same content dozens of time" to "uh oh, the low drop rates are convincing players that they should give up instead". It will be interesting whether they try to replace the RNG with something else, or whether studios are beginning to resign themselves to the possibility that players will only tolerate so much timesink at a time when there are other games out there to play.
Misc Itemization News
P.S. Not worth a separate post, so you get bonus itemization newsbites.
The EQ2 shards I mentioned above, and now almost all dungeon loot are flagged heirloom and bind on use, meaning that you can pass dungeon drops to alts on the same account. This is obviously a huge incentive to continue running dungeons on your main after you finish the content, though it could also create any number of loot assignment issues. It will be interesting to see what effects this has when it goes live.
In other news, Ghostcrawler says that Blizzard actually did not intend to push the gear curve as hard as they did in this expansion. Apparently, they originally thought that optional hard modes could remain purely cosmetic and only realized after the fact that you really only need so many mounts, titles, and achievements.
This puts the gear inflation of patch 3.2 into slightly better context - the entry level gear was trailing the top of the line by far more than Blizzard anticipated - and it could have interesting implications for what they do when the expansion hits. My first reaction to the expansion announcement was that the lower level cap could allow them to avoid a total gear reset. This may still be the case, but it sounds like we can expect a STEEP depreciation curve for combat ratings between levels 80-85, if they've got to bring numbers back under control BEFORE launching off on another cycle of raids and hard modes.