Gold sinks are necessary for a functioning in-game economy, but some gold sinks turn out to not be performing an essential function.
Take, for example, identification kits in Guild Wars 1. They cost 100 gold for 25 uses, so 4 gold per use. When used, they increase the sell value of the identified item, by an average of considerable more than 4 gold. (You can even identify white items with no magical properties — the only effect is to increase the sell value.) The vast majority of identified items are sold. If identification kits were removed from the game, and the sell value of all items that could be identified reduced by 4 gold, the only effect on the economy would be an additional 4 gold in the game for every identified item that is never sold. A negligible effect, while removing a significant annoyance.
In most MMORPGs, playing normally is a profitable activity, in terms of gold. Gold sinks are necessary to add unprofitable activities, to keep inflation in check. However, sinks like the identification kit just make a profitable activity slightly less profitable — there are numerous other methods to do that, so no need to choose an annoying one.
Which brings us to gathering tools in Guild Wars 2. Like Hunter, I think they are annoying; however, I think they fall into the same category as identification kits, and could be replaced by something less annoying. Though exactly what should replace them is harder to know in this case.
I’m not going to discuss exactly what should be done in concrete terms to exactly balance the economy if gathering tools are removed; rather, I want to discuss the different methods the designers can take to balance it. That is, when working at an abstract level the goal is just to make sure it can be balanced; the work of actually doing the balancing would come later.
Removing gathering tools makes gathering slightly more profitable, so the obvious first thing to look at is reducing that directly. There are numerous methods — reduce the frequency of gathering nodes, reduce the amount extracted from each, or reduce the value of the things extracted (by increasing the amount needed to craft things, for example). With the gathering tools this was exchanging time and gold for crafting materials; now it would just be time, so the amount needed would increase. (The ability to have a gold cost for gathering is what we’re giving up — I think we can do without it.)
If we don’t want to increase the time required to gather, we’ll have to change something in another part of the game to balance. This will increase the profitability of gathering compared to some other portion of the game — I think that will be fine. We don’t want gathering to be the optimal form of farming, but other than that I’m not sure what the restriction here would be… And if we reduce the profitability of crafting, that’s pretty tightly related to gathering anyway.
The easy way to adjust crafting would be to simply increase the amount of items bought from the crafting vendor needed in recipes, or their cost. Quite simple.
If we want to adjust other parts of the game, pretty much any source of gold could be reduced very slightly (mob drops, for example), or any gold sink increased slightly (travel to waypoints, for example). Adjusting crafting or gathering seems like the best bet to me, unless there’s a separate reason to change another part of the game.
I think the same logic applies to salvage kits.
Readers, do you agree? Is there something I’m missing? Is there anything else this would apply to?