Items – static or arbitrary attributes

In Eve Online all in-game items have been dev-created, and everything called, say, a “civilian armor repairer” will have the exact same attributes.  This results in a commodities-based economy as opposed to a unique item economy.  For crafters the competitive advantage comes in 2 ways: doing research on a blueprint to make it cheaper or sourcing materials cheaper.

This is strking me as a pretty important discussion- a crafting system that results in either commodities or unique items.  I see pros and cons to both, so it’s possible they are two distinct ways of approaching the MMO world, and as such neither one is “more right” than the other.  However, I get the sense it would be possible to mix the two systems successfully; but that’s for another post.

If you go the unique items route, like in Star Wars Galaxies, you end up with zillions of player-crafted, say, acid launchers, each of which could have different attributes.  If another player is in the market for acid launchers, he has to not only locate acid launchers but he has to somehow sort through all those acid launchers’ attributes until he finds one with the kind of stats he wants.  I think this has a number of extensive ramifications to the gameplay: it results in a “bazaar” feel where shoppers roam throughout the merchants’ tables examining their (unique) goods, and I think it more strongly creates a “local economy” than a “global economy”.

The “bazaar” feel kind of precludes the possibility of centralized commodities markets that deal in large quantities of identical items.  If the crafting system results in unique items with unique hash numbers, then quite obviously you don’t have large quantities of identical items.  There is no common, universal reference point for an item’s attributes and value, so you end up with a more informal, local economy where prices are relative to the local population rather than, say, a regional population.  Granted, Eve Online has it’s markets programmatically segmented into regions, so it has a similar thing going on, but I think it’s a different effect when it’s done that way. 

Implicit in this discussion is the issue of player-generated content.  If you go with a commodities economy you reduce opportunities of meaningful player-generated content.  If you go with a unique item economy you obviously allow for meaningful player-generated content.  I think static, dev-defined items inherent in a commodities-based world results in a bit of a “static” feel to the entire game.  The goal of the player is to find the “best” build.  In a full-fledged unique item, player-generated content kind of a world players look for the best build, yes, but they equally look for ever-new ways of countering and surprising their foes, and in addition there is the whole vein of research and development.  In the long run, this is the best route.  I’ll write more about it some other time.