Enough With the Items Already – Part 1
Have you checked your inventory in the MMO of your choice after an hour of adventuring lately? Chances are that it was full of magic items that might warrant another look, slightly less magic items that will be sold to a vendor right away, ingredients for seventy million different crafting professions, consumables that heal you, consumables that buff you, boar intestines, vendor trash, quest items, and items related to quests that you have long since finished. Every enemy leaves something behind that you’d better pick up if you don’t want to end up losing something. Instead of being excited from finding something cool on a worthy foe’s corpse, we instead pick everything up and sort it through later. Is that really necessary?
My train of thought on this topic is long, so I’ll split the whole shebang up into two parts. Today I’ll talk about crafting ingredients and vendor trash, the next part will deal with magic items, consumables, and anything else that I forgot today.
If you are like me, you have a hard time throwing something away that could be useful at some point. My bank in Lord of the Rings Online after this welcome back week is full of ingredients and recipes used in professions my character doesn’t have. I kept them with the idea in mind that I just might resubscribe to the game at some point and start a new character with some of those professions. I also had no idea which of my finds were interesting enough to be sold on the auction house so I kept those as well in order to be able to sell them later once I somewhat understood the market.
Sure it is my fault that I’m keeping all that stuff, but what are the advantages of letting me have it in the first place? For one, these items promote player interaction and player-to-player economy. If I find a rare recipe that I can’t use I would want to find someone that can use it and sell it to her. Likewise I would sometimes have to go out of my way as a crafter to find players who have the rare resources that I need. This works, but has two major flaws that I can see. For one, an auction house (which most games have these days) pretty much negates all the social interaction that could otherwise be had through this trading. No longer do you actually interact with people, you just put money and/or items into the auction house and get what you need in return. Except for the few who are really into MMO markets (and I used to be one of them), most people just use the auction house like they would an NPC vendor. Secondly, the trading system breaks down once the majority of players has matured past the point which you are at. My new guardian metalsmith in LotRO had virtually no one to trade with.
I think it is cool to receive, say, a particularly venomous fang after defeating a rare giant snake and trading that to someone with an interest in poisons. It is a lot less cool to find a piece of hide on every single bear, boar, and wolf you defeat and having to find someone to pay you a few pennies for that. Fallen Earth was particularly nasty for this as pretty much anything you found could be used as a crafting ingredient by someone somewhere. There’s no fun in finding these things if they are so incredibly common. Rare is more fun, but even then you have to be careful not to make rare too common. An example here would again be LotRO where certain ingredients are rare by themselves but there are so many different rare ingredients that you seem to find one every second step of the way. That takes away the fun of finding something rare while at the same time annoying you by making it hard to find the things you actually need.
My solution? Make most crafting ingredients available only to those who specialize in the appropriate profession or the skill to extract those items. i.e. make monster hides only available to either leatherworkers or skinners if you have a skinning profession in your game. Keep some cool rare ingredients around that will be traded to other players, but make sure those are both really cool and really rare.
Vendor trash is MMO slang for items that serve no in-game purpose whatsoever aside from being sold to an NPC merchant. The reason that game developers put this useless junk into their games is threefold: For one they want to make the game feel more realistic by adding flavour to it. Finding some more or less interesting junk on defeated enemies is supposed to feel a bit more real than them just evaporating into nothingness. Oddly enough, they still do that and the added realism is marginal at best. If you have ever played Titan Quest and turned the setting on in which it shows you all the items that enemies drop, you will know what I mean. Sure it is realistic that the enemy that just now fought me with sword and shield leaves both of those items behind when he dies, but that is a point at which willing suspension of disbelief should come in instead of overwhelming the player with useless loot drops.
Another reason for the existence of vendor trash is of course that game developers want to be able to give players money for defeating enemies but consider it unrealistic if a defeated boar drops a purse full of coins. What they don’t seem to consider is that it is equally unrealistic to get paid for absolutely useless junk. Me, I wouldn’t mind simply finding money on defeated enemies but I could also live with the idea of not getting rewarded for pointless killing at all. If I went out in the woods right now and killed a couple of animals, I wouldn’t gain a penny from it. I have no idea how to skin them properly or to extract the meat so there would be no point for me to do it at all. Why shouldn’t it be the same in an MMO?
The third reason is the worst of them all. Vendor trash is a part of the inventory mini-game. RPGs in general tend to limit the player’s inventory in some way or another. Picking up all sorts of vendor trash fills up your inventory and forces you to either throw something away or visit a merchant at some point. I just don’t get why either of these things would be desirable either from a game developer’s or player’s perspective. Sure you don’t want your player to keep every single piece of loot they find on them at all times, but why add the vendor trash? The inventory game isn’t fun or challenging at all.
(On an almost completely unrelated sidenote: Vendor Trash is also the name of a now defunct show by awesome Irishman Slanik on what used to be WoW Radio. He can now by heard together with Turpster on Giant Enemy Crab. These guys are so funny, it hurts. Even if I did like Slanik’s the old Vendor Trash a bit more.)