Modifications to game items to make them more effective.
Equipment in game worlds provides benefits to those using them. Upgrades are ways for players to make these benefits greater by modifying the equipment.
Taking place in worlds where magic works, Torchlight and the Dragon Age series make use of gems that can be set in equipment sockets and provide various bonuses. GURPS and Morrowind have rules for players to use their skills in spells to enchant items, providing gameplay benefits to how these items work.
Using the pattern
Upgrades are basically ways of giving players Improved Abilities so deciding on what Abilities should be possible to improve through them; common examples include those related to Damage with Variable Accuracy or modifying the chance of Critical Hits or Critical Misses as special cases of this. Although Upgrades often are Equipment - they are to be equip other Equipment - they do not need to be Diegetically Tangible Game Items. However, giving New Abilities by modifying Equipment is typically handled by Crafting since this is not a question of Upgrading. Given that they are Equipment, e.g. gems, silencers, and scopes, most of the design decisions related to Upgrades are the same as for Equipment or Game Items in general. This includes who can use them, how they are acquired, etc. An exception when Upgrades do not function as Equipment is when they are made possible through Powers, e.g. enchantment spells in GURPS or Morrowind (although since Morrowind requires soul gems and can thereby be seen as a combination of using a Power and a piece of Equipment).
Common types of Equipment which can be affected by Upgrades are Armor and Weapons. While Sockets are receptacles for Upgrades, they can also be affected by Upgrades, e.g. by them providing adding additional slots.
The action of installing Upgrades either can be one generally available to players or can be one governed by how Crafting works in a game.
Sidegrades are a specific type of Upgrades that rather than generally provide better Abilities instead provide more specialized ones (in practice this means that they usually balance some type of Improved Ability that an Upgrade could provide with some other type of Decreased Ability).
While Upgrades typically are possible to acquire through gameplay, letting players get them through paying can be seen as a form of Pay to Play.
Upgrades are a type of Equipment that can provide additional Improved Abilities to other pieces of Equipment through allowing the Upgrading of them. They provide players with a Freedom of Choice since the improvements can be done whenever they wish, but doing them are often Irreversible Events and thereby force players to make Trade-Offs decisions between different types of Upgrades.
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