Yes, I've finally tracked back around to my crafting series. This article will focus on harvesting. The next will focus on actual crafts.
As PixieStyx suggested today, harvesting in MMOs is currently nothing more than a time-sink. You might as well ask us to trim our lawns by plucking blades of grass one-by-one.
But there's hope! Let's not ditch harvesting completely. It could be completely refigured to make it more engaging.
Maybe the crafter just has to remain within the resource area for a particular amount of time, after which a pop-up window automatically offers the player so much of the surrounding resource. Players would have the option of disabling these pop-ups, if they were not interesting in harvesting.
The catch is that nearby creatures would attack the player, forcing him to either fight the creatures or flee from the resource area. These creatures may just be wandering and passing through, or they might be protective of the resource area. Withstanding particularly brutal onslaughts might be rewarded with higher-quality resources.
King of the hill
With advances in model interactions (attacks that physically move enemies, like knockback attacks in City of Heroes), we have new possibilities.
When I was little, my grandpa's yard had a big mound of dirt with which my brother, my cousin and I would play king-of-the-hill. The mound was just big enough for one of us, so one would try to stay on top while the others tried to push or pull the "king" off the mound and seize the mound for themselves. A scenario similar to this might be fun in an MMO.
There might be no damage dealt to either party in this scenario. Only skills of displacement (push, pull, knockback, levitate, create a slippery surface, etc.) and counter-displacement (making you more difficult to move) are permitted. The player might be temporarily given a full palette of such skills for the duration of the mini-game.
You play the game against NPCs and, separately, against other players. You each try to be the king of the hill. Every set amount of time you dominate the "hill" (the time might be 3 seconds or it might be 10 seconds), you are awarded so many units of the surrounding resource. Particularly skillful feats might be awarded with higher-quality resources.
And for low-stress players?
Personally, I prefer FPS-style action in most games, including MMOs. But I can respect gamers who prefer games with very little pressure, and I think they have a valuable place in MMO communities. So can we also create a harvesting option for them?
Bejeweled was successful enough that they made a sequel. Even I love that game, and it involves no more pressure than knitting. Something very similar could be constructed as a harvesting option.
Bejeweled is basically about shifting objects in a puzzle-type way to combine those objects into clumps. Harvesting could take the form of a mini-game in which players shift resource-objects to form harvest-worthy clumps. And as Bejeweled rewards players for particularly large clumps (a series of 3 or more jewels), this harvesting game could reward large clumps by transforming them into a higher-quality harvest. Connect 3 resource-objects and you get tier-1 ore. Connect 4 resource-objects and you get tier-2 ore. And so on, up to tier-3 or tier-4. Higher quality ore results in improved stats for crafted objects, thereby rewarding skill in a low-tension manner.
The mini-game would take the form of a pop-up window, allowing the player to enjoy the mini-game without being removed from the surrounding gameworld. The player could still notice other players moving around him or her, and could still chat with other players as he or she plays the harvesting game.
Ideally, I'd include all three of those scenarios in the same game. Giving players options is a winning situation. One of the main reasons games like Oblivion, Deus Ex, Neverwinter Nights, and Star Wars: Battlefront sold so well is that they allowed for multiple playstyles; and not just for different types of players... for the same player to experience the same content in a different way, sometimes just according to mood.
When I tackle actual crafting in the next part of this series, I'll see if I can come up with a variety of options for that, too.