Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On Deterministic and Non-Deterministic Reward Systems

I was reading through Brian Holinka's Twitter feed a few weeks ago when I noticed his responses to these tweets by DanZiniti:

While the idea of PvE and PvP gear being identical is an intriguing one, I think it's ultimately impossible to balance to a satisfactory degree - too many players will feel like one method is more efficient than another and flock towards that content, even if they find it less fun. What interests me more about this tweet is the underlying idea that there should be a variety of ways to earn identical gear within a single format - that each piece gear should be obtainable both in deterministic and non-deterministic fashions.

PvP gear already has a minor implementation of this concept in that the world bosses Nalak and Sha of Anger have small chances to drop specialization-appropriate Season 13 Tyrannical Gladiator's and Season 12 Malevolent Gladiator's gear, respectively, but by and large most PvP gear is purchased through the deterministic Conquest and Honor Point currencies. Personally, I think this system could be expanded to offer additional non-deterministic methods for earning season-appropriate gear, such as via raids on the opposing faction's capital cities, achieving victory in world PvP zones, and completing certain tough objectives in battlegrounds and arenas (like winning Alterac Valley or Isle of Conquest with more than half of your total reinforcements remaining, or winning 3 arena matches in a row). In order to minimize incentive to "game the system" and keep such rewards as a bonus, loot could be awarded in a manner similar to world bosses - namely you have a small chance to win a random piece of gear and a large chance to win a bag of gold or PvP-specific consumables- keeping things unpredictable.

PvE gear, on the other hand, already has both deterministic (Valor and Justice Points) and non-deterministic (boss drops) systems for obtaining gear, but the fact that each system offers different gear can be problematic. For example, players who participate primarily in Raid Finder might feel pressured to replace tier gear that has fun set bonuses with less exciting Valor Point gear because of the item level difference, cheapening the value of boss drops, while players who engage in heroic raiding may be unable to take advantage of Valor Points' role as a consolation prize because the currency only offers rewards with item levels equivalent to normal mode raids. Thus, it makes sense to me to consolidate the two systems such that Valor Points could be used to purchase the same gear that bosses drop at the same item level as the player's highest-difficulty victory over that boss.

I could envision such a consolidated system that works thusly:
  1. Any player would be able to purchase Raid Finder gear for Valor Points one week after that wing has opened for Raid Finder. This would require the total maximum Valor Points cap to be increased so players don't run into it while waiting to be able to purchase items.

  2. Players who defeat a boss on Flex/Normal/Heroic difficulty would be able to purchase Flex/Normal/Heroic gear (respectively) from that boss' loot table for Valor Points.

  3. Valor Point costs for purchasing items would be relatively higher, so that gearing doesn't become too efficient, and farming bosses stays attractive.

  4. Both purchasing and upgrading items from higher difficulties would cost more Valor Points than those same items from lower difficulties.

  5. Higher difficulties would allow proportionally more Valor Points to be earned per kill and per week, such that purchase and upgrade prices stay consistent with weekly progression (i.e. if Raid Finder players cap at 1000 Valor Points per week, spend 2000 points to purchase an item, and upgrade that item for 250 points, Normal raiders might cap at 1200 points per week, spend 2400 points to purchase an item, and upgrade it for 300 points).

  6. Elite and Thunderforged-equivalent items would be acquired solely by drops, so Valor Points remain a consolation prize for bad luck and not a primary gearing method for raiders.

Such deterministic and non-deterministic hybrid systems for PvP and PvE gear aren't without their flaws, certainly, and I doubt Blizzard will go in that direction anytime soon, but it's an interesting thought, nonetheless.

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