PvE Sandbox MMO: Economy and crafting

After combat, I believe the economy is the most important aspect to a quality sandbox title, and not just for those hoping to play a merchant. The ideal system would impact everyone playing on a regular basis rather than being a side-show for the few who decided to focus on crafting. Equally important, the system should be self-regulating, rather than requiring a total wipe every year or so when an expansion is released. Expansions should, well, actually expand an MMO, not just shift everyone over, but that’s another rant.

First let’s talk itemization. In this game items would wear and break fast, somewhere in the range of 2-3 PvE hunting trips per item/set. Getting an item repaired would slow this process some, but only temporarily. Consider games like EVE or DF, where when you go out to PvP, you more or less expect to lose what you bring, and if you don’t it’s a bonus. As this is a PvE game, you don’t expect to die every trip (but more often than when PvE’ing in a themepark), yet the item mentality should be somewhat close. Forget ‘best in slot’ thinking, and replace it with ‘best item for the job’. If you are going out to hunt some easier prey, or travel out into dangerous territory, you bring a cheaper set of gear. It will still get the job done, yet the price of it wearing down or being lost is still below what you will earn while PvE’ing. When you are faced with a do-or-die situation (your house/city being raided by a host of mobs), you bring out the top shelf stuff and hope it’s enough, yet even if you end up losing that, it’s not the end of the world (but does sting).

With gear getting destroyed at such a high rate, it has to be replaced at an equally rapid pace. This is where crafting and, more importantly, selling comes in.

First and foremost the crafting itself would be one-click simple. If you want to play a mini-game, find a mini-game online or get a Wii. Crafting should be more about the economics and supply/demand than who can play a poor mans version of Tetris (or worse) better.

But that does not mean crafting should be instant. To attempt something a bit new (to me at least), I think the initial act of crafting should take 30 seconds or so for the first item, and increasingly more time for subsequent items (a stacking debuff that lasts an hour or so) to represent fatigue. The goal is to allow a crafter to socialize or plan while making a few items that he needs right away, but to prevent someone from chain-crafting 100s of items in a row in just a few minutes. With mobs randomly raiding cities/houses (think random PK raids, but with mobs), going afk to craft would be a bad idea.

Plus you don’t need to do that with the production system. If you own a shop or are part of a crafting guild (more on both tomorrow), you can queue up production similar to what happens in EVE. The production speed would be the reverse of self-crafting; the more you craft, the less time each item takes (mass production efficiency). The goal here is to allow major crafters or crafting teams to mass supply the most common goods (arrows, basic weapons/armor/potions), and to create locations of importance in the world. Guilds will want to protect their production base from roaming mobs or invasions, and players will naturally gravitate together in cities to mutually protect each other. The world would react accordingly, and high-value mob targets would migrate away from major cities, requiring expert PvE hunters to either live out in the wilds or travel longer distances. Major player hubs would also draw the attention of mob warlords looking to raid and pillage player cities, and the bigger a city gets, the more frequent and powerful the raids get.

As for item power, think of it like a Ferrari vs a Toyota. Both get you from point A to point B in basically the same way, with the Ferrari doing it a little faster (if possible), and with some extra comfort. The biggest difference between the two, aside from price, is that the Ferrari is a status symbol and an excessive toy. No one NEEDS a Ferrari to get to work, but at the same time no one would turn it down or complain that they would rather go back to the Toyota. Items should work in a similar fashion. The difference between a basic iron sword and say, a diamond one is somewhat marginal. Yes, the diamond sword does last a little longer and hit a little harder, but we are talking percentage points here rather than orders of magnitude like in most MMOs. The price (determined by availability of materials and crafting difficulty) would be orders of magnitude greater, and so for every diamond sword someone owns, they could have had a few dozen iron ones.

As performance is similar, this means a ‘poor’ player in iron can still group up with someone in higher-end gear and not feel useless, while also always encouraging players to gain more wealth and to try maintaining a certain level of average gear. Those who are able to earn more wealth will, on average, use better gear, but almost all players should have one or two sets of great gear to pull out for big events. From the supply side, this means even the basic items will retain some demand, the mid-tier stuff will need replacing often, and even high-end pieces will be lost or destroyed enough to warrant continued demand. This also means that when you add higher-power items to the game, they don’t instantly turn everything before them into junk.

Another way to increase demand and variety without inflating power is to allow crafters to make purely cosmetic changes to items during the crafting process. For example, an iron sword with a special hilt or blade tint would still hit like an iron sword, but the demand for it might be higher or lower based on the look. We all know that while we chase shinies for power, we are not beyond putting effort in just to get something that looks cool (or for WoWbies, paying $25 for a mount to sparkle).

By adding cosmetic options to items, this also allows crafters to get creative and custom-design items to establish a reputation (you could get crazy and allow customization on, say, a City of Heroes character creator level, tech willing). If you know Bob puts in a ton of time to create some unique looking stuff, you might be more willing to travel to his shop instead of someone else’s, and pay a little premium for that iron sword as well. If Bob also has a really great looking shop (tomorrows post) that displays his wears well, his profits will reflect that.

As the world is always shifting based on player movement, resources would also react. If one area is being mined frequently, it starts to yield fewer materials, along with losing the ability to provide rarer goods. Expert gatherers would be those who not only have the skills to find the best resources, but also the ability to survive the harsher parts of the world and make it out alive with them. A guild PvE trip could be more about reaching a mining shaft for the rare ore than for the beasts inside, with both fighters and gatherers coming along, and the guild crafters turning the spoils into high-tier gear for everyone.

Crafting should be far more than min/maxing the auction house and under-cutting the current listings by a penny every few minutes, and the economy needs to be deeper than hitting the gold cap because you can. If the whole system is rewarding, it becomes its own game, and those who may not be interested in bashing monsters daily will still sign up, log in, and play a pivotal role. The best sandbox is not one that caters perfectly to one type of player, but rather creates a world to house a wide range of interests; mixing all those interests together to ultimately create something great.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in crafting, Housing, MMO design, Random. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to PvE Sandbox MMO: Economy and crafting

  1. Nils says:

    Respect. That is well written and I would not only love to play that game, but actually think it might even work.

  2. Drew says:

    Some of what you’ve hit on here is what a lot of the crafters over in Fallen Earth were asking for from the get-go: faster item decay (and less mats sold by vendors for the scavenger crowd). A fatigue system was added alongside item decay, IIRC, but it’s still so slow that people wear gear for weeks or months, I believe. Sorry – it’s been awhile.

    The item creation queue is another thing that Fallen Earth allows, online or offline. Things typically take minutes up to even hours or days to create, so similar to your take on crafting, as well.

    There are some other points you hit on here – shops, customization, etc. – that FE doesn’t have, but I certainly wish it did.

    All in all, it sounds like you’re creating a hybrid FE/UO and it’s a game I’d be very interested in.

    • SynCaine says:

      A lot of the shop influence stuff is from UO. It’s the only MMO I’ve played where running a vendor at my house was a full time activity that was not only profitable, but very enjoyable. FE has the over-time-crafting, but since it can be done anywhere, it loses a lot of what UO had. EVE has too much NPC-sponsored stuff to really get where I want things to go.

  3. Gilded says:

    Some really good points and ideas in this post! Overall I think you have an awesome vision, but there are some things that I think you should consider and dig into deeper.

    I think that you are a little too dismissive of skill-based crafting. Currently you are regulating crafting artificially through varying cool-downs and effects in order to simulate a deep experience (such as having a group specialize in making certain things in mass quantity, allowing for different hotspots for certain items).

    Having skill-based crafting could do these things of its own nature. A player that spends the time to become skilled at creating arrows will be able to create more arrows more quickly of a higher quality. This person could logically merge efforts with similar crafters, sharing expertise and refining their abilities, and the group would form a center for arrow creation. Instead of regulating the system in a contrived way, it could be made into a deep aspect of the game to explore, specialize in, and master.

    This is not to say that there isn’t truth in your mini-game point; I just think that you are being dismissive of an aspect with potential to organically do many of the things that you want the system to do.

    As for the fast degradation of items, I agree with the idea that it would be beneficial to implement for the economy, but even if it adds depth to the experience, it can easily become a tedious aspect of the game that prevents people from investing in items. If the items aren’t vastly different then it makes investing even less enticing. If the items are vastly different then there will have to be an amount of investment that mirrors that difference (or else everyone will use the best), but if the items degrade then it could make that extra investment feel futile or too risky. Not to mention that a major aspect of progression can come from investing in getting better items and gear; if the chase is made out to be futile or too risky then the player could loses out on a lot of potential progression.

    • SynCaine says:

      Item progression still happens in games where items come and go quickly, but instead of chasing some ‘best in slot’ piece, eventually getting it, and being ‘done’ until the next reset, you are always on the hunt for more gear, because the more you have, the better quality stuff you can risk losing on a daily basis. If the system is balanced correctly, no one can use diamond swords 24/7, but the rich use them weekly of the time, while the poor once a month or less. The goal of both the poor and the rich however is still the same; get more so you can use better stuff more often without going broke.

      • Gilded says:

        How much effort can really be put into a piece of gear if it breaks down? If I work toward getting a piece of equipment for weeks or months, then it would be devastating to have it break down in a week or two.

        I think that the system makes sense if gear is more or less an economic item, if gear is based on monetary input. When gear is a special, lofty goal (as it can be in many game) then I think that letting it degrade would be too severe.

        Maybe it would be best to differentiate the lofty items that aren’t part of the mass market from the expensive and durable manufactured items that the rich can buy to use weekly. The lofty, non-manufactured items wouldn’t necessarily have to be the best (as in strongest); they just wouldn’t wear down.

        • Saucelah says:

          Almost all if not all gear in a sandbox should be a means to an end and not an end itself. So there would not be gear that is a lofty goal. Goals would involve resources and territory rather than repeating the same quest/raid/dungeon until you get the drop you want.

          Gear that doesn’t wear down would destroy the economy and make crafting a meaningless niche like it is in most themeparks.

        • Gilded says:

          If the gear that doesn’t wear down is not the best gear, and if it is a *lofty* goal that each player could only potentially reach once(ie not saturating the market) then I don’t see how it would destroy the economy.

          What it would do is make some of the gear meaningful beyond throw-away stat boosts, something that people could have pride in achieving, and it could give some basic security to people that have put in the work, preventing dedicated players from getting into a poor rut (ie not have money to make money).

        • SynCaine says:

          The gear then just sets a baseline, and makes everything below it useless for all but the newest players. Plus it still allows for stuff like stupid suicide runs in gear. it just does not work, nor is it needed. Is anyone in DF/EVE hurting because they don’t have permanent gear above a shuttle or noob weap?

        • Saucelah says:

          That’s exactly why that would break the economy. Every player would want that unbreakable item, removing that character from the market when it comes to that item slot.

          Besides, the very idea of lofty goals that lead to loot is themepark not sandbox.

        • Gilded says:

          Every poor character might want it but the idea is that it’s not something everyone could realistically get. If level/stat/etc is factored into gear then losing the slot for a certain level of gear could easily be avoided (even though that shouldn’t be a problem anyway since this is *lofty* gear). A player at a high level could either have the best gear (expensive continual investment) or mid-level lofty gear. The mid-level players have access to mid-level gear or low-level lofty gear. Players would still buy the normal gear even if lofty gear saturated the market (which it wouldn’t if they really are elite *lofty* items).

          Lofty goals are important in a game and gear is often an essential area where RPGs can place those goals. A lot of people like to pursue things (sandbox or themepark it’s the pursuit itself that matters), and having a system like this isn’t necessarily non-compliant with the economy, it adds options, depth, progression benchmarks, and potential meaning to certain investments.

        • Saucelah says:

          This would be a game with no levels. Like most sandboxes. All of what you just said makes almost no sense.

          You seem wedded to the idea of epic loot as a goal. But that really isn’t what a sandbox would be about. And it’s not one that I would play, and, I’m assuming, not one Syncaine would play.

          Your assumption seems to be that players will become attached to items that they put effort in to earn. But if there are no items that are goals in and of themselves, then there are no items players would be attached to.

          Instead players might be forced to clear out AI enemies in order to obtain and hold a resource that is required for high-end equipment, and possessing the means to produce that equipment is the lofty goal. Needing to replace broken equipment makes maintaining control of that resource important — which makes holding or retaking that territory an ongoing part of that lofty goal. In a PvE sandbox, this would be a cooperative, public goal.

          Going through a massive chain of quests or raids to obtain the unbreakable sword of face-pwn completely replaces all the goals created naturally via the economy and game mechanics, replacing them with artificial “content” goals, and goes a long way to making that sandbox another themepark.

          This game, fictional though it may be, is likely not for you.

        • SynCaine says:

          Saucelah on the right track here. Permanent gear, regardless of how difficult to obtain or how powerful, just does not interact well with the system outlined above.

          Blessed items killed UO (along with all the other themepark ideas added to it over time), and they would cause havoc in EVE.

        • Gilded says:

          I don’t think the right way to look at making a sandbox design is to commit to the way a “sandbox” is “supposed” to be made. Honestly my response is looking for middle-ground between what is good about a sandbox and a themepark.

          It’s clear that you know what is good about a sandbox. Progression is what is good about a “themepark”. I don’t particularly like either as they are because they both lack aspects that are desirable to an experience, my post is inquiring on ways to push the design, not to conform to what eve does.

  4. Polynices says:

    Character skill based is one thing, but basing it on player skill via a minigame is a horrible idea. It’s why EQ2 crafting sucked — you had to focus so closely on the crafting that you couldn’t chat or interact with other people. It required more attention than even hunting mobs. Bad design.

    • Gilded says:

      I think that really depends on the implementation. Making a “mini-game” is one thing, but the goal isn’t to make crafting a “mini-game” in itself; the goal is to make crafting based on skill, to require mastery and specialization.

      • Gilded says:

        Also why is it necessary that you be able to chat and interact with people while you craft? Isn’t that cheapening the importance of it and assuming that it can’t be fun and involving on its own?

  5. bonedead says:

    This is no time for game design discussion!

  6. Bhagpuss says:

    I can’t stand item degradation in any MMO. Not only is is tedious for the user, but I would have have thought it would be equally tedious for the producer.

    It also seems entirely inappropriate for a medieaval/rennaissance setting. Craftsmen then worked to produce goods that lasted and owners didn’t just expect what they commissioned to last for a few years, they expected to be able to pass them on to their sons and their sons to their sons.
    What you suggest is more akin to mid-20th century mass production and built-in obsolesence.

    Far preferable would be to have crafting directed towards making a smaller range of very high quality items indeed. Crafters would aspire to make items that are unique. One per server, for example, or one per race. You could also have a system whereby, in order to create a more powerful item an item of near-comparable but lesser quality would have to be destroyed for materials/enchantments. That would keep your items ticking over, leaving the world, but be far more intereting than mere breakage and repair.

    Routine crafting of the kind you envisage, for playing shopkeeper and also for raising skills, could be restricted to producing consumable items – ammunition, food and drink, potions, all the usual stuff. If you are having housing, then clearly a huge amount of consumables come in there too.

    • SynCaine says:

      Crafting unique items not only leads to endless power inflation, but is somewhat unrealistic if we are talking about a world with thousands of players. Even if you just have 100 weapon crafters, and they all only make one unique item, that’s still 100 unique items. If they are not really ‘that’ unique, why even bother to craft? And if they are truly special, how the hell is the art team going to keep up with that? How is the level of difficulty going to be maintained?

    • Gilded says:

      “You could also have a system whereby, in order to create a more powerful item an item of near-comparable but lesser quality would have to be destroyed for materials/enchantments. That would keep your items ticking over, leaving the world, but be far more intereting than mere breakage and repair.”

      I think giving crafting depth in a way like this is better for keeping crafting relevant than to have low-durability, easily-crafted items flood the market continually.

      I think their is room for “durability” as you say from consumable items. Weapons and armor could also have a consumable aspect too (high-stats at the cost of durability and price for “consumable-crafted gear”).

  7. John says:

    “If you want to play a mini-game, find a mini-game online or get a Wii.”

    I like a lot of what you’ve said, but why the hate for “mini-games”? Sure one can take the above advice if all one wants is to play a mini-game, but why are you so against flushing out your mmo with fun side activities (call them hobbies, secondary professions, whatever)?

    I’m not saying that making crafting into a mini-game is a good (or bad) idea. I’m just wondering if you generally hate all mini-games. Would it be so terrible if skiing or golfing or fishing or whatever were implemented in your sandbox?

    I hate it when people say: “If you want to do X, go over there with all the people who are just doing X”, because usually it is said as an unhelpful response to people who don’t want to “just do X”. They want to mainly enjoy Y, and would enjoy Y even more if they could occasionally mix in a bit of X.

    • SynCaine says:

      The no mini-games was strictly for crafting, I find it horribly lame to replay the same tired old thing whenever you want to just make an item. Two different genres mixing in a really bad way.

      I’m not against something like including chess boards or darts as side activities (UO had chess, it was fun), that’s fine if done well, I just would not connect those type of things to anything ‘core’.

      • Gilded says:

        So instead “core” would be waiting for the completion bar to fill up?

        I think the implementation is what matters. If a player has to craft hundreds of items then, whether there is a “mini-game” or not, things could get tedious. I think the overall point makes an argument for keeping crafting a steady but involved practice instead of making it mass-production/progress-bar based.

        • SynCaine says:

          Yes, the bar fills up as you chat with your guild, someone at your house, read the city paper, or move some inventory/furniture around the shop.

          Downtime = socialization, more than one MMO has proven that, and socialization is key to developing a good community and an active world. if everyone is busy playing a weak version of Tetris while crafting a sword for a guild member, your social interaction suffers.

          I’ll trade catering to the crowd looking for mini-games in for a progress bar and a good community.

        • Gilded says:

          So if crafting is not skill based then how are full-time crafters differentiated?

          Isn’t there something odd about completing things while you do something else? It’s something I’ve never liked about eve’s design, but if the game is based on mass automated production, and if it’s more of a meta-simulation game then I guess the spreadsheet gameplay works for that particular crowd.

        • SynCaine says:

          Resources available, shop location, fluff customization, pricing for the location, etc.

          People get very caught up on the item itself, instead of all of the other factors around it. Kinda like getting caught up on how the item is produced vs what happened before/after the actual activity itself.

        • Gilded says:

          Well those are two differnt things, two different jobs. The person who crafts the items isn’t the reseller who deals with the economics, just like the soldier is not the tactician.

        • SynCaine says:

          Oh no, in most cases, they would be. I mean I guess someone could JUST be a crafter without a shop, but that seems odd to me (unless the directly supply one particular shop, but then they are more of a partner anyway).

          Maybe we are just thinking two different things here?

        • Gilded says:

          yeah, I think I’m basing from my own ideas on the economic structure. The way I think of it is that the people who supply the consumable goods (the farmers the crafters), aren’t really the people who manage the shop to sell and distribute them.

          I was imagining it more that the shop owner would be the one to sell the products, possibly provide the crafters/farmers with materials in exchange for the product, give them a certain amount of the profit, take a percent for themselves, etc. I don’t think it’s reasonable for each player to set up a physical shop; the shops consolidate under a reseller who deals with the economics.

  8. Bhagpuss says:

    I tend to agree with Gilded here. I’m not sure the people who would be drawn to “crafting” are necessarily the same people who would be drawn to “trading”. I’d rather see the two things seperated, although obviously if people wnated to do both they could.

    As for item inflation on very high quality items that Imentioned above, I did say “aspire to”. I was thinking of those items being akin to Artefacts. Not one per crafter but one per server. And you as the developer decide how many different ones there are.

    I also have another idea that I prefer to widespread item degredation, and it’s one that might appeal to you , although not to most PvE players:

    Item loss to NPCs.

    Instead of players looting your corpse, let the NPCs do it. And how about sometimes they keep them and use them, and sometimes they take them back to their lairs and sometimes they trash them beyond repair or melt them down for scrap? Or tear them up to make bedding or nests. I think that has plenty more mileage than things just wearing out.

    • SynCaine says:

      Item loss to mobs is basically the same thing as “10% of items are destroyed per death”, unless the mobs carry the stuff back to a lair, which would be a pretty cool feature IMO.

      • Bhagpuss says:

        I was thinking you could have a whole lot of mechanisms going on, from losing the item entirely, to having to come back and kill the orc that was now using your sword to get it back (and he’d be harder to kill than he was the last time, when you lost to him, because now he has your best sword and you’re down to your second-best, so this time maybe you need to bring a friend, to having to organise a group to come and fight right into the orc stockade because the sword you lost was a *really* nice one and the orc decided to give it to his chieftain to curry favor.

        And so on. Item loss as dynamic content kind of thing.

  9. Telwyn says:

    Interesting post, my guess would be most crafters would be tied to a workshop for crafting so they would sell to the local market or travelling merchants rather than travelling themselves?

    What’s the idea re: appearence slots or dyes in such a game? If you’re changing gear a lot as it wears out you might face a constant issue with mismatched armour, not a problem for everyone I know.

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