Enchanting, and the Gear Tax

It’s funny to think of it now but there was a time when I loved enchanting type crafting skills in games. The idea that before a new drop was ready for use, it had to be specially enchanted and fixed up seemed immensely cool. (I even remember playing a MUD once which told you roughly what size clothes a mob had dropped and if it wasn’t your size, you’d have to go to a tailor to get it altered before you could use it yourself.)

This was back when dropped armour  generally did not have stats. It had some kind of defense value, but if you wanted bonuses on your gear, you had to gem/enchant it. I always felt this was more intuitive than “you have just crafted a woolen shirt of +1 intellect.” No, it’s not magic, you just crafted it to make the wearer EXTRA SMART via the power of fashion and sharp tailoring.

But let’s face it, enchanting in MMOs has always been a surtax on gear. Extra cost and research and stuff you are supposed to apply to your character’s armour before you can show your face in whatever high level content of choice you choose to name. There aren’t even any interesting choices involved – usually there will be 2/3 viable enchants for each piece and you just pick the one with stats appropriate to your class/ role. It would be easy for the enchants to disappear and the stat bonuses just to be incorporated into the base gear, mechanically the game would play out exactly the same.

It’s really just a scam engineered to drive you into the arms of waiting enchanters, who are the only people with access to the full enchant list (unless you go to websites) and usually also the only people who can provide the raw goods for enchanting. Or in other words, enchanting is an artificial way to stimulate demand in game.

Somehow it didn’t feel so artificial when you actually had more ability to tailor your gear enchants, even though everyone (in DaoC at least) ended up using similar templates.

Am I really the only person who would prefer to be able to just grab a cool drop and be ready to go without being asked to do all the legwork for an extra minor bonus? It’s funny, once I used to find these extra complexities so cool. I think that I’m over it now, or at least I’ve done it over again in enough games that I’d rather just cut to the chase.

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12 thoughts on “Enchanting, and the Gear Tax

  1. I think it is a matter of “be careful what you wish for”. You don’t want current MMORPG to be even more streamlined, I think.

    Enchanting stuff is cool. Just like everything else it becomes a little bit boring, once you know all enchants. Just like everything else, it loses its magic over time.
    But the magic returns with every new non-cloned game. So, be careful what you wish for.

    • I was thinking about this in Rift, now that my character is getting close to 50. And it’s really still boring — just when I get some high level gear I need to go to an enchanter to tell me what enchant to put on it, what I need to pay them (and it can’t be raw materials unless I buy them from the auction house since I can’t produce them myself) and then do it. There’s nothing interesting for ME to do as part of the process. And it always feels like such an artificial trade skill.

      Sure, I’d prefer if the process of enchanting was more interesting for the non-enchanter than ‘bung some cash at an enchanter’, but if that can’t happen then I actually would prefer the whole thing to be more streamlined so I don’t have to care about it.

  2. I love modular gear. A bit like ships in Eve or tanks in World of Tanks.

    I can see why people don’t. But in that case why have a paper doll at all? Why not just get a suit of +5 tanking plate and not have to worry about individual parts of it?

    • I’m not really talking about gear in general (although the paper doll would be useful anyway from a cosmetic point of view, or a collectors point of view), but even as a lover of modular gear, do you care whether you get a suit of +5 tanking plate or a suit of +4 tanking plate with a +1 tanking enchant slapped on top of it?

  3. Once again, it comes down to “interesting choices”. Enchanting doesn’t offer enough of these. Whether to enchant your gear or not is a no-brainer. At most, it’s a hygiene test to allow raid leaders to weed out players who can’t even be arsed to get their gear enchanted. As to which enchant – just grab the highest bonus in the stat that’s most useful for your class.

    Maybe if enchants were more varied than “+X to stat Y” players would start having to weigh up pros and cons. A mage could probably have a meaningful discussion about whether he wants “Bladeturn” or “Arcane Might” enchants on his robes, whereas if it’s a choice between +10 Inteeligence or +4 Dexterity… well, you don’t need to already have the Int enchant on you to work THAT out.

    • I agree with this. Enchanting is at its least interesting when it’s either irrelevant (while levelling) or an absolute must (when raiding). On the other hand I am having fun with it as I’m levelling my own enchanter and putting low-level enchants on the gear of alts (as it feels like a genuine, unusual bonus) and every time one of my max-level alts transcends from “levelling gear I don’t care about” to pieces that I like enough to start enchanting them.

  4. “Or in other words, enchanting is an artificial way to stimulate demand in game.”

    Two long points.

    The in-house Ultima Online researcher (years ago) had a great presentation on the way UO initially wanted to simulate a closed economy. Turns out a market flooded with n00b leather caps and sandals doesn’t work so well.

    The economic paradigm in UO quickly changed from a closed economy to a “faucet and drain” model. You pump gold in, and you provide drains to pull it back out. It’s all subsidies and taxes.

    Here, you take the players invested in farming mats (faucets) and crafting (small drain with recipes) who create useful enchants (money magnets/tax collectors) and then you hook larger drains up to these harder-core players — repairs, guild rewards, mounts, etc.

    It’s not just demand that’s stimulated. It’s a specific implementation of the faucet/drain system, one that involves setting up a system of tax collectors.

    “Am I really the only person who would prefer to be able to just grab a cool drop and be ready to go without being asked to do all the legwork for an extra minor bonus? It’s funny, once I used to find these extra complexities so cool. I think that I’m over it now, or at least I’ve done it over again in enough games that I’d rather just cut to the chase.”

    Second point — you have to striate the market to maximize its appeal. This is the same as with difficult games and game guides. Who would finish all of Metal Gear Solid without a little help? Same with many quests in MMORPGs. Casual players can read guides. Minigame players and completists can take the time to learn professions. Harder-core players can challenge themselves and prepare for Heroic dungeons (and I can’t believe how much time I’ve wasted researching and then gearing up, and I’m not that hard core).

    As my third foray into Heroics showed me very quickly, many don’t bother with gems, enchants, etc. It’s a way of striating your customer base. These are all games within games [“within games,” Frank Herbert added, “You have to say it three times to achieve full effect.”].

    Very little is more fascinating than “virtual” economies — of gold, of goods, of bits, and, most importantly, of dollars and time.

    • “and I can’t believe how much time I’ve wasted researching and then gearing up, and I’m not that hard cor”

      And you’ve done a super job :)

      But now imagine that as well as doing this for every patch (and maybe multiple specs) in WoW, you are also playing multiple MMOs.

      I do take your point about striation and I wonder if part of being hardcore for any specific game is having sufficient overhead that it would be difficult to also be committed to another game/ alt/ server at the same time. (I’m putting this badly but I mean it may be key for hardcore players in one game to know that their fellows are primarily committed to the same game and same main character, and one way to prove that is to have an incredibly complex and involved mechanism for gearing up.)

      • “part of being hardcore for any specific game is having sufficient overhead that it would be difficult to also be committed to another game/ alt/ server at the same time…. one way to prove that is to have an incredibly complex and involved mechanism for gearing up.”

        Yes! That’s exactly where I’m going with striation and economic buy-in. There’s a serious incentive to monetize [“monetize” within the context of the highly controlled gold econ of your MMO] your specialist knowledge for wealth and, of course, status. It’s all about buying into the “virtual” culture and economy, a buy-in which slightly obfuscates your attachment to Blizzard’s dependence on your hats of money and within the context of the “real” market. (Quotes to show that the virtual and real markets are obviously enough the same.)

        I did think more about alts today… how what game devs are really doing is trying to get you to continue the enjoyable quest game when your main has moved on to the instancing/gear chase game. “Buy back into the early game — now 25% easier with heirlooms and your transferrable gold!”

        (Honestly, my DK at 62 is doing Zangramash quests, even 2 players suggested quests, without me even bothering to look at her health. NER-ftd.)

        Which is to say that alts aren’t supposed to be about the end game. You can’t and “shouldn’t” be as committed to them. You may eventually have an alt supplant your main, but, whoever your alts are, they’re about a different sort of gameplay and represent another sort of stored virtual-cultural capital living on (and only on) your MMO’s servers.

        “And you’ve done a super job”

        I wish that made me feel better. No, rather, I wish it didn’t. ;^) Hopefully someone will use the guide at some point and spend that saved time with their family, or a good book, or on GTA V, or just plain go catch up on some sleep.

  5. I think that a little bit of enchanting is good. Like back when there was just enchanting in WoW, you could swap in a better piece of gear right away and it would still be an upgrade, even unenchanted.

    But now, you have to enchant, gem and reforge it. That’s just too much work, in my opinion.

    • Don’t forget to regem and reforge all your other gear since now you’re above or below a necessary stat cap.

      Here’s what is strange to me: back when we only had to get enchants, it was harder to find enchanters. No scrolls on the AH, so we’d end up in major cities looking for them. Half the time we’d have to go farm some special mat like essences of air or crusader orbs. It was an altogether inconvenient system.

      Now it is all very conveniently placed on the AH: gems and enchants, or nearby at the reforging elf. And yet it feels more annoying.

  6. I love the minigame of optimising my character with various augments. It’s the only thing that makes me log into the game outside of raiding these days; tinkering with my bits and pieces!

    I get a kick out of completely redoing my reforges to optimise myself after a new piece of gear. Fiddling with my gems and so on.

    Enchanting on its own is fairly binary, I agree. Both in Rift and Warcraft I just leveled my own enchanter/runecarver and stopped worrying about it. I quit rift mainly because in the end it was exactly the same dungeon running/gearing/bigger dungeon running/epic gear treadmill/ladder that I’ve done so many times already.

    I was a long term DAOC PvE player on the co-op server and am still deeply in love with the spellcrafting system and stat caps that the game had. It made gearing optimally a very different beast to the modern MMO. Awesome if you have OCD. Less awesome if you just want to run around and stab kobolds.

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