Design Flaws – Generic Crafting

Crafting is an activity that can go a long way towards fleshing out a virtual world, providing the players with a pastime that’s both fun and constructive, forming the cornerstone of a player-based economy.  Or… it can be more or less a waste of time.

In the real world, people craft for several reasons, among which are the desire to make art for its own sake, the desire to earn money by making and selling items that are valuable to others, and the desire to create items we’ll ourselves use.  Yet in many MMOs’ crafting systems, we’re given no opportunity at all to pursue the first two desires, and the third is given short shrift indeed.  Rather than creating items for artistic purposes, or crafting unique items that stand out, we’re often expected to grind out massive amounts of generic items that are of no value to anyone.  That’s not only tedious but entirely nonsensical.

Crafting should whenever possible allow for expression of the artisan impulse.  Let us customize the appearances of the items we make, to the point where one craftsman’s items can look entirely different from another’s.  Let us make art, by allowing freedom of design and decoration.  Yes, of course there are problems to overcome here… given enough freedom one can expect some people will depict foul or obscene things, while others will duplicate copyrighted materials.  We face this same possibility every time we hand a child a box of crayons and a pad of paper though… the risk is well worth the rewards.

Crafting should also whenever possible allow for customization of the mechanics of items being created.  Let us make armour and weapons with different bonuses, useful for different situations or specifications.  It’s wearying to be able only to make certain specific items, sometimes none of which are useful or applicable at a given level.  Yet we’re expected to grind through them, making dozens or hundreds of identical (and often useless) items until moving on to the next stage, where we’ll do the same thing.  This bears no resemblance to real life.

Insofar as we’re given freedom in crafting design and function, whole new realms of emergent gameplay arise… we’re able to create art and express ourselves, to manifest custom and special works that are unique and interesting.  That’s a whole game in itself then… and it’s one that a lot of players would happily immerse themselves in.  And as someone who enjoys crafting in games but is always, always disappointed by the limitations, I can only say, “This can’t happen soon enough.”

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