Already in this early alpha stage, EQNL has managed to enthrall many of my fellow gamers and bloggers happily digging away at voxels, while others are still contemplating founder packs or quietly observing things from the sidelines. I’d be lying if I said Landmark didn’t look very appealing – I have loved similar games in the past and SOE seem to have improved on them a great deal where the overall handling, aesthetics and graphics are concerned. Yeah Sony, you had me at different brush sizes for building!
Yet, there is at least one fundamental question where Landmark’s future is concerned; it’s one I’ve been eyeing with mixed feelings from the beginning and so have others, including the wider gaming press -
This was Everquest Next Landmark in Admin (read: God) Mode—pure chaos slamming head-on into raw creativity. It’s the best online sandbox game you’ll probably never get to play, and that’s a shame, though Everquest Next Landmark is still amazing even without Admin Mode’s sheer madness.
[...]For all SOE’s talk of player-driven design and enormous sandboxes, the development team seems set on giving users a fairly specific type of experience. Here are these areas where you can build, and here are the places you can’t. Here are the resources you have to mine to progress through the different tiers of the game. Here are the trappings of a real MMO inside this incredible building tool. Now, the details of that experience are still up for debate, but the fundamentals—the “arcs” of a players experience—are set. [PC World]
Most of this is not possible in the version of EverQuest Next Landmark players can now obtain. You’ve got to physically mine resources, earn your tools, you can’t just levitate everywhere – nor can you build outside your own “claimed” area. There is, in other words, no analogue for Minecraft’s creative mode in EQNL. Also missing: the option to run a private server and spread your filth far and wide away from the public eye. To keep it from affecting other players’ experiences, in other words. EQNL merges that sort of handiwork-heavy experience with a multifarious MMO realm, and that means compromises. Full freedom simply isn’t an option for now. But what about later? [Rock, Paper, Shotgun]
The Landmark players are currently enjoying is no longer a god’s alpha. It’s the alpha of things to come – of Landmark the hybrid social building game, not MMORPG and yet not unrestricted sandbox. Of course it’s far too early to rule out more options for the future but in the light of SOE also developing Everquest Next, their real MMO, I hope they will seriously consider alternatives to a survival mode-only Landmark soon. When questioned about creative mode by PC World, the ever enthusiastic Dave Georgeson took a cautious stand, declaring the team was “looking into potentially allowing such a mode on private servers, though that would come in a far distant future—if ever. And only if players actually wanted it.”
Alas, as far as such private servers go, SOE statements become even more hesitant: John Smedley calls them an issue of integrity (see RPS article) because there be penises on private servers and you cannot have Sony associated with male genitalia. Likewise, creative director John Butler is worried about ESRB ratings which irritates me a little given that private servers are well, private? I don’t know about you but if people need to build phalluses so badly, it would be a good thing if they had their own server to do that?
The ambiguity of admin mode
Technical and marketing-related matters aside, the topic of admin mode in sandbox building games is very interesting due to potentially different impact down the line. This is not just an issue faced by sandbox games with a social / cooperative or pecuniary agenda by the way, but one that presented itself to me while being deeply involved in Minecraft on a private server. I see both a case for and against admin mode features for this reason and while I would still always advocate pro playstyle freedom in new games, I remain somewhat ambiguous.
But let’s look at the strong vote first. The best argument for admin mode is clearly this: some players just love to build but not gather. While gathering, maybe similar to leveling up new characters in MMOs, is fun to some players, there is an audience for every sandbox building game that are exclusively there to do one thing and one thing only: to build dazzling worlds and run rampant with their imagination.
If you ever visited a Minecraft theme server for Azeroth or Middle-Earth, you have been blown away by the overwhelming size and detail of these player creations. It takes months, no years depending on the number of players, to create a Middle-Earth setting simulation in MC. It is also safe to say that without a creative mode (meaning flying and unlimited resources without gathering) many of these wonderful servers simply wouldn’t exist. It’s not realistic for an individual player or just a small group to manage the sheer volume of growing, harvesting, gathering and forging required. And that’s not considering the extra time spent on planning and coordination. More importantly, it would be considerably less fun and less motivating an endeavor for the more productively inclined.
I remember the moment during my very intense MC spree when I decided to switch from survival/normal mode to creative. I remember too, having to justify my choice to fellow players on our private server because “what, creative mode? cheater!” and “you’ll be sorry once the game got boring!”. But that’s the thing: I don’t think I would have continued playing MC without creative mode for as long as I did. I don’t think I ever would’ve finished my giant castle.
However, and this is where things get complicated in my case, creative mode clearly accelerated my path toward serious sandbox burnout once I felt I was “done”. That’s a big issue for pure sandboxes anyway (which to be fair, Landmark intends to surpass), that players feel finished once their creative energies were drained and there’s nothing you can really “do” with all these creations. The faster you get to that point, the harder it is to recuperate in my very personal experience.
What I would therefore conclude for admin mode is that it potentially causes conflicting effects by curing sandbox boreout short-term but also causing sandbox burnout more long-term. So the question is really which mode is more likely to benefit Landmark’s biggest target audience once you identify who they are (which isn’t so easy in a hybrid game).
I can only speak for myself: if Landmark makes me gather, pick, cook, forge and whatever else for weeks to produce a modest cabin in the woods, I won’t be playing for long. Been there done that. Boooring! On the other hand, if SOE handed me diamonds, gold and mahogany on a silver platter, I would build something considerably more satisfying and be done in four weeks time. Yeah, that’s a problem.
We’ll see how they solve it. For me, it remains a dilemma but maybe Landmark has finally found the answer to the big sandbox question. Until then, what do you think? Admin mode for Landmark yay or nay?