Crafting for Crafters

Sorry that it’s been a while since my last posting. Just went through a bit of a change as I switched jobs and such. Life needed to calm down a little so I can think and write again.

Today I wanted to write about a topic that’s dear to me in MMORPG’s … crafting. I think many MMO designers are still struggling to figure out how to address this area and I have some thoughts on what works and what doesn’t.

Motivation

First I wanted to talk about why people like to make stuff in games in the first place. The way I see it, there are three primary motivators:

  1. Profit. For some games, it is very easy for people who are willing to craft to make money. My alchemist gnome in WoW was making hand over fist (at level 19 no less) just by using the market place to her advantage.
  2. Self-sufficiency.  Some crafters like to make things so that they don’t have to rely on random drops or the generosity of their friends to have a decent set of equipment. In games where there is a natural blend between crafting and fighting classes, I tend to make my characters fairly self-sufficient in this way.
  3. Helping Others. Some crafters just get a big kick out of the idea that because of things they’ve focused on in the game, they can make someone else’s game more fun. This is my biggest reason for liking crafting. While it is fun to make money and be able to craft my own gear, I get the most joy from crafting when I’ve spent an hour making someone else’s suit of armor.

Levels of Interest

Just like there are levels of interest in things like raiding or PvP combat, there are levels of interest in crafting as well. Casual crafters want something easy and fun. Hardcore crafters are usually more interested in depth and the utility of the things they do. The things that make a hardcore crafter happy (like skill based crafting and a challenging process) will probably turn off a casual crafter. So designers need to decide from the get-go which way they’re heading.

You could even go whole hog this direction by allowing me at character creation time to specify that my class is Craftsman and then not have any combat skills associated with him. This is one thing that I liked about Star Wars Galaxies (even post-NGE). BUT! If you’re going to do that, you better make sure that my character has enough crafting stuff to do so that I can keep him interesting.

But understand, that as a crafter, a casual system isn’t likely to hold my attention. So if you think that adding an easy / simple crafting system to your game is going to attract those of us who love to make stuff, well put your efforts elsewhere because you’re probably wasting your time.

Advancement

I absolutely despise systems where my crafting skill is somehow tied to my combat skill levels. Why can’t I decide that my character wants to be a master armorer but has no interest whatsoever in actually donning a suit of plate mail and battling the minions of evil? Please Mr. Designer, forcing the hardcore crafter to go out and fight and finish quests and stuff is torture. Please let us spend our evenings at our beloved forge hammering out our latest masterpiece. You wouldn’t dream of forcing the hardcore raiding player to spend time brewing up potions just so they can have access to the next dungeon they want to play in, why do you treat us that way?

Grinding is right out!

Next on my pet peeves is when I have to make 20 swords that nobody wants (more on crafted items in a bit) just so that I can build my levels up to the point where I’m making things they actually do want. Look, everyone knows that for the first 10-25% of a character’s leveling lifetime they are mostly relying on dropped weapons and armor. They don’t need anything my crafters are making at that point.  So rather than having me making a bunch of stuff nobody cares about, why not have me making my tools, or forming the base materials that I’ll need later on? Why not make it so that I feel like my character is actually learning his trade as he’s leveling?

Once I’m past that, making a single item should take enough time that granting me some significant experience doesn’t seem like a hand out. If it takes me 15 minutes to make a sword, making that worth 1/6 or 1/8 of a level isn’t too Monty Haulish. If the process of making a sword requires that I form the iron bar for the blade, sharpen it, form the hilt, pommel and crossguard, and assemble it into a whole, then 15 minutes won’t seem like a grind.

Items

Crafted items need to be melded into the overall item design for the game. Tacking them on as an afterthought almost always ends up making them cheap and uninteresting. I’d like to see tiers of crafted items mixed into the overall item plan. From least to most powerful:

  1. Common drops – average monsters drop these. Good enough if you don’t have anything else, but likely to become shop fodder if you’re well equipped.
  2. Common crafted – standard items made by a player using standard materials. As long as I can sell it (meaning it’s better than standard drops) for more than the material cost I’m ok.
  3. Rare drops – either low random or mini-boss type dropped items
  4. Rare crafted – standard items, but made with rare materials.
  5. Epic drops – from bosses and standard raids
  6. Epic crafted – requires specialized recipes that are hard to obtain and materials which are very rare
  7. Ultra drops – the best and shiniest, may require multiple raids and faction standing, what have you

Yes, even as a crafter, I think that the players who dedicate their time and energy to taking on the toughest challenges also deserve to have the best weapons.  I’m ok with my stuff being one step down from the ultimate.

Hi-ho-hi-ho It’s off to mine we go!

Raw material gathering is an issue that is hard to address properly. The “gathering node” method is interesting in that it makes you get further and further out in the world. But as a crafter, you’re moving back toward forcing me to also be a fighter. If you go the SWG route and make it so I’m seen as non-aggressive by the mobs, it breaks down the world believability. Also node stealing often becomes an issue if crafting gets to be popular.

One option has been to expect the economy to be such that raw materials are supplied by the adventuring players and consumed by the crafting players. But this can end up skewing the economy to where materials are so rare that the crafter has to spend more to make an item than it’s worth on the market.

My solution would be to have a commodity market. The market (run by NPCs) would buy raw materials from the gathering players and would sell to the crafters. The prices of these materials would fluctuate based on supply and demand. The market would never run out of stacks of material (presumably they have non-player sources that keep a base inventory) but the more that players sell to them, the lower the prices go. Likewise the more of a material that is purchased, the higher the cost rises. The game designers could then set floor and ceiling prices on commodities. A feedback loop from the finished item prices on the auction house could be used to keep prices fair to the crafters.

Swords is Swords

Another thing that I liked from SWG’s crafting was in the ship building craft. As an engineer focused on building ship parts, I could decide if my weapon did more damage / was faster firing / had greater range / etc. Each positive also had a corresponding negative; so I had to balance my choices. As a consumer of such crafted items, I started to know which vendors made the engines that I liked and which I bought my weapons from, etc. As a crafter, it was very nice to be able to make my items unique even though I was using the same materials and blueprints as everyone else.

( As an aside, one of my favorite RP experiences in SWG was when I entered the stop of my favorite ship weapon designer and he was actually there working on some new items. It was a very brief conversation, but my Jedi thanked him for his craftsmanship and acknowledged that his equipment had saved my butt several times. I’m sure that the crafter likewise felt that glow of knowing that his work was appreciated.)

Basically, if you can allow me to make design time decisions which affect the attributes of my item (speed, damage, weight, etc.) or add specific ability buffs or other characteristics, then I’ll be a happy crafter.

Insert Ore, Push Button, Retrieve Sword

We hardcore crafters really want to have a challenge when we’re doing this. Just like other gamers, we would like our skill at crafting (which usually means understanding how crafting works and how to get the most out of it) to mean something. Turning over our results to the random number generator doesn’t thrill us. Actually, forcing us to waste 20 units of materials to get one “proc” to fire and get the result we want will turn us off pretty quickly.

Personally, I liked Everquest II’s way of handling this. I liked that I had crafting skills and I had to remain aware of what was happening on the crafting table so that I could counter improper results. It was much more interesting than setting up with a stack of iron bars, pressing “craft all” and walking away for a while to come back and see if any of them got the premium result I was hoping for.

I’m Having a Meltdown!

While we’re on that topic, if there are going to be special events that cause superior results, realize that you’ve just made all the non-superior results worthless. Sure I could vendor them and hope that I get back a fraction of my material cost, but what if instead I could melt them down, disassemble them, or what have you and get a slightly reduced stack of materials instead?

Crafters Unite

I’d love to hear any ideas / feedback any of the rest of my fellow crafting peeps have on the topic. Please feel free to comment.

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