Friday, January 18, 2008

Drama by Design

You ever have one of those moments where you realize that very little of the in-game mechanics, and the dramatic results of those mechanics, happen by accident? Despite all the stuff you hear about people hating on Blizz, or saying the designers are dumb, they really do know what they're doing. Success on the scale they've achieved does not happen by accident.

I had just such a moment last night, when a situation reminded me that, although I would like something in the game to be different, I think they've specifically engineered a situation that's bound to generate drama.

Lets face it, the majority of humanity is addicted in one way or the other to drama. Sure, there's a tiny few who are internally peaceful and have found spiritual creaminess. But the rest of us are trainwrecks that have already happened or are at least waiting to happen, and although we say we want less drama, we're constantly drawn back to it like a magnet.

Last night, I was a lvl 10 Druid, questing in Teldrassil. On my way to Darnassus to start the Bear Form quests, I saw a guy on general channel asking for help with a quest in a cave that I also need. I remember this quest from Amava's younger days, and its a pain with tons of mobs packed together and stupid fast respawn rate.

Sure, lets roll. And pick up another guy at the entrance to the cave. 3 Druids, lol.

With the 3 of us, we can just rock and roll through the cave, with not much need for downtime. This quest unfortunately requires 4 items scattered through out the cave, plus you get a 2-step quest that starts inside the cave. So lots of random running around, lost the whole time.

I notice that there's lots of Malachite and other similar items dropping. I'm rolling greed on everything. I was trying to push the speed of the group a bit, so I wasn't paying attention. A little while later, I do notice out of the corner of my eye that one guy is winning all the drops. So I look and see he's rolling need.

Ok, I could care less about the couple silvers that a Malachite would net. Moody is carrying a Platinum Visa card, co-signed by her big sister, so no big deal.

I told the guy the basics of need/greed/pass rolling. No response. 2 need rolls later, I told him he's stealing the loot from us by consistently rolling need. He had a great attitude, and said he didn't know, which I suspected was the case. He tried giving me the stuff, I passed, and told him that he should keep that in mind going forward, and if he helps spread the word for standard usage of PUG need/greed rolling, that'll be payment enough.

He was cool, the other two of us were cool, we moved on. No other rollies dropped, so I'm not sure if he got the point or not, but all was cool.

Drama dodged. But, I could clearly see the potential for drama if anybody in the party was a hot head. Amava ran into just such a hot head situation when she was a little girl and never saw a need/greed dialogue box before.

My initial thought was "Blizz should include something very early on, such as a mandatory quest that illustrates Need/Greed principle in a party of you and 2 other NPC's or something, so you see the roll acted out, rather than in text quest or some other mechanism." I figured something like that would help eliminate the drama that comes, not from a guy being a loot ninja, but just uninformed as to wtf need/greed even means.

I remember starting out on Amava, I just thought the two buttons were to allow you to seed the random number generator, and so you just pick which ever one you were in the mood for, and in the end, it was all random. A party member took offense, and said in rather unpleasant language what he thought of my rolling technique. I learned through some drama, as the rest of the party explained to me why he dropped out of the party in a huff. Granted, training will not protect you from actual ninjas, but it will reduce drama that stems from ignorance rather than malice.

Then I got to thinking. Blizz has probably had hundreds of design discussions, brainstorming sessions, focus groups, and behavioral studies on this exact subject of what the default group loot distribution policy should be, and how to introduce players to that policy/mechanism.

I'm willing to bet you a copper that they specifically leave it obscure enough to ensure that there'll be suitable drama to feed our addiction and keep us logging back in. And they're banking on the general human nature to have at least one hot-head in any random grouping of people.

And then my mind started wandering to the concept of what Organizational Behavior specialists or Group Psychology experts they have on staff, and how interesting it woud be to sit in on some of those discussions on how to provide in-game experiences that can be excellent if used by a group of co-operative, openly communicating individuals; but put in the hands of your average group of strangers, or poor communicators, and you have dynamite in your hands. Diabolical, I tell you. That's a job I'd love :-) (as long as they don't block me from my WoW sites during the day).

Now time for my own brainstorming session on what other things might be specifically engineered to allow human drama to fully blossom, rather than providing in-game tools that help reduce it. Perhaps more to come on this topic.


Ess said...

The first time I saw that box pop up, I actually thought the system was going to roll for me somehow, and I had no idea that I was supposed to make a decision. I just waited until the timer ran out... ho-hum... Someone commented in one of my blogs that they initially rolled "need" all the time because to them, greed was the stronger emotion.

Some kind of quest/tip to explain the need/greed/pass system would be nice, though different groups use the system in different ways, so maybe Blizzard doesn't want to dictate one specific way. Drama does seem inevitable where looting is concerned though, and confusion about the rolling system makes it worse.

Amava said...

That's exactly my point in the post. Loot is a subject that there really is no way to completely remove drama, no matter how fancy your system for managing it is.

By providing an obscure method, Blizz invites additional drama through basic confusion about how the system even works or what it does. And rather than asking for a change to this to reduce the confusion (thus leaving only the remaining drama over the actual loot), I'm acknowlaging the fact that I think Blizz does it on purpose, and therefore would not want to change anything.

I actually thought at first that you were supposed to pick "am I feeling needy? or am I feeling greedy?" and all it did was to provide you some feeling of "influence" over a totally random roll. I had no idea that one trumped the other.

Valdesta said...

It's kinda like what my understanding of a pre-much-government society would be like - humans formulate their own rules and regulations, and then it's social mores or eventually government that makes sure everyone obeys them.

Drama cannot be avoided with humans, because I do agree, we as humans are attracted to drama, and thus will always find it.

WoWGrrl player blog

Valdesta said...

Heh, I went back and searched my manual to see what they said about the whole Rolling thing, and they only explained what the different loot options were - group, free for all, and master loot (need vs greed wasn't even there), but didn't touch the rolling information at all.

I also learned that Soulstones used to give resurrection sickness when used, just like when you rez'd at the spirit healer. Glad they changed that!

WoWGrrl player blog