Crafting ... seriously? You're going to start with crafting?
Yes. Yes I am.
I feel that crafting was probably the first step off the path for many MMO style games that led to a confusing, unfocused game. In DAoC, I felt that crafting was just something to keep people occupied while they were not grinding levels or playing RvR. Basically, something to keep people in the game when they were not playing the game! And to those of you who love crafting in MMO's, I'm going to recommend something you probably won't want to hear. I mean this in the nicest way possible. Go find a crafting game or make stuff in real life. If your idea of fun is sitting in one spot and doing something that other people feel is a chore, you can go play EVE Online. It's like the best crafting game I have ever played. EVER.
In my vision of an MMO game, the character I play is not a merchant. They are not a haberdasher, or a sword smith, or an alchemist, or a pet store owner. They are an adventurer, or a hero, or a villian. A real do-er in the world that needs things done. Aside from gathering skills, my game would have no crafting or tradeskills per-se. This lack of crafting solves one issue right away. You don't need to feel obligated to grind up a profession to make gear, or to make items you feel you need. No more need to find a blacksmith to make belt buckles to grind your leatherworking up. No one will tell you to grind up your tailoring to get some armor that is the best in the game. It's a liberating idea.
But, how am I going to get cool things? Like nice armor, potions, gizmos and whiz-bang inventions? Here is what I think can provide a realistic, customizable, system to get people these same things. Merchants. Imagine heading into town and going to the local armor smith and commissioning some armor. This merchant offers some discounts if you can provide some of the raw materials, but he can also take raw cash. You get to select from many different looks and options, but you can make the same armor that looks different. Potions and other items can be purchased from merchants, not unlike how you buy arrows in WoW today. It just makes sense that people would specialize like this. Hero's go out and "hero" and the people who are artisans stay in cities and make quality products for money and materials. You could even have tiers of crafters who offer ranges of quality items. The best armor crafter in the world could be pricey, but manufacturer the most ornate and powerful armor in the game. I don't know, maybe he lives in some out of the way place. It's a free world.
In the end, I like this idea because it solves a few problems. It removes the idea of balancing tradeskill items with items you might get from killing bosses. People would not feel obligated to grind a tradeskill up just to get some high end gear easily. People can collect resources to offset costs of new armor, and they can get armor that suits them that looks the way they want. It also creates a world where every priest you meet isn't a master artisan tailor. This design adds some depth to the world and makes NPCs seem less like vending machines and more like craftsmen.