We Can’t Have Nice Things (They Keep Decaying)

[This article is about my upcoming 3D fantasy MMO code-named "Project Gorgon."]

One of the many design elements I haven’t fully figured out yet is item decay. This is a tough one.

Item decay is when your weapons and armor and tools can get “used up” and disappear after some amount of use. It’s very different from “item damage”, where the items can be completely repaired. Decay is permanent, and is thus a much more complex topic.

The Case for Item Decay

Why would you have item decay in your game? There are lots of reasons to use this mechanic:

  • It gives crafters more to do. If people need to buy new swords regularly, then blacksmiths have more to do. If swords don’t wear out, then blacksmiths obviously don’t need to make as many.
  • It reduces twinking. A big problem in games with random loot systems is “hand-me-down weapons.” In these games, players tend to find more weapons than they personally need. They hoard these weapons and hand them down to other players. This doesn’t hurt much of anything if it’s done for an “alt” character, but when a brand new player is given a bunch of top-tier gear, it can really hurt their enjoyment of the game, and hence their retention. What seems like a nice gesture from players can really hurt the game overall. But if weapons decay, there will be fewer top-end weapons to give to others, and anyway, the twinked player won’t be permanently overpowered.
  • It lets you keep your power escalation low. In most games you want players to experience the thrill of finding new equipment often. In a game with a steep level curve (like WoW for instance), you’ll get new weapons all the time as you level up. But in a game like mine where people don’t get a ton more powerful as they level up, higher-level weapons can’t get much more powerful than lower-level weapons, so what’s the point of switching weapons? Well, if your weapons keep decaying, you’re forced to switch weapons. Problem solved!

The Case Against Item Decay

The case against item decay is really simple, and really damning: human beings are ridiculously averse to loss. There’s more psychological studies about this than you can shake a library at, but for me it can be summed up in this one principle: Human beings fear loss, even more than they should. They predict that the loss of an item will hurt more than it actually does, and they go out of their way to avoid it.

In a game with item loss, there are two ways humans deal with this fear: either they refuse to use amazing items because they don’t want them to go away, or they become clinically detached from all items.

Probably the most common thing is that they just refuse to use items. You see this in any MMO that has one-use super items. I don’t know about you, but when I get a “Potion of Being Amazing For 3 Minutes”, I hoard that sucker forever. In most games, I won’t even use it to save myself from dying, because the death penalty is less painful than losing the item! (In WoW or EQ2, I wouldn’t use rare irreplaceable items unless I was in a really good group/raid and we were going to wipe… and even then, I’d have to think about it pretty hard.)

But this isn’t a big deal — who cares if people hoard their one-use quest rewards? I don’t. It gets to be a bigger deal when all items in your game can decay. Suddenly you never want to use any high-quality item ever!

Let’s unpack that idea of “high-quality items” for a moment, because it’s important. An item is not high-quality if it’s “just good enough to get the job done.” You’ll be happy to have such an item (especially if you were struggling with dangerously underpowered equipment prior to that) but you won’t think of it as particularly super-powered.

By definition, a top-tier item has to be more powerful than is strictly necessary to survive. And that means it’s never actually needed. And if it’s not needed, and is going to decay when used, that means it’s going to get hoarded.

And if you try make top-tier items mandatory in order to survive, what you’re really doing is making all lower-tier items into junk, and you’re back to square one: nobody’s excited about loot because everybody has to use the very best items already.

(I’m oversimplifying here, because it’s actually possible to create items that are “kinda crappy” without being suicidally underpowered. But I also know from experience how really hard it is to find that sweet spot for consumable items, and how hard it is to maintain that balance over a long period of game updates. It almost always falls down into items either being “junk”, “the thing we have to use”, or “the thing that’s too good to ever bother using”.)

Clinical Detachment

I said there were two scenarios that happen when you have item decay. One is that people hoard the best stuff because it’s too valuable to use. The other is even worse, though: emotional detachment from loot.

You see this in games with particularly heavy item turnover. Nobody gets too excited about even the most amazing items. “It’s nice, sure, <yawn>, but it’ll be gone soon enough.”

This means you (the designer) have a much harder time getting players excited. The game also tends to feel more like a treadmill: players can see more easily that they’re just collecting money in order to buy the same old stuff so they can collect money to buy the same old stuff so they can…

(Note that there’s not actually any more “treadmill” than any other MMO design. It’s just that item decay makes it a little easier to see.)

So once again we’re back to the same problem: we can’t have nice things, because there’s no things in the universe that are nice enough to get excited about.

If players aren’t going to be excited about loot, why bother having it? You’re better off leaving it out and focusing on something else. If you’re gonna have a complex item system, players need to be excited about items!

Gorgon Needs a Different Approach

So from a logical perspective, item decay is a great mechanic. Those problems I mentioned at the beginning are real problems, and very much worth fixing. But the psychology of loss is just too painful to me to want to do an item-decay game.

But since my main complaint is the psychology of it, maybe I can find a replacement design that fits psychology better.

And really, isn’t that what every game does? The reason your sword’s damage keeps going up and up in WoW is to force you to keep getting new weapons. It isn’t really much different than if your sword just decayed every few levels, forcing you to get a new weapon. But it feels so much less painful!

And WoW solves the problem of “hand me down items” with the trick of literally making it impossible to give great items to other people. The items become attuned to you as soon as you pick them up, and voila! No more hand me down items. It’s ham-fisted but it sure works.

But all hybrid solutions seem to have their own problems. In the WoW model, the power level has to keep escalating up and up and up forever, and at a pretty fast pace, too. If you ever get the very best set of items in the whole game, the treadmill breaks. There’s no reason to care about items anymore.

Hybrid Solution: “Permanent Plus Temporary”

I’ve been looking at different hybrid solutions for Project Gorgon. I’m calling my current plan “Permanent Plus Temporary.”

It’s a two-stage approach. Weapons, armors, and tools are permanent. So you can quest for the very best items in the game, and get excited when you find them. Hooray, you’re permanently better than before!

But by itself, the sword is kind of crap. It has to be magically sharpened (or maybe “enchanted”, or “have a new hilt put on”, or whatever — something has to be done to the item. I’m just using “sharpened” as an example).

So sharpening is not optional. An unsharp sword does so little damage that you won’t survive if you try to use it. You have to get your item sharpened, either from a professional sharpener or with a one-use do-it-yourself sharpening kit. And the sharpening “wears off” over time, requiring you to sharpen it again and again.

That solved one of the three problems I mentioned at the outset: it makes sure crafters always have enough to do. And I can fix the hand-me-down problem the same way WoW does it: for the very best items, you simply can never give them away. That’s not a particularly immersive or elegant solution, but it works.

But I still have problems with power escalation. Once you have the best item, you don’t need to look for loot anymore!

Lower Power-Escalation From Randomized Loot

In order to keep my items’ power levels from cranking through the roof, I’m using randomly-generated treasure. The idea behind randomly-generated treasure is that it uses a different reward schedule than fixed-design treasure. You have to look at every sword you get because one of them is going to be amazing. And when you find an amazing sword, there’s still a chance that you’ll find an even more amazing random item later.

So with random items, players rapidly reach a “sweet spot” of power (a little higher than the average quality level for items of that type), and then very slowly (on average) find better and better items. They have to keep looking because who knows when the randomly-better item will show up?

Lots of games have random treasure (and a few have random crafted items), but often the results are not amazing. Making a fun random loot system is a lot harder than it sounds! I remember that we struggled mightily to make Asheron’s Call 2′s treasure system the equal of AC1′s. In the end it was very cool… but it sure took a ton of time and tweaking, and it never quite had the elegance of AC1′s system.

The problem is that you can’t just graft a random treasure system onto a game; it has to be designed around it very heavily, and with a lot of subtlety. I’ll talk about random treasure another time, though, since this post seems never-ending…

(Random loot still doesn’t actually “solve” the power progression problem. It just slows the progression down a bit so it doesn’t have to keep going up and up and up every damned day.)

Better Plan Forthcoming?

I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily got the best plan yet. I’m still a ways away from actually implementing a treasure system (beyond the static loot that I have now for testing purposes), so I still have time to bat ideas around.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons. There are a lot of different angles you can look at this problem from — the trick is figuring out what angles are the most important.

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47 Responses to We Can’t Have Nice Things (They Keep Decaying)

  1. scrusi says:

    How is mandatory “sharpening” any different from item damage à la WoW? “Your item is useless now. Spend money to use it again.” seems to apply to both. Sure, you allow for players to do the “repairs” but does that really make such a difference?

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  3. Eric says:

    Well, I definitely think the psychological effects of having the players do the work are a huge difference. That’s all crafting ever is: having players provide some benefit that an in-game system could otherwise have provided, but doesn’t.

    Really there’s no difference between getting armor from a dungeon and getting armor from a player crafter, except the crafter is part of the equation.

    It also gives more variables for crafters to fiddle in the system (you might “sharpen” a sword to be more effective against a certain kind of monster and weaker versus another). But that will take some clever thinking or I’ll just end up at the same old place where such buffs are “required to have” instead of “nice to have”. It’s definitely a tricky area overall.

  4. Longasc says:

    “Sharpening” seem to be a lot like the “durability” concept of Ultima Online. At 100/100 the item/weapon would do 100% of its listed damage, at 80/100 say 80%. So you really wanted to keep your sword repaired.

    The drawback was every “repair” reduced durability by 1 point. At 10/10 the weapon was basically worthless and beyond repair, as 2 points durability loss in battle would lower it quickly to 8/10 ~ 80% efficiency.

    This was the point when people started buying a new weapon -> good for crafters.
    Your “sharpening” system demands a constant supply of sharpening/grinding stones or whatever we would call these items from crafters. But not so much for new weapons.

    But crafted weapons could have somewhat random stats like loot as well, very much like in UO crafted weapons already differed in quality: some had a little more durability and people paid a LOT more for them. Despite their only advantage being that they had say 100 durability instad of 95. The difference between 94/95 and 99/100 is some 0,01% in damage and some 0,3% at 90/95 vs 95/100. But people used to pay so much more for “perfect” weapons.

    The problem is still there: Once I have a perfect weapon, I will repair it over and over and over and don’t care for anything else.

    My suggestion would be

    1.) not to allow sharpening before some 10% damage loss because of a dull blade or something like that is reached.
    AND
    2.) Give sharpening a HIGH chance to keep the stats as they are, a MEDIUM chance to lower stats and a VERY LOW chance to increase potential maximum damage of the weapon.
    3.) of course everyone knows that a grandmaster smith with rare sharpening stones and an enchanter at hand has a a better, a LOW chance to increase the damage of your weapon and a VERY HIGH to keep the damage as it is.

    Sharpening would be a dangerous thing to do – but something you have to do. You can be lucky and turn Excalibur into Excalibur+. But soon Excalibur might lose that little extra when getting sharpened again and fall back to Excalibur level or become even a little worse.

    Getting the price right is the another problem. Make it too low and people will always use the best option for their best blade. Make it too high and few people will do it, but that’s actually better than the other way round.

  5. Kirk Spencer says:

    I like the basic hybrid idea, whether it be sharpening or repairing the armor (straps break, dents need pounded out) or whatever.

    My tentative recommendation would be a variety of capacities or potentials. ie: levels of skill, quality of underlying base item, and quality of improvement tools each contribute to the potential maximum capability and to the rate of decay.

    The other element is the ‘floor’. The skill level and underlying base item create a minimum value. Thus a level 20 with a steel sword at the end of a long day is still a challenge for if not better than the level 10 with iron sword just finished with sharpening and polishing and resting.

    Which points out an obvious balance issue, of course. Maybe the fresh 10 vs minimum 20 is a fair battle. Should it be one? dunno, it depends, etc.

  6. Sara Pickell says:

    Couldn’t you also use rarity to scale the amount of decay by orders of magnitude?
    So our crap sword is lost after 30 hits, our normal sword is fine for 300 hits, our kinda nice sword is 3000 hits and our earth shatteringly rare sword is 300,000? This way they either choose to use the really good sword knowing they can get away with it but that it will end eventually, or they forgoe it and use their kind of crap swords which leads to a higher turnover rate and more crafting. – I just remembered, I think that’s how Minecraft handles it. o.o
    Though to be honest I do like the idea of consumable enchantments and permanent weapons, it’s got a lovely sort of elegance to it.

    I do feel there is a better way, but to me that would mean forgoing the whole “kill, upgrade, kill harder” loop to make the decisions sparser and more meaningful. Hopefully at some point I’ll get around to showing the world what the new loop would be, but right this instant, I just can’t put it in words.

  7. scrusi says:

    Eric, I get that there is a relevant difference between player crafted and NPC provided goods – that’s not what I meant to contest. Rather, I don’t see how it makes much of a difference in something as mundane (read: boring) as repairs. There’s really no difference between someone dropping a repair bot in WoW and directly repairing your weapon for you. (Except that the former is far more convenient ;))

    If you add additional variables to the mix, things change. Temporary enchantments are rather common (which doesn’t mean bad, just not something to write home about.) Something like the system Longasc suggests would give a lot more soul to the idea.

    Nevertheless, unless “repairing” required rare and individual materials, I don’t think I could see it as more than a money (or rather, material) drain of sorts as the player. Carrying a stack of weapon repair kits (or what have you) is not a whole lot different from carrying stacks of (player-made) arrows.

  8. alcaras says:

    Sharpening sounds like a tedious, un-fun time sink mechanic. It’d probably be a pain to find a crafter willing to sharpen, or just a money/time sink to buy a premade sharpening kit.

  9. Aetius says:

    EVE and Darkfall try to resolve the problem by making equipment useful but expendable, while ensuring that things aren’t so rare that players feel like they’ve lost their favorite dog when the item goes away. In both games, equipment is a cost of playing much like potions are in WoW or Rift, and the goal becomes to secure a supply of equipment rather than get the “one best item”. People don’t worry much about “expending” items because items are, by design, expendable. I don’t know whether that’s better or not, but I know I focused a lot more on developing tactics in Darkfall than I ever did in WoW or now in Rift.

    You can keep crafters involved in gear by making the best gear a combination of crafter activity and good random drops. For example, in Rift virtually every item can have a rune, and the best runes are player-made. Every time you upgrade, you need to get another rune – it’s one of the few areas of the economy that is humming. In a game with equipment that decays, shifting emphasis to the player-made buffs would make them more important and lessen the feeling of loss.

    Also, making equipment more about character design rather than stats reduces the focus on items. Allow people to change how they look and what colors and effects their items have, and that goes a long way to reducing the sense of loss. In addition, associating equipment with spec means that progression becomes “wider” and slower – instead of one optimized spec, I now need equipment for multiple specs, which keeps me playing even if one of my specs reaches the max. Rift does this to a certain extent, but it could go a lot further – maybe you’ve got the gear to be a rogue, but when you start using wizarding skills, you benefit from different gear – and choosing an “equipment design” becomes a game in and of itself, like shipbuilding in EVE or MOO2.

  10. Nik says:

    Your idea is very similar to a system I called “upkeep” when thinking about those initial problems – instead having to regularly invest in new items you constantly have to pay for their use.
    As some others pointed out, it can be described as an elevated item repair system. I guess that is the main misunderstanding between scrusi and you: You explicitely want to make that mechanic central and not “boring”.
    In WoW, item damage is probably one of the least interesting mechanics of the game – it isn’t even a “have you remembered to…”-minigame, because sooner or later you _will_ need to repair on a raid night.
    Imagine a system akin to LotROs legendary weapon relics where the relics would have to be replaced regularly and you have something much more involved.

    On the “NPC vs. PC” topic: You are probably aware about the relative reluctance to ask other players for crafting services compared to buying from NPCs – and the problem of not being able to find the required crafter during off-hours. So you might want to include an asynchronous trade mechanic for that (like WoW with its enchanting scroll auctions).

  11. Kujo says:

    You remind me of mana gems from AC1. Another nice feature of mana gems was that they could consume other loot! An upkeep system that benefits from attributes of the loot you sacrifice to it has a lot of appeal.

  12. Yeebo says:

    DDO has a hybrid item wear/ item bound system that I quite like.

    Items do wear down with use, and when you repair them there is a small chance that an item will be damaged and lose a point of durability permanently. If the permanent durability of an item goes to zero it breaks.

    However, if you really like an item you can permanently bind it to yourself. It can no longer be traded or sold, but can also never break from that point on. Once bound, a modest permanent enchant can also be added to an item. It really makes it feel as if the item is yours.

    On the systems you mention, I really am a big fan of randomized loot. It’s one of the things that makes roguelikes so addictive. I spent four solid months running through slightly randomized variations of the same eight dungeons in PSO and was thoroughly entertained by it. It’s a really fun mechanic I wish more MMOs would adopt fully.

    The sharpening system I’m not sure about. It sounds like something I might find annoying. Which is odd, because I don’t find repairing my items every time I hit a vendor at all annoying.

    It would come down to how much time I had to spend going out of my way to get items sharpened, and how much of an ongoing cost this would represent. If I’m even having to spend 5% of my playtime on it, I think it would be a show stopper for me.

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  14. Aaron says:

    Re: (Random loot still doesn’t actually “solve” the power progression problem. It just slows the progression down a bit so it doesn’t have to keep going up and up and up every damned day.)

    What if there were some maximum power level of items, and all further increases were zone specific? By mid to upper level you get a “masterwork” sword or something that is as good as a sword can be, base-stats wise. But as you venture into new upper level zones you encounter monsters that are vulnerable to a particular enchantment or style of masterwork weapon that can only be created using materials found in this zone.

    So, for example, you venture into a zone full of dwarves having a civil war. They have created varying levels of dwarfslaying enchantments for weapons and corresponding armor enchantments to mitigate the damage. The enchantments also hurt players, so they need to gear up with this new armor enchantment in order to get very far in the zone.

    This way, power goes up as you get loot in that zone, but the power doesn’t really transfer to other zones. You wouldn’t need constantly increase power levels every expansion.

  15. Sam says:

    How about having the items decay with time, rather than use? It would get around the reluctance to use issue, and might get players to play more during the time they have really good items. I can see it creating item detachment, but what do you think would be the other effects?

  16. Wyrmrider says:

    A binary “sharp” vs. “dull” distinction, with player crafters simply flipping that switch, seems like a snooze. But if “sharpness” is more like a sliding scale (as Longasc describes) so that there’s some gameplay in finding a good balance, and if crafters have the opportunity to be creative within the system, that sounds pretty good to me. :)

    On randomized loot, I’m a big fan of this provided that there’s enough stat variety to give the player interesting choices. A great example is Borderlands, where you have some MMO weapon concepts (damage range, speed, element types) combined with shooter concepts (accuracy, zoom, steadiness, recoil, reload time). Sometimes you’ll find a clear-cut upgrade, but more often its a tradeoff, and that gives players more power to choose items that fit their play style.

  17. Max says:

    Some awesome ideas! Pesonally I thought about this long and hard as well and for many reasons decided that item decay is bad. But the need to repair (“polish”,”sharpen”) covers the aspect for crafters

    The aspect about power progression – I think items should not pass certain threshold of power. You set it and no item ever gets over it. And to get close to it the item would be really rare- it would need top notch components , lucky dice rolls and tons of effort. But in the end it would maybe only 10% better than very good item which most crafters can produce at reasonable price

    What would make seeking new items attractive? -customization. Make weapon/armor modular like in NwN. Custom guard ,grip, pommel, blade . With just 10 of each you can have 10000 unique swords! Make the stats require unqiue drops – for the incentive of exploring dungeons ,etc.

  18. Reason says:

    I liked your comment about twinking. In your game I would highly recommend considering allowing items be account-bound so you can give them to your own alts. That keeps me playing a game for well after I would have quit because I have fun rolling additional characters of different classes without feeling I have to re-grind as much for all the gear I already played a long time to (randomly) obtain.

  19. Kirk Spencer says:

    As a late digression… one of the things I always thought frustrating about bonuses is that they’re additive.

    I’ve always thought that bonuses that added a fixed fraction of character base would go a fair way to decreasing twink problems.

  20. I agree completely that item decay adds a lot to a game. I remember having this discussion with a friend when EQ1 came out; he was adamantly against item decay, but then when he saw the effect in game he agreed that item decay would be better.

    As by Yeebo mentioned above, the DDO system works pretty well to split the difference between items sticking around and eventually “going away”. M59 had a pretty good system, too, but items felt more transitory. Most items were commodity, meaning you could go get them pretty easy with modest effort. Items had a max durability and would take durability damage. Every time an item was repaired, it would lose a small amount of max durability based on the repairer’s skill. If an item broke completely it was bad news.

    For the most part, if your item became worn you’d just go get a new one, as most longswords were identical. But, there were a few enchanted ones with special effects (“procs” like blinding, etc.) that were rare and special, especially useful in PvP. These people would hold on to and use sparingly and want only the very best menders to touch. (Your whole inventory would drop on death, making these items even more transitory.)

    As to the design discussion, I’m not sure if people not building a deep investment in their equipment is a bad thing. As long as they invest in something you’ll be accomplishing a design goal. In WoW, for example, people bond with their equipment because the base character isn’t really all that special compared to others. My healing-over-time spell is just like the one from anyone else playing that class with the “must have” traits; it’s the modifier to healing power that makes us unique, and that comes from randomized loot. Make the character more customizable and special, and players being “clinically detached” from their items isn’t a negative thing.

    My thoughts.

  21. Cat says:

    The thing that interested me was your comment that WoW’s system of making items “soulbound” (unable to be passed to another player) was “ham-fisted”. I guess I do have to agree. In the real world, a cherished sword would be passed from generation to generation!

    What’s wrong with putting a minimum level requirement on stuff and letting people fill up their bags with it? It seems obvious that you have to have some level of sword mastery to use an awesome sword.

    Or… and this is going overboard, I am sure… a cost to “train” to use a certain awesome weapon? Then you could send an alt a fancy weapon, but they’d have to have some level of skill already and then pay more to learn how to use it.

    I like the weapon sharpening idea, too. Think of how heirloom gear scales with level in WoW. What if the sharpeners scaled with level (and had a level requirement)? You could find the Sword of Truth and give it to your level 1 alt, but his sharpener wouldn’t be able to do much with it.

  22. Eric says:

    Great ideas here so far, thanks!

    @Several people – When I was talking about “sharpening”, I was imagining that the “sharpness” slowly fades away, so the weapon gets less and less effective until the player gets it re-sharpened. That creates a little bit of decision-making: do you get it repaired now, or wait longer? It’s still not exactly a riveting game mechanic, though, so something better can probably be found.

    @Brian – it’s certainly a valid choice to let players become “detached” from their stuff… but in that case, there’s no point in having a complex item system. Crafting won’t be that compelling since items aren’t compelling, so crafting also ends up being reduced in importance. That may make more sense for a PvP game, but for a game with a lot of non-combat activities, I need players to be excited about “stuff” in general.

    Will add more replies in a bit, gotta crash!

  23. Mavis says:

    The mechanic I saw from what you described worked like this….

    Items have a set of bonus – but those bonus only work if ‘activated’ – swords are sharpened.

    Crafters produce items that activate things for a set period of time. But they activate them only up to a point. So the lowest level activator can only provide plus one bonus. a higher level one activates more of the bonus if the item has it.

    So to get a high bonus you need both a high quality sword and to have activated it.

    Items are permanent – so never lost – but consumables are needed to take advantage of them….. No idea how else that would fit with you ideas…

    So to get

  24. Ysharros says:

    I have very fond memories indeed of AC1′s loot system, even if it was damn near 10 years ago. Opening the corpse goodie-box (or checking through your packs once they got full) was huge fun, and you never knew what you’d find. Couple that with the dynamic merchants who’d actually show you what other people had sold for a while and you had something much more engaging than the blandness we get these days.

    I tell ya, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

    On-topic, I’m actually a fan of item decay (with proper implementation caveats blah blah), but I’m aware that I’m in a very tiny minority.

  25. Richard N says:

    I like Cat’s idea of a ceiling on a characters ability to use a hand-me-down item. The danger is that the player never needs a replacement item. For example, a level 10 tank character has a +1000 suit of armour and gifts it to their level 2 wizard. The wizard has a ceiling benefit of +50 from wearing the armour. As the wizard levels up they get +75, +150 from that same suit of armour until they themselves are level 10. They can keep the same suit of armour and grow into it like a little kid whose mom buys shoes two sizes too big. Using a “crafting to keep it 100%” mechanic works well in this case because the low-level player has a suit of armour they love and never trade away. Having them keep it enchanted (I’m assuming they’ll want some sort of enchantment to make it light as a feather) increases player interaction but still breaks item collection as a game mechanic. The player won’t be thrilled with new loot because their suit of armour was looted in a zone very far away filled with huge monsters.

  26. Nils says:

    I would like the advantages of a item decay. But I think they are only worth it, if the game is not all about loot. Make your game about anything else (like conquering castles or defending against undead, etc) and items can be just a tool in the mind of the player.

    At special occasions (siege of a large town) players might like to use/invest more expensive tools. And the subsequent loss can create great stories that players remember. – and which make them come back many times over the years.

    If items are the goal of the game (WoW), item decay is an unsolvable problem, just like you write.

    What I am saying is that emotionaly detachment is not necessarily bad if you have something else in the game that player can emotionally attached to. Items are an unwise choice when it comes to emotional attachment.

  27. SKapusniak says:

    How about doing it sort of like City of Heroes, but with the item decay (which it doesn’t have)?

    Have crafted ‘buff objects’ which slot into the player’s abilities rather than being attached to the players equipment, equipment being there for the looks.

    You get new abilities as you level, but you also get additional slots to put buffs in, you choosing which abilities to attach the slots to. Make the buff objects lose an amount of effectiveness each time the ability their slot is attached to is used.

    Fits with the sex-mad elves not having actual equipment only magical jewelry :)

  28. DrBrydon says:

    I don’t think repair is a plus for crafters. At one point during the continual changes, SWG had repair. As a crafter, it was a pain in the butt to have people /tell you when you were on a mission asking for repair. Of course, if you say ‘no’, you’d get a bad rep.

    The other problem is whether the crafter needs any particular skill level to repair something (say Master). Then it becomes hard to find someone to do repairs. As the crafter what do I charge? It takes my time, and maybe materials (if you need anything to perform the repair). It seems inconsequential, though, but if I had to spend a lot of time getting to a certain level, I expect the skill to pay.

    If you want to give crafters something to do, restrict loot drops.

  29. Logan says:

    (Not sure if this got caught in the spam filter or something the first time I tried to post, so trying again. Ignore one of them if it ends up double posting though)

    Granted, you said you’d cover random loot in another post, and perhaps this response is better suited for whenever that happens, but…

    I loved random loot in Diablo II. It definitely added a lot to the lifespan of the game. By all rights, it should have gotten boring to run Mephisto over and over again, hoping to either get your best loot or something good enough to trade away, it didn’t. You had the continual balance of survivability, killing power, and Magic Find. Skimp too much on survivability or killing power, and you’d lose too much time from deaths and inability to kill Meph quickly. On the other hand, the more Magic Find you managed to stack, the greater your chances of a given run paying off. It was almost a game in and of itself, trying to maximize your good loot per hour. The real wins were rare enough to be a huge moment of excitement, but you always felt close enough to make it worth running just one more time.

    On the other hand, I hate random loot in Borderlands. The good stuff was so rare that almost none of it was worth even picking up once you found something decent. Even when you found something of a high enough quality to look at, most of the time it was still a downgrade. With no way to improve your chances, you were at the mercy of RNG. You might get lucky, so you grudgingly sift through every drop just to make sure, but by the time you finally hit the payoff, the only thought is, “Geez, it’s about friggin’ time.” At that point, I think random loot really starts to detract from the game.

    It definitely seems like something that can be really awesome when done well, but really terrible when done poorly. It sounds like your ideas with sharpening will somewhat blunt the potential for frustration, but I’d love to hear what you’re planning to make sure that random loot is actually fun.

  30. Fig says:

    Some really interesting ideas here, and a few other posters beat me to the punch. I like Sara’s idea of scaling use/durability with the quality of the item, though I would use Sam’s suggestion of doing it by time rather than by hits. That way, there’s incentive to use the item, as it will inevitably break even if you don’t use it. It’s a fairly blunt mechanic, but I think it would get around players hoarding their best items.

    As for players being excited by loot, I suspect you’ve bumped into the wall dividing two very different groups of players. On the one hand you have those who came up in the old-school MMOs and multiplayer games, for whom loot is a means to an end. That is, loot allows you to fulfill other roles more effectively, and isn’t the sole purpose of the game. The second crowd are those who were influenced by the second wave of MMOs, for which loot was an integral game mechanic, and often took precedence over the character itself. It seems like you’re trying to straddle this divide.

    Personally, I’m with Brian Green on this one; I don’t think that player detachment to loot is a bad thing, because I feel the character is ultimately more important to the game. As long as there are a variety of ways for the character to differentiate him/herself from other players (that go beyond the loot that the player is wearing), I don’t think it matters.

    My 2c anyway.

  31. Eric says:

    @DrBrydon – if you don’t think player-based repair is a plus for crafters, then you’d say the same thing about decaying items, right? (After all, carrying a stack of repair kits is just as exciting as carrying a stack of swords for when they wear out… if you need to carry a stack of one, you’d need to carry a stack of the other.) I don’t see it being much different, unless we take decaying items out of the equation entirely. Then crafters have more exciting/important things to make… but less to do overall.

    @Sam – I don’t want items to decay over time because that’s incredibly hardcore. It means if you can’t play every day, you’re doubly screwed: first you’re naturally behind people who play all the time, and second, you get less time out of your equipment than they do. I think that would scare away everybody who didn’t feel like they could play every single day.

    (There’s a classic “upgrade” to that idea where the items decay over time, but they only decay when you’re logged in. In my experience this can actively prevent people from logging in just to relax and mess around — it costs too much. The overall result is to make the game a lot more stressful, time-management wise.)

    Lots of great stuff in here (more than I can keep in my head at once), thanks and keep it coming :)

  32. Eric says:

    Some comments got stuck in the spam filter, sorry about that, they’re posted now.

    @Logan – That’s pretty much my take on random loot also. It’s a really powerful mechanic that can be a lot of fun. It’s also a lot harder than it looks to make it fun, and I’ve not been particularly successful at hitting that sweet spot of fun in the past. But this time I’ll get it right! (… hopefully)

  33. Bwilder says:

    Speaking of psychology why not word it differently… Using the sword example again have a sword have a base amount of damage. By using a ‘sharpening’ item the weapon gets a BOOST and slowly looses that over time. This makes people focus on the positive ‘the boost’ instead of the negative ‘weapon becoming dull.’

    A bit more in depth analysis would be to ask whether or not these ‘sharpening’ items can be bought from an npc. If they can then your system isn’t a crafting feature it is simply a money sink. Having items lose durability over time and require repairs that are a simple ‘button push’ at an npc with no overall durability loss adds nothing to crafting and just annoys people I believe.

    Also to try to get at the overall purpose of your decay system (to make crafting meaningful) this would be a good start. There is a reason consumable crafters are really the only in demand crafters in ‘mature’ games. By mature I mean once the initial player rush to level cap/max skill has been reached. So if there were several of these type of items for each profession that would at least provide some demand (balance and usefulness issues aside).

    Finally people have to WANT to craft. I think you can break this down into two things… there has to be a demand for it which was discussed above; and it has to be fun. Not naming names but crafting 1000 of the same item and having that item come out exactly the same each time turns a crafter into an assembly line worker. Using the above sword example again adding an extra layer where instead of having. Small wetstone, big wetstone, magical wetstone etc… as a crafter levels up. Try simply having 1 recipe ‘wetstone’ that becomes more effective with crafting ability and make each new item different from the last in some way (effectiveness, uses, weight etc).

    Keep in mind each player archtype AS A CRAFTER

  34. Kirk Spencer says:

    (bear with me – relevant, but coming in sideways.)

    I’m wondering if you can use an aphorism. In the real world, fame is fleeting and diamonds are forever. Perhaps reversing that might be a key to your solution; Your reputation is everything, all else is dust in the wind.

    What if boss fights reward you not with Named Loot but reputations and peculiar ingredients?

    Reputations… Achievements are obvious. Perhaps there are other viewable tokens possible as well. Perhaps you can add a group of NPC’s who answer “who’s that” with a list of accomplisments. “That’s the hero who slew Grond, rescued Bellephon, and rid the sewers of a thousand rats.” Perhaps a particular permanent color or gear design/ornamentation that lasts till you change it (and which can always be pulled out of storage).

    The special ingredients allow crafters to make a slightly better base item, or a special buff. Perhaps a base item that has enhanced abilities which need regular recharging (sharpening, oiling, repairing).

    I want to note I’m still thinking of this under my earlier idea. Skill and gear are baselines. Both skill and gear can be buffed. Buffs can be short- and/or long-term enhancements, but they eventually decay and go away. “magic” loot doesn’t have a higher baseline, but rather has a higher potential for buffs — perhaps a slight multiplier.

    example: Crispin’s Wand – fire buffs that are applied last 5% longer. Or perhaps generate 5% more damage. It is made by a wand-crafter with an ingredient list that includes the special ingredient Crispin FireWalker’s left thumb.

    A cautionary note: this has the potential to turn macabre, turning off several players.

  35. I’d like to share an idea that popped while reading the post.

    Let’s say we got an item called “Iron Sword”, and this item decays. To actually get the item back to it’s original state, you’ll have to get another “Iron Sword”. But here’s the trick, What if you use this “Iron Sword” to repair another “Iron Sword” and the Old Decayed Sword will become an “Iron Sword +1″. Hence this new sword will become a little more better than the old one. When this new sword decays also, you fix it with another “Iron Sword” and it becomes “Iron Sword +2″. And so on… It’s up to you where you want to set the limit whether it’s +1 +2 or +n. This way, Crafters can keep doing their job, and users will get the supplies. Users of the sword will keep using the upgraded version on the Sword rather than a new one. The Sword that became a +1 should be the decayed one, and the other should be brand new.

    This might result in people getting 2 or more of the same sword for this sake. An idea that also popped in my head was to make the player be able to hold only 1 of that weapon (let’s name it as an attribute “rare”). Once the item you have decays, the rare attribute is removed and you are able to get a new sword. Once you upgrade your Sword, the rare attribute gets back.

    One last point, let’s say that the limit of the sword is +5, this means if you already have the sword “Iron Sword +5″ and fix it, it stays “Iron Sword +5″. It’s like the players are fixing it (by using the same sword).

    Thanks!

  36. Rawrasaur says:

    How about a two-tier system?

    You can obtain a base item called Silver Sword, Mithril Armor, Dragonskin Gloves, etc.

    These items are “permanent”. They are not very strong, but that’s ok. One can find stronger versions of items to fill your equipment slots.

    Each item can be enchanted/socketed to increase its potency. Silver Sword can get enchanted to increase damage by a significant amount (damage +200%, +fire damage, +DoT, +whatever), but the increases decay with use or time. Let’s say that you have sockets in each item, so you can choose a damage booster, an attack speed booster, an elemental damage booster, etc. The base item stats are important, because of percentage increases. The ‘potency’ of the enchantments decaying make sense from a player perspective, because they lose power as they are used, but the base item is what’s important and you aren’t taking that away from them. However, in order to be competitive, they need those enhancements. Just the base items outside of newbie land aren’t strong enough, and you make most of the enhancements common, with some less common and some rarer. So in a raid, or a hard quest or whatever, you can reward both base items and crafting materials to create powerful enhancements to your base items.

    Perhaps even have the possibility of breaking down base items into crafting materials for making more enhancements.

    The important thing is to make the enhancements indispensable from the early game, and train the players to use them and not hoard them. The easiest way to do this is to just flood the player with them, then gradually introduce rarer enhancements, and ones with differing durations.

    If you provide the players with progressively stronger base items as well as enhancements, they will feel like they are getting better “permanent” gear, especially if the enhancements key off of the base stats. With a strong base item, they will look more keenly at the enhancements they can use too.

    The best of both worlds, so to speak.

  37. captainmission says:

    here’s my take on mixing permanent and decaying loot.

    i) players can get permanent items, similar to lotro legandary weapons but done right, customisable weapons that grow in power as you play and don’t need replacing. They start off weaker than decayable items of equivilent quality but after month or so they reach a break even point. They increase past this point but with increasing diminishing returns, so a 1 year old weapon is only marginally better than a 6 month one.

    These items suffer item wear and after certain time break and need reforging. The hilt of the weapon retains customisable bonuses and the weapon retains its name and the players sense of attachment. The crafter plays the role in reforging the blade. In practice it plays the same as the idea of crafter made repair kits/sharpening stones.. but is more awesome :p Basically presenting the same mechanic but in a different way- as a crafter making repair kits sounds dull. Reforging the blade of a legendary weapon sounds cool.

    ii) alongside legandary weapons there’s regular weapons that decay. When they finally break they leave residue or relics that can enhance legandary weapons- a little sweetner to the bitter pill of loosing the weapon.

    iii) to create a synergy between the two a combat system that requires use different weapon types depending on the situation. So similar D&D certain weapon are inately better against different enemies- my +3 daggers of stabiness are not great for fighting skeletons, a bog standard mace works far better. Against mounted units i might want a pike, against werewolves a silver sword etc.

    So to be most effective against a range of enemies i might need to swap between 5-6 different weapon types. The number of legandary weapons i can have is limited (either by a cap, or by it being impracticle to grow many legandary weapons at same time). So to be most effective a player is going to have to mix 1-2 permanent legandary weapons and 3-4 decayable weapons.

    I think that’s a system where permanent + decayable weapons compliment each other nicely, there’s merits for using both type, it keeps crafters busy whilst giving player loot they can invest in

  38. mavis says:

    Wierd – my previous post just sorts of cuts off (and I thought I’d made a second post).

    I’ve been thinking about this – and what you suggested made me thing along the following lines.

    If equipment is eternal but you need to “activate” that equipment then you seem to have what you want.

    So as it stands equipment only provides a bare minimum of bonus- to get more then that you activate it by using an item. Sharpening for a sword being the obvious metaphor.

    The activation items unlock the bonus only up to a certain threshold -so if your sword is +5 but your activation item is +2 – you only get a +2 weapon. Allowing for better and better versions of the item.

    These items are produced by crafters – and should not be that hard to generate unless your looking at activating the very best of raiding gear – I also think crafters should also be able to do it directly – but the existence of an item removes the requirement for a crafter to be present. I also think the basic act of activation needs to have a pretty long duration in order to prevent the whole thing being annoying case of having to buff and rebuff – of the order of a day or two of logged in time or a week of real time minimum.

    Now if weapons have asymmetric bonus (so +20 strength and +10 agility) then you have a decision to make about wether you activate all the way to the top or only part way with the higher level activate becoming less cost effective. If you then add in very short term “bonus” activation items you end up with players who standard gear is acceptable but who can heavily boost for special challenges (like raiding) which means that your uber players will be less over the top in a normal.

  39. Armanant says:

    I am REALLY liking the idea someone mentioned of throwing a lot of runes at the player that they’re expected to use on base equipment, combined with having special items more powerful by making the runes/enchantments better. Something like having a normal sword at a certain level deal 10-20 damage, a special version deal 9-18 but have +20% fire enchantment damage, with a fire enchantment adding 15-30 fire damage, but being transitory and need replacing, and reducing effectiveness over time. You could have a wide variety of enchantments, not to mention you could really have a blast thinking up awesome builds with interesting weapons you’ve found + interesting enchantments you’ve had crafters make you. It allows for experimentation too as you can grab 5 different runes that could go well with an item, and try them all out as each decays. If you find the one that suits you best you make friends with that crafter and get them to make you a couple of dozen. Not to mention this allows for nice ‘rare’ runes to be made from boss dropped items, or for bosses to drop thematic items to use as bases (not better in all circumstances but adding unique-ish modifiers.. ). Sounds like it would be a really deep system, but could be introduced to users easily with simple items and enchantments..

  40. Bronte says:

    A small argument FOR decay:

    Truly legendary weapons could have no decay, as they were forged as one of a kind, unique weapons (involving magic, or perhaps Admantium!), thereby giving a true epic appeal to highly rare items.

  41. Kirk Spencer says:

    huh. I had an idea off @Armanant’s comment above, one that helps deal with twinking (among other things).

    Runes (or ointments or applied bonuses) are not free; neither to apply nor to sustain. At the simplest, each bonus reduces hit point total by some amount.

    This prevents the almost arbitrary “you must be THIS tall to use” limits and gives an absolute reason. If you only have 100 hit points and it costs 120 to sustain this rune it’s obvious why you don’t use it. If it doesn’t kill you, it comes down to tolerance. How much will you sacrifice for /this/ bonus?

    (Complications, of course, exist. Rune A adds hit points for some other cost, Rune B increases damage at the cost of hit points. It becomes a game designer question whether this is tolerable or not, and if not what to do to resolve it.)

  42. Jason says:

    I’ll play devil’s advocate here and counter your arguments for item decay:

    * It gives crafters more to do:
    a) Only at the expense of non-crafters. Any item decay scheme involves taking enjoyable playtime from non-crafters to transfer to crafters. Crafters are enjoyably occupied in replacing/fixing my broken gear only to the extent that I am trudging back to town to make that happen. You want to find a non-zero-sum solution, or you’re not adding to the amount people enjoy your game.
    b) Only more repetitions of the same tasks. I don’t think my experience as a smith is that much improved if I make two longswords or twenty. You talk in a comment about the tradeoff between exciting things to do and more to do–but is recrafting another stack of swords or repair kits even another “thing to do” or is it ProgressQuesting?
    c) Commodities is a tough market. Unless you introduce glaring inefficiencies into the market (e.g. no auction house), making money selling a commodity requires you to be ruthlessly efficient, and even then you’re fighting for scraps. Perfecting a repetitive click pattern or mining route *is* fun for some people–but not for most. The crafting markets people enjoy are ones that require specialization, customization, and salesmanship–none of which are relevant in an item-decay scenario.

    * It reduces twinking.
    Item decay makes it costly to twink, assuming you get several variables right. Or, you could just recognize that as the designer, you make the rules.
    For every item you add to the game, think about who you want to have access to it:
    Everyone? Rich people? Lucky people? People who have sunk time into it? Everyone eventually but rich/lucky/whatever at a lower level?
    For all of the above: do you mean characters or players?
    Then, you make the rules. If you want only lucky lowbie characters to have an item, give it a chance to decay into a less good item on trade. If you want rich characters to get the item at level 10 and everyone to have it by level 14, perhaps an expensive rune will lower the level requirement on an otherwise common item. It’s really up to you.

    *Controlling power escalation.
    Item decay turns your power progression curve into one that wobbles up and down. If replacing/repairing your gear is easy, it’s a controlled wobble that depends on your wealth and motivation. If finding replacement gear is random, the wobble will get out of control for some unlucky players, who might even end up item-decaying themselves out of the power tier that lets them replace those items.
    But does anyone enjoy the wobble? I don’t think anyone with a frustration with power escalation says “I wish that those people in tier 14 gear were sometimes, but not always, super powerful.”

    My point here isn’t just that item decay has problems. It’s that it doesn’t actually produce any of the *good* you think it does–so what are you getting out of it? A hybrid system of permanent + temporary may mitigate some of the bad, but why bother when you’re not really getting any good out of it anyway?

  43. Eric says:

    @Jason – actually I don’t see any of your “down sides” being particularly relevant:

    - Crafting is always at the expense of non-crafters. The game has a complex and heavy crafting component with deep specialization, I don’t expect people who entirely are non-crafters to be a large part of the audience. If I thought that 90% of people would be non-crafters, constantly farming dungeons and killing monsters, I’d have other problems: namely, there’s not enough dungeons and monsters to support that crowd. But you’re completely ignoring the ability to take crafter-made repair kits with you, if that was really a problem.

    - “Repetitions of the same task” can be applied to anything in any game. If you think making a stack of +1 swords is boring, I seriously doubt you’re going to be particularly enthralled by making a big-ass pile of variations on the +1 sword instead. Repetition is inherent in every game mechanic. It’s up to me to try to make it not feel as grindy as possible, in part by providing variations on what gets crafted. However, I can’t fix the problem if crafters run out of people to sell to. Then they aren’t bored with the repetition: they’re bored with not having anything to do at all.

    - I don’t think we’re even talking about commodities here in any way. That’s another day. :) But as I said before, there will be deep specialization among crafters. Possibly enough specialization to make a commodities market approachable, assuming the population of the game hits a sweet spot… will have to see, and react. You can’t plan a perfect commodities market on paper, you have to interact with the market. Having items be “consumable” is certainly a benefit in managing such a market, not a weakness: it’s another variable that can be tuned.

    - “Does anybody enjoy the wobble?” – maybe, maybe not, but see also my earlier post about avoiding tight game loops… sometimes game components that are occasionally not inherently fun will provide interactions that are more fun than the sum of their parts.

    And so on. Every mechanic can suck ass if you do it poorly, or if it can’t fit into a game’s design. I don’t see your counterpoints as having a lot of import to a “generic” discussion of the feature… they’re arguments against a worst-case-scenario implementation. In particular, if you’re visualizing warriors needing to carry around stacks of replacement weapons everywhere they go, or stacks of repair kits or whatever, don’t: I use that as a convenient talking point, but it’s not something that would realistically get implemented in a game. (Item decay is generally not THAT rapid!)

  44. Jason says:

    I think my assumption is that if you were to implement item decay, it would be fun and interesting–because any mechanic can be fun if you implement it well.

    That said, a talented designer can go a lot further with some mechanics than others. I’ve really come to believe the message behind some of your posts (e.g. the classless systems post) that developer effort is a finite resource that can be spent more or less efficiently.

  45. Eric says:

    @Jason – I may have edited my comment while you were replying, sorry.

    But yes, designer resource is a very critical commodity… in this case, systems design fights with content design, so the fancier the systems are, the less content I can make.

    With that in mind I won’t be able to create the perfect system — in fact some of the ideas in this thread are much better than what I had in mind, but I don’t know if I can schedule them to really happen… that’s a tricky one.

    I get what you’re saying though: is the complex task of creating and balancing item decay worth the time invested? In some cases I think the answer would definitely be “yes.” In my case… I’m not really sure, I’m actually still on the fence about even implementing a hybrid system.

    Item decay is a powerful concept, but it’s one of those mechanics that takes a lot of investment: you should either “go big or go home”. Sometimes you should go big… but sometimes you should go home. And you’re right that there is wisdom in being able to tell the difference.

  46. Eric says:

    @Kirk Spencer (first idea) – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that approach… but it’s a very different set of mechanics. You could even mix and match the two, given infinite time to design the system.

  47. Razak says:

    I think the randomness is the real power behind keeping interest in crafting. There haven’t been many MMOs that have done random generation, even fewer that put it into the crafting system. I do think that randomness can be a great component to crafting. I would offer some sort of guide for them though. Maybe as they go up in level they can choose “abilities” that allow them to get a higher chances at high damage, high speed, high durability, lower variance etc. One problem I foresee with random crafting is that players will perceive a high amount of trash. If it isn’t great, it isn’t worth putting on market and thus might as well just junk it. Players don’t like having a lot of trash in crafting, giving some sort of ability might go a long ways to narrow down the amount of trash.

    Obviously this is a balance issue, but it does seem to me to be a concern about how much decay there is. It is a great source of common work for some crafter types, but also keep in mind that it is not the kind of work most crafters want to do. A weaponsmith, wants to make weapons, not sharpen swords with all their time. Making whetstones may be a little better, but it still isn’t making weapons. I think people would generally just drag around the consumable to resharpen on the go even if it isn’t quite as good, unless they needed that special enhancement for a raid or a dungeon.

    As for the twinking issue, I think it was Dark Age of Camelot that had the concept that anyone can really wield anything, but 1) It is going to decay MUCH faster being used by the newb than it would by the veteran… and 2) It is only going to work a fraction as well. I think this system worked quite well to dissuade the twinking issue without just not letting it happen.