Greedy Goblin

Friday, April 7, 2017

Why crafting cannot be "right" in a video game

MMOs and video games in general do gathering and combat pretty well. The players who get thousand times more powerful than an average player aren't master fighters or gatherers (unless input multiplexing is allowed or botting is ignored). It's crafting and trade. Trade is pretty obvious: smart players find niches, morons and slackers don't. This can be mitigated by creating informative tools, or regulating the market.

But crafting is totally broken. In WoW I made most of my money crafting glyphs. In BDO I made it by AFK processing. In Albion I'm making it by refining stones into stone blocks. The main reason isn't coming from economy, though some real economy issues are involved like having to invest into the recipe, skills and materials first, which needs more attention span than farming mobs. The real issue is video-game specific: the act of crafting needs no player interaction.

If you fight monsters or players, you must constantly cast spells. If you gather, you must move between spawn points. Both needs you to sit at the computer and press buttons (unless botting). But to craft, you just press a button and maybe wait and you are done. Even the most hardcore player can't fight monsters or gather for more than 16 hours a day. Average players can't do that for more than 20 hours a week. In Black Desert Online I processed ore for 150+ hours a week while keeping a job, running a blog and having a normal life, since I didn't process 150+ hours a week, my avatar did. I just pressed a button, left the computer and 4 hours later I sold the products and started another batch.

If developers try to limit this by creating some depleting resource like "work points" or "crafting focus", people just bypass it by alts and secondary accounts. That cannot be banned as there is no way to tell the difference between alts and family members playing from the same household or college students from the same dormitory. If you need to wait between starting the process and getting the result, you can send your alt too: just let your character do the job and play another.

There is no solution for this in a video game settings unless you make crafting a minigame where you have to hammer the sword with clicks and spells with similar complexity as PvE. There is a reason games didn't go that way: people probably wouldn't like to play that minigame for hours (though, they are ready to grind mobs for hours, weird).

There is only one solution for devs about crafting. Making it irrelevant: give everyone all the recipes and make everyone have same crafting skills. This way the act of crafting becomes so trivial that even the morons and slackers can do that, so the product prices will be exactly the same as material prices.


Anonymous said...

The worst part is that if you wanted to make crafting relevant with a skill based mini game, the m&s would cry poor. If crafted product quality (stats) were based on the results of a skill game you could create an effective gold sink

Provi Miner said...

lol give everyone the same access... now who is using a social justice concept.

It doesn't work in real life, it won't work in video games.

Example every student (primary, secondary, and alt ed) in any major American city have exactly the same access to exactly the same resources. Free transportation, relative closeness of centers offering help yet you go to one part of town and there is a line to get access to the services or the queue is fairly full. you go to another part of town and those same resources are unused. Why? because different people have different desires.

No matter that everyone can craft, some will do it like you (full time) some will do it to supplement their game (part time) some will do it for sustainability reasons (own use) the vast majority will tick between part time, own use and almost never. leaving a small niche crew doing it as their job, and some who will join on off depending on their current requirements.

Smokeman said...

You are correct.

The only other "solution" is to barrier crafting behind skill acquisition or materials acquisition, but that only creates rarity, which drives inflation and results in RMT as a market force.

There is just no winning move here. As much as I like "crafting" and have struggled to come up with a system (For years.) that doesn't do any of the bad things, it just can't be a free market system.

Anonymous said...

You're right about all of this until you dismiss active crafting.

Vanguard had it. It was glorious and I want it back, dammit.

The Standing Dragon said...

Intriguing lyrics, EQ2 had this crafting system. Heck, if you didn't do things right, making a sword could kill you.

I always thought it was interesting, but had troubles with ramping up.

Anonymous said...

why does monster kill pve gameplay have to be harder than crafting pve gameplay?

make it take a lot of button presses.
make it risk ingredients.
make it take random different ingredients for every player. so the strategy cant be looked up online.
once created successfully the recipe is permanently set for that character, but not alts.

i'm sure others could add suggestions

Anonymous said...

FFXIV has a crafting minigame fairly similar to what you described, and it seems to work out pretty well, although i think you can macro specific ability orders to a degree. it's somewhat limited by the fact that a macro can only be so long and not every macro would work for every recipe, and there's a small element of usually beneficial rng that can't be reacted to if you're using macros as well, so there's that at least. it's all a bit pointless though since you can't really do much with tons and tons of money, it's a wow style mmo, so the best gear all comes from instanced content or long grindy quests. the market tends to be just crafters interacting and competing with other crafters to amass a pointlessly large amount of money to do more crafting with.

Gevlon said...

I don't know why active crafting isn't popular, but it's not. I guess people consider combat against a skeleton "fun", while performing the same actions against a piece of rock not fun. Weird.

Jim L said...

I like your idea of active crafting. Another option would be to make it crafting one item at a time and make it take t least a minute

Gevlon said...

@Jim L: start crafting, Alt-tab, start crafting, Alt-tab,

maxim said...

Minecraft has plenty of crafting and is entirely built around it.

Its difference from most games is that all of the most meaningful Minecraft goals are not within the game itself, but rather come from outside of the game and imprint themselves upon it.

Self-contained "gamey" worlds struggle with meaningful crafting (no matter how active) because everything you make within such a world ultimately has no impact on reality outside of the game. Crafting without impact on reality is pointless and is without essence, almost irrespective of how much mechanics you cram into it. Crafting an infinity+1 sword is only interesting if it stands a decent chance of netting you some sort of RL-worthwhile achievement (such as your guild earning some top DPS spots or you having tangible social benefits coming out of being one of the few people on the server to earn an inf+1 spot).

Compare this to mob-grinding, where the stress-relief cycle is mostly its own reward and progression is only an excuse to vary up the mobs once in a while, therefore experiencing slightly more varied froms of stress-relief cycle.

Anonymous said...

StarWars Galaxies Had a pretty good approach to this, and Crow Fall seems to have the right approach as well. We'll have to wait and see what that will imply.

Gevlon said...

@maxim: I guess it's a social thing that "killing" mob that nets a sword drop is perceived differently than "crafting" a sword, despite in both cases you are pressing keys on your keyboard and mouse to solve a pre-programmed puzzle.

Alexey L. said...

That's SWTOR way. Not too interesting too.

maxim said...

Killing a mob entails more rewards than just getting the sword. Games are not exclusively about earning points :D (google "aesthetics of play paper" for further reading)

I'd say that most of the value of the sword itself is usually social, though, especially in an MMO.
Unless you are playing something like Diablo 2 or Dark Souls, where the actual mechanics of the weapon itself have a significant impact on playstyle.

maxim said...

Consider that in truly drop-driven games you usually stand next to no chance at deliberately farming for top tier stuff. The only way you stand any sort of chance of actually seeing the top tier drop from a mob is if you either throw ungodly amounts of time at the game, which is not happening if you are not already enjoying the grinding process itself, or procure it socially.

MaximGtB said...

As commented by Anonymous above, FFXIV also has active crafting with multiple levels of failure (lose your mats, get a "normal quality" item, botch the craft but keep most of your mats). Macros can automate the crafting of low level recipes, but for high end crafting they are not enough.
You could argue that crafting in FFXIV is pointless, but you could say the same about any other activity in FFXIV. It is mostly and end in itself, like raiding or PvP. I would say that it's just another progression path, that takes a significant amount of effort to master.

Smokeman said...

Gevlon said...

"@maxim: I guess it's a social thing that "killing" mob that nets a sword drop is perceived differently than "crafting" a sword, despite in both cases you are pressing keys on your keyboard and mouse to solve a pre-programmed puzzle."

One difference is the "skinner box" effect of combat is different from the one of crafting. There are, for example, no "adds" in crafting. Even if there is a possibility of what you are doing literally blowing up in your face, you are still in the safe place you started at. As such, the "slot machine" aspect of output RNG has to be tuned for the activity you have to execute. Standing in one spot will just allow you to kill the mobs right there, you have to be actively playing to go find more, and the combat itself is active. There is no "AFK slaughtering mobs." Even if the combat is trivial, at least your moving and interacting, looking at the effects.

Crafting, on the other hand, when jammed into an "active over a long time" interaction is stunningly boring.

Case in point: Dark Age of Camelot. You could batch process materials, but only in small batches, and you had to salvage the failures while monitoring your encumbrance (The materials had weight that affected your movement.) At the same time, you bought more materials from a vendor. Additionally, better items were made from precursor items of another type. On top of that, RNG came into play. If you were top skilled, you had a 2% chance of producing a perfect item with 100% quality. These were the best items in the game. (The other 98% you salvaged to recover the base materials.)

It was exciting when a 100% item popped out, and you made platinum like there was no tomorrow, (I was plat capped in no time.) but the process was active and excruciatingly boring.

Randomus271 said...

Another solution would be to simply remove craftable goods from the market - forcing people to craft their own.

Or to simply remove it from the game entirely.

Of course either option would effectively eliminate players like you from the game - players who enjoy finding the minimum-effort way to maximize profits and accumulate in-game wealth... But it would certainly solve the "problem" of the crafting imbalance - and it would go a long way towards fixing the trading imbalance as well.

Merbal said...

I would argue that crafting is broken for completely different reasons. All too often killing the skeleton can get you a sword that is impossible to craft. The loot systems in general are not dependent on the crafting system. Designers just conjure loot into the game without rhyme or reason. The blade of the rat king isn't made of a unique blend of iron, carbon and Rodentanium (from which its stats would be derived) and then processed using some technique and enchanted or blessed using... etc... etc... etc...

To have a meaningful crafting "minigame" there needs to be a level of design complexity sufficiently engaging to justify the time sink. All too often crafting systems boil down to a "insert ingredients and pull a lever" or "click at the right time" or "rng" system. Until you can build a sword the way you build a factorio factory (and every sword that drops off a mob shares that complexity) it isn't going to be interesting.

Cathfaern said...

I don't understand why (almost) everyone thinking "clicking UI in a complex way" as an "active crafting". I think the reason crafting considered boring and mob killing is not boring is when you kill mobs you don't "play the UI" (btw. this is the same reason why healing considered boring in most MMO). Crafting should be like questing: you only use the UI while figuring out what to do (speaking with NPC and looking for quest objectives in questing and looking at the recipe in crafting) but after that there should be some sort of skill play, maybe involving "movement" (maybe not the whole character but your hands). Also they can even incorporate some logic game into it.
If the developers really good they can make this not as a mini-game but a real alternative (in term of fun) to mob grinding.