Learn to play in the sandbox correctly noob!

There are many differences between sandbox and theme park MMOs, but I think one that often gets overlooked, at least by fans, is the one I want to get into today: the ability to play a sandbox MMO ‘wrong’.

Wrong not in the optimal or min/max sense, but wrong in that you are not using the tools available to you to get the most fun out of the game. Theme park games don’t have this problem because they basically force you to play ‘correctly’. You can’t accidently stay in one place too long; the game moves you on. It gives you breadcrumb quests, it grays out the current quests/mobs, and it stops giving you xp/items, all in the effort to get you into the next zone/area it wants you in. That’s not always the case with a sandbox game, and that is one of the hurdles such games face when trying to keep new players.

Say you just started EVE, and you get into combat missions to make money and get new ships while your skills train up. The usual path in EVE for a mission runner is to go from level 1 missions and move up when possible, getting better money/drops as you increase the challenge. But unlike a theme park game, level 1 missions never go ‘gray’ for you, they never stop being available. At no point does the game force you to stop running level 1 missions and makes you run level 2 or 3, so it is entirely possible that a new player will continue to run level 1 missions long past the time he/she should have moved on. It’s also entirely possible they continue to run level 1’s until they get bored and quit, thinking that is all the game has to offer. If they never get into a good Corp or chat channel to learn the rope and move into the more interesting aspects of EVE, their one and only impression of the game will be the constant and easy grind of missions featuring only frigate enemies. They quit and leave with the impression of EVE being a silly and pointless grind. Apply that example to mining solo and it only gets worse. Throw in a bad accidental trip into low-sec and its downhill fast.

The above scenario is not likely to happen in a game like WoW. As soon as enemies and quests get too easy, they go gray and the game moves you into a harder area, on and up until you hit the cap. Death is just one short trip to a graveyard should you stumble off the pre-set path.

Of course the flip side is that WoW also FORCES you to stay in those low level areas. You can’t create a level 1 priest and go raiding Black Temple, or queue up with your buddies in the Arena. Both scenarios ARE possible in EVE, as a day 1 pilot can indeed join his Corp in level 4-5 missions, or jump into a donated frigate fitted to tackle and go on a PvP run. Not only is it possible, but that new pilot will also actually contribute something of value, especially the tackler in PvP.

But back on point, the problem still exists that players COULD play EVE or another sandbox game ‘wrong’. Aside from placing new pilots in rookie chat (a good start, but usually the channel moves too fast to really help) and having a short tutorial, what can be done to help new players out? Is it possible to have the freedom that sandbox players love, while still helping new players out enough to get them to the ‘good stuff’ in the sandbox?

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in EVE Online, MMO design, PvP, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Learn to play in the sandbox correctly noob!

  1. swiftvoyager says:

    The “new player experience” is certainly one area where Eve could improve, and CCP have tried to improve it in the last two patches/expansions.

    However, as a game design exercise in general, the CCP way of doing things seems a little counter-productive. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with having a completelty seperate server for total newbs to learn and play in, which could be much more theme-park oriented, and allow them to migrate to the real server at any time (or kick them out by force after a certain point). Then you could keep the wolves away from the sheep a bit and perhaps not lose so many people in the first couple months of playing (based on the QEN, half of all Eve players are below 1 million skill points). CCP could easily have more than 300 K subs by now if people didn’t get overwhelmed and quit before they really get into the game.

    There was a post on the Battleclinic forum recently where a new Eve player was asking about exactly what you’re discussing here. It sounded like he already did the level 1 missions and the noob ship mining thing past the time he should have moved on, but he really didn’t know where to go or what to do next. At least that guy knew enough to ask on a forum like Battleclinic. I wonder how many people don’t bother to ask anyone, or even know that there’s a place to ask or a question they should be asking?

    When I started Eve, I was in a 4-man corp with RL friends/relatives and we deceived ourselves by relying on eachother for advice even though we were all new and generally clueless. I wasted a lot of my first 3 months, and probably would have quit Eve if I didn’t have RL friends to hang with in-game.

  2. Bonedead says:

    I don’t know man. The only thing I could see that’s yet to be added is an adviser system. Those who are skilled can toggle themselves as an adviser, those who are newer or need help can type /advice and see a list of advisers.

    Basically though, it all comes down to the community. If they want more players they’re going to have to help them out. Same thing has been happening in Savage 2, the good people just rape the newbs and the newbs quit, nobody likes that. I think it’s a big reason Fury didn’t do so well.

    I played a trial of EvE a while ago and I remember on one guy I left the main station and was floating around in wreckage from tons of ships, it was friggin ridiculous considering most people would assume that you start out in a newbie area. The chat was being spammed with the typical gayboy hurr hurr shit you find in most games today.

    So what it boils down to is, if Eve wants more players (due to less people quitting after never really advancing)then they need to put in something that educates their new players moreso than existing “somethings”.

    If Eve players want more players (due to the same reasons) then they need to be more helpful, open, and suggestive. If you tell some newb to just go hop in a XBR whatever the fuck ship and go mine some LFY whatever the fuck ore, that newbs still not going to know wtf is going on. Basically, players will need to be similar to NPCs who give quests in most MMOs.

  3. swiftvoyager says:

    Exactly, but there’s also the problem of people scamming the newbs in stead of helping them.

    I’ve tried to help several people who flatly rejected my help because they thought I might be trying to trick them.

  4. Talyn says:

    Bonedead actually hit upon a great idea: volunteer Advisors from the player base itself. I did years of volunteer helpdesk and tech support on IRC, as both a user-helper, then an official staff member. MMO’s are 3D games linked to IRC servers, why not add extra “modes” for players to flag themselves as Helpers or Advisors? Perhaps the best could even be promoted to GM or create a new level just below GM that is still “officially recognized.” Takes care of the problem while not having to actually give someone a salary.

    As to the actual topic, while it’s EVE-centric, which I have no experience with, isn’t the point of a sandbox is that you can play any damn way you want to, therefore there is no “right” or “wrong?”

  5. syncaine says:

    Well that’s why ‘wrong’ was in quotes. It’s not wrong to mine simple ore all day long in high sec, but it’s not exactly fun for very long either. The problem with a lot of sandbox games is they have no easy method of introducing the more fun aspects of a sandbox to new players. The easy and simple stuff is easy to find, which is why most new players do them. However those easy activities are also generally very boring, which is why so many new players quit. Something should be done to transition them into the more complicated aspects without forcing them, and without limiting the existing players.

  6. nuyan says:

    Right on. Although, the missions probably aren’t the best example of the sandbox Eve. I see it as one of those offers CCP made to keep the ‘less creative people’ playing the game and it’s one of the more rollercoaster-like aspects of Eve.

    But yeah, there are a lot of people simply not “getting it”. They start playing, do some missions and then simply get bored and consider it a boring game while they choose to do the boring parts themself. Sometimes they actually continue playing missions for a few months and get in a battleship to do lvl4’s before quitting.

    At the same time I can understand these people though. It’s hard to find the fun parts in the sandbox of Eve, for me as well. You need to know where to find and it requires some motivation and concentration. It’s also often a matter of some dedication and finding the right people to play the game with.

  7. Talyn says:

    SWG was my first MMO and while I miss the freedoms I had in that sandbox (Pre-CU/NGE obviously) on the other hand I also remember all the times I just didn’t know what to do. Sometimes it’s nice to have the NPC with bright yellow exclamation points screaming “Click me! I have an errand for you to run!”

    I suspect the “next big thing” *for me* will be a hybrid MMO: one that has both sandbox elements and theme park elements, letting me choose which path to take that day. (By doing so, does that turn the theme park into a sandbox? Hmmmm)

  8. Shalkis says:

    As a new EvE player, the 10-part newbie mission was pretty nice. It introduced the basic facets of the game (missions, combat, mining, trade, crafting, hauling) while still keeping it open-ended. I knew what I had to do, but the means to do it were up to me. For example, there was one part where I had to acquire an afterburner. Before long, I was busy comparing prices, evaluating the safety of routes, checking out materials required for crafting..

  9. sandboxgod says:

    What EVE Online could do is simply force played into Level 2->Level 3 missions. The problem is not PVP, no one gets oked in 1.0 that much. Thats rare. I’ve taken a few newbies through 1.0 just fine. PVP is not the problem. even if the newbie dies that get a brand new noob stick to fly anyway. Dont forget that

    So what I suggest is perhaps pushing them more strongly into Level 2s

  10. Alan says:

    Hi, I’m the annoying eve player.


    Why should we force people to move from level 1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4 missions? I’ve never done a level 4 combat mission (did some couriers when I was REALLY strapped for cash). Why do we need signs pointing them to harder things? I never got any.

    Yes, it’s a game. It’s meant to be fun. Guess what? Won’t be fun if we turn it into a theme park. If someone wants to play eve without all the work I put into it, I’m going to tell them to go play wow. I don’t want you here! You won’t fight me in anything but a blob or gankfest, you won’t be fun to play with. You ruin my game and I would in fact rather you not play.

  11. I have to agree with Alan. I think that EvE has some inherent Darwinism and that is one of the things that keeps the older players playing. I think that CCP needs to do a better job of collecting and providing answers that should help move players along but you cant force people to read them. I really only want players in eve who want to play the game and are willing to put in a bit of work because otherwise when they get further down the road they may have a rude awakening. The fact that people are sitting in high/lowsec missioning and not talking to anyone leads me to think that they shouldn’t be playing MMOs. If you aren’t willing to participate in the social aspect of EvE you aren’t going to get much out of it anyway.

    Cheers guys. Good article and great discussion. See you in space!

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