Neo-Crafting Pt 2: Uniqueness

One of the things that comes up time and time again is the idea of uniqueness.  Every crafter wants to offer something that no one else has - to be able to stand out in the sea of sameness.  This desire to be unique has spawned some arguably bad behavior.  Auction House speculators who buy out competitors and repost at their favored price.  Stockpiling items that are scheduled for modification in some way to capitalize on buying frenzies.  Racing to be the first person with access to the newest pets/dungeon drops/raid craftables/etc so you can charge out the wazoo for it.  The driving force behind all of these behaviors is our need to be the first or only crafter offering a specific item so we can price it however we want and make oodles of gold.

I know there are folks out there who would argue that this is how the market works.  Capitalism in all it's glory.  I agree with that to a certain extent.  Except when other game mechanics interfere with a level playing field, such as raiders getting first access to recipes by engaging in an activity that is unrelated to crafting.  Or insane faction grinds blocking high profile recipes (runed ruby anyone?) because epic items are also unlocked in the process.  Instead of putting the focus on thwarting bad behavior and wasting time trying to police it, perhaps there's a better way.  If crafters had the option to differentiate themselves in a positive and meaningful fashion, maybe they wouldn't feel the need to engage in more underhanded tactics.

So what would be a positive solution?  How about letting crafters have more control over the creation process?  One of the things that Second Life validated is the idea of user-generated content within an MMO framework.  This is always a positive way to keep players invested and allow them to contribute to the vibrancy of a virtual world.  Clearly Blizzard recognizes this with their plans for the Starcraft franchise by encouraging user-created maps to be distributed and even sold on the Battle.net site.  MMOs could also benefit from embracing this concept, and crafting in particular is an area in desperate need of individualization.

From what we've been reading about Reforging, this door is already going to be cracked open in Cataclysm.  The ability for players to modify and redistribute the stats of an item is the first step on the road to user customization.  Ideally what I'd like to see is a way for crafters to have full control over the item budget.  What difference does it make if a Blizzard person spends the item budget or I do?  It's the same number of stats either way.  If I want to make a full set of armor with 100% STAM and 0% STR, why not?  I haven't gone outside the preset "power" of the item, I've just allocated that power in exactly the places I wanted it.  Obviously there would need to be rules in place that would prevent abuse.  Players should be limited by the same restrictions Blizzard now uses and the interface should be coded to enforce those rules.  Of course a certain amount of stupidity could ensue - but I'm not sure Blizzard is obligated to police stupidity.

Even better would be allowing crafters to modify all aspects of an item, not just the stats.  Just as we currently have the tabard design interface, I think it would be great if we could have an item design interface.  I'm not suggesting any sort of user-contributed design elements, but just opening access to existing models would allow a pretty high level of customization.  Then crafters could change not only the stat distribution, but also the look of the item.  Giving crafters the ability to modify the visual elements AND the stats would open up infinite possibilities for individualization.  Not only would this help the market tremendously, it would also benefit buyers.  A perfect example is my hunter - I hate guns.  Not really a political thing, they're just noisy and obnoxious.  Unfortunately it's pretty common that the best ranged weapons are guns.  As a crafter, maybe I'd be able to design a bow or crossbow version of the Nesingwary 4000.  Players who prefer the bow version of the NSG4K would buy from me =)

Let me throw out another example that makes me giddy as a kid on Christmas morning.  I'm an engineer and I want to specialize in non-combat pets.  I could use the player version of WoW Edit to combine different critter parts and invent my own pet.  Frankly, the Wolpertinger looks like someone did exactly that.  With the editor I could make a fuzzy caterpillar, a girlfriend for Egbert or a rainbow snuffleupagus.  Rainbow Snuffleupagus... I already want to buy this stupid thing, rofl!  This is a painless way to give players viable market items that shouldn't in any way morph into a game-breaking catastrophe.

To go completely out in left field, let's stroll down Discovery and Research Lane.  The current implementation of discovery/research is that I use a preset combination of mats and I randomly learn a preset recipe drawn from a preset pool of recipes.  This was fine when it was first introduced, a nice improvement over previous options.  However, it would be really cool if R&D actually functioned like R&D.  Meaning if I experiment with a random combination of herbs, I could theoretically brew a random concoction.  Maybe I would utilize an alchemy lab for this type of noodling and maybe I could put any combination of herbs I want into it.  Maybe I would try blending old herbs with newer herbs.  Maybe I would play around with different amounts of Herb A and Herb B (even Herb C).

Currently we have about 50 types of herbs in the game, with variable quantities it should be possible to generate infinite combinations.  Suppose each herb had a vague "effect" value which could provide a rule-base for experimentation.  Throw in a little RNG** fun and <POOF>!  Out comes random herbal brew.  Sometimes stinky and useless, sometimes interesting and maybe every once in a while something really cool.  But through the magic of RNG R&D it would hopefully be difficult for everyone to end up with the same exact recipes.  You could even give Alchemists a way to "publish" their recipe and sell it if they find one that's particularly exciting.  Or they could just hoard it and reap the financial rewards, their choice.

It shouldn't be hard to create the customization interfaces once the rules have been ironed out.  In fact, if I heard correctly in the Diablo panel at Blizzcon, there are no static items in Diablo, it's all randomly generated loot.  So we know it's workable to create an item system that's dynamically driven.  The real issue is whether it's appropriate for WoW.  I don't want to delve too much into how it might be incorporated because I don't know what constraints are involved.  Just a few ideas off the top of my head would be that as you level your craft, you gain a more powerful ability to "tinker".  Or perhaps when you learn a new recipe you also get the ability to modify that recipe.  Maybe only max level crafters can do modifications as a perk for reaching the cap.  Or there might be an epic quest associated with unlocking the customization skill (no dungeon or raid steps plz!).  There are a number of ways to go about that and whatever is in the best interest of game balance is fine by me.

Because game balance isn't really my thing, I can't say if there are fundamental, insurmountable problems with these ideas or not.  It's always possible to implement new features that end up going awry (CoH: Architect), but I have every confidence that Blizzard can handle that kind of problem intelligently.  What we don't really know is whether the new Reforging system includes the architecture to support more grandiose implementations.  I could go on forever dreaming up ideas... but I'll rein it in.  There's no way for us to know what's possible or reasonable, but the main limitation would be developer resources and maybe the current architecture of WoW itself, not anything technological.  The big question is, if you could have "pie in the sky" would it look like this?  Or is there better way to add individualism to crafting without aiming so high?

Feel free to share you thoughts in the Comments or toss out your own ideas on how to add individualization to the crafting system in WoW.

** RNG = Random Number Generation

14 comments:

  1. i love the idea of RNG tinkering in order to discover new recipes!

    I have Oblivion for those times that WoW is down (curse you Tuesday mornings!) and one of my favorite things about that game is the Alchemy set-up where each ingredient has certain properties (ie Morning Glory is a poison), up to 4 (that is all i have unlocked so far) and to research new recipes for potions, poisons and the like, you simply put the ingredients together and see if wat u get is a viable product.

    The higher your alchemy skill, the more properties are readily identifiable to you of each element, from wat foods give health, what herbs are poisonus, and various other effects such as water walking and stealth. If u are looking for more info on the ingredients, you can sample them at your own risk as if you ingest poison, you become ill and are not as combat-effective unless you are cured or go through the duration of the poison.

    I would LOVE the see this type of system implemented in WoW, having different herbs be poisons, healing, stat-boosts and so on, it could even be based on current Alchemy recipes. You would just have to expirament with different herbs, in diff. quantities to find the top-end potions.

    This could also be used for JC's, Enchanters (hmm what happens if we mix one abyss crystal. 3 nether dust, and one lesser essence?) and possibly Inscribers. With a little tweaking, the same idea could be adapted to the armoring prof's of Tailoring, Leatherworking, and Blacksmithing. Take 3 Cobalt bars, add 2 Eternal Fire, and 1 Heavy Borean Leather = new epic bracers? or lump of metal for the vendor?

    We would instantly not only create a market for our UNIQUE items and creations, but we would also provide a boon to those who just gather but dont craft. and for those of us who gather AND craft, hee hee hee, i forsee MULTIPLE gold-making oppertunities. Extra mats (if were not playinmg with them trying to find another new item) and our new item!

    I can forsee serious price wars and feirce competion for mats, but on my realm at least, that is already in effect.

    I have no idea wether this would, or could, work, but its definetly food for thought, and I for one would love to see this in the future.

    ok ok enough of my rambling, as you said Kaliope, once you get started, you cant quite turn it back off! LOL

    I love this idea, and hope we do get some form of customization in the future. Reforging is a good start, but that is all it is, a start. If Blizz can take that idea and run with it, the possibilites are endless (in theroy!)

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  2. sorry for my HUGE reply, i couldnt stop myself!

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  3. OTOH, look at inscription where you learned a new glyph randomly. It was interesting at first, but soon you have the same 250 glyphs as everyone else. And Blizzard walked away for that mechanic with the book of glyphs where you just bought them all and your only choice was deciding when to buy the books

    But yes things that only drop in raids, or the champion of Northrend tailoring requirements are even worse.

    I guess I am not sure how things would be unique; wouldn't everybody just keep discovering till they could make the most profitable item?

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  4. @Hagu,
    The system Kaliope describes for combining plants would be too big to discover all possible combinations (of plants). As for "most profitable item", I agree that's a weakness if you are min-maxing, however if you're considering fun effects (consider how well savory deviate delights still sell) well in that case, the sky is the limit.

    @Kaliope, sorry but I'm going to have to be negative about on of your ideas :(

    In the past if I recall correctly, Blizzard shot down the idea of user chosen/created skins/colors for armor pieces. However I could be mis-remembering and anyway in the past Blizzard said they would not add flying to Azeroth and we all know what happened to that decision... :)

    Still even if it is added, I don't know how much I'm looking forward to weird and wacky combinations of colors on armor from people with little or no artistic sense. Of course you could say the same about some Blizzard armor color combinations ;p

    In any case I'm not sure, how would this suggestion help crafters. If you make a nice looking set of armor and sell it on the AH, what's to stop another person from copying your design and under-cutting you? Same for custom pets, if you can throw together any combination of parts to make some weird looking pet and it turns out to be popular, what's to stop others from copying you and flooding the AH?

    I like the idea of many more Alchemy recipes with fun effects, however you would need similar mechanisms for the other crafting professions otherwise you would make Alchemy too OP.

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  5. In order to be fair since I was negative about your idea, I should probably add one of my own for you to shoot down :)

    So thinking about uniqueness and crafting, I would say rather than focus on making many more recipes for crafters to find (making a large workload on Blizzard to be creative and add tons of new recipes to the game) I would instead add a game mechanic for a crafter to focus on and specialize on a specific recipe, making it more unique for herself and her customers. You could only specialize in one recipe.

    So for example as an initial rough idea, what if an Alchemist could choose to specialize in Potions of Wild Magic, making them with a 10% bonus to their effect (so 220 crit and 220 sp for 15 seconds)? Of course every other Alchemist specializing in Potions of Wild Magic would make them with the same stats so you would lose some uniqueness on the AH, on the other hand there are many useful flasks/elixirs/potions out there currently and so by adding even a few Blizzard could ensure a large spread (few specialists per type). You could even have 2 possible specializations per relevant recipe, so in the above example you could specialize either in +10% stats or +5sec increased time for example, but not both. Won't that wreck havoc with the theory-crafters :D

    That would be easy for Blizzard to add I assume (modify output of existing recipes instead of creating whole new ones). Still of course would require a lot of modifications to items and you would have to make sure not to have some specializations be too over-powered.

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  6. As far as the idea of individual visual designs on armor, I suspect that's not feasible - at least not at this time. There are already enough lag issues in game without having to receive customized graphics files for ever player you walk by in Dalaran.

    I've always been amazed by how well games like WoW and EQ perform considering the already vast range of appearances. Of course, a large part of this comes from the fact that the graphics are stored on your computer, and the only data being transmitted is an identification code for what you'll see.

    With even greater customization options, you'll get either more bandwidth or more hard drive space taken up. In the end, it would probably be both, as the graphics files id codes would need to be longer in order to cover the increased range of appearances.

    I could be mistaken, but to the best of my understanding of the mechanics of the game, you will not be seeing greatly enhanced visual customization any time soon.

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  7. Solid: I agree that in the past Blizz has squelched any idea of user-designed costumes. However, I think realistically we all look like clowns in our mismatched outfits and our tabards. I'm advocating that they give up on this idea of controlling the player look since it's not working anyway. While I acknowledge that some portion of the player base is not artistic and probably shouldn't attempt to design gear, we currently have ugly "dog-cow" outfits from Blizzard so how much worse can it get? But yes, I'm aware that they've been stubborn on this issue :)

    And there would be nothing to stop players from attempting to copy each other, just as in the real marketplace there's nothing to stop one designer from copying another. Given the large number of models in the game, this would be prohibitive but not impossible. I suspect in the grand scheme of things, one or two players copying you can't possibly be worse than having to compete with every leatherworker on the server who sells the exact same item.

    Twisp: I'm not suggesting they allow user-generated models, I believe that was mentioned in the post. If we limit the customization to models already in the game, there shouldn't be extra lag. As you mentioned, there are already a vast range of graphics in the system. I'm merely suggesting that Blizzard allow us to tap into those and apply them, very much the way the tabard designer works now. We don't create those visual elements, we merely mix and match them as we choose.

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  8. As far as having other players easily copy a "unique" item you've created, it really depends on how the crafting / customization works. If it's more like a character designer, where you explicitly pick and choose the combination of attributes you want (both physical and otherwise), it would likely be fairly easy for somebody else to reverse-engineer your creations. It would be fairly evident what the item is made up of, simply by looking at a finished product.

    What if instead, the system was more like an experimentation / crafting framework. You can take ingredients of various sorts, run them through a variety of processes, and combine them in whatever combinations you like to produce an item. That item's attributes would be largely determined by the unique steps you took to create it. Perhaps some visual elements could still be explicitly chosen to make portions of it easier. With a system like that, it would not be so obvious what your item's "secret recipe" is just by looking at the end-product. It would also open up a nearly endless set of combinations, rather than the fixed recipe tables that WoW currently sports.

    Granted, this is a completely different type of crafting system, so you likely would not see WoW shift gears to adopt it this late in the game. For new games though, it would be an interesting thing to consider.

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  9. > " just as in the real marketplace there’s nothing to stop one designer from copying another"

    Yes thers is: copyrights, patents and trademarks :)

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  10. Hehe, good one :) I'll get my WoW lawyer to call your WoW lawyer, rofl!

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  11. Again in DAOC an alchemist could make Dye that could be applied to armor. You could have your nice pink set of armor if you wanted or make it match the guild tabbard. Was kind of fun.

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  12. As badly as i want the memeories of my RS days to stay buried, Mushimu triggered one. In RS (RuneScape) one of the quests is to dye armor that you make your self, and that you can make and apply to your own crafted armor. I personally enjoyed making armor and adding my own color to them (granted you were limited to green orange purple blue yellow and red) but almost everyone had the standard mithril armor who else had green and yellow trimmed armor? (school spirit! GO PENDLETON BUCKS!)

    if we could just have dyes to apply to our armor, possibly through the reforging process?, then that would open up new avenues for customization and not add loads of new data.

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  13. Dye would be a good way to deal with the "clown" effect, for sure. Although as Solid pointed out, Blizz is on record as saying no to that. It's unclear if they just want to protect their artwork from being visually assaulted, or they feel it preserves the flavor of the world. But yes, I remember that being one of the highly touted features of Dark Age back in the day. Unfortunately I didn't stick with that particular game long enough to appreciate the ability. Although I do vaguely recall dying all my armor a pretty green - heheh.

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  14. WAR and Vanguard both used a sort of discovery system for crafting and finding recipes. WAR was combine 3-4 items to make 1 item. your main ingredient had a common usage i.e. healing, defense, strength, etc and the other items affected the power, duration, # made and success of the craft. It was an interesting system with some flaws but close to what you may be looking at. and Kalipoe warhammer online has a free 10 day trial open if you wanted to check it out :p.

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