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.