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Sandbox Gaming - my 2p

Discussion of the various insights into what to consider when developing a sandbox game. Each blog will look at a different aspect. The first one is about Gaming Perception.

Author: Meligar

Sandbox Gaming - my 2p

Posted by Meligar Tuesday February 26 2013 at 8:57AM
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Simple Sandbox

The premise is straightforward enough, give players the tools to both build stuff and knock down other people’s stuff. The setting is purely cosmetic.

At its simplest, it can be three shakes of the first before displaying what you have built (paper, scissors or stone) with the opposition doing the same, resulting in either draw or winner-loser. Rinse and repeat.

Expanding it further

What happens if you expand the game to multiplayer?  If more than two players you can opt not to display on the third shake but if anybody point their choice in your direction, you automatically lose. In all other cases, your choice is measured against anyone pointing their option at you. On the next turn, those that didn’t chose and are still alive, now have the shotgun option, which defeats anything other than another shotgun. Shotguns have one use and anyone killed misses a go. Rinse and repeat.

Clearly, making anything other than a rather dull hand-waving game requires quite a lot more. In my upcoming blogs I look at the various areas (as I see them) in sandbox design.

First on the list is Gaming Perception

The fundamental point of a sandbox game is that it is perceived as never ending. Players need to subscribe to the view that no matter how one-sided it can appear, there is still a game to be played. If this is not sold to the player then there is utterly no point in playing the game. What will happen is that players will gravitate to the faction they perceive as having already won in order to get a game where they are not immediately ganked. The result is that there is nobody to fight and the game will die.

By instilling a perception that joining the underdog generates the best game, you achieve a self-balancing system. The genre specifics of this will be dealt with in a later blog, but the mechanic is self-evident. As more people join underdog, they acquire the majority player/asset base and are no longer underdog resulting in a shift of recruitment to the new underdog.

The simplest means of instilling the perception is to list the benefits, i.e. features that come into play as the balance of play is upset. On a civilisation type game this could be economic pressures for the larger faction, while the smaller faction gains efficiency benefits. It might be options for more missions or missions that can only be performed by a set number of players per faction. Experience may be modified at specified odds thresholds – twice as many enemy players, the weaker side gets five times as much experience.

It may be more subtle. The control of assets and organisational structure of a faction may be inherently designed to become ever more convoluted with increasing players or the play options may be limited, meaning that there are an optimum number of players within a faction and a faction will ultimately gravitate towards that number, i.e. joining a small faction grants you more power within the faction to shape its direction.

Other options include the instability model where the power to wreck an established faction from within increase exponentially as the faction increases in power.


The main point however is that if these mechanics are transparent, you ultimately condition players to do your job of game balancing for you.

A word of caution though, an elite cadre can still be better than an army of grannies! 

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