How Ashes of Creation Can Succeed Where Others Have Failed
Part II – How It’s Made
Intro: Artisan Life
As much as I enjoy adventuring with my friends, I’ve always had a soft spot for crafting. I know it’s not for everyone, but there’s something really engaging about being able to make something with my own (virtual) hands. Furthermore, the act of creation and utility meant more to me than making coin ever did. Even in my single player RPG experiences early on in my gaming history, I was fascinated with how crafting would play a role. I wanted to collect as many recipes as I could, experiment with them to see what impact they had on my character. That straight-up dopamine rush of discovery became what I lived for in my gaming experience. This carried through as I moved into multiplayer games. I loved gathering and hoarding materials for a “rainy day” as I worked on my chosen professions, building my proficiency until I could achieve a relevant milestone. One of my fondest crafting memories occurred in World of Warcraft vanilla when I happened to have a rare-quality recipe set that would give a friend leveling up very nice armor and weaponry. So, I set off gathering the requisite materials and making the items to happily present to him. The pride I felt by seeing that “made by” tag on the equipment and the excitement expressed by my friend was more than enough compensation for the effort. I’m sure there are plenty of other crafters that can cite similar experiences. I’m also sure that many of us derive just as much value in selling their self-made wares for a profit. Regardless of the motivation, the underlying theme is the same. It is important to feel useful and relevant for the investment of time put into artisanship. While I look at the early days of the MMORPG experience with nostalgia, the reality is that over time that feeling of relevance didn’t last. This aspect has been a huge, missed opportunity in the modern MMORPG as it is tied to so many aspects of the overall player experience and health of the game. I do understand that developers must make choices on what systems to invest their time in and oftentimes crafting gets the short end of the stick. However, I think this system’s prioritization needs to be revisited in order to achieve greater success in this space.
Recipe for Success
I know the experience varies from game to game, but personally, I’ve categorically been let down by crafting systems for a few reasons. Nothing is more disheartening than watching something you invested a lot of time in get diluted in value or end up lacking overall relevance in the larger game. Anyone who has played a MMORPG knows how volatile the economy can potentially be. Things that go for sizable sums at launch of a game or game expansion rarely hold value as time passes – unless the rarity of said item is preserved. However, that’s only a symptom of a larger problem. In a good number of massive multiplayer games, crafting is only relevant in short bursts. This is only further compounded by the “everyone can do everything approach” to crafting system design that permeates the modern MMO pushing crafting to become a disposable time sink with limited value. Of course, there’s still going to be a population of crafting die-hards or those that grind crafting to be first to market, giving the system some limited mileage, but this falls short of being a truly engaging part of the economy. The other problem I see with crafting in the modern MMORPG is the fact that it, like many systems, cater to the shorter attention span player. That comment isn’t meant to be condescending, but it is a game design approach I’ve seen to be consistent in my personal gaming experience. You don’t have to venture that deeply into the content creation videos out there to find ones about MMO “power-leveling” – specifically character leveling, gearing and crafting. I don’t have a problem being efficient, so
I admit to being a regular consumer of this type of content. In fact, I enjoy being rewarded when I achieve any character progression so finding the optimal way to do so is important to me. However, I do have issues with grinding my way to that end state and realizing that the pursuit and final achievement was throwaway. So how can these shortfalls be addressed in the design of the next, great MMORPG? Well, I’ll distill it to the following three focus areas – quality over quantity of crafting materials, meaningful crafting skill progression and deeper interdependency and socialization opportunities for crafters.
If you’re like me, you have a love/hate relationship with materials gathering. On one hand, there’s something just plain therapeutic about throwing some music on and farming to your heart’s content. On the other hand, depending on how the game design handles materials distribution, it can be a very frustrating proposition to navigate this activity. I’m not calling for this process to be easy, but I do have a few ideas on how this aspect could be potentially improved to make it more dynamic. The first point has already been addressed by Intrepid – resource scarcity. I think it’s a foregone conclusion that materials will be found through exploration of the world, and I believe that those material “nodes” should have some level of location randomness to them since that would also encourage exploration. While I’m not a fan of RNG in other aspects of crafting, variation in resource gathering makes sense because it does level the playing field for gathering and may have more of an impact on those farming bots we all are so fond of (/sarcasm). What I think is also important is to really be thoughtful about the number of different types of materials that are available. While games like World of Warcraft had a standard set of materials at launch, their practice of adding a whole mess of materials each expansion added so much clutter in my opinion. Personally, my preference is to keep it simple, as you can create variation in other ways that doesn’t add unnecessary bloat with the presence of many different types of materials. For example, base materials could be available in the world with a chance of getting a limited number of rarer ones whilst harvesting instead of devoting new areas to a slew of newer tier materials. Perhaps the processing of these base materials in various combinations would logically allow for more refined versions that result in higher quality products that can be produced. That way, you’re maximizing the usefulness and value of material being gathered and reducing the overall waste in the economy. Something else that I think would be great to see would be materials having some sort of stat modification bonus capability. They could also have combinations of different types of materials able to produce more powerful or new modifications. I’m not just talking about generic stat blocks but also perhaps bonuses or procs that could help provide more unique variations on crafted gear. If I had to sum up my feedback on ingredients and how they could be better managed, I’d say quality over quantity with a focus on broader utility of materials across the crafting ecosystem over just tacking on an unnecessary surplus of material types.
Crafting Should Be a Journey, not a Destination
We already know that crafting in Ashes of Creation will be organized by three categories: gathering, processing and production (just to avoid confusion I’m using a slightly different term to refer to the third type of crafting). One thing that also has been shared has been the fact that mastery of a large number of multiple types of crafting would not be possible. In order to obtain more complex and powerful recipes, a player would need to make a choice in how they would like to specialize and forego other progression paths as a result. Building on this, I think it is also important to ensure that there is
progression viability for pure crafters with one caveat. This is a massive multiplayer experience so no player should ever be an island. I’ll get into this topic a bit more in the next section but suffice it to say that progression should require collaboration among players. That said, I believe there should be numerous ways to gain crafting skills. Besides the obvious, which is individually doing the thing (i.e., picking flowers, swinging a pickaxe, forging the longsword), I’d like there to be crafting quest lines that encourage adventuring, social organization crafting orders where your contribution could gain the player reputation or skill point rewards or perhaps recipes depending on your level of skill or quality of your product made. Another approach could be having some form of mini-game that contributes towards progression. For example, Star Wars Galaxies used surveying as a way to discover materials in the world – that would be far more engaging than running around aimlessly on a predetermined route hunting for resources. Intrepid has already mentioned some materials could be available if someone had a farming plot on a freehold as well. I really like that idea mostly because I might have had a slight addiction to my farms in World of Warcraft’s Mist of Pandaria expansion. Maybe I’m in the minority there, but there was something just plain satisfying about that part of the expansion for me. I think the idea of discovery or experimentation is also a missed opportunity in system design – again, skill bonuses or recipes could be the outcome. In the long run, it may end up being more efficient to just make multiples of a single item at various tiers, but I really hope not. I hope crafting 1,000 iron daggers to gain skill points is a thing of the past and the idea of giving players a few different meaningful paths prevails as the foundation of the crafting system design. Another pet peeve of mine is artificial or arbitrary time gating on material creation when it doesn’t make sense. This is different from my farm example earlier where it makes sense to have a time component to raising crops for instance. What I do mean is in order to process more than one of said material a player must wait 24 hours or 1 week. As I mentioned earlier, I think you can accomplish the same goal by making those top tier materials just rarer to begin with or requiring a much higher processing skill to perform the refinement. This leads me to another point on skill gains – make every tier of crafting useful in some way. This is not an “everyone should get a trophy” argument, it is a way to elevate the significance of crafting and reinforcing the time investment required. Some ways I suggest doing that is making lower tiers of crafting able to produce base components that are useful in some way in higher tiers. Not only does it motivate crafter engagement, but it also encourages more opportunities for interaction amongst players, which leads me to the last point I want to make on this subject matter.
Weaving the Social Tapestry
I’m just as guilty as most when I consider my approach to crafting in the modern MMORPG. Even from early stages, my approach to crafting was only social to a point – at the final product stage. I rarely spent time interacting with my fellow player under the guise of self-sufficiency. That’s not to say that any game design is going to solve this approach – I expect even in Ashes of Creation there will be players who invest a large amount of time in reaching that goal with multiple characters. I expect it will not be an easy task considering the design choices that have already been communicated, but I don’t expect it to be impossible. Players always find a way to surprise developers with their behaviors. Regardless of that fact, crafting is a great way to foster social engagement among the player base while also developing and sustaining a rich economic market. The most obvious way, and I believe the developers are going down this path already, is to ensure crafted items are comparable to those an adventuring class might find in the world via quests, random drops or boss kills. Additionally, crafting could also be a connection point when players want to repair, modify or upgrade their gear. Another way to
accomplish this is to create meaningful cross-over between crafting professions – a weaponsmith making an epic broadsword might need a tanner to provide that cured leather to reinforce the hilt and a stonemason to supply a honing stone to get the perfect sharpness to the blade. The more opportunities that are available for players to connect with other players the better. Something else worth mentioning is the idea of enabling the ability to create “full crafter” characters. Pure crafters could ally themselves with adventurers or crafter/adventurer hybrids to get their hands on rarer materials. Adventurers could also offer their services as mercenaries to guard pure crafters on their material searches – the vision behind the caravan system already seems to head down this path. Sure, higher levels of interaction aren’t what most are used to in modern MMOs but it’s a step towards community building that I feel is quite necessary for the type of game Intrepid is making.
Outro: Making the Cut
I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of crafting in Ashes of Creation. If they deliver on their vision, I believe that will be a good foundation for a very impactful and engaging crafting system. I would really like to see them focus on reducing material bloat, providing meaningful and interesting ways to progress crafting professions and enabling as many opportunities for interdependency and social interaction as possible. If they do this, I am confident they will continue to raise the bar for future development in this genre. As always, I encourage you to reply and share your thoughts on this topic. Looking forward to the discussion exploring the design and implementation of a crafting system we can all be proud of.
This is your Ashen Herald…wishing you the best.
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