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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.


  1. I think it’s less that people are opting for the easy option and more that a number of forces converge on designers who develop games that are a reaction to them.

    For example, the homogenisation of classes.

    I don’t think anyone got up and said I want all classes to be the same.

    But the druids moaned that they don’t have an interrupt, the warriors said they were unplayable without self-healing the death knights complained that they were mathematically worse than block tanks for some situations.

    So game design gets led without an overarching plan as a series of kneejerk response to very specific complaints. Ghostcrawler’s recent post on interrupts shows this very clearly.

    And this sort of player-led design is the absolute antithesis of sandbox game design.

    If you design a sandbox then realise that, say, stealth, is being ruthlessly exploited by players to do amazing and unforeseen things (recently Rogues in Rift were stealing all the ores out of high level dungeons without combat) then you will only stay sandbox if you ignore all the cries of “we need stealth too, to be competitive”.

  2. It’s some of both, I think.

    A sandbox game isn’t amenable to “balancing” because it’s all about setting ground rules and then seeing what players do with them. A theme park game has an end result in mind and tweaks the rules until an appropriate outcome is seen. Players do seem attracted to the more directed gameplay and guaranteed-ish rewards of the theme park games though.

    Now you’ve got my mind running on the idea of sandbox games as laissez-faire liberalism versus theme park games as Fabian socialism… let me get back to you all on that 🙂

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