Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 08, 2010
 
Outside the themepark

In the open Sunday thread a reader asked whether there was any connection between Tamarind founding a new guild for the blogging community and Gevlon founding a new ganking guild. Obviously the two guilds couldn't be any more different from each other, Single Abstract Noun is a social guild, while Gevlon posted extremely anti-social guild rules. But there is a common theme: Trying something different.

It is often said that World of Warcraft is a themepark MMORPG: Blizzard places a lot of content in the game, and provides you a lot of helpful clues on how to complete that content in the "correct" order. The obvious disadvantage of that model is that once you've done all the rides several times, you're getting bored. Running heroics is a classic example of that: The Dungeon Finder is a great tool to get people to use the heroic "rides". But now people have been doing that for several months, have been to every possible heroic many times, have collected all the rewards you could get from emblems of triumph plus some emblem of frost gear, and so the level 80 heroics are getting old. Some people just run one per day for the emblems of frost, others just abandonded them. Due to Blizzard being a bit too generous with the rewards for heroics, there is no interest in running raid dungeons like Naxxramas and Ulduar, which reduces the whole endgame to ToC and ICC, which is a bit thin. With Cataclysm still months away, people are getting bored. People simply reached the end of the themepark.

Now one possibility when reaching the end of the themepark is leaving it until more rides are installed. A lot of that will certainly happen over the summer, with people playing a lot less, or even cancelling their accounts until patch 4.0 and then Cataclysm. But other people realized a very simple truth:

World of Warcraft is not a themepark *or* a sandbox, it is both!

Except for the possibility to freely gank other players of the same faction, which as a form of human interaction is rather primitive anyway, World of Warcraft does not have any less sandbox possibilities than any other MMORPG that comes with a sandbox label. The fact that there are big neon signs pointing towards the themepark rides (and some of those neon signs haven't even been installed by Blizzard but been added by the player community in the form of addons and various guides on websites), doesn't mean that there isn't a whole virtual world out there in WoW. Yes, you *can* install an addon like Tourguide and play World of Warcraft completely on rails from level 1 to being fully equipped with epics at the level cap. But that doesn't mean you *have to*. People following the way of least resistance is a basic reality of humanity, and is not due to a lack of "sandbox features" of World of Warcraft.

Whether it is me fishing at level 7 in Northrend, or people engaging in roleplaying on a RP server, or Gevlon founding guilds with new rulesets like Undergeared or his new ganking guild, is all just part of the same phenomenon: People engaging in the huge possibilities of World of Warcraft *outside* the themepark. It is just silly to complain how boring the path of least resistance in World of Warcraft is, when you never even tried to step off that path. There is a whole virtual world out there, with near endless possibilities. You just need to go and look for them.
Comments:
This is a good post and contains many things that I agree with. I argue a lot of times with other people that WoW is successful because it is "everyone's game". i.e. Whether you are hardcore, social, casual, PvP, PvE, top-guild, achiever etc, many will find some form of enjoyment in a particular aspect WoW.

This is what I contest though:
It is just silly to complain how boring the path of least resistance in World of Warcraft is, when you never even tried to step off that path.

Like you mentioned in the post, most people gravitate towards the path of least resistance. Thus, I believe that this path should be as interesting as possible; if this path were too boring, WoW would not be too fun to play.

I do believe that this path of least resistance is not too boring, however. We must not forget that Blizzard considers the entire community as a whole and cannot cater for a minority.
 
World of Warcraft does not have any less sandbox possibilities than any other MMORPG that comes with a sandbox label.
While possibilities are theoretically limitless due to player creativity being infinite, WoW doesn't support several recurring features in other games like player housing. And some of the
features it does support like territory ownership, intra-faction free-for-all PvP and character customization are more limited than the competitors' implementations.
 
Very interesting post. I would agree that WoW contains elements of a sandbox game, rather that it being what is considered to be a 'true' sandbox game of the current generation.

Examples of certain trappings of a sandbox mmo:

Player housing
Player constructed settlements
Fully Player-driven economy
Possibility to pursue a pure crafting career without fighting mobs at all
Opening a trade shop

What it does have (elements):
PvP
An economy
A rich lore framework

All said, i've not enjoyed sandbox mmos thus far, when you have a limited time to play and everything is equally hard to do (especially at the start!) I switch off. It's my time to enjoy myself, not to learn the intricacies of multiple crafting/combat/economical systems.
 
By your post each and every game is a sandbox for you can always improvise in the way you play it.

Sandbox and Themepark however are definitions based more or less on a fixed set of design options and not based on whether you can choose between playing the game as it was intended or not.

From your argument one can also call Darkfall a Themepark due to the PvE additions that the game had in the past months. You can even move along the areas as you complete the quests and you will also manage to level the fundamental skills with them.

Bottom line is, you make your own fun and if you find it funny to jump up and down for 3 hours in Dalaran or to raid in greens or whatever that doesn't make a game Sandbox. It just show that the game has no content and you like too much to simply quit playing.
 
The whole sandbox vs themepark argument has never been anything more than a flawed analogy. As the terms are increasingly taken up as rallying flags, the colors of two opposing teams, the small value the metaphor once had is lost.

All MMORPGs are virtual worlds and all virtual worlds allow for imaginative play. Because MMOs, in addition to being VRs are also games, the nature of the play is to some degree directed by the ruleset provided.

When 3D graphical MMOs began, no-one talked about "sandboxes" or "themeparks". There were no guides to tell you how to play, let alone add-ons to lead you by the hand along a set path. We just ran around in the virtual world and made the "game" part up ourselves.

That's still what I do. That's how I play all MMOs. Many people do.

The nature of the play that takes place, the variety, the breadth, the depth of it, varies accordng to both the imagination of the player and the resources provided by the game designers.

WoW is not particularly rich in these resources, lacking as it is in the manipulable environmental elements that other MMOs offer. It also has quite a lot of hard-coded barriers that can't easily be jumped by players, using as it does a number of level, class and race-based limitations.

I found I tired of WoW after three or four months because I felt I was having to make up almost all of the context for my play. I like undirected play and WoW is a fairly thin layer for that. Other MMOs seem to me to encourage undirected play much more naturally. Nevertheless, it is more than possible to use WoW as a playground for whatever games you care to devise.
 
[It just show that you finished all the content and you like too much to simply quit playing.]

Fixed.
 
Calling World of Warcraft a Sandbox MMO is an extreme over generalization of the term sandbox.

It lacks many of the defining player driven elements, and the ability for players to influence the environment.
 
Sure it's both a "theme park" and a sandbox.

But I prefer to play with set goals. Do x, do y. I'm currently playing Anno 1404. You can either go off with a ship and do what you like (sandbox) or try to do one of the scenarios (get 5.000 citizens). I usually prefer the scenarios and the set goals.

So if the content of WoW is up I'll just go play another game that still has content.
 
There is no way on earth that WoW is a 'Sandbox'. For all the reasons stated above, and the following.

- Limited or no PvP dependent on the server you choose. (not that PvP is essential in a sandbox but removing it limits player freedom)
- The ability to have your hand held all the way from beginning to end.
- Hardcoded limits on where a player can go. (try visitng a high level zone as a low level character and see how long you last)
- Once you choose your class, you are stuck with playing the game a particular way with that character till you get bored or reach the end of the ride.
- highly dev controlled and managed economy which is only affected by player behaviour in very limited ways.

WoW tries very hard (and succeeds in many ways) to tell you how to play the game. Either overtly through being guided to the next quest giver, or covertly by restricting the skills your character can learn. Games like Darkfall, Mortal Online and EVE do not. You are dropped in with pretty much no restrictions on what you can chooses to do and hav e to set your own goals. Its this freedom to set your own destination that defines 'Sandbox' MMO's and the lack of it that defines 'Themeparks'.

With WoW you know at all times exactly where you are going to end up and the only, very limited, freedom you are given is in how you get there.
 
>But that doesn't mean you *have to*.

You have NO idea how long I have been trying to find a way to explain this.
 
Totally agree with Mandrill, WoW is nothing like a sandbox game.

- The good thing: it doesn't have to be. As the original post mentioned, it's a theme-park, quite big actually and there are plenty to do in it if you don't play much. I'm guessing people who play 4 or 5 hours a week still have tons of check in WoW.
The game is also overall very easy to pick up and play, doesn't require much attention, is very forgiving on lots of things and, as a core concept, guides you into the "path of least resistance". It's almost impossible to do something truly heroic in WoW but it's also very hard to totally screw up, which is I guess one of the reasons as to why it's so popular.


- The bad thing? Well, once you're done with the content, there is literally NOTHING left to do. Unless you want to have cash, just to have more cash or find WoW PvP attractive (which is fine if you do), I'm guessing more and more people are left aside, waiting, because they've pretty much done it all.
You can see examples of that when you compare how crowded a server can become just because some new patch or some event pops up, then, couple days later, it's back to nobody around.
Also, overall, it doesn't really matter how you play, which is a bad thing I believe. Everything is so dependent on classes limitations and items that you simply cannot make it that much harder on yourself. A super duper skilled guild with insanely good and experienced players in crap gear will get wiped out in EDC (mostly because their tanks will prolly be insta gibbed but their DPS prolly won't be able to beat the enrage anyway). Items define you more than your own skills/awareness or experience do. Big downer...


On the other end of the spectrum, if you take Darkfall or UO, you can, literally, play these games for ever, even 12 hours a day for years. Because there is no "content" per se, the whole game is oriented toward: do what you want. These games are much harder to get into though, especially if you're used to more hand holding MMOs. Also, while they usually allow for greatness, their game-play is also usually very much unforgiving on mistakes. In these games, 4 hours a week arn't gonna cut it in term of entertainment.

It's good we have both however :)
 
What's the origin of the Sandbox and Themepark categories?
 
wow does have some sandbox elements but it is mainly limited to AH meta game. Everything else is ....well just instanced to death...

Number one requirement for a sandbox game imho is a degree of how you can influence the game world and interact with players around you.

In WoW you can not do a single thing to influence the world and only way you can interact with players outside of instances is trough AH

Vanilla wow on certain servers had also world pvp, but that is long dead and gone

If you want examples of better sandboxes... Well SWG has tons better crafting and econony, so does eve. And pre-trammel UO was a head above those two since it also had housing and other player interaction, even post trammel UO has lots more stuff you can do with the world than WoW.
 
The definitions you gave that make WoW a Sandbox game are features nearly every MMO has.

I hate analogies, but since this post is mainly about them I'll use one.

Just because you choose to not go on a ride (Dungeons, raids, etc) doesn't mean that you left the theme park. It means just what I said, you choose not to go on the rides. If I got to Six Flags (I have a season pass) and I play in the Snow Pit they have every winter doesn't mean I'm not at a theme park.

It feels like you, Tobold, are trying to build a strawman argument... but not to burn down. It feels like you are trying to bridge the gap between all the various MMOs to justify that WoW is just as limitless as the others. That just isn't the case. WoW is a good Theme Park MMO, in fact dare I say it the best. However lets not devalue it by trying to come up with asinine reasons for it to be a Sandbox MMO aswell.
 
Tobold, sometimes you make me mad with the way you post because you are only looking at the part of the truth that suports your argument.

Sandbox is basicly you building sandcastles for other players to admire, destroy or do what ever you want with.

There are no "sandcastles" in wow.

The path of least resistance and the freedom to step out of that path has nothing to do with sandbox.

Freedom is a key word for sandbox games but themepark players need some freedom too or els it would not be any fun.

While wow has alot more freedom than for eksample Warhammer online it still does not have those sandcastles that defines a sandbox game.
 
I'm new to WoW as some of you know. A level 47 rogue that is on the back burner and a level 32 hunter that I've fallen in love with.

I've played an MMO until it wasn't fun anymore, where there literally were like 2 things left to do. It would take me another solid year of playing WoW to get bored of it if I only played that.

I don't mind grinding, farming, or what the average person considers boring.
 
I'll have to echo the other comments that this is a vary narrow look at the issue. Yes, you can go off the rails and bring your level 7 to northrend, it doesn't make WoW a sandbox because that is not a sandcastle.

Here is a sandcastle:
You decide that you want to be the king of deadmines, there is no quest for you to do this but the game facilitates your wishes by allowing all players to have to recognize you if you do it. So you go in and kill Van Cleef and do fancy things with the UI and various systems until the game recognizes that this is indeed 'your' pirate thief boat and everyone else recognizes this too.

Because this system exists the developers have created a single system that is not ride but a tool to be used to manipulate the sand.

P.S. To the person that said there are not any elements of player effect on the game world earlier, there are actually 2 examples. Them being Wintergrasp and Halaa with Tol Barad being added in Cataclysm. Limited yes, but not non-existant.
 
The closest WoW comes to a sandbox game is when someone has an e-funeral and it gets interrupted by a PVP raid. Sadly, these kind of events are few and far between.
 
This post really reminds me of when I was an active member of a vibrant Playstation forum after Grand Theft Auto 3 came out.

At first threads were about tips for certain missions, strategies, etc. But as the game progressed and players began to complete more and more, it became natural to invent new goals.

Finding all 100 hidden packages, doing all vigilanty missions, making all 20 unique jumps, storing unique cars in garages, surviving as long as possible with 6 stars, etc.

The true value of a game, to me, is in its replayability. GTA3 had this in budles, and it was unique to a console games. MMOs have to thrive on this, and WoW has done a good job, but their are more constraints compared to GTA3, likely because of the number of real players invovled.
 
This post really reminds me of when I was an active member of a vibrant Playstation forum after Grand Theft Auto 3 came out.

At first threads were about tips for certain missions, strategies, etc. But as the game progressed and players began to complete more and more, it became natural to invent new goals.

Finding all 100 hidden packages, doing all vigilanty missions, making all 20 unique jumps, storing unique cars in garages, surviving as long as possible with 6 stars, etc.

The true value of a game, to me, is in its replayability. GTA3 had this in budles, and it was unique to a console games. MMOs have to thrive on this, and WoW has done a good job, but their are more constraints compared to GTA3, likely because of the number of real players invovled.
 
This post really reminds me of when I was an active member of a vibrant Playstation forum after Grand Theft Auto 3 came out.

At first threads were about tips for certain missions, strategies, etc. But as the game progressed and players began to complete more and more, it became natural to invent new goals.

Finding all 100 hidden packages, doing all vigilanty missions, making all 20 unique jumps, storing unique cars in garages, surviving as long as possible with 6 stars, etc.

The true value of a game, to me, is in its replayability. GTA3 had this in budles, and it was unique to a console games. MMOs have to thrive on this, and WoW has done a good job, but their are more constraints compared to GTA3, likely because of the number of real players invovled.
 
Although "you can, of course, gank lowbies for fun" in Gevlon's guild, it's a PvP guild and he strives to reward Honorable Kills. He specifically points out that corpse camping is a poor use of time.

Even sandbox play has rules. And if you don't play my way I'm taking my GI Joes with the Kung Fu grip home and you can just play with sticks.

Meanie. I'm tellin'.
 
if Wow is sandbox, then I'm the new emperor of all china and the asian sub continent.
 
Well, if you say a game needs feature X to be a sandbox, you obviously haven't understood what a sandbox is. The very introduction of fixed features with fixed goals makes the sandbox disappear.
 
Indeed, it is not any one feature that makes something a sand box but the design philosophy of lettings the tools be the feature.
 
I think WoW is a great example of a Themepark MMO. That being said, it simply doesn't have the toolsets that allow players to have a "sandbox" experience.

You can set your own goals in literally any game you play, but that doesn't make Tetris or Modern Warfare 2 a sandbox. Just because you can set your own goals in WoW (like fishing in level 80 zones at level 7) doesn't make it a sandbox game.

A game needs a more robust toolset that players can use however they see fit for it to be a sandbox.
 
"Well, if you say a game needs feature X to be a sandbox, you obviously haven't understood what a sandbox is. The very introduction of fixed features with fixed goals makes the sandbox disappear."

Tobold, this is simply not true. You're just turning and twisting words in order to avoid saying: "hmmm, i guess you are right on that one guys" :)

Sandbox is not an undefined term where we can shift the semantics to support one's argument. It is a design philosophy with a clear meaning and set of features. Individual features can be argued if they belong in one genre or the other. It can be argued which elements are more prevalent in a given game. But you can't say a duck is a chicken just because it has feathers and a beak.

Is WoW a shooter as well? I mean, you can roll a hunter, zoom in until PoV and unleash those arrows while strafing et al.

lol

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonlinear_gameplay
 
The very introduction of fixed features with fixed goals makes the sandbox disappear.
Adding a bucket to the sandbox does imply that the designer wants the users to construct bucket-shaped things, but it doesn't force the players to do so. However, some features, like easily modifiable materials are crucial for the sandbox experience. A piece of bedrock makes a poor sandbox, even if it technically can be modified with a jackhammer and some explosives.

We're not talking about black and white here. A themepark game can have sandbox elements, and a sandbox game can have themepark elements. But one can say whether a game follows one design philosophy more than the other.
 
You are absolutely right in saying that WoW is following a themepark philosophy of game design *more* than it is following a sandbox philosophy.

But many of the pure sandbox games strike me as being "Uh, we didn't have time to actually put any content into our game, so go and make some yourself", while WoW is more like "at some point the content we put in the game ends, but you can still go out and make some yourself".
 
But many of the pure sandbox games strike me as being "Uh, we didn't have time to actually put any content into our game, so go and make some yourself"
Indeed. Spore was one such disappointment. Those excellent design tools hid a very shallow game, and most of the choices made by the player were ultimately meaningless.
 
WoW is a sandbox game like AC was for role-players. Yes, a few people might do things out of the ordinary, but I don't think that means WoW is really a "sandbox". It just means that players, particularly bloggers, are creative.
 
Tobold you can't use the reasoning that sandbox games lack content as justification that WoW could indeed be labeled sandbox. Again; just because you choose to not go on a ride at a theme park doesn’t mean you cease to be at a theme park.

I could choose to level a Blood Elf in Mulgore by killing Pumas and by your rationale I would be making WoW a Sand Box game because I didn’t choose the path that was set before me. That doesn’t sit well with me.

By your definition anytime anyone chooses to change their course by more than what is typically permitted in a side scroller style game you are playing a “sand box” game. I don’t like how people are constantly trying to alter the publicly accepted definition, even if not completely agreed upon, to include their game.

Freedom does not a sandbox game make. How can you look at EVE and say that “yea sure WoW is like that, it is a sand box too”
 
It's funny that this post follows so closely with serialganker's post. Don't get so serious about if a word is or is not perfectly right, and once you've decided on a word don't try to mold a game that isn't in a category to that category.

Of course now he has more evidence to say "see! no one knows what a sandbox or a themepark is so its a bad term!"

With the above said I will mention that I love sid's blog despite a disagreement on one post.
 
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