Vendor Trash

In every game that includes vendor trash, there is someone on the development team taking the time to create item descriptions and icons for drops that serve no other purpose than to be sold to a vendor for a meager return. That’s depressing when you think about it. It also seems like a bizarrely wasteful use of someone’s time and development resources. So why do these items even exist in the first place?

Maybe there’s a history to vendor trash that I’m unaware of, one dating back to the very first MMO ever created, World of Warcraft (source: global chat in every MMO during the first week post launch). Or perhaps the intention was to combat gold sellers by dropping goods that must be sold to a vendor for money thus creating an extra step in the gold farming process. Whatever the reason, it seems completely archaic in the modern MMO, if it ever made sense at all.

Why then do so many games continue to include vendor trash? Is the employee designing the tooltips and icons the entitled yet incompetent nephew of the publisher’s CEO, or were the vendor trash designers the first to unionize and thus solidify their place in every MMO development team? I’m sure the in game vendors are tired of being forced to buy all of our garbage. The inventory levels these vendors must have for worthless items like “Gary’s rusted bronze sword” or “Sally’s near-sighted tome of ‘it’s not you, it’s me'” must make it impossible to ever turn a profit. How they manage to stay in business is beyond me.

Now I don’t want anyone’s nephew to lose their job, but can we do away with vendor trash already? Or if damaged and otherwise useless items continue to surface as loot drops, perhaps they could be incorporated into a crafting system that allows them to be upgraded or stripped for parts. Whatever you do MMO developers, please stop filling my bags with useless stuff and causing local businesses to suffer from excess levels of worthless inventory. Auto-selling is not a solution either; just get rid of the junk please. I’d rather earn nothing at all than continue to collect broken weapons, animal limbs, and discarded underpants.

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14 thoughts on “Vendor Trash

  1. Interesting that you post this question: “Now I don’t want anyone’s nephew to lose their job, but can we do away with vendor trash already?”

    After all, you do play a MMO without vendor trash, or at least without anything being designed to be so: TSW. There are exactly two things which I tend to vendor: theatrics and weapon animas of weapons
    which I don’t frequently use. And even those items are not “vendor trash” per definition, theatrics can be used once per character. After they are unlocked, you don’t have use for any more of them, effectively turning them into trash, but that was not their design criteria but a design mistake.

    For the anmias the case is even more interesting. Many people sell all of them, some collect and use all of them, i personally only keep and use the assault rifle version, while selling the rest. The reason for that being, the anima gives full ressources, and as i usually use the assault rifle for dungeon healing, this is one of my emergency buttons.

    For any other role, while the anima gives an advantage, it also requires experience in that role to use it efficiently. As i lack that experience and don’t have the desire to become a really good player in other roles but the healer, they do little for me. The third kind of item which temporarily was vendor trash was low QL aegis gear, but since it now can be disassembled for research, it’s not a commodity which can get a little additional income on the auction house.

    After this being said, i think your question turns into: “If there is one MMO out there which has nothing designed to be vendor trash, and the only items which people consider to be vendor trash are so due to a small design mistake or a matter of playstyle, why is this the only MMO without designated vendor trash?”

    This is much harder to answer, and i think the reason for vendor thrash can be answered differently for different MMOS. My top three answers are:

    – The item shop of the game is selling inventory slots. To give players more of an “incentive” to buy that, a higher number of “inventory fillers” has to be provided.
    – Vendor trash is there for flavour reasons. While the item does not give any actual benefit next to selling for very little money, it is a small mosaic stone to add to the complete picture of the world.
    – It’s been done that way in other MMOs, so the designers did not ponder what purpose it served there, but just copied the feature into their own game to make sure that they did not forget “anything important”.

    The first one very often becomes obvious by looking at the cash shop. It works with high volume most commonly with short and generic descriptions. It’s all about mass, with quality being not in focus. The difference between the second and third is often a matter of personal perception, but generally speaking the second has a lower volume of vendor trash and comes with higher quality of description and information on it, while case number three the stuff looks a lot like in case number one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s actually a few MMOs that don’t have vendor trash items, And I appreciate that about each and every one of them! But a fair number still have the feature and regardless of the reason I don’t like it. I’d rather have useful things—gear, consumables, cosmetics, or crafting materials. Anything but junk meant to be sold.

      That said its been interesting to read the comments since I posted this to hear some of the speculation/ reasons why it’s there and even why some people actually like it! I wasn’t expecting this kind of conversation when I wrote the post but I’m glad people are chiming in. I love it when people add their two cents on the subject.

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  2. Ah! I’m so on board with this. I’d personally prefer then incorporate it into crafting, but if like it dropped if they can’t do something more interesting with it.
    I think another use they have for VT is to offer you a chance to break by running back and selling. Extending gameplay time.

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  3. I think vendor trash predates cash shops in MMORPGs so although it may be used now as an incentive to buy more inventory slots I don’t think it was originally. We’ve had vendor trash in electronic RPGs and games long before MMOs for that matter. I think the reason it’s there is more in line with what tyrannodorkus said but I would be a little less kind 🙂

    Rather than a break it is an artificial time/resource sink. When you’re deep in dungeon X, your inventory is filling up and you finally find the phenomenal sword of awesome cosmic power and upon picking it up are confronted with the dreaded “inventory full” message you have a decision to make and the devs know it: 1. travel out, sell the stuff, get the coin, return for sword of phenomenal cosmic yada yada (assuming it doesn’t despawn); or 2. dump some stuff, losing coin, take the sword of yada yada, and carry on. There are likely other options, but whatever they are they end up being a sink of some kind: money, time, reward rate, etc. This all allows the devs a somewhat crude piece to the puzzle of controlling your progression and gameplay time. I guess too you could make the lore argument that not everything you would find in a world would be useful but people generally do like finding something, so this fills that need and makes the special loot that much more special? I dunno, maybe that’s an argument. Because of these things I think vendor trash isn’t going away any time soon, although if it did I certainly wouldn’t shed a tear.

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  4. There are MMOs without vendor trash. For example, FFXIV. Everything that drops is used either directly or by some crafting recipe. And there are relatively few loot drops (and automatic looting, as well). Now, some stuff may not be “valuable”, because the supply is high and the demand is low. They end up selling for the vendor price on the marketboard, and most people sell them to an NPC directly to save time.

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  5. The original reason for “vendor trash” was one not yet mentioned here. It was the answer to the question: ‘how do you make a rat drop gold without it actually dropping gold?’. Back when MMORPG’s cared about being virtual worlds with some amount of “real world” logic still attached to drops and the like, it was a very good solution.
    If you want rats to drop something on a regular basis that benefits the player economically, and you can’t just have them drop gold because that doesn’t actually make sense, you make them drop “rat tails”, “tuft of fur”, or something of the ilk. Put in a person, lets call him ‘crazy jack’, who pays for rat tails, and you have indirectly made the rats drop gold. Of cause more often than not any vendor will buy the item, but this is a lot easier for your suspension of disbelief. You can easier explain away why ‘Bryan the Butcher’ or even ‘Sally the Smith’ buys rat tails as well, than why every damned rat carries copper pieces. (Maybe they sell them to jack, who knows)

    I would presume Sylow’s top three reasons for newer games to have vendor trash adequately covers most of the reasons it is still there in games where it doesn’t serve its original purpose.

    Shandren

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you for the explaination, tha makes a lot of sense. I can see where in the modern F2P market vendor trash makes sense as a way to “encourage” cash shop purchases, but given that it has been around long before F2P was a thing, the virtual word aspect makes a lot of sense.

      That said, I’ve certainly seen things drop from bears and rats in Word of Warcraft that raise an eyebrow, making me wonder where in the world that 8″ long critter was hiding a four foot broad sword, but hen that’s probably not an example of the kind of game you mean.

      I think in the right game environment I can see it adding to the ambiance, but then I’d rather see a modern take on that like in Black Desert. I can’t remember if they have true “vendor trash” as well, but I know they do have items that drop from specific mobs that if you travel to the right vendor to sell them and have the desired quantity, you get s higher return on the sale. It fits with your example of crazy Jack buying the rat tails. Not everyone’s going to give you money for those things, but crazy Jack will pay a pretty penny if you’re willing to travel his way.

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      • Yeah wow certainly have its fair share of “weird” drops. I was referring to older games, but wow still had some semblance of it. Cloth only drops from humanoids, animals and the ilk still mostly drop claws and pelts, etc. But they added “world drops” that didn’t care about creature type (BoE greens, blues, purps). As with many other things wow vanilla was in this area a mix of the older virtual world philosophy, and the more modern games.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Might be just me, but I guess there is a simple reason why the reason you state didn’t cut it for me: Even in the old MUD, with which my online career started, mobs never had trash loot per se. Indeed the rabbit, which was the first thing about 98% of all players killed first, gave a rabbit chop when looting it. As the game required you to eat and drink to avoid death, that lowly loot already had some use. Then when I switched to MMOs, my very first MMO was SWG. And hunting animals was what my character made his living on. Any killed animal was to be skinned and butchered, with the result being sold on the market. Players of crafting professions bought and used that stuff again.

      While there were some “low demand” goods in that game, there was no vendor trash and actually till the NGV vs playerbase was hammered in, there even was no NPC vendor to buy any loot. Everything you looted you just could use yourself, strip for ressources or sell.

      So I am sorry that I didn’t come to the idea that this tries to fix the “rats don’t drop gold” problem, as I saw better fixes to that already in online games before the term “MMO” ever was known. But yes, I agree that while it looks like a comparatively lazy fix, it indeed does solve the problem.

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      • NGE vs playerbase. Just in case, but everybody who knows that games history very well understands what I mean. 😀

        Also please ignore a number of other typos there, I should also be less lazy and crossread more.

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  6. I *love* “vendor trash. I really ought to have done a post on just how much I love it years ago. I called my blog “Inventory Full” for a very good reason!

    The things people complain about in MMOs and want automated out tend to be high on my list of reasons why I fell in love with the genre in the first place and why I am still spending most of my leisure time either playing, reading or writing about it a decade and a half later. I strongly object to developers trying to tidy my gameplay up or improve the flow by having autonomic systems do the things I really enjoy doing for myself – things like picking up my own loot, inspecting it, sorting it and deciding what to do with it.

    As for the icons and the descriptions, those are often some of the loveliest images, visual and verbal, in the entire game. I have “vendor trash” items stashed in my banks and bags in any number of MMOs because the icons and descriptions are so beautifully crafted. I have the greatest respect for the anonymous craftspeople who put such care and attention into these fragments of a world. Without them any MMO would hugely, *hugely* poorer.

    I’d love to be one of the people who writes the descriptions for “vendor trash”. What a fantastic job it must be.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You’re just saying that because they’re unionized aren’t you?

      😉

      Thank you for sharing your take on this though, and yes, I agree there are some real gems on the vendor trash in several MMOs I’ve played if you take the time to read them, (hence Sally’s near-sighted tome of “it’s not you, it’s me) but personally I’d rather see that detail applied to items that are useful or can be collected in some manner. Heck, if your going to take the time to do that give me housing where I can display those trinkets for others to visit and see.

      I guess I want more than gray text intended for resale. Let me scrap it to make something new, or let me gather other materials to restore it back to life, or just give me a way to showcase those treasures. Real world travelers often display their treasures in “cabinets of curiosities,” how great would it be to do the same in an MMO?

      Now look what you did, you made me think a little more about things again.

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      • I love vendor trash because inventory management is a fun sub-game to adventuring. My space is limited, I want to maximize my money, but I also am not ready to quit this grind/quest/adventure just yet and find a vendor. It has become less interesting over the years, but I do miss the days of EverQuest and chasing down skeletons with the nicer rusty weapons to loot.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m glad to see that several people already spoke up in support of vendor trash… I think I wrote a post about this many years ago (yep, here it is). Basically I was bemoaning the fact that WoW was eliminating vendor trash in more and more places, and that I found it stupid that things like walking plants or flesh-eating worms dropped coins.

    Thinking about it now and reading some of the other comments, I suppose you wouldn’t need actual trash items as long as there was still a large variety of different drops out in the world. For example I remember Neverwinter (which is definitely in the “F2P wanting to sell you bags” camp) actually having little to no vendor trash at launch, they just filled your bags with lots of low-level enchantments and stuff like that. Then they suddenly added a bunch of junk in a new patch that kept dropping everywhere and that just felt cheap.

    But yeah, I’m also one of those “crazy” people who actually enjoys sorting her inventory…

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