Off the Chest: Unlearning Convenience, One-time Events and what would you do in a Sandbox?

otc

It’s one of those days where I have too many thoughts on different blogging topics which don’t warrant a blogpost of their own but still, in my mind, ask for more dedicated commentary. I tend to leave longer replies on my fellow bloggers articles for this reason and often that’s good enough; yet for a while now, I’ve been thinking about a format or style of post that allows rambling on various topics that have come up, vexed me and yet didn’t quite make it into a single post – usually because I feel somewhat late to the party or then I simply cannot bring myself to present you with anything less than a WoT. It’s true.

Be that as it may, I herewith introduce “off the chest” as my on-and-off, multiple-subject (and likely ranty..ier) commentary, where articles are shorter wrap-ups or openers to bigger subjects and where I get to be wonderfully incoherent. Summary posts can be quite enjoyable, so maybe these can deliver some information or entertainment to somebody sometime (or else they’ve just been of highly cathartic value for myself)! Without further ado, three topics I needed to get off my chest for a while now, in no particular order.

Unlearning Convenience

One of the fascinating things about the mixed MMO community in Guild Wars 2 is that you can tell who the ex-WoW players are after a while, judging by the degree of convenience they are used to or rather, the degree of discontent they voice in that particular area. After an era of WoW and not GW, I absolutely am a spoiled MMO brat: for example, I expect a lot of menu choices and customizability for things like name tags or combat info (ally healthbars anyone?), I want the market place search to be refined so it’s actually functional (armor class search?) and I expect a quick disconnect/relog from WvW not to throw me back into a queue of doom with no way to rejoin my team mates. Stuff like that, missing polish like that, is just horribly frustrating and it gets more frustrating the longer ANet take to fix it. These may be small(er) issues and not top prio in a launch week or even month – but come on, address this shit already!

How long is the average MMO player of today willing to ignore disfunctionalities or little bugs after a fresh MMO launch? How long is your personal tolerance span? Rather than Halloween content I would’ve welcomed some long overdue fixes, some of them as old as open beta! And I haven’t even yet mentioned the camera / first-person view, botting or culling problems. These are not “aspects of GW2 that are just different”, these are issues that need fixing ASAP in any MMO! /GnaRghL

One-time Events

Speaking of Halloween, GW2’s one-time only Halloween event of this Sunday past has sparked quite some debate and of course both negative and positive reactions. This is an incredibly interesting subject because it shows us just how ready today’s MMO audience really is for the often hyped “unique content” and “meaningful impact”. Or to quote a passage in my last post’s comment section:

I think we do not need to content ourselves with impact only ever existing in offline/single-player games. like you said, GW2 makes some good attempts – but they could be much better even. I think MMOs need to lose the idea that everything is always available and repeatable for everybody. much of the generic feeling comes from everything that players do happening over and over, respawning, resetting….why? why not make some events more unique? what if somebody misses them – so what? you could add small content patches for this on a fortnightly base, like I suggested a while ago in an article on expansions. give players a real sense of story progression, unique experiences and impact. let them change things permanently!” (Syl)

That’s the thing: you can’t have it both ways. You can experience triggered quests that are available all the time, or more random events to which you are sometimes too late or early. You can finish quests with zero to marginal impact on the world and people around you – or you can witness really memorable events. Once in a while. And you can most certainly miss those. There is a flipside to that coin of memorable and special MMO moments that gravitate towards simulation and open world a lot more than towards gamification.

I actually missed this Sunday’s Halloween event in GW2 as I was on holidays in France; and yes, I am a little sad about that. On a less personal note however, I am very happy ArenaNet made this decision. Maybe next time I’ll be around for it. Either way, now the community has something to talk about and tell each other! Missing the Mad King’s appearance in Lion’s Arch or having to re-watch it on youtube is a price I will gladly pay for MMO worlds to become less generic, feel less repetitive and predictable! But that’s me and my idea of games worth playing. And living in, really.

So, what would you do in a Sandbox?

It’s become a trend of late to invoke the mystical spirit of the sandbox wherever MMO players feel the blues and are simply unhappy with their choices in current games on the market. I get that dissatisfaction and I’m in fact more than up for future MMOs to revert to a more open world state of play, with less orchestrated content. Still, I wonder how many players have truly ever experienced a sandbox game, stuck with a sandbox game? And what is it exactly you wish for, from your next sandbox MMO. Do you know? I’m not so sure we all mean the same things when we talk about sandbox elements (worth having).

Pure sandbox games ask a lot of a player base, both in terms of time and commitment The feeling of freedom or impact doesn’t come for free. So, if by any chance you belong to let’s say a player demographic depending on a) linear progression, b) endgame, c) set achievements or d) in fact any kind of pre-conceived content….I have bad news for you: you won’t like a sandbox! You won’t thrive there. If you already felt that GW2 was “finished” after four weeks, if you lament endgame and progression and ask questions like “what to do next?” in an MMO, the sandbox is not for you. While we’re at it: there’s no “rushing through” or “winning” a sandbox. There’s a lot more in terms of self-defined progress, achievement and goals than in a themepark or playground or whathaveyou MMO. 

Can you deal with that? If so, I hope you’re also up for outdoor PvP and griefers. The big, shining beacons of sandboxy gameplay currently out there, such as EvE Online or Darkfall, are basically MMOs that revolve around the simple principle of “building clans and defending clan bases” and then “warring against other clans and clan bases” (terminology may vary). This is by the by, what the sappy memories of vocal UO and DAoC veterans are made of: strife. Territorial (or resource) warfare with all its little neat side-effects. That’s also why community building was so important in these games to begin with. Sure, you could do many other things too, but erm…..territorial warfare impacting on you! 

So, just in case any of the above gives you headaches but you still yearn for the sandbox…well, I keep my fingers crossed the next such MMO comes with big enough safe sectors! Or alternatively, still deviates enough from its predecessors to accommodate you. A real sandbox is about building your own little castle just as much as it is about destroying your neighbour’s. And it most certainly isn’t going to present you with linear progression and endgame. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,
Zip-A-Dee-A,
My oh my, what a wonderful day!

24 comments

  1. Great post. One thing about sandbox games is that every event is a one off event, and unless you play 24/7, you WILL miss most of them. (You will miss proportionately more if you play on an ‘off’ timezone compared to the majority.)

    1. Oh very true – that’s really the two topics combined. if you hate missing events, well good luck in a sandbox where it’s either all player created or then most certainly randomized and unique. if the strict definition is kept, anyway.

  2. I play quite happily in my Minecraft sandbox. I’m not as enamored of something like EVE or Darkfall… mostly because other players are jerks. When it’s just me or me and a few of my trusted friends, sandbox MMOs might be great.

    …which makes me wish for what I’m calling “splintered sandboxes”; MMOs that are designed to be sandbox games, complete with world-changing dynamics, limited resources and crazy potential for emergent gameplay… but that allow private servers. Sort of somewhere between Minecraft multiplayer servers and WoW private servers, albeit legalized and happily supported. Let players put walls around their sandboxes and only allow friends in, and I think you’d see more acceptance of the more impactful elements of the design.

    1. Minecraft has some awesome concepts that, if combined with a modern fantasy MMO of today, could make for an incredible mix. I always thought about a marriage of the two while playing MC.

      I’m certainly not looking for the eve/darkfall sandbox myself, but basically an MMO like gw2/wow/rift with added sandbox elements. community wise I’ve been asking for private or player-hosted servers for a while – Skyrim really drove that point home for me. if you could host it privately for an online multiplayer mode, that would be teh dream! at the same time, GW2 has recently shown some remarkable benefits of the global village too….in the end it comes down to the same thing though – playing with whom you really want to. :)

  3. I’ve been thinking the same thing about sandboxes.

    People who complain about wanting “different” in an MMO don’t really want “different”. If they did, they’d have migrated to sandbox games. What they really want is more expacs more quickly.

    A sandbox is what you make of it. If you put a lot into one, you’ll get a lot out. Sandboxes don’t spoonfeed stuff to you; you have to go out and find stuff.

    1. They do require a lot of self-initiative and in fact creativity. I think too that in this regard some players might not know what they actually wish for when they talk about sandboxes and how they’re better in every way. you can certainly love a pure sandbox game, but it’s not compatible with many things MMO players today take for granted. I just wanted to point that out sometime. ;)

      That said, there’s much potential in combining certain sandbox elements and the MMOs currently out there. I have high hopes we’ll see more crossovers in the future.

    2. Exactly.. I really don’t like the black and white approach of having either a full themepark or hardcore sandbox. Most people at the moment want a combination of these the issue though is how much sandbox they want in their thempark or vis versa.

      As you say later down it is most definitely a continuum but it is also a continuum of different mechanics… Pvp, crafting, emergent systems, economy, etc. Each player likes these in their own individual way which makes it very hard for developers.

    3. I suspect that people don’t want a full sandbox as much as they want choice, or at least the illusion of choice, and they think the sandbox will give them that choice. Modern theme park games have gotten just a bit too good at putting the players on rails – designers talk about quest hubs and vector quests and such like, and what it all means is that there’s a path laid out for the players to follow, and that they’ve got very good at laying out that path, but there’s very little support in their design for wandering off that path.
      A good game deisgn that will satisfy most players should be more like a toybox – there are activities that are structured and laid out for the players, but there are a variety and a player can feel that he’s playing the game “properly” by doing whichever of these interest him and ignoring the rest. He shouldn’t feel that the game is really all about one activity (for example, raiding in WoW) and the others are just there as a sop to the second-class citizens who aren’t up to the ‘real’ game.

  4. “How long is the average MMO player of today willing to ignore disfunctionalities or little bugs after a fresh MMO launch?”

    SWTOR was an eye-opener for me on this front. Before then if you had asked me I would have said that I’m the height of patience for game patches. Take your time, MMO company, I know these things aren’t easy.

    Then one month passed with the same problems. Then two. At about three months I hit my limit, and the slow bug fixes was one of the major reasons I quit.

    1. I certainly feel it grating on me the longer it takes. I’m not a developer, so I don’t know how long it really takes to implement certain features – but I cannot believe it’s so damn complicated to add search functions to an AH or fix hp bars for allies (they are already there on hover!), for example.
      that seems like lousy priority management to me at this point and stuff like that DOES affect my gametime and performance. I’ve started to avoid certain activities I usually like doing because of this and well, that’s just a very big, sad minus in my book for the time being.

  5. I remain to be convinced that “sandbox” and “free-for-all PvP” have to be inextricably linked. OK, a truly unrestricted game where players are free to do anything they want would include the freedom to gank each other, but you could make a game that’s pretty darn sandboxy and leave out the non-consensual PvP. I’m pretty sure that when Mr Smedley announced that Everquest Next is going to be a “sandbox”, he didn’t mean it’s going to be Darkfall. He probably means something like the most successful sandbox game to date… which was a sci-fi game but it wasn’t EVE :)

    1. Sorry, I am pretty sure Mr. Smedley was thinking about UO, with free-for-all pvp ane everything. The problem is that UO had wolves and sheep, and with no other MMO at the market the sheep had no place for go and had to stay at UO and be hunted by wolves. That is the “golden age” of MMO (with one one MMo at the market) that the sandbox fans say will return…

      Sadly, when other MMO come to market (EQ), the sheep had other place for go, and the wolves stayed alone at UO. Woves hunting wolves was not so fun. And the sheep get out because be hunted by wolves was no fun, but they never had other place for go.

      So, Darkfal is changing for mantain fre-for-all pvp uunchenged. They will not get their players back, the reason the sheep get out is that be hunted is not fun. My guess, taht is the last card played before AVenturine go bankrupt (syncaine will just say Darkfall is a huge sucess…).

      Mr. Smedley just changed the direction Everquest Next weas being developed Not a good policy, scrap everything done and start everything again, but the time for complete the project is the same is going shorter each day… that is a recipe for a rushed game.

      I fear that Everquest Next will be a US$ 100 million (maybe more money…) sandbox free-for-all pvp that will have maybe 100 k players or less (but certainly not more than 100 k). Then the sandbox dream will be a nightmare when Everquest Next show be a financial disaster and SOE goes close to bankrupt…

      But people are just stupid and will say Mr. Smedley was a visionary…

  6. I agree with tremayneslaw – there is no reason whatsoever that a sandbox has to have PvP at all, far less unavoidable PvP. What about SWG? Wasn’t that supposed to be one of the best sandboxes so far, pre-CU/NGE? Don’t think there was unavoidable PvP there, was there? Or A Tale In The Desert?

    Me, I don’t want a “game” that equates to a job. I don’t want to pretend to be any kind of businessman or entrepreneur, small or large. Equally, I have little interest in Achievements, quests or storylines. I want to adventure, explore and potter. Most MMOs are sandboxes already as far as I’m concerned.

    As far as EQNext goes, I just want it to be Norrath as I know it. Get that right and I’m in, whatever the gameplay.

    1. Bhagpuss – yep, that was the “most successful sandbox game” that I was referring to. Pre-NGE Galaxies had about double the subscriptions that EVE does (probably an even greater ratio of players given how many EVE players have multiple accounts) and PvP was done on a “flag” basis so could be avoided quite comfortably.

      Sandbox vs theme park isn’t a strict either/or dichotomy. It’s a continuum, with absolute anarchy at one end and a rigid, spoon-fed content on rails set-up at the other. I’m not really a fan of either extreme.

    2. @Tremayne & Bhagpuss

      “you could make a game that’s pretty darn sandboxy and leave out the non-consensual PvP”

      Oh, no disagreement there from me at all :) the three of us would probably like to see a very similar game realized someday, hehe! for me personally, we’re getting closer but I wouldn’t call it a sandbox. I’ve said before that in many ways Skyrim is my closest thing so far to a perfect open world, fantasy experience. give me that in a classic online, MMO setup (some of which GW2 is doing too) with a few more wish-list features and that will be MY perfect “sandbox”. journeying and pottering forever in a world that feels alive – works for me. ^^

      however, in the strictest sense, if sandbox is ‘everything goes’ then that includes PvP. and such MMOs have always come down to the same thing, with a particular playstyle / demography benefiting more than everyone else. which is really why I chose the examples I gave above. for some reason (…) that community is also louder than anyone else. ;)
      of course there are other interpretations or variations of the sandbox theme that include limitations for the sake of playstyle variety and…sanity. there’s just been a very strong ‘back to the sandbox!!’-vibe around the blogosphere of late, making it sound as if copying ancient games holds all the answers. personally, I don’t think today’s player base can take a pure sandbox MMO; nor is it really a concept worth ‘returning to’ but building on.

  7. sandbox is anarchy. quit trying to redefine.
    the meanest badasses rule the rest.

    darn hippies.

    :)

    and yes, i love darkfall. the macroing killed it for me though.

    theB

    1. The sandbox imagery sure is closely linked to the meanest bully with the biggest shovel…but that’s when politics come in and we depart the dark ages ;)

      I’ve no issue with people enjoying a pure PvP sandbox at all; I’d just say ‘careful what you wish for’ to those who use terminology without closer definition.

  8. I would just like to say how much I appreciated the form of this post. Personally I enjoy incoherent ramblings (though this post was quite straightforward). I’ve been struggling with the feeling of having small bits and pieces to discuss myself and I think that this is the right way to go. Just write! Let it take the form of a stream of consciousness =)

  9. How long am i willing to over look bugs and issues? Well i guess that depends on what i consider to be a bug or issue. I don’t have any problems with some of the things you quoted, and i do with some. Seems to me that the things that get your back up may not get my back up etc etc. As such, how can a gamedev address these problems?

    Should we have waited longer for the game to have come out?
    Should beta have been longer?
    Should the first major patch have been a bug fix exercise?

    Yes there are some bugs that they are getting through, but I don’t believe that there is anything game breaking. You may disagree, that’s your opinion. Should subjective criteria drive patch releases? Wouldn’t that just make it the same as WoW’s issue of player power?

    What you’re dealing with is a can of worms that, no matter how hard the Gamedevs try, can never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s all very well arguing about this, that or the other – but I don’t believe we should influence the current strategy.

    So you’ve not got the functionality in the Auction House
    So you’ve not got health bars?

    Are these game-breakers? Surely not, they’re nice to have – but not essential.

    Yes the WvWvW queue issue can probably be looked at – however, is it server-side issue or your connectivity? If it’s server side, then you’re absolutely right – if they boot you out, you should not have to re-queue. But if you drop connection …

    I’m just playing devil’s advocate here – however I genuinely don’t have anything but good things to say about Guild Wars 2 and that certainly outweighs any slight niggles.

    Will this be the same 6 months down the line? Who knows. I am a forgiving gamer – as long as i’m enjoying myself, that’s all that counts. As soon as i start running out of things to do, i look for problems.

    1. I don’t think they’re game breakers in themselves – however culling in WvW is for example. it literally breaks encounters down into chaos and undermines strategic play.
      whether you crash or the game boots you really comes down to the same. the server should reserve a spot for your char for at least a minute or two. that’s not crazy 2012 technology we’re talking about. GW2 is about playing with your mates without much hassle, no? well then, let me!

      no LFG / global channel whatsoever goes into the same direction. it’s incredibly hard to find a 4th or 5th player for certain dungeons. am not asking for a tool here, but can we have basics? like a channel to talk in that isn’t also for ‘all things general’? it’s poor if you advertise easy grouping and then there’s no easy grouping.

      maybe if you’re mostly soloing that is irrelevant or a minor grief. when you try to do group content, it isn’t. when you try play an effective support role in WvW, you’d actually like to see your buddies health – and not just on friggin hover. that’s ridiculous. :D

      so yeah, I stand with what I said. minor becomes major the longer they take. I enjoy myself but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t up their game somewhat on polish. the world is already great enough.

  10. I’m not sure this is true everywhere because I only have my own experience to go on, but in all the pvpsandboxes I’ve tried, where there is a safe zone or a pvpless option, that’s where people coagulate. Over time the pvp areas become dominated by a few overpowered players endlessly grumbling they have nobody to kill. The PvE or safe zones are not great though, since after all it’s a PvP game by design and all the crafting and farming and moneymaking is meant to be of secondary importance, one is effectively playing a support system. Boring. But the fact that people enjoy the safe zones at all tell’s me sandbox has a lot of room for bringing in customers without PvP being central or even there at all.

    1. jep there are those zones, although to me they prove that many players don’t actually wanna partake in the pvp of the game. in which case I must ask: what’s the point in playing a pvp sandbox and then only ever stick to safe zones? If I don’t like pvp I surely look for a nice PVE MMO, where I don’t only get to see 30% of the game but 100%.

  11. I love my pvp and open world environments but I would have to agree that non consensual pvp doesn’t have to be the defining feature Of a sondbox.

    I don’t think being a sandbox is entirely about freedom as there will usually be a limitation of mechanics. I think the defining part is loss and often a pvp environment is the best way to justify it. Without loss there will always be a definite end point which we always bang up against. But with loss around be it gear, stats, or territory an experience becomes far more open ended.

    looking back at SWG it was the loss in degradeable items which kept people and the economy driving forward… It is the defining Feature of Eve’s longevity and it is the reason why every current day mmo has a very short shelf life.

    Lack of loss is a reflection of single player blockbusters being emulated by big mmo developers but these games are about definite end points Which just isn’t right for long term commitment… With loss however we begin to create virtual worlds.

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