EQN Landmark: The Case for and against Admin Mode

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.

msthunderbluff
MC Thunderbluff by Rumsey

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?

8 comments

  1. bhagpuss

    This argument is raging on the Alpha forums, if you can call a small minority constantly staring threads demanding Landmark become a building tool-set only while a much greater majority either ignore them, reason with them (pointless) or argue back (enervating and pointless). I find it utterly tedious and completely unnecessary.

    1. SOE make MMOs. That’s what they do. They are not in the business of making offline or stand-alone, private server online games, more’s the pity. I’ve wanted an offline Everquest for a decade and a half. Not going to happen.

    2. Although people do hear what they want to hear, SOE have consistently said that Landmark will be a full-featured MMO. A building set it is not. It’s going to be a combat-and-gear-grind character progression-led MMO with an extensive housing offer. If that wasn’t clear enough before (and it wasn’t) the Roadmap they recently published removes all doubt.

    3. Because Minecraft is so well-known and because Landmark uses voxels, Landmark has unfortunately become stuck with the tag “Minecraft – Everquest Edition”. If you want to compare it to another game, the real similarities are with the much less well-known Wurm Online. If we get open-world PvP, which I wouldn’t rule out still, the similarities will be complete.

    It is possible, I suppose, that they might re-purpose some of the assets for a more creative-led spin-off. They have certainly hinted that there will be continents (the uncomfortable and confusing term they keep using which I take to mean the same as what players mostly call “islands” in alpha) on which the rules might vary – no mobs or and/or no buffer zones have been mooted. Even that, I think, looks like an increasingly unwieldy compromise.

    It may be that SOE could make more money and/or attract a larger audience by providing Free Build, Admin Mode or even Private Servers but that’s not how a brand is built. I work in a bookshop that wasn’t doing all that well a few years ago. One way the previous owners tried to address that was by trying to guess what things other than books people would buy and selling those. It didn’t work. The risk in diluting the brand in this way is always that you alienate more of the people who come to you because they like what you’re known for doing than you attract new customers with your modified offer to compensate.

    Personally I am against Free Build Modes or Private Servers for Landmark. I want it to be an MMO. I was never particularly interested in the building aspect, which I think has always been overhyped. It’s fun and I’m enjoying it but mostly the enjoyment is coming from learning how to use the tools. Once I know how to use them effectively I don’t actually want to spend the majority of my time building things.

    I would much prefer that the bulk of development time and resources go on making Landmark a robust, entertaining MMO than that attention and resources are taken up by a foray into a market that is already being very well served by other games producers.

    • Murf

      I am with you. I’d rather they focus on Landmark as a game, rather than a toolset to show off creations on YouTube.

      As for the post, I firmly believe creative modes do cheapen the gaming aspect of a sandbox game. That doesn’t mean I am opposed to the amazing creations that have come from artists using Minecraft, but it also doesn’t mean I want every sandbox game to go the same route. That’s really why I loved playing Terraria so much: my creations felt earned through play.

      It felt like an actual game.

      • Syl

        I get that some players look forward to the MMO in Landmark. at the same time, I think it’s sad to say the game cannot also be used by a target audience that loves using the building tools more than anything. very clearly there is standalone potential just with that feature and it’s partly really SOE’s own fault for giving people the impression that Landmark and EQN were at different ends of the MMO spectrum. Only the other day Smedley tweeted about the difference between “MMO and MMORPG” and that’s just emm….bound to create all kinds of interpretations.

        Am all for you guys getting what you want but given how much time was spent on the voxel world and building tools, it seems like a waste of potential calling it a mere side feature? the fact that they’re trying to also squeeze it into the progression/gear grind/blah-cutter of every other MMORPG we know is a bit mehh as far as I’m concerned. we have yet to see the content then that is going to fuel these kinds of playstyles.

  2. Pingback: Quote of the Day: Admin mode | Bio Break
  3. HarbingerZero

    For better or for worse, that is the only thing that would get me on board with Landmark. I only played that way with Minecraft, and I can’t imagine spending money to play a sandbox building game other than the way I want to play it. Of course, if that’s not SOE’s bag, then fine. But it does mean excluding a portion of your potential player base, and that is something they will have to wrestle with.

    • Syl

      Yep. and considering how they’ve talked about ‘the greatest sandbox of all time’ for years and invoked images of no-rail freedom willingly, it’s just disappointing to me how there’s already so many restrictions and progressive features in Landmark. I liked the bi-lateral approach with EQNL and EQN where, for a time, the two seemed distinctly different.

  4. Val

    Without private servers, it will be hard to get into it… I mean, if I build a haunted castle, I dont need a donut shop right around the corner. And well, if such things like scripting and commandblocks / soundeffects / custom graphics are possible, creative mode can come, otherwise it will hit burnout very soon.

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