I’ve read several times that community is king where sandbox (or as Tobold says ‘world‘) MMOs are concerned. The game is only as good as the community in it since a lot if not most of the ‘content’ for such games comes from player-player interactions. Whether it’s through crafting and trading, group forays into the procedurally-generated unknown or PVP conflicts small or large.
Two games have come to my attention of late that have very different scales and ambitions within the MMO space but they both are being designed as sandbox games.
Pathfinder Online (by Goblinworks)
Pathfinder is based on the D&D-like Pathfinder roleplaying game. The MMO will not follow the ruleset directly but will make use of a small patch of the Pathfinder world of Golarion. The game will have player run settlements, item decay and open PVP with corpse-looting . The developers have stated very clearly how much importance they place on community in the game’s early beta stages (Early Enrollment). As is normal for a sandbox game the community will be expected to self-police to a certain extent, but the has Behavioral Incentives and Disincentives (same post as linked above) to help discourage griefing and ‘ganking’.
Everquest Next (by SoE)
It’s still very early to say but EQN seems like it will aim to be a mass-market game. It has action combat and has exploration, including digging down to other ‘tiers’ of the world. Player cities have been mentioned and crafting seems set to play a very important role (“Players make most of the items.“, linked summary of crafting related dev quotes).
Community is king?
So I’m left wondering how these two approaches will work in practice. Will one produce a very different community from the other: the “start small and grow slowly” approach by Goblinworks or the free-for-all “Minecraft playpen” approach by SoE. The more cynical blogosphere voices are worried about a EQ Landmark full of phalluses but hopefully that’ll wear thin pretty quickly.
Goblinworks already have a small community of players invested in the pre-beta process via their forums. SoE will have a much bigger potential playerbase but they’ll also have a lot higher player expectations to meet.