Thursday, February 24, 2005

SWG: The Galactic Civil War and Crafters

After reading the latest developer notes on the changes to the Galactic Civil War gameplay of Star Wars Galaxies, I wonder how crafters will fit into the new GCW structure.

What incentives do the revised GCW rules offer crafters (and other non-combatants) to participate in the GCW?

As far as I can see, the answer is "none." If anything, the new rules actually make GCW participation more dangerous for crafters without providing any kind of corresponding inducement to join up. Given that there were virtually no reasons for crafters to participate under the original rules, how do the proposed changes improve SWG for crafters at all? How do these changes increase the "Star Wars" factor of SWG for crafters when non-combatants are actually penalized for trying to get involved in the GCW?

In short, how do these changes make SWG more fun for non-combatants? Or does that matter?

I'm not dogmatically opposed to these changes. I actually like what I think will happen under the new rules for fighters. I think the changes make a lot of sense for them. But what about non-fighters? Do the developers want us to participate in the Galactic Civil War or not?

From these changes, the impression I get is "not." Only those with combat skills are wanted.

Disappointing, this is.

As a crafter in the middle of a war zone, I'm not expecting to be able to defend myself with weapons. Not only do I completely get that, I agree that that's how it should be. I don't have a problem with the new GCW rules as far as they go.

My concern is that the new rules don't go far enough. They offer new incentives for combat players to participate in the GCW in this game, and that's a good thing... but there doesn't appear to have been any thought whatsoever given to how crafters could participate more in the GCW as well. I think there ought to be something in the new rules to encourage crafters to play an active role in the Rebellion or the Empire, and I'm disappointed that the only comment related to crafters was basically a smackdown: "crafters aren't worthy; if you're factioned, you'll probably die -- too bad."

As a crafter, I'm not asking for new features that allow me to smoke stormtroopers or blow up Rebel bases -- I'm just looking for some sign that the developers consider crafters a desirable part of the SWG game world by including them when they offer new game features. If the new GCW rules included features allowing crafters to make some useful contribution to shifting the balance of power in the galaxy, that would tell me that SOE was serious about making SWG fun for everyone, not just fighters.

But I don't see that in the new GCW rules. And that's disappointing, not just to me personally as a crafter, but as a missed opportunity to bring new crafting-oriented players into SWG so that it's more fun for everyone.

As to specific ways that crafters could contribute to the GCW, there've already been plenty of threads suggesting good ideas. Merchants could make financial contributions; Armorsmiths/Weaponsmiths could craft factional items; Architects could repair bases; Artisans could survey for or even supply harvested materials to an NPC contact -- there are all kinds of ways crafters could be allowed to contribute more (and these ideas are just the most trivial).

The specific idea isn't important (although it would help if whatever actually got implemented were really fun). What's important is that SOE offer something to crafters to indicate that we're wanted in this game, rather than completely ignoring us when reworking one of the most Star Wars-specific aspects of the entire game.

So: this isn't a rant against the fighters. It's a request to be offered the same level of respect when new game features are created.

A couple of quick final points:

1. If factional armor craftable by players in included in the Combat Upgrade, I think that's great. Here's hoping!

2. On the question of whether a crafter (let's say an Armorsmith) should have to be of the "correct" faction to make that kind of armor, I wouldn't object if factional armor crafting were implemented that way... but let's consider the alternative.

What if a Rebel could make stormtrooper armor? That seems odd, but why shouldn't it be allowed -- as long as there are reasonable consequences for doing so?

Wouldn't it be interesting to be able to create a story around something like this? All interesting stories are about conflict... and wouldn't a factioned Rebel be conflicted about doing something that helped the Empire?

Maybe you lose faction points for every point of damage done by your faction to that armor. That's crude, but it shouldn't be too hard to implement and offers a direct consequence for doing something "against" your faction. Support the other side for too long, and you lose enough faction points to maybe get kicked out of your faction entirely.

More interestingly, what if crafting the other side's factional items started causing increasingly negative reactions from NPCs of your faction? You could remain a Rebel or Imperial, but your perks would start decreasing in value; you begin to be stripped of your factional ranks; recruiters would start sneering at you and accusing you of being a traitor; "name" NPCs might visit you and demand that you stop helping the enemy -- you get the idea.

It seems to me that as long as there are appropriate consequences, players ought to be able to do what they want. It means "odd" things can happen, but it's those odd things that allow interesting stories to be created.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

SWG: Recrafting Crafting

For me, the problems with Shipwright and Architect and other crafting professions not being as "fun" as they should be come down to this simple question: Why do people want to be crafters?

I think for a lot of us it's the creative aspect. We don't make things because we enjoy cranking out the same stuff over and over, or because we have some need to feel useful to other players or to the game economy. We craft because we like coming up with new things. We admire a clever invention; we enjoy a novel implementation; we feel happy when we discover some new aspect of the game world.

But how are these interests served by the current crafting system in SWG?

It seems to me that the developers who originally designed SWG's crafting system thought of crafting in terms of its functional role in servicing the overall SWG economy. That's not a bad thing; in fact, it's absolutely necessary to consider this if you're going to have a true player economy (rather than an NPC-driven economy).

But I wonder if in designing SWG's crafting system the developers didn't spend too much time thinking of crafting in terms of output, rather than in terms of what makes crafting fun. To put it another way, it seems like crafting in SWG is only about cranking out stuff for non-crafters, rather than being something that people want to do because it's fun to do in its own right.

In other words, I think the real problem with all the crafting professions is that they're designed to be all about result, and not enough about the process of crafting itself as a creative act.

Consider: there are only a few types of houses and ships, and they don't decay -- once you build (and sell) a house or a ship, it's around forever; there's no aftermarket. This is fine if your main concern as a developer is to insure that players who want houses and ships can get them... but from a crafter's point of view, it quickly becomes unprofitable. Even worse, it becomes boring -- once you've built one of the few predetermined types of houses or ships, there's nothing new to discover; it's just about cranking out more of the same with better quality... and once you've done that, what's left?

SWG's crafting designers wound up putting a time limit on crafting. Crafting becomes something that you do for a while until you realize that you've made everything that can be made. Then you stop crafting because it's boring and unrewarding. And the economy starts suffering from having fewer crafter-created goods. And then SWG's administrators have to start adding more and better loot drops to compensate for the goods that are no longer being created by people who stopped crafting. And that further drives off crafters, and things just get worse from there.

In short, crafting in SWG wound up being designed from a non-crafter's perspective. It isn't about providing a feature that's fun for crafters; it's merely about maintaining a supply of goods to non-crafters. We're just a cog in the economic machine.

The good news is that this can be fixed. Crafting in SWG is not completely broken; there are some very good structural features that can be built on. In particular, the system of mining resources with varying qualities and using those resources in schematics is brilliant -- it is the one truly great feature of crafting in SWG that makes crafting worth doing for any amount of time at all. The concept of experimentation on craftable objects, while limited, is also fundamentally good because it supports the creative aspect of the natural crafter.

What we really need is to recraft the crafting system in general using the existing structural features to focus on making the process of crafting interesting and fun. When people craft because it's fun, you'll get necessary goods into the player economy because people will want to craft. Result: happier players, and a better (i.e., more profitable!) SWG.

I've had a few ideas for how to accomplish this goal -- see my Crafting: A Blueprint for the Future and Modular Architecture: A Redesign Proposal essays for examples. But the main thing is to realize that Shipwrights and Architects and other crafters will continue to get bored with crafting as long as crafting remains designed to service non-crafters instead of being a fun process for crafters themselves.

If we ever get anything like a Crafting Revamp, I hope the developers assigned to it will understand this concern, and will think of ways to restructure the fundamentally good crafting system to emphasize the process of crafting from the point of view of those of us who enjoy the act of creation. That, I think, is the ultimate solution to the Shipwright problem.