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What does it mean when players complaining about "low drop rate"?

Why is the "drop rate" getting so much attention, and when players complain about the low drop rate, how should we understand it? This article reveals the method of researching the problem of low drop rate and how to make it right.

Yongcheng Liu, Blogger

July 5, 2022

9 Min Read

Drop rate, refers to the probability of obtaining a particular item from a loot box or booster pack in some video games. With the continuous development of game categories and gameplay, the drop rate in players' mouths has also expanded from the most basic meaning of obtaining particular equipment to all rare events, such as cards gacha and opening loot boxes. In players' game-related feedback, "drop rate" has been a hot topic, with a large number of public opinions about it, and it is what game developers can not get around to responding to.

Why is the "drop rate" getting so much attention, and when players complain about the low drop rate, how should we understand it? And as game user researchers and designers, how should we dig into the "real problem" behind this feedback?

1. Why there is drop rate in games?

As an entertainment design, games pay more attention to players' "flow" experience than the "functionality" that commonly used apps focus on.

The game experience is to pursue a process that makes players excited and happy. When a rare event like a "low drop rate" occurs, players generate more pleasurable feedback. If there is a reward for doing something, it drives people to do it repeatedly to get the reward multiple times. In games, this rewarding feedback is more immediate and obvious.

2. Think differently, how to understand player complaints about "low drop rate"?

As mentioned in my article earlier, when players complain about "grinding", it's not necessarily equal to the actual long time that a takes, but the feel of "it took a long time". The same is true of "low drop rate", which reflects not necessarily the game's numerical settings are really unreasonable, and maybe just "I feel that the drop rate is low".

For the question behind this, we can analyze it from these perspectives below.

What is the "drop rate" that players feel?

The "low drop rate" is not just a "math problem", but also a game experience problem. And it corresponds to different games, and different gameplays will also produce different problems. To analyze this issue, we need to identify the context in which players refer to "drop rate".

For example, when a card game launches, we often receive feedback about the "low drop rate" at the beginning. Our first reaction might be: to confirm what the drop rate is ... think about whether it is really low ...

Wait a minute!

Don't fall into the "trap" so quickly, but first think about what players are saying about the "drop rate" and what you understand, are they the same? The "low drop rate" does not necessarily mean "the rate is set very low", but rather the gap between players' psychological expectations and the current game situation.

On games' official websites, developers usually disclose the probability of getting each advanced item. At this point, it is not necessarily that there are problems with the "item" itself, but because in the pool there are items along with characters. And players want the "character", but what they get may be an "item". So even though the mechanics follow the given pattern, some players still feel frustrated. What you get is not what you want, and you may even feel unhappy because you "wasted your guaranteed chance".

So in this situation, the player's "low drop rate" should actually be interpreted as a "low probability of getting desired characters". Knowing the player's needs will make it easier for us to take the next step in solving the problem. In subsequent updates of this game, the developers also improved the player's experience by providing segmented pools, specifying different items, and redeeming cards that players accumulated. These are specific adjustments made based on specific issues.

Why do players feel the drop rate is low?

So why do players frequently complain about "low drop rate"?

The first reason: unscientific experiment & survivorship bias

Online games in most markets have been required to disclose the probability of gacha or dropping, but despite the disclosure of the probability, "misunderstanding" still exists.

For example, if the probability of getting a character from gacha is announced as 25%, players may subconsciously think that this means "I only need to pull 4 times, and it is a 100% probability event". This is certainly unreasonable from a statistical point of view because the probability cannot be added up, for each pulling is a separate event. "25%" is an expected value, not an exact result. But the player feedback is easy to have subjective emotions.

Also, players who are particularly lucky are more willing to show their success on public platforms, i.e. 'survivorship bias, which makes other players psychological imbalance: "Why are they all so lucky, is this game just against me?"

The second reason: the psychological phenomenon under Zeigarnik effect

People have an innate drive to "finish what they started" and forget about completed work because the motivation to get it done has been satisfied. If the work is not completed, this motivation makes people impressed about it.

The tendency of people to remember unfinished or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks is Zeigarnik effect. In games as well, players usually have their own goals and tasks, one after another. For example, when a new pool comes out and the player wants to get a new character, the thing is always on his mind before he pulls it, which leads to a feeling of not completing something. This feeling strengthens the memory of the cards he has (gacha for how many times, getting what kind of guaranteed items), and it keeps driving him until he gets the card he wants.

So those players who get items at a normal state, even though they make up the majority in the overall group, the complaints about "low drop rates" seem to be catching attention among all feedbacks.

Missing the core problem

Most of the time, the "drop rate" is not the core, other problems are. Video games have a complex system in which an item or weapon is not the entirety of the game, let alone the entirety of the player experience. The feedback that players ultimately express seems to be a "drop rate" problem, but in reality, it is not the drop rate that is causing the problem, but rather the rest of the game that is adding seriously to the problem.

Once in research, we had a conversation like this.

Player: The level-up process is too slow!

User researcher: Why do you think it is slow?

Player: The drop rate is too low! It's hard to get the item I want.

Here, players think that the "low drop rate" slowed down their own development, and we should reflect on what methods we designed to help players improve and progress, and why these means did not take effect. Perhaps the game provides players with too few ways to level up, in addition to direct dropping? whether there are other ways for players to get it, such as trading, or replicating?

In other words, solving this "drop rate" problem, actually depends on whether the game's design of progression, whether the ways are various or not, and whether they are suitable for players' game habits or not. More approaches to get it, such as transforming from old weapons may be a possible optimization direction.

There are two perspectives to help us understand and better solve the "low drop rate" problem.

Direction 1: Using the game design method to reverse think about the drop rate, retrace the pre-conditions for rate-setting

Assuming that what is directly related to the drop rate is "activity", we need to take the player's "investment" into account. The more complex and difficult the activity is, the various the player's feedback will be.

Direction 2: Using gaming experience to reverse think about the drop rate, what else influences the experience

Various aspects of a game are interrelated, and to analyze the feedback of players, we need to consider whether the rate problem can be turned into the gaming experience problem, if the level of their power/ achievement/ goals has hit plateaus, or if it is beyond the game development progress.

So when we encounter "low drop rate" feedback, it is worth asking a few more "why" questions: why do players feel the drop rate is low? And why do players feel that the low drop rate is the most important factor affecting their game experience? etc.

3. To solve the problem, how to make adjustments when receiving complaints about a "low drop rate"?

Will Increasing the drop date solve the problem?

For the problem of "low drop rate", directly "adjusting the drop rate" must not be the best choice. In all UX optimization, we should refuse to treat only the symptoms, and take use of comprehensive and systematic solutions. In the case mentioned earlier, we have seen the different root causes that can be derived from the same "low drop rate" feedback: "what dropped is not what a player wants", "few approaches to level up", "activities are too boring/difficult", etc.

Imagine it, what if we increase the drop rate?

①Games focus on the "flow". The reason why "dropping rare items" can make players think that it is interesting and exciting, is because of its scarcity. If a 10% item drop rate becomes 90%, then where are the joy and excitement?

② What if it is just a small adjustment? For example, changing the rate from 10% to 20%, and we maintain its rarity and actually increase the drop rate. If this is the case, the player's perception of probability will not be changed, because in larger samples this adjustment of probability will be diluted, and there will still be luckier players who get more items -- and we will still receive a lot of feedback about low drop rate from many other players.

③ How about adding a pity system? The pity system is the current widely used mechanism, where players receive certain items after pulling a certain number of times. But there would also be a problem: what kind of pity system is a "good" one? When games are directly linked to payments, it is definitely hard to please all.

After dissecting the drop rate problem, what's next?

User research is not a "one-off deal". Players can come up with problems with low drop rates at different stages of a game. And we need to keep tracking and analyzing: maybe the solution we designed in the previous version didn't work out now as we want. Keeping tracking and making adjustments for different updates multiple times would be a nice choice.

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