Must… not… get… sucked… into…. blackhole discussion… of… MMO…. economics….
Darren and Kendricke and Wilhelm2451 have been batting around what I’ll call The Crafting Problem(tm). Lots of good stuff and good ideas being discussed. Lets face it, even if you love it, crafting sucks in MMOs. And if you hate it, well…
My point is that any discussion of how to improve crafting in MMOs must be part of the dread discussion on how MMO economies should work. “Should” is highly subjective, but hey, its a blog. Kendricke and I started kicking around a few ideas that grew out of our apparent mutual hatred for vendor trash. The other part of that discussion relates to the role of crafted items in the virtual economy.
Crafting is the other piece of the puzzle. Wil has taken a stab at trying to focus the discussion on the crafting side. My attempt here is to help solicit discussion about how devs might address The Crafting Problem in the broader context of the economy. I think I’ll stretch this into a couple posts to make it more digestible.
I’ll cut to the chase for those with shorter attention spans:
The Primary Principle: Crafters should be the primary source of manufactured goods in the virtual economy.
From this basic principal, strategies and then tactics to fix The Crafting Problem can be developed in a thoughtful way.
I’m known at work as that guy that asks “those” questions. I call them “edge of the universe” questions like, what happens when you cross the edge of it? We spend most of our experience near the center of things and don’t always think about what happens at beginnings or endings or on the edges.
So in that vein, lets talk about basic principles that often results in crafting sucking so bad. To paraphrase Wilhelm2451, “Making Stuff”is time consuming and not particularly rewarding and “Selling Stuff” is a losing proposition.
So back to basics. Why should this be? I suspect that its the simple fact that while basic MMO gameplay systems evolved from pen and paper role playing games (kill a mob, get some experience and loot), crafting has been a later arrival to the genre. And pen and paper RPGs never had a vast multiplayer economy to contend with. (Hell, if players got too uppity in my RPG universe, it was time for some hideous, capricious and story driven catastrophe to reshuffle the deck and shake things up a bit.) As a result, it simply feels bolted on. Its not quite a game unto itself, and not quite a fully integrated part of the virtual economy.
Fast forward to MMO-land. Where should the “stuff” in the virtual world come from? Where it goes is entirely another post. By “stuff,” I simply mean every single thing that can be acquired by a player in a virtual world. Stuff of course comes from the game gods– they are dropped into the universe for us to find or to force other items (which are dropped into the universe for us to whack upon) to disgorge for our benefit. This primogenesis consists of basic gathering and drops. Yes, there’s a secondary source in NPCs that are also provided by the game gods, but they generally need coin which of course requires exchange of some primary material.
Most crafting in MMOs ends up requiring gathered raw materials and perhaps some secondary source components as well. Because we are such good little maze rats, most devs keep making mobs drop increasingly phatter and phatter lewt. I’ll class these usable drops with all other manufactured goods as opposed to the raw material drops/gathers. The power of phat lewt corrupts and subjugates all other gameplay eventually.
Crafted items end up competing with substitute goods from drops. So the first major conflict is set up: why make or buy (through commitment of time or coin) what I can get for “free” by killing mobs? In most games, the answer sadly is you shouldn’t bother crafting. Better drops can be obtained in game.
So here’s a heretical question: why should most mobs drop any truly usable loot and not mostly crap?
If I whack a foozle (animal mob), I would guess that I should have a chance at some form of foozle hide and maybe some usable foozle gut items or maybe even rare components like pristine foozle horns. Fair to say that if I beat the crap out of them that its reasonable that I only have a percentage chance of getting any of these with higher quality requiring either more skill or luck or both. If I was lucky to scare it to death then maybe I get a pristine hide. If I roast it with a dozen fireballs, then….
Likewise, if I whack a doozle (humanoid mob), I should get what they have on their person, damaged, pristine or otherwise. Give me their crappy orc mail shirt, smelly leather boots and blood (mine) stained scimitar and maybe once in a while, a rare weapon or helm that I might actually want to keep.
Unless I’m taking down some rich powerful big baddie, I probably should get either nothing or complete crap from doozle drops. If those level 20 orcs were actually wearing level 20 super wonderous chainmail of the vole that they dropped, then why didn’t they kick my ass? And if I kicked its ass, how good could its gear actually be?
Ok, so what should we get then? Yup, crap. Take the crap (except the truly rare interesting drop) and treat it like a source of primary materials– reforge it, melt it down, tear it apart for the components, etc. Yes, reprocessing, just like Eve. Reprocessing into usable inputs so yes, crafters can actually have an integral role in the economy.
When the crafters are the primary source of manufactured goods in the economy, the skies will open and manna will rain from on high and it will be good.
Here’s another interesting result from breaking the virtual shopping cycle: gameplay must evolve toward something other than gear-based epeen aggrandizing rewards. Gasp, the “goal” of the game shifts from itemization acquisition toward goal attainment. Goal development of course is hard. Itemization is easy. Creating a game that allows a player to create their own unique heroic story is very hard. Designing a new uber armor set by comparison is hideously easy.
Am I completely nuts?
Stay tuned for the next part in which I actually make suggestions about how to improve crafting once its role in the virtual economy is actually defined.