The recent 7.3 Q&A done by the WoW team emphasizes a theme that I think is important to understand about the Skinner’s Box of World of Warcraft.
The team has gone to painstaking lengths to point out that in Legion, more loot drops more frequently than ever before. This is used as a positive, to counteract the perceived negative of RNG.
And it is! However, let’s take a look at why that is.
More Loot =/= More Reward
The first thing I think we need to analyze is this – is more loot inherently more rewarding? You might be inclined to say yes – I get more things than ever, more epic things than ever, higher item levels at an increasing rate, and sprinkled into that is a bit of orange here and there.
But, is it really more rewarding? What have you done with the last 5 epics you’ve gotten from World Quests on your main character?
I’ll tell you what I did with them – disenchanted them. Which, yes, sure, is a reward – the same as vendor gold is a reward. This is a key takeaway – at a certain point, a World Quest with a loot reward may as well just display that piece’s vendor value or DE items instead. Functionally, these things cease to be rewards at some point. Sure, they can war or titanforge into newer, cooler things, maybe even being way more rewarding – but it’s not typical.
I mean, to include a bit of history – Blizzard is right. The game hands out loot like never before. When I raided Molten Core, it took me 6 months to get to the 4 piece bonus on my Tier 1 set. I never got my Halo of Transcendence off of Onyxia, and it took months of Ragnaros kills to get the pants. In 5 Chromaggus kills before TBC, we got 1 Transcendence shoulders, which went to an officer. Loot was not just rare, but incredibly rare – 40 player raids dropped 2 items a boss in MC, and maybe 3 in Blackwing Lair – but it had to be the right item, since tier tokens didn’t exist. It sucked, but it also increased the time investment – you were on to raid every week playing, and back then, you had to farm lots of materials for various food, flasks, potions, and the like.
Shifting Time Investment
Where Blizzard has really maintained the overall form of the loot philosophy, however, is in the rarity of your ideal drops. While you are showered in loot every play session, the quality of which is usually slightly lower than you’d like, the actual value of that loot is pretty low. You might be at a junction where a world quest rewards a perfect piece of chest armor with Critical Strike and Mastery, and you chase after it to get it.
But, most often, as has been the case since Vanilla – your best drop is probably in a raid, or from a high-level Mythic Plus, maybe. The only way to get it is to chase down the boss that drops it, or try to find all the Keystone groups you can running the dungeon that rewards that piece of gear. Sure, unlike the past, you can farm these repeatedly – you can run the raid on all 4 difficulties, hoping the lower tier ones drop the item Titanforged, or for dungeon loot you can keep running that dungeon with someone else’s keystone hoping to get the loot you want in the end chest or your weekly cache. You can even use the Relinquished tokens to chase after that specific item. But, as always in the game’s history, it is the rarity of those ideal pieces that increases time investment.
What Blizzard has done is shift our gameplay from more targeted farming activities that can be concluded for a week quickly and then repeated 7 days later, to a shotgun approach that incentivizes doing a wide spread of content. Before, let’s say your best weapon as a caster was Nibelung in Icecrown Citadel 25 player. Okay, it’s two bosses in, no problem – I can join a pug, easily do Lord Marrowgar, then do Lady Deathwhisper, and that’s it. Either it drops, or it does not. I get it, or I don’t – and I don’t have any incentive to keep repeating content or an alternate route to that drop until next week. I’ll probably finish the raid out of social obligation, or stay with it until the wheels fall off, and then wait until next Tuesday (or Wednesday if I’m EU).
Now, however, even in the same situation – maybe I want a Trinket off Demonic Inquisition in ToS. Okay, so I can run it on LFR, Normal, and Heroic. Maybe my guild does it on Mythic. I can get into a PUG later, and do all the lower difficulties again using Seals to try and roll again for that loot. I can go do Argus quests and rares for Veiled Argunite, using it to buy Relinquished Trinkets and hoping for the best. In theory, I can do Heroic Demonic Inquisition 7 times that week, and even still do hours of world content trying to push out that one trinket.
And sure, I might get some loot from those runs besides that trinket, but when that trinket is my goal, it can be deflating and, even worse, burn-out inducing to be allowed to even run it that many times trying to get that gear.
The Neon Orange Slot Machine
Compounding all of that – Legiondaries. They can drop from damn near anything, so if you are really trying to farm one out, you need to do the following:
-Complete all emissaries
-Run at least a Heroic random dungeon a day, plus perhaps fully completing Mythic dungeons for the week and running at least 1 Mythic Plus keystone as far as you can
-Kill and loot every possible raid boss on every possible difficulty
-Kill all world bosses that are up
-Clear Invasion Rifts on Argus
-Do PvP for Strongboxes
-Do Argus world content for Veiled Argunite in order to buy Relinquished tokens in the correct slot for your preferred legendary
I mean, sure – this touches on a key argument between the WoW team and playerbase that has existed for a long time – is all that really mandatory? On a strict interpretation, no – of course not. The only people doing that whole checklist are Mythic world-first raiders and streamers. However, for the average player, you don’t necessarily need to do all that – but for the Mythic players and those that deeply care about their best progression – this list can start to feel mandatory, and not only that, but it is huge. The time commitment this requires is too much for most people who play for fun.
Legiondaries are the biggest outlier because they actively buck the trend of BiS items. In my raid example, I can target and farm very specifically to try and get the drop I want. If I want a Legiondary, however, I just have to shotgun all available content I can fit into my schedule and hope that when I get the big pop-up that shines, that it’s an item I actually want. Depending on your class and spec, the odds may not be in your favor on that!
And again – this does increase time played, but at what cost?
Let me close this section with this – I don’t really play at a level where I feel I need the absolute best legendaries and need to farm them out. I got really good ones, sure – but I’ve never felt a need to push the hand of fate harder than my normal play allows. This is Blizzard’s gamble – that people will be okay with it like I am, and continue to play normally with their looting punctuated by these big rewards in a positive way.
The online perception is that it is backfiring, but at the same time, Blizzard’s most recent earnings call detailed that they had record player active hours for the quarter, so from a raw business perspective – the system is working.
In the end, we have a loot system that is both wildly different and yet the same. We get more drops, more often, but yet have to then sift through all of that in order to find the useful ones, which are few and far between.
I think going forward into 8.0, the thing I am most interested in, besides all the other things I’ve talked about, is how these systems go forward. For the hardcore playerbase, it is obvious that they are nearing a breaking point on burnout – but to the casual time-investment crowd, which is arguably the majority, it seems to be just fine. I am very curious to see what direction they lean in, and I have no idea!