Crafting in MMOs relies, to a greater or lesser extent, on the availability of resources in the game. Raw materials are harvested, processed, and then used in the creation of a finished product. In most games, achieving the ability to create more powerful items stems from grinding for materials and then making a vast quantity of items on your mission to level up.
This type of repetitive crafting system would be extremely problematic with a set amount of available materials. Relatively fewer characters might be able to craft at a time as resources would quickly become scarce. It might also encourage players to hoard mats in an effort to maintain a monopoly on crafted goods.
Instead, a quest-based system, similar to that in Age of Conan, might be feasible. In AoC, there is a level minimum for beginning in the gathering professions, then a later level for starting a craft. Successive tiers of crafted items have their own, even higher, level minimums so that you must progress through content in order to craft more useful things. When you start out, you can get quests to gather twenty of each resource for the various trainers. Those resources then get turned in to the quest-giving NPC - which, in our system, would make them available again for the next person.
Crafting might see a quest-giver asking for one set of items. For instance, one full set of armor including boots, legs, breastplate, arms, gloves, and helm. As soon as these items are turned in, it also triggers resources to re-spawn. In order to sink a little more gold back into the game, it might also require some crafting ingredients to be purchased from the NPC in much the same way that Lord of the Rings Online does.
Another potential way to keep crafting materials available is to have a little bit of loss from unprocessing items to turn them back into base components. For instance, let's say you get a sword you cannot use and would not sell well on an auction house as a drop. If you had the Mining skill (or whatever they want to call it that allows you to smelt metal), you could smelt down the sword into ingots. This type of destruction was available in Ultima Online and came at a price. You would often lose a couple of ingots'-worth of metal as compared to what it would take to create the item. Little by little, this type of dynamic would put more resources back into the system ... until you went mining again, of course.
In general, in order for fresh resources to spawn, an item must be consumed. That means either used, discarded, sold, or destroyed. This would be particularly important for a craft like Alchemy for its associated herbs or other components. A potion would have to not only be made, but then used for it to be considered as removed from the system.
So what happens when someone decides they want to have a monopoly on resources and goes on a mats grind or holds on to vast quantities of consumables? Well, that's where the banking and storage system comes in. To keep things flowing out of the game, there must be reasons that players would drop them, sell them, or consume them in some other way.
To accomplish this, in-game banks would function more like real-world ones. They would only be a place to store money. No items. Period. The auction house or NPCs could then tap in to your account to pull the gold required for purchases, rather than you needing to have it with you. Think of it as a debit card you never see.
If carried, money would weigh something (or take up an item slot in stacks). This was something UO did as well, in a sense. If you were carrying more gold than your strength would allow, you could not move. You would need to get to the bank after amassing your small fortune to make a deposit in order to free up space in your packs.
Banks in our system would then charge small fees on a monthly basis, much like real banks. It could be based on an average daily balance so that players could not plan to withdraw all their money on a given day of the month and therefore not pay as much. This would put some money back into circulation as loot.
Item storage would require player housing. Within the house, only certain types of furniture could store particular types of things. For instance, in order to store alchemical herbs you might need an apothecary chest. The storage of clothing or armor might require a wardrobe. Spaces for where these storage devices could go within the house would be limited, similarly to LotRO and Runescape, and would need to be built.
Also similar to LotRO, guilds could have larger houses with more available storage spaces for characters to share. This would serve to entice players to use housing, drop money on buying (or maybe even building) the house, build furniture, and most importantly restrict the amount of resources or finished goods that could be kept on hand. And since the servers would have a limited number of character slots open, sufficient housing would be available to players that each character may be able to have a house.
In addition, items would fall into disrepair regardless of whether they are actively used. If they are just sitting there doing nothing, they would begin to fall apart. The herbs kept in the apothecary chest would get moldy. The weapons would rust. Silver trinkets would tarnish. And all of them would need to be either discarded or repaired. It's not something that would happen overnight, but maybe in the course of a couple of months or so. If left unattended, the items would completely fall apart and disappear - thus being reincarnated in the form of something similar out and about in the world. Aside from providing yet another means of sinking resources, it would also be a strong incentive for players to log in and actually use the things they've collected.
That pretty well takes care of all the scenarios and ways I could come up with as to how this system would differ from those we know and love. What do you think of it? What questions do you have about the intricacies of this hypothetical world? Do you think it would work? Comment away!
Alexis Kassan is a numbers nerd. She spends her days with statistical programs and her nights with spreadsheets and textbooks. She's also a MMORPG addict, having gotten sucked into Ultima Online at a formative age. In her time away from work, books and games, she can usually be found drowning in pools of sprinkles. If you have a question about in-game economics or how crafting fits in with them, hit her up at alexis DOT kassan at weblogsinc DOT com.