Many of today's top games have some sort of equipment system, allowing the player to outfit their characters with all manor of armors and weapons. But how can all that gear be utilized to give the player the best possible experience? 

Equipment Goal 1: Visualization of Character Growth

  • A player's gear should tell a visual story of the player's journey, reflecting who they are, and what they have accomplished.

  • Perhaps the most important aspect of an Equipment system is to show the player how far they have come (or how far they have to go)

  • The player should be able to identify their rank and the general rank of those around them based solely upin the gear each player is equipped with

    • ie: it should be EASY to tell the difference between a level 10 character and a level 60 character.​

New Players

You can easily tell the high level monk from the low level monk in Diablo III.

In games like WoW, players are started with bare-bones gear, immediately inspiring them to aspire to better items.

  • A new player should start with several empty gear slots, immediately giving the player goals

    • Finding the first peice of gear to equip to an empty slot is a simple milestone that a player may set for themselves.

  • Keeping gear very simple in the beginning serves two purposes

    • The player should immediately want to replace their current gear for gear with better stats and more visual flair

    • Simple gear sets the bar low, allowing for a long runway of progressively more elaborate gear for the player to acquire along their journey.

  • Gear should be fairly generic, regardless of player's class.

Novice Players

  • Once a player has graduated from a game's tutorial, they should start to acquire gear that is more visually interesting than the starting gear, relatively quickly.

    • This helps teach them the importance of gear, and the value of increasing particular stats.​

    • This also helps get the player invested in the world, as visually seeing your character improve, is a great positive feedback loop.

  • At this stage in the game, gear should subtly begin to reflect the class/character type that the player has created.

Mid-Game Players

Players should quickly be introduced to the idea that the more elaborate a piece of gear is, the more powerful it is. (World of Warcraft)

As a player approaches Mid-Late game content they should begin to look and feel powerful. Gear should start to have more "personality" and start to reflect the achievements that a player has accomplished. (Destiny)

  • As the player continues to level up and advance through the game, their gear should contine to evolve with them. 

  • Gear should gradually become more intricate and more powerful looking.

    • Should appear to be made of stronger/rarer materials​

    • May start having ornate embellishments 

    • Shaders/Special Effects may begin to appear on gear

      • ie: Flaming/Glowing Weapons and Armor​

  • The player's gear should give a sense of power to the player, inspiring them to take on any challenge the game may throw at them. 

  • At this point, gear should be pronounced enoguh to immediately convey which class/character type each player is playing.

  • Players should be consciously persuing new gear at this point

End-Game Players

  • End-game gear is generally only obtained by the most dedicated players, requireing the player to go to extreme lengths, or complete some of the most difficult challenges that the game has to offer.

  • This gear should always be as visually impressive as possible and each piece should tell a story.

    • ie: a chestpiece, or helmet should be thematically tied to it's method of acquisition. This could be from a boss, end-game quest or event.​

  • These pieces of gear should be those that other players envy, inspiring them to work towards obtaining them for themselves.

    • Games like Destiny or World of Warcraft do a great job at this through social hubs or cities, where you can see armor sets of other players.​

  • This gear should scream "I'm a badass!". Rewarding the player for all the time/effort spent on acquiring the gear.

End-Game gear should thematically indicate prestigious accomplishments and milestones such as raid gear tied to bosses and other end-game activities. Such as this set of the Warlock gear obtained from the King's Fall raid (Destiny)

Equipment Goal 2: Vanity & Expression

  • Vanity gives the player a chance to express themselves through their characters and develop a unique digital identity for themselves and their characters.

  • This allows players to tell their own stories, express their individuality and feel more connection to their characters, as they are able to customize them to make them their OWN.

Examples of Vanity Items: Pets, Mounts, Shaders, Hats, etc.

In addition to the selection of gear provided in game, Destiny also allows players to customize their appearance through shaders that the player can earn in game. This is a fairly common, and relatively inexpensive way for developers to give players more ways to personalize their experience.

With hats alone, Team Fortress 2, allows players to add a great level of unique personality to each of their characters, allowing the player to have a sense of ownership over the way their character is seen by other players.

Equipment Goal 3: Retention / Short Term Goals

  • Equipment/Gear is something that the player should be acquiring on a regular basis, each time the player finds a new item which makes them just a little bit stronger, should give them a sense of progression and accomplishment. This sensation is one of the very reasons why games are percieved as "fun". 

  • Earning a new piece of epic gear should be bombastic and celebrated, as these are the sort of moments that players crave, and the sort of moments they should remember, long after they have put down the controller.

  • Allowing the player to experience these moments on a fairly regular basis, will go a long way to keep the player engaged and active within the game.

You may have just gone dah dah dah daaaaaaah in your head when you saw this image. That is partly because getting new items feels GOOD. And those are moments that will stick with players, and drive them to want to experience that feeling again.

Equipment Goal 4: Support for Various Playstyles

Regardless of how cool a piece of gear looks, it also has to give the right stat bonuses and abilities for it to be valuable to the players.

  • The stats and bonuses provided by gear are just as important, if not more-so as the aesthetics could ever be, particularly to the most hardcore players. 

  • Many players will want to Min/Max their stats in order to outfit their character with the best possible stats for the type of character they are playing. 

    • ie: a Restoration Druid in World of Warcraft will want to obtain gear that focuses chiefly on the following stats: Intellect, Haste, Mastery and Spirit, while a Feral Druid would instead focus on stats such as Critical Strike, Multistrike, Versatility and Haste. Though both characters are Druids, their gear needs are very different.

Equipment Goal 5: Play Into Other Systems

New Doesn't Necessarily Mean Better

  • It shouldn't be terribly uncommon for players to obtain gear that isn't all that useful for them. This serves a number of purposes:

    • It makes those pieces of gear that ARE useful, more meaningful​

    • Provides materials to be used in other systems such as crafting

    • Can often be sold to vendors or on Auction Houses for in game currency

    • Gear for other classes may inspire the player to create new characters

    • Gear may be traded to other players

This staff would be great for healers or spell casters, but it would be relatively useless to a melee character. Therefore they may chose to sell it, disenchant it, or simply create a new character who may be able to make use of it.

Josh Kulinski

Senior Game Designer

© 2016 Josh Kulinski. Proudly created with Wix.com

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