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Some Assembly Required: Bringing the 'craft' back to crafting

MJ Guthrie

A recent comment made in regard to crafting in an upcoming game gave me pause. It went something like this: If the gameplay fails, the crafting system won't matter. My first thought was that this person must have accidentally tripped over his tongue and mistakenly substituted words, meaning to insert pwnzer PvP or some such instead of gameplay. Why? Because we all understand that as a part of playing the game, crafting is inherently gameplay.

But then another explanation for this wildly inaccurate statement came to me; perhaps the speaker had actually never seen -- let alone experienced -- real, meaningful crafting in a game! After all, there has been a serious dearth of deep, involved crafting systems where skill and dedication are valued for quite some time in MMOs. Crafting, if it exists at all, is often relegated to some mechanic that can be slept through that results in uniform, standardized products. It's no wonder that some folks might not realize that crafting is gameplay.

But change is a-comin'! Some upcoming games are returning to the idea that robust crafting systems are a deep and engaging part of games. Heck, the whole premise behind one is crafting! Two titles, The Repopulation and Pathfinder Online, seem to have really hit the nail on the head when it comes to developing sophisticated crafting systems that have purpose and meaning. Today in Some Assembly Required, we'll take a closer look at how both are putting the "craft" back into crafting.

Crafting =/= constructing
What is crafting? Is it just making something that wasn't there before, nothing more than assembling parts to construct a whole? No.
  • Craft \ˈkraft\ noun: 1. an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or skilled artistry; 2. skill in planning, making, or executing.
  • Craft \ˈkraft\ verb: to make or fashion with skill, especially by hand.
Either way you look at it, crafting denotes skill -- the knowledge of how and ability to do something. But look even more closely at the definitions. Skill is not floating nebulously by itself; it is paired with artistry, planning, fashioning by hand. Crafting is much more than simply making an item; it's putting personal effort and care into the process. It is using hard-earned expertise to create a unique item of value.

The Repopulation images
Sadly, this is where many MMOs are sorely lacking. Many games treat crafting as only a construction process and leave actual crafting out of it. You have your skill level (knowledge on how), but there's little to no artistry involved. Personal expertise does not come into play as everything is standardized, including the end product itself. Some games don't even need the player to be any more a part of the process than to fill his or her bags with components, hit a button, and leave. And to top all that, the items created are usually of little value compared to what is found elsewhere in the game.

But all is not lost. Though this malady has been plaguing MMOs for quite a while, there is hope on the horizon. The Repopulation and Pathfinder Online both appear poised to reintroduce the skilled workmanship of artisans back into virtual worlds.

Repopulating artisans
In order to bring back the artisans, a game needs to have a reason for them to exist. For that to happen, it needs an economy that makes creating items a worthwhile endeavor. Why bother wasting time on something that has no value? The Repopulation takes a giant leap in this direction by removing gear drops from the game and making everything player-crafted. Economy-wise, Pathfinder Online does not eliminate all drops, but the vast majority of gear -- and all of the highest quality items -- will be player-crafted as well.

But an economy alone does not an artisan make; the crafting system needs to be complex enough that it accounts for the effort and talents of a crafter, rewarding those who put more into it. Again, The Repopulation scores big. TR's crafting has both the grading system, which allows crafters to learn higher-quality recipes, and the progression system, which increases the quality of frequently crafted items. So those who specialize will continue to improve the quality of their products, whereas someone who just dabbles will not make such high-quality goods. Focusing on specific areas is also important in Pathfinder; those who wholly dedicate their skills will create the best of the best.

Finding the path of the artisan
That brings us to the fact that both games' systems encourage interdependence as well as diversification. For the highest of qualities to be achieved, various skilled artisans must contribute at every step of the way. It not about being one type of crafter who makes the same thing as everyone else but about multiple players contributing their skill at different stages of creating an item.

The Repopulation imageIn Pathfinder, the quality of the final product is determined not only by the quality level of the resource but by the skill level of first the harvester, then the refiner, and finally the crafter. At any point along that line, if someone has lower skills, the final product will be adversely affected. So maximum-skilled refiners and harvesters are just as important as the weaponsmith in making a high-quality sword. The same principle holds true in The Repopulation; the skill of the one who assembles all of the components in the end is no more important than the skills of those who created all of sub-components.

What does this mean for crafting? It means there is plenty of room for players to become experts in different areas, making themselves valuable to the crafting process in a variety of ways. Not everyone has to be a prized armorsmith to be valued; in fact, not everyone can, else there won't be the necessary components to make the impressive armor! Players have the chance to carve out their own niches and really take pride in their roles. Crafters can become true artisans, contributing significantly to the world by creating items of value. And that's something many of us want to see more of in our MMOs.

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!

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