Harkening back to your younger years, I’m sure many of you readers remember fondly that heightened sense of wonder, mystery, and anticipation as you ripped open a fresh booster pack for your favorite collectible card game. The thrill of not knowing what the pack contained combined with the elation of getting to sift through your new cards once you did finally open it was an experience unlike any other and now it seems certain game developers are aiming to recapture that same feeling through random loot drops in their games. But how well do such systems hold up?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when random loot drops began appearing in games but I’d imagine it’s safe to say the rudimentary foundation of such systems began with random dungeon loot in MMOs such as Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. For those who may not indulge in MMO games as much as others, many MMO titles feature small instanced pieces of content often called “dungeons” or slightly larger versions called “raids” which host a number of boss characters the players must defeat. When bested, the boss drops a few pieces of loot which are determined from a larger set list.
The catch is that while the list of potential loot a given boss can drop is quite large, the boss will only drop a few pieces of loot each time, encouraging players to run that particular dungeon or raid multiple times until the loot they want drops. As an added wrinkle, many MMOs also use a random-number lottery system to determine which player gets which piece of loot so just because the item you want drops doesn’t necessarily mean you’re guaranteed to get it. Such systems, while fair in premise, have been vocally bemoaned countless times and, in some cases, can be exploitable which further infuriates more loot-driven players.
More recently, random loot systems have also been crossing over into non-MMO/console games, one popular example being BioWare’s Mass Effect 3. For the threequal’s much-praised multiplayer mode BioWare and publisher EA came up with an interesting rewards strategy: as players completed objectives and earned in-game credits, they could spend said credits on various “packs” of items which contained a randomized assortment of weapons, mods, characters, and temporary boosts. While more expensive packs had a higher chance of containing rare items, a typical player had no idea what they were getting until they’d already forked their credits over. Sound familiar?
While Mass Effect 3’s random loot system was exciting at first, even going so far as to successfully recapture the same novelty of cracking open a fresh booster pack of collectible cards, the novelty began to wear off as BioWare released more and more content for the game’s multiplayer and, by consequence, bloated the number of available items to a point where trying to get a specific item either required a lot of luck, a lot of credit grinding, or a lot of real-life money to burn (packs could also be bough with real currency).
Overkill’s even more recent heisting sequel Payday 2 also contains a random loot system and, much like Mass Effect 3’s, it accomplishes its goal with mixed results. Upon successful completion of a heist, a player can pick from one of three “loot cards.” These cards can award anything from new weapon mods or masks, new color schemes and patterns for a player’s mask, or even cash bonuses.
The problem is in how this system ties into the rest of a player’s inventory management; new guns can automatically be unlocked just by leveling up but weapon mods for a particular gun must first be unlocked through loot cards and, even after being unlocked, must still be purchased. Finding a weapon mod through loot cards also only grants one “stock” of that mod which means even if it’s compatible for more than one gun it can only be used once before it has to be found through loot cards *again*.
While random loot systems can serve as a great way to keep players hooked, they also come with their fair share of caveats. But what do you all think loyal VGU readers? Do you enjoy grinding through content in the hopes of getting that one piece of loot you’ve always wanted? Or do you care little for systems that often reward your hard work with items you don’t even need/want? Should random loot systems become more prevalent? Or should game developers focus on other ways to keep players coming back? Sound off in the comments below and be sure to hit us up on Facebook, Twitter, and Raptr.