More and more games are adopting complex crafting systems, where players have to find components and assemble or build what they need. These games can range from survival games like Terraria and Minecraft to RPG franchises like The Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age. Basically every modern MMO, from EVE Online to Tom Clancy’s The Division, also includes at least some element of crafting.
The problem here is when the crafting system prevents instead of helping players to enjoy the game. An indication of this is if new players spend considerable time alt-tabbing out of the game to conduct research and check on wikis instead of actually playing the game.
How can developers design crafting systems that are engaging enough to gain interest of players without turning them off with an overcomplicated wall?
It is quite a waste to develop a deep and engaging crafting system if players are going to completely disregard it. Take an example RF Online. In the MMORPG, players can select a class that can craft weapons and armor using resources acquire within the game. The problem, however, is that players can pick up the exact same weapons and armor from mobs within the game. This made crafters virtually useless, especially since many players in an MMORPG like RF Online would ensure that a steady supply of equipment is floating in the game’s market.
On the other hand, the profession system of World of Warcraft ensurs that crafters will always be in demand. The items, bonuses, and enchantments these professions provide cannot be found elsewhere – meaning that only crafters can meet the demand. If players want to optimize their builds and their equipment, they will need to either craft these items themselves or purchase them from players with the appropriate professions.
WoW’s system also ensures that players are incentivized to push through with crafting – something that helps mitigate the hassle of dealing with crafting as a whole. Players who choose to invest their time learning how to craft will be rewarded well; ensuring that the crafting system ends up actually being used by players.
One of the quickest ways to turn off players is to dump the entire crafting system with all its parts, components, ingredients, and finished products upon the heads of newbies.
Take an example of Space Engineers. New players are encouraged by the in-game tutorial to start out on the game’s creative mode. They are then presented with a menu filled with sub-menus, which in turn are filled with items that have vague descriptions of what they are expected to do.
The resulting information overload forces players to focus on the task as if they’re studying for exams; studying up on these components one by one because they have no idea what they are doing. It may turn off players as they have to spend a healthy chunk of time reading and learning what those items can do instead of engaging in the in-game world of Space Engineers.
On the other hand, a game like Terraria mitigates this issue by separating crafting content by tiers. Starter recipes are shown in the game’s early crafting stations, where players slowly work their way up the ladder of complexity. The crafting system is still complex, but the gradual unlocking of the content lets players tinker around with crafting as they naturally progress through the game. Players can still learn a lot by visiting wikis and doing research, but they can progress relatively fine in-game by gradually moving up the various “levels” of crafting stations.
While developers need not necessarily spoon-feed information to players, it does help to provide some information to help nudge players along in the right direction.
Take an example of the crafting system in Fallout 4. The crafting system itself is rudimentary and utilizes features that are poorly explained to the player. One example is the system for powering up settlement items, where players are told to connect electricity to certain items without being told how to do so.
The game, however, does include a feature that lets players ‘tag’ the components they need for a particular upgrade to their equipment. This feature is somewhat obscured in-game, another point against the game’s crafting system, but players that are able to utilize this feature will have a much easier time hunting down the various components. The in-game ‘junk’ items that contain desired components are tagged with icons.
This tagging feature makes it much easier to work with the hundreds of junk items containing crafting components within Fallout 4. Players know at a glance what they need, and will be able to pick up these items as they go about adventuring in the game. This makes hunting for the components less of a hassle, and is especially useful when dealing with a large number of crafting components as well as numerous sources of said crafting components.
Never underestimate how much a tidy, uncluttered, and well-organized interface can contribute to a game’s crafting system.
Take for example Minecraft. The icons for players’ in-game items are bright and distinctive. Players can easily distinguish between components thanks to vibrant colors distinguishing one type of component from another. The buttons are clear and concise. Everything is spaced widely enough to be easy on the eyes but tightly enough to group relevant icons, buttons, and menus together. If players need to handle multiple inventory screens, they need only press a button or open up another box to access their crafting materials.
Another example is Space Engineers. It has many blueprints for items that players can craft, but these blueprints are organized in menus that separate items by category. These sub-menus in turn contain rows of items that are arranged in a logical way. A downside is that all items in Space Engineers are tinged blue – making it harder to distinguish between them at a glance. Still, the interface is clean enough to make it easy finding what players are looking for.
And last but not least, developers need to provide a way for players to access complicated information without having to often disengage from the game they are playing.
The “Wiki Syndrome” is a near universal problem with games that rely heavily on complex crafting systems. This problem is characterized by players obtaining almost all their information from sources outside of the game, most notably wikis that serve as unofficial references to their game. These wikis provide a wealth of encyclopedia-like information about crafting, but they force players to shift their focus out of the game. Their engagement with the game gets interrupted as they exit the game, open up a browser, and then sift through multiple wiki pages to get the information they need.
Integrating this information within the game can help keep attention of player in the game. Civilization V is a game with no crafting system, but the game’s Civilopedia compiles all the relevant information a player needs into the game. Players can quickly access the Civilopedia by clicking on a small help button below each in-game entity. They can also utilize a search function that brings up topics related to their search query. This in-game reference provides an easy and convenient method for players to obtain in-depth information without having to disengage from the game.Related Topics: Crafting, Game Development