Now that I think of it, it would be a little difficult to implement, but it seems like the system which would ultimately fit the parameters of this idea would look something like the stuff they have in Spore. You guys have seen videos and heard about Spore, right? Players have easy-to-use editors to make creatures and buildings and stuff, or they can select from buildings other players have created… and the game automatically recognizes what you’ve created and used it. It’s also kind of like some of the stuff they have going on some DS games where you draw stuff and it makes it part of the game (that early Pac Man one, and Drawn to Life which just came out I think).
Well, for the purposes of this crafting system, it would be more like, the player has an editor and says, “Ok, I’m going to put a bit of wood here in this stick-like shape, and then I’m going to put a flattened bit of meal on top with a sharp edge.” and the game should look at that and say, “Well, that looks like an axe.” and treat it as such. Or to simplify the system, the player specifies before going into the editor that they intend to create a weapon, or, better yet, a melee weapon (or maybe they want a laser gun…), so now you don’t even have to know it looks like an axe; you let the player name it and you just treat it like that type of object. Now all your game has to do (lol, as if this weren’t unbelievably complicated) is have some formulas for figuring out a) how to animate the object when it’s in use and b) how effective it is, based on materials and design (so if your player’s idea of a good melee weapon is a 3-foot-diameter sphere of solid steel, then that probably wouldn’t work very well). But if you can manage that, you now have a new blueprint other players can use, or those other players could choose to make their own.
Of course Spore has basically unlimited resources to tackle this, but at least we wouldn’t be trying to craft creatures, right? : )
So, the tightrope-walk balancing game that has to happen is trying to figure out how to make those options different enough to be interesting, but balanced enough that there isn’t a “best” among them. Starcraft (I know, I know, different type of game entirely) is the poster-child for this kind of balancing. When you can ask your players what the best choice is, and you get many vehement answers of what the players believe to be the best, but the answers are all different, that’s when you’ve got it. And I’m beginning to think the only way to really get there is through tons and tons and tons of playtesting (while, of course, planning to get there from the beginning… if you don’t design choices to be different enough in the first place, it’s not going to happen through playtesting).
Oh, and as a fairly casual player of MMOs (when I play them at all), if I’m going to craft, I want to be able to make something useful without spending 46 hours grinding for the materials and 74 hours grinding for the craft skill. So hopefully, if you make the system open enough for variety, and the choices balanced enough, a casual player can make something that he can sell because people like the style/uniqueness of what he’s selling. And in such a system, you could sort of have blueprint-crafters (designers) and manufacturers (crafters), where when someone invents a new type of item blueprint, they can get royalties from crafters who craft and sell the item…