Why MMO Crafting Sucks & 5 Ways To Fix It
Any critic can find problems with a system, but few can propose solutions. In light of this, I’d like to propose some solutions to the current model of crafting systems. These solutions aim to encourage exploration and discovery over grinding to hit max level, and ideally will provide average players of any level with the ability to create gear tailored to themselves.
1. Gathering should allow players to get the materials they need as they level.
There are a few ways to do this:
- Looted materials – such as enchanting dust in World of Warcraft – should stay in the current crafting system, but with less importance. Recipes using them should shift over to using a combination of rare materials and common ones.
- More common looted materials like claws or cloth should be changed to be more akin to skinning, where you can “harvest” enemy corpses for the materials you need.
- Node gathering should be player-specific (so nobody can steal your node) and should spawn another node somewhere in the zone when a node has been harvested.
2. Crafting should be based on recipe discovery, not number of items created.
You have to make players want to make items rather than dreading it. The system below is the way I would personally love to do crafting:
- Players are given recipes for basic refined materials such as bars of metal. They then use those refined materials alongside other materials to discover new recipes.
- Once a recipe has been discovered, it is added to your crafting book. Where this differs, however, is in execution. Rather than limiting the player based on crafting experience, the system should be designed around encouraging them to discover more recipes.
- Thus, access to the next “tier” of crafting (bronze to iron, iron to steel, steel to <insert fantasy metal here>, etc) is restricted by the number of recipes the player has discovered, rather than level. This allows players to focus more on the fun part of crafting (discovering new stuff) and less on the tedious part (gathering materials).
- It also provides incentive to continue discovering low-level recipes, as those recipes will allow the player to continue to a new tier regardless of how low-level they are.
3. Crafted items should scale with the player as they level up.
Item scaling would allow players to feel less guilty about creating items that are lower level, as they will stay with them on their journey. Higher-tier items would, instead of providing a faster scaling, allow players to create more magical combinations and perhaps give more customization (gems, runes, etc) slots. Increasing player strength with more options rather than higher numbers always serves to deepen the experience. That’s a lesson that Defense of the Ancients has been teaching us constantly over these past few years.
4. Crafting an item should become easier/more profitable as the player does it more
A system where you become better at creating items as you make more of them is a bit more reactionary, as it addresses the issue of players crafting a single item and never touching it again. This system would likely be more in line with traditional crafting: create the item, get experience, and each new experience level increases the stats of the item you craft. As you craft an item more, you become more familiar with the recipe, and “crude” gives way to “fine” gives way to “expert.” You can’t craft a master longsword in real life, but crafting one in the game can still feel like an accomplishment.
5. Crafting should have a purpose to players that have not hit the level cap
There are some non-crafting ways to make crafting more useful to players below the level cap. Once again, World of Warcraft leads the way in terms of making this viable. As players can freeze their XP gain in order to participate in low-level PVP, there is a market for lower-level items that are of no use to players higher up. This can also possibly be extended to low-level dungeons and drops, making them more likely to drop if a player is of the appropriate level and giving a player a reason to stick around besides low-level min-maxing.
The biggest issue with crafting – the juxtaposition of encouraging player discovery with forcing them to adhere to a set level structure – will likely never go away. It’s even present in non-MMO titles such as Skyrim. However, instead of sticking to the dusty old norms of the genre, designers should be trying new ways to get players involved. Crafting is an interesting system and has potential to give players even more choice in determining their character path. But it could definitely be less boring. And the best part about it is that the way I propose is hardly the best. Nobody knows MMO mechanics better than MMO players, after all, so share your own thoughts on how these systems can improve! The best designers are often the players with the most dedication, after all.
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