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Crafty Thoughts

Recently, the EQ2 Blogger Cartel posted some interesting thoughts about crafting. Blackguard in particular pretty much nailed the various interplays between loot-centric and craft-centric systems, and how the two pressure groups tend to battle for dominance within games. My reaction to this: \’e2\’80\’9cHuh.\’e2\’80\’9d See, I\’e2\’80\’99m still thinking a bit more in terms of why than how.


Crafting should enable three basic urges:

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  • Creativity
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  • Business Development
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  • Social Whittling

– Creativity \’e2\’80\ldblquote an ideal crafting system will allow the creative player to express him/herself within the game. Second Life\’e2\’80\’99s fashion designers are a perfect example of a game designed for this, while Ultima Online\’e2\’80\’99s home decorators are a good example of emergent gameplay taking the limited tools available to them and running with them.

For example, picture a musicianship skill, which uses musical instruments \’e2\’80\ldblquote guitars. The functional part of building a guitar for this skill is fairly basic \’e2\’80\ldblquote it needs to be an object, it needs to have the \’e2\’80\’9cis an instrument\’e2\’80\’9d attribute, it needs to link to an in-game art asset that hopefully looks at least vaguely like a guitar. At this point, you have a guitar. Yet creative crafters will want to make that guitar not just \’e2\’80\’9cis an instrument\’e2\’80\’9d, but is a guitar with their own style \’e2\’80\ldblquote its own color scheme, body style, neck style, etc. The more options given to customize that model, the more valuable it will be as the crafter makes it their own. None of these options needs to actually do anything \’e2\’80\ldblquote they just need to be able to be visually distinctive. This isn\’e2\’80\’99t even limited to MMOs \’e2\’80\ldblquote one of the most popular features of Galactic Civilizations 2\’e2\’80\’99s ship building feature is the adding of chrome parts that don\’e2\’80\’99t actually do anything but look \’e2\’80\’9cspace-y\’e2\’80\’9d.

– Business Development \’e2\’80\ldblquote this is the player who looks at your system less as a creative outlet and more as an economy \’e2\’80\ldblquote one that they want to take as their own. These are the players who don\’e2\’80\’99t want to make things so much as run their own storefront. These players need the tools to buy and sell, advertise, and build a steady clientele. Eve has the best of breed tools here; with a dizzying array of commodity trading, price tracking and factory management. Star Wars Galaxies also has (or had, I\’e2\’80\’99m not sure how much the NGE ditched of this, if any) the ability for players to turn a rich player housing model into storefronts that can be almost infinitely customizable.

– Social Whittling
\’e2\’80\ldblquote sometimes you just want to do something mindless, and crafting in most games is as low stress as they come. Communities will arise around crafting centers; you\’e2\’80\’99ll see the same folks on a regular basis, compete with them in a friendly manner for the odd walk-in business, and get to know each other over whatever global chat channels exist. It\’e2\’80\’99s really hard to mess up this requirement \’e2\’80\ldblquote just, make some central location that crafters need to gather at, a channel to talk in and a few other social tools.

So, in my opinion, a competent crafting system will meet all these needs \’e2\’80\ldblquote customization/creativity, player matching/business development, and social spaces/whittling. That\’e2\’80\’99s the basic requirements.

Now, what will destroy these systems?

Killing your creativity: The Cloth Cap Infinite Horizon. Otherwise known as why use-based crafting skill advancement isn\’e2\’80\’99t a good idea. In Ultima Online, the powergaming method for increasing your tailoring skill was through the manufacture, one at a time, of the humble cloth cap. So people wanting to be tailors would make cloth caps. And since there were many tailors, and for reasons known only to Raph Koster the crafting system indexed itself based on how many people were using the skill, the skill became more difficult to raise as people used the skill. So you made more cloth caps. And more cloth caps. And more cloth caps. For some reason, NPCs would always buy your cloth caps. Somewhere, someone in Britannia had a lot of cloth caps. I\’e2\’80\’99m sure it was related to some great evil. Perhaps Mondain could be brought back, if only his minions could collect enough caps. Kind of a metaphysical redemption system.

Once you make 12 million cloth caps, do you really want to make a very special snowflake of a cloth cap? Is there really a market for one, when people are dumping cloth caps on the street because they have to make so many?

Conclusion: Use-based advancement systems suck and should be taken out back and shot.

– Killing Your Businesspeople: That Goddamn Coldain Prayer Shawl
. Otherwise known as \’e2\’80\’9cThe Quest That Destroyed Everquest\’e2\’80\’99s Crafters\’e2\’80\’9d. Because, you see, the Coldain Prayer Shawl of Velious was an item with wondrous properties, that could only be made by crafters that had mastered every crafting skill. Oh, and it was no-drop. So if you wanted this shawl \’e2\’80\ldblquote and you did \’e2\’80\ldblquote you mastered every crafting skill. Guess what! With that quest, Everquest encouraged everyone to master every crafting skill. Soon, the people who crafted for reasons other than \’e2\’80\’9cI want a Coldain Prayer Shawl\’e2\’80\’9d found that they had a lot less business, what with everyone in the game now having their own crafting skill. Whoops.

When you make your business acumen dependent on the rarity of a skill, no matter how that rarity is established (through cost of materials required for obtaining the skill, through surviving ungodly levels of tedium involved in investing the time to gain the skill, or as distressingly regularly, both) if you then turn around and offer a reward to your powergamers for gaining that rare skill, they\’e2\’80\’99ll make that skill a lot less rare, and you\’e2\’80\’99ll watch the bottom drop out of your businessmen\’e2\’80\’99s market.

Conclusion: Never, ever, ever use crafting ability benchmarks as a gating mechanism for high level rewards, unless for some reason you\’e2\’80\’99re tired of having a crafting system and want to find an excuse to get rid of it.

– Killing your Socializers: Tetris Seemed Like Such A Good Idea At The Time! Everquest 2\’e2\’80\’99s crafting system is fairly well implemented mechanically \’e2\’80\ldblquote crafters are given unique tasks, animations, and tools. The problem is that it\’e2\’80\’99s active \’e2\’80\ldblquote too active. With EQ2\’e2\’80\’99s minigames, crafters are too busy crafting to \’e2\’80\’a6 type. Which means they can\’e2\’80\’99t advertise for business, or talk to others while crafting. So crafters looking for a social aspect will find that most crafters are too busy\’e2\’80\’a6 crafting.

EQ2 has enough other things in place (desirable items that crafters can make, and the ability of crafters to advertise those sales) to keep an economy going. But it\’e2\’80\’99s a very quiet economy.

Conclusion: Many crafters don\’e2\’80\’99t want to play whack-a-mole, because it gets in the way of discussing who in your guild had the embarrassing dropped cybersex emote this week.

So right now, I haven’t seen many crafting systems that fill all of these requirements. Some come close on 2, but ditch the remaining bit. And, you’ll note, most games don’t seem to suffer that much for missing a holistic crafting system. But if we want to get back to creating worlds instead of games, enabling your players to build chunks of it themselves is a pretty good way to start down that road.