Expansion vs Replacement content

Prompted by the reminder that I massively ragequit Darkfall (account status: active), and reading this post on the Aventurine blog, reminded me of yet another reason why sandbox > themepark: over time a sandbox should get more/better content, while over time a themepark replaces it’s content.

If I don’t play Darkfall for a year, when I come back I’ll still have all of the content available to me, plus whatever was added in that year. The whole game should contain few bugs, some new systems should be added, and overall things should be better. And when I am back, I’ll still be joining in on sieges, going out to PvP, doing some PvE, crafting, all that in good old Agon.

If I miss a year of Rift or some other themepark, odds are good the level cap has been increased (ok, 2-3 years for WoW), people have moved on from whatever end-game was around when I left, and people are all focused on whatever is the current end-game. My crafting will be behind, half-completed rep grinds will be useless, and whatever gear I was working towards will quickly be replaced by quest-drop greens. Running any of the older group content will be done in novelty mode rather than in its intended form. Yes, hopefully whatever bugs were around are fixed, but considering the safe/polished state a good themepark is in anyway, that’s not a massive plus.

24 Responses to Expansion vs Replacement content

  1. PeterD says:

    Wait, did you just manage to make the relatively bug free state of an MMO a bad thing because there’s nothing to improve? :P

  2. Rammstein says:

    @PeterD: No.

    @SynCaine: Something in this post makes me wish that these themeparks would just add in some of your sandbox ideas. Imagine if Wow had slower ilvl increases, and harsh permanent item decay, and running Sunwell at 80 had been an alternative to running heroics to acquire gear to run Naxx80 in. That might have been a challenge to balance, but still. Or, start from the other end with your PVE sandbox, but have a developer put in a different themepark raid in every month, for the highest tier of gear/play. With permanent item decay, people would still keep running the new areas each month without resorting to mudflation. I’m sure you’ve already considered these thoughts many times, but this is just me finally realizing that sandboxes could present an unlimited amount of themepark content as part of the box, but the reverse doesn’t hold. It does somewhat I suppose, AH pvp in wow felt like the most free area of the game and therefore was my favorite.

    The problem is getting people to play a game with permanent item decay. You could always allow repairs, but make them extremely expensive, possibly increasing with each repair, so that it’s quickly more efficient just to buy a new copy of the item. Of course,to make sure that gold doesn’t devalue you have to make every item vendor buyable, so that the benefit to player crafting is just to obtain the item at a significant discount to the vendor price. That’s the only way I see to slip permanent nonrepairable item decay into the game “behind their back” so to speak. More realistic that way too.

  3. Ravious says:

    LOTRO seems to be trying with scalable dungeons (and skirmishes). Rift has elite versions of the dungeons. GW has hard mode. GW2 should be interesting in that it knocks characters down to a power tier (a level 40 dungeon will be capped at ~level 40 power). I wouldn’t say that devs are unaware of this problem.

    It’s really more of a progression issue rather than theme park. Do EVE elite still run lower tier missions? Do you still hit all the lower loot (easier) mobs in DF?

    • SynCaine says:

      EVE is a bad example because lvl4 versions are just tougher lvl 1 missions. The actual ‘content’ is still being used.

      As for DF, yea, people do. Lower tier mobs still drop useful enchanting mats, and so people still farm them. Plus skill gain is skill gain, so whacking a goblin to skill up swords is sometimes better than whacking something that is a challenge.

      I do agree Rift making every normal instance a T1/T2 dungeon is a good step, but it’s a temp fix. When the lvl cap goes up to 60, that end-game still goes poof.

  4. Hank says:

    “… I massively ragequit Darkfall …”

    Quietly quit. Get it right.

    • Rammstein says:

      Luke 6:42

    • SynCaine says:

      I don’t know, I was pretty mad when I did it. Made my guild quit with me, deleted all my items, made a really long forum post, the works.

      • Rue says:

        I was looking forward to returning from my travels and getting hold of DF… What I’ve read about it makes me think it could be a lot of fun for me. This post makes me worry though – why did you quit? I thought since you were endorsing the product you would have had positive things to say about it? Cheers. 1st post btw, from a very jaded, and cancelled MMO gamer.

        • SynCaine says:

          The main driver is that my group of friends are all playing Rift, and we are having fun with that. The other factor is I’m waiting for the next expansion to really get back into DF. Right now I just keep up with politics and slowly work on my character.

        • Rue says:

          Ah. I think I will hit Rift when I get back to the UK in late may. From extensive-ish reading seems there is some sort of relaunch happening with Darkfall, I guesss that must be the expac you are mentioning. I’m very excited to try the DF though, and it’s cheap enough to leave an account running I suppose.

  5. D says:

    “The whole game should contain few bugs”

    You’d think so wouldn’t you. FIX THE TOWER BUG AVENTURINE. Tired of the constant screaming it makes raiding any place horrible.

  6. Dril says:

    This is more case of bad design vs. good design, rather than themepark vs. sandbox. This is one of the things sandbox games get right, hidden amongst all the things current ones get wrong.

    • Rammstein says:

      Your contraposition of “bad design vs. good design” and “themepark vs. sandbox” is a false dilemma. There is nothing preventing this from being both. More specifically, if this is the most significant thing sandboxes currently get right, and themeparks get wrong, then it is incredibly important that we identify that it is both, and not just decide that we found one descriptor so let’s go get coffee. Your second sentence tacitly references this, therefore destroying your first sentence a few short seconds after you typed it. I feel bad for it.

        • Linkin says:


          Your participation in MMO design discussions is incredibly useful.

        • Dril says:

          And yours is? :)

        • Rammstein says:

          I’m not going to rephrase the above, but I will make a more direct rebuttal, and see if that works for you:

          Your substitution of “good design vs. bad” for “themepark vs. sandbox” amounts to begging the question. The obsoletion of old content in a themepark is done intentionally. Just like a new ride in a themepark must be perceived as better in some way to justify it being added, each new gear tier must be perceived as being better “enough” or the mudflationists complain. To separate out themeparks from sandboxes requires a setting of criteria. To then simply decide that you will define the criteria used for sandboxes as “good design” is begging the question. Good vs. bad only has meaning in terms of relative to which design goals.

          Themeparks have content obsoletion, because that fits their design goals. Sandboxes must have longer or permanent content life, as a necessary consequence of being a sandbox. We can easily see then, that there isn’t really any way to make a themepark not obsolete content without making it much more like a sandbox then it was initially, which is why themeparks universally and increasingly suffer from obsoletion. People howled when guilds used Sunwell gear in preference to level 80 greens/blues in clearing Naxx80. So, in cata, guilds used level 85 greens to clear the first couple world-first bosskills. Tokens replacing farming earlier tiers is another example in WoW of how content obsoletion increases over time. The fact that this is not bad design, but merely Blizzard setting a design goal of satisfying the publics “new shiny ride” syndrome, is both illustrative of how perfect an analogy the themepark category really is, and of why the PVE sandbox has yet to be made.

        • Rammstein says:

          p.s. “we can easily see” in the second paragraph means it’s been discussed repeatedly here recently, and would be extremely lengthy to add in, not really that it’s otherwise all that obvious.

        • Dril says:

          The direct rebuttal makes a lot more sense, thanks ^^

          I understand and agree with your general idea in the first paragraph, but can’t get behind the notion that sandboxes inherently want to have a longer content life. I would’ve thought that, if anything, Themeparks would be desperately looking to increase their lifespan because their content is mostly developer-driven, and the only way to keep making money is to take in more money to develop more content which in turn leads to more people staying and more $$$ and yadda yadda yadda. The development/subscription cycle goes on.

          The real themepark analogy works for this as well. If they add a new ride, they still want people to visit the old ones, because a) that brings in more money and b) increases the time they’ll spend in the park, meaning that they’re more likely to spend yet more money on food/drinks and stuff. The same could be said of games: if an expac points out the new “ooh, shiny,” but still has the old content there and, more importantly, the old content is still relevant, then I can’t see how it’s anything but bad design to blow away what could potentially keep people subscribed. Assuming, that is, that you’re out to make money with an MMO, and since so many people have been telling me recently that “MMOs are a business ZOMGWTF DEY NEEDZ PROFITZ” anything that increases profits must be good.

        • Rammstein says:

          “The real themepark analogy works for this as well. If they add a new ride, they still want people to visit the old ones, ”

          They don’t have to argue that the top-carrying double-wide 300′ titanium roller coaster is better than the old rickety wooden coaster, it just obviously is better. In an MMO, is the new raid “obviously” better than the old one, or is it just artificially tuned to a higher level/itemlvl? You also don’t have the problem of recurring expansion resets to attract new/old subscribers in real world amusement parks. The analogy makes more sense if each expansion is viewed as its own amusement park, and then there’s one underwater! Then one in space! Then one staffed with furries! Perhaps not that last one. These location shifts are an effective analogy to the attempted gear/playerbase resets in each expansion. Some well-known companies are even moving rides from one park to the next to cut costs/feed nostalgia.

          “if an expac points out the new “ooh, shiny,” but still has the old content there and, more importantly, the old content is still relevant,”

          Firstly, that reduces the feeling of a gear reset/location change that the developer wants to attract new/old players with. Secondly, anecdotally the more relevant the old content, the less shiny the new stuff is perceived to be by the average player. In vanilla wow and EQ, the earlier bosses of later tiers had worse ilvl than later bosses of earlier tiers. That stopped for a reason, and that reason is feedback from the average player. The average player doesn’t want content that he’s “done with” to be beneficial for him to farm, as then he’ll feel forced to farm it. I agree with this to an extent, farming an old raid instance just because the last boss still drops BiS gear is aggravating in an otherwise tier-based themepark.

        • Dril says:

          “farming an old raid instance just because the last boss still drops BiS gear is aggravating in an otherwise tier-based themepark.”

          While I agree, I have to ask: is it really any better as it is now, where you’re farming the same thing over and over and over again in order to reach a an arbitrary number which allows you to buy said gear?

  7. Angry Gamer says:

    Sandbox > theme park WTF?

    Yeah ok let’s go with that… A sandbox game gets created you put your sandbox out there and people LUV IT! They happily go out and create neato content for your sandbox gets BIG and makes BIG money — everyone is happy right!

    Time passes… you need to update said sandbox because ya know technology does not stand still. You need new servers the servers have new Operating Systems, New middleware to run your messaging to new operating systems, new storage, new databases.

    Ok quick question what happens to all that “player content” that obviously was not designed to be compatible with the future? (cuz ya know players just wanted to create that neato quest and play it right away).

    So… Who updates the content? What happens when technology changes from clouds to “ion-storm supercomputers” and half the sandbox breaks? Are the users going to fix it?

    Heck no they won’t, at best they will slow your system updates to a CRAWL and try to keep you on 2 generations back technology “AOL you” [causing your support costs to skyrocket!]. At worse they pull up stakes and go to the NEXT sandbox to create non-upgradeable content THERE for the next poor sap who thinks he can make money in sandboxes or “Second Life you”.

    We SEE this ALL THE TIME folks

    Crowd-sourcing your content is a desperate play to retain user numbers. AOL tried it (hmmm let’s see where is AOL in tech leadership now???). Second Life tried it… (gee… I want to emulate that failtrain)

    Net Net do you really think that STO that has like 1/100 of the user base WOW does will really change things in a big way? It’s like expecting a little league baseball player to pitch for the Yankees. Not going to happen…

    • In what Bizzaro world scenario were you imagining a company would let casual end users have access to tools to create content which would be dependent on the hardware, middleware, or back end systems?

      And really, what you are describing, some tech upgrade that breaks the content, is just as likely to affect a theme park as a sandbox.

      Fortunately, sane companies that want to stay in business do not simply deploy new technology to their live customer facing systems with their fingers crossed hoping it will work.

      So, no, we do not “SEE this ALL THE TIME.” If we did, you’d have an example a little more fresh than AOL, which was a bad example in any case, since they failed for lack of a plan more complicated than that of the gnomes on South Park.

      And I speak as somebody who has moved live customer systems from OS/2 to Windows NT (so count it, we changed machines, OS, software version, middleware, back end systems, and retained the functionality of all the apps the customer wrote for our system, in one go) without breaking user experience (which includes a development environment about 100 times more complex than any MMO ever shows an end user) and who deals with transitioning to updated back end and middleware technology on a regular basis.

      Tech upgrades are a non-issue in the context of this post, unless the company is simply stupid, in which case they are likely to have problems already.

  8. [...] Syncaine just wrote, the so-called “sandbox” games do what I just described – add “more” to the mix – while [...]

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