One of the more interesting things about video games is the multitude of different reasons why any one person may fall in love with a game. Most of them are fairly obvious involving emotional connections to characters or shared experiences with friends that also played the game. These are not unique to gaming;
any story based entertainment can garner the same sort of loving attention. However there are some very specific reasons that no other established media can have. Treasure hunting is one of the best examples. Not only because it’s unique to gaming but because it tugs at one of the basic human emotions, greed. I’m not talking ten commandments kill your best frien for a bar of gold greed, but the more modern greed involving making everyone you know jealous of what you have. You can ask any RPG player, one of the more satisfying parts of any RPG is to score an awesome item for your character that most people don’t have or won’t ever be able to get.
Not that this is something that started with the looting RPG’s (LRPG’s from here on). The original Dragon Quest involves the player acquiring a legendary sword and armor to have any real chance to beat the game, although it is possible to win without them. Most Final Fantasy games have secret items and summons that are not needed to advance but sure do make things easier. Most role playing games
before Blizzard took over the world had one or two elements involved which paved the way for the addictions that ensue on a nightly basis around the globe. Now it seems like any video game sneaks
in a looting element because of the success it has shown over the years. Not that it is unusual; copycatting from older media is something that has gone on for quite some time in all the entertainment industries.
But why is the model that Blizzard seemingly perfected with Diablo II so good? How come it causes so many people to spend countless hours and days of their life playing the same game again and again? The answer isn’t a simple one sentence observation of the human emotion; it is much too complex for that. For each person the answer is different. However I believe there are shared factors that grab the gamer’s attention and hold fast throughout the length of the game play and ensuing replays.
- Instead of solely rewarding players by having higher level characters gain better equipment you have the chance of getting some beefy stuff earlier than normal. Having this blatantly luck based allows for casual players not overly interested in playing hours and hours a day to grind for a specific item. They can play once or twice a week and still have a shot at getting whatever item they are looking for. Granted the more the player attempts to gain the item the better chance they will have, which doesn’t hurt the hardcore crowd. It is a great balance.
- Having a rarity scale for each different item class. One of the natural progressions in a LRPG is going from getting decent items to getting rare or ultra rare items. This changes the dynamic for the player preventing the looting from getting stale. Instead of having to check every single item every time to see if it’s better than what the player currently holds, the player can compare rarities without needing to delve deep into the statistical advantages of each item. Not only does this keep things fresh but saves time for a veteran player who knows what (s)he is looking for specifically.
- Unique items bring anyone who likes to have or do everything in a game to their knees in frustration. As an avid completionist (I made it up deal with it) I can say with certainty that playing any game like Diablo is like crack because of the sheer impossibility of ever getting all the unique and set items. The sirens call of trying to get that next piece of the set you are trying to complete or that one unique that will put your character over the top is impossible to ignore.
- Upgrading items with gems or rune or anything that requires permanent use brings even more variation. Instead of having to grind the same dungeon or boss again and again to gain the best item for your character build there are options. This coupled with the vast array of different possibilities of stat upgrades brings even more looting fun to the game. With all of the choices made available it is nearly impossible to find a character with the exact same equipment. Barring any hacking of course.
Once you add all of these factors up it becomes fairly easy to see why looting is such an advantageous game mechanic to use in any role playing game. The popularity of the games focused on looting attest to these points as well. Anything with heavy looting integrated into the game play does well in sales. It would not be unlikely for other genres to start implementing these tactics due to the heavy amounts of profit gained from successful titles using them. Borderlands already has started to dip into the looting without taking away from the main theme of the game. We may see within the next console generation a completely new game genre if things continue down this path.
Some may argue that this kind of game will inevitably bring downloadable content to most RPG titles, since charging a nominal fee to get some of the most exclusive items is easier to do than spending days to weeks trying to earn it through playing. While this may be true, without the fun of looting tied into gaining the best and rarest loot I don’t personally see much happening in that direction. The hardcore crowd would be the ones that would want to buy it. And the hardcore crowd would be the ones that want to loot forever for that same item. So there should be no real cause for concern.
So the next time you pull an unintentional all-nighter playing your favorite LRPG don’t beat yourself up too much about it. You are only one of millions that are addicted to getting that one last item you need to make your character amazing. Just make sure if you get the armor I was looking for to save it for me! Until next time gamers!