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.