Here’s an interesting post about how loot will be decided in random group raids in the next WoW expansion.
WoW is somewhat unique here in that it has a system that selects 25 random people to complete raid content (LFR). Anecdotally, Blizzard stated that the epitome (based on the hardcore raiders) of raids in Burning Crusade – Sunwell Plateau – had less than 1% of all players see the last boss. So for a company to make money, they need to get those 99% to actually consume what the developers are spending money developing. Hence the Mists of Pandaria casual approach – after Cataclysm’s horrendous “hardcore” focus.
Back on topic. Most games that provide grouping and loot together also give you a Need/Greed/Pass system for deciding if you want a given item. SWTOR is different in that loot is automatically assigned in raid content but rolled upon in dungeon content. In WoW’s current LFR system, 25 people are currently selecting need just because it takes 1 other person to do so for you to lose your chance at an item. A Prisoner’s Dilemma if you will. This causes people to boil with rage and there to be next to zero social repercussions since you won’t be seeing those random people ever again.
The smart move is to take SWTOR’s raid loot system moving forward for random groups. By the way, this loot system is horrible for organized groups as it actually penalizes group progress. In organized raids, player X might already have the item and give it to player Y – increasing the group’s power. In this new system, player X is stuck with the loot and player Y gets nothing. That being said, in random groups where the group interest is actually below zero, a random loot system works rather well. Everyone gets a shot at something useful for their class/spec.
Moving on to loot as a whole in either a PvE or PvP setting, MMORPGs are based on statistical variances. A player with 100 of stat X is more powerful than someone with 50. As your power increases, the difficulty of content naturally decreases. So let’s say Boss X takes Y amount of power to beat – in very simple terms. As your group increases in power, they will eventually reach points where they can remove 1-2 (or more) players and still be above that Y power needed to complete content. At that point, the actual increase in group power is negligible and the “road to power” is over for that tier of content. Groups start selling raid spots for titles or mounts or loot. If you can get to Y power with 5 spots open, that’s 5 spots you can sell – if money is actually a concern in your game.
The acquisition of said power is a delicate balance from a dev’s perspective. If people surpass Y power too quickly, then the content is consumed too quickly and people need to do something else with their time. If they never reach Y power, then you have disenfranchised consumers who see a large wall ahead of them. There are other complex variables but that’s the basic gist of it all. Employing a system that distributes power more fairly (read faster) decreases the amount time the content is consumed within. Employing a system that distributes power more equally (read slower) increases the time the content is consumed within.
To be a fly on the wall of that Dev table when this exact topic comes up. How long should content X last? How many variants of content X are needed to keep people playing between your content cycles? Do you increase the content cycles to compensate? How do you please players who put in 40 hours a week and those that put in 10? Loot drives content – otherwise people would be in IRC channels.