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Scott Jennings: Crafting Gameplay

Column By Scott Jennings on March 31, 2010

Compare this with Star Wars Galaxies, which most crafters view, at least in its initial incarnation, as the ultimate “crafter game”. And it’s true - the crafting systems in SWG (developed by veterans of UO) were far and away superior to any other MMO, before or since. Much of the problems we discuss here were addressed in SWG - for example, SWG had an auction system, but it acted as pointers for high level items to player stores which players then traveled to, thus encouraging a retail sense of place and allowing merchants to compete on service as well as commodity. The problem with SWG was that the other game systems were not nearly as well designed as the crafting systems, so SWG rapidly became a game where the only people playing were crafters trying to sell wares to each other. What happens when everyone is a merchant? Well, in SWG’s case, the game is radically redesigned and no one is left happy. Whoops.

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This dilemma brings us around to why crafting is usually tedious in the first place. In most games, crafting is tedious specifically so that everyone does *not* do it. If the tedium itself acts as a barrier to entry, people with crafting skills will be rare, and thus their skills will be valuable. It’s not a particularly good solution, especially phrased as openly as this, but it does work after a rough fashion. (Dark Age of Camelot, which I worked on and which in my completely biased opinion addressed many of these concerns as well, was an example of a crafting system that was intentionally quite tedious by design.) In games where crafting is relatively painless, such as World of Warcraft, everyone is some form of crafter by default. Thanks to, as I discussed, how WoW guides everyone to the same marketplace, everyone thus becomes a commodities broker; that marketplace then measures the value of those commodities accordingly. It works after a fashion. Is it fun? Only if you dream of being on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange wearing one of those odd smocks.

Oddly, the best example of player crafting is in a game that most don’t consider an MMO - Second Life. There, crafters simply create whatever they like - the only limit being their own artistic talent and how to wrangle meshes within a recalcitrant, aging client. And those crafters then turn around and sell their wares for in-game currency that is freely convertible with real world money. Turns out there is quite a market in making dresses that don’t actually have stat bonuses - although most ‘residents’ are content creators in some form or another, the people with actual design and artistic talent can and do make quite a (real-world) living off their efforts. Ironically enough, one of the largest complaints of vendors in Second Life recently is that Linden Lab, SL’s maintainers, recently acquired... an auction house. Thus helping to remove the sense of place and value of service for merchants, as we discussed earlier.

There are other games which have had fairly good success with crafting (Eve and Fallen Earth, for example). The question thus becomes: why bother? After all, we are discussing, in a sense, the drudgery that people presumably play MMOs to escape from, correct?

The answer, of course, is that a rich player crafting system is part of what makes a game a virtual world as opposed to a monster murder simulation. Crafting allows players, at its most basic level, to interact with the world and create one something from various shards of nothing; this helps reinforce that the world has various sensible rules that can be followed for their benefit. At its more advanced level, crafting introduces a level of mercantile gameplay that helps enrich the world and its players beyond their pocketbook - it gives new motives for actions, gives new value to in-game objects and allows players to fill new roles.

Plus, you can watch another bar move from left to right. Never underestimate this.

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Scott Jennings
Scott Jennings is a veteran MMO designer and the Internet personality once known as Lum The Mad. He has previously worked for Mythic Entertainment, NCsoft and others. His popular blog can be found at BrokenToys.org.

Aside from this column, Scott is also currently contracting with NCsoft.

Every Wednesday he provides us an insider's look at the MMO industry.
Recent Articles: More Scott Jennings Articles...

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