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The world according to me

Just jot down my random thoughts about MMORPG's, their current status, and their possibilities.

Author: Abrahmm

Sandbox core; Theme park content; Have our cake and eat it too?

Posted by Abrahmm Tuesday January 6 2009 at 10:45AM
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Well, this is my first blog, and I've never been a blogger, so we will see how this goes, or see if anyone actually cares.

Here's a question I must ask myself. Why do we define such strict rule sets for what an MMO is and how it is perceived? Why are MMOs seperated into two sudo catagories? Everyone projects an MMO as either a Theme park, a game with a linear playstyle, scripted content, quests quests quests, levels and classes, ect, and Sandboxes, a game with lots of possibilities, open ended gameplay, create your own content(dubbed "contentless" by some), ect. I'm not here to argue the definitions, this is just how I perceive them, and I think many others do to.

The question I wonder is, why are these such defined sub-genres? Why is it impossible to blur the two, and why hasn't it been attempted before?

I think the ever elusive "perfect game" for me would be a very nice mix of the two. Why is it impossible to have a sandbox core with theme park content laid on top of it? I imagine it as something like this. At the core you have a leveless, classless skill system from which you can build your own "class" per say, and shape it to exactly how you see fit. A completely open, seamless world with player housing, player created cities, and tons of places to explore. Place with it a deep, complex crafting system with a completely player run and driven economy. Allow players to play and build their character without ever being "forced" to do anything. If a player never wants to touch combat, they shouldn't have to, and their should be completely viable alternative paths for players to take that are completely non-combat, like a pure crafter, an entertainer, ect.

Now on top of this sandbox core, why can't we lay down some theme park content? I'm not talking about the mindless drivel of 10,000 "tasks" that you are forced to run in order to "level up" like in some games. I'm talking fun, engaging, meaningful quests that are completely optional. The rewards for such quests would be minor amounts of experience, some gold, and some crafting supplies to sell. Why can't you have large, scripted dungeon bosses that offer a difficult yet fun experience that you aren't force to do to get the "best gear", but are completely optional? As for loot from such an epic boss, well why not take his awesome, yet beat up armor, melt it down and use the resources it's made of to craft new armor for other people?

In my opinion(this is my blog right?), the major flaws, or atleast flaws in the perception, is that Theme park games "force you" to do stuff, and sandbox games have nothing to do. Well, wouldn't a great comprimise be to have the content of the theme park game, but have it be optional, and the tools of a sandbox game to create your own content?

Well hopefully that wasn't too bad of a read. (To companies: Now accepting jobs as an MMO designer)

bryan58 writes:

Sounds much like old Star Wars Galaxies :), did you play that game at one point? It is almost word for word EXACTLY

Tue Jan 06 2009 11:05AM Report
bryan58 writes:

Sorry about that I pressed backspace and it submitted my comment, anyways... as I was saying. It is almost word for word what Star WArs Galaxies was. I will admit what swg lacked was more content. I can't create THAT much content for a game

Tue Jan 06 2009 11:06AM Report
Abrahmm writes:

If you can't tell from my avatar, yes I played that game, and yes it was my favorite game, but what I am describing would be SWG 2.0... The same basic mechanics, but more optional content plopped on top of it. SWG was somewhat light in the content department.

Tue Jan 06 2009 11:10AM Report
Ascension08 writes:

The sandboxers who say "I HATE WoW and it's ilk and I will NEVER play a themepark game again!!" are the problem.

Yes, in the future I think the genre will head in this direction. But progress is made by gradual steps, not revolution *cough* Darkfall *cough*. Companies will not abandon the WoW model, but they might become more adventurous if there is a general massive uproar about the poor quality of the MMO market, and they might look to the past and make some type of hybrid.

Don't expect it to happen for a while. For every whining MMO vet on this site, there are a thousand WoW or "WoW clone" players who are saying, "The hell with old MMOs. I'm happy with the new."

Tue Jan 06 2009 3:03PM Report
tupodawg999 writes:

I think sandbox and theme park are two ends of the spectrum of player freedom. I think most of the ppl who say they want a sandbox game just want a game where the slider is pushed further towards the freedom end of the spectrum. I don't want a completely sandbox game. I want one that's a bit more, well quite a lot more,  sandboxy than the current big ones.

Tue Jan 06 2009 5:03PM Report
dcostello writes:

  I hate to do this, but sudo is really pseudo (unless you meant to say some word that I don't know of).  It just was bugging me...

  Anyway, yeah I think that you pretty much got it down, but say that you should combine the two is such a broad suggestion.  I think people make distinctions and sub distinctions in everything (i.e. animals, books, humans, etc.).  You could say why not join all the different book genres into one book.  It may sound good as an idea, but in reality it would become a daunting task; because instead of trying to please one group of people you have to try to join the best aspects of all the genres without messing the other genres up.

  I played swg.  It was a fun game, but it was no theme park.  Most of the time I was either grinding on Dantooine or getting lousy quests from the data thing.  Yeah, not much story line behind that.  Besides the xp grinds I really did enjoy how well the presented the "sandbox" aspects.  

  I think that the "theme park" aspects could be joined on top of a "sandbox" format, but it would be too risky for the large developers to try (at least for the moment).  Sometimes people just need to release their old beliefs in order to listen to suggestions.

Tue Jan 06 2009 5:42PM Report
Galaturc writes:

OP needs to understand that a themepark game is contained within the sandbox genre. A sandbox game already includes every thing a themepark has to offer, except that; you're not limited to the class you've imagined in your mind, and you don't have to belong to a level to wonder around the world or kill a specific mob.

What OP asking is basically a sandbox game with more content and quests in it. Content, lore, quests, a story line are not features uniquely belong to theme-park games. Sandbox games are not against it; quests are welcomed, and infact encouraged to add a variety to the number of things you can "freely" do in a sandbox game.

The difference is, in theme-parks; you have to follow this predetermined route of quests, you're forced to move from one theme (zone) to another in a linear fashion. Theme-parks are built around this linearity, and you're not allowed to move out of the train on your tour, or the mob that is 5 levels beyond you will eat you alive in the zone you don't belong to. Levels, classes, leveling zones, instances are all catered towards this linearity and are therefore fundamental to theme-park games. If the developers of a theme-park game don't come up with new content at the end, the game is over much like a single player game. However, a successful theme-park game developer knows how to occupy the gamer by providing new items, achievements, and content on a regular basis.

A sandbox game - on the other hand - gives you the freedom to play the game the way you like. You can still play it the way you like in a themepark, and travel around the world lead by certain quests, and introduced to the lore of the game much the same way you would in a theme-park, but you're not forced to.

A sandbox game allows a theme-park in it that will serve as a guide line of skilling up a character that is clueless to play otherwise. However, it also gives any player to move around and interact with the rest of the world freely the way they like it with out the boundaries of quests or zone levels.

Tue Jan 06 2009 6:02PM Report
Galaturc writes:


sudo => pseudo (simulated or fake)

ect  => etc (abbreviation for "et cetera", latin for "and others alike")

per say => per se (latin for "by it self")

Tue Jan 06 2009 6:10PM Report
just1opinion writes:

I can truly relate to everything you said in your blog, but then again...I'm an old school MMO'er, and even though I do PLAY WoW, I also really miss UO.  I also play EVE and EQ2, and dabble in some of the f2ps even.  I pretty much have to have a look at a lot of games.  I do some fair amoutn of closed beta testing, as well, and I find the more exposure to DIFFERENT games I have, the better able I am to see bugs, flaws, and even just come up with useful suggestions on implementation if something isn't really flowing smoothly in a game.  Anyway...all of that aside...I think the biggest issue really is only giving people ONE WAY to "grow up" in the game, and that is usually via "leveling."  Leveling generally REQUIRES (hence the problem) that you do quests 1-3001 and seek out better gear while doing so, so that your "stats" keep up with the higher "level" mobs you are killing for quests 1-3001.  Yeah, it sounds funny when you put it that way, IS the problem.  Players need many options as to how they grow and evolve through a game environment, in my opinion.  They need to be able to ROLEPLAY (they are mmoRPGs afterall) a class of their desire without being boxed into a cookie cutter mold.  And while the ever elusive Darkfall aspires to address all of this....I think we're years away from having what you describe, sadly.

Tue Jan 06 2009 6:27PM Report
just1opinion writes:

Please forgive my typos....I was in a hurry. :)

Tue Jan 06 2009 6:28PM Report
zelldevil writes:


wait a second, did you really just say that.  that revolution doesnt occur?  you're an idiot 'nuff said.  just look at the history of mmos.

Tue Jan 06 2009 6:32PM Report
unreal writes:

If Darkfall fails badly, and seing the low populations of the current mmos ( but dedicated communities ) with a sandbox gameplay: Ryzom, Vanguard, PotBS(?), Eve (any other I might have missed?), well producers might not be that tempted to make a new sandboxish game. Better stick to the theme park idea, draws more subscribers in. 

Really hope it won't be the case. I'm sick of all the braindead MMOs out there. And all of the 10-12 year olds trying to be cool and pissing everyone off. Meh...

Tue Jan 06 2009 6:51PM Report
Abrahmm writes:

Thanks for the comments guys.

And thank you grammer and spelling police. I typed sudo out of habit from working on Linux, and the rest, well I don't really care.

But the key to my original post is that the theme park elements should be completely OPTIONAL, which would allow the core sandbox nature and feeling to be the same.

Tue Jan 06 2009 7:39PM Report
Loke666 writes:

Hmmm, not impossible that Bethesda will make something around these lines. Mixing different types of game is a good idea, I would personally mix in a bit of "Dungeon keeper"/"The sims" type of game into it also, MMO could do well with taking some of the best stuff from other genres too.

And Unreal, Eve is not doing so bad, last time I checked X-fire (yeah, it was just before X-mas so it might have changed) Eve was the second biggest MMO on X-fire before Guildwars. If the second biggest MMO is doing bad, what is good? Yeah X-fire statistic might be a bit unreliable but the game doing a lot better than most other MMOs if not all 'cept Wow. In that case it is not only sandbox games that do bad but all games that are not Wow. WAR and AoC are themepark games and they didn't get that many players either.

I actually believe that the type of game is not so important, any type can be made good or bad. A good game that is not a clone of another game is what will be next hit, it can be a sandbox, a themepark or even a MMOFPS or MMORTS, if it is good enough people will play it.

Tue Jan 06 2009 7:56PM Report
Galaturc writes:

Again, theme-park games are a sub-category of the sandbox games. Please stop putting these two things on opposite sides of the scala.

In a sandbox game; you can be any class, be at any level, and follow any specific theme-park tour.

There are no limitations as to what class you want to be, but in addition, you don't have to belong to any class.

You can level up, but there are no limiting rules as to what you gain when you level up, or how you distribute your level points. There are no gained level points or talent specs, but a more detailed skill system. Skill system is more gradual with the number of specific skills - basically, you decide on what skills to put in your talent spec tree (that you'd find in main-stream themeparks).

In a sandbox game, there can be quests, but they're optional.

Tue Jan 06 2009 8:27PM Report
Abrahmm writes:

Theme park games are not a sub-catagory of sandbox games, they are two completely different styles of player progression.

Tue Jan 06 2009 11:14PM Report
Razure writes:

I'd just like to add to this, EvE is doing quite well even if Iceland isn't. Peak active subscriptions were set again at 41,186 on the fifth. Added to that, the next expansion is set to be out in March, and that'll bring in Tech 3-I can't wait!!!

Also, 'Epic Quests' and stuff are coming out too. They are essentially an interconnecting storyline of missions that leads to an EPIC finale which I think takes you to a wormhole and the key to T3....

Well, that's what I remember anyway. Point is, I think CCP is trying to combine theme parks and sandboxes (being a sandbox after all) and the future looks good.

Wed Jan 07 2009 8:31PM Report writes:
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