Crafting has never been one of my favorite things to do in MMOs. I spent an inordinate amount of time mining and engineering in vanilla World of Warcraft, and put about the same effort into Prospecting and Tinkering in The Lord of the Rings Online. There are probably a handful of other MMORPGs that I’m forgetting in which I’ve given crafting a college try, and I certainly at least dabble in different professions whenever I play a new game. Heck, I even (completely ridiculously) fully committed to Fable 2’s crafting minigame, and did my best to keep up with Alchemy and Smithing in Skyrim.
The issue with crafting, for me, is fourfold. In the first case, the actual act of crafting isn’t very fun, and feels like busy work. A large majority of the crafting systems in MMORPGs, and increasingly, single-player RPGs and other games, fall into the trap of making you slog through the same UI rotation to reach a new tier, and then repeat the process ad infinitum. Granted, more recent MMOs such as WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online have attempted to mitigate this drudgery with more complex systems, increased risk-reward scenarios, and a wee bit of timing-related gameplay, and these additions have somewhat helped to pique my interest in crafting for a short time. After a while, however, the slog reveals its ugly head and reassures me that my gaming time is best spent elsewhere.
Second, inventory management for crafting materials is usually a nightmare. I’m a pretty organized person - sometimes to a fault - and usually make sure my in-game backpacks and bank spaces are sorted and categorized every time I log off (I am crazy). Keeping track of all of the different materials that I may want to use at some point to create some item or give a boost to some enchantment absolutely drives me nuts. Although I haven’t crafted in (or played) LOTRO for some time now, I can still visualize my character’s bag space filled with neatly organized metal ores, tinkering tools, and other materials. Guild Wars 2 and WildStar have both sought to help alleviate this issue by allowing you to automatically deposit stuff in a crafting bank, which is a welcome step, but the number of materials still requires a good deal of management on the player’s part.
A third issue that I come up against with traditional crafting systems is that of relevance. I’ve rarely had a character that could use the items that s/he crafted, which tend to be much lower in level. This discrepancy has usually resulted in either my shipping off of items to alts, who honestly didn’t care much for them, or selling them on the auction house, which only reinforces the concept of crafting as work. Forgive me if this sounds churlish, but I’d much rather put in an hour of actual work and net some real paper, than spend my in-game time crafting to earn virtual gold.
If you haven’t written off this week’s column as a theme park fanboy’s biased opinion and are wondering why I’m soapboxing about crafting, then you’ll be happy to know that the fourth issue ties it all together. Because of the sheer number of MMOs that come across my desk (a great problem to have, to be sure), I tend to play a lot of them fairly casually, while putting more effort into the one or two that have caught my eye at any given time. This tendency means that I have very little interest in engaging with the intended endgame of crafting in most games: the player economy. I understand that in a sandbox model, the idea is to foster the exchange of goods between players and encourage a supply-demand economy that is dependent upon other interrelated systems, such as PvP, territory and resource control, guild membership, and the like. This part of crafting, the truly interesting nexus of virtual exchange that can only be created in online communities such as MMOs, is fascinating to me. The trouble is that getting involved with such an economy requires a huge time investment that I ordinarily would rather dedicate towards other game features, like leveling my characters or participating in PvP. Furthermore, if the price of entry into engaging in the player economy is to slog through the crafting grind, I’m not sure the benefit outweighs the cost.
Why am I on about crafting right now? Blame ArcheAge. I’m giving Trion Worlds and XLGAMES’ new MMORPG a shot after playing a bit in the alpha, and while I like the game’s character progression system and visuals quite a lot, its old hat questing and combat have not yet made themselves appealing to me. I know that these features are not the highlights of ArcheAge and that the game’s strengths lie elsewhere, in its crafting, farming, player economy, and other sandbox elements. I’m willing to give them a fair shake - I’d just love it if the act of doing them is as fun as the reason for doing them, namely, participating in the player economy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that crafting is bogus and no one should do it; rather, I’ve found that the crafting systems I’ve played so far have been too boring of barriers of entry to engage in player economies. So I’d like to hear from you crafters out there: why do you craft? What are your favorite crafting systems out there, and are they a means to an end for player engagement? Or do I need to look at crafting differently and give it another try?