Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

18 June, 2008

Makin’ stuff in MMOs
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:58 PM

As I mentioned in the recent Weekend Design Challenge, the topic of tradeskills/crafting has been on my mind. So, let’s take a look at this from a developer’s point of view.

What do tradeskills add to a game? What are some recent implementations? How are these implementations flawed, and what can we learn from them?

Personal Experiences

I have to admit, I’m not a huge crafter. I generally try out the different crafting systems in games if I can, but I don’t have a whole lot of time to spend gathering special materials, recipes, or simply waiting for a bar to fill up.

In WoW, my Druid was a Skinner/Leatherworker. To be honest, I hated it with a passion. I worked up Leatherworking in hopes that one day it would be useful. Yeah, yeah, stop laughing. When I started, I thought it would be useful to be able to make good armor and help others make armor. The problem, as I’ll go into later, is that Leatherworking only made relatively durable goods, compared to disposable/consumable goods. The demand just wasn’t as high for the goods overall.

In EQ2, my Necromancer was a Sage, able to make scrolls to enhance priest and mage spells. It was a useful enough skill, but it wasn’t cheap. I was able to help others out, though, and that was nice. EQ2 had a very interesting crafting system that had some good points and some bad points.

In AoC, I haven’t picked any crafting abilities yet. I’ve gotten the quests to gather raw materials. From the sounds of it, the crafting system is incomplete and there’s no way to select a new profession. So, for now, I’m just going to wait.

The Way It Generally Works

Crafting is typically broken down into the following steps:

  1. Learn a recipe.
  2. Collect resources.
  3. Create the item.
  4. Sell (or use) the item.
  5. Longer term: Advance your skill

Some games have interesting ways to accomplish each of these. Some are good, and some have caused lots of problems. Some have even done both. So, let’s look at ech area.

Learning Recipes

The core of a tradeskill is knowing recipes. The current standard is that you learn some recipes from NPC trainers (which are just vendors that sell skills you can’t trade to others), and get others from special drops around the world. Most recipes have requirements you have to meet, such as having a certain tradeskill level or specialization. Often the goal is that each tradeskill user won’t have every possible recipe, so that some can do things that others cannot.

Some games allowed players to make specific items with the skill, but there were no explicit recipes. Players were required to either get information from other players (or, more likely, a website), or experiment with different item combinations until they got a result.

What are the design goals of having recipes? First is to give crafters a sense of achievement: the more recipes you know, the more powerful you are. Even though crafting often appeals to the Socializer type of player there can also be a strong achievement sense to it as well. Recipes also give a player a way to organize their knowledge: What helmets can they make? What special types of items can they make?

Tabula Rasa has an interesting crafting system where recipes are temporary items found as monster drops. Each “blueprint” allows you to make the item(s) once, then it is destroyed. This was an interesting decision, although it was mildly confusing to me initially. But, this allows people to trade recipes, or sell them for low investment in the trade system.

Collecting Resources

Gathering the materials to make an item comes in different forms. Sometimes you need another specific skill to gather materials. Or, the items may come from drops. Another interesting way to get materials is from the destruction of other items in the game. Or, you could buy the items from other players that have collected them. Finally, some materials may need to be purchased from NPCs.

What are the design goals of requiring resources? The obvious reason is to restrict what a player can make. Being able to create health potions out of nothing may be a bit unbalancing. This also adds a gameplay element to crafting: you have to go out and do something in the world before you can create items, even if it’s just buying items from a nearby NPC. The other reason is because this is what is expected: in the offline world you need materials in order to manufacture other items.

One interesting twist on gathering resources is how people compete for the resources. The simplest example is competing for drops: if one person gets it other people cannot. For collecting items in the world, there is often fierce competition in gaining access to nodes. In WoW, it’s always frustrating to see someone come along to harvest a node you were going for but got into a fight. One of my former guildmates rolled a pet class just so that the pet can take care of nearby monsters while he went to gather items. In AoC, you have to wait for nodes to refresh. In some areas, the game will spawn monsters to attack you; I can only guess this was to simulate a PvP server. :)

It’s also interesting to note that gathering skills are often considered a source of income, whereas crafting skills are often viewed as a drain on funds.

AoC also has an interesting system where in order to advance at gathering, you have to give items to the NPC. This is good for the economy because it prevents too many goods from flooding the market. Unfortunately, the next step to advance is to get a “rare” drop, which requires doing a lot of harvesting of the previous item. Since the drop seems random, you potentially have a lot of goods being dumped on the market.

In addition, it’s interesting to note that SWG has a very complex system of gathering resources, where a player tried to find high quality locations and planted automated resource collectors. The player had to keep the buildings powered up and collect the goods on a regular basis. Eventually only the highest quality resources were desired because it created the highest quality items, which were the only ones that would sell for any sort of profit to other players.

Finally, the game Golemizer adds an interesting twist: time is also a resource to be accumulated. Every so often, you get a point of “time” that can be spent. This currency is important for building and rebuilding the golems in the game. It’s also the currency you use to purchase recipes in each discipline.

Creating an Item

Finally, it’s time to create the item. In most games, you click the button and wait. A random result can determine if the item is made or not, what the quality of the item is, or what bonus effects happen.

The design goals of creating the items are to limit the number of items that a player can make within a certain period of time. It is also to require a certain investment of time into using the tradeskill. Being able to make items while doing other things means that just about anyone can learn and advance tradeskills, making the skills less valuable overall.

There are a few interesting variations on creating an item in some games. EQ2, for example, had a very active tradeskill system: you had to provide input to a mini-game that affected the quality of the items produced. You also had to react to specific situations with specific skills to get a bonus. While the more active system is what many people clamored for, it had a disastrous side-effect: it made it much more difficult for crafters to chat while crafting items. Since crafting tends to appeal to a socializer type of player, it hurt crafting.

Interactions between crafters is also an interesting case. The original version of EQ2′s crafting also required a lot more interaction between different crafters: one tradeskill to make one item, and another to assemble it into a final product. This frustrated a lot of people and was eventually removed in favor of a simpler system. Cooperating on that level seems to have high overhead in crafting just as it does in other areas.

Selling or Using the Item.

In some cases, the crafter ends up using the item. Or, providing it to a friend/guildmate at low cost. In these cases, there is little to examine.

Sometimes a crafter will try to sell the item. In some cases, the item is more of a service than a good, so the player must actively sell the item; an example is the Enchanting profession from WoW. In other cases, the item can be sold in a trading/auction system if they can’t make a direct sale. Other times, items are merely sold to NPC vendors, usually at a significant loss.

Most game economies are built upon crafters selling their items. However, the costs of acquiring materials, or the overabundance of some specific crafted items can cause problems with the economic system. Part of this is because of the method of advancement discussed below.

WoW and the availability of plugins such as Auctioneer have turned trading and arbitrage into it’s own specialized game. In many cases, a crafter who wants to realize a profit on his work will need to become a savvy business person. This tends to conflict with expectations in games, because people expect to constantly increase in power. Business requires an element of investment and risk. In the offline world, businesses fail and that isn’t really fun. Having the same possibilities in the game can be really unfun, which leads to complaints. In the early days, we called this the “hula-hoop problem”; it doesn’t matter if the player is making an excess of an item that is out of style, they expect to make money if they put time into the game.

Advancing Skills

In the long run, the goal is often to advance a skill value so that the crafter can make more items. In many games, this happens on a semi-random basis as you create item. So, the player is encouraged to make a lot of a cheap type of item in order to advance.

The design goals here are the same as having levels or skill percents in combat systems: it allows the player to feel a sense of advancement, and have the ability to do things that other players cannot.

The problem is that if other people are making a lot of the same good, you will likely have too much demand for the supply, especially for goods that aren’t consumable. Early UO had stories about people making the same good over and over again to get more points in a crafting skill.

The original version of SWG had an interesting system that gave you crafting experience as others used the items you created. This made it so that people did not have to flood the market with cheap crap, but it had a similar result result: the best thing to do was to undercut your opponents, even if it meant taking a loss, to make sure more people were using your items instead of someone else’s in order for you to get more crafting experience. Only people that got in early or that were able to make very high quality items were able to charge a premium.

Final Thoughts

So, what makes a good crafting system? I think there are three important aspects to consider:

  • How much fun the system adds to the game, at least for a specific type of player? Does it require a lot of busy work or idle time? Does it require active input?
  • How the system works with other systems in the game? For example, does it provide useful things for combat-focused characters? Can these items compete with items obtained from other sources, such as quests or drops?
  • How does the system work within the game’s economy? Is it a money sink? Is it a potential profit source? Is it only really useful for personal gain?

So, what do you think? How can crafting systems be improved? What new ideas help avoid some of the problems in current systems?


  1. Focused crafting, not just a bullet point on a box!

    [...] crafting, not just a bullet point on a box! Psychochild breaks down the general ideas behind crafting in his recent post, a topic that was addressed here [...]

    Pingback by Hardcore Casual — 19 June, 2008 @ 7:22 AM

  2. Here’s an anecdote for you. I’m working with a game that is currently in closed beta. It plans to launch without crafting and place the beginnings in the first patch. The general idea is that crafting itself will be relatively simple, but the components will be difficult to find.

    When talking to the beta players it was mentioned that the idea of a very involved, obtuse crafting system was considered… before we could finish typing to say it was thrown out for the above they all became very excited.

    People simply seem to LIKE it. Click-fests appeal to a certain type of player.

    Me? I read a book while I’m mining. I remember when Horizons first launched and people were still playing it in fairly decent numbers. A patch broke the animations and your character wouldn’t stop animating even though the node would run out. It really messed up my crafting/reading time. :P

    Comment by Ophelea — 19 June, 2008 @ 2:41 PM

  3. I think that there’s a lot to be said for the old SWG crafting system.
    The quality variation made for a price curve that was very newcomer friendly – a finely crafted weapon made with the absolute best materials could cost millions, but anything below this level of perfection would be well within the price range of the average player, and was still highly effective in combat.
    Harvesting resources was interesting too, since you never knew what you would find, with locations and quality levels changing quite regularly – finding an untapped source of a high quality resource gave a real feeling of excitement.

    If I had to change something, I’d probably opt for the ability to level crafting, assuming it has to be levelled separately, by creating consumable items – players shouldn’t be forced to make non-consumable items just to skill up.

    Comment by Lobosolitario — 19 June, 2008 @ 4:13 PM

  4. I worked up Leatherworking in hopes that one day it would be useful. Yeah, yeah, stop laughing.

    Leatherworking is currently TOO useful, in terms of the raid game. I’ve known guilds to make cloth-wearers go leather for the Drums of Battle. (Blizzard is fixing this in a patch soon, I understand).

    Comment by Damion S — 19 June, 2008 @ 4:15 PM

  5. Great post! Lots of fodder here for agreement, disagreement, and identification of problems and potential solutions. Let’s see….

    1. I agree strongly with your pointing out that making stuff for RP advancement winds up distorting the economy because junk gets stuffed onto the market as crafters crank out objects for XP but still need to recoup their production costs. A discussion focused on finding some way of disconnecting these systems could be a lot of fun.

    2. I’m not convinced that crafting appeals to Socializers. Crafting is usually implemented as a solo activity in MMORPGs — what cooperation there is is usually indirect over the marketplace, and that’s not very attractive to the gregarious Socializer gamers. If the act of crafting (not just its outputs) could be designed as more of a roleplaying experience, it might appeal to Socializers, but I don’t know of anyone with that kind of crafting system in their game currently.

    As it is, I feel pretty strongly that the usual assumption that crafting should be about utility (which you make yourself, as when you say “I worked up Leatherworking in hopes that one day it would be useful”) rather than the pleasure of creating new things is what drives the conventional manufacturing/sales design of crafting in current MMORPGs. As you say yourself later, that’s a highly Achiever-oriented gameplay design.

    What I favor is a crafting system that supports multiple interests with separate rewards but integrated results. As I describe it here, I’ve been thinking lately of a crafting system that’s designed to enable manufacturing, craftsmanship, creativity, and story-telling. I believe it’s possible to build such a system, even if I’m currently only groping at potential features. If anyone would like to comment on this as a project, I’d be very interested in hearing those thoughts.

    3. In addition to the unintended side effect of “usage XP” for crafted items in SWG, one originally proposed feature was the idea that, as crafters learned newer/better recipes (“schematics” in SWG-speak), they would actually “forget” how to make simpler items. The theory here was that this would reduce competition between veteran crafters and newbies, helping to insure that new crafters always had a market for their products which only they would know how to make. This feature got canned before SWG ever launched, however, as gamers complained in no uncertain terms that they did not want to lose abilities as they gained experience.

    Personally, I see this as yet another result of mistakenly designing crafting as a manufacturing/sales subgame for people who are actually looking for a creative/artistic subgame. If gaining crafting experience was instead used to earn not merely new schematics but increased variation and control over detail of crafted goods, you’d get the best of both worlds. As people craft all kinds of things not for money but because they like making things, enough goods would be made to perform the supply function. If you get a lot of people making swords because making swords is fun, then as a natural by-product of that activity the fighters in the game will be supplied with swords. If cash changes hands, great, but the need for every product to be economically viable wouldn’t be the all-encompassing (and gameplay-distorting) concern it is in current MMORPGs.

    4. An interesting side note here is that SWG remains one of the very few MMORPGs that treats crafting as a class distinct from the combat classes. In (current) SWG, crafting and other activities are mutually exclusive; you can’t be a level-capped combat expert and max out any tradeskills. (In a way, pre-NGE SWG also treated crafting skills as equal to combat skills: all skillpoints were equal. If you spent skillpoints on a crafting box, you couldn’t also spend those points to gain a new combat ability.) I personally much prefer this approach over the tradeskills design because I think making combat and crafting mutually exclusive sends the message that both are equally valued. But obviously that’s a somewhat philosophical position that not everyone will agree with.

    5. As you mentioned, another of the core problems with player crafting as a supply function is competition with loot drops. Not to harp on SWG (except that its strong crafting system makes it a great source of examples), but one of the things that most ticked off veteran crafters in that game was that the original developers publicly stated that “loot items will never be better than the best crafted items.” Over time, of course, as crafters left the game (IMO because they got so few new features compared to combatants), loot drops got amped up to meet demand, and the “crafted stuff will always be better” promise got stuffed down the memory hole.

    My theory is that this was a natural outcome of focusing post-launch attention almost exclusively on combat over crafting in a game that was designed to have an entirely player-run economy. No stuff magically appearing on NPC vendors meant that crafters were absolutely required. Unfortunately, while crafting got a little love from the post-launch dev team, combat got more — a lot more. When that happens in a game, crafters bug out; at the same time, the voice of combat-oriented gamers becomes correspondingly louder. As that goes on over time, demand for items increases but supply falls as crafters leave the game. That shortfall has to be made up somehow or prices skyrocket and complaints that the economy is “broken” escalate. And what’s the quickest/easiest way to get items back into the economy? Loot drops. Just tweak the loot tables to output more and better goodies.

    But adding high-end loot drops just drives more crafters away. Because crafting is defined as primarily an economic activity, there’s no way to compete economically with farmers. At this point, you’re in a vicious circle — you’ve got to spend your development time servicing your combat players with content, including high-end gear, which attracts more of them and drives away crafters, and so on.

    Again, I think this is another strong reason to disconnect crafting from being thought of (and designed) primarily as a manufacturing/sales subgame.

    6. One of the biggest problems I see with reinventing crafting as less of an Achiever activity is defining rewards that appeal to non-Achievers but not to Achievers. The competitive nature of Achievers is such that if some activity has value, if it generates any kind of tangible reward, they’ll do it. This tends to crowd out non-Achievers.

    One of my current long-term projects is to try to find reward structures that appeal to non-Achievers but not Achievers. This doesn’t mean I’m anti-Achiever; I’m still in favor of providing them with activities and rewards that they enjoy. What I’m trying to do is identify rewards that appeal to Explorers and Socializers only, so that the Achievers just plain aren’t interested in horning in that action.

    Yeah, wish me luck in that endeavor. :-)

    I’ve got some other thoughts on how crafting in MMORPGs can be designed to be more enjoyable, but I’m already running rudely long so I’ll knock off here. Thanks for the opportunity to sound off on this subject!

    Comment by Bart 'Flatfingers' Stewart — 19 June, 2008 @ 4:29 PM

  6. If Achievers hate only one thing in the world, I’d say it is waste. I think if I had a Zod rune and blew it on a recipe that didn’t work, I’d be despondent, I mean really, for days. Explorers on the other hand (to hear it told), essentially enjoy the act of building knowledge through experimentation, and finding rewards just by searching. This is not to say they love throwing Zod runes down the memory hole, but the crucial problem is, if you require/encourage experimentation as part of your crafting model, you annoy Achievers and delight Explorers. If not, you Delight (the more casual) Achievers and bore Explorers.

    One solution might be to have multiple crafting systems, and make one or more of them inherently experimental. What about a Feng-Shui ‘crafting’ system that requires you to arrange items in your house/cave/inn: Depending on how you leave your furniture, you get certain bonuses until the next time you rearrange it. Furniture is not consumed or lost unless you purposefully discard it. What’s more, no two players get the exact same bonus model. The person who spends time acquiring exotic furniture and messing with the arrangement is rewarded. Even better, allow players to share domiciles, and employ a system by which their (previously mapped?) bonus models merge and interact. Talented Explorers will reap tangible benefits, and gain enough experience with the mathematics of the code structure that they can offer some insight to awestruck noobs, but not enough for Thottbot to replace their individual wisdom.

    Comment by Bret — 20 June, 2008 @ 5:41 PM

  7. “I’m not convinced that crafting appeals to Socializers. Crafting is usually implemented as a solo activity in MMORPGs”

    I recall that in UO and DAOC at least, a lot of crafting occurred at public resources (forges, anvils and the like) and it was a very social activity. The crafters stood around making stuff and chatting while the animations played out and there was a lot of chatting at popular mining spots in UO. I don’t recall as much socializing in WoW even though it had public crafting tools. I think it was because in WoW you made runs of components and items rather than having to spend time banging out individual things.

    Comment by Big Hal — 21 June, 2008 @ 9:28 AM

  8. I’m going to keep it pretty brief because I didn’t read your whole post and if I overlap I want to keep time wastage to a minimum.

    Crafting is a system meant to simulate artistic skill and creativity, but that artistic ability and creativity has been completely replaced with a grind towards being no better or worse than anyone else with 375 in blacksmithing. Sometimes, in some systems, you get a high quality proc to simulate creativity and abnormal skill, but it’s really just a consolation prize to justify all of your wasted hours, imo. While I admit that all aspects of MMOs need to have a grind to keep the players around and to make those players believe they’ve actually accomplished something, it would be nice if some inventive developer added a way to let the crafters express their creativity, even if it was something as simple as re-skinning an item.

    I think crafting has been the most neglected aspect of just about every MMO to date.

    I mean seriously, who the hell really thinks that farming mats is fun? And what player has ever really believed they’re special for spending 10 hours farming mats to make a stupid item anyone can get if they’re a big enough loser to waste their life on it:P?

    Comment by Sanguinius — 21 June, 2008 @ 4:24 PM

  9. A few of the problems that I see in so many MMO crafting systems are in skill advancement, oversupply and efficacy of becoming a successful entrepreneur. Addressing the last item first, the idealized vision of many who enjoy crafting is to be the elite blacksmith whom is the only one in the land who can create the greatest blades or the biggest merchant in the Gulf of Lankun, or some such achievement. In most games this kind of success is reserved for a select few and usually it is the people who max out their skill levels first. It may actually be beneficial to limit the maximum area that a given trader can be effective in. This allows more people to find areas in which they can “be the best” which is always a problem with MMOs. As a game designer I would consider making the crafting system a piece of what I would call an entrepreneurial simulation that is a game unto itself, equivalent to the entire combat aspect of the game.

    Oversupply has always been a problem in MMOs. There is no real scarcity in most current MMO crafting systems. Nearly every MMO’s economy is oversupplied as a natural result of nearly every player being a producer. Resources for high level items can be difficult or expensive to procure, however it’s just a matter of repetitively mining the resource or running the dungeon or whatever and enough can be had. Tedious behavior in MMOs is not an enforcement of rarity because there will always be someone who is willing to endure the boredom. In fact many MMOs seem to be built around this concept for advancement. The requirement of designing out repetitive and tedious behavior is to remove any advantage in participating in such behavior. Make no mistake, if there is a fun way, and a boring, repetitive way which yields better/faster results, most will choose the latter and then complain; rightly so because in order to remain competitive they must participate in boring game play. Sorry, definitely got off on a tangent there.

    The issue of skill advancement is also one that has been handled poorly in games. The idea that practice makes perfect is all well and good but makes for poor gameplay IMHO. As mentioned by Brian and reiterated by Bart, the market for low-end goods is virtually non-existent because of the flood of production that is required to “grind” up the levels. The initial idea may have been that you gain skill in crafting as you slowly create goods that sell in a balanced market; this idea was quickly thrown out the window however because of the MinMax behavioral patterns stated above.

    In order for a rewarding entrepreneurial system to exist and flourish in a game the developers need to be able to influence the supply side of the equation. Something as simple as raising the price the NPC merchants pay for a given good would reduce the liquid supply that exists in a system. Of course being able to reduce the availability of a resource, perhaps allowing only a finite volume in the system at a time is another way of introducing scarcity of supply. Finally, being able to manage inflation by having methods of removing money from the system is vital as well. More than one MMO economy has been completely destroyed by runaway inflation as well as deflation.

    Comment by Matthew Shanker — 22 June, 2008 @ 6:14 PM

  10. The elements of Crafting as a game mechanic

    [...] design, game mechanics, games, games 2.0, gaming, virtual goods. trackback Psycochild posted on crafting from a game designers point of view last [...]

    Pingback by Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog — 23 June, 2008 @ 8:25 AM

  11. I thought I’d take a moment and share some details on a crating system of a MMO that I used to play. Face of Mankind (which has now gone under and is no longer playable) had a crafting system that placed the “skill” part of a trade skill in the hands of the player.

    In general, a trader (there are 4 classes, one class is dedicated to manufacturing trade goods) would mine the raw materials, then use a production terminal to refine these materials. However, in order to produce a usable item (Armor, ammo, med kits, sun glasses, etc) the trader would need to purchase a production module (PMOD) at a significant cost. The PMOD is basically like a recipe.

    So you basically had 3 types of items:
    – Raw materials
    – Refined materials
    – Finished goods

    Anything in the above categories could be placed on markets or sold individually to other players. This encouraged several different types of markets:
    – Finished goods to be purchased by the general public
    – Material markets where Raw Materials and Refined Materials would be purchased by other traders
    – Player-made contractual agreements to buy/sell items
    – Underground buy/sell agreements (there were some items that could be made but can’t be placed on a market)

    In terms of game balance, by making traders their own profession (class), this afforded them price discounts and access to high-quality minerals (to later produce high-quality items). There is no skill to “level-up”, it’s up to the player to decide what they want to pursue.

    The skill aspect was placed in the hands of the player. The player needed to understand economies of scale (for example: to produce 3 med kits you needed 2 chemical substances. However, the per-unit cost of mining chemical substances decreases with greater quantity. So it was actually cheaper on a per-unit basis to mine 100 chemical substances instead of 2), market forces as it relates to current events (two factions are having a war…ammo sales must go up!), shipping routes and their costs (shipping materials directly to one location may be more expensive than routing through an intermediary location).

    I will comment that this type of system did suffer from “click and wait for a progress bar to fill”. However I think that the positive aspects make up for this shortcoming. RPing a trader can be fun and I think that FoM enabled that to happen.

    Comment by PatMan — 24 June, 2008 @ 8:16 AM

  12. I see I’m a bit late to this thread, but I saw the link on Tobold’s blog and figured I’d add my two cents.

    … crafting often appeals to the Socializer type of player …

    In my experience at least three of the Bartle types enjoy aspects of crafting: Explorers like discovering harvesting nodes, achievers enjoy having an additional area of the game to master, and socializers like having a non-combat activity available. (Full disclosure: I’m an explorer-socializer).

    What are the design goals of requiring resources?

    I’d add two more things: (1) it encourages people to explore the world in order to find raw materials, and (2) trade in raw materials is an important part of the economy, and participating in the economy is fun for many players.

    It’s also interesting to note that gathering skills are often considered a source of income, whereas crafting skills are often viewed as a drain on funds.

    That’s because many crafting systems don’t manage supply and demand very well. First, in many games crafted items are inferior to quested and dropped items, so no one wants them. That obviously hurts the demand side.

    Second, in many games that actual process of crafting doesn’t take any time. When crafting is instantaneous (or close to it), you pretty much have to make it profitless in order to avoid people instantly generating huge amounts of money by buying raw materials and churning out hundreds of items. If the process of crafting takes time, then crafters need to be compensated for that time and crafting at a profit becomes possible.

    The most successful crafting systems I’ve seen either turn crafting into a mini-game that takes time (EQ2, ATITD, Puzzle Pirates, Puzzle Quest, etc.) or place real-world time requirements on crafting (POTBS). I’ve always thought a mini-game would be the best approach because it would help make crafting fun as well as controlling supply.

    While the more active system is what many people clamored for, it had a disastrous side-effect: it made it much more difficult for crafters to chat while crafting items. Since crafting tends to appeal to a socializer type of player, it hurt crafting.

    Wow, my experience was totally different. I played EQ2 for a few months after launch, and crafting was more social than in any game I’ve played since. I recall that there was a central area where crafters congregated and maybe even a crafting chat channel. The actual mini-game didn’t take very long, so there was plenty of time to talk and I remember chatting constantly. In constrast, crafting in WoW and LoTRO was much less social becuase people didn’t spend very much time in crafting areas. In the rare case that I queued up a bunch of items at a crafting station, I usually went AFK during crafting because it was completely non-interactive.

    So, the player is encouraged to make a lot of a cheap type of item in order to advance.

    I’ve seen games address this in a few ways:
    (1) Make crafting into a mini-game that takes time (see above).
    (2) Award significantly more experience for rare or high-quality items than for cheap items. (I think EQ2 and Vanguard do this).
    (3) Include quests for crafters that award crafting experience. Vanguard sort of tried this with work orders, but the whole system felt very repetitive and grindy. The quests would need to be fun.
    (4) Make a level-less crafting system. For example, POTBS has no separate crafting level. Low-level characters can make everything except for the largest ships as long as they own the appropriate structures.

    So, what makes a good crafting system? I think there are three important aspects to consider:

    (1) Crafting should be a fun mini-game (a la Puzzle Pirates or Puzzle Quest). Crafters should be able to customize items that they create by adding dyes during the crafting process or adding ingredients that would affect stats. You could also include features that would appeal specifically to socializers or achievers, like central crafting areas, a crafting chat channel, challenging recipes, etc.
    (2) Crafted items should be roughly equivalent to quested or dropped items. Obviously, the game would need to be balanced to that the time/effort required to complete a crafted item was close to that required to quest or loot an equivalent item. Quested and looted items also might have to be slightly rarer than they are in current games. It should be difficult to get a full set of the best equipment from only one type of in-game activity.
    (3) Crafting should be as profitable as adventuring or any other in-game activity. It should also be profitable at all levels, not just for high-level crafters.

    Comment by Scott — 25 June, 2008 @ 9:18 PM

  13. You don’t mention EVE. Specifically the interesting ways the market of materials works, and how it impacts the game in many ways – and given there’s such great analysis already out there courtesy of their in-house economist, it’s a shame not to look at it.

    But I love your clear, simple analysis of “what’s the point of crafting at each stage, rather than as a whole?”.

    Comment by adam — 27 June, 2008 @ 5:19 AM

  14. Vanguard has by far the best crafting system i’ve seen in a MMO.
    Making the item is a mini game, you can fail it or succes with different levels of quality.
    It’s the only MMO i’ve played in which Crafting is an entire game in itself, with skills, attributes, stuff, quests.
    Definitely a must see.

    Comment by Kifix — 29 June, 2008 @ 11:57 PM

  15. One idea I’ve had to deal with the glut of items that are crafted but not needed is to have some type of NPC “customers”. While we are all heroes, these NPC customers would be regular folk that live in the world in which we adventure. They have needs for things like food, tools, clothing, etc. So the idea would be to sell things to them thru some sort of interface (storefront, auctionhouse even).

    You could even extrapolate this and introduce some “sim” type elements… even though it’s an MMO, this type of NPC interaction could work.


    Comment by Machineman — 16 July, 2008 @ 8:45 PM

  16. Add another vote for Vanguard’s system. The work order system allowes for skill ups without crashing the economy with excessive floods of materiel. It is almost independent of leveling (one branch called “artificiers” needs adventuring levels and skills to obtain recipes for house construction, but otherwise, only the ability to travel is needed). Through mismanagement, the crafting system has become seriously munged, but then that mismanagement is hosing the whole game of Vanguard. The population of Telon seems to be dropping drastically, and even more server merges are in order. So if you’re interested in checking it out, I’d say do it this year while the game is still powered up and running.

    If you are also interested in some “games within games” then there are 2 other things I’d like to recommend: diplomacy in Vanguard (the closest thing to diplomacy that I can think of, is Magic the Gathering, and it isn’t that close), and an odd little quest in EQ1 (the 3rd researcher badge in North Qeynos (if you think of part of it as Othello, then one also won’t be too far off – when this was a new quest, I led a guild event to get as many as possible for anyone interested, and I was amazed at the number of people who were good EQ1 players, but couldn’t grasp the concept). Far too few quests are dynamic like that researcher badge one, so that if one looks at a write up on the web, one has the full walkthrough. But then if we wanted to play puzzles, we’d play Puzzle Pirates, so some balance/variety is good.

    Comment by Tangurena — 17 August, 2008 @ 1:07 PM

  17. Interesting Mechanics: Interactive crafting

    [...] is an interesting topic in games. In a previous post, I went into depth about how a typical crafting system works in a game. For this article, I want to [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild’s Blog — 1 May, 2009 @ 6:03 PM

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