An interesting article popped up yesterday by Alex Curelea. In the post he discusses how reward/addiction loops form in primate brains (hope you don’t mind being compared to a blackberry juice-craving macaque) and why Diablo 3 provides less addiction stimuli than Diablo 2. The full post is a great read, and it’s even got charts and graphs, but here’s a quote of the conclusion that gets the point across.

    In the end, Blizzard is left with two groups of players:

  • New players will not experience Diablo 2’s reward loop, and will not get hooked. They will enjoy the game, get to the end, and (for the most part) wonder what the big fuss was about, lose interest, and wander away.
  • Old Diablo 2 players will be left frustrated, unsatisfied by the lack of in-game rewards they were craving, and become angry, depressed, and reduced to flinging poo on the Battle.net forums.
  • Out of necessity, Diablo 3’s reward system has to account for the Auction House. Because equipment is never destroyed, in-game rewards can never be too frequent or powerful or they will flood the Auction House, eventually trivializing game difficulty. There have been many solutions proposed (here is one particularly insightful discussion), but the reward system seems so intertwined with the Auction House that it’s difficult to see a radical change coming. Blizzard’s response over the next few patches will be very interesting to watch.

    His basic theory (see the illustrations quoted below) seems to be that Diablo 2 was less fun to play than Diablo 3, but that the item rewards were better and more fun/addicting, so like the monkey with the blackberry juice, players would put up with endless boredom since the occasional item rewards were so good. More valleys of fun, with peaks of delight.

    As you see in the charts above, Diablo 3 is just the opposite (in his analysis). More fun playing all the time, but without the spikes of joy from awesome item finds. Thus a better overall experience, but not so “addictive” in the literal sense of the word.

    A fan asked Blizzard about this during yesterday’s chat, and got a lengthy answer. Click through to read it, and see why I think it’s wrong/misses the point.

    Wyatt Cheng Responds

    Alright so I’m going to take a stab at this question.

    As mentioned in a different thread, the drop rates were carefully tuned for a single player playing through from 1 to 60 without ever using the AH.

    All of our items are randomly generated, and so follow a distribution curve in power. Let’s say for the sake of argument that you were to somehow distill an item down to it’s “power level” and created a distribution graph of drop rate vs. power level. This graph would probably be normally distributed with outliers at high power levels dropping at a lower rate.

    Looking at this graph, an average item drops every 5 minutes, a higher power item drops every 15 minutes, even higher power drops every hour. etc. As you move up the curve to ever more powerful items, the amount of time it takes to find such an item increases. This is what makes certain items more desirable, this is how things worked in D2.

    What happens for a standard player who is playing solo when they first hit level 60 is they see an item upgrade every 30 minutes or so. Pretty quickly it becomes every hour, then every 2 hours. The higher the power level of your gear, the longer it takes to find your next upgrade, that’s just the underlying math of this distribution. It’s not really anything we set either. If we magically made all drops rates 10x higher, all it would do is shift the power curve left or right, it would not change the fundamental property that the higher up in power you go, the longer (statistically) it is going to take until you find your next drop.

    So then let’s say you visit the Auction House and get infusion of power that hurls you forward on that power curve. So whereas at one point your gear may be at a point that you are statistically speaking probably going to get an upgrade every 2 hours. After visiting the Auction House you hurl yourself forward on the power curve so far that now you are statistically going to get a drop every 8 hours.

    To further illustrate the point, let’s talk about the coming changes in 1.0.3. In 1.0.3 we’re going to start dropping level 63 items in Act I of Inferno. We’re also reducing incoming damage. What do I expect to happen? I expect that there will be a rapid increase in power across the entire community as all of these items become more widely accessible. It’s like we took the distribution curve of items and made everything drop more. That item that used to take 10 hours to find is now a 2 hour item. An item that used to be a 2 day item is now an 8 hour item. After the initial frenzy of power increase, things are just going to settle again. People who think drop rates are too low now will probably still think drop rates are too low a week later when they move to the new point on the curve. I’ve spent a long time on this question so I’m going to move on but hopefully somebody who gets what I’m saying will be able to expand on it more, maybe draw some graphs to better illustrate the point.

    tl;dr we could make drops 100x what they are now and it would just cause everybody to settle at a new equilibrium point. Anything you can farm in a few hours you’ll already have, anything that takes longer you’ll wish you could get faster.

    …I will say, while I’m not dismissing his conclusions, if you want to prove something with science you need data, not just a theory. The graphs created are based off memory and perception, and so this isn’t very ‘scientific’. /pushesnerdglassesupnose.

    Kudos to the devs for tackling the issue head on. That’s a reasonable answer, and it’s correct as far as it goes. It’s also a point towards the “Auction House ruins the game” argument that I think is substantially correct. Since the AH allows you to easily obtain an item that you would have had to play dozens of hours to find, it gives you one moment of joy, then ultimately turns the actual gameplay into an endless gold grind, since you almost never find or craft any upgrades, and only care about getting more gold so you can buy something in the AH.

    D3 Items Are Not “Fun”

    That aside, the main issue is that items in D3 are not as “fun” as they are in D2. (Scientifically speaking, of course.) We’ve seen numerous explanations why, with excellent discussions by Azzure and Brother Laz. The blue reply above focuses only on improved items. Better gear. Upgrades.

    That’s certainly a valid criteria, but it comes from a PoV that acts as though any item upgrade is going to hit that addiction loop feedback. And that’s not true.

    Yes, you can enjoy finding new rare shoulders for your Barb, and be happy that they’ve got 17 more Armor, and 43 more Str, which makes them an upgrade even though you’re losing 11 less Vit and 21 Dex on the exchange… but that’s not exactly a thrilling moment. It’s a slight, incremental improvement that will change absolutely nothing about your play style, while providing something like .03% more killing power.

    Uniques and Sets (also high level runes) in D2X provided that addiction trigger since there was joy and excitement when you found them. You couldn’t wait to see what the iten identified as, and how the semi-random stats turned out. Often it wasn’t an upgrade, or even usable by your current class, and often you’d found that same item 10x already, but it was still something different and special. And there were a few high level sets and uniques that you knew would be upgrades, could you only find them.

    Since the vast majority of Uniques and Sets aren’t very good, players don’t care that much about finding them. Furthermore, their absurdly low drop rates (balanced so they don’t clog up the AH, which is another way it ruins the game) means you hardly ever find them anyway. Rares in D3 are be the best items, but they’re never as fun to find, since you find them constantly. Yellow is an exciting color, but you see it all the time and you know that 99% of them are junk, so there’s not that burst of excitement upon seeing them drop.

    Maybe you’re happy once you ID it, but even then it’s almost always an incremental improvement, with some things better and others worse, and the total randomness of the stats mean you never have any expectation or anticipation when you pick it up. Just some hope, probably faint, that it’ll roll good mods, for once.

    Another aspect of D2’s interesting unqiues and sets was that they had flavor and style with special mods not found on Rares. I won’t restate that argument as it’s been done repeatedly, including by Azzure and Brother Laz in the articles I linked above. But this not only made those items a lot more interesting and fun than rares, but it gave them special utility. They changed the gameplay; enabled whole different styles or builds, and there’s nothing like that with any items in D3, since the uniques and sets pull from the same pool of functional-but-unspectacular affixes that blues and yellows use.

    Rerolling and Lower Level Uniques

    A further irony is that D3’s freespecs and auto-stats make any lower level items useless. Bashiok and others from Bliz spent months arguing that forcing players to reroll was a bad game system in D2, and that character variety and stat/skill permanence wasn’t necessary to feel character identity and attachment.

    That debate continues, though I’ll freely admit that zero respecs for skills or stats in D2 was probably a sub-optimal system. However, by never needing to reroll in D3, the excitement of finding a good item for a lower level character is removed. True, those items don’t really exist with D3’s current system of bland sets and legendaries anyway. But even if they had interesting and special green and orange items, who would care unless they were end game?

    For an example off the top of my head, look at something like the DiabloWikiKuko Shakaku unique bow from D2. Useless at high levels, but if you found one you thought, “This is an awesome item, and when I roll my next Bowazon, she’ll be so kickass once I hit 33 and can start using it.” There are dozens of other such items in D2, and you guys are free to mention your faves in comments.

    You got the same feeling with dozens of low and mid-level uniques in D2, and with some of the mid-level sets as well. Even years later, many of us can instantly remember the Clvl reqs on great uniques and sets (and runewords) from D2X, (I certainly didn’t need to check the Kuko page to verify the 33 that leapt into my brain when I thought of it.) since we knew that once we got our new characters to that level, they were going to start kicking ass.

    There’s never a sense of that in D3, since 1) you have no reason to ever reroll a class once you’ve made it once, and 2) there aren’t any awesome low or mid-level uniques or sets anyway. You can, of course, twink down rares, for rerolls or for other classes you haven’t played yet, but handing down a slightly better rare than you’d have found on your own at level 22 isn’t quite the same as knowing you had a Tal’s Mask in your stash, waiting for your new Paladin to hit 66 when it would change his life.


    I’m not at all sick of D3 yet, but I’ve been very busy and haven’t gotten any characters into the end game item grind. Many players are though, especially those who were playing 10+ hours a day and quickly got one or more characters into Inferno, and their #1 complaint is the item system. And I think what they’re unhappy about is precisely what Alex Curelea touches on in his article.

    Diablo III’s item system is effective and well-designed and quite functional. But it’s not “fun” (since it doesn’t trigger our addiction reward brain nodules) in the way D2’s was. This is largely due to various issues with sets and uniques, as I tried to explain in this article. That’s why so many players are already bored with the DiabloWikiend game, despite the fact that Diablo 3’s combat and monsters and bosses and skills and many other features are huge improvements over what we saw in Diablo II.

    Happily, as many (including me, repeatedly) have pointed out, D3’s been out for less than a month. D2’s item system was tiny and primitive and poorly-designed after its launch, and didn’t become awesome until several patches after D2X, when we had the system that most of us remember through our rose-tinted glasses: awesome uniques and sets, great runewords, etc. D3 hasn’t had any content patches yet, much less an expansion pack to add diversity and complexity and depth and uniqueness to the item system, and all of the shortcomings of the system are amplified by the AH making high level items so readily-accessible.

    Given how new the game is, how many new features and systems it offers, and how late in the process the itemization was undertaken, it’s no surprise that D3’s item system now has a lot of room for improvement. Happily, the devs seem committed to making those improvements, and hopefully the helpful and gentle nudges and suggestions (and rage quit threads?) we fans are offering, will help them move steadily in that direction.

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