What grabbed me about the latest patch notes was how a point of great contention and discussion (loot), were now becoming part of a more elaborate system. Larger player structures such as guilds will not really notice the difference, but for those using random groups to complete 5 man content – or even just uses the group finder tool to get to the dungeon faster – will find that their choices have been limited.
If you haven’t read it yet, what the patch note said was:
The Need Before Greed loot system will be the unalterable default looting system for pick-up groups in the Dungeon Finder and has been updated.[ul]
Need Before Greed will now recognize gear appropriate for a class in three ways: the class must be able to equip the item, pure melee will be unable to roll on spell power items, and classes are limited to their dominant armor type (ex. paladins for plate). All items will still be available via Greed rolls as well as the new Disenchant option should no member be able to use the item.
One one hand I am thrilled that these new functions will be added. After all, I know how annoying it is when someone needs an item they cannot use (aka ninja). By limiting who can need on items, it should at least avoid the most obvious of blunders. Further more, adding a disenchant option just make sense. I remember arriving on the server I am now and learning the hard way that on this server the default is “pass” if you dont need the item or you can disenchant it. So, this new function would definitely make that easier and it’s a function that makes sense.
Then on the other hand, it makes me wonder about how this shapes play. Some of the development of classes and play styles were clearly emergent, they came from the players themselves. Lets take the healing paladins, who for a long time didn’t seem to work well until some people decided to put them in caster gear. It caused a bit of huff and hurring in the start when these plate wearing holy warriors wanted to need on dresses, but they proved their worth soon enough. It’s not an issue anymore as plate items with healing stats have been added to the game in plenty, but would it have been possible for the class to develop in that way if the code didnt allow for them to need on cloth items to begin with?
In the history of WoW we have seen many times that flaws in the design have been overcome by player ingenuity, ingenuity that later on have been incorporated into the actual code and have granted new features for play. Still, this ingenuity have always been dependant on a possibility to choose, the freedom to use alternatives. Is streamlining the systems possibly hurting the evolving of the game in the long run?
The link between player practice and changes to the design is strong. The need/greed system in itself is a proof of that. If you are not a WoW player, let me quickly recap how the need / greed system came to be:
When the game was first released and you were in a group with other players, a window would appear on your screen giving you two options: need or pass. If you pressed pass you would decline on your option to get the item, if you pressed need you would be competing for the item with everyone else who pressed need. This competing is simply done by the computer choosing a random number between 1 and 100 and the one with the highest number wins. In this early stage of the game (often called Vanilla WoW) players quickly realized that this system was inferior. After all, while you might not need the item (by need I mean that you would equip it as an upgrade to existing items) there was clearly a need for a 3rd option as many items were not needed by anyone, but could still be sold to a NPC for gold. So, early on everyone passed on the items that dropped, then we asked in party chat if anyone needed and players declared “N” for Need and “G” for Greed. If anyone needed, they manually did a random 100 and let the winner have the item, if it was all greeds, then everyone did a random 100 with the highest as winner.
This was rather time consuming, but it worked to distribute loot in a better accordance with what was seen as fair. When later on in Vanilla a Greed button appeared, it worked well with existing concepts of how loot had been distributed. Simply press need if you need it, greed if you would like to make profit from it, and pass if you dont want it. As mentioned, this had it’s flaws as it didn’t really account for a situation when someone wished to disenchant the item, or in cases where un-needing persons chose the need option (by mistake or willful and malicious intent). The issue of disenchanting have so far been solved by a collective player practice where the those with the enchanting skill choose greed, and everyone else passes (unless someone needs of course). At the end of the run, everyone rolls manually and the shards generated by the enchanter during the run is distributed. The part about un-needing players needing have to some extent been solved by allowing players to trade items won in dungeons between other players present at the time. If someone did need by mistake, it’s now easy to correct by trading. If they did it to be spiteful, well… You can always try asking.
The point about this story is not that I am against incorporating player practices into the design, nor create design that adds functions to the game that will save players time and effort. What I am intrigued by is how this design is telling us what to do. It’s not just saving us time, its saying that there is a right way to distribute loot, and discourages us to think about alternatives.
Ideas of morality are always embedded into design, into code, into technology. However, their ability to limit our actions will vary. Some guidelines for correct use are simply stronger and more limiting then others. Your car wont start without you buckling the seat belt, the blender won’t start if you don’t put the lid on and Vista goes ballistic if you decide you don’t want to have the firewall up. In all these cases the idea about correct use is a rational one, and for the most part a clever one too, but it also takes away options from the you as the user. I’m not advocating that we stop using seat belts, but I can’t help but think that when guarding our creative freedom we should take a look at the artifacts in our daily lives as well.