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The staff of gets together to bring you some behind the scenes insights on stories, the industry and the site itself.

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Contributors: BillMurphy,MikeB,garrett,SBFord,Grakulen,

Community Spotlight: The Rise of the Sandbox

Posted by MikeB Sunday August 18 2013 at 10:34PM
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In this week's Community Spotlight, we focus on the thread, "Will the upcoming wave of AAA sandboxes mmos change the public preferences?" by maccarthur2004:

"In the start, almost all mmos were sandbox. Then came EQ and later WoW with the themepark formula. The phenomenal success of WoW shaped the mmo market for the next 10 years, creating a paradigm that all AAA productions followed. The sandboxes became indie products.

Well, with the upcoming wave of AAA sandboxes/sandparks, will the market and the public preferences change once again in the opposite direction? Will these AAA mmorpgs "teach" the public to play and appreciate sandboxes? Will the themepark elements that some of them bring within serve as a "bridge" in that transition?

Open to opinions."

DMKano feels that the execution of these games is crucial to sparking a change in preferences:

It highly depends on how well the games are done.

Players want fun, immersive and well polished games first and foremost - what catergory they are (themepark/sandbox) is not the primary motivator for many gamers.

If there's a sandbox game that is very high quality, fun, very polished, immersive and easy to play yet difficult to master, it would have a much higher chance of doing well than a buggy, unoptimized, overly complicated game.

I think players will be pleasantly surprised with some upcoming sandpark games like ArcheAge for example - it has many of the qualities needed for a successful game.

Jagarid isn't confident that this is all a sign that things are changing:

Sandbox games will never be as popular as Theme Park, ever. Most people prefer to be guided rather than be given creative freedom. Sad, but true. This simple fact will give Theme Parks the edge, no matter how many great sandbox games are made.

psychosiszz points to the resurgence of sandbox games as having to do with players being sick of themepark games:

I feel alot of MMO gamers are sick and tired of the same old theme-park games.

The great thing about sandbox games is that the content is run by players. Which means people can do unique and interesting things with the tools given to them. 

The problem with previous sandbox MMORPG's is that you often don't know what your doing, and it takes a while to understand it all. Modern gamers don't have the mental patience us older gamers do (Damn did I say that im 27 lol i feel old now). Which is why I can see a combo theme-park and sandbox emerging. Theme park to hold the players hand and guide them to the sand and how to use it.

One can hope it does change the way people view MMORPG's and set a new bar. I want a living, breathing world, a world which you can change via building and destruction, a seamless world (no zones) and where areas you went early game aren't redundant but still needed for resources/conquest etc. A game where you feel like a part of the world and not some lobby game where you queue up in the main city and wait for PVP/PVE.


As for me, I don't know that the traditional sandbox (systems over content focus) will ever take root as a mainstream MMO sub-genre, but I do feel that developers are finally realizing that the traditional themepark is unsustainable and this resurgence of 'sandbox' MMOs is their course-correction.

I don't think the final result will look like a true-blue sandbox, but we are probably going to see the elements from both sub-genres that work best combine for future games. For games like EverQuest Next, this seems to be a sandbox design as a foundation, with a certain level of developer created content layered on top of it.

The goal is to create a game where the world and system design can keep players entertained in between content deploys. In a traditional sandbox, its entirely systems driven, which works for some, but not everyone. For themeparks, it's entirely content focused, and players just churn through it all too fast. The future, as far I am able to see at this point, should be a combination of these things and it looks to me that the developers behind games like ArcheAge and EverQuest Next understand this quite well.

Your take? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

SpottyGekko writes:

How could there NOT be a return to using sandbox elements in MMO games ?


It is a natural outcome, given that no developer can provide cost-effective content at any rate even close to the speed at which players can consume it.

Quality entertainment takes time to produce. A good book or movie or TV series can take years to create but hours to consume. Why would MMO's with static content be any different ?

Mon Aug 19 2013 5:11AM Report
zaxxon23 writes: I'm like a pig rolling around in mud with new sandboxes coming out.  But, it needs to be a sandbox/themepark hybrid.  SWG should tell you all you need to know about that.  Quite simply the game systems need to be redesigned to provide a compelling economy and compelling theme park gearing.  The two can co-exist, but it will take some creative thinking make it happen and most importantly make it fun for the majority of players. Mon Aug 19 2013 5:28PM Report
Alexvano writes: The problem all started with laziness of the gaming public. People say they don't want a game that is a second job, then go on to spend thousands of hours on no risk, hand you everything on a silver platter crap. If players have to learn a deep complex game that ultimately is limitless in what you can accomplish, many new gamers can't be bothered and boot up WoW. Games that take time to learn and have complexity don't get the dumb downed masses who don't want to be challenged and can't pay a subscription. They want something they can play with less than 10 buttons and pats them on the head for showing up. The sand boxes of Ultima Online and Eve were amazing because of everything you could do in them. Now adays people cry for more content because the simplistic junk in these games have no depth, require no skill or learning, and if it can't be completed with a guide easily in 30 minutes to an hour, don't worry one is coming! Sandboxes are great because you can have amazing challenges like dragons that seem more alive because they will roast your nuts if you in your noobishness walk up to one. Can they be killed? Sure, but in the sand box world you may have to hone your skills, come up with a plan, or heavens forbid socialize. Will it happen on day one, nope. Its laziness that ruined the genre, the dumbing down for the masses. You want quality games that last, make risk, reward, and effort match up, and put more options in, not take them out because the lazy herd doesn't understand right away. Tue Aug 20 2013 12:00PM Report writes:
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