Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
A better tradeskill system

You might have noticed that doing crafting and tradeskills is often something I explore early when starting a new game. I love crafting. Unfortunately in most MMORPGs the crafting system is badly designed, and ends up being less and less used. This is because apparently game designers design tradeskill systems without even taking into account the most fundamental basics of economics. Lets have a look at what is wrong with tradeskill systems in MMORPGs, and how we could design a better system.

To see what's wrong, you first need to define what right is, what the goal of a tradeskill system is. A tradeskill system in a MMORPG has two goals: A) It gives players something else to do than just killing monsters all the time. And B) it offers an alternative way to advance your character, focused on gaining money and items instead of xp and levels.

Now this second part, offering a way to gain virtual gold and items, is often conflicting with the alternative of gaining gold and items by killing monsters. Some people argue that crafting should not be allowed to be profitable, because otherwise players would have a way to earn money without risk, offering a better reward / risk ratio than adventuring. That argument is obviously hogwash. There is no risk involved in farming mobs, the gold farmers carefully select targets that don't pose any risk for them to be killed. Especially bots are farming gold without any risk, unless they are on a PvP server in WoW where concerned players of the other faction sometimes kill them.

Risk doesn't really exist in a MMORPG, because even if you are killed, that "death" only translates into a loss of time. Time is the only real scarce resource in a MMORPG. Therefore instead of looking at reward / risk ratios, you have to look at reward / time ratios. More precisely you have to look at two reward / time ratios: The instantaneous one, how much gold you are making per hour right now, and a cumulative one, how much profit you make with one activity over the complete life of your character.

A level 1 character in a MMORPG usually starts without a single copper piece, and earns his first virtual currency by killing level 1 mobs. Killing level 1 mobs only gives very little money, but it *is* profitable. The higher the mob level, the higher the profit. Depending on the way that the game handles repair costs, you might make a loss if you die repeatedly trying to kill monsters that are too high for you. But generally there are always some mobs somewhere in the game which are extremely unlikely to ever kill you, and which you can "farm" for gold, whatever level you are. Lifetime earnings are always positive, and growing faster with time, as you level up.

Ideally a tradeskill system would work in a similar way. You start crafting the lowest possible items, and earn a few copper pieces with that. You also earn skill points, "level up" your tradeskill, and your earnings grow with time. Curiously game designers never thought of this simple system. Instead in most existing MMORPGs, crafting *costs* you money. You create items at a loss, paying more for the ingredients than what the crafted item is worth. Even if you gather the resources yourself, you still pay an "opportunity cost", because you could either have spent the same time farming mobs, or you could have sold the gathered resources instead of using them for crafting. In World of Warcraft the price of resources on the auction house is nearly always higher than the value of the items you can make with those resources, thus there are very few opportunities to buy resources, craft, and sell the product. My WoW herbalist / alchemist often gathered herbs, sold the herbs, and bought the potions he needed in spite of being able to make them himself. Making the potions myself would have destroyed value.

So if crafting loses you money, why do people craft? Well, point A) still applies, it is something else to do. And if you consider lifetime profits instead of momentary profits, at the end of the scale crafting can be profitable. At the highest skill levels, with the rarest recipes, you might be able to make good money by selling your goods to players in World of Warcraft. As I already reported, in Lord of the Rings Online you can even make money by selling to vendors if you reach a certain skill level of farming, although you lose money before that.

In most cases selling crafted goods to an NPC vendor occurs huge losses. Game developers often work based on the ideas of other game developers, from their experience of earlier games, and the silly idea that you shouldn't be able to profit by buying resources from vendors, crafting them into a product, and selling that product back to the vendor, is unfortunately very solidly established in the world of MMORPG design. But this concept is based on the flawed assumption that players will be able to get more money for their crafted goods from other players than from NPC vendors. Unfortunately this is only true for the rarest of crafted goods. The way tradeskill systems are designed, everybody skilling up needs to craft a large number of lower skill items. That tends to totally flood the market with that item, making it impossible to sell at a profit. As the immediate purpose for the crafter is not the profit, but the skill-up, he is often willing to sell his crafted good at a loss.

A better tradeskill system would be profitable from the start, just like farming mobs is profitable from the start. The trick is to make crafting just earn a handful of coppers at the lower levels, just like farming mobs at the lower levels only gives little money. Over the complete lifetime the profits from crafting should be roughly equivalent to the profits from farming easy mobs. Thus after 50 hours of crafting you should earn about the same per hour as you would after 50 hours of leveling up and killing monsters. And that profit should come from selling ordinary items to a vendor, without having to rely on other players buying the goods. Now when adventuring, if you don't just farm easy mobs, but take an extra effort, for example by finding a group and going to a dangerous dungeon, you are likely to get much better rewards. In crafting the equivalent would be a way to craft rarer items that other players would actually want to buy. That would require extra effort, for getting the recipe or gathering the resources, but would be potentially more profitable, by selling to players instead of vendors.

Once the economics of crafting is fixed, the next important point is fixing crafting as an alternative way of spending your time in the game. In very many games, from EQ1 via DAoC to WoW and LotRO, crafting consists of pressing one button and waiting for some progress bar to finish. That has a number of negative effects: First of all it is boring, especially if the progress bar is slow and you have to craft many items. For example processing a farmed plant in LotRO needs 15 seconds. But as one field can yield up to 12 plants, and you usually plant several fields before going to the workbench for processing, you might end up having to wait 15 minutes for all the plants to be processed, without any interaction from you as player. You can't move during that time, you can only chat. Needless to say that players in those situations start to go away from keyboard, read a book, or watch TV. I've even been playing WoW on my laptop to check auctions there while my LotRO character was crafting. That is obviously less than optimal.

A better tradeskill system makes crafting a more interactive process. Very simple interaction exists for example in WoW fishing or the growing of plants in LotRO. Even better interaction exists in games like A Tale in the Desert or Puzzle Pirates, where crafting is a real mini-game. EQ2 and Vanguard have crafting mini-games, with the EQ2 one being more fun than the Vanguard one. An ideal game has the crafting process being an interesting mini-game or puzzle, with your skill in the mini-game affecting either time to completion or the quality of the result. The crafting process *should* take a certain amount of time, because if you could make several items simultaneously on a single short click, you could never balance the reward / time ratio. But it would be a lot better if that time was spent interactively, instead of just having to wait. The more interactive crafting is, the less of a problem you have with people trying to "bot" crafting to make money while afk.

With crafting in WoW being relatively effortless, the limiting factor for the crafting process becomes the gathering of the resources. Different games have different resource gathering systems. Unfortunately some of these systems are unnecessarily competitive. Herb and ore nodes respawn relatively slowly, thus requiring a lot of traveling around to gather them. And the more people are looking for these nodes the further the returns of gathering are diminishing, driving up the prices. It is hard to say how this will work out in the long term in LotRO, but right now resource nodes seem relatively abundant. By far the best resource gathering system I've ever played was in Star Wars Galaxies, where resources shifted only once per week, but then you went on an interesting resource hunt, using a scanner to pinpoint the highest concentrations, and testing many different spots for the quality of the resources. Then you just had to plunk down your harvesters and come by once in a while to collect. With resource fields being relatively large, even if somebody else was faster than you to put his harvester on the highest concentration point, you still could plant yours next to his and just get a few percent less yield of the same high quality resource. Advances in computer graphics can make gathering more interesting. For example one of the good points in Vanguard was felling trees to get wood, because there was actually a falling tree animation.

Gathering can be fun, depending on the system and the scarcity of the resource nodes. So our better tradeskill system might well have resource gathering as a component for at least some of the crafts. I'm a lot less in favor of using crafting components that drop rarely from monsters. In EQ1 you gathered metal by killing the goblins that carried it, and wood by killing treants. As we defined the goal of crafting to be a different occupation than killing, a drop component beats the purpose. I'm more in favor of vendor-sold components, at least for the simple items you just make to skill up. They have the advantage that it is very easy to design crafting profits per hour, if the resources are sold by vendors, you know how long crafting takes, and the product is sold to vendors again.

Finally I would like to remove some traditional restrictions from our better tradeskill system. One restriction is often how many crafts you are allowed to have. This wouldn't be so bad if crafts didn't often depend upon each other, one craft needing components made by the other. That is supposed to get people to work together, but most players prefer crafting as a soloing activity, and hate running after others for components. Thus restrictions just lead to people making several crafting alts and spending stupid amounts of time on sending goods between them. If we design a better tradeskill system, which is interesting to play, and where the rewards get better the more time you spend in it, there is no reason not to allow players to take several crafts. Thus they could either specialize and become very good in one trade, or be more of a jack of all trades, literally. The other restriction I'd like to remove, which exists for example in WoW, but not LotRO, is the connection between your crafting skill and your adventuring level. Again it beats the purpose of an alternative to tell somebody that he has to level up to 60 to be allowed to craft pass a certain skill level.

In the end it all depends on how well all of this is implemented. When people talk for example about the great potential of Vanguard, one aspect of that is there is an obvious design idea of allowing players to advance in different activities, adventuring, crafting, and diplomacy. That is a great idea, the more alternative ways you have to spend your time in a MMORPG, the longer you will play it. But for this to work, the different systems need to be roughly equally interesting and rewarding. Given the choice between an interesting adventuring system which gives lots of rewards, and a crafting system with long wait times that is losing money, only the most diehard crafting fans will spend their time crafting. None of the existing MMORPGs is anywhere near having a really good crafting system, although several of them have sub-features of crafting that are very good. It really is time to make a game with a better tradeskill system.
I also completely *heart* tradeskilling, and have been consistently dissapointed because of the issues you raise here.

I was wondering: have you ever played one of the more tradeskill-focused titles, like SWG or A Tale in the Desert?

I'd be interested to hear what you thought of them, if you have.
Please post this in the LOTRO devs section.


So far I like the crafting system (not very advanced in my skills so far) but I see the normal tendencies from the other MMOPG: Creating alts for other professions (I am sure Turbine won't change that, they like their 3 professions in a set-idea) or creating 48 onions on a workbench while surfing the Inet for 12 minutes.

Still, my hreat hope as a crafter (and yes, I played Ultima Online ages ago) is that one day, my scrolls or my armor is truly exceptional and being sought after.

"Oh forget the Hattori Hanzo blade, get a Drugh's Edge!".
Creating alts isn't even as viable in LOTRO due to the 20% tax on sending materials, I think precisely to stop people from having mules. Maybe it's an effort to stop gold farmers, but it gets in the way of normal play.

I am confounded by people's assertions that crafts should not make money, as if it's "wrong" to use a craft rather than go out and kill mobs. What's so special about killing mobs? As long as it's about the same amount of time put into each for the same reward then why should some other player care how I spend my time? But for some reason they do, and they whine and moan to devs that I'm 'exploiting' one person said, because I'm sitting on a farm. Well, grinding mobs is also called farming for a reason - it's easy, it's just as boring, and requires just as much skill and risk. i.e. none.

So part of the problem is devs not thinking about economics, just accepting that crafting should lose money, and the other problem is jealous players thinking fighting mobs is harder than crafting (maybe in real life, but not in a game where you don't actually risk anything) whining until devs make the changes they want. I don't understand why some want to tell others how to play. They have to do this or that because it's the way they think people should play. If it's the same money/time why should they care? (and right now sweet galenas is the same money/time as a lvl 15 player, and once i can level up it will not be time efficient to farm it and i'll stop).

I'm more and more interested in A Tale in the Desert, but ... am not so interested in a game like that or Eve where crafting and economics are the main points. Just a fun game where crafting is at least viable instead of an afterthought.

All devs have to do is put a modest return so the amount of time you spend is about equal to the amount of time players farming mobs spend for the same reward, or even less of a reward, as long as that reward is positive instead of negative.
The thing is, crafting an item and *then* trying to sell it isn't very efficient. Logic dictates that, unless an item is in high demand, and thus one can expect buyers to keep buying, there's no point in making an item for other people. What makes more sense is a skill auctioning system, where buyers make requests, and crafters make propositions, in a true supply-and-demand fashion.

You don't make money by making a hundred identical spears (Unless you're supplying the Roman army...), but by supplying skills, which people, players or NPCs, adventurers or otherwise, make use of.

Ho, and that cheap orc spear you sell to that blacksmith isn't worth anything as a spear; it's only worth to melt the iron it's made of.
Tradeskill sytems are put into any game for three reasons:

1. Something else for the players to do.
2. To be a time sink.
3. To be a money/gold sink.

A "better" system would be more interesting to the players, but the principal reasons to have a trade system ingame are to take gold out of circulation and keep players paying their subscription fees.
Well written.

I think the problem is, devs think of crafting-systems as a minor part in the mob-killing/leveling-system:
You kill mobs -> gather resources (from mobs or nodes near them) -> craft items for better mob killing -> kill more mobs -> repeat.

Oh, and I don't think mini games are the solution in making crafting more interesting. Most mini games are either boring, stupid reaction tests or unfair... in all games I've played I enjoyed only the triple triad mini game in FFVIII. The rest was mostly trash. And playing "XXO" 10 times to make 10 swords gets boring after sword No. 2

Imo one step in better crafting would be to give the players more control over their products. Let's take a sword:
- choose the style of hilt and blade
- choose quality of the used resources
- choose weight
- choose specials like hooks, gravures etc.
- Add some decisions in the crafting process (reward vs. risk to loose time/resources)

Better items should take more time to craft. Your orc slaves would need a week to build a sword out of the best components, in this week you can't use the forge to craft other exceptional items, only the basics can be made.
You make some very good points Tobold and I really wish developers would think of it rather as a viable alternate path. The thought process here does not have to be all that different from the mob killing.

I also do not like the interdependency things they put in place in many games - this is the equivalent of forced grouping when it comes to killing mobs. Working together with others should be a voluntary thing that may produce something that is better than you could do on your own and provide a slightly different experience, but should not be something that is required to progress.
I will have to comment (sorry for the length) because I criticized WoW Blacksmithing rather harshly in a reply a while back.
I still think that it was a bad idea to add a third profession that depends on ore (jewel crafting). I'm also still disappointed at the relative lack of useful recipes from factions available to the Blacksmith when compared to other crafts.
But once I hit level 70 I decided to move Blacksmithing forward from the stagnation at skill 272. Buy Thorium? Not at 25g per stack as priced on my server. So I farmed Thorium, eventually settling on a path that pulled in about 25 Thorium in about 15 minutes (then wait for respawn). I won't reveal my path, but I will say that what I settled upon would not have been possible when I was level 60 pre-BC. So getting to skill 300 was not too difficult for a level 70 miner, for what it's worth. But was it worth a stack of Thorium per skill point as I neared 300? Don't ask, just do it.
Having quested to level 70 meant that I had necessary rep for the Cenarion Circle plans, and keeping up mining to 375 meant that I had plenty of ore. So last night I completed the Blacksmithing skill-up to 350. I known patterns for further skill-ups and some ore left over still, and am plotting the path to skill 375 (which may involve some instance-farming for more patterns).

So what did I get?
Actually, the Blacksmithing consumables are probably the most valuable -- the higher wards and stones. My enchanter buddies will be happy for the crafted rods.
The Armorsmithing plate 'reward' (Heavy Earthforged) is good, low mats, and a decent tanking piece. The Armorsmith plate "upgrade" is even less of a tank piece, and requires 8 Primal Might -- I'd like to get it, but even though epic I'm not sure that it will help a tank because of the PvP-leaning stats and socket colors. IMO the Armorsmithing "endgame" is of disappointingly narrow execution.
The stuff I can make as a 350 blacksmith is decent, but not really special even compared to quest rewards.
The patterns that are pretty decent are in the 360+ range are drops -- some only in specific instances. One can craft gear with high resistance (though the Blacksmith is split between Arcane-Scryer only and Fire-Aldor only?!), which will probably be useful for the serious well-prepared tank -- the mats are steep, though.

In summary, I am a tank who quested to level 70 and at 350 skill the only blacksmithing piece that I'm wearing is the Armorsmith chest. For now.
I estimate that if I attain the Felsteel set patterns from instance runs I may wear them for a time, but I wouldn't be surprised if while I farmed the pattern a better plate piece dropped off a boss.
And like the main post noted, there are few, if any, pieces I can make - even if I attain 375 - that will yield a much greater profit than just selling the raw mats.

Doeg, who's password no longer works...
I think there should be crafting quests....

For example you are a tailor. There is a "lowbie" crafting quest that asks you to hand in 50 "yellow shirts". This is the crafting version of kill 10 rats. You are rewarded with either gold or partial materials to craft a "fancy yellow shirt". This quest would have to be limited to one time through so people wouldn't abuse it for mats or gold.

I'm really getting into LotRO. I got a level 7 champion, should be capped @ 15 by the weekend. At that point i'll start crafting....I'm thinking weapon smithing? What are the other two trades tied to that?
This antipathy to profits from crafting is just a reflection of the generalized (aristocratic but now plebian)idea that profit is a dirty word. Business is evil, capitalists are greedy and buying/selling is inherently dirty. A true gentleman lives of rents or war.
To the devs the merchant/craft life is boring and unheroic and since no-one has ever liked rich merchantmen they rig the system for losses.
BTW great blog Tobold
One of the Anonymous posters already posted a shorter version of what I'm going to post... mini-games, while fun the first time, aren't necessarily the best idea. A while back, WoWInsider posted a link to an article called “Rethinking the MMO” (article here: ) One of the points he made was the same point you made... mini-games would make crafting more fun. His exact post was:

One specific application of (making things more mentally stimulating) would be creating mini-games that require players to think or react in a fun way during the crafting process and that become increasingly complex or difficult as the player advances and masters the game.

My reply, which I never got around to sending was:

There are two obvious flaws and one not so obvious flaw with this idea. First off, the idea of the quality of gear produced, either increased quality versions of certain items, or just the ability to produce high quality gear is entirely dependant on a person’s puzzle solving skill. This would create a divide between those who can solve the puzzles and those who can’t. Now, in order for this to continue to be a valid source of entertainment the puzzles would need to be semi-randomly generated (otherwise it’s only fun the first time). This means there can’t be a guide put out on how to get past them, leading to an even wider gap in the haves and have nots. Thus making the high quality gear insanely rare

Second problem is that with increased gear quality comes increased puzzle difficulty. How hard are we talking? At what point would these puzzles reach MENSA level difficulty, thus ensuring that maybe 1% of the playerbase can actually make them? With games that have no limit (as MMOs don’t), there is accordingly no limit on the end of things like crafting. With a system like this, the eventual difficulty of the gear would make them able to be monopolized and sold for ridiculous amounts because the crafter is one of the few who is smart enough to make them.

The final and not so obvious problem is… mass production. Let’s say I’m something like an alchemist. I’m able to use my crafting profession to make money, because people want what I can make (and a lot of it). Is there some method that will allow me to bypass having to do a puzzle for each crafted item? If not, then this has gone from a fun little side game, to a major grind, which is one of the things that Neil seeks to eliminate. Even if there is a way to bypass this, do I really want to do a puzzle each time I craft an item or a group of items? Seems like a lot of hassle, and I think many people would just avoid it, since it’s too much work, thus defeating the purpose of making such an innovative system.

Obviously there are some differences between your post and his comment, but the points still stand.

Also, I finally got around to making my own MMO Blog, if you want to. :D
Tobold I believe you underestimate the risk versus reward factor. Sure if you are paying moderate attention little risk is involved with farming the correct monsters in WoW. You do however either have to pay some attention or have a good programmer spend months writing a sophisticated bot program. If the WoW glider program was easy to do would be a lot more competition for its market.

On the other hand crafting in most MMORPGs does not take your attention. You can afk almost whenever you want. Don’t have to worry about a trivial grey MOB killing you because you decided to run to the store in the middle of your play session. If I want to watch TV and play at the same time I generally choose crafting over adventuring. In many MMORPGs a scripting program is easy to use to automate the process. Even in a more complicated system like EQ2 writing a bot program would take a good programmer only a few days. Just far less “variables” to have to deal with. People made huge sums in EQ by botting trade skills recipes that yielded only a few copper by selling the finished product to a vendor. They had to “nurf” every recipe to a loss.

Making crafting more interactive can help with bot crafting problem. This solution also has its problems however. One is it would take a lot more developer time to create. It is unlikely however to attract as many people as adventuring. Thus game developers choose to use development time where will get the most people. A Tail in the Desert has developed much more sophisticated crafting but its user base is tiny compared to what LotRO hopes. The best part of Horizons was its crafting system but the adventuring system was such a turn off that did not matter and the company went bankrupt. The second problem I can think of with a more interactive crafting is the more complicated it becomes the fewer people actually interested in doing it. This helps those that like the crafting but again hurts the developer best use of time issue.

I see a lot of flaws with LotRO crafting that you have not discussed yet. My guild already has a couple Master Master woodworks. If I understand correctly that means in just two weeks they have already reached the max for the profession. Crafting level limited by your adventure level, resource scarcity, and crafting dependence with limited crafts per character do have flaws but they do slow down crafting progress to a reasonable rate. You can argue are better ways to do that but they are easy ways to implement.

The other flaw with LotRo crating that you may or may not have discussed was that the easiest crafting profession to “bot” is also the one that makes money with vendor selling. This is opposite of what I think it should be. If you have to travel around the world gathering resources from nodes and drops from monsters then crafted products from that material should sell for more than selling the raw material. On the other hand if all the material can be bought from a vendor and the finished product sold back to the vendor for more then it is going to be abused with no risk simple botting 24 hours a day.
The mini-games don't have to be puzzles, there are lots of other possibilities. The EQ2 system, where you had "accidents" happen in the crafting process and needed to fix them by clicking on the correct countermeasure was already much better than the WoW/LotRO system. And everybody who understands clicking on hotkeys to fight monsters can understand clicking on hotkeys to craft.
I think one of the shining examples of a good crafting/economy system is EvE Online. Especially with the debut of invention as well as rigs, etc. You can actually craft items and ships and MAKE MONEY! Very different from WoW. The miners can still make their money by selling to builders, etc. I think that is one thing EvE got right.
I do like the idea of customization too. Because no matter what change happens, if better drops are available, crafting will never be viable. (Except for certain recipes, or ones that actually create mats - like some transmutes)

Lotro has the ability to dye armor, and making and selling dye apparently makes money. So other customizations probably would as well. Second Life is all about custimizing. I think the ability to customize armor - maybe different crafting choices, or customizing found armor, would really be interesting for crafters and customers, and actually create a market.
Professions are good and bad, from what I can tell, depending on their usage.

I chose herbalism and alchemy because a friend told me it was profitable. Turns out, it was. While some of the low-level stuff was vendored, I was actually able to use a lot of the potions and elixirs myself, and even some of the low level stuff was worth selling.

Seems that if all you want is money, then you should pick collecting professions and just sell raw materials which almost always sell. Enchanting is always a decent profession if you actually do instances, since you can DE any of the items you win (if in a group) or low level greens and blues in low level instances you can solo, if you don't have a use for items themselves.

Other professions that result in actual gear: blacksmithing and tailoring to name 2, seem like a pain to level, but you also have a chance to make blues and epics that rival gear from instance runs that you have to roll for. Some of the gear seems expensive, which it is, but then again, if you are crafting an epic weapon or armor, it should be expensive.

Profits can be made if you choose professions that are purely for profit. Mining nets you ore to sell to people who are blacksmiths or jewelcrafters. Enchanting nets you mats for other enchanters who are looking to level their enchanting. And of course my favorite, Herbalism/Alchemy duo nets you potions you can actually use while leving your character, and are at least nominally profitable at the AH.

Maybe I took the easiest professions to make money with and find useful, but I did so on purpose. The professions were there for everyone to take, so if they are having a hard time, it was your "fault".

That said, I just went and leveled my cooking from 40 to 350 in about 8 lvl 70. I did so because of the buffs that the high level food gives, and it was well worth it. Funny thing is, almost no mats were on the AH for leveling, so I had to farm them. But had the mats been on the AH, I would have easily traded gold for the mats instead of burning time killing lvl 30 turtles.

Reason: saving time is more valuable than spending a little gold. The reason the mats are on the AH for a lot of professions is because people know that others will use them only to level a profession, even though the final product may be worth less than the mats.

True, as an tailor it sucks farming cloth and spamming the lvl 11 green pants that are useless, but then again, there should be some work involved, as well as money.

Besides, if you level your profession relative to the level of your character, the items you make can be useful to yourself and marginally profitable. The mats for your profession level, should match the drops on mobs you kill for your toon level, if you level up both at the same time.

You want profit? Pick 2 gathering professions and thats it. My main in WOW is Mining/Herbalism and I have more g than I know what to do with. In 1 2hr gathering session I can make upwards of 160g+ which is more than enough gper hour to purchase whatever I want and never look back. Let other people do the leg work and spend their g on overpriced mats while you take their g (with no money sinks).

I know my top line deviates from the subject a bit, but the problem with crafting is that until mobs start dropping little to no gold and more mats, there will never be a way to make serious money. As many others have pointed out, the g/gear that drops from a mob is always superior to the crap a 185 blacksmith churns out, so why would I want to buy anything from them when I can just run Scarlet Monestary 3 times and gear up for a fraction of the cost?

Mini games should be left in the arcade as they are nothing more than a repetative, carpul tunnel inducing, click fest/time sink.(The very thought of clicking out 20 runecloth belts makes me cringe)

As long as there are crafters in MMO's there will be people like me playing: the people who sell you your mats and go straight to lunch while you spend countless g/time leveling a profession that yields you a chest piece at level 350.
This is the "design a better tradeskill system" thread, not the "exploit the money-making possibilities of a bad tradeskill system" thread. :) Of course if a tradeskill system has no effort involved in the crafting, and all the difficulty is in the gathering, you make the most money by only gathering without crafting. That doesn't make the system any less bad.
I feel compelled to mention that Dark Age of Camelot has (or had, I haven't played for 6 years) a crafting system where you can make money as you level up without selling to players.

It uses the system suggested by someone above where you get crafting quests, where they ask you to make a certain item, and if you gather mats and craft it, they buy it at a small profit. The profit increases with your level. Combining that with mini-games would go a long way to having a viable system that holds interest.

That last commenter said part of what I was going to say -- DAoC already did much of this. Right from skill level 1 you could make money doing little crafting "quests" (in quotes because they were really just consignments -- make this and take it to soandso). If you slogged through it you could get to a very high skill level (maybe maximum, it's been so long since I played I can't quite remember) *and* have a chunk of cash in the bank from profits along the way.

However, your minigame idea is terrible and I've seen lots of people gripe about the way they do it in EQ2. It is a GOOD thing that you can do crafting mindlessly in many games -- I like being able to craft and chat and look away from the screen, etc. It's mellow. With the EQ2 minigame crafting, I can't chat with anyone or I'll mess up what I am making. It was actually less fun than hunting mobs and required closer attention. Yuck.
I think the true way to balance the economy is to force vendor/buy prices on every piece of item. If you churn out a piece of equipment.. it has a set value.. and you can't bump it up, or lower it down on the AH. It takes away everything you know about economics, but it does bring into the game a certain type of forced balance.
Tobold, I'm a little surprised at this post after reading your "General Equilibrium" post about WoW. You should apply the same concepts to crafting.

For instance if crafting was profitable at every level of the game why wouldn't everybody do it? And if everyone was a crafter how would you ever sell anything? The amount of money you need to "sink" in order to level your crafting skill in most games is precisely the reason crafting can be profitable later on.

On this same point eliminating the profession restrictions on players would allow everyone to craft everything. Surely not a desirable feature if you want to make money. Furthermore, professions depending on other professions for components actually raise demand for those components and improve profitability.
It is exactly the general equilibrium which would keep everybody from crafting everything. Because even if everything crafted is profitable and everyone can make everything, that doesn't necessarily make crafting the best way to advance. What if one hour of monster killing gives more money and better items than crafting? Then the majority of players would still adventure, and only those that are willing to earn less per hour, because they prefer crafting, would do it. And if mastering and performing crafting takes a long time, crafters would still have to decide what to do, because they don't have endless amounts of time to master everything and get all the recipes.
I think I see what you are saying now. You want crafting to simply be a viable alternative to adventuring. When I think of goals for a crafting system I think of being a rich and famous crafter. The only way to achieve that would be through limiting of professions, rare recipes, and basically making crafting advancement a huge pain that nobody would want to do unless they were completely insane.
I actually think crafting should be really complicated so that only the talented few can do it.
That is how it is in the real world. Leonardos and Michelangelos arent 10 a penny for a reason, because its damn hard.

For example Puzzle Quest has a good crafting system. If you want to make the very best in game items you have to complete an incredibly difficult minigame. The minigame doesnt have to just test say IQ. It could test reaction time or memory or hand/eye coordination to make it more accessible.
you know the first problim with most game economys is the blanace between monetary values and trade values. monetary being basicly what a npc merchant would buy and sell for and trade value being what a player would buy and sell to another player for. secondly would be inflation, it happens simply cuase there is no limitations on how much a player can make in a given time. that and weather you would make more for yout time farming or crafting. as well as not limiting the amount u can sell in a given time. being able to sell mass farmed items or crafted items cuases the trade value to greatly drop below the monetary value for those items meanwhile the money you gain from too much mass farming or crafting leads to too much money and with so much money everyone will be looking to buy the good items cuaseing there trade value to greatly raise above there monetary value.
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