- Gathering knowledge - This is learning how to craft items. It can be finding recipes, or trial and error, or even random chance.
- Gathering raw materials - This is getting the ingredients necessary to make the final item.
- Transmutation - this is the specific process of converting the raw materials to the finished product.
- Using the created item - Using the item for it's intended (and maybe unintended) function.
Different games emphasise different aspects. For example, in A Tale in the Desert, Transmutation is a complicated process, essentially a mini-game within the game. In contrast, WoW abstracts Transmutation to a single press of a button. In WoW, the game associated with crafting is primarily focused on the first two aspects of acquiring knowledge and raw materials.
A lot of people dislike this choice, and feel that Transmutation should be more involved. I am not so sure that this is the case. An interesting mini-game is fun the first time you make the item, but it what about the tenth or hundredth time? Not to mention that it is inconvenient for potential customers. If I get some new gear and need 5 gems cut, I don't really want to wait for my jewelcrafter guildie to struggle through 5 games of a Bejeweled clone, maybe even failing some of them. I much prefer getting the raw materials, giving them to her, and getting cut gems almost immediately.
I think where WoW's crafting really falls down is actually Aspect 4: Using the Item.
Initially, WoW is character progression through level. But at the level cap, it switches to character progression through gear. But that progression is controlled through the Bind-on-Pickup mechanism. Bind-on-Pickup ensures that a player needs to actually complete content to have their character improve. While there is a smattering of items you can buy, or alternate ways to earn gear like daily heroics, the vast majority of good gear can only be gained by going out and defeating content.
The problem is that currently crafting cannot partake of the bind-on-pickup mechanism. As I've mentioned before, WoW crafting is missing an action: a crafter cannot create a Bind-on-Pickup item for another character using Bind-On-Pickup raw materials that the other character has acquired.
Crucially, an NPC can do this. That's why crafting is sidelined in end-game, and NPCs hand out emblem gear. Crafting is missing that crucial verb that would allow it to be used in the endgame content.
If a crafter could make Bind-On-Pickup items for another player, that would open the door to a lot of possibilities. For example, Tier armor could be crafted entirely, given that it is already tokenized. Raid bosses could drop recipes, and players would gather raw materials along with special boss drops and take them to a crafter to get their tier gear. You could even restrict recipes to specific classes. Imagine if you had to find a paladin blacksmith to forge Lightsworn Battlegear.
Such a scheme would make crafting armor--not just consumables--an integral part of endgame once again. I think it would also feel better. To see what I mean, compare turning tokens to a vendor to gathering raw materials (could have a field day with what you need to collect) and getting armor forged by a blacksmith who learned the forgotten recipes deep inside the epic dungeon. On one level, both methods are really the same thing, but on another level, the latter would be so much more stylish.
Much better than getting to play a random Tetris-clone every time you want to cut a gem.