We haven't talked much about crafting and it's role in the community, so in this post I'm going to tackle that. Many people view crafting as part of the social side of MMO games, under the assumption that crafters tend to be more social and enjoy the networking aspect of building communities. This is probably true to a certain extent, but not necessarily descriptive of all crafters. Personally, I'm an introvert. I enjoy socializing with folks I know pretty well, but I don't enjoy networking with strangers. I suspect this is fairly common among gamers and geeks in general.
However, game designers seem to have this idea that crafting should foster and/or force interaction between players in order to build a community. Mandatory combat grouping and dependencies between crafting professions are two examples of how this plays out. Part of the reason WoW is successful is because they did away with a lot of that, which works well for a community rife with geeks. Grouping in WoW is largely optional, but there's plenty to enjoy if you prefer solo play. In this, I think WoW did the right thing by doing away with mandatory grouping and interactions. What they didn't do is provide a robust set of tools to enable group interactions for those that want them.
The primary mechanism that we currently use to form groups of players is the Guild. Joining guilds lets us build long term relationships with strangers and enjoy mutual benefits based on group activities. Unfortunately this mechanism has not evolved much and is in severe need of an overhaul. Blizzard recognizes this and has plans to improve guild functionality in Cataclysm. I think that's great - and long overdue! We learned a little bit about their plans but there was very little mention of the crafting side of life. I think the most important feature that the guild interface should include is the ability for all members to view recipes that other members are able to craft. This is something so basic it should have been implemented ages ago.
I believe there should also be a mechanism in place for guild members to place "work orders" with each other. In one of my previous posts I mentioned the idea of "guild" recipes, which Blizzard touched on adding in Cataclysm. In my version of guild recipes, the guild vendor would unlock access to all raid drop recipes for each eligible crafter in the guild. When the guild unlocks a new recipe by any mechanism, all the crafters in the guild should benefit. When a member leaves they lose access to any guild recipes they may have learned. As I mentioned before, I think this will help foster guild loyalty in a positive way.
But really, the guild concept as we know it is very basic. Most of us have game relationships that don't have a formalized structure -- and they need one. In our real lives we are often part of multiple communities. It's not unreasonable that WoW allow us to connect with others in a similar manner. I would like to see Blizzard allow multiple levels of group affiliation. The idea of sister guilds is already in practice, but we have no meaningful way to formalize this. Right now if we want to join a new group in a concrete way, we have to leave our old group. Let's say I raid primarily with my guild, who has one or two partner guilds. If I'm trying to organize a spur of the moment raid, I have no reasonable way to notify members of the sister guilds. Maybe I can only scrape together six people, and the other guild has four players who would come with us if they were aware that I was recruiting. Now some folks might be OK with messaging a stranger they've never met from another guild, but I personally would not. If I didn't happen to know one of their members personally, I probably just wouldn't message a random person in the guild. Now if I had the option to send a guild announcement to the sister guilds, I'd probably do that since it's not directed at a specific individual and the recipients can reasonably ignore the message without causing offense.
Another mechanism that is woefully deficient is the Friend list. Some players use it to form a pool of talent for unplanned group activities. Unfortunately our various friends can't see our personal Friend list when we're not online, so coordination is a challenge. A better way to handle this might be to allow us to form casual buddy groups. Let's say I know 20 people from a range of different guilds that I feel comfortable doing Heroics with. If I had the ability to create a social group just for PUG Buddies, whenever I'm online and I want to run a Heroic I can just send an announcement to the PUG Buddy group. Again, this would enable me to participate in multiple communities without compromising my primary Guild relationship. You could have PVP buddy groups, old world raid groups, etc. A system like this would give players the ability to create flexible structures that serve the needs of the communities they are trying to build.
Where I'm going with this is that crafters could then band together and create crafting guilds. I can tell you right now, that if Blizzard introduced the concept of a crafting guild within the current system I would not join one. This isn't because I don't love crafting or because I don't want to network with like-minded players. I just have no desire to give up my existing friendships for it. In all likelihood, this is why we don't really have dedicated crafting guilds in the current game. In order for crafting guilds to work, we can't implement them in a way that forces players to stop being a raider, or a PVPer, or whatever else they are. I'm not just a Leatherworker. I'm not just a Scribe. I'm a Leatherworking Scribe who's also a Resto Druid working her way through Ulduar. Community systems need to let me be all these things instead of forcing me to choose one role and only one. I know Blizzard understands this divided loyalty dilemma, because they're trying to address it outside the game with Battle.net. I just hope that when they're busy working on Cataclysm and revamping the guild system, they also look for ways to enhance the in-game social network and add support for multiple group affiliations.
Another aspect of community building that impacts crafters is the idea of building a name for yourself. I have to say that I truly regret not trying SWG when it was in it's heyday. From everything I've read it was a crafter's heaven (or as close as you can get in an aging MMO). Right now crafting is so easy that there's really no reason to try and distinguish yourself from the herd. We all know the same recipes, we can power up a profession in a matter of hours if we have enough money, there's nothing that makes me special from the other 100 Leatherworkers on my server. If at some point Blizzard gives crafters the ability to customize our wares in some way, then crafters would have a reason to try and build a rep. This is a two way street however, once you give me a way to stand out you also have to give buyers a way to find me. So now we get to the Auction House and it's shortcomings. I know there are lots of economy-minded folks who would be happy to tell me about all the advanced reporting and functionality that our AH should support. That's a completely different ball of wax from cultivating a rep and supporting your clientele, so I'm not really going to go down that road.
As a crafter, my problem is that I have all these great items I can make, but buyers have no way to find me. Assuming someday we get item customization, the auction house should allow buyers to filter by the seller. Now I can be rewarded for my hard work in designing new items because buyers would be seeking my items out. The auction house needs a lot of things, but this one would be important for building a crafting community. It would be nice if I could actually set up my own little shop with categories and whatnot. If nothing else, buyers should be able to type in my name and find all the items I've posted. More advanced features could include a way for shoppers to browse my recipes and order something I might not have posted. This could be the same work order system I suggested for guilds, just a more global version. In essence, we want to give crafters a way to connect with the community and the community to connect with them.
The work order system could also play a part in community building. In it's most basic form, it would let shoppers search for an item they need made and request it from an appropriate crafter. More advanced features could include the ability to supply mats with the work order, which would mimic the combines players do now in person. Even more forward thinking would be a way to let crafters barter amongst each other for components and ingredients. Perhaps that would be more of a crafting guild interface thing. I'm not sure what the best implementation would be. But as a Scribe, I could "contract" with a couple of Alchemists to purchase their excess herbs for 20g per stack. Now obviously they might prefer to take their chances on the auction. But if they want a no-fuss way to offload that extra Deadnettle, they might like an easy barter option.
I could see this type of bartering evolve into something of a wholesale market. Let's say I'm an enchanter and I need a steady supply of blank scrolls, but I don't like paying AH prices for them. I could have a standing arrangement with a Scribe to supply them with herbs and in return they make me scrolls with some and keep the rest. They get some free herbs and I get my scrolls for half the going rate. It's possible that some players currently have casual relationships of this nature, but right now we have no tangible way to network with players we don't already know. A crafting guild with the proper interface would enable players to explore and formalize relationships like this.
These are just a few ideas I have for making crafting more meaningful within a community context. Some of them might not be workable for WoW, but we have no way of knowing what sort of guild revamps are in store. I'm just throwing my thoughts out there, feel free to contribute your own in the comments.