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Have Character, Will Craft?

Isabelle Parsley Posted:
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It took me a few years to realize it, but I'm a crafter in games. In my pen'n'paper days playing AD&D, one of my characters did the cooking and our party always knew what was for dinner, even if they didn't always like it. Vole fricassee anyone?

In Asheron's Call, my characters stood around clapping their hands (animations weren't all that sophisticated back then), making potions, food and arrows. It wasn't particularly lucrative but it did keep me in ammo and Viamont Toast. One of the first things I did when I tried EQ (aside from falling off platforms in Kelethin) was to try to figure out how to craft there, but my friends and I moved on to other games before I got much of a chance - and I'd have crafted in UO if I had played it long enough to get anywhere useful. The fishing was fun though!

And then SWG launched, and suddenly crafting was a whole 'nother game. You could do nothing but crafting if that was what you wanted, and I took to it like an altoholic to extra character slots; in fact, since you could only have one character per server when SWG launched (and when Jedi were but a gleam in a hologrind's eye), I ended up with three separate accounts just so that I could try all the crafting professions on offer.

SWG was different from most other MMOs in several ways back then, and to some extent it still is now. First, everything was player-made, so if you needed a sword or a droid or some booze, you had to make it yourself or buy it from someone else who'd made it. Second, SWG had a fascinatingly complex resource spawn system, where each planet had its own spawn potential, each resource had a set of values that could vary from awful to amazing, and spawn concentrations varied across the surface of each planet. You had to go out surveying to find the best spots, and generally the most dangerous planets (oh, Dathomir!) had the best spawns. It was definitely the first MMO I played where you could build a commercial empire if that was what you wanted to do, without ever touching a blaster. And I did - but we'll come back to SWG in a minute.

I crafted in WoW, Horizons, Vanguard, EVE, Fallen Earth, EQ2, LOTRO, and probably a bunch of other games I can't remember now. When I'm asked to define my play style, that's how I define it now: I'm a hardcore crafter. I may not max out adventuring levels, but when it comes to crafting I'm ambitious, dedicated, and I'll put in the time needed to get to the top. Back when I quit playing EQ2 the last time I was working on my sixth level 90 crafter. I moved on to Fallen Earth for a while and, you guessed it, the first thing I did was look at the crafting. As soon as I came back to LOTRO this summer, I started picking up crafting professions and making alts so I could spread out across all the possible specialties.

Oh, and I also have this inability to pass a resource node without stopping to pick it up. I'm a harvestoholic. Sometimes I wonder if I harvest to fuel my crafting, or if I craft because it gives me something to do with all the stuff I can't stop myself from gathering.

But there are problems with crafting in all the MMOs I've played, including the ground-breaking SWG. (Scott Jennings wrote an excellent article on crafting earlier this year from a designer's perspective on MMORPG.com.) Vanguard required an insane grind and even more insane luck to get the higher-level recipes you needed (this has since changed somewhat) - and some people got lucky while others, including myself, just grumbled into their beer about the vagaries of the RNG. LOTRO originally had very few recipes that could compete with loot drops (this has also changed). SWG migrated to a more loot-driven item model and made other changes that, all in all, weren't so great if you were a crafter.

SWG had a more insidious problem, too, for someone like me. The resource spawns changed over time, usually every few days, though some spawns would last for over a week. Finding these spawns and getting harvesters placed on the best concentrations could take a lot of playtime. Making subcomponents and firing up half a dozen factories could take a lot more of your playtime. At some point I realised that I was doing almost too well in SWG: I had a loyal and plentiful customer base (and made a lot of friends along the way - shout out to my Shadowfire buddies!), but I was spending all my time in game just keeping up with the commercial empire I'd built. It was turning into a job. That's when I realized it was probably time to let my subscription lapse and take a sanity break.

And then there's the fact that there isn't an MMO out there where crafting isn't some sort of grind. Of course, one might argue that MMOs are grind by definition, in that everyone is doing pretty much the same thing over and over just with different level mobs, but at least the adventuring grind also includes moments of high tension, a little bit of fake danger, and the joys of opening the loot-box. I don't craft because I enjoy that grind, whether it's clicking "Make all" and going to make a sammich or whether it's playing the whack-a-mole mini-game while wishing I could go make a sammich. I craft because I really enjoy making useful, cool, or just plain silly stuff for myself, my friends, and maybe the odd customer or three. That and I have an extremely strong drive to be self-sufficient, and crafting is usually one of the ways to fulfill that need.

But this time around in WoW, I've decided not to craft if I can help it. WoW's crafting isn't designed to foster any kind of crafting community or really to permit the SWG or UO type of "shopkeeper" game - it's designed primarily to be a money and resource sink, and secondarily to provide a selection of useful adventuring items. In addition, all of WoW's non-adventuring skills are gated by adventuring level, so if you want to be a high level tailor you also have to be a high level adventurer. That, for me, is usually a bit of a problem. Though with WoW's much flatter leveling curve these days, I will say it's probably not as much of a problem as it used to be, even for an adventuring-slacker like me.

I did get my old account back (thank you to everyone who supplied advice and ideas in the comments a few weeks back!), so I do have a selection of crafters of varying levels and skill levels. I just don't really want to do anything crafty with them. I've got enough on my plate, it turns out, just playing my main and trying to figure out where on earth she's going to get enough gold to pay for artisan riding. And this time around I'm well aware of quite how time-consuming and expensive crafting can get, especially if you're an altoholic like me.

So I'm going to do my best to stay away from crafting, at least for a while. There's nothing I could make that I can't get from guildies, probably with a great deal less expense and trouble than if I tried to make it myself. My play style doesn't involve PUGs and it doesn't involve dungeons, so my gear only needs to be good enough to get me through my questing encounters, and I've discovered that there's a huge leap in gear quality - first between the old world and Outlands, and then in the high 60s between Outlands and Northrend. I'm getting pretty good gear upgrades just by questing.

This is a rather novel experience for me. Where most players eventually decide they might have a go at crafting, I've eventually decided I might have a go at just plain adventuring. Well, and doing a bit of fishing and cooking on the side. With a bit of luck, all that leather I'm skinning and not using can be sold on the Auction House and might even fund that 4-5000 gold riding skill.

As a final note, happy holidays to everyone out there who is celebrating one. Eat, drink, be merry, be nice to family and friends, and don't forget that there isn't a game out there that can compete with genuine face-time. Peace.


Isabelle Parsley