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The present and future of crafting in MMOs

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Sweat glistens off corded muscles in the light of the forge as the blacksmith raises the hammer again then lets it fall on the pliable red-hot steel. The metal yields yet again, flattening more, closer to the desired thickness to hold a bladed edge that will slice through most in its way. Sweat is wiped from the brow as the smithy’s mind wanders a moment. This blade is almost done – one down, seven more to go.

Little has changed in the realm of MMO crafting since the modern 3D age began in the late 1990s. The formula is essentially the same: harvest and then grind repetitively through recipes to level and get more recipes to grind out until you actually get to items of value to other players. But in some games crafted items can be eclipsed by quest rewards, or raids will yield weapons or armor that are far superior to anything crafted by players.

So what is the point of crafting when questing and adventuring can supply the needs of players? Jen Gordy, a lead designer of systems for Turbine, and Fran Stewart, a writer for En Masse Entertainment (which will be publishing TERA in North America), shared their perspectives on the topic.

In some games it seems that crafting is a sub-text to the central themes of the game, a way to prolong player interaction, round out the experience and give players who don’t want to adventure all the time something else to do. So, if that is the intent, is it a viable element of the game concept?

“Crafting in LotRO is designed to be a complementary experience to story and character advancement in Middle-earth,” stated Gordy. “You can advance crafting as you level, creating consumables and equipment that you use along the way. Immersion can take place at any stage: crafting pipeweed or dyes to enjoy roleplay time with friends, creating furniture for homes, or perhaps reforging legendary items for brave adventurers.”

“Crafting in TERA is open to everyone,” Stewart said. “You're not restricted to crafting one or two professions. The whole crafting world is your oyster. I've really enjoyed crafting for a social reason: I can produce gear that helps my friends or my guild. It gives me something interesting to do that makes a difference. I'd say it's an interesting supporting element of the game.”

But considering that the gameplay elements for crafting have change little over the years, does the concept need to be looked at harder and revamped?

“Both,” Steward said. “Simple crafting systems do what the player wants, and most people don't play for the crafting. And change is delicate. It's important to reward players for hours put in, but you also have to limit crafting output so it doesn't destabilize the game. An unbalanced craft system might be interesting but could frustrate players beyond reason or flood the game economy with goods! Also, with TERA's frenetic combat, it's nice to do something with the push of a button. One aspect of TERA's crafting that works well is its plateaus of skill. Once you learn to make armor at one level, you can make armor that will last you for 15 levels. That's pretty nice.”

Gordy, however, countered that crafting has evolved.

“Crafting has had many changes since the launch of LotRO,” Gordy said. “The Mines of Moria expansion introduced a new crafting tier, the Mirkwood expansion introduced a new type of recipe (called multi-output recipes). Craft professions are continually streamlined and new recipes are added almost every single book update. We are now looking at revising the craft panel for a future update, as well as adding new types of crafting items to the LotRO Store. We will always provide support for crafting in LotRO and continue to find ways to enhance the crafting experience.”

Players who craft often find that to level, they are tasked with making a lot of a certain product, one that has little value and the quantities are of little use. Why is crafting and leveling crafting skills still such a grind?

“We have started to streamline this experience,” said Gordy, “through creation of bulk recipes for refining materials, adjusting component requirements for recipes, and removing some of the dependencies upon other craft professions. Additionally, we may provide acceleration opportunities in a future update.”

The grind is “Less so in TERA,” Steward said. “Components you craft can often be used in multiple later recipes. Refine your raw materials, build components and then crank out gear! Even if you fail making something your skill advances a little, which makes sense. Most of the time once I'm done making the components I need for an item I've pretty much reached the skill level to make the item itself. The crafting system got a hefty re-vamp based on feedback from players in both Korea and the West, so expect it to be better than what you saw in the betas. It'll still be familiar enough to MMO players but they will also find a new wrinkle or two in TERA's crafting.

Do you think the inducements to harvest and craft products, over merely questing for rare or epic drops, are adequate?

“Crafting will provide better products that what the player will receive through standard quest rewards in a region,” said Gordy. “Many good recipes are also available through reputation barter or one-shot recipe drops. Crafting provides a bridge between play-styles: quest rewards and landscape drops are geared towards casual play, crafting products fit in the middle, while instance/raid rewards are geared towards the more hardcore player.”

“Crafted gear in TERA is on par at most levels with the gear you collect through drops, dungeons, and quests,” Stewart said, “and can actually outperform dropped gear at times. By enchanting crafted gear, you can unlock bonus abilities that other gear doesn't have, making your crafted gear even more potent than the drops.”

It seems, based on these comments, that the foundations of the gameplay mechanic are well set and while there will be tweaks here and there, the core elements will move forward. Having not yet played TERA, it does sound like the crafting of components mirrors some elements that EverQuest II had in place at launch and abandoned in subsequent game updates. Regardless, there can be a sedate feeling when craft, even if the players does not personally get his or her hands dirty performing the task. There is also a basic sense of accomplishment when something crafted finds valuable usage in the gaming world, whether it is to protect, to damage, or to provide buffs or aesthetic value.


Guest Writer