You've toiled. You've trudged great distances. You've sought out the wisdom of the land's greatest craftsmen in pursuit of perfection in your art. Hours of work have culminated into this precise moment. You have finally done it. You have crafted a hat. Not merely any hat: a red hat. You equip it to your character to see how splendid you look in a finely crafted red hat. You quickly put your helmet back on and sell the hat to the nearest vendor for a paltry handful of copper coins. What was the point?
The desire to craft is easy to understand. The millions of MMO players out there have many different goals but there is one goal that they often share: the desire to be special and unique. I'm not referring to a warm and fuzzy after-school kind of special, either. I'm talking about the coolest gear, the most impressive weapon and the super rare mount. Crafting systems often lead players to believe that they can make cool gear and look different. Unfortunately, it isn't as easy as it sounds.
Crafting systems are usually deep, complex undertakings that require the player to forgo regular character development in exchange for crafting advancement. The quests rarely overlap and players often find themselves having to go out of their way to fulfill a crafting quest only to find themselves a few pony rides and a long jog back to where they left off. Crafting quests are often an exercise in tolerance.
The rewards for all this hard work and long journeys rarely outweigh the costs. The items you are able to produce at the lower crafting tiers are usually drastically underpowered and have been easily eclipsed by loot or quest rewards. Even your friends don't want to wear your weak, red hat. Some friends. The desire to keep crafting persists as soon as we see a higher-level character with a winged helm and a fancy blue cape. So, back out we go, running zigzag across the countryside in search of ore, twigs or rare foliage. Selling crafted arms and armor isn't as lucrative as one might believe. Since there are limited crafting professions, chances are extremely good that someone standing next to you can make the same items if not better ones. So, the actual value of your crafted item is little more than what the seedy vendor will give you. You can give it away, but again ... a red hat?
Some games out there attempt to put a twist on the crafting system in hopes of adding value to the crafters and their items. One example is RF Online, which recently became free to play. I'll give you a second to read that last sentence again to find the hidden nugget of value. Crafting is initially limited to a specific class, the Specialist. Other classes can eventually create items if they choose to multi-class much later on. With RF Online being focused on a perpetual race-war, the Specialists are heralded as being an integral part of their races' conquest. Crafted items are of actual use to other characters and appear to add value to the class and to the items created. Sounds good. There is a catch, however. The crafting system is substantially complex and intimidating. Requiring the crafter to purchase expensive equipment, buy expensive components, or to venture into untamed wilds in search of rare and exotic components is a lynchpin in the crafting system. This makes it rather unapproachable for lower level characters and again places us back at the point where the items crafted have little to no value beyond the player and the vendor who will begrudgingly purchase you wares.
I don't mean to rain on anyone's crafting parade. I love to craft. Oh what a bitter mistress she is! What I'd like to see, however, is a system that actually utilizes some creativity and allows me to make unique items. Maybe not powerful or overly useful items but a system that lets me honestly craft something interesting. A system like this might exist out there somewhere in MMO land, but I haven't found it. If you have, please let me know. I'll try anything once.
This is what I'd like to see: Imagine a system where I can customize the item I create. Let's say I can craft leather armor but instead of being limited to one brown, smudgy, unsatisfying graphic, I have four different graphical looks to the armor that I can choose from. One recipe results in four different looks. Now, let me choose from one of four different shades of brown. One recipe becomes sixteen different looks. Now, let the armor be a two-toned piece of leather armor that allows me to mix and match any of the four colors. One recipe becomes sixty-four different combinations. With a system like this, as I increase in skill, I not only add to the type of armor I can create but I'm also given more choices of how the armor looks. Maybe rare elements allow for even more colors or expert levels allow me to add gold trim or embossed designs. Crafting becomes less mundane and more custom. A skilled crafter could create custom colored armor for guilds. A whole economy could spring up around the skilled crafters. The same type of system could be used for weapons and other items as well. Crafting Nirvana, people!
This may sound great to the MMO players of the world but I'm guessing that there is a developer somewhere who has started a voodoo ritual to cause my hands to curl into arthritic claws prohibiting me from typing such drivel. Either way, a system like that would be complicated to implement and may end up adding all those complexities we lamented earlier.As it sits now, crafting is treated as a sidebar that is tried by many but mastered by few. The only person who will be truly proud of your red hat will be you and your mother. Who, upon seeing the toils of your hard work, just doesn't understand why you can't go out and get a real job. Maybe someday you'll get yourself a real house instead of that cottage you just bought south of Bree. Not while there are more red hats to make.