Why do Sandboxy games make developers nervous? Why do open world PVP games do much the same? Lack of control. The lack of control means the experience for each and every player can vary and not just per log in. In a real sandbox the experience should constantly vary. Logging into a sandbox is like eating a box of chocolates blindfolded, ya never know whatcha gonna get.
You might see several days with little action. Other days it will be so good you come away with a memory or two. You never know, and that is terrifying to many developers and players. That fear drove us to the era of the quest hub and the sandbox. It’s easy, controllable, and consistent. Unfortunately in my opinion it’s consistently underwhelming. I prefer having a few or even several slow MMO nights followed with a couple of great ones to playing out a script.
If you build your box right, if you give the players enough tools and nudge them in the right directions you should be able to create a fairly active, fairly consistent environment. I’m sure it’s a lot harder than scripted quests and it’s still never as consistent, but I believe that games built this way have far better longevity than the alternative.
Once you get the players juiced into a functioning circle of gameplay like EVE has developed they STAY juiced in. The content gets stale far less quickly because the content is always slightly changing. The goals might be the same but the means keeps shifting. Every time you log in you do so with an air of excitement based on the pursuit of the unknown.
That is why I MMO. The pursuit of the unknown, the thrill of the adventure, the excitement of the unpredictable, and the adrenaline of battle. In the real world I will never know what it’s like to explore the uncharted, to discover the secrets of the world, or to engage in battle but through the MMOs of my choosing I can do all of that.
I prefer my life be nice and boring. The more predictable the better. Chaos is the agent that can make life really exciting, or really difficult. I prefer to avoid it as much as I can, but in my MMOs the more the better and I am happy to accept that means my experience may vary.