When it comes to business, it's usually best to save those parts of a business plan that are working so as not to waste the investments already made. In relation to MMOs, the same considerations should (and in the case of publicly-held companies, is legally required to) be granted to all aspects of its product. Since most MMOs have multiple features typical to all games (PvP, crafting, housing, PvE, etc.) each one of these facets' productivity matters.
If a single feature assists in keeping players in-game, then there's more potential for revenue generation to occur. If a feature not only keeps a player in-game but is, in and of itself, a point of revenue generation, then it's all the better for the company and therefore its shareholders.
As most Captain's Log readers already know, my first MMO was Star Trek Online. I had no other experience with any other MMO of any kind before this one. Also, many STO players will also recall that when the game first launched almost four years ago, the game was offered on a pure subscription-based model. Like many other games over the past few years, STO formally converted to a free-to-play format in early 2012.
The crafting system in the game was considered, even then, to be extremely basic; even at the highest tiers, crafters' ability to create high-end weapons, gear, and armor was extremely limited. Imagine my surprise when I began to play other games and experience other crafting systems! It only made the current crafting system in STO seem that much more pathetic.
My personal experience has also led me to realize that crafting in games is, for many, what makes the game. Likewise, opinions as to what makes crafting fun, more than any other aspect of an MMO, are as diverse and contentious as the playerbase on the whole. For instance, over the past few years I've learned that I personally adore extremely intricate, complicated, detailed crafting systems that require the farming and refining of resources combined with the ability to "crit" or make rare items that are considered to be the best and most desirable in the game. I have also learned that there are many people who would rather stick sharp instruments into their tender spots before having to undertake something that they might consider to be so tedious or boring or that might remove them from their beloved pew pew.
The current system in Star Trek Online is pretty simple. It's so easy anyone with a store of energy credits, data samples, and dilithium can level from zero to max in a matter of hours. At the beginning, the system requires a player to craft some small consumable items, which reward him with a trifle of crafting XP. Once that first XP tier is reached, the next tier's craftable items unlock.
The quality of the weapons, armor, gear, and ship consoles improves with each tier until the player reaches max level. The only things that a player needs to make anything in the system are:
- Common and rare data samples that can be picked up by scanning anomalies in every quest map (ground and space),
- "Unreplicatable" materials that can be purchased from a vendor, and
- Schematics, or the outline of the item that a player wants to craft (beam weapon, rifle, console, etc.).
Unfortunately right now, the max tier items available to craft are far inferior to those available in the fleet and reputation systems. With the possible exception of the Aegis ship set, no one would likely bother to waste dilithium crafting in the current system when that dilithium is better spent on purchasing better items through the other systems.
So that raises this question: If crafting in STO is dead, what can be done to bring it back? Will it just be scrapped altogether?
Since the implementation of the fleet and reputation systems has virtually annihilated crafting, it's pretty safe to say the reverse might also also be true. Why would the STO devs invest in a system (crafting) that might neuter the systems in which they just invested so heavily? The fleet system bears with it art, items, and maps for every fleet holding as well as for items available for sale in the fleet stores. Each reputation system is also composed of art, maps, writing, cutscenes, playable missions, and so on.
Comparatively, the crafting contains less man-hour investment because virtually the only art that went into it was for the items themselves -- that art that is but one, small component of the overall effort required for the fleet and reputation systems. The art for Memory Alpha, where the Federation crafting facilities are found, could be easily re-purposed, for example.
If STO were to overhaul crafting and allow players to make some of the most desirable items in the game, it may very well undercut the popularity of items available in the reputation and fleet systems, leading people to drop their efforts there and move toward crafting in order to get what they deem is "the best stuff."
Is there any possible resolution to this apparent conundrum? Can crafting in STO undergo an overhaul that won't necessarily compete with the fleet and reputation systems? Is there any way a new system could be implemented that wouldn't enfeeble the fleet or reputation systems? I'm not sure players would invest their own energy into any new crafting system unless they felt the rewards were worth it. And as I have learned from someone I respect very much, fellow player Altexist, who said, "When it comes to MMOs, it's always about the sweet, sweet loots."
I think that if crafting were to undergo any kind of an overhaul, items that could be crafted would have to contain statistics that are comparable to those that can be obtained in the fleet and reputation systems. I would also like to think that my character's specialty means something more than the color of her uniform, so it might also be wise to limit a character's ability to craft items to those that are career specific: Tacticians should be able to craft only weapons, engineers should be able to craft machinery and turrets, and science officers should be able to make only consoles and scanners, etc. Better yet, let's create a whole new set of items that each specialty could craft that would never be available in the fleet or reputation systems.
What do you think? What types of crafting could be implemented into Star Trek Online that would make the game more fun without undercutting the current systems? Put on your own developer hat and let me know in the comments section. Until next week, live long and prosper!
Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Monday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to firstname.lastname@example.org.