Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Comparing crafting systems

A reader asked me to compare the crafting systems of EQ2 and LotRO two weeks ago. I haven't gotten around to answering that yet, because I was still exploring the EQ2 system some more. But now I'll compare, and I'll throw in the crafting systems of other games like World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies, or Pirates of the Burning Sea (as far as announced). By casting the net a bit wider, I hope to arrive at a more fundamental understanding of crafting systems and the player economy.

To understand crafting systems, one must first understand that every "value" in a MMORPG boils down to a time investment. If you can get equipment by either doing quests or by crafting, it is important to balance the respective time investments. Thus a system where getting resources was trivial and fast, and then crafting the resources into an item of any level was fast wouldn't be viable, because then getting crafted items would be far too easy in comparison to getting them by adventuring. Either resource gathering, or the crafting process itself, or both, need to require some time and effort.

In Lord of the Rings Online, as well as World of Warcraft, the part requiring time and effort is the resource gathering. The crafting just involves choosing the recipe and clicking on a button to craft one item, or even several items. If you have the resources in WoW, you can go from zero to maximum skill in a craft with less than 375 clicks in about one hour. With crafting being so fast and easy, lots of people master a craft. But the added value of crafting is low, often even negative, with resources costing more than the item crafted with it. Earning money in such a system usually means forgetting about crafting, and rather concentrating on the resource gathering part. The only way to become valued as a master crafter is to find extremely rare recipes, but in WoW these drop from epic and raid mobs. So becoming a master crafter means being a guild crafter, and is related to your adventuring progress. In Lord of the Rings Online the rare recipes are random world drops, thus available at a high price in the auction house. But then you still need to kill some rare epic monster for a body part used in the recipe. And the rare recipes are single use only, which makes crafting such stuff prohibitively expensive.

In Everquest 2 the gathering works pretty much the same as in WoW or LotRO. But in direct comparison resource nodes are relatively frequent in EQ2. Each resource node has a small chance of giving a valuable rare resource, which is worth a decent amount of money. With people gathering resources to earn money on the rare stuff, the common resources often end up at very low prices in the auction house, and are easily available for anyone wishing to skill up his crafting. But in this case it is the crafting itself which requires time and effort. Crafting in EQ2 is a mini-game, where every couple of seconds you get a random result adding or substracting from your durability and progress. Progress is usually increasing, durability usually decreasing, so an average result would be +50 progress, -10 durability. But you have skills which you can use to modify the result, for example adding durability at the cost of progress, or using power (mana) to increase durability or progress, or reducing your success chance while increasing durability or progress. Plus there are random events, which you need to "counter" by using the skill with the same symbol. The whole process takes at least 1 minute, sometimes as much as 2 if you are trying to get a difficult item in pristine quality. Crafting items earns you crafting xp, which leads to you leveling up in your chosen craft, independent from your adventuring level.

The advantages of the Everquest 2 system are many. While gathering still depends somewhat on your adventuring level (higher level resources are in zones with higher level monsters), your crafting level itself is totally independent from your adventuring level. Thus as long as you can find cheap resources in the auction house, and are willing to spend a lot of time on a workbench, you can master a craft without reaching a high adventuring level. And as not everybody enjoys spending so much time in crafting, master crafters are much rarer than in World of Warcraft. Making a profit by buying resources and crafting them into some item is possible in EQ2. You can even earn status points for yourself and your guild by doing crafting quests, so-called work orders. Crafting is an alternative occupation and even career to adventuring.

But while the EQ2 is good, it isn't the only possible solution. All the systems presented up to now are based on time spent in game. Now we move to systems based on real time. Earliest example of that is Star Wars Galaxies, where harvesting was based on real time. Once a week all the resources changed, and you had to go out and survey the lands to find good resource spots. Then you planted a harvester there, and started gathering resources in real time. Whether you were online or offline, your harvester would gather the same amount of resources per day. Even crafting could be automated in the same way, by creating your own recipe and feeding it and the resources into a factory, which spit out a certain number of items per real time day. As far as we know about Pirates of the Burning Sea, the crafting system works in a similar way. You have a limited number of structures, and these either gather a specific amount of raw materials per day, or they craft raw materials into intermediate and finished goods in real time. The advantage of real time systems is that they are extremely friendly for casual gamers. You could imagine logging on only for half an hour once per day, collect the stuff your production units made while you were offline, put it up for sale, and log off again. The disadvantage of that system is that even if you want to invest more time in crafting, you can't. SWG solved that reasonably well by forcing you to move your harvesters frequently, and by encouraging you to craft stuff by hand instead of in a factory. The big advantage of SWG was that resources in that game had stats, and the stats of the resources were reflected in the stats of the item you produced. Thus looking for the very best resources to make the very best armor or weapon, plus the possibilities for experimentation in the crafting process, made crafting fun enough. The real time component just prevented you from flooding the market too much. We don't know yet how the economy of PotBS will work, apparently the idea is that gathering resources and crafting goods is less important, but transporting them by ship all over the Caribbean is more important. The player economy is not so much a crafting game, but rather a trading game.

I can't possible finish a comparative crafting system review without mentioning ATITD. In A Tale in the Desert every good in the economy has a unique process of gathering or crafting. Gathering wood does not work the same as gathering flax. Creating pottery is different from creating an axe. Some processes are simple, others are very complicated games, in which the skill of the player in playing a mini-game determines the quality of the output. Much fun, only that the adventuring part of the game is totally missing, which explains the limited success of this game. No monsters to kill, no weapons nor armor to wear, just production chains and competition in the form of "tests". As much as I love crafting, a pure crafting game is too boring even for me.

If you change from one MMORPG to another one, chances are that the combat system of both games are rather similar. WoW, EQ2, LotRO, and many other games have the same sort of auto-combat with hotkeys for spells and abilities. But crafting is very much different in each of these games and hasn't solidified into a gold standard yet. There is still much room for improvement and even more variety. The only cloud on the horizon is LotRO having more or less copied the WoW system, with my nightmare being that many future games will just do the same. While the WoW system is arguably the easiest, it also has the least depth, and the possibilities to pursue crafting as alternative occupation or career are far too limited. I sure hope that better game design prevails, and not everybody just clones the stupid one-click-crafting system. I'd love to see a system combing the real-time SWG resource gathering and resource stats system with the Everquest 2 crafting system or a similar mini-game based crafting.
Nice comparison Tobold. I would love to see EVE added into the comparison. I don't know EVE well myself but I have heard that some people specialise in Mining while others act as ship builders. This would seem to imply that resources and crafting both have value in EVE.
EVE mining happens in real time. You outfit your ship with mining lasers instead of normal weapons - or get a high-end dedicated strip-mining ship - and sit there raping the ore off asteroids, while a friend in a hauling ship shuttles your ore back and forth to a friendly space station, and another friend in a warship keeps the NPC pirates at bay. You only need to click once every minute or two to move ore from your hold to temporary cargo pods, plus retarget on new asteroids as your current victim gets exhausted.

EVE production happens offline. You buy a blueprint, rent factory space at a station, feed in the blueprint and raw materials, and come back some time later to get your output. The production game is one of logistics and of investment: standard blueprints are pretty inefficient, and you can rent lab time to improve the efficiencies (both material & time) of your blueprints, or make temporary copies of high-value BPs to sell on the market. Research labs of this kind are in terribly short supply, and in safe space typically have a 2-3 week backlog.

The profit in production mostly comes from the fact that minerals are distributed unevenly through the galaxy, and the market is fragmented - you can get skills to let you trade in stations other than the one you're in, but you can't ever access, or even see in-game statistics for, more than about 1/20th of the galaxy at a time.
For all the bad about SWG and how it's been handled, it's crafting system was the best out of what I've seen in MMOs so far. It still wasn't perfect, but there was a lot more to it with the resource shifting and it was actually enjoyable to try and get better at it.
I think WoW crafting was as bad as you make it out to be back in pre-TBC days, but with all the improvements since TBC came out, it is much better. BoP recipes have reduced ninja-looting and the ability of people to just spend gold on buying recipes in the AH. Having BoP craftable items that are competitive with raiding drops and enchants that can only be cast on yourself means crafting has gained much in the area of value to the WoW crafter.

> And as not everybody enjoys spending so much time in crafting, master crafters are much rarer than in World of Warcraft.

So, because the EQ2 crafting system is slower and more boring than the WoW system, this makes it better??
Wow, defensive! Tobold is just saying they are different, and that one results in fewer crafters than the other -- which is true. In EQ2 you can be a master crafter without ever adventuring, impossible in WoW. Neither is better, they are just different. Both are significantly easier than EQ1s, which I hated with a passion. I was a master tailor in WoW and a master jeweler in EQ2 -- seen them both... and they are neither better nor worse, just different.

Except that it is possible to make a good income crafting in EQ2; in WoW, I never made enough crafting to pay for the effort of leveling up that far. In EQ2, I usually can make a plat or two crafting common jewelry each day. (Yes, there is a market for common stuff in EQ2, but like anything, you have to understand your market, target opportunities and anticipate needs...)
Solid, I love WoW but the system isn't "much better" at all. The world epic pattern drops are pretty much garbage. The good pattern drops are inside SSC, TK, BT, etc. Not only that, but key materials to craft those items also drop only inside those instances (Nether Vortexes, Hearts of Darkness) which means that for the truly epic craftable items you do need to be a guild crafter in order to complete them and if your guild isn't in those instances then you're paying top dollar to have one crafted.

The only exception to this rule was the excellent tailoring patterns (Frozen Shadoweave and the like) available at TBC launch. Those items were so good though they helped to highlight exactly how bad all of the other crafting professions had it.
One thing about EQ2's system which blows, and I've seen many other folks complain about it: it's too damn intense. Crafting in other games is something relaxing you can do when not adventuring (or possibly instead of adventuring) while hanging out in town and chatting. Not in EQ2!

You're stuck in an instanced basement away from the world and glued to the monitor and hotkeys. Good luck carrying on a chat conversation if you're serious about skilling up or making good items. I get that they wanted to make crafting "like adventuring" but if I wanted to adventure, I'd go kill stuff!
If a game made one end of crafting (harvesting) easy and quick while the other end (production) was difficult and time-consuming, then different types of players could augment each other's gameplay.

Designing such a system would be tricky, for sure, but it seems a necessary step in the evolution of MMOs. Real-life communities succeed by allowing different interests and styles to come together for communal goals (which are usually inseparable, to an extent, from personal goals). By mimicking that sort of structure, instead of trying to make every gameplay avenue appealing to any one person, MMOs would have stronger communities and less strain on individual systems.
With all the comparing of crafting system, I feel obligated to note that Vanguard has a very good crafting system, solving almost all problems I ever had with crafting.

Not only can you craft your way up to the highest level without ever leaving the first village, it also has a small minigame associated with it, making it more fun and making almost all crafting tries different. Depending on your performance, you might get some bonuses on the result or not.
Tipa wrote:
> Wow, defensive! Tobold is just saying they are different

No, he's definitly saying EQ2 is better: "The advantages of the Everquest 2 system are many... While the WoW system is arguably the easiest, it also has the least depth... stupid one-click-crafting system"

I'm not a blind fanboy, WoW crafting can definitly be improved. But I wouldn't go as far as calling it "stupid".

Albatross wrote:
> Solid, I love WoW but the system isn't "much better" at all...

I meant, "much better than before", not "much better than [some other MMORPG]" :)
There is a nice article up at World IV that explains very well the problem of the WoW / LotRO crafting system: The Great Value Inversion. Because the one-click-crafting is so easy, and gives you skill-points, while the gathering process takes time and effort, the raw materials are worth more than the product you make with it. Sorry if I call that stupid, but I think any economist would agree that something is wrong with such a system.

So, because the EQ2 crafting system is slower and more boring than the WoW system, this makes it better??

Who said it was more boring? You don't just sit there and wait 2 minutes for the item to be created, you are actively engaged in a mini-game of pressing the right buttons at the right time. The crafting system of EQ2 is not more nor less boring than the combat system. It is the crafting process in WoW that is boring, you just don't notice it much because it is over so fast.
there is no need for crafting in a loot-item-based mmorpg. look at swg, the crafting IS necessary to get the best armour, because you only loot raw materials and some money if you are lucky.
in wow you get too much money by just doing quests hence obsoleting your own need to craft, not to mention loot-gear > crafted-gear.

that's why you have a strange economy in wow/lotro, since everyone can sell below the costs, since they get the profit from doing quests.

and tbh, it's just daft that wow/lotro you can do multiple professions and be a warrior as well and mutliple toons. that way everyone could be self-sufficient without the need of others. so you don't have a proper offer/demand market.
Who said it was more boring? You don't just sit there and wait 2 minutes for the item to be created, you are actively engaged in a mini-game of pressing the right buttons at the right time. The crafting system of EQ2 is not more nor less boring than the combat system.

I guess I will say so [sort of] :)

Though it needs to be said, that the last I've seen of EQ2 crafting has been about one year ago. But your description is exactly as it was -- though it is entirely possible that they have tweaked details and made it much more enjoyable.

I'd love to hear about positive changes in EQ2 crafting, so I'll outline below the problems of EQ2 crafting as of one year ago -- and hopefully someone will tell me how much better it is now :)

Basically my beef with EQ2 crafting [as it was ~1 year ago] is that I quickly found out that just by spamming three different crafting skills [I think you needed lvl 10 crafting to get skills that boost durability?] I could get pristine result nearly every time (I'd definitely estimate success rate at 90+% -- which is more than good enough for "leveling"). The next logical step was to automate the entire process using in-game UI customization features (yes, it was possible back then, I've done it).

The problem obviously was in crafting "tuning" -- all those events that you are supposed to react to carried so little effect on the end result as to make it entirely possible to render them meaningless with the "clever" playing.

The other problem was that you *had* to hit skill buttons even if no events happened -- or you wouldn't get pristine result [if I recall correctly] -- meaning that you had to button mash anyway -- and if you had to button mash anyway it was a logical next step [for me] to reduce the whole excercise to just button mashing.

And the last problem was that leveling crafting required silly [imo] amount of repeatedly crafting the same item -- last I played happened soon after crafting revamp where they eliminated subcombines [and subsequently bonus crafting xp for crafting item for the fist time became substantially less].

All in all the process was wholly un-enjoyable.
"Boring", IMO, is entirely relative.

Kinda goes back to the difference between that very first "Kill 10 Foozles" quest; interesting enough to be a hook into the game. After a while some people get tired of killing Foozles. But different people are driven by different things. When you're killing endgame Foozles for bleeding-edge crafting mats, you may be bored to tears, or you may be so excited that you're about to finally craft that cool epic that downing a Foozle and looting is a rush of anticipation.

Wow crafting is, IMO, quite uneven. Jewelcrafting seems to have improved on previous crafts, but they were not equal even before TBC. TBC did introduce a few new twists, such as discoveries for Alchemists. For instance, my Blacksmith is pretty much reduced to making high-end enchanting rods and sharpening stones for friends and guildies, while my Tailor put herself into a quite nice epic set.

I just look at crafting in WoW as another advancement tool, and use it to my advantage as best I can. I can make some modest amount of coin if I need to, and craft beneficial gear in some cases too. I just weave it into the fabric of the experience and move on.
LoTR crafting has one benefit over any other crafting I've seen thus far, and I've done it in every game - if you level up the crafting in concurrance with your level, you will make items that are immediately useful to you.

If you're killing stuff that drops light hides, and getting exp, if you tailor that light hide drop into armor, chances are it will be good for your level. Rare crafting/one shot crafting items are equal to a challenging quest reward. The mastery "fill the anvil" thing is a love/hate item for me. I go from hating it to loving it constantly.
That 'fill the anvil' thing in LotRO is great until you understand that it prevents you from further advancement while also requiring you to grind grind grind. The first three tiers weren't too bad. The fourth was a killer.

I don't mind crafting in EQ2. If you do react to the crafting events, you sometimes get an instant pristine item or (very rarely) a rare crafting component. Usually, as was said, you get a pristine item without trying too hard if you just button mash.

If you're just grinding, though, the crafting quests give you money, tradeskill experience (additional to the experience gained by the crafting itself), guild status and personal status.

When we were leveling my old guild, I decided to do my time in front of the jeweler's bench. The guild dinged several times while I leveled my jewelery making skill, and I made a decent amount of coin and a lot of personal status from the effort, which I put both toward the purchase of a nightmare steed.
I have a blog post I'm saving for when my trial period is done to post, but filling the anvil seems to reduce many to begging to do combines. Me, I've actually lucked into a few "need hides boiled, pst if you can do them" situations on tier 4 and 5 (whatever the last two on forester) that mean I'm already well ahead of the curve, having both mastered long before I can actually get them as drops.

I did 250 pristine for someone last night since I really had nothing else planned (and I was about to afk for 10 min anyway) which finished that tier for me, plus netted me 250 silver for zero effort on my behalf.
How about Horizons? That game has one of the most in depth crafting/building systems ever.. and although I liked EQ2's system, play LoTRo (it needs work) I always come back to Horizons..

which has been taken over again (by the ORIGINAL developers) and actually looks like it has a future again..
Love crafting, so I had to post here. :)

My take on the whole situation regarding crafting, until the creators of ATITD meet with the creators of games like EQII and LOTRO, there will never be the ubergame.

There needs to be a system with different types of crafting that require different amounts of investments of time. Research should be paramount, the best items should not be gained through a 'recipe' but through the skill of the player and research spent messing about with various additives with unknown quantities. And these items should be both the best, and the average items in the game. The quality of the item is dependent on the crafters skill.

I'm not going to go into this much further, as I could talk about it for pages and pages and pages, but I've just scratched the surface of the system I feel should exist, and haven't addressed how it dove-tails with adventuring at all.

Good article, though I disagree with the premise that ANY existing crafting system outside of ATITD is different. They're all just shades of the same mediocre system. However, I must agree that ATITD's craftcentric style leaves much to be desired.
Ok, I like the review but the limitation in the list of reviewed games is a little bit of a problem for me.
All of the following are games that I have played or am playing, and I am picking apart the crafting system in them all:

EQ - Gathering is not consistant, but you can buy most stuff needed for low level crafting from vendors, this can get expensive QUICKLY. 5/10 (250 Fletcher, 100 brewer, 125 blacksmith, 98 tailor, 83 potter...)

EQ2 - Gathering is quite a bit quicker than EQ, finishing(mini game) takes a while and can get fairly tedious 5/10 (lv 14 Alchemist)

Vanguard - Gathering is quite a bit quicker than EQ, refining (mini game), and finishing(mini game) takes a while and DOES get tedious quickly. 6/10 (10 Artificer, 9 outfitter, 11 blacksmith)

WoW - Gathering is not too slow and one click crafting is pretty quick. For someone that likes crafting I would rank this 5/10, but for someone that does crafting as a hobby I would put it at about a 7. (never capped a character but all were 100+ and I played every skill)

LotRO - Same as WoW (Novice Armsman, Novice Woodsman)

PotBS - As stated before making a profit from crafting in the game is possible, especially if you are working with a partner. 4/10

MxO - I only played the BETA but i remember the crafting was nonexistent.

CoH/CoV - Have not played this game in a while but when I did crafting was near nonexistent.

Istaria (formerly Horizons) - From what I remember of this game it had arguably the most in depth crafting system I have seen in a long time. Allowed you to craft 'A Shortsword' but do to the customization options through 'Techniques' and 'Styles' not all 'Shortswords' looked the same or had the same stats. 8/10

SwG - Crafting the good stuff was reliant on having access to 'Server Best' resources which would change weekly. Some items allowed you to change the appearance of the finished product and you could rename them before they were finished to put your 'Makers Mark' on an item you crafted. The crafting itself was quite repetitive. 7/10 (Master Weaponsmith, Master Armorsmith, Master Shipwright, Master Architect)

If you can think of an MMO with a good tradeskill/crafting system that is not on this list please let me know. I am looking forward to trying out Warhammer online, as well as Age of Conan.
Thank you so much for this article - I am dying to find a good crafting game. I was playing Mabinogi, but have gotten bored with it and annoyed with the *mostly* 14 year-old player mentality. I just started playing WoW last night and was quickly disappointed that it only allowed two primary crafting professions. After reading this article, I will steer clear of LOTRO and couple of the others. I'll probably try SWG and EQ2 since they sound closest to what I am looking for.
I disagree, and think it's more along the lines of the players perceptions. Of course the way your explaining, I would explain too but from the point of the players 'type' and that types perceptions as to what purpose the crafting should serve.

Based off my recent article(s) I'm writing about crafting and player's perceptions I would put you in the endgamer or sandbox player category???

you can read my first article on

I'm in the 'crafter' category and derive a lot of fun out of simply crafting. The doing is a large part of my fun as well as selling it, wearing it, or knowing that someone is using what I made.
I actually enjoy the crafting in LOTRO and think it is much better and different in several ways than WOWs. 1) You can increase your production by using superior crafting tools every 10 levels or so (in WOW the only tools u need are a cheap mining pick for mining and a cheap pick for skinning), 2) you can use scrolls and crit items to increase your success rate once you've mastered a crafting level, 3) you must be in a crafting area in order to craft an item and can be very fun and social(except for a scholar) whereas in wow several crafting trades can be done anywhere), 4) you can join a crafting guild to get unique recipes only available to those who are in that trade's guild, 5) there are crafting quests in order to advance to the next tier, 6) since LOTRO has player housing you can craft housing items which adds variety (wow has no player housing), and 7) you can create items for classes such as hunter and runekeeper that are necessary and only available through crafting. So IMO LOTRO is very different than WOWs crafting even though there are similarities. Great article though....I'm still searching for the ultimate crafting MMO! :-)
Despite this comparison having its years already, it's quite insightful and I would love to see it expanded or even maintained.

I cannot agree more that the all-popular WoW system is far too limited, however I do have an idea that no game so far has employed, yet I can't find any serious flaw in it that would make it unfitting. I mean combining the realtime-resource with gameplay-resource strategy in the form of "work points". These would regenerate over time, or some potions/skills could regenerate them faster to some extent - and they would be used as a resource in crafting recipes. Thus a crafter could craft 100 simple linen shirts a day, OR one epic item, and after that they'd be "exhausted from work" and unable to craft anymore. This would essentially make the more "difficult" recipes gain in value, as finding a blacksmith with 100% unused fatigue points would not be easy.

Also, the process of farming materials and using them in crafting can be either strict (only player to player) or loose (players gather resources, but the same resources can be bought off NPCs albeit for higher prices; similarly, NPCs can craft but at higher costs than players would). I've even seen concepts of supply-and-demand economies, facilitating dropping of prices if a surplus in gathered resources is sold to NPCs, but have yet to see one in practice.
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