I've written several posts in the past about my love for crafting systems. One of the main reasons I tried out Lego Universe was that I was hoping to finally see user generated content play a major part in a MMO. Alas, I was disappointed that the "time to penis" caused the removal/suspension of this core feature. It seems like a lot of gaming companies have decided to just give up on trying to integrated user generated content with any core game mechanics. Sure you see a lot of support for user interface add-ons, but these are downloaded through third party sites. This is probably the main reason they are allowed since it protects game companies from potential lawsuits and bad PR incidents.
Still, its obvious that crafting systems in most games need improvement. The gather resources and click "combine" model has been relatively unchanged since the early days of the genre. It's boring, time consuming and prevents us from getting to the action (killing bad guys). Luckily, I have seen a couple new games trying to address these issues. In fact, both Diablo 3 and The Old Republic seem to trying to combine crafting with a type of NPC training mini game. Think of it as the pokemon method of crafting where you have to train your NPC so he becomes stronger and can make you better stuff. Diablo 3 even increases the shop size of your crafting companion as you level him up on a diet of gold and salvaged loot.
The Old Republic is going even further by allowing your crafting companion to fight with you during the early part of the game. Since his fighting prowness doesn't scale much as you level you probably won't group with him in the later levels. Insead you get to assign him missions, which he automatically completes over time. It looks to be similar to the time based training in EVE Online. You assign one of your NPC's a gathering mission and the next time you log in he presents you with the materials. I'm believe this type of crafting system should help counteract a lot of the gold sellers who depend on resource gathering bots. On the other hand the video describing the system hints that it takes a decent amount of time to make items.
This might not be too much of a problem if the times aren't too long. After all you can be out running instances while your NPC is slaving away putting together your new light sabre. I guess it would only be annoying in cases where you got a rare item and wanted to turn it into a bad ass piece of equipment right away. Then again patience is a virtue and it's not like you have to personally hit combine 10,000 times to make it. If anyone ever crafting in EverQuest or Ultimate Online you know what I'm talking about. Anyways this idea of a crafting companion looks pretty fleshed in the Old Republic and halfway decent in Diablo 3. I hope this is the start of designers putting a little more effort into MMO crafting systems.