Scarcity in Video Games

It’s probably pretty safe to say that we all like rare items in our games. That is to say, we like acquiring rare items in our games. There’s a sort of rewarding feeling that comes with finally finding, earning or crafting that one item that’s been eluding you all game and thinking about finally getting to use it.

Well, that is when that rarity is implemented in a fun way. All too often though, I feel like scarcity is used as a way to artificially keep players grinding away for whatever reason. For some games like Genshin or EA Sports stuff, that reason is nefarious: they want you to break and spend money. For others it’s not so clear. I think the intent is usually to make getting the stuff feel more rewarding, but it just ends up feeling tedious. My most recent example: diamond and Netherite in Minecraft.

When it comes to mining most rare resources in Minecraft, there’s really nothing you can do to control how much you get. You just gotta dig and hope you come across what you’re looking for. This is fine for the most part since stuff like coal and iron are fairly common and can easily be stumbled upon in caves (but not always). It’s when you get to the point of obtaining really rare stuff like diamond and Netherite that things become troublesome.

Screenshot by The Duck of Indeed

Diamond for the most part only shows up in the last few layers above bedrock, and the only way to get it is start digging. You can maximize your chances via strip mining, that is mining in a way that lets you see at least one face of all the blocks in an area, but you still have to hope that you started digging in an area that actually has diamond in it. If not, then pack up and try a new area.

Netherite is even rarer than diamond and is only found in its namesake: The Nether. The method is largely the same, but one can at least speed things up a little bit by blasting instead of strip mining. The drawback is that there are only two or three bits to be found in an area, and you’re always running the risk of blowing or digging holes into lava lakes. Not easy, and not exactly fun.

Of course, getting those precious resources and making those coveted items is all the sweeter because of this scarcity, yet I can’t help but wonder if that payoff is worth it. Everything can be lost so easily in Minecraft, and everything wears out with use. So those precious items almost become too precious to use during normal play. I feel like it’d be better if there were more consistent ways to obtain rare materials than happening upon some ore after mining for an hour or two. At least that way we could use the stuff without worrying whether or not we’ll be able to find any more.

Minecraft PlayStation 4
image from the PlayStation store

I get why it’s not easier. If it were, players would have worked out a ridiculously efficient way to obtain it, rendering it almost trivial. Still, it’s too bad that there’s no simple middle-ground between excessively rare and overly common. Ah well, at least they’re not trying to sell us resource packs like the EAs, Ubisofts and Konamis of the world.

How do you feel about scarcity in games like Minecraft? Do you like the hunt or would you like a more consistent path to whatever items you’re looking for?

Image from the Minecraft Live 2022 announcement trailer

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