Fixing WoW’s Progression Problem

Tobold’s post and comments on the idea of creating disincentives to guildhopping got me thinking. People are fundamentally self-interested asshats (this I already knew). There’s just not going to be a lot you can do about that problem. Good or bad design can mitigate or exacerbate the tendency though. The more I look at it though, its really a problem with WoW’s current PvE reward/progression model.

WoW’s progression and reward model greatly exacerbates the tendency toward asshattery (greedy, selfish, anti-social and uncivil behavior) by requiring collective action for personal (and uncertain) rewards (primarily in the form of improved gear). Twenty five or ten or five people devote a significant amount of time to collectively work on an objective without any guarantee that they will be rewarded for their efforts at all (no useful drop), and if rewarded that they will be able to share in that reward (useful drop, lose the roll or drop is useful only for other class).

Under the current paradigm, we are required to run and re-run content to get another pull on the slot machine. No matter how many times you run an encounter/instance/raid the fundamental law of statistics applies– each run results in the same percentage to get a desire drop. Everytime you toss a coin, the probability of heads coming up is 50%. Its called the Gambler’s Fallacy for a reason.

As our tank Earlthecat knows after 60+ Baron runs (back in the day…) without receiving his class pants, that can be brutal and fundamentally smacks of unfairness. Your item has to drop AND you have to win the roll unless you have collective assent to redistribute the limited loot. Of course, that’s where that asshattery problem kicks in again…

The opportunity for asshattery exists as a result of the limited number and random nature of the drops. Five/10/25/40 toons enter, perhaps no one leaves with a goddamned thing. Tigole must surely be sitting somewhere with Rob Pardo laughing their collective asses off. And they should. Like Skinner in the lab late one Friday night with a bottle of Wild Turkey watching the mice. What a bunch of chumps.

As Tobold and the commenters pointed out, the guild (or raid group or just plain friend group) doesn’t progress evenly. So long as one player “needs” a certain piece of kit to progress, they are bound to collective action. Once rewarded, ggktxbye, sayonara suckers. I’m off to find the next group of chumps and my next piece of better gear.

So how to mitigate rather than exacerbate the baser aspects of our greed-addled nature? Seems pretty basic, but the problem comes down to one of two basic approaches– either collectivize the ownership of the rewards (discussed, bad, problematic) or simply equitably distribute rewards among the group (impossible to do with random, limited drops).

Simple concept and already in the game and yes, maybe a little boring– earn marks, badges, rep, BoP currency, whatever you want to call it, and distribute it equally to all members of the group. Acquire X tokens, spend them at the token merchant for the reward of your choosing. If it takes 5 runs to collect enough tokens to get the uber shield of ultimate defense or cap of bottomless mana, so be it. Take the same damned boss mob loot table for a dungeon and make that a vendor’s offerings.

Everyone progresses equally. Everyone’s contribution to that session is rewarded. No one gets screwed or ninja’d. No one cares if you guild hop, so hopefully you have incentive to stay to play with mates. At least you have less incentive to bail early. People with different play budgets will always progress at different rates, but at least if out-of-work-basement-guy does 40 runs of instance X, each of the other members of those groups were each equally rewarded toward each of those runs. If those are the same 5/10/25 people for each of the runs: Hurray! If not: no one is QQing because tankboy (who completed 40 of those runs) cashed in and got his just rewards.

Assuming some of the geniuses that created the already tired grindy-assed mechanics could come up with some shred of a shitty story to keep us mildly entertained while we’re doing it, so much the better. Basic quest to point us at an instance with some reward for clearing it, then some crappy subplot that ties into the main story arc to thinly justify that by grinding instances we are participating in the epic grand story.

If you really wanted to be generous and encourage helping others out (at no personal opportunity cost) you could make the tokens either homogenous but drop with greater frequency in higher level content or make them exchangeable so rewards in one instance could be used for rewards from another. All micro/tokens are BoP.

Imagine this: You show up in Honor Hold and receive the basic “Go Kick Ramparts Ass” quest (Blah blah blah, epic battle, enemy of the alliance, contributions to the war effort would be rewarded, etc. etc.). You get your group, run the dungeon. As you clear mobs, instance specific microtokens drop at reasonable rate from the trash distributed via the basic loot rules. You progress and kill 2 out of the 4 bosses receiving 1 token for each group member for each boss downed before you wipe or get tired or someone needs to change a diaper. Run over. Each group member would have received 1/5 of the microtokens that dropped (click on 10 to turn it into a full token just like motes) and 2 tokens.  Think two bits and pieces of eight, you get the idea.

Go back to Honor Hold, talk to the quartermaster and exchange your tokens for the gear items you want that are available from that instance. Don’t like the rewards available for Ramparts tokens? Convert them into Underbog tokens (at some less than 1-for-1 exchange rate so the progression model doesn’t get gamed too badly).

Starting to all seem a bit familiar? It should. It looks a lot like the PvP reward system except its not screwed up with a marks + honor system. As the guild/group raid begins to acquire the upgraded gear, the runs get better. By the time everyone has acquired a total of X tokens (enough that they could be exchanged for all the usable items from that instance) the guild could move on and no one should be left behind assuming they’ve contributed equally.

So what do you end up with?

  • The progression path is group agnostic, but still collective action dependent.
  • Down-playing (i.e., helping your lowbies in a below level instance) isn’t penalized– its rewarded equally in upconvertible tokens.
  • Ninjas cease to exist for progression gear.
  • Because rewards are certain, the risk of grouping is reduced encouraging collective play.
  • Unlike the battlegrounds, there is no timer, so progression requires play, not just afk honor farming or AV zerg rush min/max strats.

While we’re fixing WoW’s PvE progression, level restrict the instances and add mentoring so higher levels are downscaled to a lower level instance so the tokens aren’t devalued. Sorry twinkers.

Now that WoW’s fixed, I think I’ll go have lunch.

13 thoughts on “Fixing WoW’s Progression Problem”

  1. I think that in some instances, heroics, 10man or higher raids this might be a good idea.

    I still think seeing loot drop, wondering what it is, and then to roll inorder to take the price home makes the game less boring and fun in some respects. Which is better, spending time grinding for a lesser Token just to make bigger tokens to take to a vendor, or running an instance looking for that Uber Sword of Uberdom to drop then getting a chance to roll it out from under your buddy, just for bragging rights?
    The memories would be a little more bland in example one I think and would really bring the game to screeching bordom.

    Not to say your idea isn’t great for larger more complex raids, where people tend to jump around a lot to get the gear drops they need. but the non Heroic 5 mans need to have loot drop other than tokens.

  2. Check this article by Tomas Rofkahr to see what the disadvantage of your fix is: People appreciate a small chance of a big reward far more than a steady stream of safe rewards. Which is why people buy lottery tickets.

  3. This might work on 25-man boss fights, but on 5 and 10-mans this would burn the content so quickly it’s not even funny and make everything incredibly boring. If everybody could reasonably clear Kara, say, 8 times to get all the loot one needed, then Kara would never be raided again. The lifespan of all Blizzard’s content would be cut in half. The only way to preserve the content would make it like the current BoJ rewards: taking multiple clears and instances every week for ONE item, but that would turn raiding and farming into the equivalent of vacuuming one’s house.

    It may sound strange, but a LOT of raiders like the fact that loot is random. It gives a random, exciting element to killing a boss. What’s going to drop? It might be frustrating for some, and there is certainly plenty of potential for exploitation and ninja looting and what not, but this is rare for most guilds, and it’s very irresponsible to blame the selfishness and greed of humans on WoW’s loot system.

    The current 25-man loot system works very well for guilds, even in 10-mans. Eventually everybody does get their loot. The probability works out so that after a reasonable number of clears, nobody will want loot in the place anymore. To be honest, however, it is the loot that keeps people coming back to an instance they’ve cleared time and time again. Boredom and frustration with an instance comes from the content, not really from the loot. Raiders have a surprising amount of patience and understanding.

    To say that the system encourages depravity and greed is flawed for several reasons:

    A) Humanity always causes depravity and greed. As long as Humans are playing this game, we will always have a few among us who will loot, steal, and ninja to get what they want.

    B) The loot distribution system built into WoW prevents ninja’ing so long as people are careful, and in most cases they are. As long as the master looter is trustworthy, no ninja’ing can be accomplished.

    C) The vast majority of these mentioned loot problems are caused by DKP, which is an external, player-created loot system that encourages greed and hoarding. It caters to the elite core and leaves newbies outside cold. Of course, it is a good system if handled well, but it is very hard to handle well with all the incentives to NOT handle it well. Loot Council or SKG are far better systems to handle loot. They encourage people to show up, they allow noobies to get loot on the same level as the established core, and they prevent hoarding and nabbing of multiple items in one clear.

    I think the current problems with WoW are a little simpler than the loot system. In this case, the cure is worse than the disease.

  4. @Oakstout: To be clear, I’m subtlely suggesting that “progression gear” would be the object of the token exchange. Other loot would still be random to preserve the pinata effect. But to have to rely on the pinata rather than teamwork and skill to progress is flawed IMHO. And yes, there’s got to be better content to keep us engaged, but I’ll take content over probabilities for a reason to play any day.

    @Fate: Ah, you’ve fallen into my little trap! *tents fingers* Loot-centricity is a poor substitute for entertaining content. That’s the subtext. In my view, experiencing the content (with others) should be the reward the gear of which is merely a means to that end and not the end in itself.

    “If everybody could reasonably clear Kara, say, 8 times to get all the loot one needed, then Kara would never be raided again. ”

    Why? Would 5 times or 50 times make a difference? If Kara was fun and entertaining and others in your guild or friends or pugs needed to do it, why wouldn’t you help them? If you’re saying that the only reason to keep doing it is for a shot at the loot which once obtained trivializes the content, then you’ve made my point and reinforced Tobold’s as well– once you’ve obtained what you need from the encounter, you move on.

    How is this fundamentally different than any of the pre-cap instances or the PvP rewards for that matter? Run it a few times, get your gear, move on.

    “To be honest, however, it is the loot that keeps people coming back to an instance they’ve cleared time and time again. Boredom and frustration with an instance comes from the content, not really from the loot.”

    /agree. That’s my point. It shouldn’t be about the loot. To quote Keen from his recent AoC complaints thats whats bad with “raiding for gear to raid for more gear and so on…” If its just about the loot, I’ll play a slot machine.

    “…it’s very irresponsible to blame the selfishness and greed of humans on WoW’s loot system.”

    I didn’t. I said people were fundamentally asshats and that game design can exacerbate or mitigate these tendencies. What I’m alluding to is the fundamental selfish gene principal that as individuals humans have evolved to be greedy first in order to secure resources necessary to ensure their own survival before that of others. We’re hardwired for this kind of behavior and it takes a complicated set of circumstances to exist before altruism or reciprocal altruism can trump it. One of the things that makes altruism or selflessness work is the amount of mutual trust in a social relationship and the reasonable prospect that such a relationship will persist for a sufficient amount in time to reap the benefits of foregone immediate rewards for greater prospective future rewards.

    So long as the conditions for social interdependency continue to exist, the trust relationship can be maintained. Those conditions are largely a function of game design. Once that interdependency is broken or minimized for one participant in a social relationship, the assymmetry in perceived value of that relationship will inevitably break that bond and the selfish gene will take over again.

    In plain speak, assuming gear required for progression is the basis of the relationship, what’s to keep someone around once they’ve got all their loot? Fundamentally nothing. That’s where game design can exacerbate or mitigate this problem.

    “To say that the system encourages depravity and greed is flawed for several reasons”

    Sorry your A doesn’t support this. I agree with it, but that’s my point as well. Humans have this tendency, but game design can effect how it manifests itself. Why isn’t all loot FFA always? Humans may be phenomenally bad drivers. As between lines on the road (with an agreement among all to stay on one particular side) and building walls between lanes to prevent collisions, walls are a better design solution because the outcome is less driver dependent and therefore more predictable (and ignoring any disparity in cost).

    Your B doesn’t suport this either. You’re saying essentially that as long as people don’t ninja, no ninja-ing will occur. As long as people are careful, as long as the master looter is trustworthy… You made my point. Because people aren’t always careful or are down right asshats they can choose to roll on something they shouldn’t. There is fundamentally nothing stopping anyone from rolling need on every item. Social consequences mean so little in WoW that there is no meaningful disincentive in the game mechanic to discourage this. There is also nothing to stop a master looter from playing favorites or penalizing players for their own reasons. No, spam /yelling “X is a Ninja!” in IF or Shatt doesn’t count.

    I’m sorry, but your C is just wrong. The vast majority of these problems are driven by human greed applied to WoW’s progression model which requires obtaining random drops necessary to continue your character’s progression. DKP, rock paper scissors, simple trust, bribing the raid leader, whatever are all player-made accomodations put in place as a response (i.e. effect, not cause) to this fundamental problem. DKP is just a form of player-made BoP currency that players can use when a randomized vendor appears in the form of a random drop. Its fundamentally limited in that DKP systems don’t persist outside of the organization in which their implemented, they can be abused by capriciousness (“MINUS 50 DKP!” ) and the accessibility of progression loot is scarce AND unpredictable.

    Let me just say point blank that good groups and people that come into them with the right mindset don’t need any of this at all. The regular static group I roll with simply doesn’t care about loot distribution equity. If someone can use it, it makes the group better which makes everyone’s experience better and allows the group to progress as a whole. It doesn’t matter that 57 plate helms drop in a row. We know we are all progressing together as a group or not at all. That’s our deal and we’ve known each other for decades in real life so we have all those RL social constraints that allow us to do this with complete trust. These are unusual circumstances for a game like WoW where player-player relationship are virtual and ephemeral.

    In other circumstances, however, too many take the position that “that which is not prohibited is required” or “its not against the rules if the game allows it.” Unlike our real lives, in these games, there are no meaningful peristent social consequences to our behaviors. Switch servers, rename your toon or just simply carry on like nothing ever happened and there is no social mechanism to discourage bad behavior.

    Well, that got long didn’t it?

  5. @Tobold re Rofkhar: I agree the pinata effect has its place in creating a sense of entertainment and enjoyment. I’d like to see that same kind of uncertainty applied to the instance encounters rather than simply learning the strats and trying to execute.

    Rofkhar’s example is a good example of an extreme– rewards for rep grind are perceived as fundamentally 100% certain (i.e., one kill is x rep points) and require a disproportionate amount of time invested for a low valued reward. The shot at a disproportionately high value reward may be enough to keep you doing it.

    Thats a function of the drop rate of the high value reward and its perceived value. Expectation value is probability of the IVR event times value of reward. 0.01% x UBER REWARD = Win. Where the right balance of those variables lies is the job of the devs to find vis a vis their player base. People buy lottery tickets because the tickets are cheap and the rewards are disproportionately high. Make the tickets $100 and the rewards $100,000 and probably no one would play. The loss of utility of $100 to the player is too high (or their opportunity cost) when compared to the utility gain of $100,000 if the odds of winning are too low.

    The IVR principle gets much more complicated in a group situation though. And IMHO IVR has the potential to inject excitement and uncertainty into a game. Who doesn’t like surprises (at least the good ones)?

    My problem is when the biggest part of most MMORPGs, character progression, is dependent on IVR the outcome of which can then be effected by other players’ conduct.

  6. Stopping by to say I love the Blog and vehemenently agree with many of your points p@tsh@t.

    Your token ideas bring up memories of the dungeon Darkness Falls in Dark Age of Camelot wherein slaying the creatures would yield “seals” in differing denominations that could be used to purchase weapons and armor. The denomination was tied to the relative difficulty of the enemy slain. Thus, many of us raided the toughest enemies just for seals, not even a chance at their random loot drops. You knew going into the raid that you would at least walk out with something of value for the investment of your time.

    These seals became their own mini economy and were traded constantly or saved to give the up and coming guild members so they could get some (at that time) decent kit and help bring them up to speed. Augmented by crafted gear being the best one could get and you could really help get your entire guild on similar footing and ready for RvR combat. Yes, you could actually HELP other people get geared up.

    Sadly I feel like I can’t really help guild members attain anything with any reliability in WoW. This actually makes me feel more impotent than not getting gear myself. I’ve put in thousands of hours trying to help people get things with no success and after a while they just give up and quit. Oddly I keep going on trying to help out but it’s even starting to wear me down. I used to believe that “The guild is life!” but lately it’s hard being the doormat for so many people turned the ugly green monster of greed.

  7. Seems like a lot of us is quite fed up with the loot system. It’s a gear race from hell.

    I recently posted an alterative for the system. Or more likely a start of an idea for a new system. Feel free to read it at Daddygamer if you like. Has many similatities to your idea. But no tokens – a kind of rating system instead.

    There is one obstacle though that I dont know how to fix. To make it fun for players with different levels of gear/progression to play together and all having fun. The most common problem for me and my IRL friends which some are super grinders while I am a quite casual gamer.

  8. Oh. And a comment to Tobold about Rofkhars theory about Intermittent Variable Rewards. The thory sounds about right but with one flaw. People like to buy lottery tickets for the chance of a big win – BUT very few try to support them selves that way. About the same in WoW.

    Most people are hoping for the big drops – but they need some known return for their investment too (investment being time spent). This is the reason imo that AV is crowded but heroic PuGs are hard to find.

    Same reason for Kara runs are more common than ZA runs. ZA have a bigger chance of good random loot (bigger lottery wins) but they have a lower fixed award in form of badges. Plus ZA is harder.

    I think the more accurate asumption is that people want “money for nothing and the chicks for free” (yeah I know – quoting Dire staits is oooooold timer stuff :) ).

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