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The Pub at MMORPG.COM  » The Irony of the Sandbox MMO

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  Eyesgood

Novice Member

Joined: 5/18/12
Posts: 50

 
OP  8/25/13 9:01:23 PM#1

The Irony of Sandbox MMO’s

Since Minecraft arrived on the scene in May of 2009, the sandbox gaming concept has been propelled into the forefront of multiplayer online gaming design.  Recent announcements of EverQuest Next utilizing a voxel-based engine to create a player manipulated world shows that even big AAA game studios like Sony Online Entertainment recognize the appeal of user-created content, and how mutable worlds and online gaming are a perfect match for both developers and gamers alike.

At the core of this sandbox concept is the idea of player freedom:  freedom to create; freedom to control; freedom to change; freedom to just be.  There are varying degrees of sandbox implementations in the market with many more upcoming titles that all seek to elevate the sandbox concept to its fullest essence.  A few will succeed while many more will utterly fail.

I have seen something of an irony in the sandbox MMO that I feel compelled to share with the gaming community.  I think the sandbox paradigm will be greatly crippled if this irony is not dealt with carefully before the masses come to see what a sandbox MMO really means.

The irony is simply that the concept of the sandbox demands that players be given as much control of the world as can be possible.  On the surface this sounds brilliant and tantalizing to say the least.  Less pre-defined content for more dynamic player-driven content is so inviting.  But giving players ultimate control of the game world ultimately draws out the basic human evils of greed, grief, and selfishness.  It is no longer enough to complete a quest, receive a reward, and add a point, a title, or a level.  Some gamers are so intoxicated by the prospects of power and control that they transform themselves into monsters bent on the destruction of everyone who stands in their way.

This brings me to one of the greatest appeals of the sandbox – PVP.  The freedom to perform player-vs-player combat is often the very gauge to the perceived potential for success or failure in an MMO.  It may sound as if I am bashing the whole idea of PVP.  In fact, I am not.  PVP is the ultimate challenge because it involves battling with a human foe rather than a computer one.  But what I am saying is studios that wish to step into the sandbox world need to realize a few critical truths of human nature if they want their games to not only be successful but also profitable. 

First, coming from a gamer’s mindset; I want to list some of the important aspects to the sandbox that many gamers feel are most important.  Then, I want to present the dangers of allowing PVP to co-exist with the same level of freedom as other game mechanics.

I do presume here to place myself as a representative of the average sandbox gamer.  For that, I cannot help but admit it is an assumption.  But read on and see if you do not feel similarly as I do, and if not – that’s your right to disagree.

So, what is most important to us sandbox gamers?  I think freedom to set ones path and direction is most important.  We want to log in and decide what we do, where we go, what skills we grind, and how we progress our character’s development.  Next, the quality of the tools with which we accomplish these tasks is most important.  That means a deep, complicated, and respectable crafting system is a must.  Individuality is also most important.  We do not want to spend hours, days, months, or years developing our unique characters only to realize they are not very unique at all.  Finally, the concept of ownership is most important.  Why do we delve into virtual online worlds in the first place?  We do so to be what perhaps we cannot be. Or maybe we do so to exercise our own creativity and power of imagination.  Whatever the reason, sandbox MMO’s afford the opportunity to express oneself in ways not possible in other types of games.  These are some of the most important concepts to, I dare say, most players in a sandbox game. 

So now, enter human nature of a lesser degree.  MMO’s are like real-life playgrounds.  The reality of every playground is that there are two kinds of dwellers there.  There are the peaceful players and there are the bullies.  Every playground has them and the sandbox MMO is no different.   The bullies are the power-hungry players that have nothing more in mind than to intimidate, hurt, and control.  They look for every single opportunity to exploit the game rules.  It is as much a challenge to cheat the game mechanics as it is to rob and steal from the players.  They have very shallow but also very deep goals.  They just want to be an outlaw, an outcast, or an outlandish character.  They want to be feared.  They want respect.  They want power.  They want and they take whatever they can.  The villainy of these goals is not necessarily my point.  But it is the irony I am writing about and here it is.   Just as in real life, there are vastly more peaceful players in the playground than there are bullies. 

Those developers who seek to provide the ultimate PVP experience inevitably come to realize that the bullies run everyone else out of the sandbox.  It never fails!  However, the bullies rarely provide enough of a return to hold up the game for very long just because of sheer numbers.  This is a problem both for the developers and the gaming community in general.

The truth is, the playground needs the peaceful players in order to be viable.  Without them, the bullies have little to do but vex themselves out of existence.  You see, they all want to be the best and those who do not make it in one game will run to another.  Thus, they tire quickly and leave for better prospects.  In other words, you cannot expect the bullies to be loyal to your game.

This is not the case with the peaceful players.  They invest time, money, talents, and creativity.  They are in it for the long haul.  They are the ones who hold up the game financially.  They give life and beauty to the sandbox world.  They add human touches that cannot be realized otherwise.  Without them, all is dead and wasted space, time, and money.

Since it is a reality that both co-exist to some degree or another in every sandbox MMO, I want to offer some insights on how they might happily co-exist to the mutual benefit of both.  First, full-loot does not have to mean scorched earth.  In order to draw out the peaceful players into the inevitable conflicts of the world, they must have a respite.  They must have knowledge that there is always a home to run to.  If you take that home away from them, or fail to provide that home, they will not stay long.  Games that allow PVP bullies to destroy the hard work of peaceful, crafter-like players indiscriminately and with no recourse do so to their own detriment.  There must be some safe havens and untouchable realms in order to make entering the fray of battle interesting, promising, and fulfilling to them.  Second, perma-death never works.  I said perma-death NEVER works.  Bullies love perma-death because it means they can totally wipe out anyone they choose.  It puts them in ultimate control.  But such mechanics drive away the largest audience.  This is especially true in games that offer deeply complicated crafting systems.  The more complex the creativity the more there is a need to protect that investment.  Let a win on the field of battle be sufficient for the bully and the peaceful crafter will come back to fight again.  But give the bully the tools to totally annihilate and you are all but guaranteeing their target will go someplace else – maybe to another game altogether.   Next, give the peaceful players the option to play in a peaceful playground if they choose.  This is a simple but sometimes stubbornly-ignored or refused option.  But it is in fact a win-win for the developers and the players.  Often, the income generated from care-bear players more than funds the game.  There is no shame in the concept to include this feature – only shame for not recognizing the need for it.

Finally, it is not enough to plop players down in a game world and have them duke it out to the death in a player-controlled environment.  Law and order has its proper place.  You can have a great PVP game when you properly match risk and reward for everyone, not just for the bullies.  Provide protection to keep the larger player-base alive and thriving.  Give them a reason to support the Great Cause.  Provide reward for those who wish to seek fame and fortune, yes, but with controls in place so their base nature does not drive away your base players.  You cannot eliminate the bullies and unfortunately, most want them in the game if not for any other reason that the hero/villain paradigm.  This is fine.  But in your attempt to be more exciting, more thrilling, more dangerous, and more real to life, don’t forget that there are vastly more peoples out of prison than there are in.  And they are the ones who pay the taxes!

--Eyesgood

Programmer, writer, and MMO enthusiast

  lizardbones

Elite Member

Joined: 6/11/08
Posts: 10417

I've become dependent upon spell check. My apologies for stupid grammatical errors.

8/25/13 9:17:29 PM#2

I feel like somebody is going to argue with your statements a lot. Mostly the statements on PvP. The arguments will center around how limiting the freedom of PvP takes away from the sandbox, or how limiting the freedom of PvP will reduce the realism of the sandbox.

I'm not, because I more or less agree with a lot of what you're saying, I think. I mostly just skimmed your wall of text. But I'm pretty sure the PvP response is incoming.

For every large, complex problem, there is a simple, clear solution that also happens to be absolutely wrong.

  Eyesgood

Novice Member

Joined: 5/18/12
Posts: 50

 
OP  8/25/13 9:23:22 PM#3
Originally posted by lizardbones

I feel like somebody is going to argue with your statements a lot. Mostly the statements on PvP. The arguments will center around how limiting the freedom of PvP takes away from the sandbox, or how limiting the freedom of PvP will reduce the realism of the sandbox.

I'm not, because I more or less agree with a lot of what you're saying, I think. I mostly just skimmed your wall of text. But I'm pretty sure the PvP response is incoming.

Oh, I expect it - no problems.  But there is merit in the content of my wall of text that goes beyond the trolls who might try to defame it.  Thanks for the comments.

  maplestone

Novice Member

Joined: 12/10/08
Posts: 3109

8/25/13 10:18:23 PM#4
They must have knowledge that there is always a home to run to. 
 

There's a problem here.  Why?  Because running home is equating peacefulness with weakness.  And as a peaceful player, why would I want to play a game designed with the mindset that I am weak? 

( you have two choices: either peace is the default and the game has islands of conflict or that a struggle for power is the default and the game has islands of santuary ... this isn't just about PvP, it spreads to all conflicts of interest in a sandbox where two people have different visions of how the world should be shaped, whether it's deciding "forest or farmland" or the more traditional "who gets to stand here and dance" )

  DamonVile

Elite Member

Joined: 11/22/05
Posts: 4385

8/25/13 10:28:20 PM#5
Originally posted by lizardbones

I feel like somebody is going to argue with your statements a lot. Mostly the statements on PvP. The arguments will center around how limiting the freedom of PvP takes away from the sandbox, or how limiting the freedom of PvP will reduce the realism of the sandbox.

I'm not, because I more or less agree with a lot of what you're saying, I think. I mostly just skimmed your wall of text. But I'm pretty sure the PvP response is incoming.

nooo don't be silly. that conversation never happens on this forum.

People are like cats. When they die, you get a new one.

  Kevyne-Shandris

Apprentice Member

Joined: 3/10/08
Posts: 1980

You can't † BURY † ¤¤ Holy Paladins ¤¤ As we will always __.- ASCEND -.__

8/25/13 10:29:32 PM#6

EvE is a perfect example of a title that claims to be that its a sandbox game. But in reality the only sandbox feature to it is at the very lower level of playing. When a player gets beyond that narrow bubble, that game is a P2W. If the "end-game" was truly sandbox, players wouldn't hit a glass ceiling that RL money can't built. The Fountain war recently showed by how much a publisher would change their own game around, to give an advantage to one corp and *maintain* their M.O. for 3 years. That's not sandbox, that's a managed P2W game.

 

True sandbox games are organic enough that no entity is all encompassing, as there's many routes to overcome obstacles in their way. The problem in the Fountain war was resources. TEST didn't have that ISK fountain Goons had to fund their war. TEST is an example of the real EvE (a thousand players playing without a funding source so encompassing it drove the economy), where the Goons are an example of what CCP allows them to be (e.g., allowing the exploit to exist that gave them the wealth to begin with...then, changed the game around it).

 

In a true sandbox game the resources wouldn't be so centralized and controlled, as that is domination. Domination is a disservice in a sandbox, as it closes avenues of access, and is an obstacle that only RL money or dev direct involvement can fix.

 

So true sandbox games is decentralized of any one source of power or resource. It's you are in control of your sphere of influence, but world domination can't be achieved, it's too organic to allow it. It's an Utopian game.

  iixviiiix

Hard Core Member

Joined: 3/04/13
Posts: 441

8/25/13 10:37:27 PM#7

So basic of this wall of text talk about how irony of PVP in open world sandbox MMOs that sandbox all about free to do things you like but free to PK in FFA PVP will ruin the game right ?

IF i right , then

where's my free to send the reds in jail after i hunt them down ?

Where's my free to use 911 summon spell to summon the cop/guard when i see Red ?

Where's my right to hide guard to keep me safe from those "bullied"

So why those sandbox wasn't like GTA where cops spam to your place when you kill someone?

 

 

  Kevyne-Shandris

Apprentice Member

Joined: 3/10/08
Posts: 1980

You can't † BURY † ¤¤ Holy Paladins ¤¤ As we will always __.- ASCEND -.__

8/25/13 11:02:36 PM#8
Originally posted by iixviiiix

So why those sandbox wasn't like GTA where cops spam to your place when you kill someone?

 

PvP is about ganking as described by too many. Any concept of fairness won't have cops.

  iixviiiix

Hard Core Member

Joined: 3/04/13
Posts: 441

8/25/13 11:14:45 PM#9
Originally posted by UNATCOII
Originally posted by iixviiiix

So why those sandbox wasn't like GTA where cops spam to your place when you kill someone?

 

PvP is about ganking as described by too many. Any concept of fairness won't have cops.

Then what with the concept of kingdom in first place ,  Are those kingdom lawless wild land ?

How about those useless lazy ass guards go around in city and town ?

I call that kind of free are half ass setting

Called sandbox free to chose what you do but they have the free to do things to people and i don't have any free to do things to them ?

Do it free for people to resign as cop and catch Reds ?

 

  Axehilt

Novice Member

Joined: 5/09/09
Posts: 7213

8/25/13 11:55:25 PM#10

Don't know that it's irony exactly.  Even the term "sandbox" implies that while you have a ton of control over what you create, you don't create the sand itself.

But yes, the most successful sandbox MMOs will end up being the ones that sit on top of strong themepark gameplay.  If an experience is too freeform, it's not a game and players are less interested in it.  So it's always a mix of player-created (sand) and dev-created (themepark ride) elements which results in games players generally enjoy the most.

Also, I don't think PVP is required for a good sandbox.  For me, it's kinda the opposite.  All the PVP sandboxes I've tried have had the worst, shallowest form of PVP possible while the sandboxes I've enjoyed most were PVE ones (Terraria, Don't Starve, and Haven & Hearth.)

  Kevyne-Shandris

Apprentice Member

Joined: 3/10/08
Posts: 1980

You can't † BURY † ¤¤ Holy Paladins ¤¤ As we will always __.- ASCEND -.__

8/26/13 12:15:50 AM#11
Originally posted by iixviiiix
Originally posted by UNATCOII
Originally posted by iixviiiix

So why those sandbox wasn't like GTA where cops spam to your place when you kill someone?

 

PvP is about ganking as described by too many. Any concept of fairness won't have cops.

Then what with the concept of kingdom in first place ,  Are those kingdom lawless wild land ?

How about those useless lazy ass guards go around in city and town ?

I call that kind of free are half ass setting

Called sandbox free to chose what you do but they have the free to do things to people and i don't have any free to do things to them ?

Do it free for people to resign as cop and catch Reds ?

 

 

Devs don't think those things out, probably because it affects the bottom line...money. If they allowed players to police the game like cops the game can lose players and money if their model is to accept anyone.

 

Personally, I'd love the idea of rewarding players who like playing cops. I RP a paladin and that's the noble cop of the medieval period, lawful good alignment and all. Paladins lack deeds to do in these MMOs, devs treat them so badly as a FoTM class, instead what their original design was for...crusading to spread their faith and doing the deeds to enforce it. I'd round up all the undesirables and bring them to the stockade for their conversion to the Light...or their Inquisition until dead (if WoW had this, Ghostcrawler would be the #1 prisoner by paladins worldwide!).

  TheChuckinator19908

Novice Member

Joined: 8/19/13
Posts: 6

8/26/13 12:25:09 AM#12
TOTAL FREEDOM!!
  Wizardry

Elite Member

Joined: 8/27/04
Posts: 6561

Perhaps tomorrow will be better.

8/26/13 12:34:03 AM#13

Well i agree anything is better than a static world,this concept imo works best if the whole game works on the same concept.This concept is ONLY covering players manipulating blocks.The rest of the world remains static or at least i think it does.

I have been dying for years to see an ECO system,that would bring the entire world alive as should be.Instead of worrying about players,the focus should be on the eco system,Orcs might wander by and try to destroy your home,so you need to protect it and other players can come to your aid as well.Also the creatures of the world would struggle for survival as you would,both going after the same resources.As well resources should not spawn every 2 minutes,they should be part of the eco system,they grow in seasons,all supported by a huge game world with tons of resources to explore.

Players should not always be racing to the next level,they are SUPPOSE to be living in a world,they should be racing to survive,battling for resources or go poor.This one dimensional game play needs to stop,adding in some minecraft blocks changes nothing.

What this does is like playing a normal game of EQ then logging off and playing Minecraft for a while.Also i almost guarantee it lets SOE off the hook for ARCHITECTURE.So they no longer need to design nice houses,players will simply use building lego blocks,so much for architecture.I could be wrong maybe there will be tools to design rounded objects but i somehow doubt it.Or it could be the real nice housing will be in cash shop,i just know somewhere the true face of cash shop is going to show it's ugly face.

http://www.youtube.com/user/Napolianboo#p/u/15/rCYLLQCNc1w
Samoan Diamond

  Novusod

Novice Member

Joined: 5/30/09
Posts: 860

8/26/13 12:40:50 AM#14
The Irony of the sandbox MMO is the sandbox was the most popular form of MMO from 1997 to 2004 or so. Then WoW came along at the end of 2004 and the whole industry changed. They stopped making sandbox content as the game developers went on a crusade to make a WoW killer by endlessly copying WoW. Existing sandboxes were turned into WoW clone theme parks and every other major release was also a theme park. It is about time the pendulum swung the other way and developers started making sandboxes again. In the last 8 years the sandbox crowd has been a completely under served demographic. The next 3 years look very promising though.
  EthanC

Advanced Member

Joined: 8/14/06
Posts: 39

8/26/13 12:41:46 AM#15
Originally posted by TheChuckinator19908
TOTAL FREEDOM!!

Thank you!

I was actually reading this post and wanted desperately to plug Divergence but um... Being one of it's developers I figured the post would probably be considered advertisement and flamed.

But since it's already been done... :P Yes, "Maximum Player Freedom" is the logo for our game. If you don't believe it, download, log in, and check it out ;)

www.Divergence-Online.com

  VengeSunsoar

Advanced Member

Joined: 3/10/04
Posts: 4713

Be Brief, Be Bright... Be Gone.

8/26/13 1:29:20 AM#16
Originally posted by Novusod
The Irony of the sandbox MMO is the sandbox was the most popular form of MMO from 1997 to 2004 or so. Then WoW came along at the end of 2004 and the whole industry changed. They stopped making sandbox content as the game developers went on a crusade to make a WoW killer by endlessly copying WoW. Existing sandboxes were turned into WoW clone theme parks and every other major release was also a theme park. It is about time the pendulum swung the other way and developers started making sandboxes again. In the last 8 years the sandbox crowd has been a completely under served demographic. The next 3 years look very promising though.

 Thats weird cause I think Everquest was the most popular game, twice the subs of UO and SWG and it was most definately not a sandbox.

Quit worrying about other players in a game and just play.

  uplink4242

Advanced Member

Joined: 8/15/08
Posts: 219

8/26/13 5:12:00 AM#17

A sandbox with pvp works fine, the goal is to make it rewarding and meaninful enough to be worth doing, but also controlled and punishing enough for it not to turn into a griefing war everywhere. 

Just because you have choices, it does not mean your choices are always the best choice, or that they should all be equally viable all the time - very much like real life. That is the whole point with sandbox games to me at least and a lot of people seem to miss this part.

  User Deleted
8/26/13 5:58:32 AM#18
Originally posted by iixviiiix

So basic of this wall of text talk about how irony of PVP in open world sandbox MMOs that sandbox all about free to do things you like but free to PK in FFA PVP will ruin the game right ?

IF i right , then

where's my free to send the reds in jail after i hunt them down ?

Where's my free to use 911 summon spell to summon the cop/guard when i see Red ?

Where's my right to hide guard to keep me safe from those "bullied"

So why those sandbox wasn't like GTA where cops spam to your place when you kill someone?

yeah with all these" I WANT THE FREEDOM TO KILL AND LOOT WHERE EVER I WANT AND WHO EVER I WANT" claims

that its a part of sandbox but when the other side of the players are given the tools to protect themselves and even jail the reds and so on the whining starts "why do they allow it and then "illegalize" it??" why can i kill but have to go to jail for it"

"Guards? why not just PvE since we cant kill mindlessly" why no PvP and PvE servers" and so on and so forth

well i tell you why.

IT ADDS DEPTH

the depth of " I CAN DO IT IF I WANT TO"

The depth of " IF I DO IT I MIGHT GET CAUGHT"

the depth of " LETS GET A BODYGUARD"

sure i disagree with that if i attack someone ..in that instant 100 guards spawn behind me. without requiring any action from the victim

people who whine about developers who allow open world PvP but then discourage the people who do it with features like Jail and bounty. are stupid its... logic

both ends of the player spectrum needs the tools to either do the deed or counter it

its like a hug, if you do it alone its too one sided and weird and when did the player base turn into PvE and PvP camps.

UO never had a problem atleast for me i was a miner/ blacksmith i sucked at combat sure i had my run ins with PK'ers but it was never a demotivation or a "poop factor" since i could call Guards inside the city borders and i could have my mates protect me while i was out mining

Socializing..... Ya Know

mmm.... so what was the actual topic again?

  lizardbones

Elite Member

Joined: 6/11/08
Posts: 10417

I've become dependent upon spell check. My apologies for stupid grammatical errors.

8/26/13 6:20:23 AM#19


Originally posted by maplestone

They must have knowledge that there is always a home to run to.   
There's a problem here.  Why?  Because running home is equating peacefulness with weakness.  And as a peaceful player, why would I want to play a game designed with the mindset that I am weak? 



I enjoy PvP, but I'm not a fan of OW PvP. Not as it exists in most MMORPGs. I am a fan of large scale PvP though. Anyway, for me, having a "home" to hang out in, where I can build makes the difference between playing a game and looking at it on the shelf.

For every large, complex problem, there is a simple, clear solution that also happens to be absolutely wrong.

  someforumguy

Advanced Member

Joined: 1/25/07
Posts: 3477

8/26/13 6:45:00 AM#20
Originally posted by Eyesgood
.. very interesting read..

 I agree with you.

When looking at Minecraft multiplayer you can see how different players have different tastes. The admins that run the Minecraft servers can determine which ruleset the world uses to lure in a certain type of player. So you don't just have Minecraft servers with total anarchy and servers with pvp completely disabled. But also servers where plugins create a more grey ruleset.

For example, giving players the option to own land, where only the owner can break blocks and where pvp is disabled. Or plugins that are a lot more complicated that basically let players create kingdoms with regions , towns and building plots that players can own. The kingdoms' s citizens have a voting system to chose a ruler, the server automates selling plots , complete with virtual economy (usually based on some rare resource ingame), creating a community with playerrun economy. While having the option to war against other kingdoms outside the playerowned land. Some even give the players the options to enable/disable pvp on their own land.

These latter examples are the Minecraft servers where players stay long and invest a lot of time. Especially if the server also runs mods that add content. These would never work if some annoying bored brat would be able to destroy a player's hard work. 

If you would compare this to a MMO, you could see this as different server types. If devs want to create a sandbox, total anarchy will never work (like the OP argued). But a more sophisticated ruleset (which obviously will limit freedom) could. Like EVE. Or just different servertypes.

But I think that this is very difficult to design. Especially if you want a sandbox world with openworld PVP. Players are so creative if it come to exploiting gamemechanics to be able to ignore the intended rules. And with different servertypes, the devs need to keep in mind all the time how new mechanics or features will affect the different server types. This sounds like it would require loads of devtime.

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