RIP Sandbox MMORPG's

Discussion in 'Mac and PC Games' started by Liquorpuki, Dec 29, 2011.

  1. Liquorpuki macrumors 68020


    Jun 18, 2009
    City of Angels
    Sandbox MMORPG = content is more organic and player defined. Ton of game mechanics to encourage social interaction and dynamic content creation. The gameworld can be permanently changed. Second Life would be the purest example. Most pre-WOW MMORPG's were sandbox or had strong sandbox elements. Ultima Online and SWG (before Sony screwed it up) were typical sandboxes. Anarchy Online, Eve Online, all sandbox.

    Themepark MMORPG = content is developer mandated, mostly a linear path. Focus is on questing and the developer created story. Instanced questing like raids are common. WoW is the token example. SWTOR is the newest themepark. DC Online, Everquest, Final Fantasy, City of Heroes are typical themepark.

    To be fair, most games have elements of both even though they skew toward one. Fishing in WoW is a sandbox element even though it was themepark. Anarchy Online had questing terminals even though it was sandbox.

    After WOW

    The genre is changing due to the WoW effect. WoW became so popular and successful that every major MMO released after it is now themepark. Sandbox elements like player housing, non-combat classes, complex crafting, all gone. Social game mechanics, all gone, replaced by an auction house and empty pubs/cantinas.

    I'm enjoying what SWTOR did for the themepark by adding voice acting and cutscenes. But everytime I run though a pub or cantina, they're empty because no one has a reason to be there. Contrast this with the cantinas in SWG, which looked like this.

    Maybe one day some developer will put out a hybrid MMORPG with the best of both worlds but in the meantime, I think it's a shame that sandbox is disappearing. These games have gone from complex virtual worlds to linear quest systems where all you do in the end is raid, pvp, and wait for the next expansion. What do you guys think?
  2. Huntn macrumors P6


    May 5, 2008
    The Misty Mountains
    I played Second Life long enough to write a game article about it. It's not a place I'd want to hang out. It's been a while (years) now, but the games they had within SL were no substitute for dedicated games, very amateurish imo. Mostly it was an animated social outlet with adult activities like hit and run sex. (I never tried sex in SL.) My understanding is that sexual animations were crude and mostly they are a lot of hot texting. :) I played another sandbox MMO called A Tale in the Desert also for the purpose of writing a gaming article about it, and while players could permanently change the environment and there was a lot of crafting, it was extremely boring for me.

    It's not fair to compare WoW to these games. If the developer is intent on offering the same game experience to all players you get a WoW-type static world. I loved WoW and for a long time could ignore its static nature, but after a while it bugged me. Some zones I loved and I hated their perishable nature. A couple of weeks and it was time to move on.

    My fantasy is a dynamic world like WoW, but if you took something like WoW and created dynamic quests that changed the world, the only people who would get to enjoy the full experience would be the first and fastest trail blazers. The world would be perishable. Everyone else would get the left overs. My impression is that a dynamic world MMO would have to be a lot slower paced with random events. Would this pull in millions of players? Don't know, probably not. Maybe someday, someone will pull it off.
  3. Liquorpuki thread starter macrumors 68020


    Jun 18, 2009
    City of Angels
    I like WOW. It was probably the best thing that could've happened to theme park MMORPG's and for a lot of people, it was their first MMORPG. It also had one of the smoothest launches in history and unlike most MMO's, it was actually finished when it was released. But in making that game, Blizzard chose to cut out most of the soundbox elements that were a genre staple at the time. Things like player housing, social mechanics, etc were stuff that people expected to be in MMORPG's, themepark or not. WOW didn't have them, and because it was so successful, every major MMORPG that came after has tried to emulate WOW and ditched sandbox as well.

    I've actually never touched Second Life but SWG is the best sandbox game I ever played, which is funny because that game was buggy, released unfinished, and its subscribers were treated like crap by Sony Online. But the stuff you could do in that game made it deep and a lot of fun to play. You had entertainer classes that did nothing but stay in the cantinas and dance or play music. Tons of bored housewives ended up rolling these classes because they played the game more for the social aspect than killing things. It also had the best crafting and resource system I've ever seen in a game. Resources had stats that affected what you made with them. Vanity pets were creatures you had to go out and tame and could teach tricks and watch grow, instead of some tiny graphic that just follows you around. It felt more like a world instead of a level treadmill.

    As far as changing the world and not alienating new players, it's all about designing a big enough world and having multiple servers, including new ones released periodically. I think this has been done before.

    What's funny is you have popular games like Minecraft and Skyrim which are basically sandbox RPG's without the MMO part. It's kinda sad that while sandbox is popular offline, MMO devs no longer want to take a chance on them. I really think there's very little innovation in themepark games since their core is the same questline/level treadmill endgame=pvp/raiding mechanic. SWTOR, which I also like, basically reskinned WOW and made the questing system cinematic. Meanwhile sandbox design has a ton of potential, there's so much devs could do with it that hasn't been done yet.

    I know you're playing SWTOR right now so here's a cool article. 5 things from SWG that would make SWTOR better
  4. Meicyn macrumors regular


    Dec 22, 2007
    If you want to play the next evolution of MMOs, keep your eyes on Guild Wars 2. They are ditching the theme park MMO structure in favor of completely dynamic content.

    One of the biggest reasons why sandbox MMOs have disappeared is because they relied too heavily on the player base to provide content and entertainment. While it is nice to be able to make a player-made town and loot all of the gear off of your fellow players when you kill them, the lack of direction can be disorienting to the average gamer that needs to be provided easy steps to accomplish, culminating into a long-term goal.

    Theme park MMOs are wearing out on players because while you have focused gameplay, you do not see any results from your actions. SWTOR has done a nice job of providing cinematic gameplay and instances where you see characters get killed, but when you're asked to blow up a ship and upon completion of a quest, another person runs by to do the exact same thing and the ship is still there, you often feel like you're just going through the motions. After all, in games like City of Heroes, you'll run by a group of enemies mugging someone on the street, and you completely ignore what's happening because you've over leveled that content. That NPC you save will need to be rescued again when the respawn occurs in 2 minutes.

    Guild Wars 2, after your tutorial area, introduces you into its persistent game world where there is no generic questing system. The theme park model has been abandoned. When you enter a town and an NPC is asking you for help against some monsters about to attack, that is an event that is actually happening and those monsters are actually moving in the game world in real time on their way to attack. If other players kill those monsters before you reach them to try and help out, those monsters are gone. Another monster army may build up elsewhere in hours, days, maybe weeks... but at that very moment, that threat is actually eliminated. If no one kills those monsters, they could attack and potentially raze the town. In essence, it is a living, breathing, dynamic virtual world. You could log off near a town and log back in the next day standing next to ruins because no one was around to defend it. The game will have hundreds of live dynamic events going on all the time, and as content updates occur, new branching trees of dynamic events will be introduced with no announcements of their addition. Players will discover them while playing the game. It could be a player opening a newly discovered door to a dungeon that sets off a chain of events, or perhaps looting some chest that they didn't realize was cursed and creates an army of undead that begins a march toward a nearby village.

    It's an ambitious project by ArenaNet, and I have nothing but the best wishes for them in the hopes that they pull it off. The MMO genre is a bit stagnant and they're certainly trying.
  5. steve2112 macrumors 68040


    Feb 20, 2009
    East of Lyra, Northwest of Pegasus
    This whole thing is the reason I never started playing WoW. I love RPGs, but all the repetitive grinding and scripted stuff in the game just doesn't appeal to me at all. I would much rather play open-ended single player games like Oblivion, Fallout, or Skyrim. It's one of the things that made me love the Fallout series so much. In Fallout 2, the game dynamically changed depending on your actions. If you were evil, you could not get certain quests. You could wander the entire map if you wanted. Of course, it seems everyone is doing it nowdays, but it was amazing in the late 90s.

    I may have to check out Guild Wars 2. I always kind of liked the original over WoW, even though I never played it much.
  6. foiden macrumors 6502a

    Dec 13, 2008
    I remember, one of the first major "players can alter the landscape and story" games I played was Asheron's Call 2 . The idea was interesting and sound, and they did it in a fashion that anybody with dedication could put in a good effort into changing things, not just the fast trailblazer folks. However, it didn't win much awards for popularity and didn't really pick up or maintain the player-base. There were times it seemed that I could literally find a town nobody was working on, and solely be the hero of said town, building it up from ruin. A nice gesture, but not good for business as that means the population was probably quite low. The devs were hard at work at working on monthly intervals for events based on various player actions, but it didn't last that long. Not saying the game had everything that deserved to compete and win, but it was nice for trying something new.

    A similar ill-fated demise came to Tabula Rasa, which promised something similar; but failings at launch killed that game before it even really got started.

    Guild Wars 2 looks set to be the next *big* seller of MMOs. Like Skyrim, GW2 seems to be getting a whole lot of sudden attention and anticipation for it. I have a feeling they'll get much better than expected sales numbers. I feel it'll be like Skyrim is for single player RPGs, for MMOs. That game in which just about 1 out of 9 in their respective gaming community *didn't* pick up the game.
  7. thundersteele macrumors 68030

    Oct 19, 2011
    My first MMO was Lineage 2. I just started playing it again now that it's free. The only MMO I ever subscribed to for an extended period was WoW... played through TBC and most of WotLK.

    The thing with the theme park MMOs is that once you play one, you know them all. After quitting WoW and taking a little break, I tried Rift. It is very well made and has a great talent system and some nice gameplay features. But in the end it was too similar to WoW to motivate me to play for more than a month. I might try SWTOR at some point... maybe the story is good enough to provide some longer term motivation.

    Lineage 2 has more sandbox elements - clan housing, support classes, meaningful crafting system, non-instanced dungeons and raids, castle sieges and clan wars. If you chose the wrong side, you were locked out of dungeons for a whole week...

    I think the main problem for sandbox MMOs is that they don't work that well for casual players - and that is where most money can be made.
  8. huck500 macrumors 6502


    May 10, 2004
    Southern California
    Archeage might turn out to be what you're looking for. Also keep an eye on Salem, which will be set in Salem, MA in colonial times and will feature permanent deaths, but your descendants can pick up where you left off, somehow.

    Personally, I think Guild Wars 2 is more of what I want, a sort of masked, more dynamic version of WoW.
  9. Liquorpuki thread starter macrumors 68020


    Jun 18, 2009
    City of Angels
    Yeah I played that game too. I had a tactician and juggernaut. From what I remember though, the game failed because of all the nerfing. I never saw that much nerfing in a game before. Every patch, a big chunk of subscribers would get pissed off and quit.

    I actually think the opposite. When I played SWG, there were plenty of women who rolled entertainers just so they could just stay in cantinas all day to chat with other players. That's as casual as it gets. In 2011, this demographic is probably the same one logging into FB to play Farmville or whatever social game is hot right now. But in themepark, there are no non-combat classes. The whole game is meant to run the level treadmill, which takes time.

    The first game to blow up the MMORPG genre, Ultima Online, was a sandbox. Until WoW, the market had a mix of both types of games as well as hybrids. I think sandbox took the backseat for two reasons. 1 is WoW became so financially successful almost every major MMO dev is now trying to copy it. 2 is sandbox MMO's have a history of having poor launches. SWG was released unfinished. If you rolled a Smuggler at release, half your skills still didn't work 2 years later. AO was a sandbox that had the worst MMO launch in history. Even though it was a brilliant game, those first 2 weeks made people give up on it. WoW, along with a few other themeparks like City of Heroes and SWTOR, have had flawless launches in comparison.

    I'll check out Guild Wars 2 though. I really want the sandbox to come back.

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