Sandbox Envy

Having now seen the issue from both sides, I’d like to talk about something I’ll call ‘Sandbox Envy’. Sandbox Envy is basically what happens when you read about the really cool stuff happening in a sandbox game and compare it to what you do in your game (most applicable if that MMO is a themepark, and this increases the more ‘themepark’ your themepark is).

Think about the difference between watching the famous “MORE DOTS” Onyxia video from WoW versus reading about a massive heist in EVE. The Onyxia video works because anyone who has ever done that encounter can relate to what is happening; only (hopefully) their raid leader was not as extreme in calling for DoTs. The story of an EVE heist is interesting because it’s so unique, it has aspects of real life applied to a virtual world, and it just seems to reflect everything great about the Massive and Multiplayer parts of the MMO genre.

Sandbox Envy occurs because such stories are the SportsCenter of the MMO world. They are the highlight of in-game activity, and they don’t include the countless hours of preparation, downtime, or ‘nothing happened’ space that also exists. Baseball on SportsCenter is always action packed and full of great plays, and if all you know of baseball is what you see from SportsCenter you might think it’s that way all the time. If you actually watch baseball, you know it’s 95% ‘nothing’ with a few critical moments of action (and this is coming from someone who loves to watch baseball).

If all you know of EVE or other sandbox-style games is what you have read from blogs, you might go into the game expecting 1200v1200 fleet battles, bank scams, or masterful market manipulation to happen daily. Instead you log in and find that mining is really boring, those epic moments happen once in a blue moon (to you), and that built-up hype you created for yourself is quickly crushed. If you are on a 10 day free trial, it’s very easy to walk away after a day or so and write the game off. Worst still is then claiming you have ‘played’ the game and it’s nothing but really boring stuff, without quantifying that when you say ‘played’, you mean for a few hours on a free trial. But context is about as common on blogs and message boards as those 1200v1200 fleet battles you dreamed of joining.

Sandbox Envy also occurs because too many gamers lie to themselves about the type of player they are. Not many accept that they just enjoy half-assing it and getting rewarded, and not many want to ‘work’ to experience something great. Most players ARE the grunt in an army; they just don’t want their game telling them that. Not many dream of mining the billions and billions of ISK needed to make a Titan, while everyone would love to be the pilot letting off a Doomsday shot at a critical moment in some history fleet battle, their name forever link to that event.

Themeparks fit in nicely here because the NPCs don’t mind repeating for the millionth time that you are indeed the one true hero who saved them. They work well because basically everyone can acquire ‘epic’ rewards for doing ‘heroic’ actions and being the world’s hero (at least in your phased version of the world). What they don’t offer is those truly unique MMO moments because the rails don’t allow for that to happen, but even if they did most would not be willing to put in the ‘work’ to get there. If anything, because the opportunity does NOT exist, the average player does not feel he is ‘missing out’ on something, or that the best stuff is not ‘accessible’ to them.

Not that this makes a sandbox superior, at least not to all gamers. While a themepark will never offer that ultimate high, it does (or should) offer a steady stream of good entertainment. Even better, the best experience is frontloaded, so as a new player you experience the fun of leveling, new gear, new areas, and new quests faster at the beginning then you will towards the end. In contrast, the first few days of a sandbox are usually spent aimlessly trying to find your way, with little to stop you from having an outright boring experience if you don’t know what you are doing. Hell even a veteran in a sandbox will find himself doing ‘boring’ stuff like traveling for 25 minutes just to reach a location, or other ‘boring’ stuff like skill grinding or farming for cash.

EVE has enjoyed its massive success in part because of its rich history of player-driven events, and those events have perhaps been its greatest advertising tool. Yet they also create somewhat of an illusion, because while the ‘action’ in those stories is great, day-to-day action in EVE is far more mundane. The true decision any gamer has to make is whether they prefer the steady and somewhat guaranteed delivery method of a themepark, or the overall slower pace with far greater spikes that is a good sandbox.

For me personally, I don’t view MMO gaming as just something to kill time, but rather as my primary hobby. With so much dedicated to it, I don’t have trouble seeing the ‘value’ in those down moments that ultimately lead to the great highs, and the steady stream of themepark content is now a little too familiar for me. In a way, once you get use to the highs of a sandbox, it’s difficult to get excited about the peak of a themepark. At the same time, I completely understand the appeal of a themepark to someone just casually spending some time with a game. For them, they don’t want to ‘work’ to get some entertainment, because to them it’s not worth that much. Sure experiencing the sandbox high would be great, but not at the expensive of all the downtime associated with it.

Perhaps that is indeed the natural evolution of the MMO player. We all start at the casual level just poking around. Some of us enjoy it enough to want more, and we shift from the game becoming recreation to a hobby. If the above is true, and a company like Blizzard knows it, maybe that Blizzard version of EVE is not as far fetched? What better way to ‘advance’ the millions of casuals playing WoW today then to get them into a Blizzard-branded ‘next level’ game?

About SynCaine

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

74 Responses to Sandbox Envy

  1. sid67 says:

    “Not many accept that they just enjoy half-assing it and getting rewarded, and not many want to ‘work’ to experience something great. Most players ARE the grunt in an army; they just don’t want their game telling them that.”

    Good post. And I think you came to the heart of it with the quoted text.

    Although, I would revise that to say that NO ONE wants to “work” for it but some are WILLING to “work” for it to experience something great while others are not.

    Everyone wants to be part of something epic, it’s just a question of how much they are willing to put up with to get to the epic part. For some people, that threshold is REALLY low.

    I think players who have been in the genre a long time are more willing to accept a certain amount of ‘work’ because compared to many early MMOs, the ‘grind’ is expected.

    Newer MMOs reward players much more quickly and frequently. The TOK in WAR is a great example of this practice in a non-linear or themepark way. Clicked yourself 100 times? 100xp and a title!

  2. spinks says:

    See, I’d say the real sandbox envy is when you yourself are playing a sandbox game and you read about what other people are doing in that game and it’s just cooler than anything you have ever done.

    I used to get this a lot with MUSHes, because most people were on US timezones and liked to organise their events for 3am (in my time) so I never could make them. I’ve never been that envious of anyone in WoW because I could do all the things they did.

    • Remastered says:

      “See, I’d say the real sandbox envy is when you yourself are playing a sandbox game and you read about what other people are doing in that game and it’s just cooler than anything you have ever done.”

      This is really at the heart of why I’m torn as to whether or not I should pick up DF. As Syn can attest, I’ve been on the hardest of hardcore ends of play time in an MMO (see our pre-BC & WoTLK raiding guild) at a time in my life where I had incredibly too much time available to pour into an MMO. While I’ve also more recently experienced the ability to hop in and out of WAR RvR rather seamlessly (until I cancelled my sub 3-4 months back) on my now more time limited gaming schedule.

      DF sounds exactly like what I’ve wanted in an MMO, but now that I don’t have a majority of every weekend or 4-5 hours of game time each weeknight to devote to an MMO, what happens if I’m only logged in when none of the epic events are taking place? I’m fine with doing boring stuff in preparation of an epic experience (I mean, come on, nothing can be more boring that fishing in Azshara for flask and potion mats for raids week after week for hours on end), but will my play time and style that I have now ever sync up with the times the “cool stuff” is happening? If my play time and the big events don’t sync up over a period of a few months, I think the version of sandbox envy Spinks is defining might be worse than the sandbox envy Syn is defining.

      • SynCaine says:

        You were the backup tank buddy, you never got ‘that’ hardcore about it.

        But more to your point, I think a lot of people never take time into consideration until after they quit. They go into a game expecting those epic things to happen when they are on, and when they don’t, they get pissed. It’s understandable on one level, but it also comes with the territory. I hate missing a siege in DF, but since I’m not on every night, it happens, and I don’t ragequit over it. If I was playing so little that I missed ‘most’ of the stuff (whatever that threshold is for someone), it would be tough to justify playing.

        To DarkFall specifically (because you and Allerion need to man up and buy it (click the link!)), now with villages and sea fortresses on visible timers, and sieges having a 22 hour pre-siege window, it’s at least a little easier to predict when some of the stuff is going to happen. And so far at least, most night SOMETHING is happening, even if it’s just a 5-6 man PvP group roaming around looking for a fight or capping villages.

        • Remastered says:

          See, I took the high road in my comment and left any mention about who our MT really was out of the post so as to not hurt your blog cred. Your need to take an unprovoked shot, IMO, continues to expose your insecurity regarding the true tank hierarchy :).

          All kidding aside, I agree with you that most people don’t take time into consideration until after they quit. In my case, I’m taking it into account pre-purchase and trying to determine whether the amount of time I do have to play is likely to result in me getting to experience enough of the “good stuff” to make it worthwhile? I can live with not being on for every big event and it sounds like with some of the additions you mention the likelihood of catching times when good stuff is going to go down is improved.

        • Coppertopper says:

          This is why games are so quest hvy today and WAR’s scenarios were popular. You get an instant feeling of accomplishment shortly after you log in. Remastered nailed it – and it’s the reason why so many hesitate to log into great games like Dragon Age and Aion, or give DF a try: the amount of time required to get a noticeable return on your time investment.

        • Remastered says:

          I’m not sure accomplishments shortly after log in and return on investment are exactly what I’m getting at. As for instant accomplishments, I never really cared or strived to complete my ToK in WAR and greatly preferred good open RvR action (which many times had to be sought out) over grinding scenarios (although with a right guild group, rolling scenarios was admittedly quite fun). As for return on time invested, I see other ways in DF for me to feel a return on my time (generally contributing in different ways to the guild, working towards a keep for myself and others I play with, etc.) other than simply being on when the epic battles go down. I mean, if I built up resources that dramatically helped my clan take a city, etc., but wasn’t on for the actual take, I would certainly consider that a good return on the time I invested. It doesn’t mean though that I wouldn’t have sandbox envy over the fact that I wasn’t around for the take. When everyone is really working together in a massive, multiplayer fashion, that’s when the game is the most fun for me. Knowing ahead of time you face increased odds of missing out on these instances because of a more limited play schedule than you suspect is required to participate in most of them makes me stop and think whether having sandbox envy over reading a blog post of what other people are doing or having Spinks’ version of sandbox envy is worse?

      • spinks says:

        My experience in sandbox games (and I did love them) is that however long you are online, you will always feel that the most interesting and important stuff happens when you aren’t.

        Learning to like these games involves learning to live with that, and enjoy what you can. But … when you spent a couple of hours waiting around and then had to go to bed and find out later than 10 mins afterwards, some really exciting PvP happened … that’s sandbox envy.

        • Malakili says:

          I think one of the keys is that even if you miss something big your clan/corp did, is knowing that you contributed to it anyway. If I miss an op in EVE, but I helped build things that were used, I helped, even if I couldn’t make the actual event. Like wise, in Darkfall, if I’ve spent a bunch of time harvesting wood to donate to the clan’s big ship building project, but then I miss an event when the boat is actually done, I contributed to it.

          To me, being a contributor to that sort of thing is almost as satisfying as actually being at the event, because I know I played a part.

          I can imagine this isn’t a universally held feeling though, I can certainly imagine someone feeling like “I helped so much and I didn’t even get anything out of it.” To me the helping IS getting something out of it in itself.

  3. Kyff says:

    I think the whole purpose of this blog entry is to coin a new MMO phrase. After the success of WoW-tourist (TM) Sync now aims for sandbox envy (TM).
    As Spinks said the envy comes with yourself doing boring stuff compared to any writeup. No matter if the writer is playing a themepark or a sandbox.

    • SynCaine says:

      Correct on the first point. My evil overlord plan for the blogosphere is to make it impossible to talk about an MMO without using a SynCaine-branded term. I’m off to a good start IMO.

      As for the second, while I don’t directly disagree, what can be considered ‘not boring’ when compared to that heist story in EVE or events like it? How fun does “I dinged 58 when I turned in my kill ten rats quest and replaced one blue item with another” sound when compared to that? How ‘shallow’ does “I hit the level cap!” sound when compared to that?

      Even if you are perfectly happy in your MMO of choice, hearing about something like the heist happening in EVE has got to, on some level, make gamers a little envious.

      • Defty says:

        “Even if you are perfectly happy in your MMO of choice, hearing about something like the heist happening in EVE has got to, on some level, make gamers a little envious.”

        NO.

        • Ragnarok says:

          He’s right, SynCaine. There will always be a community of immature gamers (usually the younger crowd) who simply cannot appreciate these things. All they care about is their “Epix”.

      • shadowwar says:

        I’ll definitely say, that after hearing about the big heist in EvE ealier this year, I went and made a trial account. I tried to play for a few hours, but was so lost and confused, that I didn’t put the effort into learning it. I knew my primary game was WAR, and that EvE would require gobs of time that I wasn’t willing to invest.

  4. Strangeape says:

    Rarely have i felt the need to write a comment, but this is definetly one of those moments. That post is spot on on most of everything, although there are a few things i’d like to mention. First, my history.

    I’ve played the original EQ, before any expansion, and pretty much every other mmo between it and the release of WoW. Then came what is apparently now known as Vanilla WoW. That WoW had those peaks, because back then, you’d have to work a couple weeks sometimes on a boss to down him, and back then, i was in the top horde guild on our server and we were very competitive on the 1st kill thing. That wow had those peaks, wherehas now, everything has been toned down so much to appeal to the mass that the themepark reference couldn’t be more accurate imho.

    I’ve been seriously playing Eve now for the past 18 months, and your idea of a mmo gamer’s progression to a sandbox game is also spot on as far as i’m concerned. While i haven’t been involved in any of the exciting story heard over the last 2 years, all of them have had an impact on the rest of the game, therefore you either profited from it, or lived with the consequences.

    The only thing left is to hope that more companies will want to take the gamble of making a game like CCP did with Eve.

    • Malakili says:

      “you either profited from it, or lived with the consequences.”

      This is my favorite part about the “sandbox” events that you have nothing to do with can effect you. I think this is the same reason, incidentally, that people don’t like sandboxes. They just want what they want, when they want it, and don’t want anyone else to screw with that. I mean, thats alright, but when I’m in the mood for that I play single player games. I guess my biggest thing is, why people who clearly like the idea of single player are SO interested in the MMO genre? Is it just the social aspect? Is WoW popular just because its a glorified facebook game at this point?

  5. Knqui says:

    I agree with your post up until the point where you say people mature from WoW, if anything I’d say it’s the opposite.

    Even though it’s a logical step in your mind, that a player would begin by enjoying the very guided, hand-holding experience of WoW, and eventually grow out of it and want something more meaningful, my experience is that’s the minority, not the majority.

    Most WoW players I know who try to branch onto “harder” MMO’s, almost undoubtedly end up back in WoW, the exception being when someone has been playing for 5 years, gets bored and wants something new, but those people usually end up going to games that have all the creature comforts of WoW, like Aion etc

    The only WoW players I know who eventually want something more, are people who didn’t start with WoW, who perhaps grew up on EverQuest, Lineage or the like, and want those feelings back.

    Darkfall is a good example, as is a game I’ve been closely following/playing, Mortal Online, I’d go as far to say as the vast majority of the players in DFO and MO are -not- ex-WoW players, and if they were, it’s only in the scenario I explain above.

    EVE is exactly the same, I personally don’t know a single person who has made the transition from WoW being their first game to EVE successfully, and whilst I’m sure they exist, it’s not a trend by any means.

    There’s a huge difference between maturing into something, and trying to capture the past.

    • SynCaine says:

      You’re actually agreeing with me I think.

      I’d say almost every single DF player has played WoW, just like almost every single Aion player has played WoW. Actually it’s very rare to meet anyone in an MMO that has NOT player WoW. That MOST don’t go from WoW to DF is not a surprise, just like most people don’t turn a recreational activity into a hobby. Some will, but most don’t.

      And like you said, the ones that do tend to be the longtime WoW burnouts, who are not done with the MMO genre, but want something different from WoW (be it almost the same with Aion/WAR/etc, or very different with EVE/DF/etc). I think those are the ones who have the highest chance of going from recreation to hobby.

      Whether you believe WoW is a gateway for other MMOs, and how big that % is, is going to determine whether you believe Blizzard might create a ‘hobby’ style MMO next. It’s hard to look at EVE’s trending and imagine the money one could make with Blizzards ability to capture a large crowd. Imagine if instead of leveling off or shrinking, WoW today had EVE’s growth rate? Activision (or more importantly, their shareholders) would KILL for that kind of potential.

      • spinks says:

        I actually find it the other way around. Sandbox games are great for players with more time (and energy, because you do need to put more effort into making your own fun), but the themeparks really shine for players who need to be able to guarantee that something interesting will happen in the hour they’re online.

    • sid67 says:

      I think your “maturity” as an MMO gamer has less to do with it than whether or not you started playing MMOs when the “grind” was a much more severe in the genre.

      After all, if you are used to or expect grind in your MMO, you are more likely to accept it as part of a game.

      WoW, and other modern MMOs, dish out achievements like candy by comparison. Quick level-ups, little TOK achievement messages, and so forth.

      Compare that experience of tiny rewards feeding you like a Pavlovian dog to an experience long waits with little to no direction.

      Any player used to those tiny rewards is going to find that other experience pretty boring.

      • SynCaine says:

        I’m not sure about that, because if the grind angle was true, more oldschool players would not mind Aion, and at least from the crowd I follow it was universally panned as being a horrid grind. They did not leave because of the broken endgame, the bots/bugs, or anything else. They left because of the grind.

        Certain aspects of a sandbox are a grind on a level Aion only dreams about (building a Titan, Man-o-War), yet instead of being a negative they are viewed as worthwhile goals.

        • sid67 says:

          Keep in mind that the context is a player going from a reward rich environment (i.e. lots of Pavlovian cookies) to an environment where the reward is intense but not frequent.

          A lot of oldschool players have been playing under the Pavlovian model perfected by WoW for so long that they just aren’t willing to go back to that severe grind.

  6. Ludo says:

    This is the best mmo blog post this year; the only question that remains is this: do themepark mmo’s create sandbox players looking for a different/deeper experience, slowly converting themepark players into full-fledged mmo hobbyists, growing the market over time, or will sandbox mmo’s remain niche by virtue of their “slow build” gameplay and learning curve?

    • SynCaine says:

      They will remain ‘niche’ based simply on the fact that most people won’t turn into hobbyists. On the other hand, considering the ‘niche’ playing EVE is up to 300k+ and growing, the actual size of the niche is debatable. Not debatable is that outside of WoW, I’d be hard to name a more profitable MMO than EVE.

      • Knqui says:

        It’s sort of splitting hairs, but it depends which market you’re talking about, and which subscription models are fair game.

        There are vastly more popular and profitible MMO’s than EVE if you take other regions, or the world, into account.

        Hell, there’s at least one game that’s even more popular than WoW if you take those points into consideration.

        • SynCaine says:

          More popular (if we are counting that by stuff like number of accounts created, or number of views) yes, but more profitable? What game is vastly more profitable over a five year run, with a future projection that looks as bright as EVE’s?

          I know plenty of games have millions of ‘user’ based on free accounts, or games that have absurd peak concurrency thanks to some fuzzy math and the fact that those users are paying nothing, but I thought we were past the dot.com method of ‘eyes’ in terms of success?

        • Knqui says:

          I wrote a big reply, and when I hit Submit it apparently disappeared into the ether instead of showing up here, so I’ll keep it short.

          Off the top of my head:

          Lineage
          Lineage 2
          Aion (perhaps more popular in the US/EU too?)
          Final Fantasy XI
          Ragnarok Online

          If I put my mind to it I could easily add another 5 or more to that list.

          All those games have higher revenue than EVE, but it’s a side of the story that is never really told properly.

          The subscription model is different for those games, but is -not- free, in Asia you essentially pay for time, sort of like a time card, but in hour-amounts rather than the 30, 60 or 90 day ones we have here. There’s a long explanation (which I wrote and got sucked into hell apparently), but try to take my word for it now.

          Also, Lineage & Lineage 2 (In Asia they’re considered one game) had over 16 million subscribers, WoW was beaten before it even really got out of the gate with it’s 12.

      • Not debatable is that outside of WoW, I’d be hard to name a more profitable MMO than EVE.

        Only if you limit yourself to Western MMOs. There are quite a few Asian MMOs doing better than EVE.

        • …which is what Knqui said. That’s what I get for replying without reading replies.

          So, basically, this is a “Knqui is right” series of posts from me. :)

        • Knqui says:

          Hey you can agree with me any time you want! :P

          I just wanted to add, that in the haste of me creating that reply, I missed a few important points:

          1. I specifically listed only games that are also available in the West, if we wanted to get into games that aren’t, you’d be looking at a really long list!

          2. It’s worth mentioning that even Western games that are successful in the East, follow the same subscription model that all games do over there, so disregarding it because each player (potentially) pays <$15/mo, considering games like WoW do (and EVE will), follow along with that, remember that more than half of WoW's subscribers are in China etc.

          3. The only reason WoW looks so successful to our Western eyes is because it's abnormal over here, whereas it's been in the norm in Asia for well over a decade.

          I can expand upon everything and explain it if you want, but you get the jist.

        • SynCaine says:

          Not that I totally disagree (I know Lineage is huge in Asia), but do you have any profit (not revenue) numbers? I think we too often look at user numbers and assuming games must be making a truckload of cash because they have so many users.

        • Knqui says:

          Well no, you could look at NCsoft’s financial reports, but it’d be nigh-impossible to work out exactly how much specific games make, in the same way nobody knows exactly how much Blizzard makes from WoW or Aventurine makes from Darkfall. They don’t release those numbers.

          But I mean, it’s fairly common sense that if you have a game that millions of people are paying regularly for, even if some of those pay less than $15/mo, others will pay far more, it’s sort of similar to trying to work out how well F2P games do in a way.

          The idea that X million people cannot match or exceed 300,000 people, purely because the former may pay less per month, is a bit rediculous.

          The important part is, that those X million people are -not- playing for free, so that means every single one of those people are paying per month. Blocks of time are not insignificant price-wise, again we don’t know averages, but even if those people were only paying $2/mo each, it still beats out EVE, and that’s the most pessimistic number you could feasibly put forward.

          I don’t think it’s speculation, I think it’s fact that those games are making more than EVE. If we were talking about F2P games like Free Realms or Runes of Magic, then I’d be with you, but on this, it’s just reality.

        • Again, Knqui is right. There are few numbers released, but developers interested in this topic will do their own calculations based on experience, estimations, and “informal” information passed along at conferences. (This last bit is how Bruce put together a lot of the data on the now neglected MMOGChart.com.)

          However, MMO games don’t need to be the largest to be highly profitable. Asheron’s Call had a bit over 1/3 the players EVE has, and that was strong enough to propel Turbine into obtaining two big licenses and launching games for each. A game with “only” 100k subscribers can be a big success if the developers didn’t spend their way into oblivion. The problem is most wannabes shoot for WoW’s millions and spend like they’re going to get it and inevitably fall short….

        • Draglem says:

          http://xkcd.com/503/

          This is all I could think about reading Knqui’s posts besides “What did hell ever do to you?”

          (“Forgrivineness plreez” for double post)

    • Strangeape says:

      To the best of my knowledeg, Eve is the only “mainstream” sandbox MMO on the market for the moment, and the learning curve is what keeps most people at bay in my opinion. To quote a friend of mine :”Eve is a hardcore MMO for Hardcore players.” By that, he meant that compared to a lot of other games, the learning curve is akin to climbing mount everest barehand.

      There is bound to be another MMO in the next few years that will combien both the sandbox element of Eve and still manage to be available to the public at large. The biggest advantage of Eve compared to most other mmo’s i’ve played is that it’s story isn’t enforced on the players. Add to that the fact that the typical trifecta or however it is called (healer, tank, dps) isn’t as present as others fantasy mmo sets it appart from the rest. If you had a WoW clone (to use the term loosely) that didn’t have that trifecta and such a lucious yet very restrictive story, you would wind up with something similar to eve, where the players would create their own way of playing, you’d have a fantasy game that is player driven rather than content driven.

      • mbp says:

        The funny thing is Strangeape that even though everything you have heard about th e ruthless pvp of EVE is true if you actually play the game you will find an awful lot of very softcore players love it too. EVE’s big secret is that it is full of carebears!!!

        • Strangeape says:

          Believe you me, i know hehe, i used to be one of those carebear for the first 16 months of play :). I’ve been in nullsec now for about 2 months, and i haven’t had time to regret it.

          But you do bring up something else. One of the reason for eve’s success is that there is no set of playstyle. There are so many different options available that you’re bound to have more players enjoying your game than the average MMO…..providing they stay long enough to actually learn the ropes haha.

  7. Der_Nachbar says:

    I entered the MMO-Sphere via WoW. Before, i played games like Diablo2, Wc3 and CS and playing together with hundreds of other people simultaniously was alot more interesting.
    I played it for 3 years until the tread-mill(with its annual resets) turned me off enough, to leave the game and my guild partially.
    Then i started to look around, because my mmo urge wasn’t fading, basically the opposite happened, i was greatly lossing interest in singleplayer games.
    I tried and errored AoC and War, thinking i just want open pvp in an MMO.
    Then a Singleplayer game totally captured me, Mount&Blade. By then i did some research on the whole “sandbox” thing and since then felt strong for this concept ^^

    The reason why i tell you my gaming cv is: it was a natural evolution to me, just as you described above.
    I also felt sandbox envy(TM) through reading about UO, SWG and others of that kin.
    But i think the bigger share of people is not interested in building your niche in a sandbox, even after being spoonfed for years and years.
    But as the market has grown enough to substain games with smaller audiences, we will hopefully see the sandbox trend evolve and prosper.

    Darkfall to me has sandbox elements, but with its focus on Guild vs. Guild and pvp in general the community is not so much of a sandbox type ;)

    My hopes for Mortal Online are there, but the game needs alot more time to be actually constructed. If they release in the next 2 months, lots of people who are used to their established and polished MMOs will leave …

    Sorry for going off-rails (c wut i did there ?)

    • SynCaine says:

      I’m going to be really, really shocked if, when it’s released, MO is not basically what DF is today. Not exactly the same feature set and all that, but both are PvP sandbox games with a heavy UO influence. What makes you think MO is going to be substantially different?

      • Der_Nachbar says:

        I think that the Darkfall Community has filtered most of the people whose sole goal is pvp.
        Darkfall seems to deliver in that case.
        But alone the start with global banking (even with the local storage of player houses by now) is a big turnoff for me.
        Also the crafting in Mortal looks more interesting and diverse.
        To me open pvp doesnt mean i attack everyone on sight, but if the rest of the community has that attitude i would have to adjust. Open PvP is a tool to me to force consequence on other players actions, not the tool to increase my fragcount.
        You can call me a carebear and roleplayer, but to me every aspect of an MMO is important, because well .. in a good MMO Design the different designated gameplay possibilies should be heavily interwoven.

        And i just generally trust skandinavian people over greek xD

        • Adam says:

          Darkfall is written by Scandinavians mostly.

          This community (open world pvp and sandbox) is small.

          I think the current Mortal Online community thinking they won’t see Darkfall players trying MO and griefing the fuck out of them are in denial.

  8. Stabs says:

    Good post.

    I basically agree except for the last part about player evolution.

    Let’s look at an analogy – holidays.

    You can go on holiday to a crowded beach with hundreds of other tourist and a nice air conditioned hotel.

    Or you can go snowboarding down Kilimanjaro while staying in a tent.

    Is the natural progression of a tourist to move towards the second, much cooler, experience?

    Nope.

    • SynCaine says:

      If you are a travel hobbyist, yup.

      If you just do it recreationally (not a word), you hit up Disneyland for a week every year. If you love to travel, you visit as many different locations as you can, because “Yet another beach vacation” does not interest you.

      Disneyland is popular because most people are not hobbyists.

      • Stabs says:

        I think you’re going to see the same in MMOs

        Most people don’t want to come home after a day’s work, log on and wait at a gate till 3am for an enemy fleet that doesn’t show up.

        The hardcore game experiences demand hardcore playstyles.

  9. Malakili says:

    In my opinion the most important thing here is near the bottom when you mention that MMO gaming is your primary hobby. This is the way I view it, and its the single most important distinction in the “Hardcore” v. “casual” debate, but I rarely see anyone address it.

    Example: A hobbyist builds model rockets, or has giant model train sets. They spent lots of time doing it, and they take it quite seriously.

    There other side might be someone who buys pre-made model rockets and just likes to shoot them off, or buts a train set pre-made to set up in their living room.

    Now, imagine the outrage of the hobbyist if their hobby became so popular that the model train set pieces that were sold to hobbyists like himself start coming entirely pre-made. And the new casual train enthusiasts said “I like model trains, but I don’t want to it to be like a second JOB to build up a huge set.”

    Thats what is happening in the MMO landscape, and thats why the hobbyists (often labeled “hardcore”) get defensive and upset.

  10. Bhagpuss says:

    Really good post, with which I almost entirely agree.

    I’d just like to add that I am proud to admit that I don;t want to “work” for anything while “playing” an MMO, and that I am totally cool with “half-assing it” and gettign rewarded.

    Also that not only am I completely happy to be one of the “grunt army” but that actually I am happy to be the guy that comes along after the battle’s over and goes round picking up bits of torn uniform and taking the good boots off the dead.

    Oh, and that I absolutely never want to be the “hero” of any story, anywhere. One of the very best things about FE is that all the NPCs treat you as if you are a figure of contempt, and even if you spend a long time trying to earn their approval about the best you get is grudging acceptance.

    Oh and one more thing… you can make most MMOs your own sandbox. Just because they put rides in the park doesn’t oblige you to go on them. You can just take a book and read.

  11. sid67 says:

    I’ve used this analogy before, but games like DF and EvE are like deep sea salmon fishing. You might spend 8 hours trolling in a 14ft boat and only catch one fish. But that 10-15 minutes with a fish on the line is WORTH the 8 hours.

    Sometimes you don’t catch anything at all. So certainly when some other fisherman comes back with 3 or 4 fishes, you are pretty envious.

    The WoW equivalent would be a stocked pond that practically guarantees a small fish every half hour. Not nearly as exciting, but you get the treat more often.

    Now what I’m looking for is the MMO equivalent of “fly fishing”. With fly fishing the “catch” isn’t quite as epic as with the Salmon, but the actual act of fishing is much more entertaining than sitting in a boat trolling.

    This is what has bothered me about MMO design for quite some time. The “fun” should be in the journey — not in the reward.

    In other words, why not make the “grind” part the entertaining part. It’s never made sense to me to make your players suffer through boring content in order to get to the rewarding experience.

    Maybe it’s just my background in first-person shooters and RTS games. Those games start with PvP action and it never really stops. In an MMO, Warhammer is perhaps the closest I ever got to that experience.

  12. Dblade says:

    The problem is that the sandbox games are the ones creating those unrealistic expectations in the first place. Especially when users advocate that they are the answer to soulless themeparks. If they were honest, like you are being now, you wouldn’t see as much churn.

    Players are not coming in expecting instant gratification, and putting in effort is not a foreign concept to themeparkers-like camping a named mob or waiting half-afk looking for a party are not instances of time spent doing mundane things. They are expecting the game to be, well different, and to have real freedom.

    The real experience is that they don’t. In fact, sandboxes are often as constrained as themeparks. They just focus more on player versus player combat. Your article needs more of a response than comments allow though.

    • Malakili says:

      Well, I think the PvP thing has to be a big part of any “sandbox” because if players aren’t driving the content, it isn’t a sandbox to begin with. Keep in mind, PvP doesn’t have to be 2 players shooting each other. I think there is a lot of “PvP” in EVE Empire space, it just happens to be economic PvP, competition over resources, buyers, sellers, and so forth.

      In a sandbox PvE content could be considered “PvP” in a strange way because you are effecting resources that really matter in the grand scheme of things. Not only by harvesting those resources, but by removing them (even temporarily from the game world)

      Anyway, even though you might be going out and killing goblins in a theme park and an MMO, or going out to mine ore, and the action itself isn’t drastically different in either game, its the impact on the game world, and on other players, that differentiates the genres.

  13. Coppertopper says:

    Then again the reverse is true: sandbox games tend to start out all mad at WOW hardcore ‘carebears go home’, but then patch in themepark elements as the months go by. Witness DF with it’s wildlife, slot machine, and barber NPC fluff less then a year after launch.

    • Coppertopper says:

      …which really just points to the fact that the mmo we all want to play lies somewhere in the middle, with WoW like PvE/immersion but also the ability to change the worlds’ landscape via PvP and player built cities/economy.

    • Malakili says:

      Sandbox != “hardcore PvP.”

      This misconception has been countered over and over. PvP is generally an element that sandbox games have that is less prevalent in the themepark (at least, non consensual PvP), but isn’t a defining feature in itself.

      • Coppertopper says:

        Yes should have been more specific. PreNGE SWG was sandboxy w/o having any meaningful pvp element. My point was that Darkfall no doubt can maintain it’s pvp and clan-central gameplay even as it slowly rounds out the game via fluff and enjoyable pve. Hell who hasn’t at one point or another wished WoW had built in player controlled cities that grew in size and could be raised to te ground via world pvp.

        • Malakili says:

          Probably a lot of people have wished WoW had a feature like that,but they would cry immediately the first time they were offline when their guild’s city was destroyed and claim that it was too biased towards “Hardcore” players.

          Anyway, it also doesn’t work the other way. “Enjoyable PvE and Fluff” aren’t anti-sandbox material in an of themselves. Stuff like instanced PvE and/or heavily mission based PvE with tons of quest chains, making it the main mode of advancement is though.

        • Draglem says:

          Woh wohh woh…. Do NOT pretend for even a second you did not want to be a General with a flashy title and some other swag associated, ’cause I’m not buying.

      • Dblade says:

        Then where are the non pvp sandboxes? Why is it that EVE, UO, and Darkfall are talked about the majority of the time, and how come UO was “ruined” by trammel if PvP isn’t essential to a sandbox, or defines it?

        You can talk about theory in terms of a definition, but when virtually all of the sandboxes past and current are pvp oriented or feature it, the real definition is something totally different.

  14. Sean says:

    World first boss kills in WoW seem just as epic and as far removed from the average player’s experience as the massive fleet battles and behind-the-scenes machinations of EVE. Both games create the conditions for such experiences: for WoW, hard modes that are tuned to perfect performance by twenty five people at once and a system to track completion of achievements/objectives in game; for EVE, the rules and systems that allow for emergent PvP activity and an open API that developers have built a number of community tools (killboards, pricing data, etc) for.

    Personally, I find something like the Taiwanese guild Starz world first kill of Yogg-Saron with 0 watchers after over a month of daily attempts to be more impressive than most of what I found in EVE even after having played it for four months. It is a lot easier to relate to EVE’s stories because they are so often contingent on social interactions and not deep understanding of a particular fight’s mechanics and the perfection of each individual’s performance. Grinding on a boss in WoW just isn’t that exciting or intelligible to those unfamiliar with the game, much less the raiding end game. Embezzling ingame money worth several thousand real world dollars? Hey that’s cool, where do I sign up?

    • Strangeape says:

      I can’t say anything as far as hard mode is concerned as that feature didn’T exist yet the last time i played (WotLK 3.0 i think). What still puts me off as far as those are concerned is that they are nothing more than a scripted event. You basically learn the dance, then perfect the timing and get the kill. I don’t wanna minimize the effort needed, as i know what it entails, but that achievement is no more epic that dropping C’Thun back in vanilla WoW.

      To me, calling a game a sandbox game involves uncertainty or an element of randomness than most PvE focus games tend to “impose” (” ” because i don’t like the term but can’t find another way to put it) on their players. A sandbox game doesn’t have that in my book. You can have 2 fights or events with the same players and they both will have different outcome.

  15. Ben says:

    The thing about playing a themepark MMO is in order to get personal value out of it you have to define your own experience. The problem some have with “easy” themeparks is they only define the game world in terms of everyone else instead of centering it on themselves. I still remember my guild’s first kills of Hakkar, Aran, Gruul, Vashj, and our first ZA bear extremely fondly, and I don’t give a damn how many dozens or hundreds of other guilds did it already. Myself and four guildmates got our first GOTUR just last week, and while it took months of work (spread out over 0-2 days a week of progress) and while many others have seen “the ride” before me, it didn’t cheapen my experience one whit.

    The point is you have to live your _own_ MMO experience, the only thing that gives it value is what you put on it yourself. There is easy stuff in WoW, but there are challenges as well. Who cares what everyone outside of your own gameplay-network is doing? If every MMO player stopped obsessing on what the Joneses were doing and lived their own experience everyone would be a lot happier, sandbox or themepark.

    The one thing I will say is that in themeparks, the main disadvantage is that the quality of play is much more diluted; requiring a tougher search for players in your skill-bracket. In a sandbox game the quality is (on the whole) more consistent; as only the truly dedicated remain, and no one participates in a hobby that they suck at.

    • Malakili says:

      Then why bother having an MMO in the first place if the other people don’t matter? The reason people care about raid progression in WoW is that its basically the only viable measure of interaction between raids/players that are otherwise off in their own little games.

      In a sandbox what another clan/guild does actually matters, not just in some abstract world guild rankings way, but it can actually effect your experience of the game. In WoW that interaction can only happen through the meta game of raid progression, generally, and similar in other theme parks.

      • sid67 says:

        I disagree. The MMO part of the equation is important in a game like WoW because working with others is the only way to progress through that content.

        Gear, not progression, is the measure of your success. They might have added ‘achievements’ and that’s becoming a measure but the real measure has been and always will be gear.

        I think what Ben is saying here is that you can choose your level of involvement with grouping. A small group of friends (5 players) can do any 5-man dungeon together and can form half a PuG for any 10-man raid.

        In a sandbox game, your reliance on other players (your guild, alliance, clan, corp, etc) is much more involved. The bigger the collective group, the more important and powerful your group’s influence will have in the game.

        So it’s a matter of scale. A themepark is more friendly to small groups (and even soloing) while sandbox forces you to group for mutual protection.

        Also, themeparks that have ‘factions’ by design group you with a large % of the player base. IMO, this is the single biggest design decision that influences the importance of player formed groups. Moreso than whether or not the game is “sandbox” or not.

        • Draglem says:

          “Gear, not progression, is the measure of your success.”

          What a terrible world we live in if this is true, rather than how many hours you can sit around in your underwear one one shower.

      • Ben says:

        the MMO part is playing alongside other players of comparable interests and skills. MMOs aren’t all about a progression arms race for everyone. Again, it’s about whether you define your gameplay by yourself, or by what everyone around you is doing.

  16. Draglem says:

    “Not that I totally disagree (I know Lineage is huge in Asia)”

    But lets be honest, who here isn’t huge in Asia?

  17. Draglem says:

    I think E-peen envy ™ is merely publicity doing its job getting more subs.

    The biggest gripe I have with your sports casting is the slant on a “natural migration” from park to box. I would hastily assume that it feels natural for you because it was organic but claiming this universally true is a mistake. You have pointed out that other factors are involved, most prominently time for most professional and semi-professionals lives. Then again, one may assert a stay at home mom would have to step back from her EVE schedule if she has kid 4 on the way with 2 in the hospital and 1 knocked up… again.

    And now of course reading what I think sounds more aggressive than intended, but we are different people. The same fiery passion that fuels your golden literary roller-coaster is the same roadblock that hinders your understanding of your xenophobia. Not saying thatHow much did AV pay you?I want to derail what your doing, or that subliminal messages work well in print, but rather some intellectual provender.

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