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Reader Comments (68)

Posted: Feb 29th 2012 11:21AM Acesfury said

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The Defining charactersistic of a Sandbox MMO for me is not being restricted in anyway by what you are able to do.

Wurm Online if the best example for me of an MMO (PvP or PvE server)
there are other examples that are similar such as Xsyon and Minecraft, but I find Wurm is the best example for all.

Posted: Feb 29th 2012 11:33AM Softserve said

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A game which people on MMO sites claim to really, really want but never actually seem to actively support once one is made.

Posted: Feb 29th 2012 11:58AM Lethality said

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@Softserve Once someone creates the "WoW of sandboxes" I think everyone will flock there :) Nothing of quality has really emerged.
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Posted: Feb 29th 2012 11:52AM Lethality said

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Definitely difficult to define, but just as their play style indicates, maybe they shouldn't be "defined" at all.

At any rate, for me a sandbox is simply a world that allows free-style character progression in one or many areas such as Combat, Economics or Diplomacy.

I do think though that there should be "theme park" elements to all of those, including some world story that propels it along.

My main problem with recent theme park MMOs is that developers are hyper-focused on the "game" part of things and have neglected the "world". I don't always have to be the hero, sometimes I just want to be a cog in the machine... and I think that's what worlds are great for.

Posted: Feb 29th 2012 12:13PM (Unverified) said

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I envision a sandbox (I hate using that word...) as a world so dynamic that there is no end to it. A world that lives and breathes through the NPCs that exist in it to the players that interact with it.

The world is never the same from one day to the next. There are no limitations to what the player can do. But the world itself serves a check to that player. If you decide to live the life of a thief than the world reacts to your actions.

A world where there is an active story going on around you everyday, a story that the players dont follow, but interact with through their own personal unique means.

A world that has both clear pathS (emphasis on S) for players to follow and is dynamic enough to allow the player to be whoever they want. An expert crafter specializing in Steel Armor smithing, a merchant, a vagabond, a group of thieves robbing helpless travelers on the vast roadways, a knight for a kingdom, a diplomat/governor, an evil warlord....and so on.

Basically a world with endless possibilities, that is always changing, and caters to all players of all types and allows the player to decide how they want to "live" in this artificial world.

Posted: Feb 29th 2012 12:16PM Vanpry said

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1. Control over my own character, skill base system is a almost must have but I could see a class base system working if I had enough options to really customize my character.

2. Economy that revolves around crafting now mob drops.

3. Holy trinity is a MOST NOT HAVE. If you are thinking about the holy trinity at all when you are designing your game then you have failed at #1.

Besides that it really comes down to preference. FFA pvp is NOT a must. Affecting the world around you has been done by non-sandboxes not really a requirement plus there are too many tools in the online gaming world to make this a positive. There can be quests but they must be used for direction not for this is how you have to level.

Posted: Feb 29th 2012 12:18PM Vanpry said

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@Vanpry

2.1 Forgot to mention non-combat features need to be more then a after thought. You are creating a world not a combat simulator.
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Posted: Mar 1st 2012 2:30AM Lionhearted said

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@Vanpry

I like the "must not have" of the holy trinity :p

I kind of liked the original EQ's mix. There was healing, tanking, dps... and debuffing (esp slowing) and crowd control. While you needed three of those, it didn't matter so much what three. (Heck, there were even some groups where you could get by without a healer if you had really great dps and cc, though I wouldn't recommend it.).

CC is the thing that WoW really killed for MMOs. It adds *so much* to MMO's when well utilized, and adds a heckuva lot of intensity, and it was nothing more than a side show in WoW -- a look, isn't that sheep cute! kind of thing. Compare that to my chanter in EQ, who in the early days could turn a group into a killing machine, able to survive encounters with entire trains of enemies with her mezzing, roots, slows, debuffs, stuns and charms. There were groups in which I wouldn't even have a single damage-capable spell up!
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Posted: Feb 29th 2012 12:16PM Borick said

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A sandbox is a world of possibility outside of the engineered lines. To develop a sandbox you've gotta ditch the notion that a player futzing with something unintended is bad.

You cannot engineer a sandbox -- it's a NP problem that requires constant real-time iteration because you're giving away tools that are no longer in your control.

Basically for a sandbox you toss a structure out there and see where the players go with it, and then you develop what the PLAYERS are interested in rather than what you as a designer would like to see.

I don't think you can make a AAA sandbox, because by definition the AAA guys are all about engineering a given optimum, and huge amounts of money have a way of shackling the decision makers.

To make a proper sandbox requires a mindset that I doubt belongs in the mainstream, but without sandboxes how do you test new ideas?

Posted: Feb 29th 2012 2:02PM Anatidae said

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I would say that Sandbox is where the developers create a "emulated" or in some cases a "simulated" world with mechanics that are cause-effect based.

To look at the big elephant, World of Warcraft isn't a cause-effect based game. As an individual, you are given the "feel" of effect, but really your actions do nothing at all to change the world around you. The only impact a player actually has to the WoW world is: Harvesting a resource which temporally makes it unavailable, placing items on the auction house making resources available to others, and social interaction.

If we look at one of the grandfather's of MMOs, Ultima Online - they tried a more "world simulation". If you killed rabbits in the woods, the normally less aggressive wolves would become more aggressive. If you killed all the wolves, dear, etc... then the dragons that ate them would range father and start impacting the cities.

In Ultima, all items decayed and broke. Nothing really lasted forever at the start - there was always a potential chance of loosing an item in various ways. This created a never-ending demand for replacements, either through adventure or crafting. EVE Online has this factor too. When your ship is destroyed, you loose your items and have to purchase new ones. Insurance can make that less painful - but it drives a player economy in a huge way.

The more "sandbox" we consider a MMO, we will also find more non-combat related skills and abilities. These might include:
1. Tools to organize in-game government structures. Including interfaces to handle elections, law enforcement, etc...
2. Tools to create custom areas. This might be housing, a guild castle, a player town, whatever. In a "sandbox" these areas are often part of the world at large and not set aside in a hidden instance. A sandbox wants strangers to wander through their town on the way from point A to point B.
3. Travel is often restricted in ways within a sandbox. Again this is due to world emulation/simulation. Instant travel might be allowed, but hurdles to make it more difficult or costly are often in effect. The more the cost for travel, often the stronger in-game economy is. Travel time/cost allows for trade. When a resource is available only in one area and must be transported, it instantly simulates the ancient merchant "buy low here, sell high there" profession.


The truth is, themepark gameplay and sandbox gameplay can go hand in hand really well. Here is where I think modern MMOs miss the boat on Sandbox:

First, we are stuck in a "level" MMO mentality. MMO developers create games where we go from level 1 to X, THEN create an 'End Game" where we play for 6 to 12 months until we get an expansion to add X more levels to achieve. Repeat this over and over. Sandbox MMOs tend to work better with skill-based systems. Players don't have a level, but instead are rewarded with progress by increasing unique skills. The net end result is that the entire game focus is placed more on the "end game" and the interlocking systems there.

A great example is EVE. Although I don't love their skill gain system, the fact is a near-newly created avatar can be of aid to the oldest player in the game. The truth is, in EvE everyone can make a difference in that universe and take actions that will ripple changes.

The second thing I see as a huge challenge in modern MMOs is the way we now handle "loot". Items have become so precious that they bind to you so you can't trade them. You often can only have one of them equipped (unique items). And the whole point of the game is to grind until you can get a small number of them for your "best in slot".

The best sandbox games I have seen treat items as consumables. They last a long time, but they are constantly in flux. In a sandbox, it is not unusual for a player to have a few backup items handy for when they loose their current one. Also replacing the item really isn't that painful. WoW hits you with a repair bill, a sandbox makes you buy the item again. The difference is that one is a gold sink that goes back intot he game system and the other can be a gold sink that goes to another player - fostering a vibrant player economy.


Finally, going back to the level systems. Developers build huge worlds that we just burn through. Look at SWTOR today. I spent a number of hours on various planets, only to leave them behind. I rarely go back to the largest city in the SWTOR universe because it is all too low of a level. What a crime. Imagine if all content was "end game" because there was no "leveling game" and all the content was designed for player interaction. When I run through a MMO city, I have to wonder why every single building or shop that does not serve a specific NPC task shouldn't be rentable by players. How much more interesting WoW's Stormwind would be if all those houses and shops had player owners.


I'll end my long rant here pointing out that the BIGGEST mistake I hear with the term "Sandbox" is "open PvP". Those are two different things. You don't need to allow players to kill one another to create a sandbox, and doing so does not a sandbox make.

Posted: Feb 29th 2012 2:10PM Germaximus said

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Sandbox: a game with no goals.

Boring.

Posted: Feb 29th 2012 2:21PM Anatidae said

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@Germaximus
Correction,

Sandbox: A game that allows players to create their own goals based on a world simulation of cause and effects.

Exciting.
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Posted: Mar 4th 2012 10:49PM Beerbrain said

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@Germaximus

I also find "Sandbox" games very boring. To me "Sandbox" games are half finished games that have "Sandbox" attached to them to justify being incomplete. I mean, if you aren't putting in tons and tons of quests, lore, raids and otherwise then why can't you make the systems that ARE in place..oh, I don't know, actually work.

I could go down the list but the current "Sandbox" games are all pretty bad. With the exception of maybe EVE which is pretty successful. A lot of these games have some interesting ideas but poor execution.

So to me, what makes a "Sandbox" a "Sandbox"? The ability to shape the world. I don't know about you, but when I was a kid and I had a sandbox in the back yard I had all kinds of stuff to play with. It wasn't just a box of sand. I had trucks, bulldozers, toy animals, etc etc. But I also had shovels, and buckets. Let's stop using the excuse that sandbox games can't have attractions. Because they can.
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Posted: Feb 29th 2012 8:56PM RenektonBot said

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A good point, I'd agree that those things contribute to making a sandbox MMO, but I don't think World of Warcraft would make a very good one. As it stands it was designed around themepark questing zones, which means nearly every square inch of the map that isn't devoted to a questing hub is devoted to the mobs that those quests require.

You couldn't have houses or farms because there really isn't any real estate to go around, but if they did have that space then absolutely, they could do all sorts of things.

Star Wars Galaxies did a great job of combining sandbox and themepark by having 98% of the planet devoted to whatever players wanted, and then scattering areas of interest" around like the Rebel base on Corellia and the Nightsister fortress on Dathomir.
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Posted: Feb 29th 2012 2:29PM dndhatcher said

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I liked the poster above that said sandboxes are FAT.

Freedom (for players to roam broad areas)

Alternatives (different play styles: crafting/building and exploring are as relevant as fighting)

Tools (for players to affect the content)

Posted: Feb 29th 2012 3:15PM Space Cobra said

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I think you will get a consensus in some definitions, but not others.

I mean, I do agree a sandbox gives players tools to do, well, almost anything in-game. Have some impact. That can be building a house to ruling a server.

But then you get into details and difference of opinion. Many Devs and people like "sandbox MMOs" to have PvP. There is some truth to that being "sandbox" enough, but it is a bit like all those old Charles Atlas comic-book ads: A player can build something and another can kick it over. Kicking another player's input is "open" and "sandboxy", but it doesn't promote building. You might as well think of it as giving a kid a toy car(s) wherein he keeps crashing it over and over to fun effect. In some ways, such a thing would be more of a "demoltionist's dream MMO" than a "builder's MMO". Granted, it is easier to destroy than create in life, but you don't see gangs of youths tearing down office buildings in downtown areas "just because". There is some restrictions and while laws do play a part, there is more to it as well.

I would argue that even those claiming to be sandboxes, like ArchAge and EvE, are not because one group of players are more "in power" than another group. I guess my stance is a bit complicated and has more to do with the status quo of someone new coming into an established server and meeting the established guilds who may/may not mess with them. In some ways, I could say the sandbox is more for these established folks. Now, the counter is, "they worked for it" and that is true, but again, you have basic human inequality in the online game's sphere that can be very unappealing to new players. In this case, what is "sandbox" to the established players is more "getting sand kicked at you" by new people. And really, many times, these players have limited choices to move to a new/different sandbox/area.

So, while we could define sandbox, there is a danger in some of these games that, to a signifigant segment of players, the game is not very sandbox to them when one figures in limited resources (such as land to build on) and open-world PvP.

Posted: Mar 1st 2012 3:40PM Anatidae said

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@Space Cobra Actually, the fact that EvE is largely controlled by a minority group is very sandbox.

I'd consider "real life" sandbox (dont' we all?) and clearly we have a small percentage of people in power in America. All hail our corporate overlords!

What lacks in EvE (and what got removed in the US) is tools for regulation. Any true sandbox will lend itself to robber barons in something that emulates modern society and will end up with lords who rule with might if the sandbox emulates a medieval setting.

It is up to the sandbox developer to add more tools in to let players regulate better. But it is hard work. Much easier just to turn on PvP and hope that the feeling of killing one another is "justice and equality" enough.
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Posted: Feb 29th 2012 3:41PM (Unverified) said

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A sandbox MMO is a chimera, an unrealistic utopian vision that no one has adequately articulated. It's a great way of disparaging whatever MMO is in vogue, e.g. "No, [x MMO] is total themepark, I want a sandbox MMO".

Posted: Feb 29th 2012 7:06PM Faction 3 said

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Even though it's not an MMO per-se, you guys should try out "Terreria". It's 10 bucks on Steam.

There's a Multiplayer option that I've yet to try out, simply because the mechanics take alot of learing, but it's definately a solid game! I've enjoyed my time, immensely.

Posted: Feb 29th 2012 7:07PM Faction 3 said

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@Faction 3

*Terraria

Good God...
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