Firefall and the Cause of my Craving for Crafting

*Say that title 5 times fast*

Crafting is an insanely hard thing to get right within an MMO and there are not many out there that focus on it or even give it a reasonable purpose within the game. I have been looking for a game for quite some time that does crafting well but I honestly had no idea if I even would like a complex crafting system. In most MMO’s I’ve played crafting is next to meaningless, it’s mostly unneeded and can be completely avoided as there are many other avenues for the stuff you need and as such I usually can’t be bothered with it. I’ve been involved with some but never engaged enough to scratch that itch.

It is a shame that a robust crafting system has either been avoided or ignored in our bigger MMO’s as I think most people, including the developers themselves underestimate the importance of it. It’s not, and should not be another mini-game that plays second, third, or less to killing things but be a mechanic on equal terms. The benefits are great in the end if the aim is to create a virtual world that promotes long term play rather than just the next ride as it provides numerous outlets to players, long term consistent goals, and encourages investment into the world. It is the needed foundation of any MMO attempting to have a little sand but that is rarely done right.

What creating an economy also does if developed right is create a dependence or symbiosis between the players that is sorely needed. These worlds of hours shouldn’t be primarily designed as a solo experience and the ability to be self sufficient really is a curse as it encourages people to stay insular within themselves or a small group. Reliance on others in the way of acquiring materials or items encourages more communication and player interactions which in turn, if supported by other mechanics, creates a stronger connection to the game… as we’ve seen in WoW over the years these community connections formed a strong point for its long term interest.

Creating Communtiy

Creating Communtiy

Archeage tried but of course neglected this in favour of the rng gods and a focus on item drops. Of course there is Eve but that appeared just a bit too complex for me, I’ll get around to tying it fully eventually but for now I neither have the time or interest and I think that’s how most players with an interest in sandbox’s feel. I needed an MMO that focused on crafting but that streamlined the system enough to be easier to use while keeping some of it’s complexity. Then Firefall came along and I realised this is good interpretation of what I’ve been looking for all this time. It’s a system I am thoroughly involved in and that keeps me striving to expand my abilities, upgrade my frame and be involved with the economy.

It’s funny finding something like this where you really had no idea how it would work but when you see it you just know, and because of that there are now a few systems I couldn’t imagine a crafting system to be without.

Beware, word spam ahead

Durability

I remember when this first came in and oh my god did the forums explode with complaints but then, as time went on people became used to it and the complaints subsided. There are still a lot of people opposed to the mechanic for a variety of reasons and would be glad to be rid of it but now there is also many more people in favour of it, I don’t know which is the larger group as these things are impossible to tell. In the end it’s one of those for your own good kind of mechanics that the player needs to be spoon fed and just like Mary Poppins advocates, a spoonful of sugar to make this medicine go down. Make it worthwhile to the player, make it rewarding in a sense, and remove the failures of other systems and then it’s not so bad.

I just don’t see any other way for a sandbox to work properly without it. Permanent gear adds a whole pile of issues to the equation that are solved by the traditional theme park model, you continue adding new tiers in order to make gear worthwhile and additional money sinks to create that sense of growth. The only other way would be to always have the same gear but eventually any sort of material or currency would become worthless in that system. Durability serves the dual function of both providing longevity to a current tier of gear and creating a long term economy that is more stable and consistent.

Market Manipulation

Market Manipulation

A different solution to the economy concerns has been brought forward many times within the Firefall forums aiming at adding a repair cost to items that uses materials instead of a complete loss but I don’t believe this would work. First, due to the variety of qualities where do you draw the line on what to repair with, you couldn’t just use any material and the resources constantly shift in a way that you could find yourself without any comparable resources. The other thing this does is place the emphasis more on resources which would both increase the value of resources and decrease the value of crafted items… you would get an economy more like Guild Wars 2 and we don’t want to go there. With Durability the value is placed on both resources and items, there will be a market for crafters needing materials and one for people just wanting to buy gear; this way resources have a decent price and the end product has a greater worth to compensate the crafter and make it worthwhile.

It isn’t a perfect system, there might be better ones out there that are easier to balance and better for gameplay but this solution seems the most elegant and easier to understand… an item breaks , you make a new one. For it to make a better game players need to be able to earn more resources than they are burning which would eventually create a surplus. The thing is this inflation of materials and power is much less than any other method, it is a system that still allows growth and adds a better balance to progression that allows new players to catch up quicker before any sort of gear shift.

Materials

For this to work there can’t be a rigidly defined tiers of crafting materials that have an inherent obsolescence. Something you find in your first hour of play should still be needed after 100 and that is a hard thing to get right.

A handful of usable materials seems very restrictive in many ways and it’s biggest problem is making areas of the game pointless if the materials gathered there aren’t used. Map space is a valuable resource in an MMO as it requires a lot of development time and resources to produce and making some of that space obsolete seems like bad planning. The other thing this does is create places that will be completely barren while others get crushed under the quantities of characters, it is much better to have these people spread out more evenly then funnel them into bad design. There are other ways to spread the population and encourage play in these areas but they seem mostly to be short term solutions and usually come at the cost of population in other areas.

Encouraging Exploration

Encouraging Exploration

Everything should be usable and Firefall gets this right in many ways. The materials needed are spread throughout the different classes and items in a way that all resources are needed from time to time. Most crafting components, especially at higher levels require several different resources. There are some that are more popular than others based on the more popular frames and skills but it still does well to make each material equally needed.

Overall I like the place resource quality plays in Firefall too as it acts as an important guide to play. It makes you explore the space provided searching for what’s needed and of the highest quality you can find. You craft higher level items and the further you get into the game the more you use higher quality materials in order to make the best gear, sure you may want some lower quality to tank certain stats to lose mass restraints but it’s still mostly only high that’s needed. This could have ended badly though as without the resource sink of progression unlocks lower quality materials would have been worthless and a waste of space.

The shifting of resource types and position on certain cycles of time and player habits is actually a very well designed system for mmo crafting. It makes gathering a profession in its own right as it requires persistence and exploration to find and recover the better materials and the player is rewarded competitively for this effort.

Options

Some love crafting, others dain it but it would seem the majority of players neither like or want to craft and this does create an issue. These are games after all and if a player is forced to do something they don’t like continuously they won’t partake in it any more. There needs to be a system that has a variety of options for attaining resources, wealth, and items if your aiming for more than the standard MMO fare but not wanting to alienate players from the start. A player’s specific interests should be rewarding enough that they can continue to do this yet gain want they need or want within the economy. Not everything has to be balanced in terms of earnings and there will of course be optimal activities but it should still be worthwhile whatever the player chooses.

An easy way for this to occur is to create a crafting economy that has a main currency in the game with many ways of attaining but that can be traded for what they player needs; the more interesting way (to me) is to completely rely on your economy and have activities rewarding different currencies and materials, each being usable in their own way and then having a system of exchange between these rewards and everything else.

Firefall does the later. I can run the Blackwater Dungeon instance and rely on drops entirely if I wanted to which can be sold then exchanged or used to completely avoid the market entirely; I could only thump and gain resources, refining it for crystite, selling it then exchanging for what you need or use it in the crafting; I could be an economy baron and just accruing Crystite; i could focus on events which are the more balanced but the less focused approach; or I could now even purchase cosmetics and trade them for currency.

The point of all this is that no activity is required over others and the player is free to chooss the activities they enjoy out of a range of options in a quantity they are comfortable with and then to come back to the market in order to fill any gaps.

A breath of fresh air

A breath of fresh air

The market is always of primary importance and there are many areas of this market to get right including friends, guilds, specialised communities, and auction house. A grand focal point but with many avenues of acquisition and exchange. Firefall still needs a bit of work in this regard as I feel only focusing on a central auction house can be limiting. It is a start though and it has created the beginning of an interesting economy and diverse gameplay.

Personality

This is the part I believe is always lacking the most in crafting systems, all we usually get is a standard experience for all and a pile of homogenous weapons, armor, and consumables. Being able to add or have a certain amount of personality to crafting can create a system that feels much more rewarding to the crafters. Having more options and allowing for more input promotes items of greater personal worth and makes crafting a worthwhile profession.

All items are denoted a certain appearance and in the usual mmo that are different for each tier but, what if instead of having appearance of items a given it was made as an option. There would be many different styles always available and crafters could undergo certain quests or complete achievments for certain skins to use. In this way specific crafters can gain a reputation for their ability to craft certain weapons or armor of a specific style. It would serve to differentiate crafters of one profession from each other in the styles they had, the other part would be to even serve as a need for the players personal customisation by adding decals and such.

I’ve already talked about how the quality of the materials can also serve to distinguish a crafters items from others. Their stuff will be more expensive of course but of better quality.. Maybe added stats, better durability or certain effect. Certain people would want this as it serves their purpose but there are other options.

Another part of gaining the crafters input in the quality of an item are those certain mini games we see occasionally but I’m not so sure about them. These mechanics lead to crafting being more of a quick affair which in turn leads to creating vast sums of items. Time is a good factor for crafting although, depending on how Archage goes that Labor point system might serve to restrict the amounts being created which could make room for those mini games and more player input.

I also don’t believe it is a good thing for players to have complete self sufficiency, there should be choices for the player to make with both rewards and consequences to doing it. Choice is always a good thing and players should have access to as much as possible buy not to the extent they can be the best at everything. Jack of all trades, master of none is a good analogy of what’s needed, master a select few or pump out a lot of lower tier and quality items. Both of these types are usually needed in an economy.

The difference in creating personality of the crafter based on choice seems to be the limiters used. Firefall went for a system of gaining mastery in a crafting by adding a large cost to it which leads players into picking specific points. Eventually it will lead to certain hardcore players of the community having everything researched which could have been a problem wthout the inherent time factor involved that the limited printer slots and large time factor involved that increases with tier.

Archeage has it’s modern interpretation of the usual theme park crafting system. Characters pick specific crafting professions that are extremely costly to change which creates an investment in that craft. It makes it harder for people to be sufficient as they are restricted in what they can make. The other thing added was a system called labour points that add a limited resource to craft with, this ensures only a limited amount of items can be crafted within a certain time frame.

Freaking out about the Future

The reason I bring this up now is not to continue my crusade for Firefall (well nor entirely) it’s that I desperately want these future heavy weights of the industry to provide a decent cratfing and economy systems. I still hold hopes that Everquest Next will forsake the tired restricted crafting model we usually get in favour of something more dynamic and better placed with the world they are trying to create. It would go well with the system they said of all materials being useful and would highlight exploration of the world like they are aiming for. We know very little about what they intend with this system although It is of course a long shot and I don’t believe such a thing will eventuate as it is not conducive to the mainstream appeal they are after. I do hope so… with every fibre of my being as a lot of what they are claiming is extremely enticing and this would be the beautiful icing on a wonderful cake.

Looking forward to what's to come

Looking forward towards what’s to come

I want worlds not rides, I want adventures not storytelling, and I want communities over insularity. Crafting is a very important part of that and one that needs to be molded into the whole for a sandbox to succeed.

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3 thoughts on “Firefall and the Cause of my Craving for Crafting

  1. This reminds me strongly of what Syl was saying recently about how these things go in circles. At the moment the wind is very much in your sails although whether MMO developers will fulfill their promises is another matter entirely. They are certainly lining up to promise the kind of interdependency and community-building mechanics you describe.

    I can so clearly remember when that was largely what we did have and how at that time the push from players was almost entirely aimed at getting rid of it. Pundits still ponder WoW’s breakout success but one of the key factors and certainly the one most loudly trumpeted at the time was that at last there was an MMO where you could do more on your own than just scrape by and didn’t need an extensive social network just to make a coat for your back.

    In 2004-2008 there were very few voices crying out for more interdependency and less soloability in anything and especially not in crafting but the pendulum swings and at its extremes it always misses the mark. To cut it needs to hit the center. We probably have had too strong an emphasis on solo play and storyline for some time but if that is even a problem then lurching heavily off in the opposite direction towards forced and unavoidable interdependency is not the solution to it.

    Your observations on EQNext remind me that crafting in Everquest did work pretty much the way you hope it might in EQN. I can remember the days of getting a group together to fight through Plane of Innovation not just to farm drops for the guild Tinker but to get the poor guy to the NPC vendor deep in the zone just so he could buy some of his essential vendor mats! Not to mention the various Shawls and Epics that required a host of Master Crafters to complete. Most EQ crafting was pretty much along those lines so SOE have plenty of form in demanding that crafters have either a wide circle of friends or thousands of hours of free time if they want to go it alone.

    • Yeh I read that post of syl’s and it did speak to me in that regards. Interests do change as time goes on although I would argue that the lack of differentiation in the genre could be a part of players not knowing what there interests are too well.

      I think it’s more to do with the large shifts in direction that mmo’s have each generation. There always seems to be a focus on a set style rather than having balance in the market. At the moment it seems quick updates abd player emergent play are the in vogue ideals. Coming up it seems we will get more MOBA’s and TCG’s. It seems limiting to abandon one on favour of the next as you get the bloated market of mmo’s we’re used to.

      I didn’t think Everquest had a complex crafting system, the entire game was built around dependance on others… Maybe too much so but I think the opposite alternative is equally as bad. Was there durability in EQ? How was the spread of materials?

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