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Why do Monsters drop things in so many games?

It creates all sorts of problems, including:

  • in-game gold hyper-inflation

  • questionable moral implications, if there is a strong incentive toward killing things but no incentive not to

Monster-killing giving XP is equally bad - you rename an ingame currency to XP, the mechanics stay the same. Here you have something like "fighting force inflation," so after some levels you have to have giant giants attacking your small figure or it stops being interesting. This is just hyper-inflation written a different way.

Is it enough reward if a monster stops killing you?

What benefits of monster-killing rewards make up for these problems, or how can we compensate for those problems?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I've removed your proposed design so the question is focused on a single issue: the problems of kill loot drops and how they can be counter-balanced. If you'd like to ask a second question about your proposed design, I recommend creating that as its own separate post. Be sure to consult the tag guidance for game-design questions to help make a focused question that draws useful, constructive answers. \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Aug 12 '20 at 17:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ "there is a strong incentive toward killing things" - I think you just largely answered your own question. In a game built around killing things, why would they want you to not kill things? Of course not all games are built like this, but this is about ones that are (presumably, otherwise it's about badly designed ones). Also, how else would you give a player items? If there are, say, chests, how would that be different?Except that it would be more effort to open the chests. \$\endgroup\$ – Bernhard Barker Aug 12 '20 at 18:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hyper-inflation could probably be a question all on its own, but you have exact control over how much resources a player gets and can give a player exactly the same amount of resources from quest rewards or chests than you give them from killing things by just changing a few numbers. Hyper-inflation is in no way specific to getting resources from killing things. Monsters also don't have to respawn, so you can have finite resources if you really want to (although that might mean some people will get stuck at hard points in the game and be unable to proceed, which is generally bad). \$\endgroup\$ – Bernhard Barker Aug 12 '20 at 18:52
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TL;DR

is there any good reason to let monsters drop things

It is a cheap mechanism (in terms of development time) to keep your players playing and motivated. Quests and storylines are complicated to integrate/come up with and are no longer of interest to a player once he has completed and replayed them 2-3 times. On the other hand, the need to kill 200 monsters to get a single item that you need 100 times to get your favorite armor design takes not much development time and keeps your players playing for hours and weeks.


Full answer

Why do Monsters drop things in so many games? It creates all sorts of problems, one problem being for example ingame gold hyper-inflation.

Monster killing giving XP is equally bad

You are questioning the whole game design of Diablo and similar games with those two sentences. However, they are quite successful.

I think the answer is related to what kind of game you are making and what your target audience is. Games like Diablo target an audience that gets "addicted" by finding and collecting stuff to develop their characters. If you want to be one of the top players, you need the best gear and a lot of XP. Each killed monster brings you closer to this goal. This is enough motivation for many players to come back and keep on playing. You don't need to develop a complex quest or storyline for that (who played Diablo for the story/quests? - I didn't :) ). Hyperinflation is no problem in these games since your gear gets useless equally fast until you get closer to the level cap. It is actually a feature of the game. The inflation will slow down the higher you climb on the ladder.

The thing here is, that it is an easy mechanism to keep players playing your game. You don't need much development time to add stronger monsters with better loot. Recolor existing ones and adjust some numbers.

On the other hand, developing and integrating smart and interesting quests/storylines is much harder. You must keep track of all possible outcomes and the effects on your game world. --> What happens to the story and other quests if character XYZ dies during quest ABC? What happens if the player does something that wasn't expected - how to prevent him from being stuck in the story? How do we connect all storylines to make sense from a global point of view?

I am thinking about giving reward for fulfilling missions but not for each and any monster. Like that it might be equally good to avoid detection. Also, Monsters keep their ingame value longer if player figures can't level up so much.

Isn't it enough reward if a monster stops killing you?

Just think about how long do you play a purely story-based game? Resident Evil for example. Monsters don't drop anything there (except for some key items), stay equally strong and you have to follow the story to finish the game. I played the last one for about 40 hours (have to check my steam account to get the exact number). Now how long is the average time players spend in those grinding games? I can't give you any numbers here, but I think it is much higher. Also, the chances of players returning after years to replay a game are much higher for those grinders. Don't know how often I restarted playing Diablo 2 or Path of Exile.

The point here is, that you can generate much more play-time with the same development effort by just letting the player grind monsters for loot or XP than with adding quests. Additionally, the whole grinding loot/XP stuff tends to let your players compete for the best gear/character which lets them play even more.

I have to admit, that I enjoy playing story driven games more than games that focus on loot/XP driven character development. However, once I finished the story and explored the game world, I rarely keep on (re-)playing these games. On the other side, I kept on playing some grinders for weeks and started replaying them year over year.

"You know... I just needed that super cool looking level 90 armor but I had to kill 10.000 goblins to get it... took me 2 weeks... was totally worth it!"

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Other answers are great, but I want to answer from a game design point of view.

Dropping loot really depends on the game. On an open-world game, where monsters are scattered around, if they don't drop anything, there is no reason for the player to fight them. Worse is if they spend resources fighting them, which they can't recover. At that point it becomes a hassle to fight a monster, but it might make sense on a game that doesn't expect people to fight many monsters (maybe a zombie survival kind?).

On the other hand, if a game has linear maps, with enemies as obstacles, or locked rooms that only open when all enemies are killed (like Devil May Cry series), it might make more sense to think of enemies as "Obstacles", in which case they don't have to drop anything to motivate the player to kill them, they prevent the mission from being completed.

So the question is, what does your game expect users to do? There is no right answer if monsters should drop loot or not, as it depends on the game. If monsters don't drop loot, how does the player get stronger? Do they find treasure? Do they get XP by completing missions? The player needs to feel they get stronger over time, and giving a small amount of XP for each kill, makes them feel they are one step closer to that.

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It would be more weird if they do NOT drop something. I mean depending on how you see it. If someone would kill you now, they would probably find

  • a mount in form of a summing key (also known as car keys)
  • a key to your dwelling
  • some coins stored next to funny looking plastic cards
  • some rather bad armor
  • maybe one or two cosmetic items
  • a small bag
  • etc

One of the most frustrating thing are quests like collect 10 wolf teeth and you are wondering why after the 150th wolf you still fight those damn vegan wolfs with no teeth that are living on cabbage soup. If your monster is powerful enough to steal the queen without destroying the whole city, you might have other worries. Or if you really want to save the damsel after it got abducted by a dozen goblins (or if there is anything left to save). As for stealing some kind of jewelry, this sounds more like quests that do not necessary involve monsters.

Exchange your exp with proficiency. You don't magically level up, your use with the weapon of your choice just gets better. There is only so much you can gain from stabbing weak looking beings that are 1/2 your size. At one point you are looking for the next challenge, beings that are 3/4 your size (you have to dream big!)

As for why to kill monsters? Depends on your monsters. Do you ask the same about why kill mosquitoes? Or the cockroaches under your bed? What about the 1m rat in your cellar? Or the cute 2m spider that loves to hang out in your attic? Most people don't even get along with their normal neighbors.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, I wouldn't think about a mission to collect 10 wolf teeth in my worst dreams :-) "Free the damsel in distress". "Get to the entrance unseen". "Clear the monster spider infestation in the church". "steal the chandelier without raising alarm" is more along the lines. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Anderas Aug 12 '20 at 8:30
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The reason why monsters drop things is because that's an easy way to give artifacts to our character and give meaning to existence of monsters.

The player feels motivated to kill a monster as he or she knows they might get something rare or new out of killing.

This aspect keeps the game interesting. If you remove item drops, player might try to avoid the fights as its not giving them any benefit.

Your idea of removing monster-killing rewards will work if you are creating a game that is based on stealth and is not monster fight centric. If you are trying to create a game that is mainly monster slashing, at least give some incentive to the player to keep them motivated.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. Yes, monsters might still guard the searched for artifacts. I am talking about the rather normal monster "droppings". \$\endgroup\$ – Anderas Aug 12 '20 at 8:22

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