I've always liked the idea of MMO players being able to pursue tradeskills as a viable path for leveling their character. I think this would be an appealing option for folks with limited game time, less refined keyboarding skills or just minimal interest in killing. What would this mean and how would it look? How could you make this alternate path interesting and fulfilling to those who opt for it, and perhaps even interesting enough for standard MMO players to enjoy? Well I think that's something worth discussing and I'm going to share my ideas in a series of posts I'm calling "Neo-Crafting".
One of the major hurdles to this type of game play is how to incorporate enough tasks for a player to fully level up. Or more specifically, how to enable this style of play without creating an insane amount of extra work for your developers. I think we can take some examples from WoW to build this tradeskill path, some of which already exist in one form or another. Presumably if we just extend existing systems, we reduce the need for extra developer resources.
First, the daily quest could play an important role. Let us have rotating quests like the Cooking/Fishing/JC daily. They really should have added daily quests for all professions in WotLK, not just the three we currently have. Second, I would borrow the "writ" concept from the Argent Dawn (also Silithus, AQ Event). Crafters can acquire writs and fill them for XP or tokens. This type of quest would also help reduce the annoyance factor of grinding skill points with crap items, since crap items would now be exchanged for something of value. And yes, I know they want to let us craft blues for more points, but I think having options is always a good thing. So now you have daily quests you can do to earn XP and tokens, plus "writ" tasks which also let you get XP and tokens by making items with your tradeskills.
Another possibility would be to revive mini-games like the "simon" style quest from Ogri'La in Burning Crusade. That was a great idea that was completely abandoned after BC. We already have add-ons that let us play fun little mini-games within WoW, why not officially add them to the game itself? For folks that enjoy them or just want a break from the carnage, this would be a more relaxing alternative. Personally, I would love to see more strategy and thinking skill work their way into WoW. I miss some parts of the older RPGs where figuring out the puzzle was required to unlock something new. I'd like to see elements of that brought back so MMOs could expand beyond just the hack and slash mentality. Fun little mini-games or puzzle games would be one way to make crafting more interesting, if the crafting quests were done as a mini-game.
Quests that involve puzzle-solving could even be integrated as part of the crafting mechanic. In EQ2 they had a sort of mini-game concept for the actual crafting process. It was poorly implemented and the leveling progression was badly designed, which is probably why they never got any attention for it. But I think the idea was sound. Having an interactive type of mini-game would make crafting more interesting and engaging. I would drop the whole EQ2 idea of failure however, it's frustrating to completely lose your mats due to a failure.
To add an element of risk, you could instead incorporate levels of quality that are influenced by the mini-game. This would motivate the crafter to keep trying and perhaps even, dare I say it, allow skill to be a factor in the end product? Those who spend more time on their crafting would be more likely to get a high quality product than those who just power level to unlock epic recipes. Much the way a Jewelcrafter can randomly proc a perfect gem, crafters who perform more crafting actions (or more quests/tasks) could have a higher success rate or quality ratio. In fact, you could have item quality influenced by the competency of the crafter as well as their skill at the crafting "game".
One quest we already have which I think could be repurposed for this type of crafting game is the Grimbooze Thunderbrew chain in Sholazar Basin. First we collected fruit from some local trees (although I had to kill nearby critters, that was annoying) and then we had to assist him with the cooking to create some Jungle Punch. The mechanics of the distillation process would be a good starting point for a crafting game.
Another quest along these lines would be the Alchemist Finklestein quest in Zul'Drak. Unfortunately this one is more of a bad example, I personally find it too complicated. It's timed, you have to run from room to room and collect items and if you're too slow you fail the quest. Even my rogue using sprint had trouble beating the timer if she didn't know exactly where an item was. So basically you have to memorize the location of some two dozen items in order to have a good chance of completion, that's a bit too hard imo. But mechanically this could work if the time/itemization factors were corrected.
Even beyond the realm of possibilities we currently have I'd ideally like to see an option to flag ourselves as completely neutral. Assuming we couldn't attack anything or kill anyone, this would allow crafters to roam freely and pursue crafting oriented activities. With epic riding and the widespread use of escape mechanics, players are essentially roaming freely most of the time anyway. Why not give us a real way to go into "gatherer" mode and be able to interact with the world in a more exploratory fashion? With the use of phasing technology you could have the crafting quests actually activate this mode and let you complete crafting quests with no combat interference. You could also have a different set of resources available in this mode that are not visible to combat players. Going down this road seems like it could really open some doors to interesting and alternate gaming activities that might add a new dimension of fun outside the current options.
Overall, I think we have a lot of options that could be used to bring more variety to MMOs and expand their appeal to new audiences. Most of these ideas wouldn't even require any new technologies in order to flesh them out, just a bit of extra design time to apply existing mechanics in a new direction. This is by no means a comprehensive look at Neo-Crafting, just one of the areas I think could be improved. Other topics I'm planning to cover in the weeks ahead are the concept of uniqueness (separating yourself and your wares from the crowd), the skilling up process, recipe collection and the role of guilds in crafting.
Feel free to share your thoughts on these ideas or toss in your own ideas.