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Star Wars: The Old Republic Column: 'Welfare Epics'

By Michael Bitton on August 03, 2011

Last week, we reported on a story that shed some light on BioWare’s current approach to loot distribution in Operations. Differing somewhat from other games on the market, BioWare’s approach involves granting all players an individual loot container at the end of a key Operation encounter. These containers will offer a chance at class-specific gear. Even in the absence of desired loot, the containers will, at the very least, contain commendations that can be traded for class-specific loot at appropriate vendors. Think Warhammer Online’s ‘PQ Bags,’ though there is no word on whether there will be different quality containers based on contribution level.

Reaction to this news was surprisingly (mostly) positive. I say “surprisingly”, maybe because I’ve become a bit of a cynic in my old age, but more due to the fact that (and I say this with love) you guys (TOR fans) some of you guys will cry bloody murder over just about anything. Granted, there are quite a few people up in arms about this as well, decrying BioWare’s position as a continuation of World of Warcraft’s ‘welfare epics.’ For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, players in World of Warcraft are able to acquire epic quality items a great deal easier than in games of yore, and this contemporary approach to endgame gear has garnered a significant amount of disdain from many old-school MMO fans.

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I do understand the position of gamers who took great pride in the time and effort they put into acquiring awesome gear in games past, but at the same time, the genre has broadened and the demographic is getting older. If a AAA studio is going to spend a significant amount of time and money on developing raid content for their game, they are going to want more than 5-10% of their player base to be able (and willing) to experience it, and frankly, there are a lot of barriers to raiding as it is. The days of raiding being an activity generally exclusive to those with copious amounts of time and patience aren’t realistic anymore, especially given the time and cost of developing the content.

Many of us have jobs, families, and the like, so setting aside a solid chunk of hours every week to participate in a raid can be challenging enough, but to come away from that with pretty much nothing for it? It plain sucks, especially on those runs where it’s a real slog. I realize there are systems that help ensure that committed raiders get their gear (such as DKP), but none of them are perfect and there will inevitably be ‘loot drama’ nonetheless. The loot containers sound like a great solution to me; I still get to experience the ‘random drop’ effect of loot, but don’t have to worry about someone rolling on it for their off-spec or any of the other ‘fun’ loot drama. If I come out with crappy luck and my container offers me nothing but commendations? Well, at least I got something for my time!

BioWare’s current system doesn’t inherently impact your ability to put in significantly more effort than other gamers and come out with better rewards, it simply rewards people for their time spent participating in endgame content. Heck, even if you take World of Warcraft as an example, you had legendary items such as Shadowmourne, which really took a good deal of effort to acquire. There are still ways to reward the most hardcore players for their efforts, while giving us lesser beings a viable path of gear-based progression for our characters post level-cap. I have no idea if BioWare will offer legendary items like Shadowmourne for the really hardcore to chase, but if they do I think we can all co-exist peacefully.                

What are your thoughts on the ‘loot containers’ approach? Let us know in the comments below!

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