A Crafter's Journey, Part 2: What Works For Me Today, and What Doesn't

Nephele

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As with the first one of these, which you can find here, my goal with posting this isn't just to tell my story or talk about me - but to encourage all of you to post your own stories as well. For this installment, I'm going to focus on the games that I'm playing right now, and talk about how I engage with crafting (or don't) in each of them, and why that is.

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I mentioned in the previous thread that currently I'm playing ESO, FFXIV, and No Man's Sky (although that's not an MMO). Each of these three games has a crafting system as part of it. For the two MMOs, the crafting is of course something that players don't have to do if they don't want to. For No Man's Sky, it's more or less required to do anything in the game. So, I'll touch on that first.

Crafting in No Man's Sky (for me)

Like I said, it's not really possible to play No Man's Sky without using the crafting system, since it's survival-type gameplay, where you have to make or repair things to survive. Since the game was designed to be essentially single-player, you're only really making what you personally need, although you can make things to sell to NPCs too for cash.

For me, I enjoy the complexity of the crafting system in NMS - multiple levels of refinement for materials, different stations and tools that do different things, and so on. I also like the fact that it's a ground-up progression. You start with nothing other than your mining laser and you have to build everything essentially from scratch to get going. We don't get to see this level of depth in MMOs very often. I mean, can you name an MMORPG where you have to refine a material two or three times to get the thing that you need for a recipe? So from that standpoint it's refreshing. I also enjoy the free-form base building in NMS, being able to use those same crafting resources and materials to piece together a custom base from dozens of available blueprints is great. I have literally spent hours constructing my fortress of doom/space colony on a nice pretty planet I found.

But for all this depth, NMS also falls down in a few places. The economic implementation in the game is super simplistic, for example. There's pretty much never a time when I care about making things to sell - indeed, I'm usually just selling off raw resources that I don't need to open up inventory space, because making money isn't usually that big of a goal, although there are some aspects of the game where that helps. Likewise, the way that they introduce the crafting profession (in terms of blueprints) is very disjointed. Some, you get automatically as part of the tutorial. Others you get as part of the story missions. Others you get by finding buried technology modules and then extracting data from them. This would all be fine except there is absolutely no rhyme or reason or pattern to the order in which you get blueprints. For example, fairly early on, if you do the research, you get the blueprint to create a window section for your base - which requires glass in order to create. No problem, right? Except you don't have the blueprint to create glass. To get that, you have to find a specific NPC on a space station and complete some tasks for him. It would be one thing if the same NPC also taught you how to make window sections, but because the blueprints come from two different methods, and you get access to research far before you find that NPC, it feels really disjointed.

Crafting in ESO (for me)

Initially when I started playing ESO, I was intrigued by their crafting system. The game uses a click-based crafting system that's super-simple, but they try to make up for it by allowing you to find rare appearance books and scrolls which let you change the look of the items you're producing. Items also come in tiers, with more and different resources used to make higher tier items. Those higher tier items can also gain special set bonuses if you make them in special crafting areas scattered around the world. There's also an upgrade system that lets you upgrade the items you make in terms of their rarity and thus their stats by using special materials. On paper, this has the makings of an interesting crafting system, and so I spent a good amount of time working on my crafting skills initially.

The catch though, is that ESO simply does not have a functional economy. At all. At least, not for 90% of the items that can be crafted. Housing decorations will sell to other players (if you can find a way to sell them, more on that in a moment). And very very high end crafted gear *may* sell if someone happens to want that particular piece with that particular set bonus, but it's not guaranteed.

Why is this, you might ask? Because the game hands out loot that is equal to or better than what you can craft at every turn. It's a bit like going trick or treating in a rich neighborhood at Halloween, only you come back with an overflowing bag of set-bonused items and equipment instead of a pillowcase full of way too much candy. Because there's so much loot to be had, no one ever actually *needs* to buy a piece of crafted equipment - at least, not unless they're looking for something extraordinarily specific.

Oh, and the housing items? Those come from recipes that you find out in the world - which can be common or rare. The ones that sell, of course, are the rare ones. Which require rare and special materials to make.

To make matters worse, ESO has decided to tie their economic systems entirely to guild perks. What this means is that as a solo crafter without a guild, or in a small guild, your only option for selling something is to sit in town and spam local chat channels and hope that someone wants to buy what you're selling. While some people seem to vastly enjoy this activity, it tends to frustrate me to no end, as I would much rather be out in the world adventuring, or crafting more stuff, or pretty much anything either trying to keep up with a rapidly scrolling chat channel until my eyes bleed. Larger guilds have the opportunity to bid against each other for rights to an NPC vendor stationed in or near the various cities and towns. There are more guilds than there are vendors, so the bidding (especially for high traffic areas like capital cities) gets *very* competitive. You might think "well just join a guild, problem solved, right?" The problem there for the new crafter is that most trade guilds (who have the best vendors) require their members to either maintain a certain amount of sales each week, or pay a weekly fee (in order to keep the NPC vendor).

While this system works great for people selling rare or high end items, it absolutely leaves newer players or people getting started out in the cold. In order to become successful you have to spend a lot of time gathering materials and grinding your skills up, and then either get very lucky and get some of the rare recipes you need or earn enough money through adventuring to buy them - and even once you've done that, you still need to establish enough of a supply chain that you can make the level of sales needed to make it into a decent trade guild and maintain your standing there. While it's not impossible, simply put, the system favors the people who have been in the game for a long time, at the expense of everyone who's started playing more recently. And as those people at the top continue to get richer and richer, the gap between them and the new players slowly widens - resulting in a completely broken economy.

I gave up on crafting in ESO when I figured this out. To be honest, I likely won't renew my subscription when it comes up in a couple of months, since I feel like I'm more or less locked out of an entire segment of gameplay.

Note: I'm sure some folks who enjoy ESO will take issue with what I've said here, and that's cool. This post isn't intended to be a referendum on ESO crafting though. I bring it up only because my goal with this post is to talk about what works and what doesn't for me, which is what I hope everyone else will do too :)

Crafting in FFXIV (for me)

I have been playing FFXIV for a little over four years now, which means I started fairly early after the game's re-launch. In my opinion, FFXIV has the strongest crafting system that I've seen since playing Vanguard years ago, and there are a lot of things it does right. It's not perfect by any means, though many of its flaws are due to the way that Square Enix has handled their expansions, and the simple fact that the game is aging and the player base is becoming top-heavy. But at least for now, I still very much enjoy crafting in FFXIV.

There are a few reasons that I really like FFXIV's crafting system.

First, the system is what I call "puzzle-based" crafting. What this means is that the act of crafting itself involves filling up a progress bar while trying to also maximize a quality bar, using various crafting actions. Actions take points, and you only have so many points to spend per craft. In addition, different recipes have different durability ratings or target numbers for progress and quality, which means that crafting becomes a math puzzle of sorts. You have to figure out which abilities to use in which order to finish the item and get the results you want. The icing on the cake, at least for me, is that success isn't guaranteed. Most of your crafting actions have a small (but non-trivial) chance of failure. This means that even if you do everything in the right sequence, you can find yourself having to scramble because one of your actions didn't actually work. This forces you to adapt on the fly. The system also has enough different actions available to you that there's no single way to finish something. You figure out what works for you, and that might be a different approach than someone else took. I love that there's more than one way to successfully complete a craft.

A second reason that I like the system is that there is actual crafting gear that you equip and use. Just as adventurers have armor and weapons, crafters have tools and equipment that they wear when crafting. These tools and equipment have stats, which impact the effectiveness of your crafting abilities. That means being a successful crafter isn't just about leveling through the crafting progression, but also about upgrading your gear and tools as you go. In fact, the recipes you gain access to as you progress are set up so that you will *have* to upgrade that gear over time, or you'll eventually get to where you can't complete items. Likewise, if you work at having the best gear for your level, you'll find that crafts overall tend to be easier.

But wait, there's more. FFXIV has eight unique crafting professions and each of them (except for the culinarian profession) makes items that are required by the other professions in order to craft finished goods. Culinarians are important to other crafters because they make food which can increase crafting stats temporarily. Interdependency! However, it's not true interdependency - because each character can learn and progress all eight crafting professions up to max if they want. In fact, the system even encourages this, because each profession rewards some unique crafting abilities along the way which can be "cross-classed" and used when crafting items as other professions. However, working all eight professions up takes a significant amount of time, so there's still at least some level of having to rely on other crafters at least while people are getting started.

In addition to all this, FFXIV crafting has its own set of progression quests associated with it, which tell you a story as you advance through each profession. This adds a nice element of story to crafting that most games don't do. There's optional "master" recipes to collect, which aren't really all that optional if you want to do high end crafting, but they're not linked to the main progression, and they're actually acquired by crafting things and turning those things in to NPCs, which is a bit of a bonus. The high end recipes also need rare materials, some of which are harvested, and some of which are drops, so it's not always stuff you can do yourself unless you have a ton of time.

Perhaps most importantly, FFXIV's economy mostly works. The game uses a centralized AH system, which is prone to feast-or-famine situations where the market may be flooded for one item, and the next may be selling for a ridiculous price. But because the game lets every character multi-class, there is generally some demand for low- and mid-level equipment all the time, which means that a new crafter getting started can actually make money by making items to sell. The economy isn't perfect by any means - in some areas, there's competition from loot drops (which are the same items crafters can make), and as the player base gets more and more top heavy, demand for lower level items is continuing to decrease, but it's still healthy enough on most servers that people aren't forced into a grind-to-the-cap model just to be successful crafters.

So if it wasn't obvious, FFXIV is a game where crafting, and the economy, mostly work for me. That's probably a good thing, considering how disappointing my experience in ESO has been. The way I usually operate in FFXIV is that once a week, I look at what's sold and "restock", meaning I go make replacement items to put back up for sale. As my gear progresses (which takes longer than levels generally), I gradually transition from lower-level, less expensive items to higher-level, more expensive items. After my crafting session each week I go out and spend a little time replenishing the materials I used, and then I'm ready for the next week.

I do need to state for the record however that I do *not* approach crafting like most people in FFXIV. The vast majority of people in FFXIV will buy items from other crafters to turn in for crafting quests in order to rapidly level up to cap. They'll then buy a set of max-level gear, and try to enter the economy at that level in an effort to make money as fast as possible (since they probably just spent millions getting where they are). Depending on how well they've done their research beforehand, sometimes they're successful, and sometimes they're not. I could probably write another 3000 words on why I think people do this but I'll spare you.

I operate differently, which I'll blame partly on me being an idealist and partly on me having been around sort of from the beginning and being hard-headed about things. I am max level now, but I actually refuse to abuse the repeatable crafting quests to level up quickly - I level up solely by making and selling items. If sales are brisk, that means I progress fast. If sales are slow, then I progress slow. My attitude is that participating in the economy is what I enjoy, not sitting their mindlessly grinding out levels. When it comes to selling things, I don't follow anyone else's prices at all. Instead I look at the item that I'm trying to sell, and I ask myself what I would pay for it based on when I was leveling up as a new adventurer - and that's the price it goes up for. Sometimes that means I'm far below the average price, and things sell quickly. Other times it means I'm far above the average price (because markets are flooded), and the item sits there for a long time. Either way though, I don't play market games or allow myself to be drawn into price wars - once an item's up, it's up at that price until it sells, which in some cases takes months. Overall I still make pretty decent money though, which is why I can get away with this. Third and finally, I don't buy my gear - ever. If I can't make it myself, I don't deserve to wear it. The only exception would be the one or two times that I needed something I literally couldn't make when I was first leveling up (for example, when I needed new boots before I had picked up the leatherworker profession). I also insist on doing the entire gear progression for each expansion, rather than skipping ahead when a new expansion releases, even though I am generally good enough at the crafting process that I could skip a tier or two if I really wanted to. For me, it's a point of pride that I've not taken the easy way out on progressing my crafting, and achieved the success that I have. I obviously don't expect everyone else to go to this extreme however.

So that was a ton of words, but hopefully it was somewhat entertaining, and you learned a little bit more about me in the process. Like I said up above, my point in posting this is to get other people to tell their stories too - and don't worry, I won't judge if you do things a lot different from me or if you have different opinions. I mean, even I will admit that I have some pretty weird ideas sometimes.

I have one more post I want to do in this series (which is kind of what this has all been leading up to). That post will be about what I'm hoping for from crafting and the economy in Pantheon, and will touch on a lot of things I've mentioned in this post and the previous one. I'll try to get that one up next week sometime. In the meantime though, I really hope some of you will take the time to post your own stories, both in this thread and in the original one - because let's be honest, I write too many words and I'm kinda boring. I think all of your stories are probably much more interesting than mine :)
 
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What works for me.

I'm not going to summarize different games, rather aspects of how I interpret "the crafting experience".
None of the items discussed here, stand alone. So, it should be a good mix of them all.

One example I will share though: I played throughout every stage of Everquest Landmark. One of my fondest memories is the desire to login, hear the music, experience the environment, harvest and craft. If a game can create and maintain that desire to play,...well they will have a hard time getting rid of me.
* The music is a big thing during crafting or harvesting, without the combat experience, that will showcase the best how the dev's want you to experience their creation. So that is of tremendous importance.

*Experiencing the environment, is about wanting to run and jump around in the forests, deserts, snowy mountains and feel alive and at home in that world. Your character should fit in, it should make sense. It should not feel as if you're a hollow image passing through to get from A to B. Travel is of very big importance for your crafting experience, a crafter should be able to have that sensation of being out there and having a usefull experience with that environment. Interaction!!

*Harvesting should be fun, interactive and with the potential of finding something rare or of other value. Not every nod should render the same amount or roots and the same root either. This inbalance, gives the player that itch. Somewhat similar to gambling, will this node give me that rare, or will these nodes here give me enough resources to commence crafting etc.

* Crafting is about different styles of crafting, the motion of the character working/crafting itself, the sensation of interaction with the crafting utilities. Every class/style of crafting is unique and can not just be a copy one for all expression. Safeguarding this differentiation is key to the upholding the feel of every class and the sense of having different classes. And for the players themselves, it serves as a big flavour that makes them stand out from the crowd.



When you're adventuring, you're skilling up, killing foes and leveling up. Encounters arise and are struck down in a pace that is heavily managed by the dev's of that game. You can venture alone or require a group to conquer certain content. Most of the time, there are a lot more options when you group up compared to solo adventure.

Choosing your own path and deliberatly seeking solitude in order to experience a game by your own means is a less obvious path, then one would think. Quite often a player falls into the slipstream of the majority of players which is not always a good thing. Especially in crafting can this be of influence.
The sensation of accomplisment and completion is something that can render gratification. To experience that within a game, by means of your choosing on a pace of your own, is very unique. For me that makes or breaks a game.
If you're pushed forward, eventhough you don't want to skill up, level up or even leave a certain area, that could leave me frustrated and bored.
In contrast would be, a game where one needs to act in order to encounter reaction or any sign of progression. Especially a game where you have risks and experience a degree of value other than valuta or plain xp.

The value for me; no-trademill routines, crafting what I want to within the classspecific boundaries of my choosing, obstacles to ponder about, work out and strategize.
I'll put it plainly; If I can craft and level up blindfolded, it's a crap of a game. A game shouldn't be like a tic-tac. Two seconds of flavour and after that routine grinds.

Being able to create, alternate or enhance items/players/resources in a game can be very rewarding.
The process should be engaging in a way that you enjoy watching what you're character is doing. See them work the materials and the utilities.
Feel the risk of possible failure and increased difficulty. Risking all to experiment and discover new stats or improved stats. And with that also the chance of producing items with lower stats then before.
Encountering the weight of crafting and its materials. No jogging with bags filled to the brim.
That every produced item feels as rewarding as the next. Not stacks of items at a time, unless it makes sense for example with ammo. Although I might even favour one arrow at a time. A tremendous amount of effort, but just imagine the status and market prices for those players that go that extra mile. That is another rewarding aspect of crafting, having the possibility to influence the actual game, be that the market or player and value of items in that game.

Housing and decoration is another aspect that is a desired flavour to crafting and player experience. This aspect of crafting and game experience is not Always present in games, but it is a big thing for me when I think how I see my desired crafting experience. Decorating and showcasing player crafted items and other ingame housing items supports the idea of having a unique player experience. It Also allows the player to advertise and present their view and style to the rest of the community. It can tie everything together. For me housingsystem is the frame of a painting. Where the player and his choices in the game are the content of the painting. The feature of a housing system in a game, allows the player to be more then just another page in the colourfull book of pages that is the game and it's community.
 
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