Neo-Crafting, Part 1

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.


  1. Just as an FYI although it doesn't really fall into the same category as WoW. The new MMO Fallen Earth rewards xp for crafting, and it is entirel possible, though I imagine slower, to completely level via crafting. And the crafting system is crazy deep.

  2. Tobold described a nice feature of Atlantica Online where you would for example make 100 crap daggers while skilling up the dagger crafting skill (making this up I don't remember the details :)). Then you could take those crap daggers and combine them to a single +1 dagger which is as good if not better as any drop from PvE. That provides another mechanism for getting rid of crap items, in addition to the "write for xp/gold" system you mentioned.
    More choices are a good thing, right? :)

    Great idea for an article series btw, looking forward to reading the rest.

  3. oops, that should have been "writ", not "write" :)

  4. There are definitely other games that have better crafting systems than WoW. I wasn't aware of Fallen Earth, but just from looking at the web site it looks a bit hard core. A Tale in the Desert is another one I tried which had an extensive crafting system. Unfortunately there wasn't much aside from that in terms of game play so it got boring pretty quickly. I'm sure there are plenty different games with slightly better systems in one way or another - however WoW is the big man on campus atm.

    My thinking is that crafting will never get respect as a valid playstyle until a successful game makes it work. Given a choice between a new game with an amazing crafting system that tanks in 6 months because no one plays it, or a popular game like WoW adding a rich crafting system -- I'll take the WoW option. Not only will it help legitimize professions as an alternate path, but it gives every player a variety of activities which enhances the longevity of the game and helps fight off burnout.

    Or maybe I'm just spoiled by WoW and don't want to give it up ;)

  5. Hehe Solid - been following Tobold a bit myself. Reading some of his stuff sort of pushed me into doing my own posts. They've been percolating for awhile now but that helped motivate me to actually get it done, lol. But ya, I'd be fine with exchanging crap items for a nicer version or repurposing them somehow. I say the more the merrier on ways to get use out of crafted goodies.

  6. I think your note on the Alchemist Finklestein quest in Zul’Drak explains why your idea of mini-games probably won't be implemented. The thing about killing monsters and leveling by questing is that the difference in skill affects not your reward but the time you invest. If you play better then me, you don't get more money, more XP, or more items from kills and quests - you can just do them faster. This is also true for the death mechanic: wasting time is the only panelty for dying.

    Let's say, for example, crafting a gem would be a mini-game: even if you lose in the mini-game, you get a gem, let's say with +16 AP. But if you did well in the game, the gem would be +20 AP, and if you did VERY well, it would be +24 AP, and so on for other gems. Bow different players can craft different level gems, though they all invest the same amount of time playing. While you may get several skilled players happy, the majority of the players would be frustrated. The marketplace would be dominated by those players who can craft better quality gems. This how annoyed you would feel if all your gems were 10% crappier then someone else's, because you can't finish Alchemist Finklestein's quest in time.

    Seperating the trade skill system from the leveling system was one of Blizzard's better decisions, and I think it allows for the very game you enjoy: it allows avid crafters, like yourself, to work for fun and profit, and not force you to make certain things, or be good in a specific way (like the quest forces you to be fast), to level your character.

  7. You certainly make some valid points, although I would hope that developers would not use a flawed mini-game as the foundation for a heartier crafting system. While I agree that skill influencing the outcome might be frustrating for those who aren't good at a particular game, people get frustrated now if they aren't good at PVP or even certain PVE tasks. PVP is actually an excellent example of game mechanics excluding those who aren't skilled. There's a huge subset of current players who don't have the reaction time to play PVP properly, no matter how much they might like to be a part of the action. Blizzard isn't going to rework PVP to accommodate those players and make sure everyone can succeed, the one time they did implement a "grindy" system they got flak for it.

    There are certainly ways to combat the sort of outcome you describe - a collection of mini-games instead of just one. Presumably if there is variety, the player could choose a mini-game they are good at. Plus, the act of practicing (just like PVP) makes you better. Those who take the time to get good will improve. I also wouldn't have such a wide variation in item quality as you describe, it would be more like 1-5 point variation for the full average to best spectrum. And I wouldn't have mini-game outcome be the only variable, just one of the variables that influence the outcome of the final product. Right now the crafters who get the best recipes are the ones who are the best at PVE, not the ones who actually put effort into crafting ability. Adding new ways to influence the quality of goods would give non-raiding crafters another option for making high quality goods.

    The problem with the current system is that there is no differentiation between avid crafters and those who are just min/maxing their gear. This would give avid crafters a path to creating the diversity that many crafters want. Obviously there are good and bad ways to do that, hopefully they wouldn't implement a bad system. But yes, I would like to see crafting be more robust and perhaps even require a bit of skill. I don't think it's a bad thing if not everyone is good at it, just as not everyone is the best at PVP or PVE. Just as players currently focus their efforts in a particular style of gameplay, I think that would still hold true if there was another gaming option on the table.

  8. I believe Darkfall online has several crafting related things in it, and i believe they were saying you could play the game as nothing more than a merchant/crafter. Final Fantasy 14 is going to have different paths including a crafting path where you are mainly a crafter with some adventuring on the side. You might check either of those out for some more ideas. It is nice that more games are trying to change up crafting. And for those who played Final Fantasy know what a horribly complex crafting system looks like.

  9. (Ray the) CartographerSeptember 9, 2009 at 3:23 AM

    One might consider that if there was disparity between crafted products (say the difference between +1 to +5), there would also be some way to compensate. Maybe I don't have the skill/recipe for the +5, but if I could combine a bunch of +1 items, I'd be able to compete with the elite crafters at the cost of using more resources to do so. If I ever acquired the skill/recipe, then I'd be able to do the top (+5) with the minimal amount of resources.

    Also, one might consider a "reverse engineering" mechanic. If I make 100 daggers and can't do anything other than vendor them - why can't I deconstruct them, perhaps with a lesser return of material components? I mean, I have the know-how to put it together, wouldn't I have the know-how to repair it/take it apart?

    I have no problems with a more complex crafting system (my mind keeps going back to games previously played like Asheron's Call or Star Wars Galaxies), but I would like to see the achievement system play a part. "You've discovered 15 of 16 eternal transmutes" would either inspire me to keep trying and get that last discovery or at least let me know how worthwhile it would be to use cooldowns attempting that vs. other discoveries.

  10. Rien: My husband has talked me into testing other crafting systems to establish a better foundation for this discussion. Unlike other testers, I will be focusing strictly on crafting content and the adventuring required to unlock it. So feel free to suggest other MMOs and cost permitting, I will check them out. Right now I'm doing Aion, which is in open beta this week and I will add Darkfall to my list :)

    Ray: I believe that Champions Online has an R&D and reverse engineering aspect to their crafting system. I was hoping to test that one also, but there doesn't appear to be a trial version available. If they offer it at some point I will include them in the testing mentioned above. But I agree that it would be great to have Achievements that follow your progress through the crafting levels, not just the completion of "novelty" activities that WoW currently emphasizes.

  11. > "Those who take the time to get good will improve. "

    You could even implement that mechanic in-game, so as to offset (or lessen) the effect of the actual skill of the player in the mini-game.

    So for example the more a player crafted, the higher would be her char's "skill" in that particular crafting game and she would get a higher bonus to her results.

    Currently the more a player fights with her sword, the higher is her skill (up to the cap). The higher the skill, the more chance to hit the mobs ("better results"). I don't see why such a mechanic could not work for crafting to offset the "player skill" issue raised.

  12. Good ideas here, some of them would be hard to implement and i think we can discount WoW for being the type of game where this would be viable, unfortunately I dont think there would be enough people to warrant the time invested who would be looking to play on a purely crafting / profit basis.

    If however this did happen i'd like to see a few things that would make it much more fun.

    The ability to purchase or loan a shop permises to sell your goods, maybe an automated shopkeeper and stock control system. I'd really like to make a name for myself selling top end alchemy goods or herbs that would be really cool.

    More rare and extremely rare patterns/recipes etc, some from incredibly long proffesions related quest chains that a great deal of people might attempt but only a few would succeed. After all the best way of being recognised for your proffesion is to offer something unique as well as cheaper bulk prices.

    Selling packages on the AH or in the shop would be another thing, but 10 mana pots and get 2 elixirs free kind of thing, or 10 flasks for the price of 9.

    I'm going to follow this discussion in the hopes of finding a game with a really complex crafting system that looks interesting. The comments so far are right in terms of that WoW's crafting system is far too simple.

    Keep up the good ideas :)

  13. Solid: I agree that overall skill (skill level and perhaps number of items made) should be another variable in determining skill as it contributes to item quality. I'm sure there would be different ways to come up with an algorithm for that, but something along those lines should be part of the mix.

    Crusader: You're probably right that WoW won't incorporate some of the more complex ideas. At some point someone is going to take on a 2.0 MMO and brainstorming future ideas can be beneficial for that purpose (gee I really wish X were possible). I'm interested in doing both, because we don't know the architecture involved with WoW or anything else. If we don't ask for "pie in the sky", we'll never get it ;) But in general I think more liberal use of RNG would solve some of the things you mention in terms of complexity. I'll be talking about that in a future post.

  14. I love some of your ideas and suggestions and feel that certain players (the more 'social' players especially) would be happy to fill a guild crafter role and sit around chatting and making things for friends while levelling up.

    The problem with such systems (which i have encountered in other games such as Star Wars Galaxies) is that it can become INCREDIBLY grindy. Want to go from level 79-80 ? ok make 100 epics or 250 blues or 1,000 greens ? Well, some people would just fill their bags from the AH, click 'create all' and come back to a new level. It is very hard to avoid this situation where crafting can seriously become a method to level a character.

    @crusader: about player controlled shops..with a high population server this can be a real nightmare. In SWG they had this and the landscape was littlerally covered with hundreds of shops - comparing prices and finding the item you actually wanted could take hours of driving round. The AH may be simple, but sometimes simple = good imo

  15. *Achievement Professions
    From what I understand after watching the panel at Blizzcon, real profession achievements will be introduced once achievements are shared across characters and accounts. I imagine the possibilities for profession achievements is very large.

    I think they mentioned Archaeology potentially having a mini-game element, so perhaps that's going to be their testbed.

    *Leveling by Crafting
    Leveling completely through crafting is a lofty goal, and I think it's very cool. However, I agree that without making the current profession system much more interesting (as you've described), I can't see it happening. But even supplementing the existing system with dailies and experience from skill-ups would be a welcome addition.

    I'm very much looking forward to your findings with crafting systems in other games, and how their designs could potentially be applied to WoW.

  16. A little off the topic but why is there no wood working skill. making bows, arrows, Staves, shields and all the other wood trinckets needed for other skills. Add woodchopping gathering skill and it would be set.

    Dark Age of Camelot had a very nice crafting systems (although it was missing the gathering system) Crafted items were king. Vendor bought and dropped items had at most 96% quality so would lower the overall dps or armor. Whereas a crafter could get 94 - 100% quality depending on skill and # of attempts made. Everyone wanted a full set of master peice 100% gear and was willing to pay for it and crafters could repair.

    They also could take loot and salvage it. You would only recover the main material used to make it not all the other bits but it was a nice way to get extra mats. Did not have to vendor or put everything on the AH.

  17. I love some of your ideas and suggestions and feel that certain players (the more 'social' players especially) would be happy to fill a guild crafter role and sit around chatting and making things for friends while levelling up.

    The problem with such systems (which i have encountered in other games such as Star Wars Galaxies) is that it can become INCREDIBLY grindy. Want to go from level 79-80 ? ok make 100 epics or 250 blues or 1,000 greens ? Well, some people would just fill their bags from the AH, click 'create all' and come back to a new level. It is very hard to avoid this situation where crafting can seriously become a method to level a character.

    @crusader: about player controlled shops..with a high population server this can be a real nightmare. In SWG they had this and the landscape was littlerally covered with hundreds of shops - comparing prices and finding the item you actually wanted could take hours of driving round. The AH may be simple, but sometimes simple = good imo...

  18. Mushi: It was stated during the Item/Prof panel at Blizzcon that there are not enough item types currently in the game to populate Woodcrafting as a separate profession. The more likely scenario for now would be to roll those items (Bows/Staves/etc) into existing professions like Blacksmithing or Engineering. If at some point new item types are created that support Woodcrafting, they may go ahead and add it.

    Jon: I guess I missed the bit about Archaeology possibly having a mini-game component, thanks for clarifying that. As for my new research project, I'm learning a lot already. Actually getting into a game and going through their crafting process is much different than reading the glamorized version on their web site. In Aion's case this isn't playing in their favor, but I'll be doing a full write-up next week for anyone who's curious. Right now I'm sold on this process because it's already helping me solidify the good and the bad in crafting systems.

    Hema: Your mention of "grindy" makes me laugh because I'm finding this exact problem in Aion right now. Clearly it takes a lot of careful consideration to come up with a crafting system that grants XP but leaves no room for abuse since no one has come up with a magic formula yet. And I'm with you on the player shops, they are more annoying than they are beneficial. At least that's been the case in the EQ2 and Aion implementations I'm familiar with. The second I had the chance I abandoned my "shop" and went straight to the AH, lol!

  19. LOTRO had a nice crafting system where there were proficiency levels and once you attained mastery of a tier, you had a chance for a critical success that created a better item. it was however very grindy also, requiring lots of ores/wood/etc and also had the problem of "i have to make 38 of this" to get to the next tier and alot of the stuff you made was vendored. They did have a requisition system though where you could turn in a request for certain levels of ores with a fee and come back in a few hours (increasing by level of the ores) and pick up your crate with random stuff in it.