Crafting is here to stay, even in game genres that don’t need it. In games now there’s a real incentive to put “proven” game mechanics into a game because they’re familiar to players but they also worked in the past, so you have other games you can directly lift from.
Part of any game includes different systems to intersect with the main “game loop”. If you have an “Open World” game where there’s a large open area to explore, you want to have an incentive to explore that open world. You can’t have exploration for exploration’s sake, that’s not a videogame! You also want a sense of randomness and chaos in the world, a sense of progression in terms of finding “stuff” to use and new stuff to make, and a reason to either go back to a central location.
A Crafting system has all those. You explore the world and Find Shit. Then you take that shit back to the base to make New Shit, which you use to then go back into the world to find Bigger Quantities Of Shit to make Even Newer Shit on the tech tree. Even better, make finding crafting blueprints to be part of the discovery loop, so even if you have all the stuff you need to also have a key to know how to make it. Lock this behind smaller upgrades so you have to get each one first and really drag out the game’s runtime. This is what they call “compelling gameplay”
Now that you have this, you can make items have wear and break so you have to keep looking for stuff and crafting constantly. If you want to add more hours to the game just tweak a bunch of stuff so that finding resources is harder. Better yet, gate progress by keeping certain resources in locked areas which are only reachable by crafting a bunch of Stuff. Now randomize the locations of absolutely everything so it’s a different play experience every time, and baby, you got a stew going!
So you have this basic system that kind of fits into any game, that’s kind of straightforward to implement, and something that’s in a lot of games already, and it also adds a bunch of extra ‘stuff to do’ to a game, and it’s a “Back of Box” feature too. Even if it doesn’t make sense for the game, or if everyone is just tired of crafting systems (I know I am), they’ll put it in for these reasons.
If you build your game around resource gathering, a crafting system absolutely makes sense. if you are making a AAA shooter that’s also an open world, there’s going to be crafting in it, because that’s whats in videogames now. When demoing a game, I’ve had a very experienced game designer tell me I need a crafting system in it. I am not putting a crafting system in my game because I personally loathe them!
I like games with crafting in them too but the breaking point was a big No Mans Sky update that changed all the crafting blueprints. used to be I needed like 2 things to craft warp fuel, but now I suddenly needed like 3 and one was hard to find, and because one extra thing was added it became so much more of a pain in the ass to get around and explore. This is a huge bummer because the big compelling thing of the game was aimlessly exploring but while gathering stuff I found to keep going.
I think the crafting phenomena speaks more directly to a bigger problem in contemporary game design, which is a lack of general creative vision and obsession with numbers and systems over themes and aesthetics. It feels “wrong” now to just find swords and items in the world and not have to “work” for it. Once you free your mind of the concept of ‘Gameplay’ and of games being “correct” you can do whatever you want, and a lot of people are hesitant to do so.