Crafting and the World

Nephele

Administrator
Staff member
I am a fairly extemporaneous speaker and writer. What I mean by that is that I don't typically plan out what I'm going to say ahead of time. I just start talking and things come out. They're probably nonsense a lot of the time, but every so often I manage to say something moderately useful as a result. This also means that when I try to plan out something I want to talk about in advance, I usually get stuck about halfway through because my brain wants to go somewhere else.

Case in point: I spent the last few nights trying to write an editorial that talks about all the other things in the game that have to be right in order for crafting to actually matter. Seems like a worthy topic, right? I thought so. But, apparently, my brain really wants to talk about something different right now.

So this editorial is actually about player experiences, and how we need to think more deeply about the law of unintended consequences.

Let me give some background. There are a few tenets I have come to firmly believe in over the years when it comes to MMORPGs. They act almost like guiding principles, in that they shape my opinion of any aspect of a game, old or new, that we're talking about. They are:

  1. The integrity of the virtual world matters more in the end than any single aspect of gameplay or piece of content.
  2. Exploration, Discovery, and Interaction are equally as important as Challenge and Reward.
  3. New players are the lifeblood of the game.

How these three things come into play is that whenever I'm looking at a game system, or an idea someone has put forward, and trying to provide feedback on it, I always look through these lenses. Does the system or feature or idea fit in the context of the game world? Does it make sense for it to be there? Or does it feel tacked on, like it's not really integrated with everything else? Do the systems and mechanics provide players with the opportunity to truly experience new things, rather than simply providing challenges to overcome? Do things work together to bring players together, to provide shared objectives and opportunities to interact with each other? Are things set up so that new players joining the game will be able to dive in and really start to experience all the great things that it has in store for them, without being blocked by complex systems or by other players?

When it's all said and done, these three principles are generally why I take the positions that I do - and that's true whether we're talking about content, or raiding, or itemization, or gameplay mechanics... or crafting.

Since this site is all about crafting (and gathering), let me dig in deeper there for a moment. We like to spend a lot of time here on Pantheon Crafters talking about the "How" of crafting - how things could work or should work. Cool ideas for adding depth and meaningful choices and a sense of progression and so on. These are all really great discussions to have, because all of our different perspectives often combine in the end to advance some really amazing ideas for consideration by the devs (who are hopefully reading :) ).

But what we don't do enough of sometimes is think about the "Why" of crafting. Why do we want crafting in the game? What does it accomplish in the greater context of Pantheon? So I want to do that now:

  • Crafting adds another dimension of gameplay to flesh out the experience of the virtual world.
  • Crafting supports Exploration, Discovery, Challenge, and Reward through learning and mastering the systems to create interesting and useful items.
  • Crafting supports player Interaction by providing another reason for players to talk to and rely on each other.
  • Crafting helps attract and retain new players through all of the above.

You might be reading that and saying "Well duh Neph, why did you just waste a bunch of words saying what we already know?" It's my editorial and I'll write what I want to, thank you very much. Really though, I took the time to write that out because I think that even though we know these things, we don't keep them at the forefront of our thoughts as much as we should.

For example, there's been a few discussions recently about the idea of having multiple quality tiers in the results of crafted items - where by some random chance, or via a high level of skill, or some other mechanism, someone should be able to craft a better version of the item that they were already crafting. Taken by itself, this always seems like a cool concept: "Hey I produced a masterwork, yay!" Yet, in many of these discussions, I find myself adamantly opposed to the idea. Why? Because doing it that way would throw a barrier up in front of new players who wanted to participate in the game economy. They'd be forced to compete against people who, either through time or skill, were creating those higher-quality items, and it would be something that the new players could not match without a similar investment of time or skill. This directly conflicts with my tenet that new players are the lifeblood of the game, so I end up disagreeing even with ideas that I otherwise think are pretty awesome, because while the idea itself might be great, the result when I think about it in the context of the larger game world would not be so great.

Another example, this time more hypothetical. Imagine if alchemists could make teleport stones that players could use as short-distance teleports to preset locations - sort of like a "Gate" potion or a scroll of Town Portal from the Diablo games. Wow, wouldn't that be great for giving alchemists a good market to sell to? People would buy and use those things constantly. And therein lies the problem. People would use them constantly. They would become a crutch. Even if they were expensive to make and buy, over time as more and more players could afford them, they would start to be seen as required items. "Don't go into the dungeon unless you have a teleport stone". "Selling teleport stones to get to Faerthale, why spend two hours getting lost in the woods when you can just be there now for the low price of 40 plat!"

For every good idea we have, we always need to take a step back and think about how it will impact the overall experience that players have, both good and bad. Not just the people we play with now, but the people that will join the game in 2 or 3 years. Not just the crafters, but the people who don't craft as well. What are the unintended consequences of the things we want to put into the game? What are the risks? What kinds of experiences will that drive for all players, not just for ourselves?

I very strongly support a game with challenge and depth, complexity and meaningful choice. I want Pantheon to have a robust crafting system with lots of opportunity for me to grow and progress my character, and really make my mark in the economy. But that cannot come at the cost of damaging the integrity of the game world, of overvaluing or undervaluing parts of the overall game experience, or of making it harder for new players to join the game and participate later on.

Most of us have experienced the pitfalls of unintended design consequences in MMOs - obsolete content, rampant inflation, toxic communities (just to name a few). More than many other players, crafters have the opportunity to really think about the bigger picture and how the way things are set up today affects the game of tomorrow. We should take that opportunity to heart and not allow ourselves to get too carried away by our (admittedly brilliant) ideas.
 

Chimerical

Novice
I don't have the concerns that you do regarding new players where crafting is concerned. My greater concern is that they put an enjoyable system into place. If crafting is entertaining then being seasoned or new will make little difference. It the journey for me, not the destination. I'll start crafting right away, yet my style of play will see me drop back from the leaders in crafting. I won't feel disadvantaged while others pull away. I'll continue to enjoy crafting, hopefully, for the act of creating things and improving my character. I'll also sell items, components to those out racing me in crafting, finished items to those that find damn good, but not the best, acceptable. I'll also strive to make the best quality I can. It's a goal for me to attain, not to shrink from.

Crafting by it's nature creates an underclass of apprentices. You learn, you grow your skills. you become a master eventually. When I reach the higher levels I employ lower level crafters by purchasing components that I can make, but would rather not. If the materials required to make the highest level item in a lower tier are not easily found where I'm adventuring or exploring, I might well buy from a lower level crafter to avoid the gathering of materials.

It is a balancing act, one that hopefully the developers are up to. I don't think it's much different from adventuring, make the low level interesting and people will enjoy the play. Once they reach higher levels most folks don't go back to play lower levels, until rolling an alt, or perhaps progeny in this game.

I don't see a way around tiers of items in crafting. It then becomes a matter of semantics on what is the best. Don't want a perfect item in game, exquisite is now best. I wouldn't want a game where "adequate" is the best, capable of being made by newbies from the start. You can't kill a boss mob right away, you can't make the best item right away, but you can in time, and if the journey is fun well that's what gaming is all about.

Now your hypothetical is a whole different problem to my way of thinking. It reflects poor design by the developers, or unintended consequences. This is why I test crafting when possible. There are always plenty of adventurers testing combat and dungeons. I prefer to craft, given the opportunity. See what can be created and hopefully weed out the overpowered, the game altering, or gulp, the boring. Dropped items shouldn't eliminate the need to craft and of course crafted shouldn't make dropped undesirable (has that ever actually happened). My philosophy is everything in game that drops must have been crafted at some time, so it should still be able to be crafted, it's just a matter of finding the recipe, and components...

Like you Nephele I just start typing so I'll stop here. Probably re-read it tomorrow and hope it made some sense. There's always editing (since I'm too lazy to ever preview...)
 
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