Thursday, September 3, 2009

Neutralizing the Incentive Value of Gear

I finally found the time to sign into WoW and run the new heroic 5-man TOC instance last night. In one single run, I obtained two major upgrades. The triumph was bittersweet.

Trading Memories for Numbers
The [Heroes' Frostfire Robe] that was part of my haul for farming Archavon 40 times is now gathering dust in my bank, replaced by the [Embrace of Madness]. The [Deathchill Cloak] that I earned the ability to craft by completing the Loremaster achievement? Now it's a situational side-grade, with [Kurisu's Indecision] taking its place for raid-level content. As the only caster DPS in the group, I received both items without so much as a roll. It isn't even worth disenchanting the old gear, since the resulting Abyss crystals now sell for less gold than I make on a pair of 5-minute daily quests.

The new normal-mode dungeon jumps straight to the highest item reward level previously attainable in 5-man content, and the heroic version leapfrogs over even the 25-man version of Naxx. The combined loot tables would allow me to replace just about every single piece of gear my mage owns. On top of that, it's a new arena season. The latest PVP rewards jump 2-3 tiers above the old 5-man stuff, and many of them offer a raw DPS upgrade for PVE in ADDITION to having PVP durability stats.

Each of my old items has a story, something that I did to obtain it. Almost all of those stories were more involved than "walk in door, breeze through instance, loot". Perhaps I did daily quests for a faction every day for two weeks, or ran an instance a bunch of times, or collected and redeemed 60 emblems from 25-man content. Before 5-man TOC, I cannot recall a situation in WoW where the loot tables actually offer major upgrades for players who outgear the instance.

The end of the gear incentive?
If there's one thing that any of us have learned from this expansion cycle, it's that gear incentives are so very temporary that it makes no sense to pursue them unless you're actually enjoying the activity you're doing to get there. Gear that I worked hard to get six months ago, thinking that it would last for the remainder of the expansion, has been made obsolete by gear that will itself be obsolete in six months, after Icecrown's three-wing 5-man extravaganza arrives.

Keen is also revisiting WoW's 5-man game, and suggests that Blizzard is embracing the theme park aspect of the game. Players enjoy running dungeons, and part of that enjoyment comes from a slow but steady stream of loot upgrades. Apparently, we will not continue to do the content after we run out of rewards. The problem is that the expected value of the reward is tied to the amount of time the player expects to enjoy it. The next time I'm facing a reputation grind or low drop rate in WoW, the prospect that the rewards will be obsolete in the next patch will weigh far more heavily on my mind.

In the end, the shift may not be a bad thing. There may well have been a limit to how many more times I was going to be willing to put up with some of the things I have put up with in WoW's past. Perhaps the decreased role for the RNG is a tacit acknowledgement of that reality. Still, the incentive value of loot is a pretty powerful tool in the Blizzard's toolbox, and one wonders whether they will regret having given it away.


Yeebo said...

This relates to one thing that I think is really lacking in WoW: an appearance slot system. In LoTRO or EQ II if I get some rare ass robe or cloak I can still show it off at all times by slotting it soley for appearance. In WoW, gear is only as good as the stats it has. The moment you find an upgrade to something you need to swap it out, regardless of how rare it might be, how hard you worked to get it, or how stupid it looks with your current outfit.

Appearance slots would also instantly revive the old raids. Some of those old raids sets remain very cool looking. It would also go a long way towards alleviating LLaRC syndrome (Looking Like a Rodeo Clown), which the game currently suffers greatly from in my mind.

Sidhe said...

@ Yeebo


DeftyJames said...

I agree with you GA. I too wonder if they will regret giving it away. I remain unconvinced that providing incentives for 50% or more of WoW players to run raids is a good thing. GC keeps hammering the fact that it's a bad use of developer resources to use 50% effort on content only 10% of the people will see. I'm not sure I buy that logic. I mean, if that truly is the case, wouldn't it be better to spend the resources on the game players are actually playing (such as the AH) than on the game the developers want them to play.

Certainly, there are diminishing returns here. There will be a certain portion of the players base that won't raid even if you offered them free purples just for signing on. Eventually by making loot so easy you will lose one hard-core player for every casual you gain.

There may be a convincing argument that Bliz made loot too hard to get. Maybe. But that doesn't mean the right approach is to go full force in the opposite direction either.

I keep thinking of the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates to zero. Where do you go after free? I wonder.

mbp said...

it makes no sense to pursue them unless you're actually enjoying the activity you're doing to get there

Isn't that a general observation about all gaming really and wouldn't gaming be a better place if all gamers and ultimately all developers realised it.

What's my main Again? said...

I completely understand where you are coming from. After all this was the main reason that I never leveled my druid after WotLK was released. I had spent over a year before gathering the best gear and farmed so many bosses that the thought of replacing it all with greens and blues... just cheapened it all.

I also understand that Blizzard felt that a soft gear reset in the middle of an expansion was required. If you look at the end of BC you could get 3x better gear through pvp then running heroics. Without an easily farmable 5 man the same would be happening now at 80 with everyone turning to PvP for their welfare epics.

It seems silly though because I get the feeling that a group in Naxx 10 gear could clear ToC 10 without any issue.