Points-based loot, difficulty and the decline of WoW

It looks like the discussions about loot, loot progression, loot obselescence and similar topics, which I initially thought might be a one-day affair, are starting to hot up into one of the blogosphere zeitgeists of the moment.

Completely unrelated to the posts I highlighted the other day, Perculia (WoWHead Community Manager) and Elitist Jerks’ Hamlet have jointly published an essay on how loot rules in WoW have changed over the years, and how the difficulty of WoW has altered, partially as a result of those changes. These are two pretty heavyweight commentators, and they clearly feel passionate about their topic – whilst the essay opens a bit dry, I heartily recommend reading the entire thing

“On the scale of one individual player, there is an ideal, natural method for gameplay to progress. That player should master a piece of content, obtain gear for doing so (generally by farming the content for some amount of time) and take her newly improved character to the next piece of content. Each iteration flows from the last in a robust, continuous, organic, RPG advancement. The player has a meaningful investment in the character that grows over time because each step was tied to the last.

One point that’s not initially obvious, but which winds up being absolutely critical: after enough cycles of that process, the player finds that something truly magical has occurred. She has learned to play the game better than when she started. That improvement is a slow, inconsistent, and invisible process. But all readers (and there are still some of you out there) who at one point struggled at Magmadar only later to kill C’Thun, Illidan, and The Lich King need no further proof that somewhere along the way, somehow, they got better at WoW.”

There are a lot of very valid and important points and suggestions being made in this essay. I’d never considered the extent to which the point grind has changed WoW – I knew it was the major change since TBC, but not quite what that did to the overall curve of the game. And their points on fear, random character death and enjoyability really ring true in my feelings about WoW, LoTRO (which still has plenty of “argh – dead” moments), and other MMOs of the minute.

Cynwise, meanwhile, has been following the discussion about gear as it develops, and ties a lot of the points being made together, in a lengthy post contrasting the WoW PvE and PvP models

“The problems in PvP gear are between seasons – of rapid gear deflation, of no carry-over of value from one tier to the next.

The problems in PvE appear to be struggles to combine both a random and consistent gear reward model, with neither working well together. Changing from one tier to the next isn’t really an issue.

There aren’t a lot of easy answers here. It’s not like you can just say, points are the problem in PvE. Badge gear served a purpose, and if you take it away, then that task – providing catchup gear for raiders who struggled with the previous tier – still remains. If you leave that in there, then guilds will remain stuck in a single raid. (Now, you may ask: is that a bad thing? I am unqualified to answer that.)”

I found Cynwise’s bullet point comparisons particularly helpful here, as someone who’s very familiar with the PvE model but not so much the PvP model. Notably, the points he makes that only PvP rewards skill with more/better loot, and gives out loot for the same tasks it’s used for both seemed very apposite to the ongoing conversation.

If there’s a flavour of the overall WoW dialog this quarter, it’s “what went wrong?”, and that discussion seems to be narrowing in on difficulty. Gear is a new addition to the conversation, and I really look forward to everyone’s opinions – let us know what you think, and if you make a blog post about this, either comment or mention us in the post (we’ll see it as a trackback) to let us know we should follow your words too!

So – what DO you think?

Quotes taken directly from their respective posts.