Vanguards Crafting Pane

Vanguard's Crafting Pane

I’ve played MMOs for a little while now and I’m not quite satisfied with crafting and other hobbies. Take fishing for example, nearly every game that features it has dumbed down this potentially fun hobby to nothing more than click, wait, and click again. I don’t know about you but I don’t find that exciting.

The same thing goes for crafting. Nearly every AAA MMO out there has a very basic and very rote creation system. You found a cool new recipe? Great, clickity, clickity, clack and it’s all your yours – no brain power required! Why is it so bland? Is ease of design so much more important that actually engaging your players?

The only redeeming factor is that you might be able to get a decent reward for your monotony– but only in some games. I’ve never felt compelled to craft or fish in WoW because you’re forced to go through hours upon hours of grind to get a reward of any value (ie, the WoW formula). Unless you count that vendor’s smiling face when he gives me 5 silver for that level 40 grey I just sold him. No, it was always just gathering for me. Gathering seems much closer to the mark in WoW, progressive reward for progressive skill that actually nets you a tangible benefit. Crafting won’t get you gear that you can use for the first 79 levels, yet gathering will get you money to gear up. Sound like something’s missing to you too?

LotRO was far different. When I made my first character there, I rolled loremaster who could wear light armor. I signed up for the Explorer job (gatherer/tailor) and was surprised to find that I could make a whole set after just a little collecting, even while still in the starting zone. And from most reports I’d heard, crafting gear was comparable to instance gear during the leveling process. Unfortunately, I hear that the value of crafting gear dropped notably with the Mines of Moria expansion. Even though their system was similar to WoW’s, you were able to derive a tangible benefit almost immediately.

I think that companies like Blizard and Turbine could take a lesson from SOE here. FreeRealms got it right by making their jobs minigame based. For many of the tasks required to advance your job, you have to complete another small game first.

The introductory cooking quest comes to mind. You have to prepare items for a stew and then tend it once they’re all added. Fantastic! That is how I’d envisioned side-jobs in MMOs when I first started, a fun process to create something, beyond the basic collecting of materials.

Another game of SOE’s that came closer to that ideal is Vanguard. Their crafting system, while closer to our current “traditional” style, followed a process flow as well. Interestingly enough, complications could also occur, which you could alter the quality of your final product. It was a much more intensive system to be sure, yet, being a crafter there was worthy of it’s own level and notoriety. In short, the system’s complexity made it that much more special to take up.

I’m not suggesting game companies adopt either system exclusively. I do think that introducing a system that blends the two would be a wonderful thing. As it stands right now, most side-jobs are in place to turn off your brain and refresh from the quest grind. But, why should that be so? Aren’t there other options that developers could consider to allay people’s combat boredom? Adding in more complexity to crafting, especially in WoW and LotRO, would make it more important to be a crafter, harder to advance, yet, more fun at the same time.

I don’t think players really want to turn their brains off when they play. That’s what the TV is for. Ironically enough, many players report crafting and fishing while watching TV. How very engaging a system must be to require only a minutia of thought from its players. That, in and of itself, makes it impossible to be a skilled crafter.

I’m of the belief that every person should not be able to achieve every goal in a game. People should have to dedicate to be able to become a top crafter, fisherman, raider, or what have you. I think most of us tend to look at MMOs as virtual worlds, that’s certainly how the genre started, and under this viewpoint, there should be a bell curve of crafter’s and hobbyists. There should be payoff and goal. Most of all, the process of specialty creation should not be brain dead.

I’ve felt this way for a while but reading Arbitrary’s post on new hobbies for LotRO really got these feelings stirred up again. Funnily enough, the embers began churning based on my old love of Super Nintendo fishing games. I’ve always wondered why fishing in MMOs was so darn bland. Is it really that hard to throw in a vestige of challenge? No fight from the fish, no snags, and click-to-use invisible baits? The developers really went over the top to make that one fun.

Even though fishing in particular pales below the importance of trade skills in a game, I was sorely disappointed when I saw just how lazily modern games addressed what could have been a very fun mini-game in itself. Vanguard’s system is better but the melding of Dance Dance Revolution with Bassmasters Deluxe never really clicked with me.

Any new hobby LotRO brings in (and Turbine has said they’re considering a few) needs to have a little more complexity to it. If you’re going to let me be a woodcarver, let me have more than a loading bar. Hell, go crazy and let me actually carve that decoration for my hobbit hole. If I’m going to hunt, let me aim my weapon. Brewmaster? How neat would it be to go through a minigame to make your own beer, maybe even allowing random ingredient combinations to produce unique new flavors? Right there are three hobbies I’d take up in a minute.

There’s a lot of potential in MMO gaming that’s just unrealized. If it’s true that players have the most fun when they’re learning then adding more depth could only be a good thing.  You’ll get less high level crafters and hobbyists but, honestly, those were probably the people that should never have gotten to such a high level anyways. And, bingo, now they have a new goal for their playtime. Achievements shouldn’t be reached by “turning off” your brain and having to watch TV because you’re bored with can only indicate flawed design.

You know, there was a time when the gaming community railed against loading screens. Who would have thought that simply reducing those screens to progress bars would have solved all of the frustration?