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Dark Shikari

An analysis of MMORPG item systems

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Note: My examples, obviously, are from the games that I have played enough to realize how they work. That's why only EVE, Earth and Beyond, and Anarchy Online ever get used as examples :). I've been pondering ideas for item systems within MMORPGs for a while, and IMO, item systems seem to be what can make or break a game. And by item system, I mean the whole deal--everything from the loot drops and the vendors to the crafting system. Because its all related--one minor flaw can have far-reaching consequences, easily disrupting the rest of the system. An "ideal" item system would have: 1. A way to limit competition. For example, lets say that everyone could manufacture every item in the game with only a small initial cost (for a blueprint, etc), and that the items were easy to get (as in, for example, EVE, where everything uses an amount of each of up to 8 minerals, which are all easily buyable on the market), the prices would be so close to the cost of building the item that no one would make any profit, and tradeskilling would be relatively useless. In some games this has *almost* happened, but usually there was one solid limit preventing this. Some examples: a. EVE: The massive cost of the initial blueprint (at least for battleships, for example) helped stem competition. In addition, the fact that the market wasn't a global, automatic market--you can only view deals in your region and must actually go and pick up the item--allows higher priced items to have a chance. b. Earth and Beyond: The fact that people eventually would only buy 200% quality items limited the competition for items whose looted version (loot versions can be analyzed and then built) were commonly available. And of course, items that were rare obviously couldn't be built by everyone and their dog. c. Anarchy Online: This game simply relies on making most of the important parts loot only or require very high tradeskills, yet again stopping everyone and their dog from making items. Whether its low availability of blueprints, low availability of components for tradeskilling, or a regional market like EVE, an item system *NEEDS* a limit on competition. 2. But an item system also must allow everyone who wants to build items/tradeskill to have a chance, rather than limit production to the top percent of players with either very high skills, easy access to tradeskill items, or a guild with enough influence to get them the blueprints. However, at first glance, this looks as if it would contradict with the above! Not necessarily. In fact, to make an ideal item system, IMO, one MUST have these not contradict! Some ideas: a. EVE's system seems to work, but requires by definition a game in which travel times are long. IMO long travel times are never a good thing. b. Have a near infinite number of loot items (randomly generated in the fashion of Diablo 2) and make them "analyzable," as in Earth and Beyond. However, this may run into the same problem as before, as most of these random items will be worthless and the elite players will end up with the best blueprints anyways. I haven't been able to come up with a solution for this problem, but something keeps telling me that there must be one out there. If anyone has any ideas for this, post it here--more knowledge for the development community is always a good thing, and I'd love to see a game for once that has a decent item system. 3. An open economy is part of an MMORPG. Since today's MMORPGs can't fully simulate the economy including NPC aspects, money must enter the game at some point (through looting money, selling loot to NPC vendors, quest rewards, etc), and then leave the game (through buying stuff from NPC vendors, etc). However, in most games that I have seen, far more money enters the game than leaves. While this doesn't affect mass-produced items, it causes incredible inflation in terms of the prices of items that can't be readily acquired (i.e. rare, loot-only, etc). This alienates pretty much all new or non-hardcore players, as they can't afford these insanely inflated prices. It is CRITICAL to avoid having the inflation rate rise too high above the rate of player population growth. Some examples of not-enough-money-sinks: a. Earth and Beyond: Early on in the game, there was generally enough of an influx of money into the game to cause gentle inflation, but not too much to cause a huge disparity between the rich and the poor, as I described earlier. But about 6 months after release, new MOBs were placed in Antares. While the loot didn't stack (i.e. making it easy to carry hundreds of pieces back to a vendor), it still was worth so much that hunting there could provide up to ten times the number of credits per hour of fighting. When previously ten million credits was a large sum and paying 200 million credits for anything was unthinkable (as not even the top traders had that much)... now they were in reach. A week hunting in Antares could push a high level Warrior into the triple-digit millions. And suddenly, the rarest items in the game weren't trading for 50 million--they were trading for 500 million. 750 million. Eventually certain items became so valuable that people refused to trade credits for them--as credits had become so worthless in comparison to the value of these incredibly rare items. b. EVE Online: This game has always had a major money sink problem, as money rarely leaves the game! Since all items are player-sold, when a player buys something, the money goes right back to the playerbase. The only times money ever leaves the game are when people buy NPC-sold skills (which in general don't cost that much), when people buy NPC-sold blueprints (which do cost a lot but not enough to offset the huge influx of money), when people leave the game and leave their money behind, and in a few certain rare cases such as delivery mission failure/loss of collateral. What makes this worse is how fast money does come into the game. Whenever a ship is blown up (which probably happens once every minute or less in EVE Online), the player is rewarded with the insurance money (40% of value for autoinsurance if they didn't buy any, up to 100% if they did buy insurance). But notice--the entire ship was built by players. The minerals were mined, and the miners were payed by refiners. The refiners refined the ore, and sold it to manufacturers, who used a factory (which costs a minimal amount to rent) to build that ship that was lost. In the process, through trade taxes and rentals and such, no more than 1% of the money leaves the game. But when that ship is lost, the player gets a free 40-100% of the ship's value (although its more like 40-70%, as insurance costs money)... out of the blue! While for the player they've lost money, in actuality no money has disappeared--it has only left their hands. Hopefully the new Shiva expansion will add enough money sinks (in the form of deployable stations, etc) to minimize inflation. c. Anarchy Online: The only money sinks are players leaving the game and vendor-sold items. 'nuff said. Similar to Earth and Beyond, rare items simply skyrocket in price. So what do you think about this? Agree/disagree with my analysis? Have any ideas? My main problem ATM is trying to come up with a working way to limit competition, but still allow everyone to be able to profitably build items if they wish (as I stated above).
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Wow, quite the lengthy discussion... I only have a few ideas to share.

1. In terms of reducing competition and demand for items, I would say that a more balanced item set needs to be implemented. The gap between the best items and the worst items should be drastically reduced. No more uber-sword of 1337 annihilation +9999, and no more chipped dagger covered in dust. Make many different items with more varied positive aspects. Make the 'best item in the game' disappear, relaced by many many more 'very good items'

Also, if you want players to not be competing over the same item, make some items have different effects based on something users can't control. Like make a hidden stat modifier that changes the effect of the weapon depending on what time of the day a character was created. Call it the moonlight effect or some crap like that. Some guy born at 2PM can't use an item with a 4AM hidden attribute as well as some guy made at 4:30AM. It doesn't have to be time based, make some other effects, like how a character picks his/her appearance, or what a user spends most of their time doing.

2. I absolutely DESPISE it when developers equate 'long time required' with 'difficulty'. We should all know by now that people seem to have an infinite amount of time for MMO games, and if you make it simply a matter of probabilities all the time, people will beat the odds by repeating that test until it comes up in their favor. Am I wrong? It seems like to craft the ultimate weapon, you simply need to do it over and over and over again until it happens. A difficult challenge would be to enter in a non-stop tournament that even lvl 99 characters would cry over, and the longer you survive the better item you get. That's difficulty, and no matter how many times you do it, if you don't have the skill, you can't get the items.

3. Economy... there's been an excellent thread on this before, but my thoughts, however unpopular they might be, are to implement taxes and debt. Taxing the population of an MMO would very easily solve many economical problems. Keeping track of items bought versus items sold could cause some sort of game-wide debt.
If you try to mimic a real world economy, you have to include all the things that affect it; you can't just say 'well i want this part to be in, but not that part'... that results in unbalance. The solution is far too long and complex for someone of very little economical knowledge (ah, me, the lowly engineer).

As ever,
*Cosmic*
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Quote:
Original post by Cosmic One
Wow, quite the lengthy discussion... I only have a few ideas to share.

1. In terms of reducing competition and demand for items, I would say that a more balanced item set needs to be implemented. The gap between the best items and the worst items should be drastically reduced. No more uber-sword of 1337 annihilation +9999, and no more chipped dagger covered in dust. Make many different items with more varied positive aspects. Make the 'best item in the game' disappear, relaced by many many more 'very good items'

Also, if you want players to not be competing over the same item, make some items have different effects based on something users can't control. Like make a hidden stat modifier that changes the effect of the weapon depending on what time of the day a character was created. Call it the moonlight effect or some crap like that. Some guy born at 2PM can't use an item with a 4AM hidden attribute as well as some guy made at 4:30AM. It doesn't have to be time based, make some other effects, like how a character picks his/her appearance, or what a user spends most of their time doing.

2. I absolutely DESPISE it when developers equate 'long time required' with 'difficulty'. We should all know by now that people seem to have an infinite amount of time for MMO games, and if you make it simply a matter of probabilities all the time, people will beat the odds by repeating that test until it comes up in their favor. Am I wrong? It seems like to craft the ultimate weapon, you simply need to do it over and over and over again until it happens. A difficult challenge would be to enter in a non-stop tournament that even lvl 99 characters would cry over, and the longer you survive the better item you get. That's difficulty, and no matter how many times you do it, if you don't have the skill, you can't get the items.

3. Economy... there's been an excellent thread on this before, but my thoughts, however unpopular they might be, are to implement taxes and debt. Taxing the population of an MMO would very easily solve many economical problems. Keeping track of items bought versus items sold could cause some sort of game-wide debt.
If you try to mimic a real world economy, you have to include all the things that affect it; you can't just say 'well i want this part to be in, but not that part'... that results in unbalance. The solution is far too long and complex for someone of very little economical knowledge (ah, me, the lowly engineer).

As ever,
*Cosmic*


For the first part, I agree totally IMO. In "level-based" games, I hate when two items at the same level can be drastically different. For example, in AO, the Perennium Beamer at QL100 is almost 3 times better than a store-bought QL100 weapon. Absolutely ridiculous. And in a game without levels such as EVE, same thing applies.

Earth and Beyond got the leveling items right--most items of the same level did damage very similarly, and while there were a few easily-built (i.e. not rare) items that were considered "the best," they weren't that much better than anything else. And even uber items didn't do more damage, often they did less-they relied on their buffs to make them good.

For the second part, I disagree with any type of moonlight effect. IMO every character should be able to use every item (assuming they have all the required skills). What should be valued in a weapon setup is a variety of buffs (maybe similar buffs don't stack, for example, as in E&B), rather than one of each of the "best weapons."

For the third part, I disagree with taxes. IMO the correct way to get money out of a game is to give incentives for players to buy very expensive NPC-produced items... or the best way--simply stop the money from going in in the first place. If there's already way too much money going in, thats already a problem.
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As for money entering and leaving the game, there is another way. What if money never entered or left the game? (I'm not exactly sure how you'd get the starting amount into the game, but it's possible.) Say either NPCs had a specific amount of money just like players, or there were no NPCs to begin with. Sure, there may be 10,000,000,000 gold in the game, but if there's never any more, an item that went for 1,000,000 will always be considered expensive, and if there are 10,000 players how likely is it that one of them will have that much money?
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Original post by MagiMaster
As for money entering and leaving the game, there is another way. What if money never entered or left the game? (I'm not exactly sure how you'd get the starting amount into the game, but it's possible.) Say either NPCs had a specific amount of money just like players, or there were no NPCs to begin with. Sure, there may be 10,000,000,000 gold in the game, but if there's never any more, an item that went for 1,000,000 will always be considered expensive, and if there are 10,000 players how likely is it that one of them will have that much money?

I promise you, one person [or maybe two or three] would end up with all 10,000,000,000 gold, but they wouldn't use it. They'd just horde it for the fun of watching everybody else run around poor. Then that account would be cancelled, and you'd have to invent a money source to redistribute the gold that's now vanished.

You can't perfectly simulate an economy, its just not possible. Griefing is too easy, and actual economies rely on there being consequences for pissing people off.

CM
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