ESO: Genre meld

In the post below this one, one line of questions revolved around what percentage of ESO’s content is ‘themepark’, and at what percentage does an MMO go from having themepark elements to just being a themepark.

This post won’t have an answer, because I don’t think we (MMO players) can agree on an answer. Everyone will have a slightly different take, both just on the design items and how a player might actually interact with a game. I’ve mentioned before that if you play ESO as you would WoW, you will progress but miss a lot of what the game is really about, but really that is just one example. What about the player who hits level 10 and goes on to do nothing but PvP? What about those who float between quests and everything else, never finishing anything fully? What about those who do EVERYTHING in a zone before moving on?

Taking a step back, how did we classify WAR? Themepark right? But WAR was designed to be more RvR than PvE, it just failed. What about DAoC? For most they will talk about the RvR (as they should), but DAoC also had a pretty significant PvE side, especially Darkness Falls. So is DAoC a themepark? Do we need to start splitting themeparks between PvP-focused ones and PvE ones?

That I do have an answer for, and it’s no. No because the whole definitions thing has been silly for a while now. Some MMOs blur the lines, some lean more towards one style or the other, and on top of all that each MMO player has their own person view on what they consider to be a sandbox feature vs what they see as themepark. When the genre was UO and EQ, it was easy. One was a themepark, the other a sandbox. When it was EVE and WoW, it was easy. It’s not easy today, because some game devs are actually learning lessons from past MMOs and combining (and more critically, combining well) themes and features from both sides of the MMO table, not to mention aspects from other genres.

ESO is the latest and greatest combination. So far, lvl 17, it gets far more right than wrong, and I think in some aspects we are just scratching the surface of that depth. A great example is over at Keen’s blog, in the comments section, about class builds (starting with Kahlmodra’s comment).

Perhaps the biggest hurdle ESO has to get over has nothing to do with its content or design, but in getting the average MMO player out of “Play it like WoW” mode. After years of conditioning, that’s a tall task, and an interesting development to watch.

#ESO #MMOdesign

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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39 Responses to ESO: Genre meld

  1. John says:

    I don’t understand why we need to do this conversation. If you like ESO, why is matter if it is a themepark or not, or how % themepark it is..Is it because you feel “guilty” you like a themepark game while you have numerous article where you use the word “themepark” as “insulting” for MMOs?

    Themepark and Sandbox are not how players see it, is how it is by facts…as the p2w games are not how players feel about but what the facts saying. And I don’t see whats the point of saying this game is 80% themepark or this is 95%, e.t.c.

    Now I am curious to see in the future, if you ever like an f2p MMO, what articles you will write to say how this game is not f2p :)

    • Rammstein says:

      “Now I am curious to see in the future, if you ever like an f2p MMO, what articles you will write to say how this game is not f2p :)”

      Well, some people say EVE is f2p, and Syn likes EVE, so there’s no need to go into the future for your search, is there?

      “Themepark and Sandbox are not how players see it, is how it is by facts…as the p2w games are not how players feel about but what the facts saying.”

      Don’t you think it’s ironic that you make this assertion without factual support?

    • SynCaine says:

      I liked Atlantica, other than it being F2P. If someone somehow figures out how to make the model work from a business standpoint while also making to work better for the players, I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

      I disagree on the whole ‘fact’ thing related to sandbox/themepark. Fact to who? And by what measure?

    • Xyloxan says:

      John, you decided to have this conversation – by writing your comment. Syn just wrote his blog piece. Are you asking yourself why you are having a conversation that you initiated??

  2. I’m actually most impressed by the customization potential in ESO so far. Its not that they made a complex crazy ass skill-tree system (like The Secret World) that offers so many bizare combinations that its overwhelming.

    No they merged a significant selection of skills, traits, and the powerful ability to customize gear (without restricting its access to any of their classes).

    Thats a step forward in providing a complicated easy to understand gameplay, but with serious meaningful depth to it.

    As to the debate of Themepark vs Sandbox; Its pretty clear that ESO is purely Themepark. I can’t imagine anyone making an argument that its anything but. Yet, despite it being a Themepark; it does the job very well so far. I like it because it provides juxtaposition from Blizzards homogenization of the genre (read the WoD patch notes yet? lol!); basically it provides an alternative to dumbing down the genre merely to beg for subscribers.

    • Galien says:

      Some very sandy moments do happen, though. For example, I’ve gone to Cyrodiil to look for crafting mats because you can find stuff of higher quality than in the first couple of zones. It netted me a couple of random one-on-one PvP fights away from the main keep action with people doing the same thing. It ended up a fairly typical sandbox combo of incentive/material reward/thrill-high.

      The fact that this happened does not render ESO a full sandbox, and you could make the argument that simply playing on a PvP server in WoW can provide a similar experience. You would be right. But I think it just goes to show that we should start talking about exactly what experiences we’re pursuing instead of the two catch-all terms.

      At the moment, it’s missing one element which defines sandboxes for many people: politics and rivalry. The emperor thing is nowhere near the big deal it could be, and it’s very transient. At best we get something like a gold-red truce to go after blue. However, it’s been only a week – perhaps ESO will see some of that emerge as the campaigns mature and PvP guilds start caring about persistent ownership of keeps.

    • mararinn says:

      I have levelled from L10 to L22 accidentally, by exploration, opening lots of chests, and helping friends with quests.

      The way I’ve been playing ESO is about as far away from “theme park” as you can get: unless you count a “theme park” as the block of land on which the entertainment facility is built. I’ve been playing ESO in much the same way as the skateboarder who goes to Movie World and enjoys themselves skating around the place. Just because other people are getting on the “Batman Ride” (which is theme-park: the ride plays itself for you) doesn’t mean the skateboarder is theme-parking.

      And for the record, I gave up “levelling via chests” at about the time it took fifty Bal Foyen chests to get me one level.

      Perhaps you’re getting confused about the Theme Park vs Sandbox argument because ESO has borders around where you can explore, and markers on the compass (which you can hide) to tell you where the next quest it.

      There is nothing about ESO which really tells you, “you must go there now” or “you’re too young for this ride”. The higher level monsters in later maps just mean you have to be more careful.

      • Raelyf says:

        To use your skateboarding analogy, ESO is more like a skate park. There may be a recommended progression, but you can use whatever equipment you like – though some might be too difficult. At the end of the day though, it was all build to skateboard on. It’s still a park.

        A proper sandbox, on the other hand, would be more like skate boarding through a city. Some people are going to see ramps and rails and use them like park equipment. Some people are going to use their board for transportation to work. Some people are only going to board at the designated skate parks in the city. And some people are going to use a bicycle.

        • Rammstein says:

          Sorry Raelyf, but you’re wrong again. A proper sandbox would be more like skate boarding through a box filled with sand, on a magical hover-skate-board that you built out of sand, and perhaps a box or two.

        • Raelyf says:

          That’s the dream.

  3. Rammstein says:

    “I can’t imagine anyone making an argument that its anything but.”

    I don’t want to be insulting, but this is like going to a gas station and exclaiming to the attendant: “It must be really shitty to work here, I can’t believe anyone actually works here, eh? I’m not joking, I seriously don’t think anyone works here that’s not a robot pretending to be a human. Wait, why are you walking away from me? Come back, I need to get some gasoline for my vehicle, please….”

  4. zaphod6502 says:

    Everyone in my guild loves ESO. We’ve had a lot of fun. It is also nice to go back to an MMO where you actually have to do some work in combat and not have objectives telegraphed at every step. It is also a great explorers MMO.

    The only complaint I have heard is people not wanting to pay a monthly subscription. I remind these people that you do not have a cash shop option shoved in your face every 5 mins like so many other notable F2P MMO’s. It is a pleasant change.

  5. zaphod6502 says:

    A funny fact our guild realised yesterday when we were grouping for exploration and quests – 24 of our 27 members are templars. Most of us played the beta and tried all the major classes.

    I settled on templar as it was the most fun class to play. Seems like I am not alone in that opinion. ;)

    • mararinn says:

      Yup, Templar here too. If I had time for two characters, the second would be a breton bow/storm sorc.

  6. A concerned Minmatar says:

    I don’t usually comment when I agree with you, because it adds very little to the discussion, but I’m going to break my rule today. I agree with this post.

  7. Nils says:

    I agree. Right now it almost seems like TESO has a chance to be more than just another AAA-MMO. Not that I actually believe that it could sustain more than let’s say 1mio subs long-term. But does look to me like there’s a chance.

    Let’s hope the devs don’t add BGs next *grin*

    • SynCaine says:

      As always, just because someone launches a solid MMO, doesn’t mean they won’t NGE/ToA/etc it at a future date. Bethesda seems to have learned a lot of lessons from previous MMOs on how to build one, lets hope they also learned how to properly update one.

  8. Jenks says:

    “When the genre was UO and EQ, it was easy. One was a themepark, the other a sandbox.”

    Only if you’ve made up your own definition of theme park. When that label was created by Richard Garriott, EQ was specifically not a theme park. It helps if you understand that the opposite of theme park isn’t sandbox, it’s virtual world, which EQ is one of the best.

    • SynCaine says:

      Right, back in 99 no one was calling EQ a themepark, but by the loose definition we have today, it was the first graphic themepark.

      • Jenks says:

        Hmmm no, this was 2002, when there were theme parks in development, which were much different than the previous virtual worlds (EQ).

        What is it exactly about EQ that fits your personal definition of ‘theme park?’

        • SynCaine says:

          Level-based zone progression is the major one. Level based item progression is another big aspect. Hard-set classes push it towards a themepark. Things like that.

          Saying EQ1 was a virtual world is a bit silly, it wasn’t. It was a bunch of zones lined up for the player to progress through.

        • Jenks says:

          None of those things have anything to do with what makes a theme park, actually, but at least now I know where you’re coming from.

          Segregating the game into different game types. Instancing zones. Instancing PVP. Instant travel to these different ‘game hubs.’ Lots of scripted events for people to partake in simultaneously in their own instances. That’s the actual original definition. Your last sentence makes it pretty clear you never played EQ for more than a short time, anyway, since that’s blatantly not true.

          So yeah, EQ isn’t even close to a theme park (although it did later add many theme park elements). And to be clear, this isn’t my definition vs your definition, this is the definition vs your definition.

        • Raelyf says:


          EQ did not have level based items for at least 5+ years after release. Nor did it have level based quests or level based zones/enemies. If you could kill things or accomplish quests well beyond your level you would gain huge rewards. But any active assistance from someone more than a few levels above you meant you got nothing.

          Giving low level characters high level equipment (twinking) and using a high level character to buff and heal them (power leveling) was extremely common and one of the fastest ways to level.

        • Xyloxan says:

          Jenks, could you give a pointer to THE definition of “theme park”?

        • sid6.7 says:

          If we must toss around definitions and labels, I think the easiest is to think about the intended player experience.

          Is there a linear path the player is to follow from beginning to end? If yes, then it more closely aligns to a themepark. Games that follow story or quest arcs are great examples.

          Or alternately, are there open-ended options for the player to explore? If the answer here is yes, then it more closely aligns to a sandbox.

          Most games have some form of linear progression (I start with nothing, then I get a shovel, then I get a bucket) so that’s not the best measuring stick.

          Likewise, most “online worlds” offer more open-ended options than games like Halo or Resident Evil which have extremely linear paths.

          This goes back to my POV that while labels make us feel cozy, it’s more of a sliding scale than anything else. For example, if I told you that a common aspect of a game is “Kill 30 Goblinoids, then go Kill 30 Artic Bears”, you would assume that game is a themepark. :) But both EVE and Darkfall have ‘kill quests’ and that doesn’t make them a “themepark”.

        • SynCaine says:

          “EQ did not have level based items for at least 5+ years after release. Nor did it have level based quests or level based zones/enemies. If you could kill things or accomplish quests well beyond your level you would gain huge rewards. But any active assistance from someone more than a few levels above you meant you got nothing.”

          I guess I wasn’t clear.

          I wasn’t saying EQ had level-restricted zones or item. I was saying it had level-based zones/items. UO did not, at least certainly not to the extend and limits EQ1 did.

          Weapons at most have 5 ‘levels’, with Vanq being the highest, but specific items were never the focus, just like ‘progressing’ to a new area was never the focus, unlike in EQ1. In UO a dungeon had the same relevance to someone who was fairly new as it did to some who was a 7x GM (‘maxed’).

        • Jenks says:

          Progressing to new areas doesn’t make a game a theme park.

          If those areas are instanced, and you can grab a friend and hop into them, and then hop out for some sidegame instanced pvp, and then watch some cutscenes where you’re the hero, then you’ve got yourself a theme park.

        • Rammstein says:

          Psst guys: You’re aware that this subthread is a purely semantical debate which has no real significance, right?

        • A concerned Minmatar says:

          Interesting interview with lord British. I’m rather surprised that he considered theme park gameplay to be desirable. Still, I’m not convinced that this should be the final definition of the term, as we have had many more themepark games and experiences since 2002.

        • GamerDroid says:

          EQ 1 is a great example of a themepark/sandbox mmorpg. Although you did progress through specific stages, it had a strong emphasis on social gaming. And even though it was heavily instanced, it didn’t matter because instances weren’t restricted to a limited number of players. It gave the game a much more open feel to it, and often resulted in conflict between groups with the same objective. This, for me, gave EQ 1 a much more sandboxy feel to it.

          In my opinion, any game that facilitates strong social gaming and does not box players in separate virtual spaces is a contender for longevity and success.

        • Jenks says:

          “Psst guys: You’re aware that this subthread is a purely semantical debate which has no real significance, right?”

          Maybe, but I don’t think so. There’s a set of people who played UO and didn’t play EQ (many of which I played UO with) who have no idea the massive differences between EQ and games post WoW. I love this blog but I’m fairly sure SynCaine is one of these people. They heard enough people say things like “WoW is just EQ with Blizzard polish!” to think it’s the truth. Yes, retroactively changing the meaning of theme park to lump EQ in with games like SWTOR and WoW annoys the shit out of me. There are plenty of other categories in which you can lump them together – PVE first MMO, class based MMO, level based MMO, etc. Theme park MMO is absolutely false, unless we’re talking later EQ (post PoP & LDoN), when key theme park elements were added (a hub zone and instanced zones).

      • kalex716 says:

        EQ1 was very much a virtual world. Everything you did, you had to be negotiating your way through the community structure to achieve anything at all as well.

        It wasn’t a themepark. You couldn’t just get in line and have your fun along with everybody else. You had to carve it out of the social/political structure of a given server.

        Your reputation, was more a part of your character than your gear set was.

        Additionally, zones were not as carved out as progression paths nearly as much as you think. Every single one of them had treachery all over the place that you had to look out for at almost any level. “The best places to level” were more of a testament to the area you could reliably get groups during the time that you played than mandated design locales built to “ferry” you to max lvl.

        Sand giants roaming the Ro dessert, Dorn B’dyne, high level goals, and the spectres in the middle of North Ro are dangerous dangerous things that put new players in there graves all day every day. Linear progression was loose, and player forged. Their was no paths. It wasn’t built by design that way.

        I think you are very much misguided with this assertion, and are really only trying to use it to make your point.

  9. sid6.7 says:

    LOL, I think you are finally coming around to my POV. Which is, the world isn’t black/white and labels are bullshit.

    I have always thought it’s ludicrous that we label games like EvE, Darkfall, WoW, Ultima Online as even remotely similar when they are so fundamentally different at so many levels.

    I’m a believer that game design typically falls somewhere on a spectrum rather than some arbitrary ‘checkbox’ that we check or uncheck.

    • Rammstein says:

      I just crafted an item for you : Labels of many colors. It’s like a Deck of Many Things, but instead of magical cards, it’s just labels which come in many colors, to match your spectrum of game design. Except the “void label”, which still sends you irrevocably to the 8th plane of hell, couldn’t get that one replaced in time. Sorry.

      • Anonymous says:

        You nailed it above where you called it semantics. All these labels are just that… and yet, it never ceases to amaze me how closely people will cling to those labels.

        At the end of the day, “themepark” is simply an analogy. Its not a definition of a genre.

  10. Matt says:

    Maybe it’s a well-hidden themepark. There’s a path, and you’re on it, but you just don’t know that yet because you don’t know enough to see the paths.

  11. Dril says:

    I’d give you that it did actually seem like something a bit different. What logging into a TBC private server reminded me is that you just can’t beat the feeling that there’s actually a world out there (rather than the PandaHub Express to 90). Incidentally, it also made me realise why I should just abandon all hope for Wildstar.

    It’s a pity the combat is just so fucking awful. Rohan at BoK was bang on when he said that TERA combat would be a vast improvement. If the game wasn’t so set on a combat-focused endgame I’d probably give it a whirl (also dat pricetag).

    • zaphod6502 says:

      I thought the new version of combat in TESO (since beta) was actually pretty good. Spent a fair bit of time in the PvP zone and I am very happy with it. There is directional auto targeting but the similarities to Darkfall are very strong. I love the sneak tactics and the fact we can use terrain to dictate the outcome of engagements. The castle sieges work so much better than that in GW2.

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