Playing Efficiently

As the designers of an MMORPG, surely you have a problem if you’re designing quests which even you recommend to players that they never finish?

Last week TERA posted an addition to the crafting guide on their website, explaining the crafting quests which have been recently added (re-added?) to the game to make maxing out a craft easier for players. This is another endgame-focused move, like the incentives offered for players to hit the level cap before the Argon Queen update, and it always seemed a little off to me – while TERA’s crafting can be pretty momotonous from what I’ve heard, people are now saying that they maxed out their craft in less than an hour as long as they have spare gold (and who doesn’t in TERA?) to buy materials.

More concerning to me, though, is this excerpt from the crafting guide:

To figure out how to save time and money, let’s do a little math. Each quest pair (except the last) is designed to cover 50 crafting skill levels. Your crafting increases several points with each item you successfully make. The crafting quests ask you to make 25 items. As it turns out, you’ll hit the skill limit long before you finish the quest.

To save time, you only need to craft 9 or 10 items of the 25 required by the quest to reach the skill limit for that recipe. Then you can abandon the quest and start the next pair from the Mission Board. You’ll lose out on the quest rewards (max of 1.5 gold and 150,000 XP), so you’ll have to decide for yourself whether completion is worth the time and money.

Speaking of money…while the quest giver hands you a lot of materials, you must purchase some others from vendors. If you were to craft all 25 items for the quest completion, it’ll cost you anywhere from 2.5 to more than 19 gold. Crafting only 9 or 10 items will save you over 60 percent of that cost (and more than make up for the quest reward you won’t get).

So let me get this straight… they designed crafting quests to require more work than was required to up your crafting level. They admit that there is a more efficient way to level, using the quests but not completing them…and they advocate this method in their official guide to crafting? Isn’t this a problem?

Surely this is a badly designed quest if players can get more benefit overall by starting it (getting some of the required materials handed to them for free) but never finishing it? Surely it would make more sense to not have crafting quests (and make people buy or find their own materials), or to make the quests provide a smooth highway to the max crafting level if players complete all of them?

The fact that such a highway even exists – a way for players to be able to attain the best crafted gear without the horrors of having to wait as they worked their way up to it, or to sacrifice time in other parts of the game to devote to crafting – seems to say a lot about not just TERA, but MMOs in general. We have these long paths and series of levels to get to endgame level, but more and more players want to skip there, and developers (in some places) are enabling them. I suppose chronic MMO players assume they learn the game quickly, they already have the skills, understanding and technical mastery to play at the highest levels – and with so many games working on the same systems, it’s probably true. These players want their training wheels off. Still, if we’re going to embrace this approach, why have leveling at all? Why make players push through dull, repetitive activities for experience points, when they’re just going to blast through it all in a week anyway?

When games like TERA endorse what could be considered a kind of exploit (though not one harmful to the game), like starting and abandoning crafting quests for maximum efficiency, I don’t know what to think. Is it an admission of defeat in the face of number-crunching power-gamers? Is it TERA’s staff trying to stay on the same page as their player base, speaking in the same terms to show they get it? Is it actually just how the designers, too, think the game should be played? I don’t know – but it’s not for me. If I’m handed a trail of breadcrumbs in the form of quests, I expect following them to be useful to me. If features of your game are more use when exploited than followed as (apparently) intended, I’d suggest you re-consider your design strategies.

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