Wednesday 19 June 2013

Itemization: "Item Saturation" is the biggest issue. Explanation of what it is and a solution proposed.

Diablo 3 Itemization has several problems that need to be solved. Many of these problems have already been specifically mentioned by Blizzard and have potential solutions in the works. One problem is items areboring. Players are sick of Main Stat, Vitality, All Resist, Crit Hit Chance/Damage and Attack speed. A second problem is many slots have specific best items where there is little real choice or little interesting choice. Each upgrade a player finds makes the next upgrade take longer to find. Players can go huge amount of time without finding themselves an upgrade. Lastly, nearly everything a player finds is worth nothing. This last one is not because items are of "poor quality" nor because items need to drop with better stats more regularly but because of "Item Saturation".

"Item Saturation" is the singular biggest problem in the Diablo economy. Item Saturation is when items enter the economy but never leave the economy. Item Saturation exists because items are not destroyed (salvaging only destroys bad items, good items must be destroyed). Item Saturation exists because Diablo player's have found so many items that there are many good items in existence, there's enough for nearly everyone, and these good items aren't being removed. Item saturation causes player income to be frustrating slow and inconsistent because nearly every item is worthless. Item Saturation causes the feeling of "I played Diablo and found nothing of value". Item Saturation gets worse and will continue to get worse as time passes.

If Itemization does not address Item Saturation then it will be a failure because players will still play for long periods of time and feel like they got nowhere AND the amount of time between finding anything of value grows overtime. Diablo players want to be addicted to playing Diablo 3. Diablo 3 is not addictive. Diablo should be addictive like a slot machine. A slot machine is addictive because it uses a Variable Ratio reward schedule. A slot machine gives a payout after an average number of "pulls on the lever." The amount of pulls between rewards varies but the average still exists, hence "Variable Ratio Reward Schedule". Diablo 3's reward schedule increases as time passes. If, on average, it takes 10 hours of farming to find something of value now then it will take some amount more than 10 hours a month from now. It may take 15 hours of farming to find an item of value in a few months. It may take 100 hours of farming to find something of value next year. This increasing time between rewards is unacceptable and is not a fun experience.

I cannot stress the importance of solving Item Saturation enough. The growing time between finding anything of value is the giant flaw of Diablo that prevents Diablo 3 from being a great game. The Diablo 3 fan base is an army of internet users addicted to slaying Demons and finding good loot. Our fixes get further and further apart as time passes. The playerbase craves regular, not ever-delayed, reward. If Blizzard does not solve this issue Diablo 3 will not be a game that is played for years. If Blizzard does not solve this issue Diablo will continue to be a frustrating game where perfection feels so close but isn't achieved. Slowing down Item Saturation and glossing it over with fancy new toys will only temporarily solve the issue. Item Saturation will rear it's ugly head again and players will be discouraged from playing because what is the point of grinding Demons when they don't drop anything worth picking up?

None of the ideas for itemization Blizzard have discussed will fix Item Saturation.

  • Making items interesting with cool new mods and abilities will not solve Item Saturation. Eventually, the Diablo 3 economy will be flooded with these cool items. Players will have access to all of these cool effects for little or practically no gold. The excitement of cool and interesting abilities goes away when they are freely available and worth nothing to sell to someone else. What is the point in chasing after an item everyone could have for 1,000 gold?
  • Making items always drop with good random rolls or making items more regularly be "good" does not solve this issue. When all players are finding great items with great rolls then the value of these great items goes down. When everyone has found and is wearing a "Perfect item of Perfection" then "Perfect Items of Perfection" are worth nothing.
  • Gold Sinks will not solve this issue. When players have less gold to spend prices go down across the board. This fall in prices means that players will sell their items for less money. The ability to find anything of "real value" remains unchanged.
  • Ladder seasons do not solve this issue. Ladder seasons only reset the time between rewards back to the lowest amount. As time passes the amount of time a player must spend to find a reward still increases.
  • Bind on Account items do not solve this issue. Bind on Account slows the Item Saturation issue by preventing hand-me-downs from other players. However, players still can acquire great items in slots that are incredibly difficult to upgrade and cause merely "good" items in that slot to be worth less. The % of people who use crafted gear in a slot verse found rares demonstrates this concept. As time passes more players will use crafted bind-on-account gear and found rares will lose value. Bind on Account, whether crafted or not, will still allow Item Saturation to occur.
The only way I know to stop Item Saturation is to destroy good items. The question is "how to destroy good items but make it fun and acceptable to players?" I have an idea on how to answer this difficult question.

Introduce an ability that imbues items with greater power but makes that item unable to be repaired. Here's an example of how it may work: New NPC Camp Follower -- The Mystic. Ability as follows:

  • Mystify any item of your choice.
  • There is no cost other than selecting an item and pressing "Mystify"
  • The Mystified item gets 2 additional random rolls
  • The Mystified item gets set to a durability that is 10x it's current maximum durability
  • The Mystified item cannot be repaired
  • The Mystified item becomes account bound
  • When the Mystified item "breaks" the item is still temporarily usable while your character wears the item BUT the 2 Mystified random rolls disappear
  • When the item is taken off OR the player leaves the game the item is destroyed/deleted.

These numbers are very flexible. I am unsure where the ideal balance would be and am only using these numbers as an example for explanatory purposes. The item being destroyed is key and is non-negotiable. The # and quality of random rolls, the cost of mystification, the amount of durability, and the method of breaking are all very flexible.

Let's look at an example and see what Mystification would do to the Diablo 3 Economy". Currently, Inna's Temperence pants are the most worn item. Inna's Temperences get a singular random roll. The main random rolls of value are Main Stat + Vitality, All Resistance, and Large Roll Vitality. Despite this item's popularity and small vairance there is a huge difference in price between a bad Inna's Temperence, a good Inna's Temperence and a great Inna's Temperence. A player who finds an Inna's Temperence likely found nothing of real value BUT there is a small possibility of great value. The cheapest Inna's Temperences on the NA-SC market are currently less than 100,000 gold. The cheapest buy-it-now price for an Inna's Temperence with 70 Strength and 50 Vitality is 40M Gold.

Post-Mystifcation players will buy Inna's Temperences worth little and "Mystify" them hoping for a good roll. For example, I may purchase 20 Inna's Temperences with bonus Health from Health gloves for under 5M gold total. Then, I may Mystify all 20 of them and generate 2 to 5 with great random rolls that make them better than many current extremely valuable Inna's Temperences. I can use these great Mystified Inna's Temperences for a fixed amount of time. Then I can either go back to wearing my standard, non-Mystied Inna's Temperence pants that last forever or I can Mystify some more.

Prices on non-ideal Inna's Temperences will rise because players can buy them relatively cheaply and use them for a fair amount of time. Prices on ideal Inna's Temperences will fall because some players who were previously chasing after these items are instead purchasing lesser Inna's Temperences and Mystifying.

The key to my item destroying idea is that Item Saturation will be defeated. Instead of the time between rewards ever increasing players will have a regular average time between rewards that does not grow over time. This Variable Ratio Reward Schedule is achieved because there will be a balance between items purchased for Mystification and items purchased as "best regular items in the slot". For example, for Inna's Temperences there will be a balance between players who purchase Inna's Temperences regularly for Mystification and players who purchase super high end Inna's Temperences that last forever. Imagine players find lots and lots of Inna's Temperences that are usually worth very little. When prices get too low players purchase them up and Mystify them. As players purchase them up the price of bad Inna's Temperences rises AND these Inna's Temperences are consumed. When the supply of bad Inna's Temperences is depleted and prices rise too high players stop purchasing them for Mystification. When players stop purchasing these Inna's Temperences for Mystication the price will fall. Prices will find a balance, thus player's income will be steady and average, and thus the time between rewards will remain steady and Item Saturation will be defeated.

The exact mechanism for "Mystification" is very flexible. The idea needs a lot of balance consideration and tweaking. The following is a giant sample of random thoughts on the topic.

The name doesn't need to be Mystication. The Mystic isn't needed to do it. It can be an ability for the Blacksmith or whoever. I will call it "Mystification" so I have some name to use while I type my thoughts.

The cost should be low or non-existent. The key to the process is getting people to destroy items. Players should not be discouraged from using this process because of a high cost. This process will still function to increase gold destruction if there is no cost. Players are encouraged to buy and sell more items on the Auction House. Buying and Selling more items more quickly on the Auction House destroys more gold.

The number of random rolls, or whatever positive effects imbued onto the item, need to make Mystified items be the theoretical best item in the slot. Destruction of items is key and if players are using an item in a slot that will never be destroyed then Item Saturation exists. Players will eventually find enough of these ideal items that don't go away for everyone to have one and thus the value of this ideal item in a slot will be very little. I think the Mystify ability should have a very good chance of making a "good item" better than the current "ideal item in a slot". I think the Mystify ability should have some chance of making a "not good item" better than the current "ideal item in a slot". Perhaps Mystification only adds one random roll but the roll is enlarged like Bind-On-Account Demonic Essence crafts. Perhaps the Mystification process adds two or more rolls that are smaller than normal.

This Mystification process will make the playerbase stronger against Demons. The general power level of items will increase. Increased difficulty will likely be needed. I don't know if that means making the current Monster Powers harder or if it means making Monster Power go to 11.

The amount of total durability is very flexible. I don't know how long the items should last. They should last a fair amount of time. Maybe a week of good hard use by a really dedicated farmer. This total amount of durability will need balance testing.

I think players would hate if their item broke completely mid battle and if they had to pay a lot of attention to how long their Mystified item is going to last. I suggest the Mystified parts falling off when an item breaks but the item still being usable. Perhaps add an "item lock" button that prevents people from accidentally taking off items. Then, allow players to wear a broken Mystified item (loses Mystified bonuses, retains normal stuff) forever as long as they don't take it off. This would further encourage players to Mystify their best of the best items. Eventually players will want to take off their item. An item with Mystified bonuses can be better than any regular non-Mystified item. A broken Mystified item is just a regular item.

Many players complain that they can't find upgrades for themselves. This Mystification process will allow many players to find rares/legendaries themselves that have little value on the market but the player could Mystify their item into temporary upgrades. Players may constantly find temporary upgrades. Currently, upgrades will always take longer to find. Think of each item in terms of hours or odds to find. This concept is easiest with something like crafted amulets. Someone made this awesome spreadsheet that demonstrates the odds of each roll. If you are wearing an amulet that takes, on average, 100 rolls to find, then in order to find an upgrade you will need to craft an amulet that takes, on average, more than 100 rolls. Each subsequent amulet will take longer and longer. This concept applies to regular items as well. With Mystification players have a regular chance to roll an upgrade as a Mystified item. The chance does not continuously grow over time.

Futher, perhaps a second ability could be added that strongly encourages self found items. A second Mystification-like ability could exist where a player "Imbues" an unidentified item they found themselves. This item becomes account bound, gets few or lesser rolls than Mystification, but does NOT become ethereal. This "Imbue" process allows players to have self-found items be stronger than non-self found items. Preventing trading of Unidentified items would likely be necessary. Players who still wish to gamble on things can do so by gambling on items they find themselves. Item Saturation would still be prevented as long as Mystified Items, which get destroyed eventually, are still the best possible item in the slot.