Tobold's Blog
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Thought for the day: Designed later

The Guild Wars 2 crafting news is yet another occurrence of game developers *first* creating a fully fleshed game, and *then* parachuting a crafting system in. If they find the time (WAR shipped with a half-baked system). Apparently a crafting system is somewhere on the list of required features, but developers don't think it is all that important. Thus the primary requirement for any MMORPG crafting system appears to be that it can't produce anything actually useful, because that would distract players from the *real* game.

I wonder how a MMORPG would look like if the developers *first* designed the crafting system, trade, and the player economy. And *then* designed the adventuring system around that.
I wonder how a MMORPG would look like if the developers *first* designed the crafting system, trade, and the player economy. And *then* designed the adventuring system around that.

Look at EVE Online ;)
I couldn't agree more. Iterating is all fine, but to start thinking about a features after 80% of the game is done. That is a bit too late, is it not?

Even if they had this idea form the start, however, it is a powerful signal to talk about trade and economy so late.

Of course, FractalizeR got it right. Look at Eve Online. Now, if they just spent a bit more money on the UI...
Crafting in Vanguard is fully integrated in the game and not an after thought at all. In Fallen Earth you can't survive if you can't craft. Even in Rift I can make stuff that is very useful to me even at low levels. Your assumption that for any MMORPG crafting system appears to be that it can't produce anything actually useful is just not valid. But having said that I wouldn't mind if crafting become more vocal. Craft, trade and economy are to me more important than the hack and slash.
I'd really love to see and play the game in which you can be of renown reputation for being an elite crafter rather than elite raider or ganker. And the crafting shouldn't be the WoW click and wait style, but more involving. EQ2 has a nice minigame out of it, but it could be so much more.

I agree, the crafting and economy (with player housing and fluff) should be quite high in the design decisions after the IP and lore have been carved out. These aspects form the community in the game pretty far, especially on the social side.

And no, EVE doesn't count in this. The crafting is as boring as in every other game.

C out
You have been thinking about a lot of the same things I have been thinking about lately. I was thinking how disappointed I have been in Wow's crafting. Once again crafting takes a back seat to the raiding game and crafting's only purpose seems to be to supply a few items to help raiders or pvpers get started. I WISH there were a class dedicated to crafting, where with great sacrifice and time devoted, a player could create some truly magificient items, much on the level that the greatest artists have played a part in our socieities. I was thinking it would be cool for a new game to charge $4.99/month for each character slot, and for non-crafters to be able to gather crafting materials but not be able to take the advanced professions. The average person might have 2 combat characters and a crafter character. This way, everybody would not be trying to do crafting but the ones who did would be serious about it. A weaponsmith might have a unique signature design axe or sword or tabard design he spent many hours scouring the world to obtain and many more just on the design. Crafting nowdays just isn't cutting it.
A Tale in the Desert, Horizons, Ryzom and Star Wars Galaxies all pop in my head when we talk about in depth crafting.

But I think your point still remains, what would a game be like if crafting was thought of first?

There are three problems to this that stick out for me.

1. Gameplay - How do you make crafting entertaining? Surely the overdone "gather the mats and click Create" method isn't fun.
I can't think of too many games where you really feel like you are making something. Cooking Mama? Harvest Moon?

2. NPC Competition - We've got two types here, NPC and PC. Why is it that almost every crafting profession makes items that are given away for FREE by quest NPCs?
How do you create a healthy market for something if an endless supply of a comparable product is being handed out right next to you?

3. Player Competition - To top that off, why is it that every other crafting player can create the exact same thing as you? We're not talking a generic chinese ripoff here, its the exact same sword. (SWG's resource system being an exception here)
I think we really need to see some randomness and variety. I wouldn't enjoy shopping for clothes in a store that sold 3 different shirts by 50 different companies.

We know that players will flock to a game where the main conflict is combat. Is there a successful example of a crafting game that can be used to justify risking major investment time/money on a new crafting mmo?
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The single most annoying thing about crafting in damn near every MMO I've every played is that by the time you're able to craft an item, it's usually absolutely useless to your character compared to the drops and quest rewards they've been picking up while they were farming the insane amount of materials they required to progress that far.

The pacing is off. Materials need to be prolific enough that you can feasibly reach A) enough materials to craft the item which is usuable at the level that you've reached fighting hordes of monsters to GET those materials, and B) collected enough materials to have burned through all the recipes that came BEFORE that item that's of any use to you.

As it is, I can't name a single MMO where I didn't eventually end up grinding crafting not for anything useful along the way, but just to get rid of the mats I'd been collecting and to level up the skill to the maximum, where I'd actually get some use out of it. EVE. WoW. UO. AO. Ryzom. FFXIV. TR. WAR. EQ/EQ2. Actually... I think Fallen Earth is the only one I've seen where crafting is vital to your progression.

(WoW's crafting pacing is bloody horrible. The ony use for the majority of those crafted armour/weapon recipes is to have the stuff turned into magical fairie dust to level enchanting on an alt. Or mailing the results to lowbie alts, well in advance. Which, honestly, is nine times out of ten an exercise in futility because quest rewards attained are usually of far superior quality, as quest rewards don't have really high level requirements.)
I would like a game where you had to craft ALL of your gear as you progressed. Every last piece.

Put a lot of mix' n' match type of capabilities into the system, colorization too, so that crafting a certain look for your character is possible. Every player can craft the exact look they want.

Keep the raid bosses in the game, but when you kill the bosses, you get the right to loot not his body, but his abode - the area where you defeated him/her/it - for rare materials. You will use the rare materials to craft the gear you want.

So you may want to kill the same boss over and over so that you can get two or three of the same components to make two or three different styles, or stat combinations, of gear. You can have different sets of gear just for the looks, or to provide different stats or capabilities.
@Tonyp51: this is how it works in Ryzom. With a twist: all items have durability and they get used over the time, and they *cannot be repaired*. As a result, getting one great sword will be useful for one month, but getting a friend who knows how to craft great swords is a lot more important (learning to craft them works as well :).

The problem is that unless you make the main focus crafting, you need the crafting system not to interfere with the rest (quests/dungeons/combatp/PvP) and you don't need to make those dependent on crafting.

This leads to the current game design, where crafting is basically a separate game, usually trivialized to the point of idiocy, which is kept easy to make sure that it blocks noone. This is why advancement is so trivial ("get materials, press button"), and overall the best stuff does not come from it.

I'm not sure at all that a game with an emphasis on crafting would do well in the current market. The problem is that it's extremely difficult for it not to become a grindfest.
As I said in your other post, there is no crafting system in DCUO and if they introduce one, I'll be more likely to quit playing it than to stay. If I wanted a leveling game within a leveling game, I already have that in WoW and LotRO. They did recently intro an auction house in DCUO earlier this month to help people sell off collectibles and unusable gear. I have yet to visit it.

I'm honestly just enjoying playing the main game and not having to worry about the time-sinks.
I think one thing to look at is how things are crafted as well. This is a video game and it is supposed to be fun, but in order to skill up efficiently to max level in crafting I have to make 500 kinds of boots as an armor smith in Rift, in WoW I make glyphs ad nauseam to skill up. This is annoying and making a minigame out of it would annoy a great portion of the population immensely. WoW partially solved this by having certain recipes giving more than one skill point, but the material requirements for those are quite high, and in some case unavailable for the level that you are at.

I could see adding in a system for getting extra stats on to an item. Like Rift has the augments, well if an augment is selected add in a minigame where if things are done right I get a better item, possibly up to superior quality, or one standard up from the base quality of the recipe (in the case of Rift and WoW that would be a green item could be a blue, a blue item could get epic, possibly even crafting something of legendary status by a crafter of “renown”). That would be nice, maybe the augments are the more difficult thing to find at high levels and that means the crafted epics would require an augment and a perfectly done minigame by the crafter.

Also in the case of items that are already “bound” to a player make it so the trade has an augment feature in it so a craftsman can augment someone’s item through the minigame, maybe add some stats, this way as a raid team progresses their gear gets better by being augmented repeatedly. Possibly even breaking old pieces of gear to acquire the means to create an even better piece by the crafter. Just tossing out the idea and seeing if that would work as a balance between the two parties while still being accessible to the majority of the players without it being a focus of the game and yet still being much desired or even necessary.
Eve Online is the gold standard for crafting. A majority if the ships, weapons, etc used by players are made by other players. There's a robust, layered economy in materials and manufactured goods. Crafting drives market trading, one of the most interesting things about Eve. It works, because it was designed from the start.

Fallen Earth is another MMO that launched with a serious dedication to crafting.

I'm curious where you get the feeling that the crafting system was "parachuted" into the game well past the design of the "main game?" I'm not disagreeing, I'm just not seeing anything in this first look at crafting that leads me to that conclusion. There have been points that crafting would be a part of the game since early last year, just that they were not ready to discuss it yet. They did discuss collection of materials from resource nodes (and how they would do it differently from many other games) nearly a year back.

Right now I'm giving ArenaNet the benefit of the doubt on this. I really don't think that crafting is an afterthought for them, or a check-off box on a "required feature list" because in Guild Wars 1 they basically omitted crafting entirely. Given that they had a system where all crafting was done by NPCs before, and that they said that crafting would be in the game from quite a while ago, I find it likely that this was considered much earlier in the design process.

I could be wrong on this, of course. But I'm curious why you think that it is an afterthought?
I'm of the opinion that WoW/Rift/WAR style fantasy games where all the of the really good stuff is going to come from bind-on-pickup group content should just do away with crafting altogether at this point. It's just a grindy, unfun relic. I just took three gathering professions in Rift because at this point in my long MMO career, I can't be bothered to deal with horrible crap like Rift crafting.

The weirdest crafting I've encountered was Vindictus. Every thing about that game screams for it to be a Diablo-style hack and slash where you just get your loot at the end of the run. But for some bizarre reason there's crafting, which is completely out of character.

Now, if you're game is more of an open/sandboxy/whatever-buzzword type game, then sure, you really have to think about this kind of stuff from the start. The best crafting I've encountered was not EVE but launch-era SWG, because that game incorporated resource and tool quality. And sales were through physical shops instead of the AH. Of course, it was still broken, along with everything else in launch-era SWG, but I'd like to see that model make a comeback at some point.
tobold wouldnt an interesting system be that bosses dont drop items at all but instead drops recepies to items.
"Thus the primary requirement for any MMORPG crafting system appears to be that it can't produce anything actually useful"

This has got to be one of the most ridiculous things you've ever said. Even WoW, with a crafting system that forces you to make piles of useless things to get to the useful things, still HAS useful things.

Rift is a prime example of a basic crafting system that produces useful goods. Crafted goods are superior to quest rewards at the same level, and allow access to certain types of items (such as helms and shoulders) long before quests or drops.

EVE and Fallen Earth are prime examples of fully integrated crafting systems where the game can't exist without it.

In Dark Age of Camelot, most of the best gear was crafted. They may have changed that at some point, but it was certainly true for the period I played.

Even City of Heroes has a "crafting" system that produces items of phenomenal usefulness.

There are certainly examples of very bad crafting systems out there (WAR, Star Trek Online), but I just don't see where your sweeping generalization is coming from.
Er... that would be Life wouldn't it?
Ok, I'll wade into this discussion a bit more.

No offense to all you "crafty" people. But... Why make a game that has 'work' as a central gameplay concept.

I realize that I know nothing about Eve and if you all say that eve play = crafting I would take your word for it. But I believe the main payback for eve play is getting in a big ship and blowing someone elses big ship up. (again I am not sure but I think that is the game play)

So 'work' in eve could be considered preparation for blow up fun.

Why not have the fun more directly? I suppose to support player stratification but still. Why delay fun? Is that not why most games seem to have crafting as alt fodder and raid augmenting add on?

I know this is a novel concept but maybe the reason why crafting first fun later games don't really exist is because... they don't sell.

In wow you level (fun) then max crafting (less fun-but justifying subscription). Then you give an alt the benefits of your advanced crafty main to do more leveling (fun).

So fun time is maximized. Why delay fun?

It's like the bride after her honeymoon night crying to her mom about her experience.

The daughter said, "Mom he's a software salesman! All he did is sit on the bed and tell me how wonderful everything was going to be!"
I've talked about this before, but I think the problem with crafting is that it conflicts with the "soul-binding" system that most MMOs use.

Most standard PvE MMOs use a soul-binding system in order to control the creation and distribution of loot. In particular, this is used to ensure that players are required to participate in the content that gives out the rewards.

As far as I know, no one has come up with a system to allow player crafters to participate in the soul-binding structure. Think of NPC vendors who accept tokens from bosses. There is no player crafting equivalent of that "verb".

Without that option, it's too easy for crafting systems to be exploited or people to use gold buying/selling to evade content restrictions on items.
@PDM: I really have to dispute the assertion that RIFT generates items of level-appropriate quality.

I suspect this may be purely based on server-populations as hordes of farmers reduce the available quantities of materials. But at least on Alsbeth, if you play Defiant, the only point that Iron creates useful items is when you are levelling in Stonefield. There is sod all iron there, however. Enough that you can make the first item. After that, you have to consciously IGNORE levelling and closing rifts to =only= farm. Because if you farm =whilst= levelling, you will not gather enough materials to craft the ten more boots that you need to in order to make the next single piece of armor, let alone the five pieces after that.

RIFT's crafting breaks after you stop using copper, when it costs you time and experience to gather absurd quantities of materials.

Yes, you might create a level 23-requirement item which is better than a quest awarded at the same level, but the simple fact is that in order to create that item, you had to grind up literally dozens upon dozens of bars of ore, during which time you simply could have completed a couple MORE quests and surpassed that item with the next reward.

If you are crafting useful gear for your level past level 20 in rift, you are either on an empty server with no-one stealing your ore deposits, or you are having it supplied to you.
"the primary requirement for any MMORPG crafting system appears to be that it can't produce anything actually useful, because that would distract players from the *real* game."

I'm not sure how you got that from reading the GW2 devs' words on crafting, which has an emphasis on

a) not creating dozens of useless items before you can level up, and
b) always being able to create level-appropriate items if you craft while you level

I mean, you can wave your hand and say you'll believe it when you see it (which would be fair) but given ANet's fanbase, I guarantee you that if we logged into GW2 and found we had to create 500 leather bindings before we could create a decent medium armor shirt, there would be hell to pay.
Also, I'm seeing a lot of folks pointing to EVE: I don't think EVE's system of crafting is a fair comparison to DIKU MMOs.

EVE's crafting is about fuelling the economy and not about complementing player advancement.

If you are at the stage in your career that you are only JUST finished learning the skills to fly your first battleship, it's pretty much garaunteed that you will not have been able to gather the necessary materials and researched the blueprint to craft that battleship that you are about to fly. You will have had to buy these things elsewhere or have friends collect them for you.

But that's OK, because in EVE the economy IS the game. DIKU MMOs, however, the economy is not so robust.
In a DIKU MMO where your crafting skill is only advanced by producing goods, you end up with surplus goods which are of zero value to the economy. People pay more for the materials than the end product, in their pusuit of max-crafting-skill, which any economist will tell you is insanity.

Crafting is so very rarely level-appropriate and so very rarely self-sufficient. Crafting is almost always about providing the results to someone else.

Again: Fallen Earth - only MMO where I've seen that you collect materials in a zone appropriate for your level in sufficient quantities that you can craft items ALSO appropriate for your level without being out-classed by quest rewards at that level. It's about balance. Any of those factors get thrown out and you have WoW grind. (Level to cap, then go farm mats/purchase mats and commence marathon skill-grind session to skill-cap.)
Condensed opinion: The product of crafting should be of greater market value than the sum of its parts.

This one rule determines whether crafting is useful or a grind.
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