Warhammer: Vermintide

Paradigm Shift: The Case For “Loot For Progress” In Vermintide 2

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Hey folks, jsat here to talk to you about what I consider to be the number 1 design flaw in Vermintide 1 and the number 1 unsolved design problem for Vermintide 2. The design flaw is called the “loot for victory” paradigm and it simply means that players predominantly only get extrinsic rewards (items, crafting gear and cosmetics) for successfully beating winning a mission. The design problem is “loot for progress” and it means that players predominantly get their extrinsic reward for making progress in a mission. I feel releasing V2 without even an imperfect solution, here, will cause lasting damage to the common perception of what Vermintide is, the reception of the game and the playerbase. Let me lay out my arguments and you tell me how you feel.

Extrinsic rewards are extremely motivating; any gamer who has lost a day to a diablo grind, played “one more game” of COD for a whole afternoon or logged in daily on Vermintide “just to do the contracts” knows this. Gamers have long showed a willingness to shape their gameplay around maximizing rewards; any gamer who has looked up loot run strategies, did “grinds” of content they thought was boring or ran the same exploit over and over knows this (basically doing things “for efficiency”). I have done all of these things. I will again. Gamers are really good at optimizing to achieve and generally we enjoy doing so. I don’t think there is anything wrong with extrinsic motivation in general, but as with any extremely powerful motivator, a game has to be designed very careful to make sure that the behaviors that are motivated are good for the long term enjoyment of the playerbase as a whole. I think we can reflect on the experience of 2 years of Vermintide 1 and safely conclude that on the whole the “loot for victory” paradigm motivated too much unfun and antisocial behavior to remain.

Why “Loot For Victory” MUST GO:

  1. “Loot For Victory” and The Meaning of Failure: Recall a run that sounds something like this–mid way through a pub run you had an epic fight of ogre+horde+double packmaster that resulted in 2 guys going down and 2 clutching it out. You lost a grim, but what a save. You get to the finale and are crushed by a gas rat you missed. How do you feel? Now if your goal was epic experience then Vermintide just delivered like a boss. If your goal was progressing in game knowledge and skill you just had a big learning opportunity. However, when reward is your goal and only victory rewards your efforts then losing means you just wasted your time. Despite all the ways Vermintide just delivered you feel bad. That sucks, but what we do in response to loss=waste is even worse.
  2. “Loot For Victory” and Pub Drama: when loss=waste you do what you have to do to ensure victory. What does that mean? First of all, you don’t want to play with bad players, but how can you know if a player is bad? Hard to say for any particular person, but in general kicking low level players is a good start. Also, I’d be hesitant to play with anyone using unusual builds, let’s try and kick them too. God help you if the guy who doesn’t even type in chat picks up the grim; you are on edge and ready to blow. And now that id*ot who took grim without asking ran off to a stupid chest and lost grim and suddenly your decision to play Vermintide tonight seems like it was a bad idea. Any night like this might be your last playing Vermintide. Every time this happens your soul gets a bit saltier and the Vermintide pub experience in general becomes a harsher, more unforgiving place
  3. “Loot for Victory” and The New Player: Look in the V2 forums just a little and you will find posts like “I didn’t have fun” and the reason is something like “I lost a bunch of times AND it didn’t feel good.” Losses do not HAVE to mean you had a bad time, but when you don’t get rewarded it sure kind of looks that way. Any new player who feels like they start the game stalled out has a good chance of simply walking away from a game they might have loved.
  4. “Loot for Victory” and “The Grind”: Nearly every player of Vermintide has felt the following, “well, I am good at (difficulty x) so let’s try (difficulty x+1). (get’s destroyed and no loot). Well I’m not good enough for x+1, I won’t make any PROGRESS here so let’s go back to x and get more loot.” In v1 I call this “The Grind” and it is where potential awesome players and Vermintide enthusiasts go to burn out and quit. Why? First of all, playing content you were ready to move on from for extrinsic progression is generally boring (which is not a good thing for entertainment to be), but that isn’t even the biggest issue!! The biggest problem with The Grind is it doesn’t work very well! Vermintide is an action/COOP game and like all skills people develop by trying to do things that are of “just managable difficulty” (see the wiki article on “The Zone of Proximal Development”
    ). ”Loot for Victory” incentivizes players to try and farm their way into beating the next level of difficulty and that is not how Vermintide works, so when they try to push x+1 again and fail that is another quit point for players (As an aside, this is why I tell players to push into cata “before they are ready” because imo difficulty x will NEVER be sufficient preparation for difficulty x+1; for the reason this advice is so divisive see 1 and 2 above.)
  5. “Loot for Victory” and Late Game: Given what we have seen so far the loot progression for Vermintide 2 will be long. A few months ago I was in favor of a loot ceiling so that long term players did not have to wory about loot incentive after a few hundred hours but after discussions with Krindi and other players I have changed my mind to some degree; I don’t want to nuke late game progression because some players love to play for it and that is a good thing (https://www.reddit.com/r/Vermintide/comments/7eu31p/a_tale_of_two_motivations_crafting_a_noloser/). What I think will be bad for the game is if players with hundreds of hours of experience MUST choose between extrinsic progression (loot) and challenge (where they will lose >50% of the time), which is exactly the case in V1 and remains the case in V2.

“Loot for Victory” and The Soul Of Vermintide. So let me summarize with this, a game is what it means to its players and the public perception is just the same thing writ large. On the surface Vermintide sure looks like a sword & sorcery RPG; the elements are all there, the lore SCREAMS rpg and the marketing of the game has done little to change that perception. Anyone who has played the game seriously though knows that this is an amazing COOP, action game with lots (and lots more this time!) RPG elements. But this is not how the casual public and the mass market reviews will see this game. They will see loot rewards, they will play for loot rewards, they will optimize their chances of them by grinding and they will be unsatisfied because this game has not even 1/100th of a true loot game like Diablo or Warframe. In the final analysis, “Loot for Victory” is anathema to Vermintide because it distracts so much from what is so ground breaking and engaging in Vermintide.


But this does not mean I want to nuke the RPG elements. I think the progression elements add a huge depth and replayability to this game over L4D. Instead, I want to harmonize the loot progression of the RPG side with the skill progression of the action/coop side, and I feel the only way to do this is to shift from a predominate “Loot for Victory” paradigm to a “Loot for Progress” paradigm. I wish I could tell you I have the exact answer, but alas I only have some constraints that a solution must satisfy if it will work for Vermintide 2:

Loot For Progress Constraints and Considerations

  1. Items/Deeds vs Crafting Supplies: Deeds and red items will be valuable and any loot for progress implementation must provide the same kinds of loot in the same proportions as loot for victory mechanics
  2. Checkpoints vs Percent Progress: The problem with a percent progress implementation is that suicide farm could be a thing. Requiring players to complete a substantial encounter before reaching a checkpoint and receiving a proportional amount of loot would be ideal. Splitting this into thirds is better than half because the incentive to go on is larger. I don’t think most people will WANT to suicide farm so as long as it is close to equal players will push on in general.
  3. Books: Books are a big part of Vermintide and they were designed with a Loot for Victory paradigm.
  4. Victory Should Still Be Meaningful: getting to the end and pulling through should mean something, it is just a question of how much. My rule of thumb here should be like getting to checkpoint 2/3 and dying immediately should be worth .66 and victory with books should be worth something like 1.2 or 1.25 rather than the current .05 and 1.

Let me summarize by quickly conceding the following; yes, absolutely, loot for progress risks abuse of fail farming. Gamers try to optimize, this is the danger of Designing with the Fire of extrinsic motivation. There WILL be hiccups, but the danger of NOT trying exceeds FAR exceeds the cost of hiccups and the work it will take to patch them out as we find them.

So What Can You Do?

  1. Does your experience with “Loot for Victory” line up? Do you agree it has to go?
  2. **Put your thinking caps on. This is a really hard problem; come at it with fresh eyes. Propose something new. Borrow ideas from other games. Share them.

We can make the game better. You can help. Let's do it!

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