Game talkCAN MMOs be sandboxes?

 Posted by (Visited 15924 times)  Game talk
Mar 072006
 

M3mnoch offers the provocative statement that “you can’t really do a sandbox game with an mmo” because of the impact to other players.

This is provocative, because I think the commonest alignment is exactly the opposite; multiple people present usually make it harder to stick to a narrative. In fact, a phrase commonly heard is that games such as Grand Theft Auto and Morrowind are like “single-player MMOs” precisely because of that sense of freedom and lack of narrative.

What’s interesting about this is that it suggests a commonality that has nothing to do with the presence of other players, and everything to do with the space within which the games are set: how linear or expansive it is, how much the space itself is a game or not.

It can probably be taken as a given that the presence of other players will be disruptive one way or the other. At that point, the question is, which broad framework is better able to minimize disruption via whatever means come to hand (absorption, prevention, adaptation, etc)?

  40 Responses to “CAN MMOs be sandboxes?”

  1. The Sunday Poem: Housebuilding Near Montague Farm Hail in San Diego PowerPoint Presentation – Putting the Fun in Functional Shaping perceptions Midnighters Another prescription/crystal ball Darniaq has seen the future of MMOs A cooking gameCAN MMOs be sandboxes?

  2. i think the narrative comes into play when you get large groups of people together. they need a purpose. narrative gives them that purpose.

    i’m sure there’d be some sort of emergent gameplay that would bubble up in an mmo sandbox game, but, for every player wanting to build, there’d be 10 wanting to tear down.

    goals work well to align everyone in a common direction, flipping the numbers the other way: 10 wanting to quest for every 1 wanting to disrupt.

    m3mnoch.

  3. goals work well to align everyone in a common direction, flipping the numbers the other way: 10 wanting to quest for every 1 wanting to disrupt.

    Mr. Leeroy Jenkins 🙂

    Couldn’t agree more, m3mnoch. We need our fun directed to at least a small degree. And while there are examples of individuals or small groups in MMOs creating their own fun (storyline be damned) I don’t think it could ever be enough to sustain large player populations.

    Then again: Second Life

  4. […] Comments […]

  5. There’s a whole spectrum. There are advantage to more linear games, and there are advantages to sandboxes. Neither is better/worse, just different. Some thoughts on http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/StorylinesIII.htm.

  6. I cannot point to a strong narrative-driven MMO experience, but I don’t think it’s because they are diametrically opposing concepts. Rather, I think it’s because they haven’t really been tried. To date, “narrative” is the occasional quest text or even more rare cut scenes people generally breeze through in order to pull their objectives. Further, those objectives are decidedly personal. You may need 40 to 60 other people to achieve the objective, but it’s for your own reward only, for you alone to effectively turn the page in the proverbial book.

    To me, that’s a growth opportunity for game-directed objective-based experiences. Instead of making the games about singular heroes achieving singular goals with other poeple, make it about singular heroes achieving meta goals on higher levels.

    In a sense, EQ2 tries this with their Guild Levels system. This allows core groups to rise the ranks of a city for honor and benefit (and a big huge friggin house in South Qeynos 😉 ). This is effectively a group of people building their own story within a much larger narrative of NPC/Player society building. The benefits aren’t obvious though, except those immersive ones like guards saluting that provide no clear mechanical benefit.

    And this leads to the next point.

    SWG is entirely player narrative. Everything a player did was tied to every other player, making each player a character in everyone’s story. One small example: I created an Energy business. From scratch. My guild helped get me started, but eventually the thing got so big I had to start a Cartel. This is all while I was a 0-0-3-4 Artisan, just enough for max surveying and to host one of the five vendors we had around the galaxy. I was living SWG without playing most of the mechanics within it.

    Now that’s a story. The big difference between that and insert-random-quest-here is that I created it. I owned it. I wrote the pages and closed the book. And the reward was that customization of experience and so many game credits I never wanted for anything again.

    So I think there’s two elements here to consider:

    1. The goal of narrative- To drive traditional mechanical game goals or to drive a long path of self-actualization.

    2. The source of narrative- The game or the player.

  7. I disagree, of course.

    The examples of GTA and Morrowind are good ones for this purpose and i think they prove the point fairly effective. Also as mentioned – Second Life. And EVE.

    However, there is important situation in which i agree with M3mnoch absolutely. Sandbox games do not work in any license where there is a known ongoing storyline.

    Any sandboxing anyone ever did in SWG was essentially pointless. The jedi would return (and holy god, they returned en masse, a bit like plague rats), the Empire would fall, etc etc etc.

    In a situation where the team administering the world will actively overwrite or prevent players from writing their own storylines, partaking in them becomes essentially worthless and unsatisfying.

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  9. What do we mean by a sandbox? How free is it? GTA doesn’t have a strong central narrative but it also isn’t that free. An illusion of freedom is merely created by offering lots of small but directed activities to partake in.

    I do see the argument against sandboxes. In general it is saying that too many cooks spoil the pot. I don’t think it is necessarily saying that we need to instead use central narratives which will also fail. I think the lesson is more that narrative of any form is hard or impossible as you collect more people of diverse interests and skill levels.

    The more freedom allowed in your sandbox, the more it will drown in social darwinism. A very important statistic: half of your players are below average. In combination with the large percentage of players who want to be heros and have a feeling that they excel, you reach a contradiction. This is much like the SWG paradox where the majority of players wanted both for Jedi to be very rare and for themselves play a Jedi.

    I think that WoW is a sandbox in the sense that offers lots of strongly directed (i.e. not “free”) activities for players to partake in, in parallel. It has very little central narrative and in fact not a lot of emergent narrative either. However what it has succeeds because it offers lots of small challenges for players to undertake and feel good about and it has just enough freedom for enough emergent narrative to leak out.

    Perhaps it is just that the most important narrative of all is the challenge/reward cycle and the most successful model for this one is lots of small and achievable challenges with lots of rewards and is free of things that punish a player or make them feel inferior. This trumps the narratives of a more open sandbox — at least for games who want to capture the “mainstream” audience.

  10. Any sandboxing anyone ever did in SWG was essentially pointless. The jedi would return (and holy god, they returned en masse, a bit like plague rats), the Empire would fall, etc etc etc.

    This is true in spades in a more narrative environment. The ultimate narrative environment is the one where the player has no control whatsoever. 🙂

    What do we mean by a sandbox?

    I don’t know, ask M3mnoch. Talk about a term that gets used to mean anything. 😉

  11. I don’t agree that narrative is necessary for a large group of players. Purpose is derived out of challenge, and there are plenty of ways to challenge players without story, the big ones being good ole water food and shelter. Boring players will, of course, be bored, but conflict is easily generated without succumbing to the usual canned plot.

    Providing backstory is an important distinction though. There can and need exist a rich history in order to provide an immersive environment, but having powerful NPCs displaced by player characters is part of the fun of a persistent world.

    If the administration running a shard were tasked with recording history rather than creating it, what sorts of antics do all of you imagine might develop? It certainly seems a powerful a motivator as an old fashioned level-up, if not moreso…

  12. I personally think that for Sandbox MMOs to survive, they need to be classified as different creatures than the traditional game-oriented MMOs. This is due to the fact that online games, in general tend to be magnets for competative gamers. These competative gamers also tend to be less loyal than players who would enjoy sandbox games; they enjoy playing the “latest-and-greatest.” This means that early in the life-cycle of an MMO, the competative gamers quickly become a majority and a large influence on the design of the system.

    As the system changes due to the influence of these competative gamers, the “sandboxiness” (ha!) of an MMO quickly fades away. This reduces the number of sandbox-oriented players and increases the influence of competative gamers.

    Gather a collection of everyone who played SWG on Day one and they will fall into two camps.

    Camp 1: “Sandboxers” – Those who loved the game because it was a sandbox: there was no “uberloot” to argue over, an entry-level bounty hunter could slay a master dancer, and it was possible to become the most famous player on the server and the Empire’s greatest asset without firing a single shot. It was playing with Star Wars action figures, not playing with a Star Wars themed chess set; it was the greatest game ever.

    Camp 2: “Competative Gamers” – Those who hated the game because it was a sandbox: there was no uberloot (no real reason to quest or brag), classes were unbalanced (if you chose the wrong skill set, you could not compete), and if you wanted to “wtfpwnbbq” your opponent, you were dependant on some schmuck who’d never fired a single shot to supply you with weapons. It was playing with Star Wars action figures, not playing with a Star Wars themed chess set; it needed to change.

    In the forest of game design, these competative gamers can be thought of as wolves. If you try to run away from the “healer/tank/nuke – chip away at the brick – 20 rats ’till ding – uberloot ftw” design, the wolves will chase you; they will catch you, and they will kill you. If you join the pack and accept that you must become “Everquest meets Whatever,” the wolves will help you break 6 million users.

    Unless, you don’t go in alone…

    Bring a friend…

    And when the wolves come, throw him to the wolves and keep running.

    If an MMO were to split into two separate “games”: a sandbox and a competative RPG, these two games would be capable of sharing assets (metaphor/content layers) and a very similar mechanic layer, but with a very different gameplay focus (statistical variation layer). Since our shared layers – content and metaphor – are the most expensive layers to produce, and our dividing layer – statistical variation – is the most fluid (every MMO is constantly balancing and reorganizing) I’d wager that the increased revenue from the additional sandbox users would outweigh the increased cost.

    Plus, it would be a proof-of-concept, proving that a sandbox MMO can work.

  13. A sandbox is a container filled with sand, governed by parents, for children to enjoy. A sandbox isn’t necessarily a “safe” environment considering natural hazards such as wood splinters and creepy crawlies. I don’t see the “sandbox” as a free-for-all deathmatch. Even a sandbox has rules that bind the occupants.

  14. I don’t think there is any question over whether or not sandbox MMOs “can work,” is the thing. They have demonstrably been shown to work. The question is about audience size, not feasibility, isn’t it?

  15. I used to not think so, but I just had a thought that made me think they could be. Sandbox MMO’s could take a cue from those Robot Dogs that are so popular in Japan – or the Furbies for example.

    See the thing is with those things – what keeps them entertaining for a long time – is the owner never knows what tricks the thing is gonna do next. It’s programmed to do new stuff they’ve never seen before after a certain length of time.

    Now where am I going with this?

    The closest thing to a sandbox game I’ve ever played is SWG in it’s first year – all kinds of sh*t to build. Only problem was there was never any surprise for the builders. You knew everything there was to build, and anything new was announced well before hand.

    But technology doesn’t work that way in RL – it creeps out of Dark Corners – which is why it’s so much more interesting in RL.

    MMO designers could build a sandbox game and make it successful and interesting if – instead of releasing content on a regular basis (like WoW) – released technological advances on a regular basis. But, and here’s the key, they would have to do it in really creative ways. Things like treasure hunts, contests, drawings, accidental discoveries – all very sneaky.

    People would get caught up in the mystery of it all. Someone would discover “X Technology” which would allow them to build 3 story buildings instead of 2 story buildings. Some folks would announce their discoveries from the rooftops and maybe even sell their technology, some folks would keep it secret. People would be walking through town one day and suddenly see a 3 story building and say “WTF!? How did they do that? We need to find out how they did that!”

    It’d be something akin to beanie babies – people always wondering where the next surprise is coming from all the while going around collecting everything they want and/or need.

    Dunno if there’s a game out there like that or not – but that would be pretty cool I think.

  16. I think M3mnoch is right in that a sandbox game, which wuld offer alot more freedom to the players, is going to have alot more player to player impact. He talks about minimizing the impact as a goal. No wonder he doesn’t think a sandbox game can fit in an MMO.

    The goal shouldn’t be to minimize the impact. It should be to empower players to do something about it when someone gets out of line. That line can be set at different points, but it’s rediculous to protect grief minded players only to lose far more of the non-griefing folks. So, for the cost of some grief minded people, you can accomplish the sandbox goal, make a far more interesting game, and even incorporate the empowerment of players into the mix for added excitement, realism, and intrigue.

    I have to take exception to the notion that for every one player trying to build something there’d be ten trying to tear it down. It’s more like ten trying to build and ten tearing down, and then the same ten tearing the first down would be out there trying to tear down a bunch of other activities. True griefers are an extreme minimum, but their ranks get swolen when players find out they can get away with it and prosper. It becomes the way to win in the game, so they do it.

    Stormgaard, I like the way you are thinking. The unknown, the surprise element…..after all, if we go way back to the pencil and paper games, what was the most exciting thing you did? Roll the dice. The unknown, it can’t be topped for fun.

  17. let’s see. i am defining a sandbox to be a game with little or no narrative love, yet has an enormous amount of player choice. the sims (or really any will wright creation) is a fantastic example.

    as usual, i believe these things come in shades of grey, right?

    the more backstory, the less of a sandbox it becomes. the more myth the less emergent. the more plot, the less playtime. it’s really a balancing act. in fact, i even have a little dorky see-saw. where is the threshold? i dunno. when do you get to the point of diminishing returns? i have no idea.

    the sims is very, very sandbox to me. moreso than anything else i can really think of. in other games, as more story shows up, the less of a sandbox it becomes. the more driving the plot/quest/mission, the more focused the gameplay becomes.

    is wow a sandbox? hardly. the factions largely drive the story for the players. it absolutely has sandbox elements but, “here’s a world, go make it up as you go” is hardly descriptive of it. they set up a great framework with a lot of myth and overarching story attached.

    it can swing wide, tho, too. for example, look at the differences between second life and the matrix online.

    a well balanced, mainstream mmo, i think, requires the balance to scratch the itch of all four of mr. bartle’s excellent mud players metaphor.

    a good question is how long before we start seeing niche mmo’s? i think raph’s healing game is a great example of one. it wouldn’t really ever reach critical mass, but, does it have to?

    and, as to the 1 builder to 1 demolitionist ratio? i’m basing my thoughts off of the very basic principle that it is easier (and more fun) to destroy than it is to create — for most people. i think those of us who dwell so deeply on this subject matter are the exceptions.

    we’re not talking team killing type griefers. we’re talking about the “oh? there’s no penalty so it’s allowed and i can do what i want?” players. they’re not out to make it less fun for anyone else, they are in it to stretch boundaries legally. more rebel type gameplay. they’d be just a bunch of swelling chaos. clans rather than nation states.

    look at the focus that is second life? that’s just it. it’s not. no one can even describe the game to people who haven’t played it. “uh. you just live a normal life.” the sims had the same problem, but it was an “ants under the microscope” type game. people had fun playing god and making their sims wet themselves. however, those ants aren’t real people.

    i mean. (not to derail things) there’s a reason governments exist, right?

    m3mnoch.

  18. Some comments on m3mnoch’s piece:

    games, in and of themselves, are about escapism.

    Some — but not all — games are about escapism. Some games attempt to inform us about our world, rather than help us escape from it. Some games lack sufficient world or narrative needed for escapism. I might argue, for example, that Tetris is not escapist. It preoccupies, but fails to transport.

    raph really says that as long as there’s a valid, compelling narritive you can attach to your fine-tuned game mechanics you can have a good game

    Er, that’s not exactly what Raph said. And if it were, I’d have disagreed with him, because not all games have narratives.

    however, you can’t really do a sandbox game with an mmo. with your actions affecting other people, consequences come in to play.

    When I was a kid, I played in my sandbox with other kids. And the next-door-neighbor kids had a super-big sandbox, so lots of kids could come over and play. At school, the boys brought their Stomper 4×4 trucks in to play together at recess, and I loved to make big obstacle courses in the sand for them.

    While you may feel that a community sandbox takes away some of the ways in which you have fun in a lonely sandbox, it also adds new ways to have fun which were not available to you in the lonely sandbox. After all, how can you achieve true glory when you’re by yourself?

    (And, believe it or not, there are ways to have fun in sandbox games that have nothing to do with locking people in closets and making them piss themselves.)

    that’s why the sims as a single player experience works, but sims online doesn’t.

    If I were going to make a list of the problems with The Sims Online, this would not, in fact, appear anywhere on it.

    that’s why second life will be stagnant forever. it’s sales curve will reflect that of the original swg.

    Um.

    1.) To my knowledge, Second Life and Star Wars Galaxies launched the same month (June 2003), and their subscriber count curves have had absolutely no resemblance to one another.

    2.) Second Life and SWG have completely different sales models, so comparing their “sales curve” is pretty irrelevant.

    it’s for people who are primarily social creatures. the second the escapism becomes work, they quit. it will turn into a giant irc channel.

    I’m completely baffled by this assertion. Second Life is nothing if not escapist, and the people playing it do vast amounts of work to realize their escapist fantasies.

    academically, goal progression and character growth will dictate the game is fun. realistically, you really need that escapism component in there. and, saying it’s just a matter of wrapping imagination around it doesn’t cut it.

    What is this obsession with escapism? Escapism is completely unnecessary for a game to be fun. Tetris, Bejeweled, and Puzzle Bobble are all fun for many, many people (possibly many more than even the highest selling MMO).

    And now to address m3mnoch’s latest post:

    a good question is how long before we start seeing niche mmo’s?

    I’d say that the first niche MMO will pop up, oh, sometime around spring 1979. 😉

    look at the focus that is second life? that’s just it. it’s not. no one can even describe the game to people who haven’t played it. “uh. you just live a normal life.”

    You’re right. It’s hard to describe. But, I assure you, no one who has ever played it for any length of time would ever describe it as living a “normal life.” 😉

  19. Just got banned from SWG forums for saying

    “Anyone wish that Ralph Koster would put his money where his mouth is?”

    So why don’t you? I’m sure you can get a team and funding to create one of these mmorpgs that i know i want and everyone who left SWG! Also most people on mmorpg.com want one of your dream mmorpgs!

    So why don’t you go out there and create one?

    Brad and somd of the sigil team left EQ and creating Vanguard for their passion for mmo’s. So why can’t you?

    I know i want another pre cu SWG without restrictions of the license.

  20. On a side note I think this is a bit of good news regarding Raph’s original design…

    Future Plans for SWG?

    …that being said I agree that I would rather see Raph doing something original. I think the SW universe has worn a bit thin generally speaking regardless of what anyone could come up with. Unless Lucas gets off his ass and starts cranking out and/or approving new Lore for the Universe we’ll be stuck with re-runs. That’s always been part of my theory for why SWG really didn’t have “Content” in a traditional sense – Lucas wouldn’t allow for it.

  21. wow. tess. taking me to task. tho, you do have valid points — if you were talking about the hardcore minority. it’s probably my fault for not prequalifying that i was talking about “joe q. mainstream” and pushing mmo gaming mainstream. well. heading up the curve to mainstream anyway. sorry about that.

    oh, and the swg/sl comparison? damn the chart things in my head! reading back over it, i’m talking about… let’s see. how do i describe it?

    well. first, i’m talking about subscription numbers, not sales. sorry. totally my fault. (did that recently somewhere else too. must just be getting old.) second, i’m also talking about once they jumped the chasm, heading into mainstream adoption (which, you are correct that swg went *ping* i’m there. second life didn’t.) — that relative stagnation that’s occurred. sorry about the confusion. if only this damn read/write web was a read/write/draw web. *sigh*

    last thing. escapism. maybe you are just putting a finer, game theory related definition on it than i am, but, i’m sort of using it as a catch all for ‘something i want to do that is not part of my everyday routine.’ you know, vacations, tetris, softball tournaments — all kinds of ‘recreational’ things. pretty much just escaping the daily grind.

    m3mnoch.

  22. Well, the challenge component in your standard sandbox game comes from balance. If you want to progress in a certain direction, there are other factors you have to manage in order to get there without collapsing.

    Consider a modern sandboxy game like “The Movies”. Let’s suppose that given a successful studio you and another player take turns running the game – your objective is to keep the studio profitable, his is to bankrupt it. The game runs at the same speed for both of you.

    In order for you to have a 50-50 shot at winning this “meta-game”, how do you split up the time?

    Now consider a sandbox game balanced with this idea in mind, that equal time spent building and destroying leads to a “fair game” of success or failure. Suppose that during his alloted “destruction” time the other player alt-tabs out to surf for porn. How fun is the game for you?

    –GF

  23. damn. forgot one thing.

    by niche mmog, i’m not talking about niche-within-a-niche. uber-geek AND star wars for example. lots of people out there like star wars who aren’t uber-geeks. (my wife, for one.) so, the first requirement is that it have access to joe q. second is for it to be tightly focused — either in subject or mechanics — to appeal to a specific flavor of the public.

    so, like, an mmog just for those people who REALLY like dogs. maybe you could be any breed of dog you wanted? stuff like that.

    whee…. niche’d be fun for the rest of us, eh?

    m3mnoch.

  24. […] raph koster made a comment on my post yesterday pondering the viability of an mmo sandbox. i’m not really so sure it could work on a large scale. technically possible, yes. (really, what isn’t these days?) profitable? that’s more of a question as to niche mmo’s are financially feasible. […]

  25. There is narration in mmos? A jaded player’s perspective.

    The following takes place in The Popular Game Online ™.

    The hero descends into sunlit valley. Outside a small house near the stream, a small chubby dwarf in white apron is waving to me: Help, Help!

    Seeing the person is upset, I ask him about it.

    “Oh, brave warrior, what fortune to bring you to a poor miller. My fair daughter has gone to the town to sell the supplies, and has been trapped by a pack of ravenous wolves. I’m an old man, but you look like a fearless warrior. Would you lend me your aid?”

    {Of course}{Not right now}

    “You will find her to the west. Please hurry, the wolves will kill her.”

    {Reward: 100 gold}{Mace of troll-slaying}

    Propelled by the sense of urgency i rush to aid (well, I first log for dinner, log back in 30 minutes later, trade a guild member some items, and upgrade my sword), running across the plains, i approach the location the miller pointed me to (it’s a big honking green waypoint with plenty of particle effects). Slowly crossing the hill from down-wind direction, i evaluate the situation (it was the shortest path to take, and i’m still outside of agro radius).

    Bathing in the light of setting sun (this map right before the sunset), there stands the distressed maiden (plain white clothes, not a speck of dirt on it, or a single tear from rushing through the bushes while trying to escape). Dire wolves are circling around her, ready to leap at any moment. Forgetting my own safety knowing that decisive action is needed (i’m level seven, wolves are level 3, so 5 of them represents no risk), i charge forward. My sword sings mildly, as i pull it from the sheath, flashing from reflection of the last sun rays passing across the mountain (well, it would, but to reduce lag, I had to turn down specular lighting). The wolves notice the threat, and charge at me as a pack (they have linked agro). After a quick fight, it is over. Corpses of wolves lay on the ground, and I consume Basic Potion of Minor Health (+55) to recuperate. Seeing that dire wolf hide is in demand, i proceed to skin them, also obtaining 14 gold coins, a magic wand, a plain axe and wolf fang. Then i comfort the miller’s daughter.

    “Oh, thank you for saving me brave warrior. The winter has forced these wolves into our valley, seeking for food. The surrounded me before I had a chance to escape. Please let my father know I’m ok now.”

    {That, I will do}

    Knowing that the task is acomplished, I leisurely proceed back to miller’s house (the big green waypoint). (Of course, there’s 7 more miller’s daughters spawned around there for other people. There’s also a wolf spawn close, which is camped by a few people, since wolf fangs go for a decent price. Being close enough, it’s possible to hear: “noob” and “credit farmer”)

    “Thank you, oh brave warrior. I do not know what I would have done if my daughter met untimely demise. Here, please take these as a sign of my gratitude. Your deeds will never be forgotten.”

    {Accept}

    Trying to talk to him again:

    “Hello, brave warrior. What can I help you with.”

    —-

    Yes, I admit I’ve become a bit cynical about content in games. The above is my poor attempt at a satire, but that’s how just about any and all mmo content looks to me.

    Is there really any place in mmos for linear story-driven narration. Every quest in the game has been completed and will be completed by every player in exactly the same way. The miller’s daughter will spawn over and over, surrounded by same wolves. Even after 6 months, the wolves will still “be driven into valley due to winter”. The miller will still be distressed every time a new character walks by.

    To me, this type of story interaction is simply a form of Pavlovian reflex. A quest giver triggers some meaningless task, that provides player with a reward. Hence, when a player sees a quest giving NPC, they take the quest and go complete it, since they get a reward. Never once will they consider the storyline, since it’s pointless. It doesn’t affect the world, it makes no difference. And why bother with story, if it’s just about the reward.

    The immersion is also entirely killed by presentation. Dialogue contains references to seasons, when the entire map is fixed into late spring, right before sunset. Daughter is supposed to be terrified, and yet she’s standing there, assuming npc_pose_standing_relaxed_4. Wolves are not threatening her. They could care less, since to them the NPC is classified as static object, not an attackable entity. They will never ever harm her. The sense of urgency is pointless. There is no need to hurry. She will never die. Even if the game imposed a timer, and forced the player to act fast, there will always be the option to restart the quest. The wolves pose no danger to the player. Being 4 levels above them, they *know* wolves cannot harm them. Why bother preparing, asking for help, when game ensures you win. Why is miller simply standing there. Should he be running around with a torch, trying to scare the wolves away.

    Yes, plenty of this has to do with the way content is provided. But regardless of that, the quest/mission aproach as commonly adopted in current mmos is flawed by design. It’s designed to be non-challenging, it never attempts to factor in possible loss, it’s designed to be challenging just to the right crowd (+/- 2 levels).

    I do not have the answer to the problems mentioned here, but simply claiming that some story driven aproach is better than sandbox model is just another way of looking at it. Sadly, it seems that the above model is becoming not only dominant, but also with will be the first contact of people with mmos. And if this is the way they are taught to expect, they will probably (cannot really take a stand on this) expect this from every new mmo, not really affecting the designs, but commercial viability of new, possibly better aproaches (WASD example. It’s convenient, but it’s also the norm every single game today must implement, or it will be considered unintuitive).

  26. I always thought sandboxes are where each individual puts his or her stamp in the sand, oh I can do this, or, oh I can do that.

    I have a friend who did nothing but resource hunt, she did not kill anything, nor did she socialise at any point (dance, tailor, smith, were all anathema to her). I think her friends list consisted of 2 maybe 3 people. She went off on business/hols and asked me to mind her harvestors for her, move them when resources moved, fill em with credits, empty the hoppers, stock her vendor and such.

    I did all this, but of course I played the market, there was a cool quality and very expensive resource on Dant, so I moved all the harvestors and started pulling in the resource and cash, oh I loved it and thought she would too. Wowee was she ticked off when she returned. How on earth was she to get to Dant (easy travel), how on earth was she to get to her harvestors – stuff there killed people (ie her). I’d escort her – nope not interested, not her idea of fun. Suitably chastised I got the harvvies back, stuck em on an easy planet and she was happy again.

    Her sandbox was very different to mine, with a very different set of rules.

    The point about sandboxes is that they allow different people to have different rules and play differently? Cookie cutter boxes are too boundarised to work anymore, open huge swathes of sand are the new paradigm 🙂

    A sandbox where in one corner sits Bob playing with his dogs, and in the other corner Alice is killing mobs for all she is worth, but the same sandbox.

    Or have I missed something?

  27. Yes, I admit I’ve become a bit cynical about content in games. The above is my poor attempt at a satire, but that’s how just about any and all mmo content looks to me.

    You mean you want less of this, basically. 🙂

    Did you ever read my stock example of a quest that doesn’t bring in significantly new tech but is at least decently written?

  28. ~

    Yes, I admit I’ve become a bit cynical about content in games. The above is my poor attempt at a satire, but that’s how just about any and all mmo content looks to me.

    ~

    Remember, cynicism will only get you so far. How many millions of people go bowling and never really get tired of it. You don’t see bowling dying off anytime soon do you? And certainly your average MMO quest is more interesting than your average bowling game.

    The market definitely needs a decent sandbox game, but people will always like to bowl.

  29. heh. funny. i had just finished reading that same wired thing.

    on beowulf, said the club: “to long. summry plz.”

    /chuckle

    m3mnoch.

  30. Yeah – good link.

  31. Tess>You’re right. [Second Life is] hard to describe. But, I assure you, no one who has ever played it for any length of time would ever describe it as living a “normal life.”

    Unless your idea of “normal” means being completely surrounded by porn 😉

  32. m3mnoch said:

    tho, you do have valid points — if you were talking about the hardcore minority.

    But I wasn’t, and I’m not sure why my points would have only applied to them.

    well. first, i’m talking about subscription numbers, not sales.

    Second Life doesn’t have subscriptions.

    second, i’m also talking about once they jumped the chasm, heading into mainstream adoption (which, you are correct that swg went *ping* i’m there. second life didn’t.) — that relative stagnation that’s occurred.

    Every game’s curve goes flat, eventually, and then, if they are subscription games, will suffer a slow deflation, as the players get bored with the game and move on to new ones. Dark Age of Camelot was never a sandbox game, and displayed this same curve. It has nothing to do with sandbox games, and everything to do with how the market works.

    last thing. escapism. maybe you are just putting a finer, game theory related definition on it than i am, but, i’m sort of using it as a catch all for ’something i want to do that is not part of my everyday routine.’ you know, vacations, tetris, softball tournaments — all kinds of ‘recreational’ things. pretty much just escaping the daily grind.

    If Tetris is escapist, by your definition, then how could you possibly argue that the old Star Wars Galaxies was not esapist?

    by niche mmog, i’m not talking about niche-within-a-niche. uber-geek AND star wars for example. lots of people out there like star wars who aren’t uber-geeks. (my wife, for one.) so, the first requirement is that it have access to joe q. second is for it to be tightly focused — either in subject or mechanics — to appeal to a specific flavor of the public.

    So… like A Tale in the Desert? Puzzle Pirates? Virtual Horse Ranch? Virtual Pups? Neopets? Audition? Hello Kitty Online World?

  33. You mean you want less of this, basically. 🙂

    Did you ever read my stock example of a quest that doesn’t bring in significantly new tech but is at least decently written?

    The wired article is very much in line with the point I was making. While I never played WoW, it did serve as a basis.

    The quest example however adresses exactly the major issues I perceive. Characters have an evolved history, not just static background (even if written by excelent writers). The end result affects the world, without drastic permanent changes. Experience through such encounter is unique for each individual, despite the common epic battle theme. Personally, this is considerably closer to what I would consider imersive content.

    Remember, cynicism will only get you so far. How many millions of people go bowling and never really get tired of it. You don’t see bowling dying off anytime soon do you? And certainly your average MMO quest is more interesting than your average bowling game.

    The market definitely needs a decent sandbox game, but people will always like to bowl.

    Strangely enough, I’d consider the bowling example to demonstrate a sandbox game. In the context of sandbox vs. linear experience, there are very few directed stories when looking at bowling.

    The game itself is just mechanics, and the scoring is for most part insignificant. The world doesn’t really change, but the players do. As people get more serious, they will bring personalized items in the game (bowling balls and shoes), each with elaborate story which was player defined (“oh, my wife bought me this ball for anniversary, and I had her name engraved on it in return”). There is room for plenty of lore (“oh, our competition for Bob’s birthday was great. Of course, we wanted to let him win, but his game was so good, the he won anyway.”).

    In view of linearly directed storyline vs. player created sandbox content, I’d have to go with bowling being a glorified chatbox within a sandbox game, that allows players to evolve through both skill and heavy item customization.

    And yes, bowling is popular. It’s accesible, easy to get into, a nice social environment (“powergamers” get into competitions obviously), and yet it lacks any kind of forced storytelling, just to keep people playing.

    And the intention of my example was not to consider any gaming concept unfun or wrong, it was merely my personal experience with quest driven storyline in many games i’ve encountered.

  34. How many millions of people go bowling and never really get tired of it. You don’t see bowling dying off anytime soon do you? And certainly your average MMO quest is more interesting than your average bowling game.

    Actually, bowling did go through a major die-off at one point, and is vastly less popular than it used to be.

    That aside, I think I need to disagree that the average MMO quest is more interesting than your average bowling game. You can go back to the same bowling game and practice and get better; new stuff will reveal itself to you. Competition with other players will drve you to new socialization and new skills.

    The average MMO quest is “bring me five xxx.” It doesn’t accomplish any of those very well.

  35. Formulaec quests are easy to create, and no better example exists than WoW. Every zone seems to have anywhere from 3-6 soloable Kill X and Collect Y quests. They’re mostly designed to introduce you to the zone so you can get into the meaty stuff. Unfortunately, that meaty stuff generally requires a group, which alienates many.

    Unfortunately, Quests in MMOGs are a means to an end. Because they do nothing else but further customize one’s character, understanding the story is largely irrelevant. If they truly impacted the world, people would pay attention. KOTOR is good example. Unfortunately, doing KOTOR for 3,000 concurrent users in the same virtual space can be, err, tricky 🙂

  36. Sandbox online worlds have serious communication problems. Anyone who buys one of these in the store will be going home with it expecting the product to behave in a familiar game-like manner.

    Most mmorpg’s try to solve this by putting the player through a long and horrible tutorial which fails to be enjoyable, and succeeds in providing undesirable word of mouth.

    Getting technical about solving this problem makes the tutorial even more boring. “Hi BobNoob, in this game you win by filling a bar with color. Attack this kobold to learn how it works.” Sandbox mmorpg’s are incredibly creative products, too much abstraction involved for the average dude to understand it.

  37. One of the things here is that games have gone from just playing in the game world to doing alot of reading. For hardcore gamers this is fine, after all they spend countless hours reading through all the finer deatils in search of those shortcuts and mastering the game. But for Joe Average, this is boring. They want to play, not read specs.

  38. Wild opinion time – I think most current MMOs fall into the sandbox category – at least as much as games such as GTA or Morrowind.

    GTA presents a virtual world that the player can move around in, with constraints on the actions the player can perform within that world. While you can jack a car, drive around, run people over, etc. you can’t do *anything*.

    I see this as analogous to world-hunting in the traditional EQ-model MMO. You can walk around, kill monsters, maybe team up with people.

    GTA also presents a series of mini-games that you can play – many involving using the core mechanic to accomplish these. Games such as the taxi game, the follow-the-narrative game – all these are available to play within the ‘sandbox’ of the game.

    MMOs follow a similar model. Quests are available that use a variation. Instanced areas may be created for the purpose of this particular mini-game.

    So by the definition of a ‘freeform environment’ where you can pick which of the areas and game options you want to pursue at the time, a MMO definitely fits. The biggest constraint that a traditional MMO suffers is the level-limiting on certain mini-games. You can’t, for example, play the ‘raid’ mini-game in WoW until you’ve met the requirements (level 60).

    The player within the game is still free to choose which activity they want to perform. I don’t see this being any different than GTA.

    I think MMOs not only can be sandbox games, but many are. Unless we want to redefine sandbox to exclude games like GTA.

  39. […] his points, not mine. 1. Ryzoms a Sandbox-Kind-of-Game. Accurate – it is a sandbox as opposed to narrative type of game. Unique? Certainly not. EVE Online is a sandbox. Second Life is the ultimate sandbox. […]

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