Every now and then you come across something shocking it’s just too hard to ignore. Today is one of those days. This is a comment from a post Keen made, waiting for WoW to embrace its PvP nature (pro-tip: HKO is going full-loot before WoW embraces MMO PvP).
Bartlebe (15th comment):
The baffling thing about this, for me, is that it seems much easier to make interesting, sandbox PvP content then it is to maintain and create PvE treadmill content.
They could make interesting and wonderful open world PvP content fairly easily.
He goes on, but that part is the real gem.
First let’s consider the context here: we are talking about WoW, where the devs claim it’s technically impossible to get a 100v100 battle going without instancing it, hence the failure of Wintergrasp. Ignore the fact that, in WoW itself, you had bigger world battles in vanilla, but hey, they said it’s impossible, so it must be true. And pre-BG vanilla is also the last time WoW had anything remotely resembling world PvP, and it was Blizzard who worked diligently to crush it, so again, look forward to those HKO changes first.
But let’s move beyond WoW and look at the MMO genre as a whole: how many working sandbox PvP games have we had, compared to how many PvE treadmill games we have seen continue on year after year, despite being average at best? Or to put it another way: which would be easier to re-create and get right, EVE or WoW?
We have seen WoW recreated dozens of times, with various results (from LotRO to Alganon), but the formula itself is about as Mickey Mouse as playing WoW itself, and the make/break really comes down to polish, timing, and your IP.
The list of issues in recreating EVE is about as long as the wait for a pony reskin.
Hell, even EVE itself took years to really get itself into shape and become the massive success it is today, not to mention the ambitious plans CCP has for it’s future to further refine and get the game ‘right’. WoW ambitious future? A few zone revamps, and two more player model reskins. Ground-breaking stuff, really.
The simple fact is that PvE content, especially instanced, super easy PvE content, is easy to create in terms of getting it right. Yes, you need good artists to make it look good, and you need a QA army to polish it, but given how controlled everything is, balance and predicting what the players might do is kids stuff. Plus, if you screw it up (Rag 1.0, Nef 1.0, AQ40 1.0), just say it was tuned to be difficult and scale it down. Oh actually, call that a ‘feature’ going forward!
The obvious advantage a PvE themepark has is that everything is separated into its own little instance (be it an actual instance or level-set zones), and that instance is so tightly controlled that, well, your players get on the rail, get pulled along by the nose, and eventually depart after receiving their complimentary gift. So long as you don’t leave a gaping hold in the rail, the content ‘works’. The biggest enemy to your game, the players, can’t do more than dance on a mailbox to harm you, as you have ensured they keep their hands inside the ride at all times, and you shuffle them on/off at exactly the right time.
Those safety nets don’t exist in a sandbox. The more ‘sandbox’ you make your game, the more freedom you give to the players. Most will use this for good, but it’s not those who make designing the game a challenge. The minority who seek to destroy everything are the ones who makes designing a sandbox so difficult, and the more ‘sandboxy’ your game, the more weapons you give them.
Without instances that change the rules, without spells only doing X in setting Y, without checking to make sure everything is nice and ‘fair’ before you start, the downward spiral can come quick in a sandbox, and once you get rolling it only feeds the griefers to continue abusing things harder. While blah themeparks can chug along for years (DDO), a poorly designed sandbox soon eats itself whole (SB).
It’s also very telling that the ‘easy’ way out of a problem is to add themepark-like controls (WG becoming an instance), while only a few will stick to the original goal and put in the work to make it right (CCP with fleet warfare). It’s telling that games like WAR, which tried to play the middle, ultimately fail on the sandbox elements and ‘cheap out’ by going themepark. Knowing what we know about Mythic, if going sandbox really was the easy path, WAR would have been on it after the 3rd month.
Ultimately the trap some players fall into is they look at the complexity of a single piece of sandbox content from the outside, compare it to the complexity of a themepark piece, and come to a conclusion. The reason this fails is that in a sandbox, you CAN’T just look at any one item and focus on that without analyzing the impact to the rest of the game. You can’t tweak a malfunctioning PvE ability without looking at its PvP impact. You can’t change up crafting on a whim without considering what it will do to the economy, which ultimately controls both PvE and PvP motivations. The entire world is one giant complex puzzle, rather than a long string of one-off content chunks, all of which can and do often get a massive ‘reset’ to fix whatever balance or design issues that may arise.
When’s the last time EVE had a themepark-like reset button pressed?