Wednesday, March 30, 2005

SWG: Crafting -- A Blueprint for the Future +

progman63 wrote:
I still question the ability to completely remove the grind, while still allowing sufficient time for advancement - i.e. delay - to slow the rush from novice to master. I know that many people would disagree with purposeful delays in advancement, but there obviously needs to be some sort of achievment to render a satisfying reward in mastery.

My personal opinion is that complexity, and mastery of that complexity, if properly designed and implemented, could serve as both an appropriate delay and a satisfying achievment.


But the system is designed so that SP are really the only metric that determines advancement. Tools, techniques, interfaces, etc are the exact same whether novice or master. The only difference is the type of result (items produced) and the size of certain pools to use during the process (and risk of failure).

Being that explorers like to investigate, study, and discover new processes and patterns, wouldn't gradually changing these processes and patterns during advancement be more fulfilling?
This is actually a subject that applies to a lot more than just crafting.

What this system of "experience points" really is, is a holdover from Dungeons & Dragons. Thirty years ago it was a brilliant innovation. By assigning some number of points for successful actions, and requiring the accumulation of a certain number of points to gain access to more powerful abilities, you could regulate the progress of a character's access through the game's varied content. Not only was this system easy to implement, it proved to be highly effective at providing regular rewards to players to induce them to keep playing.

And those two advantages have insured that it's the advancement management system that has been implemented in virtually every role-playing game system ever since. When computers came along, it was a no-brainer to let the computer keep track of XP awarded for in-game actions and award new levels for accruing enough XP.

Because an XP system is easy to program and easy to tweak to provide regular rewards, that's what online game designers keep giving us. Only now the system has been so boiled down to a quick-and-easy mechanic that playing these games becomes a matter of chasing numbers, of only doing what gives known amounts of XP -- in short, of grinding.

There are successful tabletop RPGs that have used other means by which to persuade players to play. Maybe some day an online RPG developer will try one of these alternatives, and we can finally start to break free of the tyranny of XP.

A real crafting system would be difficult to master, encourage dedication to the craft, and fair pricing for fair products, and cater to the crafting geeks. The type of player that like to spend time tinkering and learning. NOT every Tom, Richard (dern filters!) and Harry that has a few extra SP.

The real masters would be the people who actually took the time to master the system and truely enjoyed that type of game play. Not wannabe's and leet dudes. Let them go kill things (and each other) in great numbers.

How's THAT for focusing on the process rather than the result???
Well, I don't know about everyone else, but I like it. :)

Actually, I'm reminded of the examinations that were required for promotion in the old Royal Navy, such as are described in C.S Forester's "Horatio Hornblower" novels. You'd sit before three crusty old captains, who'd grill you for hours on specific questions of ship handling and mastery of other men. Only if you could satisfy them that you'd be able to do your duty -- even while utterly alone for months on the other side of the world -- would you be promoted.

I'm not suggesting that achieving mastery in SWG should work like that! But there's still something fascinating about the idea of gaining access to increased power by proving your ability to real experts, as opposed to mashing the same mouse buttons over and over and over again for hours. (Or, even worse, letting a macro do it for you... or buying a master character from eBay.)

The thing to recognize here is that crafting in SWG is utterly simple compared to the number of things you have to know to successfully captain a ship of the line. SWG's crafting system is better than that in most other games, we all agree on that... but it's still extremely simple and limited. There just isn't much room for innovation or creativity or surprise -- you just don't have to know that much to master a crafting profession because crafting is mostly about mashing buttons.

Now, if crafting were enhanced to allow more options in experimentation, if actual player creativity could somehow be permitted in the creation of objects and processes so that player knowledge and skill actually mattered... now that would be a game worth mastering.

We hear from time to time that PvP play and Jump to Lightspeed are supposed to measure the player's skill, not just the character's acquired abilities. Shouldn't that hold true for crafting, too?

Monday, March 28, 2005

SWG: Crafting Is the Light Side

Flatfingers wrote:
[an advanced crafting game would be] a coherent creative sub-game that would mirror the destructive sub-game of combat
After I wrote these words in the Crafting: A Blueprint for the Future thread, I got to thinking a little bit more about it: Doesn't this crafting vs. combat choice resemble the Light Side vs. Dark Side choice that is at the heart of all the Star Wars stories?

Combat reflects the destructive side of our nature. Sometimes it's necessary to fight to prevent a worse evil (KOTOR II notwithstanding), but to willingly choose PvE or PvP destructiveness because it seems a simpler and more direct path to power -- isn't that Anakin's choice? Isn't taking the quick and easy road the path to the Dark Side?

Crafting, by comparison, is often a slow journey, and there's not much fame or glory at the end of it. Crafters can't even truly create new things -- we can only make copies of those things the developers have predefined for us. But even so, crafting is a creative experience; it is a way to support the other members of the community by making things for them. Crafters are long-term players, spending their hours in service to other players, making the things that bind the galaxies together... and isn't that a good way to think about the Light Side?

Neither crafting nor combat is "right" or "wrong," and neither can stand alone -- in the Star Wars galaxy, both intellectual creativeness and physical courage have important roles to play at the right time in the right situation. SWG ought to have plenty of features supporting both gameplay styles, and SWG should offer exciting opportunities for both combatants and crafters to live out the Star Wars story of choosing what's right even -- especially! -- when doing the right thing is hard.

So why doesn't SWG portray crafting as the Light Side to combat's Dark Side? Why aren't these two ways of playing Star Wars: Galaxies being used as metaphors for using the Force to create or to destroy?

Why doesn't SWG use both crafting and combat to help tell the fundamental Star Wars story of the consequences of choice?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

SWG: Move Trade Forums Into SWG Itself +

bluejanus wrote:
How are you going to implement a system that recognizes both game and website input at the same time? If the game in unavailable, you contend that the forums can still be used, indicating an out of game interface.
Remember that the actual buying and selling of an item can only take place once, and has to happen in-game. Any forum, whether it's in-game or on an external web forum, is just to make agreements to trade, not to do the trade itself.

So there's no difficulty in having multiple sites for making deals, as long as traders respect the rule that you can only shake hands with one person for one item. As long as enough people follow that rule, it doesn't matter where the deal gets made, whether in-game or on an external forum.

bluejanus wrote:
First, the historical information on the message board is important as well. It's not just information about what successfully sold but what didn't and at what prices. We already have mail reading clients that read from the /mailsave function in game.
That seems like a good point, but I'd want to know how many traders really use that information. If most users of a trading board are occasional buyers of in-demand items (as I suspect is the case), then pricing information for those items would be readily available even on a system that deleted ads after a week.

bluejanus wrote:
Also, updating a message board in-game sounds like it's adding loading burdens on the servers and the client computers. I don't think it's necessary.
Then I guess I have more faith in the power of the technology than you do. Seriously, I don't disagree that adding another feature to SWG will increase server/client loading. What I'm saying is that the value I believe would be added by having that capability in the game itself outweighs the costs sufficiently to make it worth doing.

I understand that I haven't convinced you this is the case, and that's fine.

bluejanus wrote:
A message board in-game is probably going to be more restrictive than one on a public website. Mods are going to have to pay closer attention to clear clutter. There's more likely going to be more rules about what you can say and what you can post. In other words, it's less free and limits expression. I think SOE likes the Lithium system of rewarding long time participants with more forum abilities and special posting gimmicks. A system in-game would remove that.
OK, I understand and disagree. If there's any difference at all in text content moderation between the game and the official forum, it's that there's *less* control in-game because there are so many more players creating so much more text.

As for rewarding long-time participants in a messaging system, why do you assume that no such rewards could be made part of an in-game advertising system? It's just ones and zeros; there's nothing whatsoever preventing SOE from having an ad system that tracks some of the behaviors of traders in an in-game system and devises nice rewards for desirable behaviors (such as how long they've used the system).

Flatfingers wrote:
Second, if the forum trade boards were shut down, that would free up SOE personnel from having to moderate them (which in your objection #5 you felt was an issue).

bluejanus wrote:
But you admitted that they would need more SOE people to moderate the boards in game. As in more than the personnel they currently need to run the trade forums.
Well, which way do you want it? If there are both in-game and web-based trading forums, SOE employees have to do a little more work than they're currently doing monitoring player text, but you increase your chances of always being able to make trading deals. If on the other hand SOE decided that having an in-game trading system meant they could do away with the web-based trading forums, then the amount of work for SOE text monitors is merely transferred from web admins to Live team admins -- no new work is necessary, which improves the value of the idea of having trading forums in-game.

Plus -- as I noted before -- even if SOE axed the web-based trading forums, if players couldn't get what they wanted from an in-game forum they'd just start up their own external trading forums (using PHPbb or whatever). Eventually one player trade forum would dominate, so you'd still have your external trading forum.

My point here is that I don't feel the cost of operating an in-game trading system would be as high as you suggest it would be. At worst, SOE employees would have to do a little bit more of the content monitoring they already have to do; at best, operational costs are shifted from the web forums to the game itself... and frankly, those kinds of costs are often easier to justify to the financial people because they're direct charges, rather than indirect.

bluejanus wrote:
There's nothing preventing anyone from registering and participating in the trade forums.
Actually, there is: Users of the trade forums on the Official Web Site must be current subscribers to SWG. So in terms of availability restrictions, there's no difference between the external forums and making deals directly within the game itself.

bluejanus wrote:
Since most of the players don't participate now, how do you justify making this system to be implemented in-game as any kind of priority? We have a track record of how ill-used the system is.
Ill-used? What system do you mean?

If you mean the current web forum, it's the very fact that it's not ill-used, that such a high percentage of users of the official forum do participate, that tells us it ought to be made part of the game.

Or did you mean something else?

bluejanus wrote:
Why waste the time to program the message board to happen in-game where you have to be logged into the game to post.
Look at it from the other direction: Why force players to use a system that's completely separate from the game to be able to access a wide range of potential buyers and sellers?

Yes, there are SWG players who only care about maximizing their results and are willing to use any external tool (such as the forum website) to accomplish that goal. That's fine for them. But what about the people who enjoy SWG as a Star Wars-themed experience? Having to visit an out-of-game web site to be able to access a wide range of buyers and sellers of items that can only be traded in the game itself does nothing for these players. Adding an in-game trading system would significantly improve the feeling of "living in the Star Wars universe."

bluejanus wrote:
Like I said, people check the boards from work, from locations other than where their game computers are.
And again, I'm not suggesting replacing an out-of-game trading forum; I'm proposing augmenting it with an in-game forum because there are advantages to having that capability inside the game itself. If the "worst" happened and the web-based forum went away, it would just be rehosted by a player... so adding an in-game forum could not reduce our ability to make deals (as you seem to feel would be the case) -- it can only enhance the ability of every player to find buyers and sellers for their goods.

Ultimately this discussion we're having may be moot. The upcoming changes to the Bazaar system (that allow Bazaar users to see items listed on private vendors) may be close enough to being the in-game advertising system I think SWG needs. Being able to set your vendor to "searchable" won't directly advertise your products -- it won't expose them to the widest possible audience of potential buyers, which is what a trading message system exists to do -- but it may be enough.

We'll have wait and to see how SWG's players react. If they continue to use the external forums in the same numbers, that will tell us that additional in-game features to help advertise items are wanted. Meantime, I doubt the web trading forums will be going away.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

SWG: Move Trade Forums Into SWG Itself

The new portal makes it easy to see what message boards are enjoying the most traffic.

Here's the ranking I noticed this morning:





Bria Galaxy Trade



Chimaera Galaxy Trade



Ahazi Galaxy Trade



Eclipse Galaxy Trade






Corbantis Galaxy Trade



Bloodfin Galaxy Trade






FarStar Galaxy Trade





This makes three things very obvious:

  • Bria and Ahazi are the most active servers. (And Eclipse is probably a close #3.)

  • Jedi is the most interesting profession.

  • Players really, really want to trade with each other, but SWG doesn't support that activity.
It's that third item I'd like to discuss. Why are the trade boards on the external website so active?

As a programmer and software development manager, I always have my eyes and ears open to try to identify high-payoff opportunities to make my customer happy. (By "high-payoff" I mean small changes that are relatively simple to make but that have significant effects, often because they address a feature that a large percentage of users have to use.) If I can see numerous users doing some simple task over and over again, I recognize it as a candidate for making that feature easier to use -- it's a high-payoff opportunity.

By computerizing repetitive manual functions, I eliminate "grinding" (which makes my users happy), I increase productivity (which makes my bosses happy), and I make my software more valuable (which makes me happy). Everybody wins.

So when I look at the SWG board usage stats, and I see players who are so interested in doing something related to SWG that they'll actually go outside the game (to the forums) to do it, I immediately think: "This is a high-payoff opportunity."

Why in the world do SWG's players have to go outside the game to accomplish something they really seem to enjoy doing? And why have SWG's developers allowed this situation to persist, instead of recognizing this as a golden opportunity to make SWG more valuable to its users by adding code to let them do these trades inside the game?

We're not even talking cross-server trades here. We're talking about players on the same server who want to buy and sell legitimate items with each other at the best prices. The message stats make it obvious that arranging good deals is something players are really interested in doing... so why is it so hard to do in-game?

These markets need to be brought into SWG by moving each galaxy-wide trade forum from the official SOE/SWG website into SWG itself. The Auction channel in SWG is useful because it cuts down on Spatial ad barking, but its real-time nature makes it insufficient for making deals. We need an asynchronous communication mechanism just like the trade boards on the SOE/SWG website, but we need it in the game itself.

It would be great if this can be incorporated in a way that fits into the Star Wars saga -- certainly the mechanism by which goods are traded ought to have some kind of Star Wars "flavor" to it. But even if it's just as simple as an in-game public message forum, there's no reason why this shouldn't be added to SWG as soon as possible -- it's that valuable.

One suggestion has been to simply remove the cap on Bazaar sales. I don't think this is the best approach because the practical effect would be to kill vendors (and the Merchant profession). When everyone can sell anything at any price, everyone will put everything on the Coronet Bazaar terminal, probably overloading it into a smoking ruin. We need a way to allow buyers and sellers to easily find each other that retains (or even enhances) the value of having Merchant skills, and I encourage discussion of such ideas in this thread.

To get us started, I'm just stating the problem: Players should not have to exit SWG to arrange deals, then go back into the game to execute those deals. Through whatever means, we ought to be able to find buyers and sellers for our goods on our server within the game. That would reduce complexity for players (making them happy), improve the game economy by making deals easier to arrange (making SWG producers happy), and make SWG a more desirable game (making the SOE/LucasArts financial people happy).

Everybody wins.

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

SWG: Crafting -- A Blueprint for the Future +

Thanks for taking the time to comment, CPark. If an idea is good, it can withstand (and even be improved by) fair-minded criticism.

So let's see if that's the case here.

CPark wrote:
Flatfingers items 2 and 3 in the original post were: 2. The attributes of the resources used to craft an object should be reflected in the appearance and/or performance of the final product. 3. The configuration of subcomponents should be reflected in the appearance and/or performance of the final product.
I believe these capabilities are already in the system.
... if the game mechanism could support full fledged implementation of these ideas, and in some areas do implement them, why isn't more being done?
I agree... up to a point.

In a few cases (but not all), attribute values for crafted subcomponents help determine the final attribute values for the final product. (Resource attribute values also matter, but the outcome of each assembly and experimentation step is the main determinant of object attribute quality.) This association of inputs with outputs is so useful that I'd like to see it expanded to many more objects. It seems like a natural feature for a crafting system.

However, it's not critical in and of itself. This is for two reasons I've mentioned before:

  • Numeric attributes aren't the only feature of a product -- it also has visual and sonic characteristics, as well as potentially having alternate operational modes (the latter of which could arguably be more important than the numeric attributes of the basic operational mode). The characteristics (numeric and visual/sonic) of resources and subcomponents definitely do not play any kind of useful role in determining the non-numeric characteristics of most crafted objects -- but that's not a problem, it's an opportunity.
  • Being able to define the output characteristics of a crafted object (by choosing the inputs) is a necessary feature of a crafting system... but as I've tried to say, it's not the only thing that matters. You need it to be able to satisfy non-crafter players, and it's mildly interesting to figure out optimal inputs for a desired output, but ultimately that's just about being a cog in the economy, and not about having fun crafting. When all that matters is building the "perfect" T21, where's the opportunity for making interesting mistakes? Is there no value in anything unexpected? As long as crafting is designed solely to get from Point A to Point B to satisfy non-crafter consumers, as long as it's just about what crafters can make and not about crafters themselves, crafting will continue to fail to be as much fun as it could and should be.
Again, though, while as I note above the association of inputs with outputs shouldn't be the most important thing in a crafting system, it's still important. That being the case, we might as well do it right, which means applying it to most objects instead of the few objects that currently take the attributes of their subcomponents into account.

(And remember, I'm talking about associating many more kinds of final attributes with input characteristics. That helps make crafting more interesting to do. More on this in the next section.)

Implementation issues: Looking at Flatfingers' item 1 emphasizes why SWG may have decided there are better ways to use the people and time implementation would need.
Flatfingers wrote:
"Complex objects should have multiple appearance and performance characteristics beyond simple numeric attributes."
The final products, being tied to game mechanics, need...
  • Artwork -- that flashy new gun needs all the modeling effort of an existing gun, and if the subcomponents have to fit together visibly, then each subcomponent has to be modeled and all the possible assemblies tested together.

  • Balance against existing game systems -- the combination of all the weapon speed increases from the intermediate components can't blow out the max for speed in the external system.

  • New mechanisms -- the pulses of the laser with the burst component have to be animated differently than the solid line of the piercing component. All these changes cost people and time.

Add to that the resources necessary to implement the changes in intermediate item crafting and we have a lot of effort. So why doesn't SWG do it? Why is the priority low?
Well, I would argue that it's been because servicing the combat-oriented players has historically been considered more worthy of developer time and money. That doesn't mean creating a truly interesting crafting system isn't something worth doing on its own merits; it just means that combat features have been given the higher priority.

But of course, just because that's how things have been doesn't imply that it's how they must continue to be.

I should add here that I find it interesting that you reversed the order of the suggestions as I originally made them. I had items 1, 2, and 3 ordered the way I did for a reason: each improved crafting feature builds upon the previous suggested feature. If you break up that order, well, of course the strength of the overall proposal seems weakened!

Each of the steps I suggested flows into the next. Step 1 is to modify objects so that they have lots of features -- not just numeric characteristics, but things you can see and hear and use. Crafters can't make such objects yet, but they can be made (perhaps as loot). Once you've allowed for complex objects by implementing step 1 (and seeing as best you can how they interoperate with the game's other systems such as combat), then it becomes appropriate and useful to move to step 2, which is to tie outputs to inputs, to strongly associate an object's features with the features of the items that went into its construction. That provides the fundamental structure for a "deep" crafting experience. And once you've got that, then you can in step 3 expand on the system by which you make these input/output associations. In this way the opportunity for interesting (i.e., surprising) experimentation finally becomes possible.

First step 1, then step 2, then step 3. Done in this order, you can achieve the goal of a truly satisfying crafting process without having to dedicate your entire programming staff to do everything all at once.

Only a small proportion of the current population is affected. If the Astromech Stats about professions are still true, while a third of people try out artisan and medic, only about 5% go into the "pure" advanced crafting professions (weaponsmith, architect) -- and the "mixed" crafting professions (doctor, bio-engineer) account for about 4% of players. Even if there was no overlap in the advanced professions that means no more than 9% of players are impacted by the changes being proposed.
Having just referenced those Character Metrics stats yesterday, I have to say I think your interpretation of them is a little off.

(Before we get into this, we should note that these stats were posted October 20, 2003, and are almost certainly not representative of current profession statistics. Still, they're all we've got, so let's assume they're still valid.)

First of all, I don't think you can exclude the starter professions and wind up with an accurate picture of who's crafting and who's not. If a third of SWG's players are trying (or playing) Artisans and Medics, that's a pretty good-sized chunk of the player base. Add in a few more percentage points for those who just take the Engineering and Home Ec skill lines to get to Weaponsmith, Armorsmith, Architect, Tailor, and Chef, and you're looking at even more players. Doctors and Bio-Engineers add even more to the numbers. And if you consider Merchants to be crafters (not unreasonable considering their close relationship to crafting and the extension of their profession from the Artisan's Business skill line), you're probably looking at half the player base directly affected (to a greater or lesser degree, of course) by how crafting works.

That's not trivial at all.

The benefits to draw and retention of players are not worth the effort. If the changes did make crafting more desirable and bring more crafters into the game, does the game need more crafters? What would the impact of more crafters be?
  • more goods

  • lower prices for goods

  • higher prices for resources (individual resources are seen as more valuable because their connection to the end product is more visible)

  • more desirable products -- look at the call for furniture coloring or the pilots trying to match blaster fire patterns with weapons to get the neat effects when the weapons fire

  • increased draw and retention of players that care about the "wow" factor of the environment

These changes must be, by the nature of balance limits on things like damage done from weapons, cosmetic.
First, I'm not convinced (yet) that better crafting = many more crafters.

More? Well, I hope so, especially if that means more people giving SOE their money. That translates into better survival value for SWG, which benefits all of us who are still playing.

But many more? Doubtful. I look at players as people -- they have things they like doing, and things they don't like doing. When they play a game, they extend these likes and dislikes to game features. People who like being active and experiencing things won't care whether SWG has a great crafting system or a lousy one because they'll be too busy doing things that they enjoy more (namely, combat). Meanwhile, those folks whose interests naturally tend to the creative will gravitate immediately to crafting whether it's good or bad. Its goodness or badness will determine whether they stay, but it's not a significant factor in attracting new players. (I would admit that word of mouth is a significant factor in attracting combat-oriented players to a game, but how many Web sites or magazines are there that exist to highlight the non-lethal features of games?)

Having said this, let's say you're right -- suppose the developers took all my wonderful suggestions and made crafting in SWG more fun than being tickled with $10,000 bills you got to keep afterwards. And let's further suppose that this attracted a lot of new players. What then?

Would more goods be created? Probably, which in addition to lower prices would mean more choices for consumers. I doubt most of SWG's other players would consider either of these to be Bad Things! As for crafters, they won't care unless they're Merchants, since with a crafting system that's loads of fun in its own right, you don't have to sell what you make in order to have fun. And as for Merchants... well, they're clever devils; they can figure out some way to profit from anything.

Would resource prices go up due to competition between crafters? Possibly, but not inevitably, since starting crafters usually also pick up the Survey line and can mine their own resources at no cost to anyone else. Furthermore, even if competition did increase resource prices somewhat, it's unlikely that these costs would rise to a level that would affect the pricing of crafted objects, which is fairly inelastic -- prices of crafted objects are primarily based not on resource cost but on perceived desirability. (This is somewhat less true for the most advanced items like RIS armor that require rare components, but desirability still determines pricing.) As a conversation over in the Business and Economy forum noted, there's a pretty good cushion between most resource costs and prices for items crafted using those resources. That means resource costs could go up a reasonable amount and not meaningfully affect object costs. So a lot of new crafters would probably not affect object pricing due to contention for resources.

As for the enhanced desirability of products and an increased "wow" factor due to more crafters using an improved crafting system... these don't seem like things that would damage SWG in any way.

Finally, it's just a theory of mine but I believe that crafters tend to stay with an online game longer than combat-oriented players. So if improving the crafting system meant a larger proportion of crafters in the SWG player base, that suggests to me that SWG has subscribers who'll stick around longer and keep putting money in SOE's pocket. That would seem to mean better survival odds for SWG, wouldn't it?

All told, then, I don't come to the conclusion that improving the crafting system to make it a more enjoyable process would not be worth the effort -- just the opposite, in fact.

The only question I have is how to make the business case (more than has already been made) that the changes I suggest are not just worth doing, but that they're more worth doing than yet more features for the combat-oriented players after nearly two years of rapt attention to their demands. As I've said before, I've got nothing against combat-oriented players and I don't mind them getting cool new combat features... but I do mind going for two years without equally cool major features for non-combat players.

I suspect SWG has decided those aren't pressing enough reasons to put out the effort this game. For future games -- could they be right? What kind of game could support this different balance?
That's a great question. I don't mean to be glib, but I think a reasonable answer is: a better SWG.

For one thing, focusing even temporarily on improving the game for crafters would create a "deeper" game, with more complex objects and more interesting actions and interactions between players. The combat-oriented player might not care directly about increased deepness, but it would affect the game world in which he plays. I think most (perhaps not all, but most) of those effects would be positive -- deep = less boring, and pretty much everyone agrees that the worst sin any game can commit is to be boring.

For another thing, a serious refocusing on crafters (even if only temporary) would possibly attract more crafters. Given the way that players report likes and dislikes to developers (or maybe I should say, given how developers hear what they want to hear about what players like and dislike based on what they happen to have developed for those players), a significant positive response from a lot of crafters enjoying an improved crafting game could lead SWG's developers to conclude that new crafting features are a relatively cheap way to get good PR, and from that conclusion decide to maintain an interest in keeping crafters happy along with combat-oriented players. I don't see how that would diminish SWG for anyone.

I believe in my overall goal -- that crafting in SWG, while good, could be better if reworked to focus more on the process of crafting itself than on the results of crafting. But I'm not married to any of the specific suggestions I made at the top of this thread to try to achieve that goal. Still, I felt that given such a reasonable criticism of them, they deserved one good rebuttal. I hope this was it!

Thanks again for the thought-provoking comments, CPark.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

SWG: Crafting -- A Blueprint for the Future +

After an absence, I'm ready to jump back into this debate over the future of crafting in SWG.

The first thing that needs to be said is that I think we're confusing two different questions here.

Question #1 (which is what I started this thread to address) is "how do we make crafting more fun for crafters?" Question #2 (which was brought up later) is "how do we insure useful participation in the game economy for both novice and master crafters?" Both of these are good questions, but we need to bear in mind that they are two different questions.

In particular, the difference between these questions is that each one is based on a different assumption about what crafting is for. If you hold the assumption that crafting is about supplying players with necessary and desirable goods --in other words, if crafting is valuable mostly for its results -- then the way to judge the crafting system is to see how well it allows both novices and masters to participate usefully in the game economy.

If on the other hand your natural assumption is that crafting is about the creative experience, that it's mostly valuable to the degree to which crafters themselves enjoy crafting, then you're asking question #1, not question #2.

progman63's suggestion for graduated abilities to crafting and using items addresses question #1 more than it addresses question #2. But that's not a flaw in his suggestion as I don't believe it was intended to go into the economic aspects of crafting. The economic repercussions of restructuring crafting for crafters is a good question to ask as a follow-up, but it's not entirely fair to criticize his suggestion for not addressing something it wasn't intended to directly address.

CPark wrote:
As I reread the thread I'm struck that these changes might create a nightmare for beginning crafters. If a new player stumbles onto a crafting profession how can they get started? How can we meld all this freedom into an approachable profession? And in terms of the relationship between crafting and the rest of the game, how does so fluid a crafting system create simple products reliably for beginners in other professions? Before an new player knows what to look for in a pistol how can he choose (or perhaps even find) one if there are no "standard" models?
progman63 wrote:
The trick is to provide lower level players in any profession with products that are desirable to the market - preferably consumables so there's a steady supply of customers (and creds) - so that they can bankroll their grind while providing something useful.

With respect to progman63, I read CPark's question not as an economic one, but as a "new user experience" question. With freedom comes complexity -- when you can do almost anything, how do you decide what to do? Too much opportunity can be confusing for a new user.

I think there's a simple solution to this. In fact, SWG already uses it: the less advanced a crafter's skills, the simpler the products that can be crafted.

If you're a Novice Artisan, the items you can make should be quite simple. Their schematics should call for only a few easy-to-obtain resources and no subcomponents. As you gain skill levels, the schematics for craftable objects should become increasingly complex. At the Master level, schematics should require several rare resources and subcomponents that are themselves constructed from subcomponents.

Furthermore (to follow my original suggestions), experimentation should progress from the simple to the complex as a crafter earns new skill levels. Instead of experimentation points that (along with each experiment result) directly affect the quality of the final product's attributes, what if experimentation points determined how many connections the crafter could make between resources and subcomponents? Novice crafters would find crafting to be simple because they'd have few options for experimentation -- you pretty much just take whatever you were able to assemble. Expert and Master crafters, on the other hand, would have earned the experimentation points (and access to suitably complicated schematics) to have the many options for experimenting among the resources/subcomponents that would make crafting the surprising and creative experience it ought to be.

progman63 wrote:
what if the 'results' weren't so much item oriented as skill oriented??? If you can use a pistol, or carbine, or rifle, couldn't you use any pistol or carbine or rifle only not as well? Handling the more advanced weapons would require more training, but you could still use them at a reduced capacity. And crafting the more advanced weapons would require more training, but you could still craft them at a reduced capacity. If you are certed to use pistols, you can use all pistols with the more complex pistols having a reduced effectiveness (yes that's the way it's supposed to work now). If you are certed to craft pistols, you can craft all pistols with the more complex pistols having reduced stats.
This is also an interesting idea. It's a novel approach to differentiating between what a novice crafter can create and what a Master can create, as well as how effectively crafted products can be used. (Note that this concept could be applied to more than just weapons -- what about medicines, survey devices, and musical instruments?)

Tinkergirl wrote:
In your system proposed, Progman63, would you end up with possibly Novice Crafters making Advanced Weapons (badly) and Novice Fighters using those (poor) Advanced Weapons, badly? This sounds like the worst possible scenario and I'm wondering where the advantage to this system would be? Surely Fighters would advance as fast as ever (thusly able to use all weapons at perfect effectiveness) and they would not stand for a shoddily made Advanced Weapon from a Novice Crafter. They would still search out the Master Crafter for the Advanced Weapon.
TInkergirl, I'm not sure this would necessarily be the case. There's a certain "coolness" factor in having the biggest, baddest-looking weapon that for some people might override the technical specs. There's also a question of price -- novice and low-level crafters know they can't charge the same price for their products as a Master can charge for the uberdevices she can craft. So an "advanced" weapon with less-than-perfect killing stats might still be desirable to the cost-conscious combatant.

(My gripe: Most combatants ought to be too poor to afford the high-level gear. That would do more than anything else to insure that low-level crafters have people to sell their inexpensive products to. See my essay on why Fighters Should Be Poor for more on this theory.)

Tinkergirl wrote:
As unpopular as it may be (and it was discussed back in the mists of time) I believe that for certain aspects of crafting, creating and maintaining a market for less-than-Master items would either involve non-experimental consumables, or the 'forgetting' of older schematics as you learn new ones in a crafting tree.
The longer SWG survives, the more I like both of these old ideas. I also still wish that schematics were defined so that more items needed subcomponents (especially subcomponents that don't have quality ratings), and that these subcomponents could not be made in factories. This would give budding crafters a definite market niche!

Again, both of these questions -- how to make the process of crafting fun, and how to define the products of crafting so that novice crafters can survive economically -- are good, worthwhile questions. Maybe that second question deserves its own thread...?