Dark or Light

Crowfall – Industry Day

Red Thomas Posted:
Columns 0

Have I mentioned before that I like Crowfall?  I’m fairly sure I have, but there are a few things that I’m not totally in love with… at least not yet.  I’ve not been crazy about the crafting system up to this point, or the economic force it wields in-game.  Though it’s only fair to caveat that statement with a couple things.

First, there hasn’t been a whole lot of focus on economy up to this point.  The main drive was combat and then the implementation of all the various core systems that support how Crowfall will effectively be an unlimited number of MMOs under a single umbrella.  I wouldn’t say that economy has been an afterthought precisely, but it’s certainly played second fiddle to a host of other development objectives.

The second thing is that you have to acknowledge what Crowfall is and what the devs are targeting as an end state.  Crowfall isn’t trying to be EVE Online or Star Wars Galaxies.  You’ll see nods to those games as several of the developers worked on SWG in the past, but Crowfall isn’t a game about creating conflict through economy in quite the same way as those other games.  I would say those games were more about a strategic form of economy with long-term goals, and Crowfall is more about a tactical economy.

ArtCraft Entertainment has taken a number of key steps forward in fleshing out their economy, and that lets us put together a better idea of what the finished game should look like.  Today, we’re going to look at a number of these new mechanics like limited-use blueprints and resource refining to understand how that fits into this tactical economic model, which I think may be new for the MMO genre.

Draft Proposal

I’m not sure anyone ever put a name on it, but I look back and see the bones of the economic model I see taking shape now.  I think it was obfuscated a bit by the talk about the Eternal Kingdoms and the opportunity for players to take some resources back with them at the end of campaigns.  In early conversations, that felt like a cool take on the normal persistent economy.

Obviously, there will be some persistence to the economy, but I’m starting to see that part as negligible compared against the whole.  Any effort put towards infrastructure and defenses in each campaign will of course be wiped out at the end of the campaign.  Players can exfiltrate materials, gear, and items for various upgrades, but you can only carry so much with you into the next campaign.  Because both the output from campaigns and then input back into new ones is throttled, I’m not sure the macro-economy of the Eternal Kingdoms will play that large of a role in the micro-economies of the campaigns.

Caravans will be needed to transport bulk material to refineries for processing. Caravans are slow and they will be vulnerable to attack…

In that point, you see why I think we need to look at Crowfall and its economy as a tactical economy.  Each new campaign is effectively a self-contained economic opportunity, and that could be a really good thing.

I said earlier that I’m not sure we’ve seen this in an MMO before, but I think we have seen it in other genres.  Virtually every economic sim and RTS has elements of this sort of limited-term and rapid-inflation economy.  I’d never considered it before, but this could work very well.  In the same way that popular FPS games have streamlined the process from entering a match to getting into combat, this economic model may accomplish something similar for folks more interested in the industry side of MMOs.

Priced to Win

If this is true and Crowfall does end up with a more bang-or-bust economic model, this’ll dramatically change the way players want to engage in the economy.  Rapid inflation means that you’ll likely want to throw as much as you can on the market as quickly as you can, and price it to move.  As industrial capacity spins up with more players harvesting more resources, the price of goods will drop.  The best plan to live by is selling early and buying late.

Because player advancement will be carried over from campaign to campaign, the only tech-up component of the economy will maybe be who owns which forts or keeps.  Otherwise early prices on general goods will tank and the market should eventually stabilize around the rarity of goods.  Everyone goes in being able to harvest and create anything they want, so the limitation will be those random uncommon drops.  The good news is that this could make raw common materials virtually free.

Refineries may be the main source of rare ingredients, and thus more critical to the game than they first appear.

One interesting thing to note in this is that I think it might actually make the caravan system in Crowfall that much more important to the economy.  I had a chance to talk about the crafting system during my last visit and heard about refineries for the first time.  Refineries will be stations in certain forts that will take slabs of stone transported via caravan from quarries and convert them into crafting material.  The process also has a chance to drop the same rare resources players get from harvesting by hand, but in bulk.

It’s already a cool system that creates interesting gameplay situations by effectively creating an ad hoc protection quest in the game.  Players have to drive the caravan from the quarry to the refinement station, which has to be protected by more players.  If refinement is the main source of bulk rare resources, attacking that caravan just became a critical mission for opposition forces in the area.

Offer Submission

Refineries aren’t the only new additions to crafting in the game.  Developers are also introducing new limited-use recipes to the game.  These recipes are going to be found as dropped loot from the new War Tribes that have been introduced to the game.  The recipes will allow the holder to create a limited number of whatever unique item the recipe allows.

There will also be options for altering standard recipes through the addition of other materials, such as adding weight to a weapon to make it hit harder at the cost of speed or adding banding to leather armor to make it more effective at the cost of movement speed.  I like the idea because it creates opportunities for more diversity in equipment, which is always good.

Axes might be modified to have more weight and thus more damage per swing, but the durability and speed might also be negatively impacted.

I’m hoping that the developers use that flexibility to create some perfect economic imbalance.  If they can work the system so that certain war tribes drop certain specific types of recipes and the equipment modifications also require something unique to given maps, that would help to create a more robust economy.  If everyone has access to everything, there won’t be much for the industry to grow an economy around.  I expect the best crafters will all be tied to guilds and since each map would have everything they needed in equal amounts to every other, there’d be less reason for trade.

This is also where the Crowfall worlds pro-tem approach may have additional pay-off.  Because campaigns are only for limited time, you have the opportunity to reset the economy over and over.  This gives the developers a freedom to try crazy ideas and fail quickly, and the entrepreneur in me cheers excitedly at that idea.  Bad ideas also won’t have as bad of an impact on the community because it’s easier to take something that doesn’t seem fair if you know it’s only temporary.  I suspect players will be more tolerant of experimentation.

Contract Award

The market will decide in the end whether Crowfall has good ideas or bad, but I definitely see a lot of what I think are good ideas.  I’ve been hooked on the idea of Crowfall ever since I heard the team’s initial pitch on the Dying Worlds, and everything since then has backed up my initial impression of the game.

This last week is a prime example of why I still support the game so vocally.  As long as I’ve been covering the game, I never stopped to think about the ways the economics will work differently in Crowfall.  Thinking about it now, I really think that’s going to be just as important to the game’s success as the dynamic world-building will be.

Granted, this isn’t going to be for everyone.  There is a laundry list of components that certain segments of the population will find a turn off.   I’m not a fan of action RPGs typically, nor do I really care for the twitchy shoot-em-up games like CoD.   Those sorts of games are hugely popular because they serve a massive population who enjoy them, and I think Crowfall might be on to something in a similar vein. 

 I don’t know of many games where economy has been truncated like it will be here, and framing it inside of an action-packed MMO makes it even more approachable for people with limited time.  I think there will be a lot of people, and I’m probably one of them, who really prefer the more complex economic models we’ve seen in other games.  I also believe there’s a population of gamers out there who don’t have time for games like that (again such as myself) and also plenty who just prefer a more approachable version of the big economic simulation you get from a player-based economy.  How large those populations are, I don’t know that there’s enough data to say.   I’m sure excited to find out, though.

NOTICE OF BIAS:  Red Thomas is an SEC accredited investor and has invested in ArtCraft Entertainment, the studio developing Crowfall.  While Red makes a good faith effort at subjectivity, unconscious bias is always possible, and readers should take the potential of bias into account.


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.