Monday, March 29, 2010

Will WoW crafting ever be improved?

Massive multiplayer online games have only been around for a relatively short time period and yet it's become apparent to most developers that to succeed in the genre you need to continually update your game's content. Players get attached to the characters they create and don't really want the game to end. This allows developers to use classic RPG elements like hitpoints and experience levels to extend character advancement to almost infinity. The only tricky part comes from making sure that new content is available to a majority of your players and not locked behind a single end-game activity like raiding.

While constant content updates are a important part of retaining subscribers, it's almost equally important to improve how the players interact with that content. The LFG tool and the introduction of random daily quests in World of Warcraft are designed to increase the social aspect of the game. This has long been a weak point in the game, since the rate of experience gain has been so poor in groups. Now almost everyone uses the LFG tool when leveling up characters and more people are willing to try healing/tanking because of the improved queue times. Combined with some of the recent PvP changes and it shows that Blizzard is willing to completely revamp various aspects of their game until they get it right.

What puzzles me is that Blizzard has never done a serious revamp of crafting in World of Warcraft. I can't help but get the feeling that they see professions more as a money sink than as a legitimate part of the game. This was very obvious towards the end of Vanilla WoW where most players recognized crafting was useless and only maxed enchanting or alchemy for stat increases. There was a small market for crafting epic bind-on-equip items, but those required high level raid encounters to get the materials. It wasn't until the Burning Crusade expansion when Blizzard started giving each profession their own enchants/item enhancements that they were able to breath life back into crafting.

However, I'm not sure if you can really call this crafting since professions are still mostly leveled up based on what kind of stat bonuses they give rather than what items they can make. There is almost no demand for gear made from crafting since: a) it's insanely expensive with low level mats being overpriced and b) sucks compared to dropped gear. Also the lack of customization when crafting an item is a major drawback. I've tried out a majority of the different MMOs on the market and World of Warcraft crafting continues by far to have the least customization and usefulness. Even classic Everquest allowed players to at least dye their armor different colors. I'm not sure why Blizzard doesn't even have this option available. It's not like they are afraid of poor color coordination as the Burning Crusade showed us.

While World of Warcraft continues to keep my attention because of their high quality PvE content I keep my eyes open for games which look like they might beat Blizzard at their weak spots. This is why I tried out Warhammer and Age of Conan since at the time I was very disappointed with the PvP options in World of Warcraft. While I don't put as much importance into crafting as combat, I don't believe it should be ignored to the level it has been in World of Warcraft. I know allowing players to create customized items and houses is a scary prospect to some developers. The time to penis is practically a universal law on the Internet nowadays.

Still, this shouldn't hold them back on improving a part of the game which is severely lacking. Look at a game like Lego Universe which will be built almost entirely around the concept of crafting. There's an opportunity there to build a very strong community around player created content. I know Blizzard realizes how important player created content has become in online games. The map editor for Warcraft III not only tied the community together, but also created an entire sub-genre of strategy games called tower defense. It's just a shame that almost no tools for creating items has been put into their most popular game. Afterall, I'm sure everyone is starting to get tired of looking like everyone else.