I love Diablo 3. I loved Diablo 2. (Perhaps I’m in love with Diablo in a geeky, game-designer-sort-of way.) And I have incredible respect for the Diablo team. Not only are the Diablo games incredibly fun, but I remember having an epiphany about Diablo 2 that ended up influencing many of my personal design philosophies over the past 10 years. It was an epiphany about the nature of Diablo, and it lies at the heart of this post.
Diablo is a game about collecting loot. It always has been, and always will be. It’s a glorified slot machine with incredibly satisfying feedback.
I won’t get into the balancing of the existing loot system or its relation to the economy of the auction house (an interesting and somewhat controversial discussion of that here). It’s a great topic, but instead, I want to offer a new way to excite and motivate players through loot.
I’d like to suggest that the current loot system is outdated because it doesn’t cater enough to the completely online, server-backed world. It’s a single player loot system rearing its head in a multiplayer game through the auction house.
Currently, everyone can find any loot in the game with the right luck. There is no history. It doesn’t matter who has already found what, or how much has been found. In other words, there is no concept of everyone competing for the same incredible jackpot. (And I’m not saying there should be less loot; I’m saying there should be more. Read on.)
Here’s how I suggest taking advantage of the online setting:
Create a new tier of items: items which are limited across all servers.
Here are some details about how it would work:
Okay, so what are the benefits of this design?
For fun, here are the parallels I see between baseball cards and Diablo loot:
Baseball player = Item stats
Card condition = Item stat variance
Card find rate in card packs (or in cigarette packs) = Item drop rate
Card print run = Limit to how many of the item will ever exist. (This is the void that Mythical items fill.)
Displaying the scarcity also shifts the item from having only functional value to suddenly having value in its mere existence. Everyone can eventually gear up in Legendary items, so there’s little vanity to be had in the end game here. But few will ever have a single Mythical item, let alone multiple. They become collectors' items. A mere number label creates value out of thin air.
3. End Game
Mythical items put a face on the unattainable. Rather than thirsting for the vague notion of a “slightly better Legendary item,” you can now thirst for a Mythical item – any Mythical item at all. It’s the ultimate jackpot, and there are enough out there that you can taste them.
We know we will come across Legendary items. But we don’t know we’ll ever touch a Mythical item. The fantasy of the mythical is more alluring than the promise of the tangible.
4. Money for Blizzard and Players.
With the nearing advent of the real currency auction house, Blizzard stands to make a few good dollars on such rare items along with their finders. How much would a one-of-a-kind Mythical amulet sell for? Have you heard of the Chinese gamer who spent $16,000 on a unique sword for an MMO… before the game was even launched? Imagine how much he would have spent if he’d been playing the game for a year first. With over 10 million Diablo copies sold, I’m sure there are a few players with heaps of money and nothing to spend it on.
5. Community, Lore, and Gossip.
The other purpose of having items this scarce (and that flaunt their scarcity so well) is to create an endless chatter about them on blogs, on forums, and in the media. These items would become lore for the community. Wikis would track which ones have been found and who owns them and when they swap hands. Stories about who was there when a Mythical item dropped would be told and retold over countless lunches with friends and coworkers. (To fuel the fire, I’d even design an in-game notification that occasionally gets sent to all online players when someone finds any Mythical with a "print run" of 20 or fewer.)
The press would also pick up on any item that breaks a new sales record by selling for thousands more US dollars than before. Mythical items would effectively help Diablo 3 market itself long after traditional marketing efforts wane.
Have I convinced you of the value of such items to the design? What do you think?