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Insider Trader: Crafting a future for professions


Insider Trader is your weekly inside line on making, selling, buying and using player-made products.

Are you a tradesman -- or are you simply a player who crafts? The determining factor is yet another question: Do you care? For the vast majority of WoW players, crafting is a means to an end: better gear, more money, consumables and resources. For others, though, crafting is a game in and of itself. The WoW tradesman relishes the entire process of crafting: training up, obtaining rare recipes, scrounging mats, actually crafting items, researching new possibilities, interacting with customers ... an enjoyable pursuit in its own right.

WoW's crafting system is by no means complex or even especially compelling – and perhaps even anachronistic. This week, Insider Trader brings you musings on professions inspired by well-known MMORPG blogger Tobold's predictions on the shape of MMORPGs in the year 2020. We have a lot for you to ponder and pontificate about – so please come join the conversation, after the break.

Crafting in tomorrow's MMOs
Let's launch our mini-salon with some thoughts from Tobold's recent look at trends for the next generation of MMORPGs:

MMORPG developers in 2020 have realized that many players want a wide selection of options to play games inside the game, not just combat. In a development pioneered near the beginning of the century by Puzzle Pirates, every different craft is now a different mini-game. The games are skill-based puzzles, easy enough to play but not trivial to master. The times where you could buy gold from a gold farmer, buy lots of stacks of raw materials from the auction house, and master a craft in an afternoon have gone. Many people just craft for fun, as developers realized that crafting as a money sink didn't make sense, and as long crafting an item took as much time as getting things from combat, it should be profitable to do so. Some dedicated players built up great reputations as master crafters, really mastering the puzzle games, and some even claim that being a master crafter is being more leet than people who only do combat well.

As rife with peer pressure as WoW can be (better roll T5 or higher or flash a blingy Arena rating, if you want to avoid being labeled a n00b), there are plenty of players who don't play "best of the best." Check out the comments for this week's Gamers on the Street column for a blizzard of comments on this very matter. What's "elitist"? What's "average"? Going even deeper, consider the common (mis?)perception that there is a "right way" and a "wrong way" to play WoW. Players like Noor the pacifist have created their own ways of enjoying the World of Warcraft. (And stay tuned to WoW Insider's 15 Minutes of Fame for an insider's perspective on the attractions of "metagaming" – playing WoW in an alternative way, as a game within a game – from the thoughtful and inspiring Gweryc the melee hunter.)

Simply put, there's a lot more to the World of Warcraft than raiding and Arenas. And one of those pieces could be crafting.

Crafting: A compelling mini-game
Dedicated craftsmen approach MMOs in much the same way, viewing crafting as an enjoyable pursuit in its own right. They want a robust, compelling experience.

  • Crafting as a mini-game. Crafters want what Tobold calls "skill-based puzzles" that they can sink their teeth into. Crafting should be interesting and enjoyable enough to pursue for its own sake.
  • Crafting as a mechanic that requires dedication. Without becoming tedious or annoyingly complex, crafting needs to rise above its state of triviality. Mastering a craft should not be possible by dropping easily farmed gold into raw materials available on a public Auction House and applying them to skills that are able to capped in a matter of days or even hours.
  • Crafting as a viable source of profit. In Tobold's words, "as long crafting an item took as much time as getting things from combat, it should be profitable to do so."
  • Crafting as a viable source for items and gear. Again, there's no reason a thoughtful crafting system that requires time and effort equivalent to combat cannot provide an alternative stream of worthwhile gear and items.
  • Crafting mastery as a desirable goal. MMORPGs are social environments, and developing a reputation as a master crafter should be a laudable and enjoyable goal in and of itself (as well as the associated financial and item-related benefits).
A little help from my friends
Back to some thoughts from Tobold:

The broadening of the appeal of MMORPGs to a much wider audience was only possible by them becoming the new places to hang out. Social interaction between players has been much improved. Guild features have exploded, encouraging players to work together for the greater benefit of their team in a more permanent way than winning some encounter on some evening. Player-built cities are at the core of this system, with various crafters and adventurers all adding to the splendor of their guild's city.

Do you ever wonder how it can be possible to be a successful tradesman in the game world without ever needing to personally interact with another player? Blizzard had the right idea (if not necessarily the right overall balance and implementation) in mind when they designed enchanting as a service-based profession requiring face-to-face interaction. But as far as the rest of the professions ... Customers? Other players? lolwut?

Incredibly, the design of the current crafting and Auction House system -- while convenient for time-pressed players being nudged into the end-game funnel of activity – literally strips the "multiplayer" from this MMORPG. The incentive for the WoW crafter is to become antisocial, to produce quickly in mass quantities and sell anonymously over a multi-city linked auction system.

Think about some of the ways a more socially oriented crafting system could enliven our game world:
  • A lively, items-focused trade channel and city environment
  • Bazaars, auction houses and crafting districts as popular watering holes
  • Inter-profession and inter-specialization dependencies that lead to relationships between craftsmen
  • Burgeoning, long-standing customer-client relationships
  • Competitive relationships and cooperative partnerships with other craftsmen
  • Items and benefits for guilds available only through the contributions of their craftsmen
  • A robust player-based economy where player-made products have lasting value
Pipe dreams? No, these are all elements of crafting systems in place right now in other games. These and many other mechanics can help put the "multiplayer" element back into the crafting system.

What do you think?
So why are you a tradesperson in WoW? What do you enjoy about crafting? Why did you choose the professions you did? Do you think secondary professions are a waste of time? What do you see lacking from the crafting system as a whole? Do you craft for fun? For profit? For the profession-specific BoPs? Do you relegate professions to one or more crafting alts?

And do you enjoy crafting?

Yes, Insider Trader's Lisa Poisso does enjoy game crafting (although not always as implemented in the World of Warcraft).

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