Half-Assed Crafting: Why Implement It At All?
Interesting Twitter-topic (Twopic?) this morning. Talyn328 mentioned that he agreed with a comment from Jack Emmert (of Cryptic) that “not all online multiplayer games need to have…crafting”. This, of course, got me thinking about the inclusion of crafting in pretty much all MMOs, how these systems are implemented, and whether or not they actually bring anything to the game.
Crafting has it’s fans, and it has it’s detractors. There are people who enjoy the idea of being able to create virtual goods for use or sale, but there are also those who might never touch the crafting system and may find it pointless all together. I, for one, am a fan – usually. In Star Wars Galaxies, I don’t think I ever engaged in combat unless I had to; instead, I scanned and placed harvesters and worked my way through the artisan tree to be able to make vehicles and housing. I hold SWG’s crafting system in the highest regard, because it was so in-depth: the quality of the materials mattered, you could experiment on the blueprint, and any items made bore your name. You could make a name for yourself if people realized your goods were always of top quality.
But most of the crafting systems we have today seem “tacked on”. They involve hoarding materials, buying a recipe and slamming the two together to get a product…the same product…all the time. There’s no chance of failure, it’s 100% mechanical and very lightweight. How does this kind of system benefit the player base, crafting-minded players, or the game as a whole?
Crafting can play a beneficial role. Goods produced can be used by players, or can be sold on the auction houses to generate cash flow. The experience of simple systems like those found in World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online fall far short of what SWG, Vanguard or EverQuest II offers. In the latter, players can actually play the game and advance strictly through crafting. I believe that crafting systems which allow players to play without having to resort to the usual formula of “kill X rats” is very appealing to players who enjoy the crafting experience, and as a true avenue of alternate advancement, should be something that receives more focus from developers in the future.
Games which “half-ass” their crafting systems (like WoW) might as well not even have crafting systems at all. Star Trek Online has crafting, but it’s so weak that it’s hard to find a reason why it exists. As Talyn328 put it, some crafting systems “did not need to be there at all within the design/lore of the IPs.” Generally, I think that any IP can explain away why crafting is present, but STO’s system exists simply because someone, somewhere decided that crafting had to be there to satisfy the “MMO Feature Checklist”.
This is a hard habit to break, and I think it’s where Mr. Emmert’s comment comes into focus. As much as I enjoy robust crafting systems, having simplistic systems for the sake of having a crafting system – or to paraphrase a Bioware developer who explained in an early dev video that Star Wars: The Old Republic would have crafting “because other games have it” – is a real disservice to everyone, both crafters and non-crafters. Crafters who are hoping for real, in-depth systems feel let down by a simple building-block system, and those who are interested in other game play systems might actually have had more content available had a segment of the design and development team not had to spend time creating and developing a crafting system.
In the end, I agree with Mr. Emmert. Not every game needs to have crafting, especially if it’s going to be overly simplistic and present as an afterthought. If a game is going to feature crafting, why not make it a first tier experience like combat or raiding? Make crafting necessary and relevant to people, not just as a puzzle piece to get people to socialize. If the design cannot fit a robust crafting experience into it’s design, then anything less is just busywork.