Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Gnomersy on better tradeskills

One of my readers, Gnomersy, took me up on my challenge to discuss a better tradeskill system. For technical reasons, and for being a bit too long for a regular comment, I'm posting his e-mail in this thread, and I'll comment it. Gnomersy writes:
Tobold issued a challenge to come up with a better trade skill system, so here is my attempt :P Similar to Tobold, I'll look at both the profitability and the crafting elements in a profession.

Turning firstly to profit, I haven't check this but I'm pretty sure that if you compare the vendor prices for ores to crafted items, you will find that the loss is small because the vendor doesn't pay much for ores. It is only when you compare AH prices for the ore that you realize the huge loss you are taking when crafting useless low level items. I don't believe increasing the amount vendors pay for crafted items is the answer because that will only drive up the AH price for ore (because now I will be willing to pay more for ore because I'm going to get more back from the vendor).

The obvious answer to this to make the crafted items valuable so players are willing buy them. In my opinion, the biggest problem is not the quality of the item but the amount you have to make. There are a number of low level green items which aren't bad for their level, but if everyone makes 20 of them to level their profession, supply will far outstrip demand (don't forget there will be dropped items as well).

One solution (which I will develop later) would be to introduce more variety in crafted items ie rather than just + stam pants, be able to craft + stam/str/agi/int/etc gloves, boots etc. That way, rather than everyone making 20 of the same pants, people can make different armor pieces with different bonuses depending on the market. Even so, if you look at the supply of items (items made in the course of leveling a profession plus dropped items and compare it to the demand (ie no. of players with an item inferior to that on offer) supply will generally be greater than demand). With a wide range of quality craftable items there is a possibility (albeit small) for a (very) patient and observant player to make a profit.

On the other side of the equation you can increase the demand. By this I don't mean more players because players will take up professions thereby increasing the supply side. The way to increase demand for crafted items would be to either make mobs drop less, create more slots to put armor (different slots for left and right boots LOL) or take away the ability to repair thereby forcing people to replace their armor. All of these would have dramatic (and possibility undesirable) impact on game play and therefore not valid options. In any event, after about level 20, the market for equipment is actually quite small. I have leveled a warlock all the way to 70 without buying any equipment from the AH except getting all the < lvl 10 greens I could get my hands on at the start. Of course my warrior would not have been able to get away with using a VC quest reward staff at level 50 but my point is that between quest rewards and dungeon there really is not be a big need to constantly go to the AH to upgrade your gear. In conclusion, I believe that there is insufficient demand for intermediate items (of non-consumable nature) for leveling a profession to be profitable.

I believe the raw materials will always be more valuable (from a gold point of view) than crafted items because the raw material will give something a crafted item will not - skill points. When you consider higher level characters power leveling a profession driving up the prices of ore, intermediate crafted items will never be able to compete. As such the only efficient way to level a crafting profession to take two gathering professions and switch over when you have buckets of money at level 70. There is nothing you could have made at the lower levels that you could not have bought (except maybe for engineering).

I don't think there is anything fundamentally wrong making profession leveling a money sink. As Tobold has previously posted, in WoW money = time. So essentially, the cost of leveling a profession can be seen as an investment/commitment of time in the hope of getting some cool rewards at the end.

I have only played WoW so I have not had any personal experience in the mini-games that Tobold refers to. However, from reading his previous posts, the mini-games can come in two formats. Those which are essentially time sinks to make it harder to bot or go afk during the crafting process. I don't particularly like the sound of this because I play WoW to kill mobs not do puzzles. Secondly, there are those mini games that link your success (with an element of randomness) at the mini game with the quality of the item. In this case there is essentially a chance that you will make a higher quality item that will sell better (because there is less supply). To me it seems like a lazy way to try to make the profession interesting and profitable (by leaving it to chance). I may be wrong, but I guess the end result would be that most people end up getting good at the mini-games and most items that are produced are of a similar value/quality anyway. Again you have an excess supply.

As Tobold identified, the other purpose to take up a profession is to craft items. I think the recent changes by Blizzard have been a step in the right direction in that there are now items worth crafting relative to effort required to make the item and loot that is available via drops (Did anyone manage to make Nightfall, the epic axe that required exalted from thorium brotherhood and a ton of mats that were MC drops?). As a tailor, the BOP side of the house is good, but won't make me any money because I can't sell them (I can sell my specialist cloths - but that's hardly an exciting).

If you look at the loot tables there are maybe 5 BOE items in tailoring that are on par with dungeon drops/rep rewards etc. These are sure money makers. To get them you have to grind until one falls into your lap or have enough money to buy one off the AH when it pops up. I don't have a problem with this system per se because getting these high level recipes should involve some effort and investment. (Maybe an epic quest where you can chose one of the recipes at the end might work as well - particularly if there are a large number of legitimately good plans to choose from). What I would like to see is more of these BOE items. Using tailoring as an example, cloth wearers have 8 slots that can be equipped with cloth gear. Broadly speaking cloth armor can be categorized as spell damage, spell crit and healing (putting aside cloaks that can be used by all classes so +AP, +RAP, tanking and other stats would also be desirable). Surely, Blizzard can come up with at least another 10 craftable items that are on par with dungeon drops. That's without even considering resistances sets. Having more variety will allow more tailors to have their own niche which will give some meaning and purpose to the profession. Apply this across all professions there will be quite a few very valuable plans around for people to find/buy/sell/trade. With enough rarity and variety in recipes, crafters will be able to distinguish themselves from other crafters with their recipes. This is a concept that Tobold has previously touched upon. The down side is that the AH will be have lots of epics (they won't be cheap if Blizzard gets mat balance right). The hardcore may be unhappy because you could deck yourself out in full epics without setting foot in a single raid. But, if an epic cost 500g each, it will still cost you about 4000g to deck yourself out. Very few people would actually go down that route - and so what if they did? With the current level of epics, having full epics is hardly god mode. If the plans were rare enough, they could be spread across a number of different craftsmen so you would still have to track them down. It is unlikely they would all be just sitting on the AH because the items would be too valuable just to make have constantly up on the AH. Most people would buy a few to round out their characters while getting most from drops. I also believe raid sets should be better to encourage raiding.

Additional thought could also be put into the mats. For tailoring at least, you essentially have to grind elementals. I'm in favor of having to get mats that only drop off dungeon bosses, so long as there is a reasonable supply (chromatic breastplate anyone?).

If the end game is about improving your character by increments, you can make it a lot more interesting by offering many different but moderately difficult ways to improve your character. I believe crafting is something that can do that - I have a crap helm that I want upgrade. I could kill boss X a few times in the hope it drops or I could kill boss Y for the mats a crafted alternative, or I could grind a bit for the money to just buy said crafted alternative. In about /played 8 hours I have a better helm one way or other. The effort would be roughly equivalent to that required to gain a level. Alternatively, I could raid and get the tiered sets. Even raiders would find the increased range of crafted epics useful - a warrior can have a tier 4/5/6 tanking set and crafted DPS set. Those who like off the beaten path talent specs will be able to itemize in a similar off the beaten path manner. You would have so much more control over how to set up your character. There might even be a chance that our toons will actually look different from each other (ok I'm reaching here :P) The 1-70 leveling curve Blizzard created is an addictive thing of beauty. If those principles can be applied to endgame character gearing, the endgame will be just as addictive.
Gnomersy correctly states that it is the AH price of ores that is so high that it makes crafting unprofitable. As I said that is a direct result of gathering requiring a lot more effort than crafting. You can simply solve that by making gathering easier (faster spawns for example) and the crafting more elaborate, requiring at least more attention, or even some skill.

I don't think that reducing the loot drops to make crafting items more profitable would go down well with the general population. Lots of people prefer looting mobs to crafting. But Gnomersy has identified the problem correctly, crafters making low-level items in large quantities just to skill up. A better solution might be a way to "practice" crafting, SWG had that if I remember correctly. You get the same skill gain from a practice item than for a real item, but you need less materials, and you don't get a useable item for sale at the end. You could get a "grey" practice item for sale to vendor instead, to balance the cost.

On the number of craftable items, Gnomersy is right on the money. This is one of the improvements in the LotRO tradeskill system over the WoW tradeskill system. For example as tailor you craft complete armor sets of the same level, and not getting first a recipe for level 5 boots, then for level 6 gloves, then for level 8 leggings, and so on. Making a complete set of 6 items gives you a better chance to sell them than making the same item 6 times for the same skill gain.

One reason why I insist to make crafting more interactive is gold farmers and bots. If crafting is both profitable and non-interactive, you can easily automate it, and just have a bot crafting stuff 24/7 to make money. The exact system how to craft could take on many different forms, but it should be about as complicated as the combat system, so that it remains accessible. Making items is only part of the equation, giving players an alternative way to spend time in their favorite virtual world might be even more important. Lots of people want to be an adventurer, but that doesn't mean that nobody should be allowed to be a full-time blacksmith. Games like Ultima Online or Star Wars Galaxies had people voluntarily choosing to become full-time crafters, setting up a shop, building up a business, and that can be as exciting and fun as killing dragons. The important point is to make different activities equally viable, to get some interesting interaction. Crafters craft equipment for adventurers, and adventurers provide them with rare recipes and looted crafting components. A world that has different types of players is a lot more interesting than a world in which everybody does the same.
Let's not forget that WoW has the enchanting profession, which allows the wilful destruction of magic items to create materials that are used for enchanting.

I wouldn't be surprised, and have some direct experience that many of the player-craftable and nearly-useless magic items that are produced by the bucket load and sold on the AH for a loss are picked up by enchanters to get their own raw materials.

Without enchanting, I imagine the market for low-quality, craftable magic items would be almost non-existant.
Agreed. When the Burning Crusade came out, and I had to skill up jewelcrafting, I had to produce lots of low-level rings and necklaces to advance my skill. But having also just created a new blood-elf with the enchanting profession, I shipped all this jewelry my mail to the new enchanter to get the materials for him to skill up.
An idea I had about a crafting change that would be more interactive, instead of recipes dropping for (as an example) Felstalker Bracers. Why not have recipes drop that are individual stats to a certain item, like "Legs +12agi" or "Chest +17str". Now don't get me confused with enchanting. This variety of stats would be used to create an item, not to modify it.

This way a crafter can "make" their own specific and varying sets of armor/weapons. Limit Green items to 2 stats and assign a value range per level. Blues would get up to 3 stats or higher lvls of 2 stats. (i.e. Green lvl 60 Pants with +17Str and +19Agi or Blue Bracers +25agi +21stam)

It might make for a tremendous amount of recipes a person would be able to learn but in the end crafters would be crafting items that would be different from any other crafter and could craft specifically for a certain type of player. Gone would be the days useless equipment being placed in the AH that people will never buy.
WoW already has a mechanic to reduce the amount of mass-produced items when you primarily want skillups: Item parts.

Engineering uses these most prominently, and the effect is very noticeable in lower levels. For example, a scope might require a metal tube, two gems and some bolts to put it all together. Because you make the tubes and the bolts as well, you get more than 1 skill point per scope.

The same principle would work with other professions as well. For example, a Blacksmith could make a pair of plain Mail boots with no stats. Next he would make a few sheets of metal, bend them to the proper shape and attach them to the boots, turning them into the finished Plate item. Depending on the type of metal used (Felsteel, Adamantium, Khorium) for the plates, the finished boots would have different stats.

The system breaks down on higher levels, though. Currently, Individual item parts stop giving skillups long before the usable items do.
But Gnomersy has identified the problem correctly, crafters making low-level items in large quantities just to skill up. A better solution might be a way to "practice" crafting, SWG had that if I remember correctly. You get the same skill gain from a practice item than for a real item, but you need less materials, and you don't get a useable item for sale at the end. You could get a "grey" practice item for sale to vendor instead, to balance the cost.

WOW (LOTRO) basically has the same. You pick the "optimal" vendor trash item which uses the least drop items (e.g. cloth for tailoring) and needs the least purchaseable components (e.g. silk thread) and start doing the same thing over and over again until it gives no more yellow or orange skillup chance. Then you run to the trainer and buy the next "throaway" item.

The problem is the own mindset: If you expect people to actually wear the items you crafted in mid-levels, you should seek out the rare and good recipes. They exist also in mid-levels but are made redundant by BoE drops from monsters which are better most of the times.

If you do it as suggested (and mostly practised) by picking gathering professions first and switching to crafting professions later, you don't bother with the in-between-stuff. You just generate large quantities of green stuff to level up.

The publisher has to choose: Better rewards from adventuring or better rewards from crafting. So far, most games did not find their balance. With WOW BC at the moment, some best highend gear which is available is crafted!

As for the idea with the generic crafting (slot + armor type + quality + stat bonus) that would still result in the same:

Marvellous Platinum Plate Headgear of the Crusader

being sought after, who would buy

Mediocre Copper Plate Headgear of the Beggar?
Well done to Gnomersky for pointing out that importance of AH prices and the impact of players who are power levelling skills flooding the market. Thinking about this has given me some ideas so here then is my two pence worth. I propose that we totally seperate the skill up process from the money making process. This could be done by having two types of recipe: Practice items give you skill points but the result has no commercial value. Saleable items have intrinsic value and can be sold but DO NOT GIVE ANY SKILL INCREASE. It will still take time and money to skill up a profession but once you achieve certain levels of proficiency you will be able to craft saleable items. The value of these items will be protected because there is no incentive for a power levleller to flood the market with the products of skilling up. As long as the products are genuinely useful items normal market forces should result in a market price for the end product that is somehat above the cost of the raw materials. If the sale price falls below the cost of the materials nobody will make those items (because there is no skill up reward for doing so) and the price should rise.
I was slow to post and I now realise that my point overlaps somewhat with the contribution of others but the key difference I propose is that saleable items should give no skill increase whatsoever.
I came up with another refinement while I was writing this up in my blog:

"As a further refinement I think that the ingredients for practise items should be decoupled from the ingredients for saleable items. This should help to lower the market price of ingredients for saleable products which in turn will lower the selling price and encourage a greater volume of sales. Even if this is not done I would still expect selling prices to be higher than ingredient prices but high ingredient prices resulting in high selling prices will result in lower total sales and less overall participation in the market."
sorry if i missed it, but what i miss in most tradingskills is the raw ingredient difference. (SWG example coming up)

i keep it to mining, but ofcourse it will work for other things as well.
this is a bit simplified, since i lack a bit of time but hey ;).

1. mining ore with a default mining-pick will get you ore of quality 50%
2. melting ore with a default forge will not improve the bar, so you get a quaility of 50%
3. making a axe with a default anvil will deliver a default axe.

if your skill is higher your quality will increase somewhat, but if you do you will get better results, and you can make for example better mining picks, will increase the quality of ores again.

for green items and such you will get a "random" bonus stats, where average quality will be ofcourse worse than a high quaility.
a bandwith of stats (minimum stats/maximum stats)

with a rather basic formula you have a many different products to make and where people actually can make an effort to be good in a profession.

(side note: worst thing wow is, and lotro also is multiple professions. that so ruins a proper market)

now you even might to think of creating a somewhat random in a week of the basic quality of nodes in the zone)
and where you have to use a prospecting-device made by engies to know if it's worthwile to actually mine that week.

as you can see this will provide in good,bad,average and everything in between blacksmiths, miners, heck even engineers. with good ore and good equipment you make the best items and with crap ore and crap equipment you make crap items.
might i add that i think that the tradeskill-model of wow is purely a money-sink for blizzard since the game is evolved around the loot system. in tbc they made it slighlty better to give the bs/lw/... their own personal uber-epix so they don't think it's a completely waste of time.

as long as mobs drop money and epic items tradeskills are just not worth it really. (example TF is the only one that actually is a proper tradeskill item where you have to "farm" mobs to get a single ingredient.
Interesting point, teo. I certainly enjoyed hunting for high-end resources and trying to craft them into high-end products in SWG. But I did see the downsides too. One is that the system is necessarily relatively complicated, with resources and crafted items having lots of stats. That is nice for nerds like me, but a bit too much for the average WoW player.

The other disadvantage is that as soon as there are high-quality items available from a few crafters, everybody just producing average quality items is out of business. The more different quality levels there are, the more difficult it is to remain on the top. Somebody mentioned that in MMORPGs you need to make the item first, and then find somebody to buy it, you can rarely work to order. So making an item just to find that somebody else made a slightly better one and you fail to sell yours is annoying.
One idea that occurred to me while reading Gnomersy's piece was: why not make all professions a bit like enchanting?

Suppose that a blacksmith could take a crafted item and break it down for parts? And further suppose that this might result in skill points, as he 'learns' about the make-up of the item.

Example: blacksmithing item takes 12 iron bars to make. Blacksmith makes it, gets a skill point. Breaks it down, gets another skill point and 4 of the iron bars back.

This would have the interesting effect of removing a *ton* of the excess low and mid-level greens from the AH, making the rest more valuable -- impacting the supply-side of the equation severely. It would have a moderate effect on the price of mats. Skilling up would still take materials, but you might cut your overall requirements for base components by 25%-50%, say. It would somewhat stimulate the demand side as well, as suddenly someone besides (dis)enchanters would have a use for 'of the Whale', etc.

I leave it as a mental exercise (for myself, later, if no one else) if there is merit in the break-down including the rarer components, or only the basic (metals, leather) ones -- or maybe a random chance of that.

Just a notion...
Make craftable recipes at every skill level that are consumable. Example: a blacksmith crafts a pair of boots that come with a 5% movement speed increase, the catch is, you can not repair these boots. They will last until they are worn out. Consumable, kinda like a pot. They could also put 2 types of mats in the game, regular and BOP. BOP mats could come from "work orders" similiar to Vanguard. BOP could also come from dismantling an item. Imaging a purple being dismantled by a master blacksmith. After dismantling an item, they would receive BOP mats and a chance to learn how to CRAFT the purple item. The catch is, the mats that are needed to craft the item only come from other purple items that would need to be dismantled, and would be BOP(similiar to enchanting). Certain Items would not be able to be dismantled. Certain items would need a multi-part process to complete, a blacksmith, a jewelcrafter, and an enchanter in order to finish the item. Another idea: players could create "work orders" for consumable items and give them to an NPC. The NPC's could hand out the work orders to crafters, who could take them on in order to skill up.
I've actually thought quite a bit about this, and have come up with a few ideas that might be worth kicking around.

1) Add mini-games, but have them be optional. You can just push the button and get the item, but if you play the mini-game well you accumulate bonuses that can go towards a better item, using fewer materials or getting more skill points.

2) Have people learn "generic" recipes that can then be customized. Like, you go to the trainer and learn to craft "one-handed sword". Then when you go to make it, you have a set number of points that you can allocate to add stats or special qualities. And if you add special materials, they add points--a chunk of fire elemental adds points towards doing fire damage, a vial of magic water makes it easier to add fire resistance, whatever.

3) Make it so crafted items have qualities drops don't, and vice-versa. So drops have stats, but crafted items have attack power or resistances.
An idea is to allow some crafters to make cheaper repairs to armor, either directly or through saleable patch kits.

For example, cloth armor would be repaired by tailors, leather by leatherworkers, mail and plate by blacksmiths.
I forgot to add that the repairs and patch kits would give skill points and cost very little.
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