Thursday, August 26, 2010

On Crafting

There are four aspects involved in crafting:
  1. Gathering knowledge - This is learning how to craft items. It can be finding recipes, or trial and error, or even random chance.

  2. Gathering raw materials - This is getting the ingredients necessary to make the final item.

  3. Transmutation - this is the specific process of converting the raw materials to the finished product.

  4. 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.


  1. One of the ways in which LOTRO tackles the same issue is by having some recipes which are one-use only. So you give that to a crafter you know or trust and in return they can craft an item for you.

    It's not bound until someone uses it (so a crafter can buy up these recipes on the AH and sell the items to people freely) but there is a one:one relationship between those recipes and the gear they produce.

    I think it's quite a neat way of introducing some extra rarity into the crafting space.

  2. If I wanted to make the Transmutation step more interesting, I wouldn't mess around with minigames. I agree with you on those, the time I spent playing EverQuest 2, the crafting minigame was fun for a little while and then became a tedious chore.

    No, what I'd be looking at is introducing more decision-making into the process. I hate "fixed recipe" crafting systems like WoW, EQ2, LOTRO, RoM, Atlantica... the crafter should be able to make some decisions in there! Which stats do you want on that item? Do you want that weapon to be slow or fast? That sort of thing.

  3. Excellent post! Crafting is the best part about world of warcraft by far.

    Other resources your audience might be interested in with regards to crafting in wow:

  4. WoW once had an important "mini game" to craft items. It was called "farming Primal Nether". Some considered that a success, others hated it.

    But I think the important part is that either crafting is irrelevant or the boss dropps are unexciting (like in heroics where you're only interested in the boring badges). I prefer crafting to be boring.

  5. What would also be great is if they had these things (we could call them raids!) where a bunch of people (maybe 10 or 25 or even 40!) got together to kill much harder enemies than we could do alone or in groups of 5.

    You do realize your suggestions are exactly what are in the game already, right? The crafted pieces aren't the best, but they are pretty close and you could down regular modes with them fairly easily.

  6. I used to play a tiny little game called "Rubies of Eventide" that had a crafting mechanic where you could build items up to 25% better than 'base' quality, but at the risk of breaking them and losing the mats. (This also meant when skilling you'd just break stuff and not end up with 200 bronze spitoons to vendor). Might be interesting except for recipes that require raid-drop components.

    I think it's neat for crafted items to be in some ways better, but this was a game with no endgame yet and little dropped loot; most people used crafted and purchased gear. LOTRO was like this at some levels, until legendary items destroyed weapon- and wood-crafting.

    Hmmm... how about a game where most of the good gear is crafted and bosses drop various forms of unobtanium?

  7. At least WoW Crafting is tolerable, unlike some games. *Cough* Anarchy Online *cough, cough* Star Wars Galaxies *cough*

  8. I don't like the idea of only making certain recipes drop off bosses. Materials should be rare/hard to find, not recipes.

  9. WoW crafting is perfect where it is at right now. I have no desire to track down a Paladin BS to make a specific piece. The fact that everything "end-game" crafted requires a "token" obtained from that tier of boss or emblem is fine.

    Isn't broken, don't try to fix it.

  10. ...Carson 63000

    Yep. Age of Conan had this great system, or at least it would have been if the game didn't turn to crap, anyway, where depending on the ingredients, the item changes its stats, for example instead of this herb you use another and the potion lasts longer but weaker, or stronger but shorter or something weird happens and it can proc a longer and more powerful potion.