Extra Credits: The JC Penny’s Effect

This week, we examine the pros and cons of Firefall's loot system design.

Episode video is on YouTube

Show Notes:

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Recent Comments:

  • So really, JC pennys marketing showed really how stupid people/consumers really are. Nobody thinks, nobody cares. No wonder the game industry is in the many problems it is in.

    i don't know, i think thats like saying that clearly vulcans are much better than humans. Its not that one system is clearly better than another, but that the JC Penny system ignored the emotional side of shopping.

    Humans aren't stupid for valuing emotions.

  • So really, JC pennys marketing showed really how stupid people/consumers really are. Nobody thinks, nobody cares. No wonder the game industry is in the many problems it is in.

    i don't know, i think thats like saying that clearly vulcans are much better than humans. Its not that one system is clearly better than another, but that the JC Penny system ignored the emotional side of shopping. Humans aren't stupid for valuing emotions.


    Yet that is why you see people running over each other at christmas time to get a no name brand tv for 75% off because "Oh my goodness! I have to get it SAVE and "feel" good about myself."

  • Actually, why not have a system of both? In the monster hunter series you pretty much have a similar system, though there is a (sort of) mix of both. Not only do you get crafting materials drop at the end of a hunt, but potentially you could get trinkets that have their own stat boosts along with possibly being slotted.

    This means having more spots for decorations which means even more stat boosts. The kicker being that these can only be obtained by mining or by quests/drops.

  • So, I'm not sure why I react this way, but I find that upgrades feel better, which isn't quite the same. I think The Witcher (the first one) is the clearest example.

    Yes, it is possible to collect meteorite and forge a meteorite sword, but that never felt quite as good, for the reasons listed. On the other hand, being handed a new sword without working for it didn't feel especially great ever.

    Instead, you'd get ingredients which could be crafted (on the spot, if you like) into blade oils, which you could use to improve a weapon -- add some poison, temporarily sharpen it, etc. That is an immediate upgrade, if temporary -- it has the feeling of "I built this" that crafting gives, I can use it almost immediately, and I'm not throwing away my previous work -- I'm still using the same old blade I have been, it's just now covered in a bright blue grease and does extra poison damage.

    I think this is what Bioshock was originally going for with their weapon upgrade system. It'd be amazing to be able to pick up components, and then use them to tweak and customize my weapon to create something unique, rather than getting lucky and *finding* a randomized, unique, Borderlands-style weapon. Borderlands, most of the time, doesn't feel as good -- there's a lot of weapons that just end up getting thrown away or sold to a vendor, and I definitely feel better there if I'm saving up for something.

  • This was the episode that got me to join the community and give some feedback. Not to say that it's especially good, but like many EC episodes it sparked a lot of critical thought about my experiences in games and what systems I enjoyed the most.

    My experience has been that there's definitely an appeal that comes from killing an enemy to be immediately rewarded with an item. It's a crap shoot as to whether it will be applicable to your character, or an improvement over what you already have, but there's a sense of instant gratification that comes from seeing that shiny (purple, epic, rare, whatever you call it) appear. While Firefall's crafting materials drops are definitely more practical, and objectively more useful due to their flexibility, they give nothing in the way of instant gratification.

    A good pair of logical extremes that can be seen in popular gaming are Diablo and Minecraft. Diablo (looking at the series as a whole) clearly favors dropping whole, ready-to-use items, which were GREAT as long as they were items you or one of your characters could use. The obvious downsides were that you saw a LOT of junk drop, to the point where you often wouldn't even bother picking stuff up. D2 was guilty of this most of all, and prompted Blizzard to create crafting mechanics in D3 that allowed you to do something with all that junk loot.

    Minecraft is the complete opposite of this, as crafting is one of the core gameplay elements of the game. Rarely anything in the game drops whole, usable items, and instead any combat usually is rewarded with components that can then be crafted into usable items. While this is definitely more practical, and results in very little "junk" loot, it also contributes towards the very underwhelming feeling of accomplishment when you DO get a kill. Clearing a dungeon of baddies doesn't feel like much of an accomplishment, other than the totally randomized (and often tame) loot in the chest they may have been guarding. Couple that with the fact that you often had to return to a crafting area to make use of the crafting materials you gathered, and it makes the combat a lot less of a party, and more of a means to an end. The whole experience feels muted as a result.

    I feel like the answer, which more games are getting closer to as the industry moves forward, is a middle ground. Let monsters drop both items AND crafting materials, so that even if the items they drop aren't useful to you, you're guaranteed to get something you can use. And when items drop that you can use, you'll feel a great sense of accomplishment and see immediate tangible results!

    The suggestions in the episode were quite good as well, assuming Firefall wanted to keep the loot limited to crafting materials. Give the player some way of experiencing instant gratification, and they'll be okay with not getting sweet equipment drops from enemies. Maybe that means giving players the ability to craft anywhere? That, combined with the progress bar type setup mentioned in the episode, would make looting otherwise boring crafting materials pretty exciting I think.

    Another method that a lot of big-name RPG entries are heading in is to allow "salvaging" or "disenchanting" items to get usable crafting components out of what otherwise would be considered junk.

    One consideration for developers with regards to loot distribution (especially in big money MMOs) is the time it takes for a player to reach their maximum "gear level". Too much beneficial loot can lead to very drastic shifts in difficulty level, or drastically reduced playtime (because unfortunately timesinks are a thing that are often intentionally put into games).

    One game that I'm playing now that sort of has the same problem as Firefall is Mechwarrior Online. The game only rewards the player with C-Bills, which while entirely useful in many ways, is a very muted and underwhelming reward for strong performance. The tabletop game and many of the mechwarrior titles that preceded it were known to give players "salvage" items, which gave the player a bit of a surprise birthday present feel on top of whatever monetary reward they were already promised. It made victory that much more satisfying when you could salvage the PPC or even a whole mech that you had taken out in the fight. If MWO got something like that, it would make each match significantly more satisfying to win. Sadly, the game has to be monetized and relies on microtransactions of various sorts to bring in the revenue for the game, so it's unlikely that will happen. It also would bloat the economy drastically unless the losing team actually lost their mechs and equipment.

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