All too many MMORPGs are quick to list crafting and gathering as a key feature, when it’s really little more than an afterthought. Weaponsmithing, armorsmithing, alchemy, fletcher, engineering, cabinet making, pottery, flower picking, ant farming, whatever. These crafting (and gathering) skills are rarely used for more than a stopgap in equipment, some quirky fun items, or for a handful of actually useful consumables. They are secondary minigame for players to indulge in but can almost always be safely ignored. Even more rare is the MMORPG that allows crafting players to devote their entire character to the role. Ultimately, crafting vastly underwhelms players for a variety of reasons.
It’s pretty rare that MMOs integrate crafting so that in order to wear the best equipment, interaction with crafting in some manner is necessary. The problem is that people going out to instanced dungeons or questing expect top tier loot. Even most crafting MMOs cater more towards the adventuring type than those who “stay at home” to build something. And it’s understandable that developers appeal to these types. We as MMO players want the instant gratification of improving our character’s equipment when we successfully dismantle a dungeon’s inhabitants. There’s a few solutions I can think of where crafting can take center stage without ruining the fun of rare and exotic drops. And it would be good for the community as well, something that’s become sorely lacking in recent MMORPG releases.
Here are some thoughts on what developers could do to change the typical MMO anti-crafting mold.
1. Instead of top tier gear as equipment, players receive top tier crafting materials. This gets us away from the bind on equip/pickup in MMORPGs. It encourages players to interact, through the auction house if nothing else. But for the most rare materials to craft the most rare weapons and armor, adventurers would seek out a crafter. That rare piece of adamantium requires a master blacksmith to fully utilize, and that blacksmith might be willing to lower his price to work with such a rare specimen.
Crafting types will also be free in this instance to play a pure crafting role. Adventurers can now provide crafters with rare materials to make their fancy equipment. The crafter buys the raw goods for a price, produces the improved equipment for the masses, and then sells it for some level of profit. It would simulate adventurers risking their lives for smiths and enchanters, who would be compensated fairly. A real economy then develops as players settle into their roles of supply and demand.
2. To maximize gear, crafters are needed to perform upgrades or customize equipment. This allows adventurers to still have their fun in finding fancy loot. They will need to seek out crafters directly rather than playing an auction house game, but I’m a fan of increased interaction in multiplayer games. Certain crafters could be skilled at different types of upgrades or customization. For example, perhaps one path for enhancing equipment is devoted to survivability. That player could add hit points or defense to weapons and armor that players discover. Perhaps the stats people look for is the ability for items to be customized in certain ways, rather than having the stats inherently. The big downside is it might be a pain to find someone to maximize an adventurer’s gear every time new loot drops.
I suppose one solution is that players could sell enhancement kits on the auction house. But where do the resources come from to create these? In that case, I think we end up back with how MMORPGs currently handle things. Crafting would become a secondary profession because there’s not enough of a focus on integrating crafting with the economy that it could stand alone.
3. Equipment degrades over time, but adventurers can find enhancements which can be swapped between equipment. This is sort of a twist on the above two ideas. First, equipment degrades meaning that crafters will also be needed to outfit players. Players could potentially repair weapons and armor, but the durability would still degrade over time. This means that equipment is less special. Otherwise people would get pretty testy over what would feel like “renting” items. That’s not to say that all crafted equipment will be created equally. Rare resources that adventurers could seek out for smiths could still play a part (such as in suggestion #1). However, enhancements that players find would fulfill the primary desire for “phat loot”.
These enhancements could be something like runes that can be swapped between weapons and armor at will. They would have no degradation and would comprise a large portion of the strength of equipment. With these runes, even more customization options are opened up as more than just the base weapon/armor must be taken into account. I think this is probably my favorite option as it builds a healthy dynamic economy where players must interact to optimize results. But while crafting becomes a central cog in the economic engine here, adventuring still has it’s place to reward dungeon delving.
More Than Gear
So far all of the examples I’ve listed deal with equipment – weapons and armor. I think that’s the biggest problem that needs to be fixed with crafting. However, consumables like scrolls and potions need their place too. This is a bit simpler though as I feel there’s no reason not to make them crafted only. Most MMORPGs sell potions or offer them as quest rewards. There’s little reason to interact with others in the case. In my opinion, alchemy and the like should be handled by players and not the game.
Crafting creates community, something that I feel is being stripped away from MMOs piece by piece. We keep moving towards a solo oriented world, and I find that not healthy. We need more interaction with people and creating a living, breathing economy is one means towards that end. Yes, this forces interaction between players. Yes, this makes us reliant on others. But symbiosis is a beautiful thing. It’s not something we should be afraid of. On the contrary, it’s something that we should embrace.
Crafting should take center stage instead of being the afterthought it currently is.