Been seeing people discussing whether or not MMOs are still "virtual worlds" or if they're something different.
A lot of people are making the "sandbox vs. linear" argument, but I think it goes a lot deeper then that.
To me, in order for a game to be a "world" it has to be an experience that draws you in.
You have to "feel" it.
You have to question, and worry, and analyze your actions.
You have to deal with the consequences of those actions.
In short, in order to "feel" like a world, you have to be able to effect that world. You have to feel included in the game world.
In a single player RPG, this is easy. It's only you, your actions direct what is happening. Best example? Mass Effect. I've never, and I mean never, felt I was really in a whole new world (galaxy) more then I have playing Mass Effect. I feel important, powerful, and I know my decisions make a difference. This is what makes Mass Effect such a good game, in my opinion.
They also nailed the immersion. To me, immersion is that you feel the world could actually exist. Mass Effect is full of an entire index of information on the worlds, the technologies, the species, the history... these things make me feel immersed, they make me feel this world (galaxy) could actually exist.
Combine these two, immersion and inlcusion, and in my mind you've created a "world" rather then simply a series of levels/events.
This is very hard to do in a MMORPG. Why? It's multiplayer. You can't have too much effect on the world, because that in turn effects how others experience the world. One player does something cool and changes the world to his liking, 3-4 players get left out and something changes that hurts them. You then keep one subscriber and lose 3-4. This is not the way for a successful MMO.
The only way around this is to capture the feeling of inclusion. You can't be the hero, the one savior, but you can be a part of the winning team. In order to "feel" like you are part of the team, you have to be immersed in the lore/character of that team.
So it comes back down to immersion and inclusion, but in a different way. You aren't the hero, but you are part of something greater then yourself. You aren't the defining point of the story and of the world, you are simply a player in the much larger scheme of things, but you have to "feel" that your player belongs. Hence, the immersion factor. If you play a ravaging orc, you have to "feel" like a ravaging orc.
I think of any current or upcoming MMO, Warhammer online will succeed because it will give players both inclusion and immersion on a MMO scale.
Your individual actions may not matter too much to the world, but your participation in the team, in the grand battle between Order and Destruction, will help to define the conflict. You personally may not "win" but your faction and your race can.
With 30 years of lore and fiction behind the IP, and (so far from what I've seen) the attention to detail EA Mythic is giving, I can imagine that Greenskins will "feel" like Greenskins, Dwarfs like Dwarfs, etc. The Tome of Knowledge looks to be a tool that will go a LONG way in upping the immersion factor.
So you have immersion and inclusion, the two steps that, to me, define the difference between a game being a true "world" and not just a series of levels/events.
So, to me, it doesn't matter that Warhammer will be a more linear and quest driven game, by no means a true sandbox. With the immersion and inclusion of their RvR campaigne and the decades of Warhammer lore (especially through the Tome of Knowledge) I believe that WAR will be the next great "world."
In a game like EVE, yes, it's also very possible to become immersed in the world and become included in it. Probably more so then any other game currently released. Problem is that these positions are only available for a small portion of the population. The largest and most powerful corporations only. Everyone else is simply a witness to these grand events, not a participant. I think Warhammer will beat out EVE in the immersion/inclusion factor because everyone will be part of the fight, everyone will help to make a difference.
Warcraft fails at being a true "world" because you the player has no effect on it, really. Sometimes, you have a small effect. Killing bosses that gave your faction a buff, controlling PvP areas to give your faction a buff... but it's just not enough nor all too important to make you feel like you are really included in the world. I think the immersion factor is there, lots of great lore and ficiton behind Warcraft name, but the inclusion just isn't there. The fact that both PvP and PvE help the RvR effort in WAR, I think the inclusion aspect of being "part" of something greater then one's self.
For AoC, the guild control of keeps will be a nice inclusion factor, and the Conan IP definetly has the lore and amount of fiction neccessary for the immersion factor, but I think the guild keep control will be limited to a small portion of the population, so like in EVE, most will simply be observers rather then participants. In WAR, everyone will be part of the fight, not just the top guilds who take turns controlling the keeps.
LOTRO definetly has the immersion factor, tons of lore and a feeling of importance through the epic questing and cutscenes, etc. but very little, if any at all, on the inclusion side. As a player you know that you can't go and stop the forces of evil, that's Frodo and the fellowships job, so what impact on the world do you actually have? It's already set in stone what happens, when it happens, and how it happens. No chance for inclusion there unless you get to play as Fellowship members, but obviously it's a MMO so you can't do it.
Just my thoughts.
So to me, it's not about sandbox vs. linear. It's about "feeling" like you are part of it. I think if you combine immersion and inclusion, it doesn't matter if it's a linear quest based game or a sandbox title. You can create a "true" virtual world as long as you get those two factors right.
What do ya'll think?