Massively Overthinking: Tackling our hoarding problem in MMORPGs
By coincidence, two articles in my feeds this past week both centered on video game hoarding – not hoarding the actual games but hoarding stuff inside of them. Blizzard Watch posted a piece on what makes people stop hoarding things like currency in Blizzard’s games, while Gamasutra published an article about how game designers can stop turning us into hoarders in the first place.
For this week’s Overthinking, I thought it would be constructive for the staff and readers to reflect on hoarding in MMOs specifically. Do you hoard, and if so, is it primarily consumables? Currencies? Event items? Something else? Do you think it’s a problem, or only when it’s encouraged as part of a microtransaction loop that ends with your buying more storage?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Oh boy do I ever hoard! Consumables, currencies, event items, items that seem broken and feel like they’ll have to be patched, cool-looking weapons/armor (before transmog was a thing), mounts (not just a personal collection, but tradeable ones that are hard to get)… if it can be hoarded, I generally do it since you never know when you’ll need it.
It’s a problem though, at least in some ways. I know as a Darkfall player, I hoarded everything, but that’s because the game had full drop on death items plus durability/decay that destroyed items. Hoarding was great in that, if there was a war of attrition, the better hoarders could win. However, in a stereotypical MMO that’s constantly getting updated with items that won’t disappear, hoarding can help players show how long they’ve been around for, or (when allowed) create alternative trade currencies. For the same reason, that can cause economic stagnation.
You don’t have to look much further than Star Wars Galaxies and comparing the game’s early item decay system to, well, its non-decay days. As someone who only played the latter but heard how great things were during the former, I was severely disappointed in the fact, like most MMOs, other players had little to no use for my combat loot, even the rares. What little I could sell made less of a profit than what I could make in the amount of time it’d take to go out and kill something that’d drop the same amount in cold hard credits.
No matter what system, though, it really depends on what you want players to do. If you want hoarding (and whatever backend systems that might need to support that), you can skip item decay and other sinks. If you want people to keep sentimental items though, it’s not an issue. The only version I have a problem with is when a buy to play game with a subscription also tries to sell storage space for real cash (aside from buying a second account). For free to play games, it makes some sense, though I always end up wishing they’d sell a “full game version” that would let you get all the storage/buy-to-own perks at a discount, to help encourage people to invest in the game rather than betting on people buying lootboxes.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I’m not exactly a minimalist when it comes to MMOs, and I like having “enough” storage, but I don’t keep pixels just because I touch them once. I have a strong purge instinct and enjoy throwing things away more than holding onto them. It’s something I’ve actually struggled with sometimes in real life as my husband’s a bit of a pack-rat (“but what if we need it later?” he says about literally everything), so we butt heads a lot! And in video games, I’m much the same. I love to clean out inventories, to the point that my husband will periodically let me clean out his MMO bags so I can get my organizing high. I almost never log out without tidying my bags, ever. When my Ultima Online house starts to reach about 50% item capacity, I start chucking things onto the vendor to sell. It’s not even that I don’t want stuff; I want the stuff I do keep organized, but I don’t want so much stuff that I ever feel overwhelmed by it, so I never feel owned by it. A different sort of quirk, I guess!
All that said? Hoarding digital crap is perfectly fine because it’s digital, it’s just pixels, so who cares – I’m not judging you. And I totally understand unintentionally hoarding currencies, especially when they wind up in some ephemeral currency tab that I never remember to click on, and suddenly I find it by accident and I’m like whoa, I have like a thousand laurels, and maybe I should spend those on something? And maybe I’ll remember to, but not in most games anymore. Back in the day, I had a schedule and wish list worked out for spending currencies in World of Warcraft, though!
Also, it drives me crazy when studios create new currencies, garbage event drops, and the video game equivalent of lint and then make you buy bags and bank tabs from a cash shop. You guys go ahead and complain about pay-to-win, but some days I find inventory creep way more personally obnoxious and harder to ignore. Extra funny is when those game systems conflict and studios act confused: For example, Guild Wars 2, which has a loot system literally designed to fill your bags so you’ll buy more inventory space, also has an economy team that routinely laments how hard it is to stop everyone from hoarding stacks of resources, and a crafting system that is still 95% useless. Face meet desk.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Ugh. I hoard pretty much everything in MMOs, and it’s not even just consumables; it’s anything that I think I can’t just easily get back. Which means that my banks are stuffed with crafting reagents I’ll never need or use in pretty much every game, my characters frequently sport countless consumables that heal for a pittance and won’t help me in new content, and in some cases I even have stacks of holiday event tokens that I can’t bring myself to throw away because what if I need them again at some point? What then? The obvious answer, that I would just get a new batch, never seems to occur to me, and the amount of time I spend juggling what I hoard vs. what I use is kind of ridiculous.
Of course, I think that’s kind of the point. I hate when designers or community managers try to paint inventory management as a fun minigame, but I think part of the point is to actually build some consideration about what you’re doing and how you want your inventory space to be utilized. When you have enough storage space that you can just hold everything for all eternity, inventory is basically a non-issue, but in a weird way it also encourages more hoarding. After all, you have no pressure forcing you to use something because it’s ultimately going to be useless.
Personally, I blame Final Fantasy XI as my first game. Sharply limited inventory space combined with a lot of items that could be valuable for crafting, quests, or other purposes with no real indication of what any given item was worth? Yeah, you just got into a habit of holding everything and checking on it later. And Final Fantasy XIV is only slightly less all-encompassing with items that might be useful later. Screw you, Yarzon legs.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Unless I’m saving up for something specifically, I do not Scrooge McDuck my tokens and currency. If I have it, I spend it because what’s the point otherwise? Part of this is that I’m afraid I’ll forget that it’s sitting around and could be used, so if it comes across my attention, I’ll make a special trip to see what I can get with what I have.
I really hate how crafting mats can end up swamping a player’s inventory and bank space. I never know when I might want to become a crafter or might need some super-special mats, so these end up clogging valuable slots for no good reason. Guild Wars 2, I’m looking at you here. I have tried to be better about just selling these mats and perhaps doing a little research to make sure that I’m not getting rid of useful items that will help down the line.
Consumables are definitely another question entirely. Single-player RPGs have hammered into my head that I must always save up any and all consumables just in case I end up in an impossible fight that needs a few gallons of health and buff potions to plow through. The weird thing is that most MMOs I play don’t really ever require consumables during general play and advancement, yet I hoard them anyway. I don’t want to get too used to using them (and then find myself out and shaking with withdrawal symptoms) and there is always the theoretical situation that might require some help. The exception to this is with longer-buffing potions that are plentiful (like food buffs and Secret World Legends’ 30-minute performance enhancers), because I’m not worried about running out of them and might as well use them while I have them.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): In-game hoarding? You do realize that under this topic is a picture of me — aka every game character I have ever played. Do I hoard? HAHAHAHAHAHA! AH *breathe* HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I think I pulled something from laughing.
Bree requested I be brief (the fact that my brief answer was over 1300 words meant I had to get briefer!). So here it is: Yes, I hoard. I hoard nearly everything. Everything. Everywhere. Shall I attempt a list? I hoard: consumables, gear, quest items, vanity clothing, any cool creatures, junk items that have cool names, crafting materials, housing decorations… oh forget it! If you can pick it up/earn it, I hoard it in most games I play! I’d blame it on the games themselves making such cool things to collect, but there’s more to it than that. If there might be a use for it — either for myself or for someone else — then I keep it. There are specific reasons for this. Want to hear all the details? Tune in next week for my soapbox on the issue! Seriously, I don’t want to monopolize the discussion here =P
I don’t think my hoarding is a problem; in fact, it has come to the rescue of many a person many a time. Oh, you need some random obscure item? I have that for you! It may take me some time to find it if inventory doesn’t have a good search feature (EQII rocks on this) or is on an alt, but I’ve got it. MJ to the rescue is a pretty cool thing. And what if I need it in the future, hmm? Getting rid of it now could just hurt me later. No, hoarding is not a problem, it is security and helpfulness. Some viewers on OPTV, however, have a different opinion. There have been calls for inventory intervention (much) more than once.
Because of my collecting ways, I do tend to have the most storage available — but only when it is acquirable in game. I don’t actually use real currency to buy more space, though it has been a bit tempting at times. If I feel like I am being forced to purchase, I just won’t. In a game where it just feels like an low-pressured option, however, I might consider it. Games that provide features to manage inventory effectively (like wardrobes, pet collections) earn high marks in my book. Then my bag and bank slots can be free for random loot that could prove useful in the future. Games that require you to have multiple items (say, a large collection of different gear pieces for different roles or uses) without a way to manage it so it isn’t using up half your inventory are on my coal-for-Christmas list.