One of the most important things for the longevity of a game is the reward system. If your game isn’t rewarding enough, then people are going to tire quickly and find another game to play. This seemed to be the curse for Diablo 3’s initial release.
The problems with Loot 1.0
The completely random loot system made it such that you were unlikely to actually have good gear drop that was appropriate for your character. Instead, players often saved up gold until they could buy appropriate good gear on the auction house. In addition, everything dropped tons of low quality loot that people either realized was worthless and left on the ground, or would fill up players’ bags so quickly that gameplay was constantly interrupted with returns back to town to sell the nearly worthless items. This made the primary reward system of Diablo 3 stop feeling rewarding after a while.
The loot item level was also tied to the specific content. So, the easiest mode gave you gear that was lower level than the harder modes. This meant that many more casual players were often doing content where the gear wasn’t level-appropriate. My Wizard was often getting gear that was 10 levels below the level I actually was. This meant that nothing could actually drop that I could equip, but I would often die too much in the difficulty setting that was appropriate for my character. Since most of my gear was purchased from the auction house, anyway, there wasn’t any real reason for me to keep playing the game after a while, so I never hit max level on any characters in the game.
When I talked about World of Warcraft’s loot system a while back, I talked about how if the primary source of reward didn’t come from random drops, that WOW would get boring quickly. This is essentially what happened with Diablo 3. When you got too much bad loot from random drops, and your primary source of “good” loot came from buying things with gold, there wasn’t the excitement over wondering where your next upgrade would come from. You knew your next Diablo 3 gear upgrade would come when you earned enough gold to buy it from the auction house and what you wanted came on sale. That made the sense of adventure dissipate quickly – there wasn’t any sense of exploration to find fun rewards (unless that reward came from trying to farm things you could sell on the auction house to make lots of gold – but with fewer people to buy things as they got bored, this wasn’t sustainable either).
The fixes with Loot 2.0
The latest 2.0 patch for Diablo 3 came with a couple really important changes that make the game a lot more rewarding:
- Removal of the auction house means that your gear can’t primarily come from buying it with gold or real money. There are still vendors and crafting systems in the game, but your best items aren’t going to be what deals you score in the auction house. This also means you don’t have to waste time hunting for good loot deals on the auction house every time your character levels and you need better gear. This is incredibly important because this change allows for the following other changes to work:
- Gear is less random & more character-appropriate. It is more likely to drop items that are appropriate for your character. This means that a caster whose primary stat is intellect will primarily get intellect gear, and not strength gear. There are still some random items that could be given to your other characters, but the chances of getting great gear that is appropriate for your character was greatly increased.
- Gear is always level-appropriate. If you want to run the game on the normal-mode setting, you’ll no longer get gear that is 10 to 40 levels below your character’s current level. Instead, every difficulty level has a chance to drop things that are level-appropriate for your character. The higher difficulty settings, instead, reward you with things like increased rates of experience gain. This allows people to choose their own difficulty setting in a meaningful way, and allows you to choose your own adventure and still get appropriate rewards.
- Less “vendor trash” loot means you take fewer trips back to town that interrupts your game-play. Gear that drops always has a chance of being meaningful to you, so you aren’t being flooded with meaningless junk. Less meaningless junk means you won’t be tempted to leave things behind just to free up bag space, you can spend less time visiting your neighborhood vendors, and you can spend more time killing monsters. So, their philosophy of less loot overall, but more meaningful loot when it drops, means the game feels a heck of a lot more rewarding.
- More legendary items with more appropriate stats. Even low level characters are likely to see legendary items drop (I got one great legendary item within two hours of playing on a level 50 character). While still appropriately rare, legendary item drops provide a much more clear sense of reward and accomplishment, since they are less likely to be disappointing flops. Instead, you are more likely to want to equip them and show them off to your friends.
Speaking of friends, Rewards aren’t just about loot! The game now has a better social system in place. You can now join clans (kind of like being part of a guild in WOW) to be able to chat with your friends as you play. In addition, your friends in the clan can see some of your accomplishments, so that you are going to get more social rewards for things you accomplish in the game. Your friends can know what you are doing and send along congratulations when you get a really awesome legendary item.
So, if you picked up a copy of Diablo 3 and abandoned the game along the way, I think it is definitely time to take a second look. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more rewarding the game can feel when they have a more functional reward system. It turns out that you don’t actually need an auction house to buy gear if the gear you want is actually achievable along the way. I hear that the new expansion coming in a few weeks has other great features that is going to dial up the fun factor in other ways in terms of the content available to you. However, it takes a great designed reward system to make the game worth playing. I think they have now gotten closer to what we all wanted Diablo 3 to feel like from the beginning.
(I’ll get to talking more about WOW content once we know more specific changes to druid & mage spells for WOD. Hopefully “soon”).