However, we can't always play in a perfect vacuum, with friends or with functional equipment. Real life happens. I currently live on a mountain. Awesome views, but really bad internet. My internet connection drops like it's hot. I love playing with friends, but time is limited: I work two jobs, train the Dark Puppy and am maintaining a garden, a marriage and a household. And I try to stay fit in the meantime. Ultimately, this all means time, friends and equipment can all be in short supply. I keep up pretty well in terms of gear and skill, but I just can't be around much.
While WoW is probably the most friendly MMO out there for the casual or time-restricted player, it's still a pretty big bummer to always be the guy getting dragged along in a raid. No one wants to be the deficient player. And more than a few times, it's left my mouse pointer hovering over the "cancel" button.
But crafting and professions have saved me, every time.
The reality is that if you can't put in the enormous time or effort required on a consecutive basis to keep up with raiding content, you just won't be able to do so. New raids have traditionally come out too fast for the "one night a week" guy to be able to get all the way through contemporary content. And while I am usually lucky and my wife lets me score extra raid time, some weeks that's just not possible. Those are inevitably weeks the Axe of Super Awesome drops or the raid kills the Ultimate in Big Bad Guys. I'll acknowledge that I'm often a unique snowflake and don't have much trouble keeping up when I do have play time; but when I'm short on time or my internet's being fritzy, the World of Warcraft just blows right by me.
The solution? Find other things to do with my time. I decided a long time ago that I wanted a crafting empire. I wanted at least one character for every profession. I wanted to be able to independently create every single crafted item in the game. The question of what I'd do with all that stuff wasn't really relevant. But I wanted to set this goal for myself, with the goal of giving me something to do that wouldn't be negatively impacted by a spotty internet connection or a dearth of play time. Sure, my goal would take longer because of these things. But suddenly disconnecting before mining a titanium node doesn't mean 24 people wipe because of my disconnect.
Crafting my salvation
Of course, I had to come up with a plan. I decided to level my enchanter first, with a secondary profession choice of mining. While the mining wouldn't be immediately useful to me, the ore gathered would feed three other professions. (Those three are engineering, blacksmithing and jewelcrafting.) I would need all the ore I could get. The reason I chose enchanting is probably fairly obvious: Once I was done with a level of enchanting materials, I could sell my disenchants on the auction house for a tidy profit.
If you picture the life cycle of crafted goods, the final output is either a consumable or disenchantable. The consumable is, of course, consumed. (For instance, think of a flask or a potion here.) The disenchantable is rendered into mats for the auction house. Since I wanted to be as efficient as possible with my time, I wanted to make sure I didn't skip that final output -- I needed to be able to use everything I made or received in game.
Everything is blue
Since I had a small legion of alts now growing through the ranks, I only ever played the characters when they had blue experience available. Since my problem is that I have very limited time and can't reliably play with other people, I tried to make sure that every minute I spent playing was as meaningful as possible. Blue experience only, then.
Between all the levelling changes and sticking to rested XP, levels flew by for me. I especially felt the difference by the time I was cruising Outland and was just desperate to keep moving on to other characters. With my first character, all of the magic items and ore was processed and sold on the auction house. I started to feel like I was playing a game again, instead of just being a "bad."
Interact with the game when not logged in
I tend to research my crafting items and materials while I'm at work, during short breaks. I would log onto WoW.com or Wowhead and check out my upcoming recipes and where I should be going to get them. While working around the house, I would talk to friends about where they farmed 5 bajillion thorium veins. Basically, because I was doing a wide variety of activities, I could feel like I was being productive toward the game while not immediately logged on.
This made a huge difference to me. One of the hardships of being a time-restricted player is that it's hard to always be in the mood to play, especially if your friends are light years ahead of you. Penny Arcade summed this issue up pretty well. You just always feel like a newb. At least with my focused crafting effort, I felt like I was the architect of something amazing. On completion, I'd be able to say my team of alts could produce any item in the game.
In the end, crafting makes a lot of the game worthwhile to me. It's something that fits my lifestyle and lets me go at my own pace. I have weeks where I play WoW every day; other weeks, it's hard to get 20 minutes online. At least this way, I get to have something I crafted with my own two hands at the end of it.
Each week, Insider Trader takes you behind the scenes of the bustling subculture of professional craftsmen, examining the profitable, the tragically lacking and the methods behind the madness.