Thursday, January 16, 2014

3.50. The Loot Paradox

Engraving depicting a dragon eating its tail from
"De Lapide Philisophico"
Lucas Jennis (1625)

Blaming the Hammer

When I rebooted DoD's guild rules at the start of Wrath, I spent a considerable amount of time slaving over the fine details of our new loot distribution method. The goal? Abolish any opportunity for misinterpretation. Prevent random impulsive events from tarnishing the name of otherwise good players. Protect them from the disdain of their fellow raider, and the animosity that builds when scorecards give way to opinion. Pound into their skulls the message that your personal looting ideology should reflect one that furthers the overall strength of the raid team as a whole, caring for your fellow raider as passionately as you would yourself. The mistakes of the past would no longer be tolerated.

Before we knew just what the hell we were doing, our incentive was in the wrong place. Our perceptions of the things that mattered lay slightly askew from true north. All too often in Vanilla and TBC, players chose to sit on their pools of dragon kill points as if it were money, waiting to spend it on "that one big drop". As we climbed our way up the maze of rooms that is Blackwing Lair, the common sentiment was all-too familiar. Why waste my precious points on Herald of Woe when we will be looting Ashkandi any day now? In this era of ignorance, loot was the reward of our efforts; it was the fiery glow in our hands that we carried into Alterac Valley, striking the Alliance down with great vengeance. It's easy to make that mistake when every cue buried in the game nomenclature identifies loot as such. When the language is prevalent enough to ensure "loot" is synonymous with "reward", your brain then begins to form logic statements in reverse. Well, if loot is the reward, then my DKP must be money, right? Just like in real life? Only the truly hardcore raiders in the days of yore knew the truth. Loot isn't the reward; it isn't really the reason why we climbed Blackrock Mountain to defeat a giant black dragon blanketing us in dark flame. It took the arrival of Blain for us to unlearn those biased ways of thinking.

Why do we raid? For the fun of it, the thrill of the hunt. The excitement when the boss crashes dead and screams fill Ventrilo. For the competition, for the adrenaline accelerating our heart rate as we close in on the kill, knowing another raid is racing against the clock to beat us. Just as the carpenter crafts fine architecture to demonstrate his ability, raids kill bosses for guild pride and camaraderie, and for the lasting journey which remains a tumultuous series of hills and valleys traversed, as we reflect back on those days spent deep in dungeons. Too many fair-weather players forget this, or place upon those memories little value in the grand scheme to need on each and every item that pops up on their screen. At one time, World of Warcraft was, at its heart, a social experience first...and a machine that churns out loot second. Slowly, Blain helped us unlearn those backward ways of thinking. We raid despite loot, not because of it. Loot is merely a tool in the process, like the addon, or a little something called elbow grease -- good old fashioned hard work and practice. Thankfully, we got the lesson early.

So why did we continue to behave like children?

Loot ignorance once again floated to the surface. It was the scapegoat for every person's bad play. "We're not progressing because we lack the gear" was the most common excuse heard. So, if the handiwork of a master carpenter buckles and collapses in a cloud of sawdust, do you blame the hammer? Or the shoddy skills of the carpenter who pounded the nails in? Only a fool would dare blame an inanimate object when the living, breathing, thinking person wielding it is ultimately responsible, so why are players so quick to blame loot when they fail?

Long after a player understands the true meaning behind why they raid, they will continue to blame loot when they fail...because of The Loot Paradox.

The Vicious Cycle

The Loot Paradox,
a never-ending vicious cycle that plagues raid teams
masking the true intention of why they raid

The problem with changing players' perceptions of loot as a tool rather than a reward is that it is a never-ending vicious cycle, an ouroboros coiling until it eats itself, and has no finite beginning or end. It repeats in cycles ad infinitum, and occurs in four stages:

1. Raiders rush into new content, foaming at the mouth, and eventually start to fail on new obstacles for a variety of reasons: These can be (but are not limited to): new and unorthodox boss mechanics, strange bugs that linger in the game code, encounters tuned too tightly (overtuned), players lacking in skill, or a combination of any of these things. As frustration mounts, they struggle for answers, and their judgement is clouded. This starts to prevent them from remembering why they even raid in the first place.

2. As tempers flare, players look to place blame on something justifying their failure. Among the myriad of options, attentions can often be turned towards their lack of gear as a palpable, definitive excuse. This clouds their judgement as to why they set foot in a raid each week, shifting the focus to the acquisition of gear. It is at this point that players feel they raid because of loot. In their eyes, loot is a reward for their incessant suffering at the hands of repeated boss wipes.

3. As raiders weather this storm by continuing to practice, possibly even refining their UI and addons, eventually they reach an epiphany: that they are making progress without loot. With heightened motivation and optimism, these raiders dig their heels back, and their reasons to raid begins to shift away from loot and toward boss defeat.

4. Riding on a new high of knowledge and understanding (sometimes exacerbated by one or more boss kills), pride-filled raiders turn their attention toward improve the skill at which they approach the game. They may utilize any number of options to broaden their tools: increased schedule and practice on the boss, research (videos, strategy guides, etc.), addons, and most importantly, augmenting their character's stats through upgrades, to push out more DPS, more HPS, or more survivability. It is at this point that players know why they raid: to progress. In their eyes, loot is a tool to help them accomplish that goal.

While improving their skill, raiders enjoy great success for a time, until they reach the next stage of content that causes them to fail on new obstacles...and we loop back to #1.

As you can see, this cycle of failing, blaming, reaching an epiphany, and improving one's skill is a constant struggle. When players reach the epiphany that they progress as a result of their increased skill, they leap head first into improving their skill even further, in any way possible. It isn't long before players realize one of those tools is to bring more health, more heals, or more damage to the raid. The player will inevitably turn their attention to the most logical way to augment their stats: Gear. Gear, now as a means to the end, can conveniently act as a scapegoat when new obstacles arrive; it is that very tool that the player lacks in order to accomplish their goal. And in turn, devolves back into the "reason why we raid", allowing players to justify their failures and blame the most identifiable piece of the equation. The cycle begins anew.

As a guild leader, my best chance at success was to be intimately aware of the loot paradox and its constant effect on the guild. By encouraging players to loot, which in turn, grew the strength of the raid team, they could -- at any moment -- fall victim to placing the blame on their subsequent lack of loot. I needed to uncoil the snake, and I wasn't always successful at this. Particularly when Blizzard introduced a concept I hadn't planned for.

A warrior changes between specs using the
new Dual Talent Specialization feature of patch 3.1

A Spec For Any Occasion

It had been rumored and discussed during Wrath's development, but never saw the light of the day throughout beta. I assumed it had been swept under the rug for the time being. But, as with many things Blizzard, work had quietly continued on this particular feature, making its debut at the launch of patch 3.1. Dual talent specialization was something players had been clamoring for since as far back as Vanilla. For the first time in the game, players had the ability to carry with them a second talent specialization, able to activate at a moment's notice. Since so many more talent specs were viable in raids, this feature made practical sense, allowing players to flip-flop between particular roles if situation was warranted. With a simple click of a button, a holy paladin became a protection paladin, a discipline priest morphed into a shadow priest, and a feral druid was now a boomkin -- right before your eyes. With two specs at our command, raiding options blossomed. In the days of The Burning Crusade, having a player like Lyticvirus at our disposal was a rare luxury; a player with enough dedication to have two completely separate toons geared for entirely different roles. It granted us a level of flexibility not found in most players. Now...potentially anyone in the roster could provide this same flexibility. Provided, of course, that the player knew the role well enough, and had the gear to supplement that second spec.

Dual specialization was a godsend for my casual/hardcore raiding guild. It seemed that on nearly every raid weekend, there was an occasion to request a particular player flip to an alternate spec. This got to be so commonplace with certain players that I would often rotate them in as one role, yet be unsure until the first boss pull what final role they would ultimately play. More often than not, it wasn't what they were rotated in for. It was a loosey-goosey way to run our rotations, but it worked. Weekend after weekend, we ran without fail, on-time, and I never had an excuse to cancel a raid due to missing people. Besides, we were accomplishing the goals we set out to achieve at the start of Wrath. The Raiders knew no differently and were simply glad to get their foot in the door, get an occasional rotation, and see some high-end 25-Man content. And the Elites knew better than to question our methods; they were privy to why I had to adjust the roster the way I did and accepted it as a fact of life. This life of dual specialization became so pervasive that I failed to pick up on a missing component of my loot system -- an evil buried in the earth now bursting its dead claws up through the dirt to grab me by the ankles and pull me down.

5 comments:

Littlebear said...

I've been waiting for the loot discussion. It had to come up eventually.

I was certainly guilty of being greedy about loot, but at the time I was very concerned with how I compared to the people around me. I knew absolutely where I stood compared to the rest of the server on WOW Heroes.

Its interesting how much I changed during the course of my time in DOD, in and out of the game. Your blogh is always a great moment for self reflection.

LB

Shawn Holmes said...

@Littlebear,

It's a never-ending battle, LB. I know you know this. Next week's post will reveal what the grand strategy was to nip the loot paradox in the bud.

Loot is going to come up more than once in this story. :)

Anonymous said...

Personally, a lot of my friends thought I was a "Loot whore" at first. I was completely unable to leave a corpse unlooted, I had to loot the "Shinies", the glitter that surrounded corpses. Same thing for when I had corpses to skin/herbalize. Just had to do it.

What most of them eventually realized was that a lot of it was a result of them not looting, so I would loot their corpses for what they had left. It was never about the money, or the items, I just couldn't leave behind unlooted and unused things.

So, they started looting their own shit, and suddenly there weren't any issues. I didn't care who got it, as long as SOMEONE got it. XD

I do the same thing in every game I play. Fallout, loot everything (No theft though). Minecraft, mine everything.

It's just a habit I got from earlier games, explore everywhere, do everything, loot every item.

It bugs me to leave it unlooted, like an actual physical/psychological thing, I don't like it. Feels like I'm wasting something.

...probably should get that looked at at some point. XD

----Catelina, KT Alliance Holy Priest

Shawn Holmes said...

@Catelina,

Do you also have to have all the achievements, and collect all the pets and/or mounts?

I can't stand leaving stuff unfinished, that's ultimately what it stems from for me.

Anonymous said...

@Shawn

I used to have to have all the mounts and achievements. But like I mentioned in your TLPD post (And in my first comment back on Onyxia), it got to the point where completionism almost ruined the game for me. Between raids (They spent 2 expansions trying to force me to raid/continue raiding XD), achievements, professions, all of my alts (Last time I was on (Summer), I had: 4 90's, 5 85-89's a bank alt, and something else I forgot (Likely the DK)), it got to be too much for me. Sucked the fun right out. Almost quit (Back in Wrath). The rest of Wrath and Cata were on again off again, but my the end of Cata I had things in order.

I looked at what really mattered, yes, I could go catch them all and have the best pet fighting team evar. But, why? What would I do with it? Oh, I want it just to have it? Meh, pass. Ooooh, if I save up INSERT-TOKENS I'll get an item that I can use once a day that'll make everyone nearby hate me. Okay, worth it.

Prioritize the completionism. If I spent all of my time chasing down the various things I don't have, I would oddly enough never have time for the game itself.

That said, things are very different when it's right in front of me, or I have the opportunity to get something I wasn't expecting to get.

"Dude, we're gonna do a bear run in ZA, we all have it, you have it?"
"Nah, kinda fugly imo"
"... 20 minutes, free mount, get your butt over here"
"Yes'm"

And I still can't leave shinies/nodes lying around. XD

----Catelina, KT Alliance Holy Priest

P.S. I was working on Tarecgosa's Rest last summer before I had to stop playing WoW (Computer started having serious heat problems), made it almost all the way through phase 1 (Barely started the whole thing :( ).