Aug 3, 2011

Posted by in Zlatto's Bazaar | 14 Comments

Zlatto’s Bazaar: What Defines A Successful Crafting Economy?

Zlatto’s Bazaar is the one-third Wall Street, one-third criminal empire and one-half gossip rag. You need to keep up on the Bazaar if for no other reason than to keep an eye on your competitors. Don’t be a Ho-tah and visit often – I’ve got stuff I gotta sell.  Your comments are encouraged, especially if they make me credits…

It seemed to me that creating some discussion around how we all view the components of a thriving crafting economy could be a good start on the road to finding ways for us to be successful in the SW:TOR economy itself. Not to mention, it will give me insight on which of you all have a corporata mindset.

Where do I start? Well I’m an avid reader of blogs about MMOs in general, and when looking for deep thoughts on concepts I sometimes turn to Tobold. The principle I will be discussing was inspired from a larger blog post by Tobold posted back in 2009 on MMO economies. I call it the Tobold Principle.

Lethality, you flaming flupp flicker, get out of my cubicle and stop stealing my stapler!  That swingline was a gift.

Now where were we? Ah yes, the Tobold Principle.

The principle states that the objective of a crafting economy is to create indirect social interaction between players, thus making the virtual world feel more alive. Also, to provide an alternate form of game-play to complement adventuring and combat that is both of value for the player and relevant to the game. (This is somewhat of a paraphrasing,  but I found the article very impactful.)

To support this thought, I spent a lot of time dissecting various MMOs I have played, and even spent some time reviewing a past GDC round-table discussion that highlighted the common features of successful MMO economies. I was happy to see that most all games referenced in the GDC discussion had strong crafting communities. So without further adieu:

Indirect Social Interaction

The issue I see here is a sticking point for many MMO crafters. Should there be a player-direct economy (if you recall the advertising droids in Star Wars: Galaxies), or a central auction house where other players can buy your item from their location in another city? I hope this first point generates some discussion, as I’m on the fence. The concept of entire worlds, and ships with which to travel them, seems to be designed to move us through the galaxy quickly and often. So maybe a person-to-person economy format could be successful in TOR. But ease to market and ease of access for the suckers ahhhh, I mean customers does help move volume. In your opinion does a market stall increase or decrease the social interaction?

Value To The Game And Player

For crafting to be sustainable in a game, it must create a sense of challenge to attain skills, allow diverse paths for success (we don’t need everyone choosing the same profession because of imbalance) and avoid the theme park crafting mantra of grind. If you can buy an in game ‘kit’ to level your profession from 1 to max in a single session you are far from creating any actual (or even perceived) value to the crafting community. Hey it’s my post so instead of using IMHO, I just say don’t be a koochoo. You know I’m right on this.

Celebrate Diversity

I would also prefer to see some Toydarian fine print at the bottom of the screen where you choose your professions. Make changing a profession painful. Hurt the bank account. Cripple the output. Without making crafters commit to a path there is no long term value to be had.  (Side note – If you are unfamiliar with Toydarian small print, it has also been leveraged well by Satan and those who sell Gym memberships.)

Items Of Worth

To keep the economy moving make sure that items to be crafted have more than just “skill up” value. I admit to being a closeted ‘min/max’ mathematician in my crafting efforts but that was a reinforced trait by games that forced players create items that were of little value in the big picture to skill up. There must be a way to have lower level items be relevant for high end goods, so crafters just starting out could still find a market for their items. I know this was attempted in Star Wars: Galaxies, but still seemed to fail. Anyone have a comment on why newer players still could not compete for the lower level items?

Item Decay

Now this next comment will get me booed by all but the most avid crafting player : Items need to wear out so that there is a constant need for new crafted items.   Sure I know players hate that, but don’t be a krilhead, items should have a shelf life.  No matter how well crafted, if you shoot two thousand blaster shots, a barrel should wear.  Without this in game the developers are forced to keep adding new bigger and better recipes to keep crafting moving forward… but that in turn makes all the older recipes worthless for those leveling up except for gaining needed skill points. See above.

Come One, Come All

My last point is the fact that anyone in a game should be able to become a master crafter.  There shold be no resource control limits to push competitors out of business by controlling the supply lines.  It is a game, it should be fun.  Content should be attainable both in adventuring and in crafting.  Now, I am not saying to make it easy.  Just make it achievable through different paths, as players should not be forced to play such a diverse game a single way to find success.

So that is the Tobold Principle and my attempts at a proof. Now back to combing the demo videos for scraps of anything interesting, and stalking the Tweet stream of developers for anything of note. Zlatto, out.

  1. Nice work Zlatto! I really enjoy reading your articles please keep your current focus and direction.

    We need more writing and thought based around crafting/economy issues in this community.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Great article! I completely agree that item decay is a critical part of a successful crafting system that several games in the genre have left out.

      However, to play devil’s advocate I contend that gear from npc vendors and raids should also have decay. I think that having one without the other would cause most players to for go the crafted items and use other gear without the decay effect if that was an option.

      BioWare has stated that crafted gear is intended for ‘tier 0’ right before earning raid gear. In the end to make crafted gear with item decay attractive the gear would have to be low coat and easy to obtain or hard to obtain but have better stats than raid gear if raid gear does not also decay. Thoughts?

      • The balance would be difficult to manage … but hell its not a game build in a garage by 3 kids. I would say some sort of decay should be added across all items or none.

  2. SorcererBiggz says:

    The difference between player driven shop systems and auction houses was really well planted. However there seems to be more capitalism and a strong lead in Keynesian economics in an Auction based system. Where as player-driven will be completely dominated by the region and inflation will be sporadic per world. The only way it would work in TOR is if there was a reason to be on different planets as you get to level 50. And by that I mean a reason to be there for days on end. As higher level players make it a safe-guard from coin-grieving leveling zones.

    The value to the player is inherently involved with economic systems at hand. If there is an Auction House, which there is, there will be no value to actual crafting. It will be imbalanced. The simple fact that there are x gathering and x missions in place means that the x crafting skills will be taken for their ease of use. While the x gathering skills will be cash cows. BioWare dumped an interesting crafting set with missions. As they don’t directly help gathering skills or crafting skills it is unlikely this changes anything. Simply put in an economy in which their is an AH in an MMO the coin will surpass dedication and work.

    They’re not going to make crafting painful. The game is focused on casuals. Even if it wanted to be a sandbox, it wouldn’t be that difficult.

    BioWare has a real chance of making many items worth while in the long run. Simply disperse simple and complex looking collections of gear within crafting that can be modded to work at higher level. This will in the long run make crafting at any level worthwhile for the general public. The Jedi who wants simple robes would simply have to by a ‘simple robe collection’ that has a good amount of mod slots and that should last them and be worth while for quite some time.

    To have item decay is to not have items of worth. There is no compromise there. As item that is worth-while will not want to be lost. Item decay caters to the hardcore, and that goes back to this game being targeted at the casual.

  3. Item decay is a cop out. There is absolutely no fun to be had in carrying extra gear for when yours all of a sudden and inexplicably wears out. That is why most games now use a repair system but those are not usually driven by crafting economy as no one should have to wait in a virtual line to get their gear repaired.

    There is 2 sides to crafting. Gear, and Consumables. I feel this article focused entirely on the viability of the gear crafting market which is the part that is most sexy to master craftsmen but the long tail of the market almost always hinges on how consumables are used. If crafted consumables, power-ups, armor kits, buff packs are superior to like items found in the wild then there will be a constant need for new crafted items and competition to keep the costs down.

    Gear gets stale. Recipes become useless when a new level of gear is introduced and often gear recipes are the most convoluted contrivances designed to make artificial scarceness on items that will quickly become dated long before they could ever flood the market for them. Everyone wants the newest best gear, but only enough mats can be found to make them for 5% of the population before new gear shows up. On the other hand, people are always upgrading gear from quests or raids and if the consumable market is strong every craftsman should be able to reap the reward. It’s just not as sexy.

  4. Have to agree with Ventu. Item decay is a copout and is an out dated system that just should not even be around or thought about. There should be different things that can be crafted that players will want to buy.

    I mean you will have people that spend 6 hours plus a day. My self I no longer want to game like that, so to me decay is a bad idea.

  5. I knew Item Decay would be a sticking point, but I still do not waiver on my post. I personally dislike it, but I see some sort of it as needed part of a ‘working’ economy a necessary evil. If your item never wears out why would anyone go back into the AH or crafter’s to get an item? Once you add the ‘top’ enchant or augmentation’ to it, what then? You are done with the economy as a whole? I SAY NO! You spend your hard earned time and credits and keep the wheels of economic progress moving!

    • Well if we are comparing a ‘working’ economy to one that resembles the real world I don’t want to be a craftsman at all I want to be a banker. Fun has to be paramount to anything billed as a game. Sure there are a few sadists out there that feel games should be more stressful than work but let them go back to evercrack.

      In the real world items decay, but there is a whole piece of the economy that brokers on repairing old equipment. Putting that in game would be an interference to the ‘fun’ factor. How about whatever repair system they put in, if they repair your item as to use it again you get a piece of that pie. If it is all about the Benjamin’s then that should make a real crafting economy, but if you want to be the China of the cheap goods market and flood your wares to the world then you want to make sure nothing ever gets repaired.

      • I agree there has to be a balance, but come on … really its taking a lot of your time to repair? Not all item decay systems are purchasing new equipment, instead of item decay in a strict environment how about the requirement that item augmentations be added by the crafter’s that make them? There is no story and social aspect in the convenience of Walmart …. I am not saying its got to be an Amish store front but how about something in the middle?

      • If we are talking about Item decay in the real world how often do you go out and buy a new gun I know people who still have functioning guns from WWII that is 65 years ago. Now Armor i wouldn’t mind if there was a system where craftsmen made a armor repair kit that you would use to get armor back in working order

  6. AlexWhiteSaber says:

    A simple way of allowing low level chars to make items that could be used for high lvl players is restricting some receipts to low level chars, simple things but rather useful like 1-5% xp potion, 1-5% protection cristals, 2 extra bag slots etc

  7. prenerfed says:

    If not for Soulbinding then MAYBE item decay would be necessary, but because items will bind to characters once equipped that item cannot be resold. It’s effectively removed from the economy (except for the players repair costs if they die a lot). But it’s not like anyone will only ever buy one set of gear; even with the mods system there will be reasons to upgrade to better gear (crafted or found). And the need for new mods for that gear will also stimulate the economy quite a bit. Lots of people keep multiple sets of gear for different tasks, and they’ll all need mods and occasional upgrading.

    Item decay is a bad game design. I’m glad it’s not in TOR. Item repairs as a money-sink I can accept, it’s intuitive and rewards performance. But gear suddenly becoming unusable because of an arbitrary clock on it would not be acceptable for most players.

    And I like AlexWhiteSaber’s idea bout lower level craftables that could still be useful to higher level characters! Crafting a consumable that gave a 1-5% bonus to XP or DS/LS points, etc. would be pretty good. Move it up in 1% increments for the better potions through some lower levels, cap it at 5% around the time the average crafter hits level 15 or 20 and no more recipes for those types of consumables after that. Depending on the metrics affected they could still be useful at 50. The market would be flooded with the things for the first few months, but it would level off as the game matures and allow some lowbies/alts/latecomers to make a bit of coin off the high rollers. Good idea there Alex.

  8. GREAT article! Keep up the good work.

    Here’s my 2 cents (or credits):

    Q: Should there be a player-direct economy (if you recall the advertising droids in Star Wars: Galaxies), or a central auction house where other players can buy your item from their location in another city?

    My Answer: I think that a central auction house will be preferable, IMO. Besides the convenience of it, I believe that the TOR economy will (at first) be affected by Developer assistance/interference as the last article revealed that the cost of having your NPCs go gather resources will be greater than the value of the items they bring back (for the most part).

    This (IMO) could create a smaller market as mentioned. I *think* that an initial price equilibrium will settle below the cost of NPC gathering (thanks to players who gather as said) until we see a large number of level 50s running around. At that time, things could change if the rewards for high level quests, profits from selling junk gear and other crafted gear flood enough money into the market that people eventually find it ok to pay higher prices for lower level raw materials if there is a crafting grind like other MMOs. This will probably bring NPC gathering back en vogue.

    I know that I haven’t thought it all through but that’s my initial 2 credit opinion. :)

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