Vendors!

There’s a million ways that vendors could work. After days of playing around with them, I feel like I’ve tried all million permutations. I am well and truly sick of thinking about it. So let me write about it some!

What Do I Display For “Value”?

When you examine an item in the game and you see its “Value”, what do you assume that means? Is it the cash you’ll get if you sell it? Is it the price for a brand new one? Is it something else, maybe a general idea of its value?

I decided that for Gorgon, the displayed value is the exact amount you can expect to sell it for. If you want to buy an item from a shop, it will cost 2x or 3x that value. But buying stuff is relatively rare compared to looting or crafting something. So it makes more sense that the value be relevant for the most common scenario. But I’m open to ideas about why that’s not as smart as it seems.

Variable Vendor Purchase Rates? Meh

If you played in pre-alpha 2 you may have noticed that vendors had random buying rates… some NPCs would buy for 1/2 value, some for full value, some for 2x value, all sorts of things. They were just placeholders (and buggy ones at that.)

But the idea was that different vendors would have different rates… some would buy weapons at great rates, others would give you a great rate on fruits and vegetables, etc. This is a pretty classic element of older MMOs. But after I set it all up, it felt “meh.”

It’s very tedious to sell your loot if vendors have wildly different rates. I found myself having to write down who would buy what for how much, so I could efficiently figure out where to sell stuff. Writing stuff on paper? Unacceptable! A sure sign that the game isn’t helping you enough.

I’d also thought it would be fun if some vendors just gave you great rates across the board. Like deep in a dungeon there was a vendor that buys stuff for 2x times its inherent value. This turned out to be a terrible idea: I immediately felt the need to go visit this guy to sell anything of major value. So I’d just obsoleted all other vendors, and made the best vendor really hard to reach.

But my goals were reasonable. Let’s look at those for a second.

Why Do Vendors Need To Be Different At All?

In many modern MMOs, all vendors buy all items for full value. It’s convenient and painless. Why am I screwing this up and adding annoyance? Lots of reasons:

  • Vendors are NPCs. And NPCs each have different personalities… or at least, different likes and dislikes. It makes sense that a vendor who loves swords would be the best one to sell your sword to.
  • A big part of the game is befriending the NPCs. You have a “favor level” with each one, which starts out at Neutral (or Tolerated, or maybe even Hated, depending on racial relations)… then when you do favors for them, give them presents, and so on, their Favor Level goes up and up until you’re Friends, Close Friends, or even Best Friends. This needs to make sense for vendors — if you’re best friends with a shopkeeper, shouldn’t they give you a better deal on their specialty items?
  • Vendors are also going to run consignment shops. You can give them stuff to sell on your behalf. For this idea to work, there needs to be differentiation — reasons to go one place instead of another. If a player is looking for a sword, they should intuitively know to search weapon shops. They shouldn’t have to worry that maybe the sandwich vendor might have an even better sword for sale. So the game should help guide players to different vendors for different stuff.

Value Caps

What I’ve settled is “caps” on purchasing rate. Say you try to sell your magic potions at Joe’s Sword Shop. He’ll give you full price for them… but he won’t go above 500 credits. If you have a 1000-credit potion, you can sell it to him for 500, or go over to Betty’s Potion Hut. Betty has a much higher cap for potions. However, she won’t give you more than 500 for a sword.

This seems very similar to a multiplier (where Joe gives you 10% extra for swords, while Betty gives you 20%  extra for potions, etc.) But it’s actually a lot less annoying because you never have to wonder if you’ve found the “best” vendor. Either they’ll give you full price, or they won’t.

This makes a relatively painless workflow: I just go down main street and hit the five major vendor shops. When I’m in the weapon shop, the GUI puts little warning icons overtop the stuff I won’t get full value for. So I can kinda brainlessly click down the list.

It’s not completely brainless, but I don’t want it to be. Otherwise you wouldn’t have any reason to befriend vendors.

Better Caps For Better Friends

As you become better and better friends with the weapon shop keeper, his cap for weapons will keep going up. So you have very obvious incentives to befriend shopkeepers and do favors for them!

There’s some annoyance here, of course. If a newbie finds a super rare sword, they might not be good enough friends with any NPC to get full price for it. They’ll have to store it for later, or sell it at a loss. But that’s okay.

It’s okay because it’s directed: the goal is clear (become better friends to get higher sale caps), you know how to achieve the steps (do favors for him), and you know when you meet your goal (he buys your item for full value). That’s good gameplay.

Keep in mind that favor levels aren’t a tacked-on part of the game. Almost all the quests in the game are presented as “favors” that you do to make NPCs like you more. So you’re already going to be raising those Favor Levels for other reasons — getting new recipes, learning new skills, and so on. This just extends Favor Levels to vendors in an intuitive way.

Occasional Inconvenience

So I’ve been playing with this system and it works okay. It’s not as annoying as it might sound. Selling your junk is pretty efficient.

But sometimes you will need to trek far away to sell stuff: luxury goods. Most vendors won’t give you more than $500 for a painting, but the art collector will give you $8000 for it, so you’ll end up storing your unusual items and periodically visiting these distant vendors.

Why do this? It comes back to what I talked about a while ago: by allowing a small amount of pain, I get big dividends in emergent behavior:

  • This directly rewards player knowledge, without making it feel like memorization. You’ll naturally come across the art historian, and when you find an expensive painting, you’ll remember him. MMOs have removed a ton of this sort of player knowledge in order to streamline their game. But it actually feels good to use your game knowledge. Taking it all away actually robs players of enjoyment.
  • These vendors are in new places that you wouldn’t often travel to otherwise. This encourages you to move around more. Remember that I don’t have tons of level ranges, so the game doesn’t constantly shove you from zone to zone as you level up. Instead, you find your own path through the game. These vendors are one reason why you might go someplace new.
  • In small doses, distance and delay also breeds opportunity. If the painting vendor is far away, or you aren’t good friends with him yet, maybe it makes sense to sell your painting to another player instead for 80% of the value. With a few other mechanics like this, there might be enough gameplay for player “traders” to have fun… without dramatically penalizing everybody else.

The trick is not to go overboard, and that just takes experimentation. For instance, right now I have a painting collector in one town and a poetry collector somewhere else. That might be too annoying, and they might need to combine into one Art Collector. I’ll have to see how it goes.

The Pain of Compromised Design

This sort of post is hard for me to write because I know it won’t make anyone super happy. It’s a compromise. People who want to focus on group-monster-stabbing are going to gripe about any extra annoyance while selling.

And players who want to immerse themselves in the world will want more systems. Always more! In order to get real trading gameplay, I’d need price fluctuation — why don’t I make vendor caps fluctuate based on how much stuff the vendor has bought that day? (Because that’s annoying as fuck for everybody except hardcore traders.)

It’s all a compromise. Most modern MMO designers swing the pendulum very far toward the “convenience” column, even though that removes some of the crunchy fun for lots of players. They’re afraid you’ll leave if you experience even a tiny bit of annoyance. I trust you a bit more — I think my target audience is willing to put up with a little annoyance in exchange for more depth.

And I feel like this is something I’m well equipped for. I love the crunchy game systems, but I also have severe ADHD. So I have a tendency to implement crazy schemes and then pare them back until they aren’t too annoying. I can be my own target audience for this stuff, which is really convenient.

But I’m also expecting to make a ton of changes when you guys get into the game. I hope I end up attracting enough players who like these game mechanics and can help me guide them to the sweet spot. Because when other players iterate on your ideas, you often realize it’s not a pendulum at all — instead of being a trade-off between annoyance and emergence, there’s often some little tweaks that let you have your cake and eat it too.

I’m still working hard toward getting the game open for you to play in. Sorry for the delays! But it’s still coming, and I’m looking forward to it!

This entry was posted in Project Gorgon. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Vendors!

  1. Kdansky says:

    If you are thinking about how the money system works, check out Path of Exile (which conveniently is a free, great Diablo2-like where you can buy cosmetic effects [ad over]). It does not have a money currency. Like at all. There are no gold coins. Instead, there are about 30 different pieces of “crafting” items that you can (and have to) barter with. Add the absence of an auction house, and suddenly, the Diablo formula works again (because the AH broke D3: You cannot have a game centred on finding loot when there is a million-sized buyer’s market just two clicks away, and you can pick up way better gear for cheap.). I’m not saying Gorgon should do the same. I’m saying PoE is the first MMO in a century with a possibly stable economy.

    You might be able to do the same? Don’t have vendor loot to begin with. Junk is junk, and only interesting items can be sold.

  2. Mouse says:

    Displayed Value:
    When perusing their inventory, most logical is the price they sell to you. In your own inventory, most logical is price you would get selling to NPC. Your setup seems straight.

    Variable Rates:
    Simplify it. Selling a sword to a fruit vendor: “I don’t want that.” Become Best Friends? Okay, fruit vendor will take the sword for 20% of value. Honest, he’s doing you a favour, he’ll be lucky to unload it for cost to some other NPC. Sell the sword to a weaponsmith? Full price. No need to write down who buys what, where, remembering to head to that blacksmith shop for metal needs, and the fresh market for fruits and vegetables doesn’t require notes.

    Also, remember, your average new player will have read barely anything. Even if you shove it in their face, metrics have shown things tend to get clicked away near instantly (notably faster than people could reasonably have read them). So your average new player will have no understanding of favoured pricing or caps. This can lead to frustration – $200 may seem good to a newbie, so they sell an item, then a week later learn the item was worth $1M if they had taken it to the correct NPC.

    Occasional Inconvenience
    Arbitrage opportunities like this are good for game economies. I’m not an EVE junkie, but my understanding is a lot of its economic fun is derived from selling in location A for price X or traveling to location B to sell for Y (where Y is greater than X).

    If PvP is native to Gorgon, you might have a bandit camp arising near big ticket vendors (paintings being a big ticket item oddly brings the ‘Your lupins or your life!’ sketch springs to mind).

    My one worry:
    Your favour system. Say I get favoured with Weaponsmith. I could just stand next to him and offer to buy your unfavoured weaponry for 90% value, turn around and vendor for that 10% bonus. Instant arbitrage. Again, everyone feels they won, but I wouldn’t call that beneficial emergent behaviour.

  3. twitchity says:

    If you wanted to push the emergent arbitrage aspect, you could also use the player’s skills to influence the cap. Thus, if I put points into calligraphy, I would be better able to appraise poetry, and will in general be able to get a higher value when selling items. If not a game-breakingly large effect, it could create situations where Jack the art appraiser can buy undervalued paintings from Throg the Barbarian and sell them for a profit, even if the two have equal relationships with Diane the gallery owner — Jack can always get a slightly better offer from anyone than Throg can, all other aspects being equal. It’s effectively identical from a programming standpoint, but also means that there’s an in-game incentive to put points into ancillary skills.

  4. Xhi says:

    To fix the issue of consignment swords on the potion vendor, you could just limit what a merchant will put up on consignment to the types of items that vendor sells. So to put a sword up for consignment you HAVE to go to the sword vendor.

    You talked about needing paper to write down which vendors liked what, but your favor with X merchant will have the same issue. If there are lots of merchants with differing favor levels at one time, hopefully you will have some list of your favor with everyone that is sortable or organized to show merchants and their location. It would probably be helpful to show their favor level when in the selling window as well.

    I like the idea of needing an occasional trek to some specialty vendor for rare, expensive items. Feels like something that rewards player knowledge and encourages exploration providing you don’t find these items too often. Almost works like a mini-quest while feeling more natural.

    The idea of individual merchants having varying prices is complex and hard to remember, although entire areas might work, especially if there were only a few unique types (i.e., the entire coastal area sells/buys fish and pearls for less, desert areas have high prices on wood). I think it would be ok providing it was only a small change. You wouldn’t bother to go all the way to the desert to sell a wood staff if it was only 5% more, but you might go to the ocean if you were making 500 fish cakes.

    If it is a small enough change that it doesn’t feel “necessary” though, then its also not enough of a change to make money off of through trade. At least not unless you combined it with other systems.

    It always bothers me that you have to just flat lose money to raise crafting in games, but if you don’t people will just stand in one city and get rich pressing the craft button while they watch a movie. Maybe if you bought your flour low priced in plains, and your salted fish low priced on the coast, you could sell the resulting fish cakes (which should be worth more than the sum of their parts) at high price in the desert and either break even or just barely make a profit.

    If you don’t have something more to trade than just buy low here and sell high there, then people just run in a circuit over and over and over. This gets rather monotonous and means that you end up with a level 1 with 1000 gold. I think Eve might get away from this by forcing you to go through dangerous areas, but I am not certain.

    Monetary gain through pure travel trading only makes sense and works well when there is no fast travel system in place, and I sure hope there is a fast travel system in place.

  5. RO says:

    @Mouse:
    That instant arbitrage you are worried about already happened in Ragnarok Online. Merchant characters would park themselves near NPCs and offer to buy all junk items for NPC value +10% then turn around and sell it to the NPC for value +24% cause they had a skill that boosted item sale values. It was a totally legitimiate (if slow) way to make money and everybody wins in the end.

    How do you see this as not beneficial? At least in Gorgon, this sort of arbitrage isn’t limited to a class and anyone can do it if they put a little effort into making friends with the NPC.

  6. Kiryn says:

    This reminds me a lot of the vendor system in Elder Scrolls games:

    You can sell anything you want to general traders, but they only have so much money on hand, so you want to visit the other shops first. Go sell your swords and armor to the blacksmith to use up all of their money, visit the alchemist to use up all of their money, then go to the general trader to sell anything you couldn’t sell to the other people. Some other specialty NPCs only buy books, or jewelry, or wine.

    Each item has a base value so you can compare items easily, but the percentage of this that a particular vendor gives you for your stuff largely depends on how much they like you. Lower level players wouldn’t get a lot of money for their stuff because they haven’t done much for the NPCs yet, but it’s better than nothing and you have to clear out your inventory somehow. Buying things from them increases how much money they have to give back to you for your own stuff.

    Too bad those games rapidly reach the point where a single high-level item is worth considerably more than any vendor has on hand, and money ceases to have any meaning.

    I’d actually be really interested in seeing this concept used in an MMO. I’m curious to see whether the Elder Scrolls MMO will end up using it or swap in a more “convenient” vendor system.

  7. Mouse says:

    @RO

    Bottom line – inflation. A game economy is already extremely difficult to balance. Including something which easily and quickly increases profit margins you wind up with more coin in the system. This skews the appearance of value. If I have $20M, I don’t think it’s odd if an auction house (or consignment, whatever) sells good stuff for multi-million dollars and bad stuff for tens to hundreds of thousands. But if a new player starts with $20 then the market is way over their head.

    Never underestimate even small things like this from turning away new blood from a game. That new player sees “I have $20 and a Dull Dagger. I killed something and looted $2. I need $20,000 to buy Slightly Less Dull Dagger. That’s 10,000 kills away. At 30 seconds each, that’s 83 hours! I quit.”

    Alternately everything vendors cheap. I can kill and loot $2, and every 3 mobs get something worth $1 to vendor (at +25% that’s a whopping $1.25!). People feel the inventory management and vendor sales routine is boring and useless. Is selling a full inventory worth travel time to town, compared to ‘grinding’ on mobs? The entire favour system becomes devalued.

    Finally, ‘must have’ skills. If poetry allows a much greater $/hr ratio, not having it is a handicap. In a game focused around killing and exploration (no offense, Eric – that’s still double the content of the standard all-kill MMO!) an emphasis on such a non-combat skill is unexpected and can cause player animosity.

    Idea:
    Take out the increased vendoring price. Instead the greater your favour, the more items they will take on consignment simultaneously and the less they skim. Barely know you? 1 item and I take 25% profit. Best friends? A dozen items and I’ll only take 5%.

    It’s a sneaky way to make consignment (convenient player-to-player sales) a gold sink – rather like many MMOs that have auctions take a portion of your sales. You already have an infinite cash faucet (killing things, vendoring things). More and better ways to earn cash increases the faucet – which isn’t the hard part for designers, adequate sinks is the hard part.

  8. RO says:

    That depends on how complex or how much Eric wants the game to depend on player to player trading. The economy can easily be based around players finding an item that city X sells that city Y doesn’t have. Again going back to RO as an example: Blue Gems, which were used for a few very important things (reviving and town travel) were only sold in two places. Buy a whole bunch, sell it at the main trade hub.

    It might be just me but I dislike economies which are built around a real life concept of a free market because unlike real life, there aren’t any safeguards in place to prevent gouging consumers or uncontrolled inflation other than “Intervention from god”.

  9. Gondal says:

    Well, everything depends if the game will have possibilities to spend your gold. I suppose that crafting and learning new skills will cost gold. Maybe you buy some health potions or other handy stuff.
    But once you reach a certain gold balance you won’t care anymore if you get 1k for the sword or 1.5k. You just want to empty your backpacks and unload them at the very next vendor. So there needs to be some kind of incentive to effectively sell your loot trying to fetch the best selling price (maybe a town needs a new inn and the players can donate money or crafting materials in order to build that inn).

  10. Ken says:

    Depth. That is your competitive advantage over the big producers games. Those people push for the lowest common denominator types of game mechanics to maximize their profit. So, if you craft carefully for a deeper type of game you should be able to attract a nice gamer population who approve quality.

  11. Jason says:

    I like the idea of different NPCs buying for different amounts. One thing to keep in mind for convenience (yes, I know, I know) is that you need a way to know WHAT NPCs you have befriended would buy the item for weeks or months after you befriended them.

    The biggest inconvenience of all is time, so if they’ve already taken the time to befriend a vendor, why make them spend the time trekking all over the world just to check prices? Particularly annoying if they discover the best price was where they started.

    So, maybe part of “befriending” the Vendor is learning what he/she will buy and what they would buy it for. And you record that in a UI window that lists Favor with various NPCs. Or maybe the Item itself would display its “top 5″ prices for Vendors you know of?

    Just some thoughts.

  12. Ken says:

    The game mechanics already in place make traveling long distances as easy as a spoken word.

    I approve of gaining favor with NPCs to influence their prices. Even if that takes real time, it will be worthwhile to those who play a lot. If we allow players a way to sell items to each other directly then the casual gamers could always bypass the longer favor gaining method and buy from other players, further enriching the in-game economy.

  13. bubble says:

    “But the idea was that different vendors would have different rates… some would buy weapons at great rates, others would give you a great rate on fruits and vegetables, etc. This is a pretty classic element of older MMOs. But after I set it all up, it felt “meh.”

    I think it’s better in theory as more immersive and is better in practise as well but only if you have all the merchants close together in a market* so the price in hassle for the benefit of (only a little bit of) extra immersion is also only low.

    multiply the extra immersion aspect if the merchants also do other things related to their specialty e.g. quests, training etc.

    (*workshop in one place with crafting spot and mr artisan selling crafting mats. for that craft and mrs artisan at the central market with all the other finished product merchants.)

  14. Pingback: Tiny Strike Beta