Friday, April 24, 2009

Loot: Incentives vs. Rewards


Here we go again. 10-man vs. 25-man raiding deathmatch, GO!

If you want to know the details of what I'm about to go off about, read this thorough and intelligent article by Allison Robert with which I disagree violently. Though I think she's wrong, I appreciate that her article was very respectful to the other camp and written in a thoughtful and intelligent manner that strove for objectivity. She made it possible for me to understand and empathize with the other side, and is the strongest presenter of these arguments I have seen. Of course, usually these arguments are accompanied by "lol 10manz r 4 nubcakez roflmayo". :)

To summarize: Allison argues that 25-mans are more difficult to organize, and therefore if they offer the same loot as a 10-man, players will rationally choose to run 10-mans exclusively, killing 25-man raiding. She considers an incentive necessary to make 25-man raiding desireable. On that point, I don't think she's wrong. My quarrel is with the details, and mainly the degree.

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First, I want to get the "difficulty argument" out of the way so we can focus on talking about loot. Some believe 10-mans are harder, some believe 25-mans are harder. For the sake of this discussion, let's declare a temporary truce and assume the two instances are of similar difficulty.

The main disconnect I have with Allison's article is a perspective on loot as an incentive vs. a reward. Allison argues that Blizzard should use loot to incentivize desired behaviors, so that players, acting in their own rational self-interest (as I agree they tend to try to do) will want to choose the behavior Blizzard finds desireable. Being an incentive has always been a part of how loot works.

However, the other function of loot is as a reward for performance. I say performance rather than time because we are talking about raiding loot, and no amount of time invested in a raid boss is going to get you a reward unless you can perform at at least the minimal level necessary to actually down the boss and loot it.

Loot only makes sense as a reward when the reward is commensurate with the challenge and required investment of the task. More challenging bosses and instances should give stronger rewards. If they don't, then the reward aspect of loot breaks down. And it's all relative: every use of your time in game will be compared to others.

To use a simple example: let's say I have two quests that are mutually exclusive. One offers 10g for doing 2000 dps on a dummy for a minute. The other one offers 500g for doing 2500 dps on a dummy for a minute.

Yes, the second one is harder. But the rewards are so out of whack that suddenly, I don't feel very rewarded for doing the 2000 dps one. The designer would have succeeded in making everyone want to do the latter, but they could also achieve incentive by offering, say 20g instead of 500g. Going too far throws the reward structure out of balance.

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If we look at loot as a reward, and claim (as Allison agrees) that the main challenge of 25-mans over 10-mans is organizational, then the only rational conclusion is that if there is better loot, it should only go to the raid leaders, who are handling all of the organization. It should not be available to the 20 other people in the raid who had no hand in organizing.

So right there, by having a full tier higher loot available to the entire 25-man raid, we are simultaneously:

1) perverting the idea of rewards, and
2) failing at the stated goal of incentivizing

in two ways at once, by both giving something for nothing and by giving the same reward to the Organizers as we give to the Organized. If the Organizer is the only one doing extra work, but the entire raid reaps the loot, then it fails as both a reward and an incentive.

Consider the current difference in rewards between 10- and 25-mans. The following are only available in 25-man raids:

1) Loot is a full tier higher, and even more for weapons. That's a 13 iLevel difference for armor and a 19 iLevel difference for weapons.
2) Access to a Legendary (and the accompanying fun questline)
3) Patterns for high-end BoE gear
4) Crafting materials for that gear (Runic Orbs)

So yes, they've got the incentive aspect covered. There are lots of reasons to run 25-mans even if they are harder to organize. But they've overshot on the reward aspect. As you can see, there is a massive difference in rewards between the raid sizes, even though the main added challenge is simply organizational.

Yes, I'm aware that 25-mans are tuned for gear a tier higher, but that's incidental because they are supposed to be two different tracks. We are going on the assumption that actually playing through Uld 25 in Naxx 25 gear is about as difficult as playing through Uld 10 in Naxx 10 gear. If we change the rewards, we can change the tuning at the same time to balance it.

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We were told that 10-man raiding was meant to be a viable alternative path. Right now it's a ghetto for "casual losers", due to the reward structure. The devs have stated that they want both paths to be viable, but they have created such a massive incentive difference and reward disparity that's NOT commensurate with difficulty, that they thoroughly undermine their own ability to create two comparable tracks, making 25-man the only "real" option.

Ghostcrawler has argued that the devs aren't sure there is demand for 10-man hard modes. They don't seem to think that there are enough serious 10-man raiding groups to justify focusing on supporting that content. It's scary how willfully blind that stance makes them sound. GC talks about how incentives are necessary or 25-man raiding will "die", and then completely ignores that very point when considering 10-man raiding:

Of course few serious raiders are interested in the raid with crappy rewards!

It's by your own design, GC! Incentivize it, and they will come!

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As stated by Ghostcrawler and acknowledges by Allison, equalizing loot between the raid sizes would necessitate shared raid lockouts (meaning you can't run Uld 10 the same week as Uld 25, etc.). The current implementation and this new one each have their own pros and cons. Allison makes a strong argument that shared lockouts would be bad, most compellingly because they reduce the number of options. She says that players won't feel as free to help fill out pugs or friend's raids, for instance, and she's right.

I think that particular objection is alleviated by the large number of separate instances available, which will only increase with time. If you are saved to Ulduar 25, you can still go to Naxx 10, OS 25, VoA 10, and EoE 25 that week. You still have 4 other raid lockouts. Not to mention that most people who play enough to actually want to raid the same place twice a week would probably have an alt at 80 capable of filling that slot anyway. Sure, we lose some options, but the harm here seems pretty darn minimal.

In the case of raid lockouts, we have to look at which is worse: a slight constriction on available raids per character, or a breakdown of the raid loot reward system. I think the pros of shared lockouts heavily outweigh the cons.

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Right now, we have a situation where 25-mans are over-incentivized, wreaking havoc on the Reward Balance and "killing" serious 10-man raiding in the same way that it's feared that loot equalization would kill 25-man raiding.

The solution? Don't put the best loot out of reach for 10-man groups, just make it take more time and accomplishment to earn. For example, instead of having the Legendary pieces ONLY drop in 25-man, have them drop at a much, much lower rate in 10-man.

That way, the incentive for 25-man is that you get geared up much faster and a bit more easily. The only way to get the first Frostmourne on the server is to do 25-mans. The fastest route to profit off of patterns and Runic Orbs is 25-mans. The fastest way to get geared is 25-mans.

If the challenge is organizing more people, then reward them with more loot to give out. Don't reward them with exclusive access to legendaries, patterns, crafting mats, and an entire tier of gear above what is available in 10-mans. Right now, Blizzard has overshot and offered too much incentive to do 25-mans.

I believe we can have this compromise and meet in the middle: make the best ilevel gear, as well as the perks (legendaries, patterns, etc), available in some way to 10-mans, while still making the organizational headaches of 25-mans pay off, and keep people interested. With my plan, 25-man raids get all the best stuff faster and first, even though they don't have exclusive access to it. Isn't that enough incentive? I think so. If you don't, then take an honest look at it and ask yourself: are 25-mans worth saving at all if they require such a large incentive that it warps the entire reward structure?


[edit: I want to clarify that final point a little. I'm not arguing that 25-mans aren't worth saving - I wholeheartedly believe they are. I'm arguing that they don't require so much incentive to get people to do them. I was mainly trying to point out that the 25-man-first crowd defeats themselves when they argue that 25-man raiding will die without this big an incentive. If you require an entire tier of gear plus perks to justify the activity, do you yourself think it is worth doing at all? If you support 25-mans, then you should be in support of reducing the reward disparity because you know that you will still do 25-mans even if they only give you a relatively small advantage.]

4 comments:

Ixobelle said...

i have to chime in here, and I hate to do it, but jesus christ on a cracker, I ran 10 man naxx for the first time in a LONG while, and it was so retardedly easy and BORING that I wanted to kill myself. It felt like an UBRS run from back in vanilla wow.

not that 25 man is 'harder', but there's just more going on. I've got to say after running it last week, I don't see a single reason to EVER join another ten man naxx run. I honestly don't see the point in doing heroics either, so I'm probably just lazy.

As a healer, there seriously wasn't enough damage being taken to heal, and when I'd pop to holy, a single button affected 60% of the raid.

that's a huge point, and needs to be taken into consideration fully. Circle of Healing, an instant cast heal with a 6 second cooldown, that hits 6 targets (glyphed), INTELLIGENTLY (who needs the heal the worst), out of a 10 man raid. It's retarded. Prayer of healing, which isn't intelligent, but now can be cast on either of the two groups, heals half the raid. Prayer of Mending is bopping around ALSO. It's like I had nothing left to do.

In a 25 man, at least CoH only affects... uhh.. 6/25= less than a quarter of the raid (24%), not MORE THAN HALF. Prayer of healing now is a 5 man chunk of your choosing, but now that's 20% of the raid, instead of half. It certainly gives you more to DO, and more that can go wrong.

I fully agree with you on this point hatch, you know that, but they HAVE to do something about shit liek this, or the argument starts to fall apart. As a DPSer, you don't notice it, but I think tanks, and heals especially 'feel' the ten man difference a lot more intensely.

Ixobelle said...

... forgot to include:

kara FELT like a ten man run. It was designed to be that, and nothing more. Naxx ten feels empty. Doing live and undead sides on gothik just feels silly when you only have like 3 people on one side. that's less than a 5 man group, and this is supposed to be a raid.

the trimming from 40 down to ***TEN*** is ridiculous there.

Brent Michael Krupp said...

That doesn't make any sense, Ixo. Of course 10-man Naxx feels easy -- you're utterly overgeared and it was easy in the first place. The point is that it is slightly easier than even 25-man, at least at an appropriate gear level.

Organization-wise, 10-man can have more problems because you need to make an effort to get required raid buffs but a 25-man raid pretty easily has them all.

I don't have a problem with 25-man having slightly better loot but Hatch is totally right that the disparity is far, far too large right now.

Hatch said...

I get what you are saying about CoH, Ixo, but I think it balances out because the number of healers changes. Let's say you only have CoH priests healing, for point of argument:

10-man group has 3 healers, able to coh 18 targets, in theory.

25-man group has 7 healers, able to coh 42 targets

2.5 x 18 = 45. So CoH has a slight advantage in 10-man groups, but it's minor. Then consider the fact that a 25-man raid is far more likely to have 6 people in range who all need a heal at once. Thinking to the Ulduar fights, I can't think of a time when CoH could hit more than 3 people at once anyway.

Though a *single person* can affect a larger percentage of the raid in a 10-man, the same *percentage of players* (2.5 healers vs 1 healer) have a similar effect in 25-mans.

And while a single person can be more effective in a smaller setting, what I keep hearing from my healers is that they also feel an increased burden. Provided all of the healers are decent, my healers find 25-mans vastly easier to heal because there are 4 extra people to pick up the slack when you are busy. But that may be just them.

On the other hand, I hear PoH is nucking futs and in line for some serious fixin'.


That particular point aside, I think there is room for both types of raiding. I just think the difference in rewards is too big right now. I enjoy the close social interaction I get with my 10-man group, but I've been to enough 40 and 25 man raids to appreciate the epic feel, and sometimes increased urgency, of a larger group. To you the 10-man feels empty, to me the 25-man feels crowded, and both are valid.

I wish the choice was "epic feel and more gear vs. more intimate setting", rather than "You can get gear or you can do a 10-man, but you can't do both". I want the choice to be between 10 and 25 man on their own merits, not between (exclusive access to a tier of) gear vs my friends.