Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Random Rewards Suck ... (until you get a shiny drop.)

Random rewards suck: Zubon describes the downside of random rewards in a blog post describing how he was unlucky on the roll for a desirable piece of loot 15 times out of 16 attempts even though he had a better than 1 in 6 chance. I have been there, I assume we all have and it is entirely soul destroying to hit a losing streak like that. Having some grasp of basic probability only makes it worse when you realise that after 15 losing rolls you have exactly the same 1 in 6 chance of winning the next roll* as you had on your very first roll. Zubon actually left the game for six months after his losing streak. I think that game developers recognise that randomness can be a great demotivator, in games like WoW and LOTRO we have seen a move towards token rewards rather than random drops as a more predictable means of allocating loot.

And yet....

Remember how good it felt when a shiny sword dropped from the very first Orc you slew. That random reward felt great and was a great motivator. The truth is that randomness only sucks when you are losing. Winning an unexpected random reward feels great.

It seems to me that it should be very easy to keep  fun side of getting random rewards while hiding the downside of demoralising losing streaks. The key lies in the word "unexpected". As long as you are not expecting a reward then you neither know nor care when you lose some behind the scenes random number calculation and don't get one.

The guiding principle is that rewards that players expect should not be random.

Examples of expected rewards are:
Anything required to complete a quest.
Anything that acts as a gate to further content (keys, radiance armour etc).
End of instance rewards such as epic armour sets and epic loot.
In fact anything that comes in a set because someone is going to be stuck looking for the last piece.
Anything needed for character progression
Anything needed to gain an achievement or a title

Rewards that players don't expect can be as random as you like.
Examples: Random world drops, random encounters with special mobs

Of course human nature also comes in to play here and as surely as you create a random world drop someone somewhere will decide that they absolutely have to have it and get annoyed when it doesn't appear after they kill ten thousand mobs. To deal with this scenario I would further suggest that any item which is a genuinely random reward should be saleable to other players. No bind on acquire for random rewards.

(* Probability theory soundly asserts that past outcomes do not affect the future outcome of random events but a certain amount of common sense is required in its real world application. If you roll a dice fifty times and it comes up 6 every time it might be prudent to doubt whether or not that dice is truly random)


Stabs said...

I'm sure you're right.

In DDO I'm starting to see loot that looks great. Thundering +3 mace of Pure good. Acid Battleaxe +2 of Backstabbing. Tons of it.

It feels wonderful, like being showered by goodies. I find some Monk stuff and think I've got to make a Monk now then find a pair of Dwarf Axes and think Kensai.

But it never gates content for me.

If at some point I hit the You Must Find X To Join High Level raids and X never drops I can see that getting painful.

I remember the chore that was getting Fire Resistance for Molten Core. The annoying bracers boss in BRD who always dropped the wrong armour type when I killed him. The boss in UBRS who dropped a neck that everyone in a pug of 15 would want to roll on.

At least in DDO the loot system isn't quite so harsh psychologically. If I open the chest and I didn't get X but someone else did it's just the luck of the draw. If I kill a WoW boss and roll Need on X but lose the roll it is much mmore painful.

Thallian said...

One of the keys to what you are saying Stabs is that everyone can get the same item in DDO on the same run, .. or not. It just depends on their luck and nobody else's. Rubbing people's nose in it adds to the annoyance and that's what WoW does by giving loot exclusively and to the group as a whole instead of to individuals.

mbp said...

Hi Stabs, hi Thalian. The more I think about it the more bizarre it seems that game developers deliberately piss off their customers with this random loot torture.

Tesh said...

The loot lottery is simply a retention device. If you're never sure that you will make progress or get what you want, you have to keep coming back until you happen to get it.

I think it's a terrible abuse of players, especially under a sub model where time costs money. Since people tend to remember the good RNG "hits" more than the bad ones, though, game devs (and other lottery admins) keep getting away with it. It's also a very easy way to keep players stuck in your game; a loot RNG is trivially easy to program compared to generating more actual *content*.

Cap'n John said...

Playing a lot of Alts (especially via the WoW Trial where they had to be completely self-sufficient) it always boggled my mind how one Alt could leave the starter zone at level 5 and have four 6-slot bags, while another could get all the way to 20 and never see a single bag drop.

Jayedub said...

Random loot torture, lol. All loot based games have some sort of version of it.

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