For my first post in “developer topics” I thought I’d go into some depth responding to a recent suggestion posted in the Grim Dawn section of the titanquest.net forums. This suggestion, posted by yerkyerk described how the behavior of “farming” could be curbed by linking drop rates to experience gain.
When I first read it, I thought it was a really fantastic concept. It especially appealed to me because the approach epitomized one of the most important ideals of good design: simplicity and unobtrusiveness. It is an elegantly simple way to seamlessly change gameplay behavior without introducing in some arbitrary, ostensibly awkward new mechanic.
If we wanted to discourage or remove farming behavior, most notably boss runs, this would perhaps be the perfect way to do it. However, after considering this for a moment, I wondered if that was a behavior we really wanted to discourage.
I’m not sure the answer is as clear cut as it might seem. First let us consider why farming is perceived negatively.
An obvious complaint may be that the behavior of repeatedly running down the same path to kill the same enemy over and over again certainly does not make sense in the context of a real, believable world. As much as we may want to create believable, immersive worlds though, we have to keep in mind that gameplay and fun are the foremost considerations. So, if farming is an unintended but fun gameplay dynamic that has organically emerged in this genre, shouldn’t that supersede believability?
To that point though, it could be said that farming is not, in fact fun. It is something that players feel forced to engage in if they want to acquire the best items in the most efficient way possible. Repeated runs on the same boss are monotonous and boring. Wouldn’t the game be so much better if players could spend their time focused on just playing through the game normally?
I was about to suggest that perhaps farming is fun to a certain portion of players, however, I then realized that farming is probably not fun for anyone. That doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable though. Wait what?! Confused? This is probably fodder for a whole other discussion topic and at some point I’ll have to write about what I see as the difference between fun and enjoyment in games. In brief, I take enjoyment of gameplay to mean that you’ve come away from the experience with a positive feeling. It was pleasurable in some way. That could mean that it was outright fun or it could be another positive feeling such as satisfaction or accomplishment. For many players, doing runs on bosses makes them feel as though they are “getting ahead” in the game. We’re hardwired by nature to feel good when we believe we are doing things to advance ourselves / promote our well-being. Of course, collecting loot in an ARPG is probably the total opposite of personal advancement but, our brains don’t seem to know that. We perceive the collection of loot and advancement of our character as personal gain for ourselves and this tricks us into feeling satisfied. When we believe we are doing work above and beyond what might normally be expected, it increases this satisfying sense of accomplishment.
I personally have a low tolerance for monotony but I do like knowing that if my character is getting behind on the equipment curve and progress through the game is getting too difficult (especially in hardcore) that I can turn to farming as a way to bring my equipment up to par. This, in turn, makes me feel like I am facing a much greater challenge. In hardcore D2, for example, in order to prepare for the passage from normal to nightmare and then from nightmare to hell, I found that I always needed to replay areas to stay safely ahead of the level curve and do boss runs to put together gear with enough defenses and damage that I’d have a good shot at surviving. If I was always just progressing though the game normally, I don’t think I’d feel like I was facing an epic challenge.
Farming also adds a different type of gameplay dynamic. I think it is good whenever a game allows you to engage in different types of activities to achieve different purposes. Normal progression leads you to the completion of the game while boss runs are an alternative means of pumping up your character at the expense of forward progress and enduring a little repetition. I often alternate between normal progression and boss runs when I play. Sometimes I don’t have time to really sit down and seriously play for more then 15-20 minutes so I’ll jump in and do a couple boss runs on the off-chance that I might hit the jackpot. If you remove boss runs, then you only have normal progression… it’s like you’re removing a mini-game.
Boss runs are also potentially one of the best ways to earn XP if you haven’t out-leveled the boss you’re fighting. So the adjustment would probably have to be a little more complicated than just XP gain. In conclusion, the more I think about this, the less I feel that trying to do away with boss runs is a clearly positive goal.
Whatever the result, this suggestion was good in that it did get me thinking. It may be worthwhile to explore ways of making boss runs less monotonous because I do feel that, while there is an audience that derives satisfaction from boss runs, there is another segment that doesn’t like them but feels forced into doing them in the pursuit of loot. One idea would be to have a system where the drop rate for a boss decreases slightly each time you kill them but gradually returns to normal after enough time has passed. This would at least encourage players to farm different bosses instead of only doing runs on the final boss. I’m not sure how exactly we’d implement that though in a way that players couldn’t figure out some way to circumvent it. Another idea would be to set up loot tables so that each end-boss could only drop a certain portion of the unique items in the game. So, if you wanted different items, at some point you’d have to farm different bosses. That has some drawbacks of its own though…
Perhaps the best thing to do is nothing? ; p
What are your thoughts?