Have you ever heard of the tale about the everlasting fan belt? The story starts with a small inventor who became frustrated at high garage bills for maintaining his car. Every time he visited for a seemingly minor problem, the sparkplugs or fan belt needed replacing. After one expensive visit too many, he decided enough was enough and worked on fixing the problem once and for all.
After a few years, the young inventor perfected an item that would revolutionise the car maintenance industry – an indestructible fan belt. He secured a patent on it, and began to tout the idea with various car makers the world over.
The inventor found a buyer, so the myth says, and rewarded him handsomely. But the belt never made it to market. Sensing what it would do to the lucrative car maintenance industry, the buyer (who owned a chain of garages) never sold a single belt using the patent. Instead, he continued to profit from the built-in obsolescence, guaranteeing a steady stream of regular customers.
How does this relate to MMOs? Let me explain.
Most modern-day MMOs, particularly World of Warcraft, have terrible crafting systems. If you’re a tailor making Green Linen Shorts, those freshly-made items will last for ever. The same applies for almost all weapons and armour, all the way across the crafting professions. We are all making variations of the everlasting fan belt.
Since there’s only a finite number of characters on each server that would find these items useful, and a fair few can make their own, crafting generally becomes a way of improving your own gear. It’s only really useful for levelling, and usually gets replaced by better quality loot from heroic mode dungeons or raids.
In fact, the only way of reliably making money from crafting professions is to produce things that people will need regularly (such as potions, gems or enchantments), or things that almost every player is guaranteed to need (like huge bags for storing all that loot). There are ways of ‘playing the market’ to spot trends on the auction house or ‘flip’ items, but they operate outside of the regular process of harvesting, making and selling items yourself.
An unreliable way of making it rich is to luck out with a rare recipe, particularly for a highly desirable weapon or unique piece of armour that’s comparable to the top-end loot from raiding. Even better if it’s for a consumable, like a rare gem cut or potent enchantment. But these are statistical anomalies that aren’t gained from persistence or training, but good fortune.
There’s also a ‘tiering’ of professions. If you’re a carpenter you might start out by harvesting, shaping and carving pine. After a while you move up to ash and beech, before finishing with Mystical Mahogany or some other specially treated wood-of-the-gods. It means that the top-tier resources become incredibly valuable and farmed to extinction, while the low-end stuff becomes worthless beyond the first week of launch.
None of this is a big deal. Crafting has often been seen as optional content – if you want to make stuff all day then go play Minecraft or buy a crate of Lego (I recommend the Technic variety).
But it could become a big deal very quickly with the advent of CREDD, WildStar’s way of exchanging in-game money for an account subscription, at a price set by the players.
The idea behind CREDD is that it strikes a balance between those players who are cash rich but have little time to play, and those who can’t afford the subscription but can clock up the in-game hours. I like that approach – it appeals to my egalitarian nature.
But I’m also concerned about it from a crafting point of view.
A great way to make money with crafting is to sell things that people want on a regular basis. With previous MMOs like WoW, consumables have been limited to a few specific professions. The rest have had a handful of ‘strike it rich’ recipes, while mostly being a loss-making, gap-closing or vanity-fulfilling distraction.
Should WildStar head down the same path, I can see an equilibrium form:
- People join the game, pick some tradeskills and race to level cap.
- Once they reach cap, they find the tradeskill pointless and swap to one that makes consumables.
- The market gets flooded, players give up on crafting and find some other way of making money.
- Prices stabilize, people move on.
There’s a difficulty, and it’s where you come up against the argument that people should be free to play the content they enjoy. For some that’s rampaging through dungeons. For others it’ involves killing every living thing in the arena. And for a few it’s about harvesting and crafting. If it’s not possible to earn CREDD from crafting without having a super-rare recipe, it’s going to suck for that group of people.
There are a couple of solutions though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the folks at Carbine have latched on to them already.
One is to make sure that every tradeskill can make things that players will regularly want at end game. Maybe it’s a widget for Circuit Board Crafting. Maybe it’s a path-gadget for dungeons and raids. Either way, it’s a reason for money to regularly flow from one player to another.
Another is to make sure that players can actually have involvement with the end-game item sets. Nothing is worse than finding your tradeskills made useless by better quality items being obtainable through other, easier means.
A less palatable way is to introduce obsolescence to everything crafted that players regularly use. A Bag of Holding might deteriorate over time, becoming a Tote of Carrying and eventually a Pouch of Pointlessness. Just as in the real-world, players would be pushed into replacing equipment periodically. There would be no ‘everlasting fan belt’ that’s player-made.
The final, and probably trickiest one though, is ensuring that there are multiple viable ways to earn a CREDD. Whether it’s living inside dungeons, arenas, or the workshop, each endgame route needs to have a reasonably balanced earning potential. If not, players will flock to the path of least resistance, and feel pushed into doing so as it’s the most efficient way to earn coin.
Oh, and if someone does strike it lucky, make sure that it’s a temporary thing, like a recipe that can only be used five times. If it’s a licence to print money, let’s make sure the print run is short.