This is spinning off from comments on Spinks’ thoughts about MMO target audiences
I think the reason that “theme park” MMOs are dominating the landscape is simple – the majority of people want to be entertained, not to actively create entertainment. More people read books than write them; many more people went to se The Lord of the Rings films than play pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons; watching YouTube is more popular than uploading your own videos. In a theme park MMO, you log on and can expect to be entertained – you will be guided towards the quests and events that the developers have scripted for you. A sandbox game hands the players tools and more control over their own destiny.
Now, not everyone in a sandbox game has to be a content creator. As Spinks points out, there are people who organise events and people who just show up and take part. But even being part of that “audience” has more barriers than a theme park game. You have to seek out the organisers and their events – and you have to decide for yourself which ones are good and worth following, because there’s no producer or QA team to do that for you. The end result is rather like spending your time checking out unsigned bands rather than just listening to whatever is topping the charts this week – more rewarding, but more demanding of your time and mental effort.
I can’t really blame people for opting for the easy option. After a long day at work, all I want to do is sit back and say “Entertain me!” too. Well, that and kill a few Mids or Defiants or whatever the other guys are in my current MMO. But you know what? You don’t get to bitch at the devs of your game for not providing enough content if you aren’t willing to step up and actually make some yourself. And bitching about content is just what the great MMO herd mentality seems to be doing these days.
Right now, I’m having a blast playing my cleric in Rift. I’ve taken advantage of the game’s flexibility to mix talents from the shaman (a melee DPS), justicar (tank and melee healer) and inquisitor (ranged caster). And at level 39, my points are spread more or less evenly between the three. In WoW, this would be rankest heresy. In Rift, it’s working – at least so far. Leastwise, the instance runs I’ve done so far we’ve completed successfully and nobody has lolled at my DPS or off-healing and I feel that I’m pulling my weight in the PvP warfronts. While I don’t really excel at one thing, I do a number of things and can switch between them at will. In other words, I’m a hybrid.
WoW was never really a hybrid friendly game even back in the vanilla days, and as raiding got established as the end game it got worse. Raids don’t really need hybrids so much. A raid is big enough that each member can specialise in one task. You don’t need to take the edge off your main role in order to cover another one at the same time. Five man groups probably could have benefited from some players being able to support heal or off-tank, but the design assumption is that those five are raid-optimised specialists. One tank, one healer, three DPS.
In Rift, the design assumption is apparently 1.5 healers per five man group. The game pretty much demands at least one hybrid or support build in the group, be it a justicar tank throwing out group heals to build aggro, or a bard doing (moderate) healing by (moderate) DPSing, or a mane with some chloromancer or necromancer spells.
But beyond that, even the guys with specialised builds can have alternate roles set up and switch very quickly out of combat. The assassin can transform into a riftstalker and be main tank for the group. It’s not uncommon for the clerics to quickly discuss at the start of an instance which one will heal and which will be DPS.
We’re all hybrids now.