Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

1 May, 2009

Interesting Mechanics: Interactive crafting
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:03 PM

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 focus on the interactive crafting system found in EverQuest 2.

History and Perspective

Crafting wasn’t always part of games. Ultima Online was the first major MMO to have crafting as an important part of the game, influenced by the interactive world of Ultima 8, the game UO was based on. Meridian 59, like many games that pre-date UO, has no real crafting system to speak of.

The orignial EverQuest implemented a crafting system in the game, not common in DIKU type games at all. The system was that you collected items, put them in a crafting container, then pushed a button and prayed. If the random numbers were in your favor, the materials would disappear and you’d get an item. If not, the container would consume your materials and give you nothing.

Dark Age of Camelot came along and changed that system slightly. You no longer needed a crafting container and failures would not take your materials. However, you had to wait a while for the crafting to finish, the infamous “watch a bar” system for crafting. Items also had a random “quality” value that was set during crafting. The quality of a crafted item was generally higher than item drops, making the items better. One interesting quirk is that DAoC’s Armorcrafting required materials created by another crafting profession: heavy metal armors required tailored components as padding for the armor.

World of Warcraft did what it is best at: simplifying existing systems. Crafting would never result in a failure, you would always produce an item. The only random element remaining was advancing in skill after making an item. (This ignores the Alchemy specializations that came along later that randomly created multiples of an item.)

Bar-watching Boredom

The problem is that this type of system where you watched a bar was boring. People cried out for a system that had an interactive component that kept people occupied, like combat does. The argument was that people who like crafting may not necessarily like combat, but they might still find the “watch the bar” school of crafting boring as watching paint dry. Why not add in a little something to keep people occupied and make crafting more interesting?

So, the developers of EverQuest 2 listened and developed a very interactive crafting system.

The EQ2 Crafting System

EQ2′s system worked a lot like combat. You had two bars to watch: the crafting progress and the durability. Every “round” of crafting, the progress bar would increase and the durability would decrease. But, the interactivity needed some meaning, so your goal was to fill up the progress bar with a minimum amount of decrease in durability; if durability was high enough at the end, you’d get a better version (or a greater number) of the item you were crafting. This is roughly analogous to doing enough damage to an enemy while not taking do much damage yourself in combat.

The system also had critical effects. A critical success would fill in a lot of the progress bar, whereas a critical failure would take a lot of durability and even some progress. These happened randomly, just like critical hits in a combat system.

So, what about the interactivity? Well, your character had a few special abilities that would influence the pace of crafting, just like abilities in combat. Some would increase progress or durability by a certain amount, but at a cost; the cost was a setback to progress or durability, a decrease in the chance of success the next round, or some power (aka mana). As you got better in your craft, you would get advanced versions of these abilities which had greater effects; so the ability that increased durability would increase it more, but at a greater cost.

Finally, the system would randomly show up an ability. If you used that ability you would get a bonus. Using the wrong ability gave a penalty, and not doing anything had no effect. This helped to prevent people from just mashing keys to get the powerup and win the game.

The system worked pretty well. It was a system that rewarded a player who learned the system with a greater chance to create good items. Everyone was happy, right?

Careful What You Wish For…

Not quite. The problem is that the audience who likes crafting isn’t the same audience who likes combat, in general. While waiting for a bar to fill is boring, most people don’t just watch the bar fill. They usually chat, either with others in the area or with their guild. Many people were still interacting with the game through the community, even if they weren’t interacting with the crafting system.

This meant that crafting became an interruption like combat is. Worse, since you need to perform near your best to get the best results, you had to pay even more attention. The difference between ending a combat with 90% health vs. 75% health left is a bit longer waiting for regeneration. The difference in durability left in crafting was perhaps an order of magnitude in the amount of money you could make. That means any distraction, such as guild chat, is ignored until the crafting is over.

So, for the Socializer who likes to create items in the game to help their guild, this means that crafting was a time when they could not interact with people. Witty responses either went unsaid, or were responsible for losing just enough durability to make you lose that top-end item you were trying to make.


Another interesting feature that EQ2 had at launch was a system of interdependencies for crafting. In addition to gathering materials, some of your materials were items crafted by other players. For example, Tailors needed patterns created by Sages who normally created scrolls and books that trained spells. As mentioned above, DAoC also had this requirement for one of their crafters.

However, both systems fell prey to the same problem: People who could get the items for cheaper fared much better. People who had guild mates who supplied items at cost, or who had a second account/character to make the items, did better. In DAoC, the most successful armorcrafters were people who created a second character to make the tailor items. My armorcrafter character, on the other hand, had to buy items from other people with a markup. That means that my profit was never going to be as large was the people who set up a second character on a second account.

By the time I started playing EQ2, the interdependencies were removed and players just had to collect raw materials to make their items.


So, how could EQ2′s system be improved? The obvious solution seems to be to remove the real-time nature of crafting. Instead of requiring that the crafting system happen in continuous rounds, allow the player to set the pace. Perhaps have a pause button UI element that allows people to pause the action long enough to throw that witty retort in guild chat. Or, give more abilities so that players can use an ability every round, or even have an ability that just advances the round normally. Instead of relying on twitch-type interaction, this would give Socializers the ability to interact with people while they contrbiute to the welfare of their guild.

What are your thoughts? Should crafting be interactive? Or should it remain passive and give people plenty of time to chat with others?


  1. Simple solutions are often the best:

    My personal suggestions would be to:

    -Change the system to a round/turn based system. Take the real time element completely tout of the equation.

    -Provide multiple events to counter (or not). Different events would affect the rounds/turns in different ways. Since you’re no longer playing “whack a mole” against a timer, you need to add more mental difficulty to the situation. Thinking through turns becomes more important than immediate reflexes.

    -Add in stages to the tradeskilling process. Instead of just standing at the forge to create a sword, change to a series of heating/molding/cooling stages involved in the overall swordcrafting. Players could even have more of a say in when a particular stage ends or begins based on their own decisions and choices. Someone willing to put in 40 rounds on a sword could and should have a better quality product than someone who flies through the swordmaking process in 6 rounds. Either way, the process of creation awards experience and goods.

    Comment by Kendricke — 1 May, 2009 @ 6:59 PM

  2. Kendricke’s comment pretty much describes the Vanguard crafting system, which I like quite a lot. It’s turn based, and actions use “action points”. You have only a fixed number of action points per item crafted. As you level up, you get actions that are more efficient. Really, it’s quite good.

    LOTRO has a lot of interdependencies, but as you describe, the market for components never really makes sense. You can’t sell components at a profit, because raw materials are in such demand for skilling up. People mostly have alts to do their component making.

    Comment by Toldain — 1 May, 2009 @ 7:44 PM

  3. LotRO has an interesting crafting system. And, yeah, making components is rarely profitable except in a few situations; it’s almost always better to sell raw materials for people levelling up characters. I’ve enjoyed playing with the crafting in LotRO more than any other game, personally.

    However, it doesn’t have quite as many interdependencies as EQ2 did at the start. Plus, you can often eliminate the interdependencies by selecting the right crafting profession. The main exception is the woodworker, who either has to get metal blades (as a Woodsman) or treated wood (as a Weaponsmith).

    Comment by Psychochild — 1 May, 2009 @ 8:03 PM

  4. I don’t know. I’ve mostly been under the impression that the actual process to craft didn’t matter that much in the end. If there’s a mini-game for crafting then you’re enjoying the mini-game, not actually crafting (well, crafting IS the mini-game but the mini-game isn’t crafting… hmm… anyone see what I’m trying to say here?). What seems to matter is the before and after of crafting.

    I see it a bit like the quality of graphics in a game. At first you’ll notice how pretty/ugly the game is and then you forget about it and just play. So at first you notice how crafting is dealt with, like/hate it and then craft.

    So I think spending less time on the actual crafting process (interactive or else) and more on what surrounds crafting (have your own store, being able to get that good component you were after for some time, becoming rich from your items, chatting with customers, making spreadsheets of your sales and expenses, …) is what makes crafting really interesting.

    So, um, I didn’t really answered the question because that’s not what I’m looking at in the “crafting experience”. Interactive or not doesn’t really matter for me and I’d dare to say that it doesn’t really matter to most people either past the initial experience. They do it not because it’s fun but because there’s something around it. A combat system could require me to move my mouse to swing my sword and another just target and click, both can be nice/boring, in the end I just want to kill that orc.

    When I had my little store in SWG, putting the resources together was the boring part. It would have been boring whatever the system would have been like. But I had load of fun to check where to get the good resources, keeping stats of my sales, improving my store, getting money from my items, chatting with returning customers…

    Reading that back I guess it makes me good at NOT giving actual answers and getting off topic :P

    Comment by Over00 — 1 May, 2009 @ 8:48 PM

  5. Check out Vanguard’s crafting system, which I think is the best I have seen. It is complex and quite demanding, but it is turn-based. This means you can stop at any point and consider what you need to do, take action to try and recover from previous mistakes, even look up or ask for advice on what’s best to do next mid-recipe. And of course you can answer any tells, join in any guild chat, socialise as normal, then return to exactly where you left off.

    Personally, I never had a problem with the “fill-a-bar” method of crafting, but if we have to have interactivity, the Vanguard model is the way to go.

    Comment by bhagpuss — 2 May, 2009 @ 2:29 AM

  6. I’m in favor of having more interactivity, but not Vanguard’s, which is a massive click-fest and totally reactive. At least in combat, we can see a problem coming ahead of time and attempt to deal with it proactively. With Vanguard, mistakes are randomly generated each turn so there’s no way to see it coming and try to prevent it.

    On the one hand, I can see where “progress bar crafting” is a better representation of the fact it’s *supposed* to be my character and his skill doing the crafting, not me. But I have to direct his every thought and move in combat too, and I can’t imagine anyone enjoying “progress bar combat” where we don’t do anything but watch it happen in the background while we chat.

    Comment by Scott — 2 May, 2009 @ 8:17 AM

  7. Funny timing on this post, I just put one up on my blog where I talk about the EQ2 crafting system. I loved it when the game first came out, but I wasn’t such a big fan of it when they dumbed it down to remove interdependence.

    I mean, I still had one of every crafting class, and each was at max level. I like to have options!

    Comment by Agent EVE — 2 May, 2009 @ 8:20 AM

  8. A quick note. I just played a bit of Free realms. It’s got a very simple mini-game style crafting system. I was working on my Chef skills, and found it a bit like Cooking Mama Cook Off, with a lot of mouse action to do the activities.

    Comment by Tim — 2 May, 2009 @ 12:19 PM

  9. Death to Crafting Treadmills! Part 2

    [...] In the meantime, allow me to point you over to Brian Green’s blog, where the subject of interactive crafting is currently under discussion. [...]

    Pingback by Destral’s Blog — 3 May, 2009 @ 4:26 AM

  10. I’m not much of a socialiser, so when I’m crafting in a ‘bar-watch system’ MMO I usually go do something else until it is done – which kind of defeats the purpose of playing a game. So I’m a big proponent of interactive crafting. To counter the problem to Socialiser-type players in click-intensive interactive crafting, I think a more paced, strategic approach could work: a turn-based system that shows the player the likelihood of a complication occuring – as a bar graph, with bars for each complication that fluctuate up and down – and the ability to preemptively act on these possible complications preemptively. Essentially, it would boil down to having a progress bar, and then several negative bars that the player must keep in check by carefully balancing the actions the choose to perform on the item being crafted. At the end of the crafting process, perhaps each complication bar would have an effect on the final stats of the item.

    This way, the player would select their action for the round, then watch the progress bar increase and the negative bars fluctuate according to the values dictated by the chosen action – with some leeway for the RNG – and then the process would wait for the player’s next action, without harrassing them with dwindling progress bars or exploding forges. Perhpas it would be possible for the chosen action to have unexpected effects on critical successes or failuers, like in combat, depending on the character’s skills and attributes, but for the most part the system would be rather predictable once the player understood the effects of each action. At this point, the player would be presented with the choice of creating an item with standard stats by following the predictable sequence of commands, or try their hand at trying to create an item with better stats by not counteracting mounting complications and instead focusing on improving the items stats.

    A system like this might also give rise to a items that have more of an artisan-crafted feel rather than a mass-produced one, thanks to the level of involvement required from the player and the variations in the outcome. Since the system would be turn-based, with no pressure to take action immediately, the player can choose to ignore /tells or answer them at their convenience.

    I’m currently revisiting a series of articles I wrote on crafting several years ago, in my blog. I’m rather bummed I missed the earlier discussion on the subject, since I would have presented what I wrote back then as part of the discussion. As it stands, rather than make a comment on a post almost a year old, I would like to invite you to mosey on over and let me know what you think.

    Comment by Destral — 3 May, 2009 @ 5:35 AM

  11. Dark Age of Camelot, Asheron’s Call 2, World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online all have very similar crafting systems. What has come to be recognized as generic. Dungeons & Dragons Online utilized a system similar to the original EverQuest.

    World of Warcraft didn’t even simplify crafting all that much. It was a system that was very incomplex to begin with. The same can be said for generic combat systems in MMOGs. Dungeons & Dragons Online tried to implement an interesting combat system, but unfortunately it isn’t very different than what we’re used to. Mage combat in Asheron’s Call was at the very least, different. You also had collision detection.

    I think we need to advance the crafting system. I don’t think interdependencies are the answer. You need to create something interesting, that is fun to do, instead of just time-consuming, mindless farming and button clicking. The EverQuest 2 system might have been more appealing to me, had you not had to do the standard run of the mill farming to get crafting components.

    Comment by Septa Scarabae — 3 May, 2009 @ 7:58 AM

  12. This post has good timing for me, as I am working on adding a crafting and market system for my web game ( – please don’t judge it by its looks!). I’m looking at it from a different perspective because in my game, you are a team owner. That means you have 35 orcs working directly for you, and each one may have a different talent to offer, crafting-wise. What I fear is that logging in daily to tell all 35 orcs what to make will be a bother. On the other hand, I don’t want to encourage people to ignore their team so that when they do pay attention, they’re surprised at how productive their orcs have been while they were away. A balance must be struck. I’m currently considering a goal-oriented approach, where you would tell each orc what they’re working towards making, and they work towards it automatically as the resources come in at whatever maximum pace you want to set.

    On the market side, I’m not allowing players to set prices (partially to prevent cheating). Instead, I influence the price of available goods based on what has been sold to the market by the players. If supply is high, prices are lower, within limits. Pretty simple.

    The MMOs (I play EQ2) could certainly add an element of allowing players to farm out their work to NPCs in the game, or even to other PCs (lower-level PCs will work for money) if they don’t want to spend the time to harvest materials or craft basic components needed for their more advanced works. This is like service NPCs in D&D. Make the player stand there and supervise if you must (and you know he’ll probably be socializing during that time). NPCs would take time to show results, and wouldn’t harvest stuff that’s too dangerous to get. Another possibility is to allow for alternate ingredients that make a same or similar product, though possibly of a different quality.

    My experience with EQ2 crafting thus far has been odd. I didn’t get the hang of crafting for a while, and even after I did “get it” I didn’t like it – I found it quite boring. It was an anti-honeymoon. But then there’s the effect of raising the guild level by doing the rush orders and such. Okay, that’s been enough motivation for me to have spent several hours making items I don’t get to keep, but not because I want to craft – just because I’m helping the guild through it. Lately, though, I just do it while I’m on conference calls at work. But if the interaction were more than just patterns of 6 keys and the occasional response to a screen prompt, I might actually enjoy it more and consider the time I spent doing it as “fun” rather than “work for the guild’s sake.”

    Comment by Brett — 3 May, 2009 @ 11:01 PM

  13. Daily Blogroll 5/4 — Dragon Claw Style edition

    [...] Psychochild looks at crafting through the ages, with a deeper look at how EverQuest II’s crafting has changed since launch, what they did right and how it could still be improved. [...]

    Pingback by West Karana — 4 May, 2009 @ 5:52 AM

  14. I think a big help to having a rich crafting system is having some of the mechanics that EvE Online has. By de-linking the auction houses and creating a large world, EvE allows for crafters to make additional profit by shuttle goods from point a to b or finding bargins on materials. Add on top of that many skills specifically for crafting, a working economy and illicit goods and you have a very rich system even if the actual manufacturing is straightforward.

    Personally I’m a big fan of finding ways to add discovery to crafting, as in systems without set recipes. The big issue is how to prevent the system from being ‘solved’ for all players after a set amount of time.

    Comment by Logo — 4 May, 2009 @ 10:34 AM

  15. I’m a fan of Puzzle Pirates’ crafting. It’s based on personal player skill, and better performance translates to better product. It’s a bit more abstract and complex than that, but still, I like that player skill is relevant. I’m all for some high attention active crafting and some slow burn tactical turn-based crafting. Give me a variety of ways to craft (including the “fill-a-bar” method all the way up to personalized crafting to build a brand), and a rich economical infrastructure within which I can ply my trade, and I’m a happy camper.

    Comment by Tesh — 4 May, 2009 @ 2:23 PM

  16. Personalized *freestyle* crafting, that is. I’d like to have the ability to make something in the game world that nobody else can, and set myself up as a top notch craftsman, all because *I* have artistic or artisan abilities.

    Comment by Tesh — 4 May, 2009 @ 2:25 PM

  17. Nice write-up. Personally, I’m a fan of interactive crafting. I actually wrote a fairly detailed post in your other crafting thread explaining why, but basically it boils down to (1) it adds an easily-accessible element of non-combat gameplay for less bloodthirsty players, and (2) it controls the supply of crafted goods, reducing market glut and making it easier to sell crafted items at a profit.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve played EQ2, but as I recall the crafting system worked pretty well. The main problem with the mini-game is it didn’t really demand much thought or skill; it was just a matter of pressing the right button at the right time. Vanguard’s crafting system has a similar problem. I’ve only started playing Free Realms, but it looks like its crafting system may actually be pretty fun.

    It sounds like many of the people who don’t like interactive crafting prefer the marketing aspect of the game. In theory, you could use a system in which some people (mini-game players) create items and others (socializers) market and distribute them. For example, I’ve heard that Puzzle Pirates allows people to run shops and hire others to create the actual items.

    One other thing that would make crafting a lot more fun is the ability to customize items. For example, Vanguard allows crafters to add dyes or other special enhancements during the crafting process. I’ve always wondered why more games don’t do the same.

    Comment by Scott — 8 May, 2009 @ 12:48 AM

  18. Scott, aye, Puzzle Pirates offers the ability to run a shoppe or stall, playing the “market game”, and the actual crafting minigame is just the fuel that drives the shoppe. The shoppe owner can do their own labor (creating their own goods), or they can pay for other players to do it. It’s a nice system that allows market-minded players to do their thing and just min-max the spreadsheets, and crafters to play the market as skilled artisan mercenaries, working for the marketeer who offers the best wages. (Or to work for friends or crew or flag shoppes, or anything in between.) It’s a nice division of labor (built around concepts we see in real markets), allowing players to specialize in what they feel like doing, or do all of it if they so choose.

    Though it should be said that paying others to do labor is about the only way to realistically run anything larger than the smallest stall. Self-fueled large shoppes aren’t realistic, given the amount of labor necessary to generate the big ticket items or a sufficient stream of products to pay the rent on bigger shoppes. It’s a nice way to promote social interdependency without forcing the issue.

    Comment by Tesh — 11 May, 2009 @ 10:58 AM

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