Difference between revisions of "Resources"

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Revision as of 07:53, 27 August 2021

Game elements that are used by players to enable actions in a game.

Resources are the representation of commodities that is used in a game to fund actions or can be depleted by the actions of others. The commodities may exist as physical game elements or purely virtual one, or change between these.


Resources can be found in nearly any game. The pieces in Chess are Resources since they allow actions, and both money and properties in Monopoly allow players to perform certain actions in that game.

The games Lemmings and Pik-Min both make use of different types of units that are Resources to players in that the players need to choose how to use them (and when to sacrifice them). The space marines and genestealers in the board game Space Hulk serve the same role, but in this game each unit is given a number of action points at the beginning of a turn. These points are another form of Resources that pay for the actions of the units.

The scout and fighter ships in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game are also examples of units as Resources. In addition, players have cards that allow actions and can be used to help overcome challenges. This board game also has Resources such as population, food, and moral that need to be maintained or the game is lost.

The Left 4 Dead series can serve as an example of typical Resources in a First-Person Shooter. Here each player (playing a "survivor") has a health score, weapons with ammunition, and potentially some extra equipment such as first aid kits. All these are Resources.

The Victoria series is an example of computer games with complex use of Resource refinement. For example, producing tank unit requires several resources (artillery, barrels, canned food, and fuel in Victoria 2) which in turn are produced from other Resources.


The stones in Go are a weak example of Resources if they are an example at all. This since the rules assume players should have enough stones to finish the game.

Using the pattern

The primary question regarding Resources are what they should be used for. While Tokens can be used to represent most Resources game elements that the diegesis suggests in many cases offer more specific Resources. Examples of this include Armor, Ammunition, Companions, Game Items, Health (and here the Damage one can take can alternative be seen as a Resource), Money, Territories, and Units. Pick-Ups can either be true Resources or sources for Non-Localized Resources. Experience Points while not always used as Resources, they can start functioning as such if players have options on what to spend them on or if they can be lost due to attacks. Scores can also be Resources if players can intentionally lose points as part of performing actions (Murano is an example of a game with this mechanism). While normally not a Resource important for gameplay manipulation, Save Files can become Resources if Resource Caps are applied on them.

Generalizing, examples of what Resources can be used for include winning Competitions or abstract Races, allowing actions by being Ammunition or Energy (thereby modifying how Aim & Shoot, Movement, etc. functions and potentially also Controllers), being the building material used for Construction or manipulated by Tools (the latter modulating Crafting). In many cases these choices modify or dictate what they Resources are, e.g. allowing them to be used in Construction makes them into construction material. Resources can also be what is put at risk in Betting, something that can be upgrade into more valuable Resources through Converters, and be the target of Damage. Resources can also be created from non-diegetic aspects related to actions. Action Caps, Budgeted Action Points, the Tokens used in Token Placement, and Temporary Abilities which have a Limited Number of Uses are all examples of potential Resources that are directly linked to players' abilities to perform actions. Cards tend to work this way in most Card Games since an action is typically to play a Card (and the use of Drawing Stacks is a way to modulate this type of Resource). Neighbors is a way of making other players into Resources of sorts. Time Limits make the time available to do actions a Resource while Extra Chances and Lives allow players to try actions again after failing (Damage can be seen the same way). The computer game version of Space Hulk shows one example of how time can be a Resource. The game has two modes of play: a strategic mode, where the actions of Units can be planned and nothing happens but in which a time meter counts down, and a real-time mode, where the time meter (the Time Limit) is replenished but commands cannot be given to Units. Time Limits and The Show Must Go On can also be used to force players use Resources within a certain time, which modulates one Resource while making time into another one.

After determining the use of a Resource, the next question is how players gain access to it, which is basically of how much players should start with and how much they need to acquire during gameplay from Resource Sources. Players may start with Non-Renewable Resources to promote Stimulated Planning for whole game sessions, Collecting may be require to gather Resources from Resource Locations, Resource Generators, or Chargers in a Game World. Further, the Resources may be Rewards for completing certain Quests or goals (Chargers and Resource Generators are in additional Resources in their own right). In addition to these ways of acquiring Resources, players may be able to redistribute Resources among themselves through actions such as Bidding, Player-Decided Distributions, and Trading if Transfer of Control is possible due to the Resources being Transferable Items. Regardless of how players achieve Resources, the game may be set up to promote either Symmetric Resource Distribution or Asymmetric Resource Distribution to enforce different strategies and Varied Gameplay. However, Asymmetric Resource Distribution may negatively affect Player Balance, unless used in a controlled fashion through Rock-Paper-Scissors or Handicaps.

Related to the question of how players gain access to Resources is the question of where they are localized and some Resources are Non-Localized Resources to a larger or smaller degree. For example, Experience Points, Health and Lives are typically not present directly as Resources in Game Worlds nor are they manipulable in Inventories. Ammunition and Money, on the other hand, may be present as Resources in Game Worlds but are also typically not manipulable in Inventories. This can however be muddled by having Pick-Ups that provide these Resources.

As Ammunition and Energy shows, tying consumption of Resources to performing Abilities is one way to control how often players can perform those Abilities. Resources can also be tied to Abilities in that more Resources make the Abilities have greater effect. These options make Resources be able to provide both Decreased and Improved Abilities, and that acquiring a Resource one currently not has may also be given a New Ability. This design solution can however also force players into Downtime if they do not have the appropriate Resources. Token Placement shows another approach where Tokens need to be used as Resources to access possible actions. However, the actions themselves are often Limited Resources, so Token Placement also modified the action Resources.

Resources have to be limited in some sense for them to be perceived as Resources, but their scarcity or abundance is often critical to how they affect gameplay. The pattern Limited Resources looks in more detail into the cases where individual Resources become important to consider.

The Resources available at the beginning of game play may be the only Resources that exist, or they may be Renewable Resources. In the latter case, they may be produced from Resource Generators, Spawn or be handed out at regular time intervals by being Regenerating Resources, or they can be Rewards for successful Investments or completing goals (e.g. Loot for defeating Enemies). All these options are examples of Game Element Insertion and how Producers can create Resources, and together with how Resources are depleted through Consumers form Producer-Consumer patterns. Designers of games need to also consider if Resources should become more abundant as gameplay progresses, should be as common as from the beginning or if Complete Resource Depletion should be able to occur (or simply should occur). In general, Resources of Rewards often fit as Sustenance Rewards if players can risk running out of the Resources.

When Resources are collected from a Game World, several additional design choices are required, including the location of the Resources, who can see them, and whether there are Clues to where they can be found. Resources may be Secret Resources hidden in Secret Areas, by Fog of War, or may require Privileged Abilities to be detected. Quite obviously, Resources can also be available in different amounts or concentrations, have time requirements when the can be collected and have requirements on whom can collect them. All these can be used to modulate how Resources work in a game. Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership can be used to make players bring the Resources that are to be used in each individual game instance of a game; this tends to create Purchasable Game Advantages which can also happen in any game where players can buy Resources for real world money as Extra-Game Input. Buying more Lives for coins in arcade games is an example of this.

How acquired Resources can be kept is another question that is relevant to many games using Resources. Containers and Resource Caps can limit the maximum Resources one can have (which may have a slight balancing effect) while Steadily Decreasing Resources or Time Limits on how long one can have specific Resources can require players to continuously need to collect new Resources even if they are not using them. Inventories (and Free Gift Inventories) serve as Containers in this sense but also allow players to equip them. Making them Stealables opens up for Stealing and the game design can make players Always Vulnerable if Tension is desired. More generally, Penalties can be designed to remove or threaten to remove Resources. Indirect Control of Resources can remove design issues regarding Containers and Resource Caps but keep Tension about losing the Resources to others. Shared Resources modifies these choices discussed above in several ways. First, players can share the burden of keeping (and protecting) the Resources. Second, they may need to engage in Negotiation how the Resources should be used, and this can potentially become Social Dilemmas.

The interaction between creation and consumption of Resources is a dynamic feature critical to consider in a game design. Resources may be designed to be part of Closed Economies or Faucet/Drain systems to control this, but the question of whether Resources are part of Positive or Negative Feedback Loops nearly always needs to be considered both from the perspective of individual players and the system as a whole. This since the rarity or abundance of Resources easily has large imparts on both balance and play time of any game. Design options regarding this aspect Resources can have on games can be provided by considering Arithmetic Progression, Geometric Progression, Discontinuous Progression, and Increasing Rewards. Actions and design features supporting Pottering can be added to a game to let players manipulate Resources for their own sake.

As a balancing factor, Resources can be placed on unused actions in games where players choose between different actions. This provides a No-Use Bonus which eventually will make otherwise uninteresting actions into interesting ones.

Diegetic Aspects

As stated above, many Resources have a basis in items that the diegesis dictate or suggest should exist in a game.

Interface Aspects

Bookkeeping Tokens can be necessary to keep track of Resources, for example in Board Games, and can replace or lessen the need for tokens that represent the actual Resources.


Resources help define many things in games, including the Game Worlds themselves and the Abstract Player Constructs and Characters players control. They very often make players engage in Resource Management (if they don't, it is either a symptom of players having an abundance of Resources or not caring about them). They provide players with quantifiable measures to judge their progress and plan possible future actions, and thereby provide one way for players to have Emotional Engrossment in games. While they can be completely independent of a game's diegesis, they often help show the status of Abstract Player Constructs and Characters. Lack of Resources can cause Helplessness. Like the most specific cases of Ammunition, Energy, and Health, reducing Resources in general due to Damage causes Energy Penalties.

Games where the goal consist of Collections various types of Resources can use the number of owned Resources as a Score, and in games that have a separate Score system, Resources are often used as a second order Scores system that acts as Tiebreakers. The presence of Resources in Game Worlds such as those found in the Starcraft series can motivate Area Control goals and Game World Exploration goals when Fog of War makes at least some of the Resources into Secret Resources.

When Resources can be used for several different purposes, for example, as Budgeted Action Points, they can be used to force players to make Trade-Offs and modulate how Complex Gameplay a game has. Examples of games using one Resource for multiple purposes include the board game Carolus Magnus, in which markers can either be used to strengthen a fraction's control over an area or a player's control over that fraction, and the card game San Juan where each card depending on context represents a good, a colonist, money, or a building.


Can Instantiate

Area Control, Competitions, Complex Gameplay, Decreased Abilities, Downtime, Emotional Engrossment, Helplessness, Improved Abilities, New Abilities, No-Use Bonus, Races, Resource Management, Rewards, Sustenance Rewards, Tiebreakers, Trade-Offs

with Collections


with Damage

Energy Penalties

with Fog of War

Secret Resources, Game World Exploration

Can Modulate

Abilities, Abstract Player Constructs, Aim & Shoot, Characters, Controllers, Crafting, Game Worlds, Movement, Quests, Secret Areas, Tools

Can Be Instantiated By

Action Caps, Ammunition, Armor, Budgeted Action Points, Cards, Chargers, Companions, Construction, Energy, Extra Chances, Experience Points, Game Items, Health, Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership, Lives, Money, Neighbors, Non-Localized Resources, Pick-Ups, Producers, Resource Generators, Scores, Territories, Time Limits, Token Placement, Tokens, Units

Limited Number of Uses together with Temporary Abilities

Save Files in games where Resource Caps are applied on them

Can Be Modulated By

Always Vulnerable, Arithmetic Progression, Asymmetric Resource Distribution, Betting, Bidding, Bookkeeping Tokens, Chargers, Closed Economies, Clues, Collecting, Complete Resource Depletion, Construction, Consumers, Containers, Converters, Damage, Discontinuous Progression, Drawing Stacks, Faucet/Drain, Fog of War, Free Gift Inventories, Game Element Insertion, Game Worlds, Geometric Progression, Increasing Rewards, Indirect Control, Inventories, Investments, Limited Resources, Loot, Negative Feedback Loops, Non-Renewable Resources, Penalties, Pick-Ups, Player-Decided Distributions, Positive Feedback Loops, Pottering, Producer-Consumer, Purchasable Game Advantages, Regenerating Resources, Renewable Resources, Resource Caps, Resource Generators, Resource Locations, Resource Sources, Secret Resources, Shared Resources, Spawning, Steadily Decreasing Resources, Stealables, Stealing, Symmetric Resource Distribution, The Show Must Go On, Time Limits, Token Placement, Trading, Transfer of Control, Transferable Items

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Resources that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.