Blizzard discovered the magic formula to keeping game subscriptions active. Instead of focusing on player-driven content and character progression for its own sake, Blizzard found that if they constantly introduced new weapons and gear that makes the character’s previous sets obsolete, players would keep playing the game. Timing is crucial – introduce the new gear too soon and you will make the player feel like their efforts were pointless – but wait too long and you’ll lose them to boredom.
This is of course not unique to Warcraft – most of the other games have adopted this method to a certain extent. However, no other game that I can recall puts so much emphasis on loot. New PVE content is added solely to distribute the new gear.
It’s a known fact that intermittent reinforcement produces a stronger behavior pattern than constant reinforcement. It is harder to break the habit if the reward is not guaranteed. Players will do the same dungeons over and over again – doing the same fights over and over again – with no AI variation -just for a chance at getting a piece of gear or weapon. A single player in a raid may play for hours and have only a slim chance that the loot will drop and then an even slimmer chance that given loot distribution rules, that he or she will win it. This keeps the wow rats hitting that bar for their intermittent pellet.
And that brings us to loot distribution. I had never even heard of loot distribution as a “thing” until I started playing WOW. DKP, GKP, loot councils, ninja looting, flirting, kissing ass – it’s all so sordid. And it produces endless drama. It brings out the worst in people. And it has produced a system whereby players are measured by how much loot they’ve attained through manipulation instead of skill.
Guilds fall apart, friends argue, people rage quit when they feel slighted. It’s a mess. I’ve never seen so much same faction hatred in my life than what I’ve witnessed in warcraft. Players looking for their latest fix and being thwarted by loot distribution systems that are inherently subjective and often personal. Instead of fighting the other faction, they fight amongst themselves and keep coming back for more. It is a system that pits guild members against each other – and it’s the lowest common denominator of human motivation – greed.
So what is the alternative?
Well, it takes a lot more creativity on the part of the game developers and more skill on the part of the player base – but character progression is key. Apart from PVP – which always guarantees unpredictability and requires a lot more skill, there are other options centered around player involvement and content: player cities, guild wars, content that unlocks more than just loot – but new professions or abilities. There are many options.
Perhaps there is a place for Warcraft – it is the game of the masses – no doubt. However, Warcraft’s influence on the rest of the marketplace is a real concern. Most serious MMO enthusiasts require a lot more to keep them interested. They may park it in Warcraft for a time until something better is released.
There will always be a sizable market for more intelligent games. I can only hope that the other game companies do not lose sight of this fact.