The demise of the guild crafter

ghost

Crafting skills were designed into games like WoW, EQ2, LOTRO etc to keep crafters busy and encourage players to interact. That’s why players are limited in how many tradeskills they can take on each character, to force some trading and interaction.

Enforced interaction has never been popular with the playerbase, but has given us some great community payoff. For example, in DaoC, crafting was such a dull grind that most players didn’t bother. The ones who did were very likely to be adopted as guild crafters, supported by the guild with materials in return for crafting items for the guild. Although I always liked this as an idea, it never really worked brilliantly (especially in games that didn’t feature mailboxes and auction houses). What if the guild crafter wasn’t around when you needed them? What if they were *gasp* busy? What if creating a masterpiece item took several hours in real time and a variable, unpredictable amount of materials, and you were tenth in the queue to have yours made?

Crafters felt wanted, but also stressed and hassled. Players felt frustrated. It was definitely an interesting experiment, but no great surprise that later games made things easier.

Now it is almost irrelevant that tradeskills are limited, because high level players often have alts with all the tradeskills that they need (this is as true in EQ2 as in less crafting friendly games). They just mail items around between their crafters when they need something done.

I wonder how much of a niche there can be for different crafters at endgame if bored players will level one of each craft anyway. Is it possible to make crafting itself into a more fun minigame, as opposed to the gathering/collecting side of levelling the skill.

Do you use guild crafters? Or do you prefer to level crafting alts yourself?

Are we too obsessed with choices in games?

Suzina writes at Kill Ten Rats about her disappointment with the crafting system in Star Wars Galaxies. There were lots and lots of different professions to choose from … but many turned out to be mostly disregarded by the rest of the player base.

if you chose to be an crafter, a doctor, or an entertainer, you were completely worthless most of the time. Most of the time, nobody had to interact with you and nobody wanted to. Eventually, someone might want a guild-hall, or a face-lift, or some death-penalty removed and they would be forced to interact with you until they could get back to doing fun stuff.

She goes on to wonder what a game would be like that only had one class. Imagine that everyone could easily switch between every role in game.

The trouble with choices is that on the one side, you get to pick what is more fun for you to play. On the other, there’s a good chance that some choices will be mechanically superior to others. Others might be inconvenient, or so time-consuming to level that they don’t fit with less hardcore playing styles. Eventually, the playerbase drifts towards cookie cutter specs because they actually are better. So the choice is either an illusion, a trap made to catch newbies and anyone else who doesn’t know what the current best specs are — or else it’s not a very meaningful choice because anything you pick will be fine. I don’t believe that the second option really is meaningless though. Choosing how you prefer to play is always meaningful, and if no class is better or worse at anything than any other, they might still play very differently.

We see it with crafting skills also. Some end up being more desirable than others, some are easier for building cash, some may have added bonuses. (We joked in the beginning of Wrath that WoW had turned into World of Jewelcrafting because jewelcrafters got daily quests, lots of extra drops, vast money making potential and bonuses that scaled well — it’s still true.) Yet somehow, they all involve the same ‘click on recipe to craft item’ mechanic. So from the player’s point of view, all that ever can really matter is the profits and any side bonuses. They all play the same.

For many people, choosing what class, spec, or crafting skill to play is heavily dependent on what other people are doing. If you pick a rare (but needed) class/spec combination, you will have an easier time getting into groups. If you pick a rare (but needed) crafting skill, you will be able to fill a niche in the market and may be more sought after. Being rare feels more individual and unique, and being unique is very highly  prized among players.

It can also lead to the situation Oriniwen finds herself in, where she’s just happily levelled a new alt to find … that her co-GM picked exactly the same class and spec for a new alt, and they both hit max level at the same time. Does it matter? Well, yes if they both share a role for which there is limited demand. With the best will in the world, it’s hard not to be gutted when you realise that you have to compete with a friend for groups.

I’d welcome a game where anyone could switch to anything, although I am curious as to how it would affect how we identify with our characters. I also wonder whether facing the very real choice of ‘What would I prefer to do?’ rather than the illusory choice of ‘What do other people on the forums say I should do?’ might be too much for some to bear.

How do you feel about choices in MMOs?

Another route to hard modes

Lots of single player computer games have options that the player can select to control difficulty. You start up and get the Easy/Medium/Hard options, so you pick Easy, right? After all, you want to at least finish the game now you’ve bought it. Or at least get a feel for how easy their Easy mode is before you ask them to ramp up whatever tweaks they do to make things harder.

Or maybe that’s just me. If  a game offers an Easy mode, I’ll pick that while I’m learning it. But then again, I don’t like every game enough to want to replay it so maybe that’s the only mode I’ll ever try. The only hard mode I did quite like was in the Civilisation games – I don’t particularly score well at it (I claim that this is because Civilisation is biased towards world domination and against winning through better SCIENCE!) but I like that picking a harder mode unlocks extra options and complexity for the player,

So if harder modes offer a richer game, or at least a slightly different one, then I’m personally more likely to try them.

So what is a hard mode, really?

Usually it means a tweak to internal parameters so that the game becomes more testing of whatever twitch-fest they’re focussing on. More enemies. Faster enemies. Tougher enemies. Sometimes they make your character weaker – less survival options. Or add more environmental variables.

It should lead to a more exciting game experience when you can’t just idly wander through the fields of mobs randomly letting off your AE nuke of choice without any fear for your toon’s safety. Or in fact without having to really think while playing the game.

If you look at a game like Plants vs Zombies, you can see how instead of setting a difficulty at the start, they increase difficulty with each level. This is the other way to set difficulties and it’s the one I prefer. Let the player start with the easiest mode, and then add more elements, tweak settings slightly for the next level, increase complexity slightly. And keep going until players either finish the game or find the difficulty level they’re comfortable with – hopefully by the time they reach either of these points they feel they have had their money’s worth and are ready to buy your next game.

But that’s not so great for a multi-player setting where players may be of different skills, experiences with this type of game, or even seeking different goals. The player looking for a relaxing casual social experience probably doesn’t want to play ultra-hard mode, and it isn’t because they’re some kind of slacker. It’s just because they aren’t looking for a testing experience. Hard isn’t always the same as fun.

All you can do with groups is to offer the different difficulties and let players decide among their own groups how they want to organise themselves and make that decision. You probably don’t want to force them all to start at the easiest level and gradually pick up more and more difficulty because they may not all be at the same level to start with.

In practice, MMOs tend to have their easy modes at level 1. And as you level up, gain more abilities, and probably try out the group content, then things get harder. A game like WoW introduces a lot of the elements you’ll later find in raids in their 5-man instances. This is why it matters if 5-mans are too easy, if they are, people won’t learn the things they need to learn. And MMOs have not been good traditionally at ramping up the solo difficulty, which is another valid criticism. It has tended to be groups only.

Designing the Hard Mode Encounter

In a Diablo/CoH style hard mode encounter they generally just increase the numbers of mobs, increase their damage, and increase their toughness. And sometimes that’s enough. It certainly can be enough to step up the pace and excitement without requiring people to radically change their playing style.

In a WoW-type hard mode encounter, the encounter is intended to more severely test part of the raid. So you get some hard modes that are just harder dps checks with a little extra survivability movement thrown in. You get some that add a lot of extra complexity – more movement required, more adds to handle, more elements for everyone to think about. You get some where the nature of the encounter changes dramatically.

I’ve heard some complaints with hard modes (and I know I’ve seen few myself – we had a pop  at Freya+1 last night and that was fun), but I figure they can’t all be winners. As long as most encounters are more fun and challenging for the hardcore raid groups in hard mode then the hard modes are doing their job and entertaining people.

So what is the best way to have difficulty settings for soloers?

One of my guildies hooked me on Hattrick a few months ago. It’s a web-based football manager game, and not one of those games that will take over your life. Once it’s all set up you can log in once or twice a week to set your team formations for next week’s games and check how things have been going.

(It is amusing to me that I’m not big on football but I love football manager games.)

And there’s one game element in Hattrick that I think is very smart indeed. Alongside your regular team, you can also coach youth players. This means that you will sometimes be able to promote a good youth player to your A-team and it will be much much cheaper than buying a player via the transfer market, also there’s a chance that you’ll raise a brilliant player who is much better than anyone you could have afforded to buy.

The game offers two different ways of managing the youth team. There’s the hands-off method where you just pay a certain amount per week towards upkeep of the youth team. Once you have set that up, it happens passively and you get the chance to promote a youth player once a week. Most of the players you get this way are pretty poor, but there’s always that chance that you could find a winner. (I think my current goalie was a youth promotion I got from using this method.)

Then there’s the more complex hands-on method where you can actually choose to run your own youth academy. If you do this, then you get to send scouts out to find new youth players, set up games for your youth team the same way you do for your main team, decide how you want to train them and listen to the trainers reports on how they are doing. And you decide when or if you want to promote a player to the main team or if you’d rather keep training them with the youth for longer (the youth academy generally has better training options).

So effectively, this game  has a solo ‘hard mode’. If you want the extra complexity, you can choose that. And it gives you much more control over the outcome of the youth team. If you don’t want to be bothered, then you pick the easier setup and although you won’t get as consistent results, you still are in with a chance of promoting a really good player.

I could imagine something like this for crafting in MMOs. People who hate crafting can just not do it. People who like to craft as a casual side-game could pick some non-complex crafting mechanism where you just hit a single button, and there’s more randomness involved in what you get. And people who love crafting and want to spend the extra time on it could pick a more complex crafting mechanic. It would take longer and require more thought but would give them more control over the whole process.

Is crafting meant to be fun?

Some of the best fun I have had with crafting in games has been where it was unusual to be a crafter so people would come seek you out to make commissions.

I think this is quite close to the original concept for crafting in MMOs. It was based on the medieval idea of the crafter as someone who made items by hand and might become well known for their crafting skills. Fantasy literature is also full of famous weapons and the people who made them. And I think that back in those days, new subgames were put into MMOs as much for thematic reasons as for gameplay.

So there is this notion of crafting being something that you could use to make your character different. Something that you could possibly do as an alternative to adventuring. A rare skill that might make you useful or desired in a community. Plus you could make items that you could sell to make some gold.

It has changed a bit since then. Modern MMOs tend to assume that everyone will take a crafting skill, and point you towards trainers fairly early on in the game. They also often split the skills between making things and gathering thing. And it’s fairly common that gathering skills and selling materials via an auction house or vendor becomes a staple money maker in the game for players.

For me, crafting is a bit schizo at the moment because it’s actually two different things.

  • Making stuff. Possibly creative handmade crafting skills. Crafter can distinguish themselves by what they make. Possibility for both crafter and client to make their character more unique involving one of a kind or rare items.
  • Selling stuff, or running a business. Probably involves selling commodity goods, may also involve producing them, in a production line type of way.

MMOs do the second part tolerably well (it varies from game to game, EVE is probably the high water mark for would-be virtual industrialists.) They do the first part very badly.

Which is unfortunate because it’s the first part which really fits into the fantasy settings that are so ubiquitous in the genre at the moment. You don’t really imagine production lines in Tolkien.

The problem with crafting rare goods

Crafters being a rare breed is very interesting from an immersive point of view, annoying from a buyers point of view, and extremely fun from the crafter’s point of view. It’s nice to be sought out for your skills.

Problem is, why would crafting be rare? Only because it’s tedious, time consuming, expensive to skill up, dependent on rare drops or starting conditions (eg. 1/100 characters starts out with potential for crafting) or otherwise inaccessible to the majority of the player base. So if we want crafting to be rare, it probably won’t be fun and accessible for most players.

You could imagine a game where crafting is fun, but most people will find it more fun to go kill stuff. I think EQ2 toys with this design and it seems to work well from what I have seen. Both crafting and adventuring are time consuming, and you probably don’t have enough time to do both. Given that choice, most players will choose adventuring but the ones who don’t can become (rareish) crafters. That would solve the problem of how to keep crafting rare without making it needlessly dull and time consuming.

To make this work, devs need to really put more work into crafting. It has to be a complete game in itself. An alternative to the rest of the game, and not something that was just tacked on at the last minute. That’s a very tall order for something that is going to be a minority interest. Free Realms has fully featured minigames for crafting, which I thought were good fun. It’s just that there’s not much of a way to sell things to other players and you can buy stuff for real cash that’s better. So they got the crafting down quite well, but there’s no real reward for it.

But still, I think players would enjoy being able to make more unique items, even if the uniqueness was just in the look. It would be cool if particular crafters could build up reputations. I’ve been told a few times that Star Wars Galaxies had a really good crafting system that allowed for a lot of crafter customisation. I don’t have personal experience with that, but it’s something I’d like to see developed further.

I also think that a lot of crafters would enjoy it if the crafting side of the game could be less dependent on the adventuring side. It’s fine to buy goods from adventurers that can only be gotten in instances or from nasty monsters. But forcing the crafter to level and go get it themselves isn’t the way to make crafting more fun. Until crafting is more recognised as a separate playing style in itself, it’s never going to really take off.

And I honestly believe that there are a lot of players –- especially people who enjoy crafting in real life (yes this would include a lot of women, I expect) – who would be very open to trying it out in a game and might really enjoy it and produce some awesome virtual goods. But it’s going to need some brave devs who accept that not everyone wants to go kill monsters or delve deep  into coding (a la Second Life) to really make it sing.

How about those production lines?

The actual process of crafting is typically pretty dull. There are some exceptions to this but it really is usually a case of have the materials handy and click the red button. Then watch the green line. If you’re lucky you will be playing a game where you can get it to keep crafting the same thing until all your materials are used up (that’s the production line). So you can go get some tea and feed the cat, maybe read a chapter or two of a book or catch up with Torchwood while you are waiting.

This is not actually playing the game in any meaningful way. It would be better to let players do it offline. It’s more to do with resource management and trading than with actually crafting anything so it would be better to treat it as a separate minigame.

And allowing players to put a production line in place isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Especially if the alternative is going off to read a book while the game gets on with it.  But it shouldn’t replace the more intensive process of producing a rare, handmade item.

Crafting doesn’t have to be tedious

I don’t think crafting needs to be dull. We don’t need artificial game mechanics to keep crafters rare. And rare, desirable goods don’t have to be ones with potential for unbalancing stats. It might be enough just to focus on letting crafters … craft. And letting traders … trade. And letting industrialists .. err… do industrial stuff.

But treating crafting and the economy as a one-size fits all second thought is missing out on a huge wodge of players who would love to play that game.

Everquest 2: Crafting, and Taking Things Easy

We’re still playing Everquest 2, but we’ve slowed down a bit on progress for a couple of reasons:

  1. I got to the end of my trial period, so I forked over some cash for a month. The EQ2 launcher responded by wanting me to redownload the game. That kind of ate one of our sessions.
  2. While I was doing this, Arb decided to experiment with a couple of other classes she was interested in. A couple of hours later she announced that Warden was The One :) (You can take the girl away from the healer, but you can’t take the healer out of the girl!) She then decided to reroll it so that we could both stay as fae.
  3. Found that we could both get some housing! Major excitement! Distracted us from questing for a while.
  4. New patch in LOTRO has been distracting for Arb. That basically gave me more time to get into the crafting in EQ2 (I think we both accept that if our main game puts in some new stuff, it’s likely that we’ll want to play that with other friends.) I do love that I can mess about with crafting without getting out of synch with xp.
  5. It’s been hot, so we haven’t been much in the mood for long sessions.

In any case, we’re all caught up now and the fae are at around level 12. So the fae starter area has been much slower for us than the Sarnak one, but we are both enjoying it more. The wings definitely help.

I definitely spend more time in EQ2 feeling puzzled or frustrated than I remember being the case in other games I’ve played over the last couple of years. That’s not particularly a bad thing, but the game doesn’t go out of its way to hold your hand, even when that seems to have been the intention. Once we got used to it, we enjoyed getting lost occasionally, having to stop to discuss what to do next, or figure out what was going on.

We’ve certainly had some quests where we had to spend a few minutes exploring or searching round and area to locate the specific place they wanted us to be. And quests themselves do a fairly good job of mixing up exploring (go to location X), with killing (and kill mob Y), and gathering (and pick up stuff Z while you’re there). We also finished the long quest line that ends up making you a citizen of the city, which was good fun. They get you to explore, to learn your way around the treetops, and you wind up by killing a mini-boss in an instance.

I’m also enjoying the 3D nature of Kelethin (the fae starting area), although I imagine it could be a pain without wings. For a start, we can easily jump off the fae treetop city without having to go via a lift. Now that we’ve spend some time running around it, the city is also growing on me. It’s a set of platforms linked by rope bridges and branches.

Unsurprisingly, I haven’t seen many other low level characters around. There are chat channels for levels 1-9 and so on. People who talk on them aren’t restricted to those levels, but we do sometimes hear people asking for help (and generally being answered). So the chat channel gives the lower levels a sort of community … kind of. I like the basic idea.

A room without a view

Most exciting part of exploring the fae city was when I found that we could each get some housing. It starts as a cheap one-room acorn and you zone into your room via the housing area. So the rooms are instanced and you pay a weekly rent, which you can pay in advance. It’s like being in a hotel.

You also get given a few items of furniture to start you off, and you can place them wherever you like in the room. I put my mirrors at fae height so I guess anyone taller will get a good view of their own crotch. There’s a vault too.

I know that houses can get very big and expansive but even right from the start it’s obvious why EQ2 housing has been so popular. It’s accessible, it’s fun, it’s easy to customise, and it’s useful. Thumbs up. Now I just need more stuff to put in mine.

I dip my toes into crafting

I knew a few things about EQ2 crafting before venturing into it. It is more involved and complex than the typical ‘hit the button and watch the green bar’, you get separate crafting xp from adventuring xp so you can actually level up as a crafter in this game, and … that I regularly got killed in crafting accidents when I tried the game in beta.

So I started off by locating the crafting trainer in the Fae City, who gets you started with a quest – to go and gather lots of stuff. Gathering is similar to other MMOs in that you wander around the world looking for herbs, ore, fish, or rats nests which are nodes that you use to harvest the materials. Maybe it’s my WoW (and LOTRO, and every other game ever) bias showing but I’m still not clear why you’d gather leather from rats nests when there are perfectly good deer and pigs around the place to kill.

Eventually, when you are done with this, you go back and are allowed to actually use the equipment located in an instanced crafting area. Each type of craft has its own table/ forge/ oven etc which has cool animations when you use it.  The crafting itself stymied me at first, I made the mistake of looking at my skill list which instantly resulted in confusion at the very very extensive list of craft related skills with no clues on how to use them.

But I decided to press on and just try making something, and that worked out much better. When you create an item, a crafting window comes up showing various green progress bars. Along the bottom of this window (and bound to keys 1-6) are various icons. As the crafting progresses, icons will occasionally flash up on the window. When they do, you hit one of the matching icons at the bottom.

Crafting progresses as a series of ticks. On each tick, your progress has a chance to increase, but the durability of the item also has a chance to decrease. Your goal is to get to the end of the progress bar while there is still some durability left on the last bar. So it’s a kind of pattern matching game. There is a bit more to it. Each icon you pick at the bottom has a bonus and a penalty (so one might give a bonus to success but a penalty to durability or vice versa) so as well as pattern matching, you have to balance up your success/ durability.

It’s definitely a lot less complex than I remember from the beta (at that stage you had to make lots and lots of subcomponents too).

I found it quite frustrating initially. It feels very random. Sometimes you’re just going to fail but you have to keep going anyway because you need the skill ups. But after a few practice tries, I was more able to understand the long email of useful crafting advice that Ysharros kindly sent us. I made some stuff!! I’m feeling that this process is a little deeper than it seems at the start and quite enjoying EQ2 crafting now.

At the exalted tiers of crafting level 9 I now get to select a crafting skill in which to specialise. I can pick between being a crafter (can make furnishings, food), outfitter (can make armour and weapons), and scholar (can make potions, jewellry, scrolls). I have no idea which of these might be useful to us or work well for making some cash in game. But I’m not really attracted by the idea of Scholar –- I’d rather make stuff we can wear, eat, or put in our rooms.

In a typical example of non-handholding, the materials you gather from the first part of the crafting quest are not actually quite sufficient to let you craft all the items that they ask for in the second part. I decided I was too lazy to gather more so instead I checked out the broker who is also located in the crafting area. It’s not really an auction house so much as a combined player vendor. So players from all over the game can give items to a broker to sell, which he’ll do in return for a small cut of the profit.

So I browsed the vendor for my missing rawhide leather hides, and bought a handful of the cheapest ones. They were transferred immediately to my bag without needing to go via the mailbox. I think I much prefer this scheme to an auction house for commodity type goods. Auctions are great for rare or high value items where the actual value isn’t well known. But so often I just use it like a shop – I think I prefer having an actual shop in those cases.

And … the exit questionnaire

After I subscribed, I immediately unsubbed so as to avoid any kind of automatic resubscription. I always do this on MMOs, even if I know I’m in for the long term because I like to at least have the choice to get out at regular intervals even if I decide not to use it.

EQ2, like many games, sent me off to answer an extensive exit questionnaire when I unsubscribed. Most of the questions were very irrelevant, especially since I have every intention of resubbing as long as we’re still playing and enjoying it.

But I do give them props for including “I don’t like automatic resubscriptions” as a selectable answer in the first ‘Why do you hate us??111!!!!’ question. I like it when drop down lists actually include an answer that does reflect my thought process, it makes me feel less weird. I’m pretty sure that WoW, by contrast, doesn’t give that option and makes you fill out the ‘you must be some kind of weirdo’ “Other answer, please specify below” box.

If crafting is the answer, what was the question?

Crafting in MMOs is an odd sort of activity; part time-sink, part economic driver, part cooperative endeavour, part mini-game, part character progression. It’s also one of the few parts of modern MMOs that didn’t evolve from MUDs.

There was no crafting in MUDs, at least not in any of the ones I ever played. What we had instead was the ability (when you were trusted by the people running the game) to help create new areas and coded objects in game. Creating an area was easier in a text based game, even if you didn’t like coding you could write some good descriptions and get someone else to code the exits.

It felt a lot more creative than clicking a button and watching a green bar. But most people never got to do it. It had to be carefully supervised and checked over to avoid crashing the server with bad code or upsetting half the playerbase with bad writing.

But crafting has grown up so organically and been so popular with players that I’m not sure anyone knows what the point of it is any more. People like making their own gear and gadgets, and creating items to trade with others. From an immersive point of view, people like to say ‘I am a blacksmith’ and have the skills to prove it. We see NPC crafters hanging out in the cities, and possessing non-combat skills helps players to feel part of that same world too.

Consumables vs Gear

There are two sorts of crafting skill, those that produce consumables (such as potions, food, and other items that get used up) and those that produce gear. For consumables to be successful there needs to be a constant demand, and that means players have consumable overheads for the more popular activities. ie. you have to buy buff food, potions, etc before you head off to an instance, or every time you get a new item, you have to buy talismans or enchants to stick in it.

So for consumables to be desirable, the whole player base has to bear an extra layer of ‘hassle’ in order to go out and do whatever fun activity they planned for the night.

Crafted gear has also been problematic to balance. If it is better than the stuff which you can get in dungeons then players wont’ be so motivated to go to the dungeons. If it’s worse then crafting is mostly pointless. I think games have been evolving to a place where crafted pieces have a niche, either as pre-raid gear (WoW) or as substitutes for specific gear slots but not enough to stop people from needing gear from other places.

Just reading those last two paragraphs makes me wonder whether crafting actually makes the game more fun for most people or not. However, when it works, it does a lot to liven up the in game economy. Characters are articifically forced to rely on others to fill some of their crafting needs. Tradeskills (I think this is probably a better name than crafting) can be forced to rely on gathered items, dropped items, other crafted items.

Gathering is often lumped in with crafting skills  for convenience, and gathering skills have been genuinely popular. Mostly because it’s a purely money making activity, but gathering also fills a niche of giving players a way to make some gold that doesn’t involve killing monsters/ farming. Depending on how it’s implemented, gathering is also immersive. Having different types of plants and ore appearing in different areas can help the game world feel more real.

(Note: Having your nodes of ore glowing and steaming will PROBABLY not help immersion).

Crafting alts

Being able to send items to your own alts killed the cooperative side of crafting. It became much easier to have a crafting alt to provide whatever your main character might need than to go find someone else to do it.

The response devs took was to make it increasingly difficult to have a crafting alt. Suddenly there were level restrictions on crafting, you couldn’t have a low level master crafter any more.

This is a confounded pain and I hate it. Maybe I wanted a character to RP with, potter around town, and do some crafting with on quiet nights. But no, now I actually have to play the dratted thing and level it.

And a perfectly good playing preference/ style got tossed out of the window. Bring back crafting alts, they still spend time in game.

What do we actually want from crafting?

One of the player hopes for crafting has always been that you could go out, figure out for yourself where to find the materials you need from the world around you, then come back and make something useful out of them. It’s a pure survivalist’s dream. Games have played around with the ideas and distilled them down into something which takes most of the fun and inventiveness out of this.

But crafting could actually solve one of the big current  MMO problems — the search for endgame PvE activities that aren’t raiding.

A more creative crafting minigame would make a lot of people happy. Second Life thrives on players having the ability to design and make (and sell) their own stuff. In Tale in the Desert (when I tried it, a year or so back), you could make scuptures out of any materials you could find, you could design your own complex firework displays, blacksmithing involves actually trying to hammer a piece of metal into the correct shape, you could design your own puzzles and have other players come to try them out and vote on whether they were fun.

Players went to town with all of these crafting minigames. They created works of art that were funny, brilliant, and creative. There were a lot of attempts which weren’t, but the good ones stood out and it was fun to try anyway.

It’s not going to fit all games. Warhammer for example is a game that never really needed crafting, all they needed was the ability to fix up your armour and paint banners and shields (actually, given the hobby it sprang from, a painting minigame would have been inspired for that MMO). But there’s a lot of scope in crafting that none of the big MMOs have really tried to address yet.

Self help? Help yourself!

Happy Thursday, and now for a quick thought exercise. Imagine that you are playing a character in an online MMO and you are a member of a friendly guild. (I know, it’s a stretch.) Now, imagine that this game has crafting professions and characters are limited to how many they can learn. Imagine also that you know your friendly guild has friendly players who play characters who can make any recipe in the game and would be happy to do that for you for free, all you have to do is ask.

Would it be worth the effort for you to create a crafting alt and level it and its tradeskill from scratch, rather than to just find a friendly guild member when you want something made? Now, hold that thought because we’re going back in time a few years.

<twilight zone squiggle>

Back in the Dark Age (of Camelot), there was no ability to mail stuff to alts. And no auction houses. When you wanted to buy or sell anything, you had to arrange to meet up with the crafter in person and trade.  The big cities were always bustling, the areas with the crafting materials were full of crafters, and the political geography of the game world just made more sense. Of course the capital was where you went to trade, it was the easiest place to get to. If you wanted to transfer items from one alt to another, you had to find a friendly, trustworthy player to hold them while you swapped alts.

It was pain, there was lots of griefing. I’m sure that the enforced interdependence did lead to stronger communities but it was still pain.

In particular, there was one craft that was dependent on another. Armourcrafters needed tailors to make linings for their armour. And this was a problem because even the friendliest tailor might not want to sit around and make 500 linings while you tried to get that masterpiece chainmail hauberk (did I mention these old games were terrifically grindy?). So what people did was buy a second account, and level a tailoring alt. It was enough hassle to rely on another person that they were willing to pay double their regular monthly fee to avoid doing it.

It was the shape of things to come.

<twilight zone squiggle>

OK, so there are some people who have a pathological dislike of ever having to rely on other people. Or maybe just a strong aversion to risk. Dealing with other people is risky and they aren’t always around at your convenience. So even with conveniences like auction houses (what if no one is selling the thing you want at the exact time you want to buy it??) and being able to mail items around, a lot of people prefer to be as completely independent of others as possible.

I was thinking about this because my husband prefers to create his own enchanting vellums on one alt, mail them to another, write an enchant onto them, and mail them to a third alt rather than just ask another enchanter to sort his alt out. It’s not an economic thing, he doesn’t want to make gold out of it. It’s a minigame resource management challenge:  How can I make this without having to ask anyone else .

I think players in general prefer not to have to be reliant on each other. But game designers know that their MMOs need to be sociable because paradoxically, the ability to play with other real people is one of the big draws of the genre. So to make this work, random people need to want to play with other random people. Designing punishing interdependent crafting schemes hasn’t really worked — people embrace auction houses and mail and other conveniences which mean they don’t actually have to interact directly with others.

Raids and instances have worked a lot better, same with team-based PvP. But these are cases where you absolutely need those other players to be online and hanging out with you before the activity even becomes possible. I wonder very much how things might change if we had access to more intelligent NPC henchpeople or allies. I’m pretty sure I’d use them.