In my last articles I compared old school MMOGs (those released within the first 5 years of the genre) to next generation games (those released after) to determine which provided a better PvP experience, and which provided better raids. I came to the conclusion that old school gaming gave a much better PvP experience, while the next generation excelled at raids. This time around, I take a look at crafting.
Is crafting fundamentally better in MMOGs today than they were 8+ years ago?
This subject is a tough one for me, I must admit. While I have spent many hours grinding away at crafting in many different MMOGs, it has never been something I enjoy. It seems like I often find myself sitting there watching the same animation over and over while a small bar fills up telling me that useless widget X has been created for the 100th time. Just so I can move up and start working on mediocre widget Y. With the hopes that one day I can possibly make decent widget Z. It's just not my thing. Many players love it, but I always find myself wondering why I'm not out killing stuff. With that said, there are some games that do it better than others.
When I think of old school crafting, I have to think of Ultima Online, the grand daddy of all MMOGs. Released in 1997, UO gave not only gave the world the first MMOG, but it gave them an MMOG with a deep and complex crafting system that remains one of the best examples of crafting done right to date. From fishing to blacksmithing, tailoring, to lumberjacking, There wasn't much more anyone could ask for when it came to crafting that wasn't in UO. There were no set number of crafting professions you could have. You didn't have to pick one and forget all others. No, UO was about doing whatever you wanted. If you wanted to be a miner, then go out, get a pick axe and mine some iron ore. Change your mind when you get ganked to much (I was famous for ganking miners, cruel and sadistic yes, but damn was it fun) and decide you want to be a fisherman instead, then just go and start fishing. There was no level or class requirements for any profession. You could craft all day every day and never adventure if you wanted to (I don't understand people like this, but they are out there). To top it all off, crafting meant something in the game. Many items that were critical to adventuring could be crafted, and more importantly, the NPC vendors carried few supplies for the would be adventurer. This forced players to turn to crafters to provide them with supplies. An excellent example of how crafting should be implemented in MMOGs.
When I think of next generation crafting, I have to go with Eve Online. Released in 2003, Eve has shown that it is the little MMOG that could. With a release that many would call mediocre at best, Eve has slowly bucked the trend of MMOGs by growing over time. Sporting over 300,000 active subscribers currently, Eve is now a force to be reckoned with in the genre. No small part of this success is the phenomenal crafting system the game provides. More so than even in UO, much of the economy is player driven. Players must rely on crafting and purchasing almost everything from ships, to ammunition, to modules in the game. However that is where the similarities stop. Where UO is easy to understand and get started, Eve is very complex and takes time to understand. In general crafting is a highly specialized activity that also depends on other parts of the game, so it's not really possible to build all you need directly without depending on anyone else. In order to excel at crafting you must be deeply involved in the game on other levels, or have a player corporation supporting you. The learning curve is very steep, but those who have the intestinal fortitude to stick it out are rewarded with one of the most complex crafting systems ever created.
This has been the hardest decision to make in these comparison articles. 2 vastly different crafting styles. Ultima Online, so simple to understand and begin, while still remaining so valuable and varied, with the ability to produce many items with absolutely no help from anyone else. Eve Online, the polar opposite, deep and complex. Requiring player corporations to really excel at crafting.
While there is a lot to be said for personal taste in which system is better. I have to say that Eve Online wins with the best crafting in any MMOG out there to date. You just can't argue with the number, and in a genre where subscriptions are usually highest immediately after release, you have to give credit to any game that continues to grow 6 years after release. The complex and immersive crafting system in Eve is a big reason the game continues to gain followers.