I am currently working on an ARPG and I am trying to figure out which elements of the game influence each other and one example is that endgame activities inherently influence loot drops/handling and the other way round. The more classical loot systems we usually get in touch with are following:

  • Classic MMORPG loot where enemy bodies have to be clicked which open up a window which displays the loot that can be clicked one item at a time. Sometimes it is possible to enable auto-loot in order to skip the clicking of each item.
  • ARPG loot where slain enemies die in a explosion of loot which can occasionally get extreme up to a point where loot filters are necessary otherwise the screen will be cluttered. In this case players usually pick up uncapped currency like gold automatically while everything else from gear to crafting parts has to be looted manually if the player so desires. Diablo, Path of Exile and the likes to handle it with cliackable labels on-screen while Borderlands for example spreads the loot all around the place and has visual light beams indicating rarities that allows players to filter quickly and go grab the items they might be interested in.
  • "Loot chests" is what I call the system of Destiny. During a strike or adventure players do participate in combat and are not distracted by random loot on the ground which would require consideration as to whether picking it up is a good choice. After the event has ended, typically after defeating the final boss a chest appears that contains loot.
  • "Vacuum loot" which was used for Guild Wars 2 and Wildstar where the loot physically drops on the ground and players can loot everything from currencies to gear with one click of a button. In an ARPG this would never work out since inventory space is even more restricted than anything else.

My naive first thoughts are based on how the endgame of Diablo 3 is designed. In classic endgame rifts players can slay enemies and are usually busy picking up materials and some "useless" items that may be used to disassemble them for even more materials. Furthermore they are looking for chests and hoping for some random drops. In contrast to that game mode there are greater rifts which, similiar to Destiny, drop no loot at all except when you kill the final boss that appears after progressing far enough.

In greater rifts there are no distractions just the challenge to finish those at higher difficulties and farming them with specific speed builds while on the other hand the classic rift slow down gameplay when you have to stop every few meters just to click and pick up those items.

I have reached an impasse since I understand players might want to blaze through content and I don't want to make them slow down constantly (with a system like classic rifts in Diablo or Path of Exile in general) but when I stick to "loot chests" at the end of an activity it might happen that less loot drops in general and that there is less gratification when collecting things since the is nothing on the way. Take a long dungeon for example, a "loot chest" system might incentivize just skipping all enemies and do the bare minimum to tackle the final boss. In such a scenario I basically invalidated almost the entire content I am presenting!

Comparing this to (current) legendary items in WoW: if one legendary drops I might be relieved to finally get one (and be angry about it since it's a shitty one...) but I missed the reward stimulus up to the drop itself. Applied to my scenario, the player sees a dungeon as an annoying chore to finally get the chance of acquiring something. If the drops are not satisfying it could possibly be more demotivating thinking that that only chance to get something after such a chore was a waste of time.

So my question is the following: Even though loot explosions may be enojoyable at first they can degenerate into an annoyance (e.g. clicking a bazillion items on the floor). When thinking about making them less boring I end up with something that can be as frustrating in the end. How can I balance this?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think you can. Not for all players, anyway. If it's not frustrating for me, the people who play MMOs 18 hours a day will blow through your content in a couple days. If it's fine for them, I'll find it frustrating. You'll have to choose your audience and taylor it for them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Almo
    Sep 17, 2017 at 17:35

3 Answers 3


I would say it depends on the loot your game provides and what your target is. A looting system is a tool to loot the items your game provides.

  • MMOs tend to have certain 'Must-have'-items for different classes. Lower levels have to grind stuff for quests or crafting/job's, killing hundreds of monsters of the same type, only rarely dropping something else than this crafting stuff. And if so, then its something you can use for some levels. Money is mostly made by selling stuff, big amounts are rarely dropped.

For this type of loot, you want only to check rarely: only dead bodies with loot won't despawn, maybe even with a glow around them, showing worthwhile loot. More mundane grindable items get often auto collected and/or stored in an infinite bag of craftable components.

  • ARPGs have more random loot, several tiers of item qualities, some crafting stuff like runes or gems. Unique items are more common, in theory can be dropped by any monster, but can be replaced by items of a lower tier, if it simply has better stats for your char. That's until it has a real unique effect you want. Mostly money has no use for higher level chars, but early you might need it to kick-start your champ with better items from the shop. But you also have consumables like potion, that are instant to drink (unlike most MMOs I know).

Games like Diablo and **Torchlight ** do this by just dropping stuff on the ground, like you said, but still convey information about those items: colored names, dropping sounds, particle effects. Torchlight implemented the auto money pickup and the companion for selling items. This system is intended to let you fight, then let's you loot for a short time, maybe longer if you found something worthwhile, maybe new equip or a gem to plug in your inventory. Out of potions or space, take a town portal. Torchlight tried to reduce the down time in the city with the company, Diablo 3 had their health orbs against the potions and smaller Items/bigger inventory to stay longer in the field.

  • Loot chest are an oddball and hard to balance. They are somewhat like raids, need time to do, and if you fail you get nothing. And even if you succeed you might get nothing you want.

Destiny (never played it) is basically an MMO with more speed. Standing still while in the battle field gets you killed. Vermintide has a similar concept, while you get better items based on the difficulty and how good you were. Still it doesn't guarantee you get items you want.

  • Vacuum loot is a combination of the MMO and ARPGs system. You get many different items, but also a lot space.

That said, you want a loot system that fits to your item content. If you have many tiers of item quality, stick to the ARPG system. If not, pick the MMO approach. If you want to encourage exploration, add smaller dungeons with lesser bosses for more opportunities to drop better stuff.

Now you can modify your system. For example in an ARPG:

  • have a companion gather everything and/or auto-sell / disassemble everything below a certain quality. So the player can look at the rest at any time he wants.

  • this companion could be either attackable (Torchlight), needs orders (auto-gather like) and then some time, or can be send to buy consumables (Torchlight 2)

  • this would enable to give the companion traits for himself (walking speed, gather speed, better prices for selling, more components from disassembling,...) or for the player (healing aura, damage or armor buff, more items to find,...)

This is just one example but already so potent in its possibilities.


Which kind of looting system is least annoying will depend largely on the size of a player's inventory and how often looting happens. If the inventory is large or uncapped and looting happens frequently, automate as much as possible. If the inventory is small and looting happens infrequently, interrupting the game for looting might be more clear to the player.

Why not do both?

An RPG typically has frequent looting and a large inventory. I recently was playing Stardew Valley, which has a fairly small inventory (12-36 kinds of things, 999 max of each kind), and its automatic looting still works well, so the inventory may not need to be huge. Be sure to give some feedback about what the player is collecting, but seeing it briefly on the ground, getting some sound feedback, and then seeing the name and quantity of each item in the corner of the screen would suffice. There's no need to click on loot, since you can assume the only reason a player would not want to pick up loot is because of time, since it is more enjoyable getting lots of stuff and sorting through it later than having to choose every few seconds whether to keep another thing.

Many RPGs have additional kinds of inventories and more rare items. For example, equipment. A player usually can only wear a few items, and these items are usually more rare, perhaps only appearing after a boss battle. You can show the player these items are more significant by having a less automated way to loot, such as loot chests. The player will want to make a decision whether to equip it immediately. Keeping the chests limited to rare items keeps a player excited every time a chest appears but does not discredit the advantage of slaying smaller enemies.


Personally I think that the system used in Runescape is a good option as well, where the player's inventory is small (exactly 28 slots), very few items are stackable, and players aren't encouraged to carry everything they own around with them all the time.

The benefit of this system is that players are required to manage their inventory, manage their bank, and think about inventory management as part of the game. It's a minigame, a game-within-the-game. Do you bury the bones of enemies immediately so you can take 28 Dragonhides back to your bank, or do you take back 14 Dragonhides and 14 Dragon Bones and sell both? If you bury them, you get Prayer XP, but if you don't, you have to run back to the bank and deposit your things more often. These sorts of decisions are interesting to me, personally. There are also decisions like what sorts of items do you take with you? You can't go to a dungeon and take three sets of armour and a ton of food and a whole lot of potions and etc. etc. etc. You have to made tradeoffs.

It also opens up the possibility of the 'hardcore ironman mode' where you can't use a bank and you have to keep everything you ever own in your inventory. It definitely is a challenge to play an entire MMORPG with only 28 inventory slots. Thankfully you can drop items to the ground and they'll stay there for a couple of minutes before disappearing into the aether.

The game doesn't really have the 'useless items' or 'grey items'. I've never really understood why a game would have those items, they just make everything seem so cluttered. There are items that aren't useful to your character because they're very low level, for example, but not items that are just useless to everyone. Even then, if you kill a chicken and get 15 feathers (a 50/50 chance, if I remember correctly) then those are as useful to a level 100 as a level 1, because feathers can always be used to make arrows of any level.

The items drop to the ground in a stack. Like everything else in the game, the top item in the stack on a particular grid tile is visible in the game world. You can click to pick it up, or you can right-click to see a list of all the items in the pile and pick up any particular one of them. If you want to pick everything up, it's a spam-click, alas.

Recently I think the game has started highlighting particularly rare and powerful items that drop. I dislike it because personally I don't want the game to tell me when I should get excited about things, as it feels like going to a studio to watch a TV show being made and being shown a sign that tells me when to laugh. But if you want to ensure that rare and powerful items aren't lost in the clutter, you could try that. I think that rare and powerful items should actually be rare enough that people have heard of them and will recognise them when they see them without giant sparkly words and special music playing when you get them.

Everything in RPGs seems to sparkle like crazy if it's interactable now, it definitely is unimmersive.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree games shouldn't have useless items, but often it is good to have less valuable items that only become useful in large quantities, like, for example, as materials for crafting. This way there are rewards for fighting a few tough enemies (rare) as well as lots of weak enemies (common). Also, it isn't safe to assume players will be looking for a certain rare item in particular. People learn games as they play them. Without some hint when it happens, many players will find themselves selling or tossing items before they know what they do, assuming they'd be able to find more later. \$\endgroup\$
    – tyjkenn
    Sep 20, 2017 at 16:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's absolutely safe to assume that. What is not safe is assuming players are ignorant and stupid and never punishing them for making mistakes. If players throw away a valuable item because they don't know it's valuable then you've very poorly communicated that it's valuable. Do you think anyone got a Dragon Chainbody in Runescape and went 'oh this is probably crap'. No way, it's a distinctive-looking red spiky chainmail body that looks nothing like any other chainbody in the game. \$\endgroup\$
    – mrr
    Sep 21, 2017 at 22:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Punishment doesn't make a game fun. Sometimes it is necessary to make some options better than others and thus encourage strategy, but making important things blend in with the ordinary isn't immersive; it's obnoxious, and actually ruins the immersion. Many RPGs have hundreds of types of items. Every time I need to tab over to a wiki to check the importance of an item is a break in the immersion. I understand games sometimes have too much hand-holding, but games should still be intuitive. This means teaching rules as they become relevant, such as when an item is first encountered. \$\endgroup\$
    – tyjkenn
    Sep 22, 2017 at 0:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are wrong. Punishing you for making a mistake is a requirement for a game to be fun. Games that baby players are not fun, because players have no investment in their character or their progress or in learning the game when they know that nothing they do can ever have any real lasting impact on them. Every decision can be undone, every mistake can be reversed, etc. That's just boring. \$\endgroup\$
    – mrr
    Sep 22, 2017 at 4:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think we are mostly on the same page. Punishment is necessary. What I mean, though, is that it is not inherently fun to be punished, so punishment should be minimized when it doesn't encourage other mechanics. That's why we allow respawns even if they are not realistic. I agree rules are best communicated through gameplay and setting if possible. However, attempts at blending the environment sometimes makes players look for hit boxes, trying to interact with every boring wall, breaking immersion. I agree you don't want to go overboard, but sound, color, and other feedback can be vital. \$\endgroup\$
    – tyjkenn
    Sep 22, 2017 at 6:41

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