Where Diablo 3 is Missing Out
Updated: Sep 2, 2019
This post is not an attack on Diablo. Quite the opposite: it’s a suggestion from a designer to a game he loves.
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.
And it’s a slot machine where even the “losing” rolls pay out, whether it’s gold, gems, crafting pages, or even just XP. But that’s not why we play. We’re here for the jackpots: the Rare items, the Set items, or better yet, the Legendary.
I won’t get into the balancing of the existing loot system or its relation to the economy of the (now defunct) auction house. 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I’d like to suggest that the current loot system is outdated because it doesn’t cater enough to the completely online, server-backed world.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.
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.
That’s it. It’s really quite simple, but it would be an incredibly powerful mechanic. There’s a reason that progressive slot machines are so popular. Diablo doesn’t even have to give away money! It only has to give away data, which makes it easy to have plenty of these linked jackpots.
Here are some details about how it would work:
Mythical Tier. There is a new tier of items above Legendary. This new tier is Mythical.
Hard Limits. Each Mythical item has a limit to how many can exist across all servers at any given time. (E.g. – If all 20 of The Spine of Anu have dropped, then it will no longer drop for anyone.)
Number Labels. Each Mythical item is labeled with its “number,” (e.g. 6 of 20). Its number is the order it dropped in. This makes the scarcity real and apparent, and would drive demand.
Drop Timeouts. Each Mythical item has a timeout on the server. If one drops, another of the same Mythical item may not drop until the timeout passes.
Tailored Stats. Mythical items are crafted toward specific classes, with only "good" combinations of stats. If a Mythical item drops for you, it is guaranteed to be for your class.
For example, the hovertip for a Mythical sword might look like this. Imagine if this dropped in your game:
You’d want a nice spread of these items. Some lower level, some higher level, many for the end game. Some should have low counts to create extreme demand (e.g. – there’s only 1 World Cutter sword, and it says so). Some should have moderate counts. And others should have higher counts, on the order of 10K, such that most players at least have a hope of glimpsing one of the Mythical items in their time playing, whether it’s in the auction house, on a friend, or if they’re lucky, as a drop in their own game.
Okay, so what are the benefits of this design?
1. Creates Unprecedented Demand and Motivation
Merely by stating how many of the item will ever exist, it makes the true value of the item crystal clear. This is guaranteed scarcity. Players will know that the game won’t ever manufacture more and thus deflate their value.
Think of baseball cards. The famous 1909 Honus Wagner T206 card which sold to Wayne Gretzky for $2,800,000 is valuable not just because Wagner was one of the best players of all time, but also because the card is extremely rare, and always will be. We are guaranteed that the universe won’t print more than the original run of a few hundred.
Just as baseball cards become more valuable as fewer remain, I’d consider buffing the stats of all of the remaining copies of Mythical items each time one of them is sold to a vendor, or, heaven forbid, salvaged for blacksmithing parts. 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. 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.
This would all work in any multiplayer online game with loot. But it feels perfect for Diablo 3. It’s time to forge new territory in loot. I believe in this so strongly that if I worked for Blizzard, I would be championing this concept with such enthusiasm that they’d have to tear away my pom-poms by force.
Have I convinced you of the value of such items to the design? What do you think?