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Static Rewards, Static Avatars

Neil Thompson Posted:
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Static Rewards, Static Avatars

Editorial by Neil Thompson

Over the last couple of years I have noticed a trend in most online games. EverQuest 2, World of Warcraft, Dungeons and Dragons Online to name but a few, all have the same problem: the player characters all look the same.

I'm not talking about their faces (though the differences here are mostly negligible too). I am talking about the way they dress. It seems to me that everyone is shopping at the same tailor/blacksmith. Take a tour around any game and you will notice that players of similar levels are usually dressed identically.

Years ago there was a game that played host to thousands of players at any one time and wandering around you would see a wide variety of fashions, none of which impeded the gameplay for the players. This game was Ultima Online, and eventually even this game succumbed to the disease that seems to be taking over the MMORPG industry - the disease of 'static loot'.

"Static loot," I hear you say, "but how else am I supposed to guarantee that I get my ridiculously uber sword of kills everything?" Please note the imaginative use of my bold function; you see this is the crux of the problem. We want everything given to us.

We hate to see other people our level that are at an advantage due to having better gear, it's that old human emotion kicking in, the green eyed Hydra of greed and jealousy.

I can see why the developers have introduced this system, to balance the rift between hardcore powergamers and the casual gamer. The system is meant to keep everything fair by allowing everyone access to the same equipment. Well, guess what? It's not fair.

Before I go on let me clarify that I am not a powergamer, I don't have the time to farm boss mobs for items. I am a casual gamer. Right, let us return to why it is not fair that we all have access to the uber equipment so easily. Powergamers put more into the game and casual gamers do not, simple as that. I know the argument against this of course, we all pay the same monthly fee and should therefore all have access to all the content the game has to offer.

Let's look at it from another perspective; we are all farmers ploughing our land, planting crops etc. All our farms are perfectly equal in size and quality, the only difference is while you are out tending your crops I am out socialising, enjoying life while you toil away. Harvest comes around and we all harvest our crops and I notice that my yield is a lot smaller than yours, why is that? I'm sure I don't need to spell out the answer but as this is a word processor I guess I will have to - you put more effort than I did.

It's also this way with powergamers but because developers usually try to pander to everyone games are produced with 'features' such as static loot. What does this mean to the games that we all love?

Well, as already mentioned it leads to everyone looking the same. Take a class in any of the earlier mentioned games and you will find that there is an optimum equipment progression through the levels and to be accepted into a group, especially in higher level raids, you need to show you can do the job better than the next man and that meant the best equipment, the problem is that everyone is wearing it.

Maybe it comes from living in a world driven by capitalist market forces but games all seem to be very item-centric, usually to the detriment of all else, such as community and *gasp* roleplay.

I'm sorry to hark back to Ultima Online again, I know it happens often, but I think that game had it right. There were very few Weapons of Uberness and player crafted goods were often, if not usually of better quality. This led to probably the best player economy I have ever experienced. With static loot, especially where the items are level restricted, economies suffer greatly as no-one needs player crafted weapons and armour.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we should try harder to make our online characters as individual as we are, after all, in the words of Morpheus they are: "A digital representation of our virtual selves". No-one likes be one of the crowd, all I ask is for developers to come up with better quest reward systems than static loot.

Take the item-centric attitude from games and you are given much more freedom, look at City of Heroes as an example. This kind of versatility without affecting your gaming prowess is how it should be done.

On a final note I would like to point out that even though I realise that playing a MMORPG requires a certain suspension of belief and reality I find it slightly ridiculous that everyone in a game has the same magic items, to the point where the only way to remain unique is to use a standard weapon/armour set.

I'm sure someone out there has a new idea of how quests can be made attractive t players without the offering of uber items. I personally have never had the best equipment in any game I have played, I play for the enjoyment, but the fact that many people see this as a requirement does impact on my gameplay experience.


Neil Thompson