Korean MMO Blade & Soul made a big splash last week when it finally launched in the West, reaching over 1 million users in only a few days. The game has plenty of features that stand out from the dozens of World of Warcraft clones that have been released over the last 12 years, but one that is particularly interesting is how Blade & Soul handles dungeon loot.
How it works
Whenever a high quality item drops in a dungeon, an auction window pops up listing the items that were found. The game then goes down the list one item at a time, offering players a chance to bid in-game money on the gear in a timed auction.
If the item is something a players wants, he or she can enter a bid and the timer starts over. Other plays can then enter their own bids, and each time a higher bid is made, the timer restarts again. This goes on until either the group finally allows the timer to run out or until everyone else passes on the auction.
The player who won the bid gets the item, and the money they spent on it is divided amongst the rest of the group. In the event that no one places a bid, the item is destroyed and its (ridiculously low) cash value is distributed to the group.
Why it’s great
What makes this system so interesting is that it allows players who do not receive an item to still get some sort of compensation in the form of in-game currency.
In many other MMOs, if a player loses out on an item in a dungeon, they can end up leaving with nothing. While many players may prefer winning the item they want over getting a few extra coins, the payout is a nice consolation prize, and the higher someone outbids you, the more money you will get out of it in the end.
The auction also makes the in-game currency more meaningful, something that many MMOs, including World of Warcraft, struggle with.
For example, World of Warcraft has continued to introduce new “gold sinks” as ways to remove large sums of money from the game. Essentially, a gold sink is any item or service where the in-game currency paid is removed from the game rather than transferred to another player. This includes armor repair costs, profession recipes, auction house fees, and so on.
But even with all of those gold sinks, wealth in World of Warcraft has become more or less meaningless at higher levels, as there are few mandatory costs involved in the game.
Blade & Soul has its own gold sinks as well, but the loot auction system means that even if in-game currency becomes more widely available, it will never become meaningless, especially at higher levels.
Why it’s terrible
Of course, while the loot auction system could be good for veteran players who have accumulated a lot of wealth, it could become increasingly harsh on new players who can’t compete with high bids.
The loot auction system is also incredibly easy for greedy or malicious players to exploit.
There are some untradeable items that drop in dungeons that are required for upgrading your weapon, and since it is possible to go through a dungeon several times without seeing the item you want, some unscrupulous players may choose to ransom the item by placing a high bid on it even if they do not actually want it.
This forces someone who does need that item to either overpay for it, giving a higher currency payout to the rest of the group, or give up on the item, which could mean several more dungeon runs before they see it drop again.
Party leaders can also take advantage of inattentive players by changing the loot rules, increasing the minimum bid on items before anyone realizes.
Another problem is the fact that the auction typically happens immediately before proceeding to the next area of a dungeon, but crossing the gate immediately removes you from the bids.
That means that players who want one or more of the items available have to stand around until the auction is over, and players who do not want any of the items either need to fight on their own and risk dying, or wait for the rest of the group to finish bidding.
If NCSOFT Corp., the developer behind Blade & Soul, can find ways to address these issues, then more players may embrace the idea behind the loot auction, but as it currently stands, it is a flawed system at best.