Loot Bonuses: Bad Multiplayer Mechanic

Socializing costs and privatizing benefits is a lousy combination.

Many games allow you to increase your difficulty and your reward. This could be explicit in the form of a difficulty dial tied to rewards, but it is more often an opportunity cost. For example, you might equip an item that improves your loot, but doing so forgoes equipping an item that improves your damage. The fight is marginally harder and your rewards are marginally better. Kingdom of Loathing is an example of a game that does both: there are ways to increase monster level, and you can also equip items that have +monster level instead of (or in addition to) stat bonuses.

Kingdom of Loathing is also a single-player game. City of Heroes similarly gives you tools to adjust mission difficulty, and it gives the same difficulty increase and reward increase to everyone.

Multiplayer games that allow individuals to equip +loot items allow those individuals to increase their rewards at a cost of increased difficulty to everyone on the team. Alice is a tank using best-in-slot gear for damage resistance while Bob is a healer using best-in-slot gear for improved loot drops; Alice is working harder and incurring more repair costs for Bob’s benefits. Alice’s only way to avoid players like Bob is to stick with known companions or be That Guy and demand to see your equipment before letting you into the group. If everyone or no one is wearing +loot gear, the situation is fair and both risks and rewards are shared. Allowing individuals to unilaterally increase group difficulty for personal benefit is a solid example of anti-social design.

Doesn’t this lead to the slippery slope of being That Guy and demanding that everyone has a sufficient gearscore? After all, if Cindy has best-in-slot and Dan has whatever quest gear took him to the level cap, Cindy is contributing more and Dan has more room for gain. Yes, but there is a difference between privation and malice. If Dan only has greens, that is all he has to offer; he is doing the best that he can. A group can accept or reject him on that basis, and there is no stigma attached to being the weakest member of a group that accepts you. If Dan only has greens but swaps out his +hp gear for his +loot gear, he is being a leech and a jerk; he could contribute more, but he is actively choosing not to.

(You are also a jerk if you use social pressure to leech. If the group only puts up with it because you are the guild leader’s friend, you are a jerk. If you wait until it is really inconvenient to kick you to solicit “consent,” you are a jerk. There is a stigma attached to being the weasliest member of a group, even if you do not realize that you are a passive-aggressive sociopath.)

You can devise scenarios where having just one or two people in +loot gear instead of contributing fully makes sense. The best gear Edith has found includes some +loot. Frank is playing easier content with friends who all have lousy gear, so he has switched to best-in-slot +loot gear that otherwise has comparable stats to Dan’s gear. Gretta just rejoined the game and her friends are intentionally having her leech in +loot gear so that she can catch up more quickly (indicates other common design problems). Henry is in a MOBA and is being carried through a weak early game to yield a strong late game. The common denominator here is informed consent. No one unilaterally or underhandedly decides that you will work harder so that s/he can gain more.

Unless you are building a game where griefing teammates is a feature rather than a bug, personal loot bonuses are a bad mechanic for multi-player. It encourages anti-social play, which encourages closed social groups, which can lead to strong social bonds but ultimately undermines the playerbase.

: Zubon

14 thoughts on “Loot Bonuses: Bad Multiplayer Mechanic

  1. welshtroll

    One of the fun things that City of Heroes/Villains allowed was the ability to play misions with enemies set to 8 persons, increased level and with tougher bosses.
    Hard work but so very rewarding plus you felt like loot was earnt by all taking part :)
    Torchlight 2 offers loot/Xp gain increases via the stats of equipment. I find it annoying in Multiplayer where you try and remain at a similar level, but perks allow one person to charge ahead.

    1. musik

      The idea reminds of GW1 hardmode. When your group selects hard mode, every enemy is buffed significantly, making beginner areas harder than endgame areas in normal mode, but also drastically increasing the rewards. To really profit from those rewards you had to be decently equiped and know what you are doing though.

  2. Alfonso Deegan, Private Eye

    On launch, Diablo 3 would take the loot bonuses of the entire party and average them to determine the entire party’s loot bonus. This was a bad idea on a cosmic level and has since been revamped to the traditional “your loot bonus is yours” model.

    What makes this even more hilarious: loot in Diablo 3 is instanced. If you didn’t wear loot gear you’d reduce the quality of items that only the other players would have access to while reaping modest gains for yourself if they were wearing loot gear.

    1. Coriolis

      Actually, averaging wasn’t a bad idea. For precisely the reasons explained in this post. They only removed it because selfish idiots whined about it. Not like it matters that much ultimately, but the original implementation was a good idea, and something that any MP game with magic find should consider. I haven’t seen any other solution to the problem explained in the post – other then removing the entire mechanic of magic find, which IMO is worse.

  3. Julian

    We’re probably threading a bit too thin with this train of thought. As you say, Z, we’re talking about absolutely marginal pluses and minuses (unless you happen to group with someone stacking magic find or equivalent in lieu of -everything- else, but those are outliers as well).

    The factors which cause groups to incur major costs are by far in logistics, assuming we value time, or within human error; an accidental/risky/”for the lulz” pull which quickly mutates into a catastrophic wipe incurs more costs on the whole group than any lack or overabundance of stats and attributes.

    Intrinsic player skill, knowledge of the game and her class and knowledge of the encounters also largely override all this. If someone is a good player whether she’s stacking magic find is irrelevant. Encounters might last two or three seconds more because the magic find stacker is pumping out .5% less dps, but oh well.

    I’m not saying this isn’t a problem, but the scale of it makes it easily ignorable.

    1. Zubon Post author

      I accept the argument. I’m interested in the sign on the number here, not the magnitude, and if we agree that the sign is negative, it seems like a bad idea to spend development time on something that makes the game worse, even if just a little worse. We could argue about what the urine concentration of the pool is, but I hope we can agree not to encourage people to pee in it.

      I would also expect those problem factors to reinforce each other rather than offsetting. Someone who thinks it is acceptable to reduce group effectiveness by 1% to increase his drops by 5% might not have a problem with dropping another 1% to amuse himself with a lulz pull, then another 1% by making the group wait while he gets a drink, then another few percent to increase his drunkenness by 5%, then…

    2. musik

      If the stat penalty you incur for stacking magic find is not appreciable, any gear without magic find is by default worthless. If magic find is not appreciable, magic find gear is worthless. If the penalty and effect are appreciable, both gear types are worthwhile, but you run into the “jerk” dilemma. And that is why i think magic find is a bad idea :D

  4. Kalu

    Interesting post Zubon. I had never looked at it that way since the difference, as Julian states, seems to be minor. I find it an irritating mechanic not for any of the reasons mentioned, but because it seems to me to be an obvious mechanic to enourage players to buy +loot gear or potions at the cash store or to spend more time in game grinding for the +loot gear. I hate being treated like a chump. If I had any other choice, I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a piece of +loot gear, buying +loot bonuses, or in the case of GW2, +magic find gear etc.

  5. gattsuru

    Guild Wars 2, at least, reduces the benefits to Magic Find when in group encounters, by not applying the Magic Find bonus to chest drops (and having the most valuable awards in chests). Not a terribly good solution, though, both since it’s incomplete (it still applies to normal enemies, and some bosses do leave lootable corpses), and since it’s unknown (the tool-tips don’t say what magic find applies to).

    Framing non-ideal gear as higher difficulty leads to a far more interesting question that persists even if you remove +magic find. Why are we making a game where you have to play on the highest difficulty first?

  6. Bernard

    I’m not sure I understand the gameplay benefits of +MF.

    Drops should be rewards, with a degree of randomness that makes receiving them a fun surprise.

    Increasing the challenge may merit a reward, but does that need to be more loot? More loot is not necessarily more fun.

  7. Julian

    +MF gear is there because GW2 is not a gear game. So it doesn’t really matter.

    *looks around, waiting to spot the inevitable stones and sticks thrown his way*

  8. Kalu

    *Kaluu loads hithe spitwad into the straw and eyes Julian secretly, waiting for him to look the other way.

    Cash shops seem to sell alot of modifiers of all kinds. GW2 stated the boons and buffs they were placing in the cash store would not give any player a decided advantagae over another, but would enable players who played less often to progress at an equal level as players who played more often.

    Yes, I agree with you, Julian, that at the end game the gear is all the same and not hard to get. How many hours of play it took to get it doesn’t matter at that point. While leveling, the odd piece of gear that will drop for someone will soon be replaced anyway. +MF just speeds things up a bit there.

    There is another side. In terms of materials that will drop which are useful in crafting or can be put up for sale at the auction house, there is a noticeable difference with +MF buffs, or so many believe. While the benefits of crafting, fashion, or a rich pocket book may not be a driving force for many of us, these are a big draw for many players. A quick look at the sales prices of colored cosmetic dyes is a quick way to verify the truth of this statment. Items such as these drop much more often with +MF gear. In the world of MMOs of the past, the best looking gear was also the gear with the best statistics in the game, was hard to get, and held a decided advantage. In today’s MMO, the best looking gear exists for the sake of its looks alone and is simply expensive to get. Rather than spending hours learning to beat a raid boss to get it, one only has to spend hours grinding for the gold to buy or craft it in game or simply buy its in game currency equivilent in the cash shop.

    +MF gear is a tool to raise money for the developers and nothing more. This concept came into being with the birth of cash shops, as did +experience boosters, keys to open chests, special cosmetics, and so on. In fact, we are now surrounded by players who place a great deal of value on what not too many years ago might have been considered to have been vain goals.

    I am an old timer. Gone are the days the better graphics of high end gear was a bonus, not an end in itself. Now we are tempted with tanalizing social statements which we are encouraged to embrace and spend real money for. Strangely enough, however, I don’t hold it against the person who might wear the +MF gear in lieu of more appropiate gear for the occasion. It is a game after all and we are all entitled to have what fun we can find for ourselves. I just hold it against the devs for marketing it to me. Go figure.

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