Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Single-Use Special Items

The other day I got a funky quest reward in Lord of the Rings online: A one-time use item that can be used to snare a monster (supposedly for easy killing.) I don’t know if these are commonly available elsewhere, but I’ve only seen this one so far and find it both curious and problematic.

You see, there are various difficulties available for enemies in LotRO and while I can kill “signature” mobs on my own, “elite” ones are extremely hard and bigger ones simply impossible. This trap I got now supposedly allows me to have an easier time fighting a single enemy – once.

These kinds of items are common in stories, but a lot less common in games for a simple reason: Usually players will either waste the item on a rather unimportant fight (or fail even though they used the item) or will keep it forever and ever because, you know, a better opportunity might come along. All the while the precious item may take up inventory space and might even be sold/thrown away when you realize that it’s no longer any good at the high level you are at now.

Still, I love the flavor around it. I love the idea that I can now go out hunting some elite beast which I would normally have ignored (because I mostly avoid grouping in the game.) I love that this trapper gave me his masterwork trap that might have made the difference between him surviving the winter or not as thanks for the help I’ve rendered. Then again, I probably won’t use it and sell it to a vendor at some point just like everyone else. And hey, the NPC can’t starve because LotRO doesn’t have phasing technology and other players need to be able to do the quest as well.

Is there a good way to implement these kinds of rewards? I frankly don’t know. Maybe if there was a really easy-to-use interface for them instead of having to remember them and find them in your inventory. Maybe if they had a timer on them. Maybe if there were situations that all but required you to use them (which others without the item wouldn’t even get into in the first place.)

I think very careful crafting of the game around such items is needed to make them work, but if that was done they would be awesome. Until then players will keep them in the bank until they rot.


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