Crafting

This post is a continuation of a series of posts I’m running on MMO mechanics.  The good, the bad, what could be done better.  The first post in the series on MMO Economies is here.  Next up is loot, which can be found here.  Now, on to Crafting.

So let’s get this out of the way first.  Are you crafting, or are you collecting?

Crafting in most MMO’s (and non MMO video games too), isn’t so much about making anything, as it’s a resource collection and conversion game.  Hunt for stuffs.  Get stuffs.  Hit a button and “make” other stuffs from that stuffs.  Rinse and repeat until you have all your stuffs.

Not shown: The ridiculous waste of time you spent crafting this useless potion.

Not shown: The ridiculous waste of time you spent crafting this useless potion.

True crafting is about making things.  Furniture, wood-carvings, cross-stitch, houses, stories.  Crafting as a collection mini-game is a sham, and that it makes up most of the content that games devote to “crafting” illustrates just how poorly and unsatisfying most crafting mechanics are.

Making things.  This is the draw, and allowing people to make things is the brass ring.  It’s what you really want to shoot for.  But how to do so?

Minecraft is the obvious example as it and it’s clones represent one of the few ways to actually make stuff in a video game that has proven popular and sustaining.  Daybreak Studios is hard at work with their Minecraft clone, Landmark.  They’re trying to piggy back their next MMO launch off of this world building tool, but the audience cross-over between a world building game and an MMO doesn’t seem to be as huge as some might have hoped.  Given that the experiences between the two games are so dis-similar, I can’t see the MMO audience diving as deeply as they might need to in a world-building tool set to get what they really want.  Just as I can’t see world builders devoting much time to anything other than their craft.

It’s worth noting though that both communities have existed in MMO’s to various degrees in the past, and just because the match up may not be ideal, it doesn’t mean it can’t work.  There are ways to do making things in an MMO that can be gratifying for an MMO audience.  You don’t just HAVE to rely on the collection mini-games.

Setting up homes is one obvious and well known feature for MMO players that can act as a gateway to crafting.  It’s actually a staple of the MMO genre, for better or worse, and the smaller scale required to set up a home may be the key that makes it more palatable for an MMO audience (though that’s hardly proven).  Sadly, the concept is still executed poorly on a regular basis.  By over-stylizing their base plots and placable items, Wildstar’s house crafting system was awful.  It was unsuitable as a building tool, and became little more than doll dress up for any character that purchased one.  WoW’s garrison feature also failed to hit the right spot for this niche.  But other games have done better.  The best ones I’ve seen are the games that produce enough variety of building materials, that inventive builders can make use of them to do unconventional things.  Book cases flipped around to make wall paneling.  Light fixtures as glowing stairs.  The more items you have, the more inventive your player base becomes.

Avatar customization is another area that is less obvious but also provides some interesting options for making things.  And I don’t mean picking from a list of options with this idea either.  Most character creators are awful.  A handful of choices for face, hair, build, etc.  Why not make an open source texture or 3d editor for your game and allow people the option to make their own costume pieces, or even extend it further and let them make their own weapons and armor?  The best pieces can be submitted to developers as options to go into the game, and you end up with a crafting community that’s making content for your game that most development teams never seem to find the time for.  Some would say this is unpaid development work, but there are ways to compensate players for their time if they get a winning entry, if you chose to go this route.  It also gives those players a tactile relationship with the game world.  Something they made that they can actually see, and show others.  But this would require an editor that was easy to use or easy to learn, or perhaps both.  And the barriers to entry for this might be too high.  Still though, if an MMO could pull this off, you’d have a potential endless stream of new costume pieces for avatars for as long as you encouraged the community to make them.

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Once you’re making your own characters, the next step up is to make your own stories.  Neverwinter has a player-created content system called the Foundry.  City of Heroes had Architect Entertainment (eventually you’ll realize that every post I ever write is secretly a City of Heroes post).  Both of these systems allowed players to create their own quests/stories for play.  While significant investment in systems such as these is required to even make them functional, let alone the resources needed to deal with the griefing/exploitation issues, they can add a layer of depth to your crafting system that your players can use to create their own form of emergent play in your game.

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Coming back around to collecting as crafting, it occurs to me that I may have come off above as advocating against it.  Not so.  There are important things that collecting as crafting can give to your player base, but some rules should be followed.  First and foremost, you can’t split your loot system and your crafting system and expect that to not splinter your economy in the game.  You either end up with players who ignore your crafted gear completely or prioritize it over loot drops.  Your crafted loot must follow the same rules for your dropped loot. If not, then solid rules need to be in place to prevent one from over-shadowing the other.  One of the best examples I saw of this was a game where bought or dropped loot all had great stats on a single attribute for the given item.  A similar item made with crafted materials would often have really good numbers in the same stat, but not quite as good as a dropped weapon.  Instead, the crafted item had a random bonus to an additional stat that dropped loot didn’t provide.  It was this trade off that I thought was very clever and well done for all the dropped/crafted loot in the game.  Another option, make all loot craftable.  Even the rare drops.  Just make them hard to craft.

However, no matter what rules you have in place for crafted loot, it’s still not as important as the ability to use this collection-as-crafting system for gifting.

Yaaay!  Presents!

Yaaay! Presents!

This is the kind of thing where collection as crafting systems can really shine.  After all, I can’t build a virtual house, or work in a 3d editor, and I’m probably a terrible writer too, but I can grind out 20 gears to make a shiny toy for a friend.  Or a costume token.  Or a temporary buff.  I like the idea of being able to make stuff and give it to others.  That there’s no such thing as a gifting economy is something I think most MMO’s have missed out on over the years, especially in light of the fact that gifting was never emergent behavior.  Game developers planned for some element of gifting when they developed these systems.  That this behavior isn’t encouraged and rewarded/enhanced is something that I think many crafting systems miss and something that could be wildly successful if encouraged properly.  Everyone appreciates the time and effort that goes into a gift.  This is behavior that collection-as-crafting systems were made for and should be leveraging.

What else can you make in an MMO?

Crafting and crafters will always be a minority population in any MMO.  You don’t come to one because it’s also got a Home Depot inside of it.  But more people might stick around if more attention was paid to all the ways that people could use your game’s crafting systems for emergent game play.  Even without emergent gameplay though, having something you craft show up for others to see and appreciate is a worthy use of the time to build these systems.  Hopefully, we’ll get better crafting as time goes on.

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