I'm making a new RPG that has loot. In fact, a majority of the game is based around loot. It's going to have colored borders to denote the rarity of the loot as it's drawn.

WoW uses Grey, White, Green, Blue, Purple, Orange and some others. GW2 uses Gray, Black, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Pink, Purple. The colors don't match but you can see some distinct overlap.

I'm wondering if those colors are important or intuitive to users understanding of the rarity or if they can be messed with? If they can be changed how do you determine what colors to put in what order?

For instance, if I went with White, Blue, Green, Yellow, and Red, would that be fine as long as I made it clear in other ways or would those colors be confusing?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – user1430
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 21:55

4 Answers 4


Generally when there's a common convention that your audience may already be familiar with, the question isn't whether it's mandatory, but whether there's any reason to deviate from it.

If you use a colour scheme compatible with the ones used in WoW, GW2, Destiny, etc. then players who have played one of those games will have one less thing to learn to understand your game. And players who play both your game and one of those others will be less likely to get mixed up and make mistakes than if you arbitrarily swapped some of the colours.

That said, if you have a compelling reason to change the colours (say your entire world is under "the violet curse" and all low-grade common items have to be purple for narrative reasons), there's nothing to prevent you from doing so.

In the absence of such a reason though, sticking with a similar colour sequence costs nothing, and potentially gets you some ease-of-use wins, so sticking with the familiar convention is often worthwhile.

  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ At that point it's a judgement call you'll need to make — whether omitting those colours for brand accuracy is worth making the system a little less familiar. I'd wager that omitting colours, while keeping the rest in the usual order, is a pretty safe change to make though. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 2:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Colour coding should never be burdened by branding. There are a few good reasons why. a) the companies branding may include 5 colours. There may be 8 categories of item. What now? b) the companies branding guidelines may not account for colourblind users. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gusdor
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 13:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ It isn't so much branding as much as the manufacturer I'm consulting didn't offer the other colors. However, I've convinced them to custom make other colors so purple/orange it is! \$\endgroup\$
    – DasBeasto
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 14:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Caveat: During User Testing, keep in mind that while 99% of the people who volunteer for beta test will know the meaning of the colors, the percentage among customers will be lower - Don't forget to make it easy for the users to find out what the colors are good for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Peter
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 20:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Accessibility issue: Some users are colorblind. You absolutely must surface all color-coded information in a non-colored format as well. For example, indicate the rarity with a word in the item's description. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 1:35

The advantages to sticking with convention are: it works, and users are already familiar with it. The disadvantage is that you may be ignoring ways to improve and be unique.

But on this subject, there's not much convention. This topic is covered at Giant Bomb and TVTropes, and from their analysis, generally grey/white items are the lowest tiers, but after that there's not much consistency. Even the two games that did the most to establish the concept - WoW and Diablo II - are inconsistent in using the green colour: the former has green as a lower tier, whereas the latter has green at a very high tier.

Besides, the colours themselves don't inherently fall into a hierarchy of rarity or desirability. You might be able to use the spectrum, but note that most games don't do this. For example, a typical game might have, from common to rare, green > blue > purple, but then they jump back to yellow > orange as the highest tiers. Colour theory won't help you much either, apart from telling you that very dull colours, like grey or brown, are less attractive.

So really it doesn't matter too much which exact colours you use. Pick one game to copy, or pick whatever scheme makes the most sense to you and your players.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Since the tendency is for "cool" colors to be common, and "warm" colors to be rare, I've always been surprised to never see any game with purple > blue > green > yellow > orange > red. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 2, 2017 at 20:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MooingDuck my argument is there is no tendency or consistency. Digimon World 4 kind of does what you're suggesting, with white (normal) < blue < green < yellow < orange < pink. Titan Quest does too but in the opposite direction: Grey (junk), White (normal), Yellow (magical), Green (rare), Blue (mythical) and Purple (legendary). But the most popular schemes don't use this ordering and it works just as fine for them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2017 at 0:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MooingDuck None of those colours are warm or cool inherently. There are warm and cool purples, blues, greens, yellows, oranges and even reds. \$\endgroup\$
    – mrr
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 2:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've seen gray/white/green/blue/purple/orange/red appear in a number of newer games recently on both mobile an PC, not so much on the console systems, but the general idea does seem to be spreading. I've played probably a dozen mobile games already that had gear colored this way with little variation (usually just adding star levels, like green 3 is weaker than purple 1, etc). I find it really easy to get in to games like this the more they do it. \$\endgroup\$
    – phyrfox
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 3:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Terraria did it it's own way: gray < white < blue < green < orange < light red < pink < light purple < lime < yellow < cyan < red < purple < rainbow \$\endgroup\$
    – Exerion
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 6:16

Generally, I would suggest using muted colors for more common items and bright colors for rarer items. The benefits of that are that color-blind people still have saturation cues to work from, item rarity is instantly recognizable even if someone's monitor settings are off, and it's intuitive in the sense that common items are less interesting and eye-catching than rare items.

I would definitely stick to a system with limited rarity levels. You mention 5 and that seems fine, but any more than 4-5 just gets complicated. The saturation approach also helps here, though--users know where an item lies on the scale even if they haven't seen that color before.

One further benefit is that you can limit the hue region you pull from for rarity indicators, opening up other hue/saturation regions for other indications. For instance, in Lord of the Rings Online, items had rarity, but then they introduced Legendary items. They were a different type of item all together, so their name color indicated that they were Legendary rather than indicating their rarity. So, for instance (and this isn't a suggestion, just an example), if you wanted to restrict your hue region to yellows and oranges, and you were going to implement the WoW scale of rarity, you could have:

  • Poor: grey-brown

  • Common: russet

  • Uncommon: a dark-ish orange

  • Rare: yellow-orange

  • Epic: sunny yellow

Then, if you later wanted to implement, say items that could be combined with other items, or items that had lore-relevant significance, or items that also had specific effects beyond the regular stat boots, you could set them off with different colors and they would be instantly recognizable.

OTOH, I suppose you could scrap the color theme all together and give the item pop-up a plain-to-fancy border to indicate rarity, also. Or you could just make it white with purple hair and three blue diamonds and be done with it. (Sorry, my kids have been watching a lot of MLP and I couldn't help myself.)


You shouldn't use any colours. Colouring items to represent their rarity just teaches and encourages players to look at nothing but the colour.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ that seems like a silly notion. With that logic you shouldn't color error messages either since they won't read them? \$\endgroup\$
    – DasBeasto
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 23:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Error messages are UI. Error messages shouldn't make users think. It's important that players actually read the items and understand what they do and mean. Things like marking rarity and item level and score on an item cause players to not actually work out what any of their stats mean or do, and so the players just choose whatever has the highest number. At that point you might as well just get rid of gear, it doesn't do anything meaningful at that point that levelling up doesn't do. \$\endgroup\$
    – mrr
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 23:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Players should be able to work out from an item's name and appearance if it's particularly special, and from its stats if it's useful to them. If they can't do the former then your items are boring, and if they can't do the latter your stats are far too complicated. \$\endgroup\$
    – mrr
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 23:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MilesRout that has no relevance to putting color on them to represent rarity though. An item that is incredibly rare might not be powerful; just very valuable (i.e. rare treasure). I think your concerns are misgiving. \$\endgroup\$
    – user64742
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 23:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ If there is no reason whatsoever to do it, then I'm very surprised so many wildly successful games do it anyway. ;) I think you've correctly identified a problematic player behaviour that rarity colour coding can encourage, but it's a leap to suggest that therefore rarity colour coding should never be used. A variety of meaningfully different stats and combinations within each colour-coded tier will retain gameplay value and player decision-making in distinguishing between items on an individual level, while tier colour remains a helpful shorthand for rougher assessments. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 1:42

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