Dear designers of large-scale triple-A MMOs,
There are two cardinal sins you keep committing. Please stop doing this.
Cardinal sin number one: giving low-level gear and loot such pathetic benefits that the player barely notices they are there.
I know what you were thinking. The player, you thought, has to feel the rags-to-riches joy of starting out with Disintegrating Socks, then getting Threadbare Socks, then Darned Socks, then Mediocre Socks, then Knitted Socks, then Thermal Socks, and ultimately Thick Thermal Socks with Epic Llamas On Them. If the low-level loot was actually worth a damn, then players would just hold on to it and never bother replacing it! Besides, it's good old-fashioned RPG style to let the players get +1 weapons at first, and then work all the way up to getting +5 weapons...
No. NO. AND NO.
Let me give a practical example. In Age of Conan (yes, I found the disks) I just looted an item as a level 6 Priest of Mitra. It was a 'Pirate's Ring'. It gave a stunning +0.5% Fire Resistance. That means that any incoming fire damage I took would be reduced by five percent of the total. Which in turn means that to derive any benefit whatsoever, I would have to be in a situation where fire damage was being taken, and where five percent of it was a crucial survival margin.
Another practical example. In City of Heroes, you get Training Enhancements as drops below level 10 or so. Each one increases the relevant aspect of a power by some nine per cent. If that weren't enough, the damn things become useless once you outlevel them.
Early loot should make a difference. It should make a BIG difference, because the early loot is what you get WHILE THE PLAYER IS STILL LEARNING THE GAME. If you want me to learn how important my Defence Rating (or whatever) is, then let me grab an item that boosts it, and let me see what happens when I'm using it and when I'm not. Do not, for the love of Gygax, give me a pair of flaky skid-marked goblin shorts (or game equivalent) which boosts my Turnip Evasion by 0.3%. I won't even notice I'm wearing them.
Here's the other reason why early loot should make a difference. The player will have scored some of their most meaningful victories in order to get it. Nobody wants to enter combat with the Ape King Boss, emerge triumphant, and then discover that your prize is a bunch of frigging bananas. Give them a reward that doesn't insult them.
But oh, mister smart-arsed English game designer, if we make early game rewards significant and worth earning, then how do we stop players from just clinging to their early game loot and never getting rid of it? BY KEEPING ITS BENEFIT GENERIC AND LIMITING ITS USEFUL LIFESPAN, that's how. Define early loot not in terms of how useless it is in practice, but in terms of how basically useful it is and how long it will last you.
Players don't want to think 'I beat that boss and now I have a sword that will last me forever but does shit damage.' They want to think 'I beat that boss and now I have a really good sword, I wish I could keep it forever but I guess I'll just have to use it while I can.' Players will outgrow their early gear anyway, as they find new gear that better suits their specific needs.
Here is your second cardinal sin. Not explicating your game stats in the bloody game itself.
Again, Age of Conan is a major offender. Do not get me wrong. I love AoC, most of the time, and yes, I know there is a frigging humongous patch around the corner that will address a lot of this. But - and this ties in to what I have just said above - if I get an item that boosts a stat by X amount, kindly explain to me in very basic terms what that entails in practice. What the hell is 'Heroic Defence'? What's the benefit of 'Intelligence'? How does 'Magical Attack' work? Don't make me go and look it up on a third-party website. Let me find out by mousing over, or at the very least, by clicking on a Help button.