Eric Alexander Krutten

Game Designer, independent developer and consultant, specialized on System

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Pic: Legendary Item in World of Warcraft

Rarities and proper Item names do not only play a role in RPGs, they can be used in many cases and greatly improve the value of a item roster with little effort.
Names and rarities can create very strong aesthetics for the player. A good item name can tell a story, or even better, make the user imagine their own. It can leave a striking impression, a sense of wonder and scarcity, and make an item desirable, over its actual usage case. It can greatly fortify the power-fantasy of its user, which is arguably the most important aspect. It's all about power fantasy right ?

 

Various strengths of names

 

We can make up a rough hierarchy, in which the strength of a item name can be measured. This is a list I made, based on my own conclusions and observations. Please keep in mind that the words used also play a big role and can make levels interchange in various cases. (And its rather an inspiration, not an instruction)

Try looking up some item names and see for yourself how you feel about them, or take some from my list. If you compare a level 1-5 item with a level 8 from the list, you will notice

a very drastic shift in aesthetics.

 

Vel’Narash, devourer of the seven suns, what does that even mean ? I did not select for more than a minute to create the name. Is it a posessed demon in a sword that is apparent in other dimensions, is it extraterrestrial, where it is possible to have multiple suns at once,  did it travel space, maybe shift its form, and the item we see is only a form it has chosen to be? Are the seven suns just an analogy of the day/night cycle of a week, and while devouring the suns, taking daylight away, does that mean it simply takes life ? Whatever it

means, It feels very precious. Polished shotgun tells us its a shotgun, and its new. Yawn.

 

Here just a couple of very strong names out of various popular games, just as examples:

 

World of Warcraft:    Val' Anyr, Hammer of the Ancient Kings, Thunderfury

Borderlands 2:         Athena's Wisdom, ZX80 Vicious Bitch ...

Diablo 3:                   Mask of lies, The sultan of blinding Sand ...

Dota 2:                      Vladimir's Offering, Heart of Terrasque, Daedalus ..

League of Legends:  Will of the ancients, Blade of the ruined King, Needlessy large rod..

 

 

It is also very interesting to think about how real world products do their rarities

If you go to the store, you will notice that almost every product has a prefix or belonging prefix. You are not buying pasta, you are buying Italian Barilla pasta. Just adding the country of origin gives extreme value to every product, although it does not mean anything at all regarding quality. Starbucks does not employ waiters, they employ Baristas. See, I

even capitalize the name, as I think its a proper name! (It is italian for waiter however)

IKEAs crazy names give the buyer a stronger connection to the item. It's no shelf, it is Billy.

The real world names work a little different but they are a nice inspiration. 
The sense of rarity is very important to us, the object should not just be something from somewhere. The name makes it special, even if it isnt. The same applies for tooltip descriptions. Text can make an item mysterious or anything you want, just don't forget to use that power. Roguelike-games often play with very rudimentairy descriptions, letting the

player himself find out what an item does . This can be frustrating at times, but most fans

see it as a part of the fun. Not knowing what is just picked up opens a lot of room for imagination and mystery. Also it will appear that the game has a lot of depth that may have

just not appeared yet. It is always nice to think about all the things that could happen or be

in the game, so don't be too overly transparent with all your stuff.

 

 

Scarcity = Value

 

Names and rarities are a great way to make items more interesting and to create diversity,
not to forget increase their value. In the below picture we see a CS:GO item with one-of-a-kind rarity to sell for nearly 24.000$. A extreme case with various rarity factors involved however.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case you are not as familiar with rarities, here is a  rarity scheme mashed up from the most common player expectations we have adapted from popular (RPG / ActionRPG) games:

 

 

Trash
Common
Uncommon
Rare
Epic
Legendary

 

 

Please note that we have around as many rarities as we have name power levels. 
If you work on a procedural naming system, like Diablo or Dead Island uses, you can link several power level thresholds with several rarities, to have rare items named accordingly. 

When designing your own rarity hierarchy, make sure to not break common expectations, as it is a easy way to confuse your user. (Green will feel strange as Legendary per example) and do not make up too much of your own. Keep a decent amount of the ordinairy at best, and dont flood the player with too many different rarites, unless they
are very clearly represented. Don't rearrange what is not broken.
 

Adding rarity levels to an existing item pool can bring great value to the player with very little development time. For the most part, it is just changing a name and give it a color. Items do not have to be better with a higher rarity, just more scarce, something Team Fortress 2 demonstrates well. You also greatly increase the number of items you have available, giving players more options and things to collect. It also monetizes very well if you are doing it the right way.

 

Team Fortress 2. It is exactly the same item, but the one on the right is worth a lot more.
They added a nifty kill counter on top, something that is of very low production time, but offers a lot of show-off potential for the player, making the item more desirable without changing it in any way. No model change, no texture change, no particles, just plain text and some color.

There is an interesting talk from Andrew Maximov about Art critique, and his saying is, that beauty often or strongly emits from scarcity, which makes a lot of sense, to me at least.

In game design, we also talk about things getting boring when we start seeing the pattern

repeat behind the curtains. If you things often, you will eventually get bored of it, very basic stuff. Rare things are always percieved as exciting, add a good name and another

desirable value (aesthetics, power ...) to be on a truly winning formula, but never forget:

Items can only be rare if other items aren't.

 

I hope you enjoyed this entry.

See you ingame!

 

- Eric Krutten

Last edit: 16 Nov. 2014

 

 

Item names can be fascinating, they fuel the imagination and  a couple letters

combined with a little color canoddly bring great value to a solely virtual item.

 

Some of the most valued virtual goods  in games are nothing but a tooltip with

various written statistics and a simple icon, yet we care so much about them.

 

How to make virtual items exciting through names and rarities.

Naming items and value from scarcity.

16 November 2014 by Eric Krutten "Shrike"

Power fantasy / Scarcity name levels:

 

Level 0  - Mali
Broken shotgun
Rotten fruit


Level 1  - Bare Object
Shotgun
Canned meat

Level 2  - Prefix 
Polished shotgun
Expensive rod

Level 3  - Suffix
Shotgun of wounding
Staff of frost

Level 4  - Proper name
Old sturdy
Betty

Level 5  - Belonging prefix
Sally's shotgun (of wounding)
Grandma's pudding

Level 6  - Title or adjective alone
Abomination
The Purifier

Level 7  - Proper name / adjective + adjective or object
Malice, the Thunder
Twitch, the Plague Rat
Healer of souls

Level 8  - Proper name + title / high title
Ryze, Son of Rome
Vel’Narash, Devourer of the seven suns

Please keep in mind that English is my 4th

Language and there will be errors.