Monday, January 31, 2011

The Role of Crafting (Part II)

In Part I, game designer Brendon Trombley looks at the various ways crafting adds to player experience in MMOs and how developers can use an understanding of these roles to build better crafting systems.  In Part II, he discusses the role of crafting systems from a developer’s standpoint, which can differ and even conflict with the player’s agenda.

So what’s the role of crafting for developers?

It adds legitimacy to the game

It’s a sad fact that many developers include crafting in their game simply because they are expected to by the outside world. This leads to poorly designed systems that are added seemingly as an afterthought and can end up dragging the game down.

When designing in a genre where player retention is vitally important, developers should think carefully about their audience while considering crafting systems. If the game is meant to appeal to a specific player type, for instance casual or combat-oriented players, it may be possible to leave out crafting but include features that create similar benefits. Otherwise, if it’s decided that including crafting is indeed required, it should have the proper attention and budget allocated to it or players won’t use it, making it a wasted effort.

It gets players to spend more time playing

The goal of any system in an MMO should be to engage players and keep them willing to play the game over a long period of time. Crafting offers a form of character advancement that, when combined with combat advancement, creates plenty of motivation to spend time in the game.

When taken too far, this concept may lead to the addition of artificial time-sinks to crafting systems. Unnecessary grinding, long progress bars, and harsh penalties for failure may require the player to spend more time crafting, but at the cost of increased player frustration. Too much frustration, and there’s a chance they will stop the activity entirely. Avoid this by ensuring there’s always a sense of progress for the player. Perhaps the items they grind are ingredients for recipes down the line or components for other tradeskills. Perhaps advancement is based on experience rather than random skill-point increases.

It creates interdependency between players

MMOs, being multiplayer games, should of course include mechanics that foster player interaction and cooperation. Crafting systems are an effective way to do this. They allow players to create and enhance items for others, and promote the sharing of resources and materials.

A great way to create more cooperation between players is to include recipes with rare dropped components or ingredients crafted from other tradeskills. However, these recipes should be special exceptions that produce extra-useful items. Don’t require too much collaboration for basic items and especially not for regular advancement in the skill, or players will become frustrated at the extra time and money costs.

It promotes a strong economy

A strong economy increases player engagement and, if the developer so desires, can be a source of income if real-money trading of in-game currency is allowed. Crafting is a major source of trade between players. Additionally, it creates value in all those skins, fangs, gems, and other drops that would otherwise be merchant fodder. Merchant-bought components can help remove currency from a mostly positive-sum money system, reducing inflation.

Use crafting to promote the economy by first and foremost making the results of recipes worthwhile for all kinds of players. Then, create a variety of sources for ingredients: merchants, drops (rare and common), resource nodes, and other recipes. Create demand by designing ingredients to be useful in multiple recipes, and maximize the number of drops that are useful in at least one recipe.

Final thoughts

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the ways to create a successful crafting system. Nor should all the tips here be included in the same game. Developers should instead prioritize their goals while thinking carefully about the goals of their audience. That way, they can craft a system that satisfies the needs of everyone as best they can, creating a stronger game in the end.

Brendon Trombley is a long-time player of MMOs and is currently a game designer for Quest to Learn, a school for digital kids in New York City that bases its curriculum around game design and systems thinking principles.


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