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Crafting and the Economy

Ryahl Smith Posted:
Columns The Eorzea Prospect 0

So, recently we seem to have had an explosion of discussion regarding crafting and the economy.  Mark Jacobs really kicked it off in his recent series of Camelot Unchained principles, arguing “while this feature is quite popular... it has come at the cost of decreasing socialization between players and... increased sense of disconnection with the game as a world.”  He has promised us that Camelot Unchained will be a player economy driven game where crafting, not PVE adventuring, will determine the gear of the day.

Bill has also contributed to this discussion.  In a preview of the Elder Scrolls Online, he theorized that crafting should (a) make players discover paths to finished goods, (b) drop leveling from the crafting system and (c) force interdependency in crafting.  Garrett added to this in another TESO column, pointing out that (a) player vendors beat the heck out of auction houses and (b) theme park games cramp crafting because they (from necessity) preclude crafters making the best gear.

All of this comes on the heels of a Raph Koster blog last year which argued that letting players play out their fantasy of Intergalactic trader (in Star Wars Galaxies) mandated that no auction house could be present.  In his view, even in a system with randomized resources, resource scarcity and significant variation in crafting quality outputs, is ruined in an auction house model since such a model “is a world optimized for the buyer.”

[Note: both Raph Koster and Kruunch have some very well reasoned disagreements with me, you can find these in the comments to the first companion post]

So, with all that to digest, what’s crafting and the economy going to look like in FFXIV:ARR?  Well, Beta is right around the corner, so we’ll get a closer idea very soon.  However, with FFXIV, we have the advantage of a pre-existing product and some producer letters for the direction change, to help us clarify where some of this will go.  In this column, I want to look at gear acquisition, crafting in general, and the FFXIV economic model.

Where does gear come from?

In its initial incarnation, FFXIV followed the standard, theme park model.  Gear primarily comes from three resource systems: quests, crafting and BIG PVE.  There is little reason at this time to expect this to change, although it appears that the weight of origin may change somewhat with the inclusion of quest hubs to FFXIV.

Quest, Leve’s and Company currency (achieved via quests and leve’s) were a primary source of gear acquisition in FFXIV.  When you accepted levequests, the item reward possibilities would become apparent.  Grand Companies had merchants who would also sell you gear based on your acquisition of company tokens.

Crafters were a second source of gear.  FFXIV has a pretty robust crafting class system with various crafters making armor, weapons, jewelry, and consumables.  Of significance, crafted and quested gear was more or less the same stuff.  Guild leve’s didn’t draw from a different loot table, they simply offered you a non-crafter made version of crafted gear.  A Bronze Gladius was a Bronze Gladius whether it came off a player forge or from a Leve hub.  In this regard, FFXIV remained somewhat true to its FFXI predecessor. 

Crafters also had the ability to make some really special gear via the high quality (HQ) system.  A very well done craft could produce a +1 variant (higher at launch) of the item which provided additional base stats.  So, you might take the freebies from guild leve’s, but if you could get your hands on a really good HQ, so much the better.

That said, if you wanted the best gear, though you needed to beat the biggest monsters.  This is part of the reward for Primals and Notorious Monster’s in the Final Fantasy IP.  You beat the big nasty’s, you get special stuff!  While that special gear was better than crafted gear, crafters still played an important part in the process through the repair and materia systems.  We’ll talk about that in the next section.

What do FFXIV crafters do?

The crafting game in FFXIV attempts to break the theme park MMO standard (crafter as a hobby) by making crafting a game unto itself.  So, without going full sandbox like EVE, Ultima Online or Star Wars Galaxies, FFXIV joins the rank of theme parks with prioritized crafting.  In this regard, their system is conceptually similar to Vanguard and Everquest II.  Crafting is a separate game, with separate levels and distinct game play objectives besides just being a mass producing pre-industrial one-person assembly system, although there is that too.

The crafting system plays through a mini-game with a resource management (crafting point) component.  You try to maximize the quality of the product and finish the production of the product, all before burning through your resource allotment.  Your progress is influenced by your crafting level, the recipe difficulty, your crafting gear and abilities you choose to use during crafting.  This was true of 1.0 and appears (via Alpha video) to be the direction for FFXIV:ARR.  ARR will change the crafting system slightly, but the core principles above remain the same.

In addition to crafting goods, and high quality goods, crafters in FFXIV:ARR can level through a series of crafting leve’s.  These leve’s, like their adventuring counterparts, require players to provide materials for various crafting houses in Eorzea.  A weaponsmith might have to craft five daggers, a leatherworker a few sets of boots, etc.  I suppose we know where quest NPC’s are getting their never ending stock of quest reward gear!

Atop this, crafers also participate in the repair process for all gear types (adventuring, crafting and harvesting).  Gear breaks down over time in Eorzea and your friendly crafter, along with some Dark Matter (the ubiquitous repair resource) is used for repair.  Players of FFXIV at launch may remember repair as a real headache.  This was fixed prior to the End of an Era event with repair resources standardized (and prices reduced).  Additionally, adventurers could put gear into a bazaar window flagging it as needing repairs (with a reward attached) and passerby crafters could quickly repair your gear.  We do not yet know if the repair-bazaar feature will return in A Realm Reborn.

Finally, crafters participated in the upgrading of adventuring gear via the Materia system.  The Materia system breaks down old gear (thus providing an item sink) and allows you to use the gear to power up new gear in a system akin to enchanting from other MMO’s.  Crafters are needed to apply materia and the application is not guaranteed.  There will be changes coming to Materia in ARR, so we don’t know exactly how far it will change from it’s initial inception.

It’s the Economy, Stupid!

This brings us to the economy and the “how” of the crafter/adventurer/harvester interaction in FFXIV:ARR.  While respecting the personages in the opening section calling for personal vendors and no auction houses, FFXIV has been there, done that and it didn’t work.  Those of us who participated in the FFXIV launch remember just how bad the market ward (vendor merchant) system was. As a side note - I have also played EQ, DAOC, and AO each at launch, FFXIV wasn’t my first “no auction house” rodeo.

With market wards in FFXIV, It was virtually impossible to find what you were looking for.  This means crafters, harvesters and adventurers simply weren’t buying and selling.  Indeed, at launch, the only effective means for selling was use of the Bazaar tool, turning your player character into a store-front and then parking at leve-hubs and going afk (armies of the sleepless undead, anyone)? 

I actually did okay money making early on, kicking out Square Maple Shields and parking afk at the leve hub outside of Ul’Dah.  While it was nice in the short run to command a huge markup on essentially a newbie item (I was selling a 3000 gil item for 30,000 and out of stock as fast as I could make them), but I also understood how such an inefficient market system was going to harm the game.  My markups meant that players were waiting until level 8-12 to buy an item they should have been using at level 4.   Yes, evil me, but that’s going to be a norm in such an inefficient information system.

Square Enix frantically tried to “fix” the system without going to an auction house.  The result was market wards with labels and a tax system to encourage sales of the proper good type through the proper ward.  Better?  Marginally.  Useful?  Not at all.  I still sold way more stuff staying online and afk at play-hubs.  The wards were just banks with armies of inactive NPC companions (it was a little eery actually).  Terracotta merchants anyone?

Eventually the original idea of Market Wards was scrapped, with the wards remaining as a bank of sorts.  You stored gear on your NPC retainer in the Market Ward.  You listed gear as “for sale” on the retainer.  Buyers used a market ward search engine to find the gear they wanted and bought it through the search interface.

So, an auction house.  Lacking some of the nicer frills of a sophisticated auction house tool, but an auction house all the same.  In fact, after playing without an auction house, players of FFXIV were pretty overwhelming in their desire for an efficient transaction mechanism.  When ARR returns, we will have an NPC retainer system of sorts, but we have also been promised a full featured Auction House.

Concluding Thoughts

We seem to be in a reflective moment in MMO making, this is a good thing.  It means a lot of commonly held assumptions are finally up for discussion.  It also means we’re beginning to see some much-needed market segmentation.  I’m really hopeful for Camelot Unchained, not so much for me, but specifically because it’s awesome to see someone pursuing a niche market. 

This period of reflection means, potentially, that some really bad - but common - ideas might finally get shed.  It means that some really good, but niche, ideas can come back into play.  Unfortunately, moments of reflection can also mean bad new things can be added because of mistaken attributions for past bad things.

The economy is a critical part of an MMO.  It’s also an element that MMO’s have rarely done well.  With the possible exception of EVE (and perhaps early SWG), most MMO’s have built in market inefficiencies.  These inefficiencies either lead to problems clearing transactions (can’t find what you need, when you need it), liquidity issues (some with no funds but needs and others with no needs but funds), or produce arbitrage opportunities (caused by information asymmetries), all of which indicate you don’t have an efficient market.

Guild Wars 2 was a step in the right direction for auction houses.  Its use of server merged markets, Buy and Sell orders, along with pricing histories, provides useful tools for achieving market efficiency.  The cross-server component may not be ideal (because of the necessary anonymity component) for some economic systems, but a lot of what they did should be a standard in AH design.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a push back against market efficiencies.  Those push backs are based on incorrect assumptions of markets (or an acknowledged desire to not have efficient markets), most commonly that efficient markets eliminate the opportunity for small scale merchants or that such systems preclude a social component to market transactions, but that’s material for a different argument. 

I’ll continue my thoughts on getting the market and itemization right over at my Eorzea Reborn site.  What do you think about the whole crafting/economy thing?  Put on your Econ101 hat, Wizards Robes, or Crafters togs and join us in the discussion below!

Ryahl / Ryahl is a columnist for MMORPG.Com.  He is also the host and primary author for Eorzea Reborn and TSWGuides.  He has been playing MMOs since 1999 and remembers when the holy trinity didn’t involve DPS.  You can follow him on Twitter @EorzeaReborn or just argue with him in comments anywhere he posts.

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Ryahl Smith

Ryahl / Ryahl is a columnist for MMORPG.Com. He is also the host and primary author for Eorzea Reborn and TSWGuides. He has been playing MMO’s since 1999 and remembers when the holy trinity didn’t involve DPS. You can follow him on Twitter @EorzeaReborn or just argue with him in comments anywhere he posts.