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.

21 thoughts on “Is crafting meant to be fun?

  1. Crafting tends to end up being dull because

    a) it’s designed by people who would much rather be adventuring (or was — this is changing somewhat, in some games);
    b) it’s supposed to parallel adventure-levelling, which means it’s a grind, which is even MORE obvious when you’re standing by a crafting-thingy pressing the crafting buttons; and
    c) if it weren’t dull, everyone would be doing it and then you’d have all manner of balance issues in loot-based games, not to mention the fact that you might then have to provide further support in terms of economic options (purchase orders, separation of making & selling functions, etc).

    Last but not least, someone might then have to figure out how to make a system where resources don’t end up being more valuable than finished goods, which has happened in every. single. MMO with crafting that I’ve ever played, even the better-at-crafting ones (Horizons, SWG, EQ2, Vanguard). Grinding + infinite money supply + gear treadmill = gold-dust resources. Easy to diagnose, probably not so easy to cure, unless you totally divorce crafted items from looted items so that, for instance, you CANNOT make a breastplate and you CANNOT loot a piece of furniture.

    I could ramble on about this for hours, but I’ll save your sanity. 😀

    • “if it weren’t dull, everyone would be doing it and then you’d have all manner of balance issues in loot-based games,”

      This is where I’m coming from too. I think it’s actively designed to be dull to keep the numbers down. “Is crafting meant to be fun?” is a straight-up question. I think it’s not. And on the odd occasion I’ve had fun with it, it’s because I had previously done some tremendously tedious grinding (god knows why) to be one of the few.

      The other way to keep crafted items out of the marketplace is to make the most desirable masterpieces very very random. This is how DaoC worked. If you wanted to make a masterpiece, you were basically settling down for several hours of crafting. Other players used to specifically contract a crafter to make one because you never knew in advance how much materials you would need or how long it would take so people rarely put masterpieces up on the AH.

      I’d love to talk more about this with you sometime.

  2. Certainly in WoW, once you reach the top of your chosen crafting profession, 95% of the things you are capable of making are useless, and during the levelling process itself, you will make a lot of items that no-one wants, simply to skill-up.
    That is not fun; it is pure grind.

    Recently, Wizard101 introduced crafting to the game.
    I have yet to try it out, but I am curious as to its usefulness, because in the very same patch they have opened a psuedo Auction House where you can buy other people’s mob drops and quest rewards, and that loot seems to be as good as anything that appears in the crafting patterns.

    The question is, did we even need a crafting option in W101?

    • YOu can see how they’ve been tweaking this in WoW with inscription, which is the newest tradeskill and also the one where a lot of the skillup recipes are still useful to max level characters.

      The other problem with crafting in WoW (and prolly other games too) is that it’s designed to be levelled while you are levelling normally. So when the xp curve gets tweaked later to make levelling easier, crafting actually gets much harder because you shoot through the zones (and associated gathering nodes) far faster than originally intended.

    • Crafting in W101 is pretty broken. Tipa gets into it over at her place (West Karana). First of all, it’s a huge grind. More than that, though, the W101 economy is broken. You can’t trade between players. (Well, you can trade treasure cards, but that’s underwhelming.) You can’t set your own prices on the Bazaar. You can’t build a brand and actually *craft*, you just make stuff in the recipes that everyone else is doing. Even then, the stuff you can make is useless the vast majority of the time.

      It *is* nice in that it’s somewhat decoupled from adventuring (other than that the rare materials are in high level areas), but that’s the only virtue I’ve found in it so far.

      I don’t think W101 needs crafting, certainly not if they are going to keep the constrained economic model. The game is fun to play, but crafting there is very much a tacked on grindy system.

  3. I’m in the camp that believes that crafting is always an afterthought, because so many MMOs focus on combat, raiding, earning gear through trials, etc. No one posts accounts of their “epic 4 hour crafting session” 😀

    I like to craft, but it’s a lonely profession, since there’s no crafting raid groups or anything like that. I think every crafter jumps into a game with the idea that they’re going to create a lot of epic stuff, sell it, and get rich, but in some cases, the soloing aspect quickly wears thin.

    • Not for soloers like me, who happen to like the indirect sociality. I like being a part of a well-crafted game world, but I want to define my own place in it, not be another Super combat drone chasing flavor of the month talent builds.

  4. The offline portion of “crafting” is one thing that EVE does right. Throw your BPO or BPC into the factory slot, add materials, push the magic button, go run missions or mine or log off and take a nap, whatever. It’ll come out of the oven when the timer dings, whether you’re online or not. Then again, EVE’s against the normal MMORPG paradigm in a lot of ways.

    All the alts I have gotten to a significant level since my first two 80s are double-gatherers with no crafting skills. It’s just not worth leveling crafting anymore. As a blacksmith, I do nothing more than make belt buckles for raidmates or the rare commission for twink gear; my dwarf alchemist occasionally grinds out a metagem to sell or a few flasks for himself. That’s it, for hours and thousands of gold spent leveling the skills.

    Blacksmithing in particular always annoyed me. There was exactly ONE smithing pattern in vanilla WoW that everybody wanted–the Arcanite Reaper (hooooo!). If you got that pattern, you basically printed your own money. Linedan is a hammersmith, and had the top-end mace pattern similar to the Reaper, and made exactly two in a year–one for himself, and one for a guildmate for free. Nobody ever wanted to buy one.

    There’s just very few smithable items that people want to buy, and those that they do are almost impossible to sell at a profit.

  5. “A Tale in the Desert” is rumored to have an excellent crafting game. But it’s not a combat-centric MMO, so maybe that’s why.

    “Saga of Ryzom” has some good crafting as well – basically you pick a generic pattern and then choose what material to slot into each segment of the pattern…. the resulting item’s stats are a combination of the type AND quality of material used. Now – once you finish tinkering with the selection of mats, the act of crafting is simply watching a green bar fill up – but if you like micro-managing stuff, then there is a lot of fun depth to be had.

    • ATiTD is a very interesting game. I played it a year or so back so this may not be totally up to date, but they took a very Free Realms approach. There were different subgames and minigames for just about every form of crafting.

      What I do remember is that their crafting allowed for a huge amount of player creativity, which is one of the reasons it was so popular. People made awesome statues and artwork, and designed mindboggling fireworks displays. There were also ways to craft and gather in groups — I remember large mining expeditions which required a lot of people to cooperate. They were more like raids than anything else, it was very cool. It really was very different to just about anything else I’ve seen. Some of them were a bit hit and miss, and the game itself was hugely cliquey (they’d see this as a bonus, it had the potential to be a very political game).

  6. Crafting is something that definitely needs some more consideration than just being tacked on as a tangential grind.

    Puzzle Pirates has a great economy and the ability to set up production lines for offline play. Shop management is a game in itself, as is playing the market, though the two work well together. It’s completely divorced from a player’s ability to do the “combat” segment of the game, meaning players can pick up either and find success. They do help each other, but they aren’t constrained by each other (at least, not in the vast majority of cases… gold and Kraken’s Blood have to be foraged or pillaged by players). That’s a critical distinction, since it means that players can jump in and enjoy whichever they like without needing to grind in the other.

    I think that a solid economic system needs to be the backbone that a crafting “game” can be built on. W101 crafting doesn’t work because the economy is so constrained and simplistic. (I like the game, but the economy isn’t its strong point.) Puzzle Pirates works because it has a great player-driven market economy. I suspect ATITD and EVE work for the same reason; their economies are solid and well implemented. WoW is somewhere in between.

    Ultimately, I’d love an MMO “virtual world” that allowed me to be an explorer, crafter and merchant. I’m actively disinterested in the combat minigame that most of these games focus on, but I’d be happy creating stuff for those who do like to go kill stuff (or for those who just want to decorate their hunting lodge… taxidermist, anyone?). That’s the indirect interaction that makes an MMO more interesting to me as a game, while still letting me play at my own pace as one of those terrible “soloers”. I love a free market economy, built around a plausible world with smart resource allocation and market niches that is largely player driven.

    I’d really love the ability to freestyle design my crafting recipes, making a brand and a name for myself because I make unique items, whether that’s quirky combat gear, extraordinary tables, or spectacular glowy thingamajigs.

    See, I don’t “solo” because I hate people. I “solo” because I don’t like the combat minigame in the first place, and dealing with idiots in it is just not worth my time. I’d be very happy being a prominent crafter and artisan, contributing to my local economy and making great stuff for my fellow players. (A single player crafting game would be pretty stupid. I played an economic simulator in college as part of a marketing class, and it was fun for all of the five minutes it took me to figure out how to totally break the bank in it.) I’d love to be able to wander all over the world (perhaps with stealth skills that can be developed), gathering rare and valuable resources that I could then mold into unique and interesting baubles or gear.

    I’d love to make an impact on a virtual world because I’m a supreme crafter who is important to my fellow players, *without ever touching the combat game*.

    I do firmly believe that MMOs have a lot to offer in the way of game design and fun interaction, but when they are almost entirely built on the combat minigame, to the exclusion of other playstyles (or the halfhearted addition thereof), it is no wonder that I solo them; I’m trying to find my niche, rather than trying to fit into someone else’s.

  7. RoM is revamping their crafting system soon(I hope for the better).

    But what I love about crafting in Runes of Magic. The recipes yeild unique looking items that can be used in conjunction with the aggregator(transfers stats from 1 item to another). NO MORE CLONES 🙂

    Plus, RoM crafting is independent from character leveling. Sure, if you WANT to gather high level ore, you can try to go to that area, or buy the mats from the auction house.

    Either way, I could stay character level 16 for the rest of my life, and max my gathering and profession skills:)

    the last nice things is a bit more choice. You can actually take every profession. You can max 1 to level 60, 3 to level 40, and the rest to level 20.

  8. Spinks! Love the article, and I agree to certain aspects.

    I am pretty dis-enfranchised with Blacksmithing at the moment – its pretty difficult to get crafting recps end game currently unless you are in 10 man hardmodes or 25 mans (which I am unable to do at the moment).

    I am prepping a series of articles on re-thinking the professions, one at a time. Keep your eyes out, you may just like it 🙂

    • Drop me a line when you’ve written it, I’m happy to throw a link your way. My history with blacksmithing is long and fraught since I’ve had it on Spinks since day 1. It’s the reason I was always poor in vanilla WoW. And I still never managed to level it to 300 back then because of all the thorium farming bots. (I did catch up on it later though.)

  9. Making crafting a meaningful component of a MMO without making adventuring for gear meaningless has been one of the big problems in MMO design.

    The best solution is to make both of them work together in harmony. The problem with a crafting system like WoW is that it takes absolutely no skill to manufacture crafted goods. This is where EQ2 is light years ahead of WoW.

    I believe that Blizzard has one or maybe two people working on crafting for all of WoW. Jon LeCraft (I’m not kidding!) is his name. He rarely gives interviews and to my knowledge *never* has the decency to post on the official forums.

    Given the astronomical profits and resources that Blizzard has at its disposal it’s a crime that they haven’t done more to flesh out crafting as a meaningful MMO activity.

  10. As mentioned, Star Wars Galaxies is the only game I’ve played where it was even possible AND enjoyable to make not only a living, but also a name for yourself as a crafter.

    I started off as a Tailor, since that was probably the easiest of the crafting professions and one that any crafter could solo gather the materials for. Tailoring was unique in that the quality of the base components was largely irrelevant. What mattered was your sense of style. Any fool could, for example, make a factory run of identical fibreplast jackets. Where you made a name for yourself was in handcrafted goods, coloured and styled individually, and organised into unique ensembles. Mass produce the raw materials, sure, but handcraft the finished product if you wanted to stand out.

    There are only so many wedding dresses you can make before you start getting bored, of course, so I then switched to Shipwright with the introduction of the Jump to Lightspeed expansion. This is where the quality of your raw materials makes the difference. I’d begun stockpiling ores etc months beforehand. I’m talking millions of tons of the stuff, and had mining plants working on half a dozen planets. However, the stuff I was mining was mediocre quality at best. This was fine for grinding, though, and by the time I hit Master Shipwright I had a large stock of average quality starships ready to sell with a small supply of above average resources ready to build those special orders.

    Levelling shipwright taught me something very important about SWG’s crafting system. Any fool, with enough resources, could become a Master Craftsman, whether that be Architect, Weaponsmith, Shipwright, Droid Engineer, Armoursmith, Chef, whatever… But the guys who really stood out from the crowd in the real crafting professions (i.e. not tailors) were the ones who’d been in it for the long haul and amassed large stocks of the very best resource spawns. The true grind in SWG for a crafter began AFTER you’d earned the Master title in your chosen profession – it was gathering the best resources that allowed you to make the best stuff, and that took a LONG time.

    Crafting worked like this. First you gathered raw materials. Let’s say you’re making a really simple blaster pistol suitable for a starting character. You need Fibreplast and any metal. So you go prospect for those two resources, either drill it up by hand or lay down an extractor and come back the next day. Once you have the resources, you can then make the blaster, but at the end of crafting you get the option to experiment and improve up to four of five aspects of your weapon. The amount you can experiment is limited by both your skill level (irrelevant if you’re already a Master) and the quality/purity of the resources you’re working with. Just digging up any old crap will ensure your weapon is distinctly average, regardless of your skill. Every week or so, there was a “resource shift”, where the amount of resources that spawned in the galaxy reset randomly. All the miners would rush out and prospect again, looking for the best spawns of the current crop of resources.

    Remember our cheap starter blaster pistol? Let’s move on a little. A mid level blaster would require compenents to be crafted and then assembled into the finished item. Rather than any old metal and any kind of fibreplast, you now required specific types, steel and synthetic fibreblast, and that’s just for the barrel. Moving on to end game weapons like a Geonosian Sonic Blaster, the barrel might now need just just any old steel, but a specific kind of Uridium Steel. At the highest levels of crafting the base resource requirements became punishingly specific. And here’s the clincher, that Uridium Steel you needed to complete a run of Geonosion Blaster barrels? It’s not currently in spawn, or it is but the purity of the current spawn is junk. So you either don’t make any Geonosian Blasters, or you make lower quality ones, or you don’t make any and wait, weeks, maybe months, for a decent quality spawn to appear and hope you can get to it in time.

    This is why I say the grind as a crafter in SWG only began after you’d mastered the profession of your choice. There were crafters who’d been at it for years, and had stockpiles of the finest resource spawns that had ever appeared on their servers. You knew if you saw their names on an item that you were going to get a piece of gear that was the best in its class, and you paid throught the nose for it. I made millions selling good quality weapons and starships, these guys made billions selling the very best.

    Another way SWG made it possible for crafters to play their own game was through the Merchant profession. It was possible for a player to Master any two professions at once and have some points left over. The Master Weaponsmith was responsible for building some of the finest weapons in the Galaxy, but the Master Merchant was responsible for selling them. Each server would have half a dozen very exclusive shopping malls with a Master Merchant selling goods produced by the best crafters on his array of vending droids.

    Sadly, the game is a shadow of its’ former self. The nerfing of the crafting professions’ beautiful complexity is what made me quit the game, although perversely, I then moved onto WOW which porbably has the most dumbed down crafting in any game I’ve played yet. I still look back fondly on my days in SWG as the most famous tailor on my server (and a mediocre shipwright and weaponsmith)

  11. Maybe I’m just a weirdo, but I’d love to play an NPC.

    Hear me out: I’d love the opportunity to roll a level-one character, maybe do a couple of basic starter quests to get to a capital city, then choose a career and take an apprenticeship to a prominent NPC. Maybe the capital city’s most prominent alchemist, or weaponsmith. Or maybe I rushed things and didn’t do enough quests in the starter zone, and the best tailor in town won’t give me a job, so I have to choose between going back into the wilderness to make a name for myself or taking an apprenticeship with a lower-ranking tradesman — an apprenticeship that’ll advance more slowly and give me fewer perks.

    Once I’m an apprentice, there are quests to do — lots and lots of quests, but they’re all related to my trade. There are simple fetch-and-carry quests, or “make ten bolts of cloth out of scraps” quests, or “here’s 10g, use your gathering, haggling or trading skills to go find me a stack of materials.” It’s still the same model of in-game progression, but rather than doing “adventure”-style quests, I’m doing “apprentice”-style quests in order to level up not my armor or my talents, but my tradeskill.

    And put some jeopardy into the system. Make some of the apprentice quests dailies, and if I fail to complete 10 in a month, I get fired. Or something.

    Eventually, let me work my way up through the game to the point where I can open my own shop somewhere in the city. I don’t have to be logged in myself, obviously; once I reach that point — the tradeskill equivalent of the level cap for regular adventurers — I have a staff of NPC craftsmen who’ll make and sell the items I specify. And I can take on my own apprentices, earning additional gold by training them. Let me set up vendors in other cities and towns, establishing business arrangements with other craftsmen to supply or purchase raw materials or crafted goods. That armorer needs tons of leather bindings? No problem, I’ll agree to sell him a thousand a week at such-n-such price. Since I only have so many employees I have to make choices about which business deals I take — or I can increase my own capacity by attracting more (player-character) apprentices.

    Of course, that would be a massive system, essentially a whole parallel World of Warcraft with quests and advancement and all that. But golly, it’d be fun. Certainly not for everybody, and maybe not as one’s main character, but I’d love to have a level-capped adventurer main and a renowned tradesman alt.

    (And yes, I’m acutely aware of the inherent problems of implementing a system like that. There’s the most obvious one for starters: How do you let players set up shops in major cities without coming up with a way to provide infinite real estate? It may not be the right answer, but the best answer I’ve been able to come up with is to ignore that problem altogether: Real estate is a finite resource, and an expensive one. Want to open your own shop in the best part of town? Be prepared to deposit a heck of a lot of gold on the first of every month, or you’ll lose your lease.)

    • Agreed, that sounds great. Puzzle Pirates does some of that with a player-driven economy, but your riff on it in a fantasy world would be a blast to play. I’d probably have my “main” be an artisan/tradesman.

      …of course, I’d still want the ability to design my own recipes, making myself a real artisan, rather than just being the guy who masters the system best (and who subsequently maintains a stranglehold on the economic sector.)

      • Well, that’s the thing, really. I’m only an amateur computer nerd at best, but I have a very hard time imagining how anyone could build a system that would allow players to concoct new recipes/patterns/whatever that would be fulfilling, useful and non-trivial all at the same time.

        Here’s an example. I have an alt in World of Warcraft who’s a tailor. He’s really not anything other than a tailor, because he’s a death knight, and after about a week I discovered that I really don’t enjoy playing a death knight. So he sits around town, takes the cloth I collect on my other character or buy on the auction house and makes bags to sell.

        I can easily imagine a system whereby a tailoring pattern would be more of a template, with slots in which to plug raw materials. Say to make a bag, you need some cloth, some thread and some dye. More cloth and thread makes a bigger bag, and the dye lets you customize the color. Maybe if you add an oil or something, you can make the bag waterproof … but the game has no mechanic that relates to waterproofing, so that’s out, at least for now. Point is, a bag is a bag is a bag.

        A template for something more complicated, say a robe or a pair of pants, might provide an opportunity to add magical materials, like dusts or essences or whatever, to create something with magical properties. There could easily be an element of randomness there — I sewed those pants under the wrong phase of the moon or what have you, so instead of +10 to stamina they ended up with a random chance to turn the wearer into a duck — but still, there’s not just a TON of variation.

        Any crafting system that’s got a lot of random chance turns into an uneconomical prospect, because eight times out of ten instead of sewing a nifty pair of pants you’re going to turn your workshop into a smoldering crater. Any crafting system that’s based on finite combinations of materials is subject to min-maxing and thus can be trivialized.

        Part of it is that in the real world, what distinguishes one artisan-made thing from another — and thus, what makes one more valuable than the other — is usually aesthetic. I’m typing this on a laptop sitting at my dining-room table; I like this table not because it’s objectively a better table than any other similar table — it doesn’t have better “table” stats or whatever — but because I just happen to like it. But in a game like World of Warcraft, aesthetics count for little if anything. Sure, for a time there was a lot of wearable gear in the game that came in particularly vivid colors, and you’d hear folks complaining about their toons looking like circus clowns, and they really did. But given two pairs of pants with identical stats, is the purple pair really going to be more valuable, and thus make its maker more successful in the game, than the slightly-less-purple pair?

        I mean, maybe in a game like I’ve heard “The Sims 3” is, where you see your characters up-close and from a variety of angles. In a situation like that, aesthetics matter, or at least they can. But in World of Warcraft, the only part of your own character you ever see is the butt, and unless you’re playing a female blood elf, you really don’t care that much.

        (“Does this tier-9 best-in-slot +90-to-agility item make my butt look big?”)

        I mean, I would LOVE if the World of Warcraft (just to name my pastime of choice) were less Warcraft and more World-of, and making professions a viable and fun gaming choice would go a very long way toward that. But when I really sit down to think about how it could work, practically, I quickly get overwhelmed.

      • OH! Here’s an even better example: fishing. My main character is a grand-master-world-champion fisherman with the highest skill level mathematically possible in the game. In order to get up to that skill level I had to do precisely one thing: fish. Nothing else earns you fishing skill points. There’s no minimum-level requirement, there’s no gear requirement (except to purchase a fishing pole from a fishing vendor), all you have to do is fish.

        So in theory, a level-one character could be the best fisherman in the world, never having done a single thing in the game but to fish.

        Except. Except in low-level areas, where level-one characters can fish safely, you can only catch certain low-level fish. The fish you can catch in a given lake depend not at all on your skill as a fisherman; it’s geographic. So while a level-one character could be the best fisherman in the world, he still couldn’t actually DO anything other than fish up the same low-level fish that any other player could catch. He couldn’t even catch them FASTER or MORE EFFICIENTLY, because the game doesn’t reward fishing skill that way. All your fishing skill does is let you fish successfully in higher-level areas. So in order to catch valuable fish, you have to be able to get to (and more to the point, survive) higher-level areas. Which means it’s really linked to player level after all, and the only way to raise your player level is through experience points, and experience points are earned only through killing mobs or questing, and questing is almost exclusively about killing mobs.

        So while there’s nothing stopping you from creating a level-one character with the goal of being a great fisherman, in order to do anything useful, you’re shunted right back into the kill-ten-boars model of gameplay that you were specifically trying to get away from this time.

        I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that sometimes — lately, often — I get the urge to try different things in the great big open sandbox that is World of Warcraft … and despite there being quite a lot of lip-service to alternative ways of playing the game, there really aren’t any viable paths that don’t revolve around mass boar genocide.

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