Need over greed = fairness over freedom? When the game design decide for me.

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.

6 thoughts on “Need over greed = fairness over freedom? When the game design decide for me.

  1. We were running a lot of Heroics last night, and on our server its always need on orbs. The new loot distribution by way of De worked fine, but when it came to the orbs, and me and my guildy had already selected Need, one of the other party members goes – Oh I guess its need for orbs on your server. So they covered most of setting loot rules, but not for stuff like orbs..

  2. I did a few heroics too (spent most my time in the new raid instance, or atleast banging my head against the portal of the new raid instance receiving the “Additional instances cannot be launched” message…) and I agree that the new loot functions for the most part seem excellent.

    Regarding orbs – it can always be traded to eachother if a mistake happens, but it’s funny to see how such differences occur between servers. On my server everyone greeds on Orbs, and I wouldn’t even think to check if anyone needed it.

    My post is also a bit more on the “grand scheme of things”. I think that many of these new functions that Blizz adds makes things easier and more convenient for the players, something I do applaud. However, it is very often at the cost of freedom to choose how you wish to do things. In WoW it’s not such a big thing, at worst it limits the things players decide to find alternatives for cause it is actually working as intended. I have had much love for player innovations in WoW, and it’s maybe through nostalgia for them that I don’t want such streamlined options occuring. After all: no problem = no need to create new solutions. no options = no need to create new practices.

    In the so called real world, I am more ambivalent. Yes, I appreciate that tools and technologies are safer and allows for non-expert users, but sometimes the freedom is needed in order to get things done. After all, we dont all think alike and want to do things in the same order.
    Take Vista. It’s a prime example of a design that wants to help you out, and make sure you don’t do anything you shouldn’t. It has limited what you can do as a user, to the point where also needed functions are taken out.

    On the other hand you have alco tests being installed in trucks, to ensure that people driving them are not under the influence of alcohol. Even though it is a large limitation of their freedom, I cant get away from it being a good thing.

    *ponder*

  3. I agree with you in general terms, in that limiting options hinders players from making their own solutions to problems, but in this specific case I believe you are wrong.

    You are still (according to the patch notes also in cross-realm PuGs) allowed to trade BOP items from an instance drop with other people who were eligible for the drop in the first place, so players can still figure out their own loot distribution schemes, in the very same way they did at the start of vanilla WoW (except now they can do it while moving along in the instance, not standing around the glittering corpse).

  4. Indeed Terje, there are still much room for making up your own systems. If you want to distribute loot according to haircolour, that is still possible. I am also agreeing that the new loot system is a welldesigned tool, that adressed a specific need.

    Still, there is a difference between open systems and closed systems. The loot system as it is today is not completely closed (as you point out, you can still trade items between players), and the ability to trade items after they were looted is a opening of this design. Im just wondering if we get more conform ways of dealing with loot, when the design is so streamlined. Not that conformity in itself is bad, I’m more intrigued by how changes in game design and change in player practice is mutually developing.

  5. One of the problems with Dungeon Finder is the person who assumes leader role, for that was always the person who determined the loot scheme; this system avoids that altogether…now the loot scheme, whatever it is, for better or worse, is known beforehand, and not after waiting a half-hour in a queue to find out the hard way that the PUG leader had chosen Master Looter.

  6. Blizzard have been extremely fortunate to have had creative players that have helped shape and evolve the game with them for all this time. And while I definitely see your point – how streamlining players’ access to items might hinder classes in evolving in new directions, I am still not convinced that this is still relevant today.

    A lot has changed since vanilla (Paladins got talentpoints, for example) and though I can’t say that all classes have fully developed into what they can be – this is more in the hand of the designers than in the players at the moment. Blizzard/AV has so many years of customer feedback, and so many months of brainstorming, concept development and perfecting systems, that I highly doubt they are missing anything worth noting that could be discovered if Rogues started wearing plate (an exaggerated example).

    Like I said before, I see how this is limiting. But at the same time players have influenced this game for so long, and they still do – and I doubt that something as useful as the creative-player developer relationship will in any way be stumped by something like this. The way I see it is a clever prevention mechanic that will also (like you have talked about yourself) make the game easier to understand for new players, and also safer for them. In addition it will also make loot distribution faster for the seasoned players and all in all help fight crime in game.

    If this really would deny any kind of creativity from either player or developer, they are not being very creative in my opinion.

    A very good post!

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