What do tradeskills add to a game? What are some recent implementations? How are these implementations flawed, and what can we learn from them?
The Way It Generally Works
Crafting is typically broken down into the following steps:
- Learn a recipe.
- Collect resources.
- Create the item.
- Sell (or use) the item.
- Longer term: Advance your skill
The core of a tradeskill is knowing recipes. The current standard is that you learn some recipes from NPC trainers (which are just vendors that sell skills you can't trade to others), and get others from special drops around the world. Most recipes have requirements you have to meet, such as having a certain tradeskill level or specialization. Often the goal is that each tradeskill user won't have every possible recipe, so that some can do things that others cannot.
Some games allowed players to make specific items with the skill, but there were no explicit recipes. Players were required to either get information from other players (or, more likely, a website), or experiment with different item combinations until they got a result.
What are the design goals of having recipes? First is to give crafters a sense of achievement: the more recipes you know, the more powerful you are. Even though crafting often appeals to the Socializer type of player there can also be a strong achievement sense to it as well. Recipes also give a player a way to organize their knowledge: What helmets can they make? What special types of items can they make?
Tabula Rasa has an interesting crafting system where recipes are temporary items found as monster drops. Each "blueprint" allows you to make the item(s) once, then it is destroyed. This was an interesting decision, although it was mildly confusing to me initially. But, this allows people to trade recipes, or sell them for low investment in the trade system.
Gathering the materials to make an item comes in different forms. Sometimes you need another specific skill to gather materials. Or, the items may come from drops. Another interesting way to get materials is from the destruction of other items in the game. Or, you could buy the items from other players that have collected them. Finally, some materials may need to be purchased from NPCs.
What are the design goals of requiring resources? The obvious reason is to restrict what a player can make. Being able to create health potions out of nothing may be a bit unbalancing. This also adds a gameplay element to crafting: you have to go out and do something in the world before you can create items, even if it's just buying items from a nearby NPC. The other reason is because this is what is expected: in the offline world you need materials in order to manufacture other items.
One interesting twist on gathering resources is how people compete for the resources. The simplest example is competing for drops: if one person gets it other people cannot. For collecting items in the world, there is often fierce competition in gaining access to nodes. In WoW, it's always frustrating to see someone come along to harvest a node you were going for but got into a fight. One of my former guildmates rolled a pet class just so that the pet can take care of nearby monsters while he went to gather items. In AoC, you have to wait for nodes to refresh. In some areas, the game will spawn monsters to attack you; I can only guess this was to simulate a PvP server. :)
It's also interesting to note that gathering skills are often considered a source of income, whereas crafting skills are often viewed as a drain on funds.
AoC also has an interesting system where in order to advance at gathering, you have to give items to the NPC. This is good for the economy because it prevents too many goods from flooding the market. Unfortunately, the next step to advance is to get a "rare" drop, which requires doing a lot of harvesting of the previous item. Since the drop seems random, you potentially have a lot of goods being dumped on the market.
In addition, it's interesting to note that Star Wars Galaxies has a very complex system of gathering resources, where a player tried to find high quality locations and planted automated resource collectors. The player had to keep the buildings powered up and collect the goods on a regular basis. Eventually only the highest quality resources were desired because it created the highest quality items, which were the only ones that would sell for any sort of profit to other players.
Finally, the game Golemizer adds an interesting twist: time is also a resource to be accumulated. Every so often, you get a point of "time" that can be spent. This currency is important for building and rebuilding the golems in the game. It's also the currency you use to purchase recipes in each discipline.
Brian Green, known by the pseudonym Psychochild, is an experienced MMO developer. He's best known as the former developer of the classic online MMO Meridian 59 and as the writer for his professional blog. A version of this article appeared there.