John Smedley on SoE’s sandbox future

John Smedley has a new blog on WordPress and a post explaining his vision for Sony Online Entertainments new focus on sandbox-style gaming. He explains the importance of player-driven and player-created ‘content’ to avoid the pitfall of players devouring the content of a new game faster than the developers can add to it.

There’s a fair amount of repetition from his previous communications but it is nice to have it all laid out in one place now. The prediction that Elder Scrolls Online will suffer the same fate as SWTOR (a mass exodus a while after launch) is interesting, I haven’t heard or read much yet that would refute this prediction.

The post is full of idealism of course, but I do wonder what this means for those SoE games that, so far, have avoided the great MMO cull. Arguably Vanguard was one of their more sandbox-like MMO titles still running yet it didn’t make the grade (or enough money to be viable). Everquest 2 is not a sandbox game, it’s a standard quest and dungeon  oriented game albeit with a very healthy dose of player generated content in the popular housing system and less popular dungeon maker system.

Would this blog post hint that SoE will be beefing up and fixing bugs in these types of systems to make EQ2 more inline with this vision? It would make sense to give players more ways to make content for each other, although the dungeon maker system is pretty discredited these-days since the rewards are not perceived as worthy of running dungeons and the rating system (for players to give feedback on the dungeons they run) is flawed. Look at the current leader board and you will see a list of speed-run designed one-room dungeons with masses of mobs, used by veteran players to power-level their own new characters to cap as fast as possible without the need to travel around the world on quests.

My view of the dungeon maker system speaks to a broader issue for the new sandbox MMOs (EQ Next etc) that SoE will need to grapple with if this vision of player-driven content is to work. The games developer may give players the systems to make our own content, but I would argue the games developer still needs to set the rules for the players (as explicitly as possible). Otherwise we’ll have the usual verging-on-anarchy situation that the Internet and anonymity inspires. Wilhelm of The Ancient Gaming Noob has a wonderful post on this topic, including this quote:

At some point SOE is going to draw a line, and then there will be a group of people who will push right up to that line and dare SOE to do something about it.  And people will complain about those within the letter but perhaps not the spirit of the rules and there will be arguments and rage and rule lawyering and all the fun stuff we expect from online games, only magnified by the freedom allowed by Landmark.

That’s the crux of the problem and I’ve seen enough examples of players trying to grief others without actually breaking the rules to be absolutely certain this will happen. Pathfinder is another sandbox MMO, inspired by the pen-and-paper RPG of that name, that will be strongly focused on player-created content. The developers (Goblinworks) have pages of blogs on how they envisage their game’s community working and how players will take a role in policing and pillaging the shared world. It’s an ambitious vision, but until the game actually gets to a beta stage it’s impossible to state if this amount of player-agency in a virtual world will actually work.Will the world simply fall to the bandit players because that may well be a more popular ‘role’ for players to pick than playing fantasy sheriff?

In the meantime I’ll be interested to see what SoE comes out with regarding Everquest Next and the rules for the community. What will they allow/disallow and how will it be enforced? How will they stop players from, as Bhagpuss mentions in a recent Landmark post, extracting “virtual protection” money from other players by blocking their view or sunlight with their buildings? It fills me with the dread that in these sandbox games we’ll soon have players filling the roles of lawyers and mafia-types…

My concluding message for Mr Smedley is that not every player wants to be an active creator of content, some of us just want to play in a virtual world with our friends – don’t completely forget about us, please?

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2 Responses to John Smedley on SoE’s sandbox future

  1. Tesh says:

    I’ve long argued for private servers for this very reason. Minecraft allows them, and it tends to work pretty well. If you and your group of friends have admin control, at least at some level, things are a lot easier to curate, and it takes the burden off of SOE.

  2. Jonny 5iVe says:

    It sounds like a sandbox MMO probably isn’t for you.

    If all you truly want is:

    “some of us just want to play in a virtual world with our friends”

    Then there are dozens of wildly popular theme park MMO’s to play in.

    You wouldn’t play Gran Tourismo, if you’re only interested in a first-person shooter experience.

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