Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 08, 2013
What's a sandpark?

Syp is geeked about the upcoming Wildstart, and lists his 40 reasons for that. Reason number 4 being: "It’s focusing on a “sandpark” model that embraces the best of both worlds". Which of course immediately makes most people wonder whether that is even possible. What exactly is a "sandpark"?

The problem starts with the fact that most existing games are neither 100% sandbox nor 100% theme park. EVE is generally considered a sandbox game, but it does have agents missions that play like a theme park. WoW is generally considered a theme park game, but it is perfectly possible to step off that rail and do other stuff than to just follow the quest lines from one hub to the next, although some zones are more linear than others. So already sandbox or themepark is a question of shades of gray, not simply black and white.

If I were using graphics in my blog posts, I'd use a screenshot from the start of Darkmoon Island to demonstrate what a theme park is: A dark forest in which you theoretically can go in many directions, but where big neon arrows point towards the most efficient route. Most people will automatically follow that arrow. A sandbox is the same forest without the path and the neon signs, meaning people are more likely to go into different directions, but also more likely to not find the content. Assuming there are things to interact with in the forest, and enough players to meet in that forest to create emergent content, that can be very good. But of course the risk is of players lost in the forest, unsure about what they are supposed to do, and quitting before they found out.

In short, whether a game is sandbox or theme park depends on the amount of guidance offered to the players. Which is difficult, because the amount of guidance NEEDED by each player will be vastly different, depending on both attitude and experience. Thus claiming to be able to find the perfect optimum between the two, the "sandpark" level, appears to be somewhat spurious to me. What do you think?

"Which is difficult, because the amount of guidance NEEDED by each player will be vastly different, depending on both attitude and experience"

It's easier than you think. Imagine having 3 continents in the game world,

1. Continent A offers a tightly-guided quest-based experience, as well as all convenience offered in theme parks (vendors, AH, Banks etc)

2. Continent B is a blank canvas with no quest, no vendor NPCs, minimal structures and is largely claimable by Players for housing and building

3. Continent C is 50-50 of A and B.

Presto, you get 3 distinct levels of guidance so people can pick and choose. The vets can go kill each other on B, newbies and casual people will stick with A, etc...

The only downside is that if you want to do ALL that, your need to invest A LOT of effort to create content for all of these play-styles.
I'm glad developers are realizing the importance of guidance after all.

I think we all over-reacted to the heavy guidance in WoW-like MMOs, and everyone went through a phase of "pure PvP Sandbox or bust!"

Now the studios are finding that most people do enjoy some level of guidance, coherence, and story, rather than just free-form, "do whatever" kinds of games.
It's already a bust for me....

The leveling game is treated as the prelude to the full story content that begins at the cap

Euh no thanks.

If there is levelling then it's not really a sandbox since there is only one thing to "progress" in the game. All these MMOs are variations on "kill stuff to progress". Even pvp only is not a sandbox. The "theme" is still combat progression no matter how you slice it.
People will vary on how much guidance and game-play options they want in their game worlds so there is no perfect degree of sandpark for everyone.

Games pick their slot sand/theme box/park axis and draw the demographics that likes that level of openness.

Themepark games have larger demographics (but are also tiring more quickly these days), which is why you see games like WoW diversifying into sub-games with differing degrees of sandboxness to encourage retention of burnt-out themepark players.
I think the word "sandpark" was created for define FFXIV. I am not completelly sure, however, and I am at work, so I cannot open a lot of "game sites" (firewall don't permit it), but I think I saw that definition being used to FFXIV when the game was launched.

FFXIV is a game with quests, so it is a themepark, but the gear is player made, so it have a player market like a sandbox. My guess is that "sandpark" apply this way: a game with quests, but there are thing player will build, like houses and gear.

I will try look for the original quote about FFXIV being a sandpark tonight when I arrive at home.
Doesn't matter what they say - or whether they say nothing, like Blizzard - until they release something and we get to take a look at what was there.

I watched the videos: loved the first, was not too impressed by the second, sorta liked the third. But the first was all about theme and nothing about content.

Still, if a SF game interests me that is above average as I prefer fantasy styles. Certainly looking forward to seeing what they do.

I think I found the origin of the "sandpark" meme...

Eliot Lefebvre, Senior Contributor Ecitor of Massively, The Mog Log (

One of the last posts have this:
"[...] There's a reason I started calling the game a sandpark when I was writing my first impressions, because the devotion to non-combat gameplay options is almost peerless among more modern games. And it's worth some tribute.
The game's crafting features honestly feel like something out of a pure sandbox design document. You can start crafting at the start of the game and spend the entire game quite comfortably crafting. There are quests specifically for you, content that you can unlock, and progression -- both in terms of harder quests to accomplish and better equipment for crafting. There's now even stuff for you to do at the endgame, special quests to undertake that require a high level of skill and a fair amount of extra material."

I am sure one of the first posts about FFXIV Eliot Lefebvre used the word "sandpark" for explain FFXIV.

Free Realms actually springs to my mind. Although there is plenty of hand holding there is no real linear path to follow and you are pretty much encouraged to explore the world and play all the mini games.
Oh yes, agreed that an optimum is hard, though Chris K's idea seems a possible way to work it.

I'd like to see an MMORPG with big, wild, empty (of humans) zones. Project Entropia had many flaws, but exploring was fun.
While there can be a game that essentially has 3 different sub-games inside it with different levels of sandbox/themepark, I'm very skeptical it would be a better experience for anyone than simply have 3 separate games. I don't see why someone would look for a hybrid-style game instead of one that caters directly towards their own preferred level.

Also, I would love to see more sandboxy type games available. Even the best of them are very restrictive in the types of gameplay you can engage in. Of current games, I think only Wyrm Online lets you really just pick a home and then do whatever you want, with little to no restrictions. Glitch was somewhat like that.

Everything else is clearly designed to guide you into conflict with other players. I've always felt it was a failure of the sandbox model when the developer relies on other players to be the content for you, instead of just letting you play.

IMO the best answer is a single game with all elements. Even a pure sandbox game is on rails of sorts as many players are doing what they are told by other players.

EVE is not anarchy, it's organized groups of players with leaders and goals only accomplished if people follow directions. It's just that the rails are created by players, not the game. But many are still essentially doing quests of sort, and building rep and XP.

A combined game's (sandpark) biggest challenge would be providing an environment which is moldable enough to allow players to create meaningful content that would mesh with, and not destroy or disrupt the themepark content.

Games within games within games which transition smoothly and logically seems like the most obvious design goal to me.
themepark is not just a game that have a linear questing a game with clear goals to achieve. For example, item levels and also is a game that kills simulation in favor of "quality of life" as they call them features...

For example, shoting with your bow without have quiver and arrows with you, damage the fire lord with fire spells, instant teleports, all these are some examples of themepark features.

So what is Sandpark?I consider Sandpark a game that is a sandbox game which tries to be as simulation as possible but without a free for all pvp or even without pvp at all?that would be great
I see your description as differentiating between good and incompetent rails. I.e., the question is not so much about how well-constructed the path is, but by destinations: I.e., do a pretty proscribed path to get to max level and then do some combo of Raids/PvP/Pet battles is "rails" regardless of whether the tools and websites make the journey obvious or puzzling confusing.

Quest, PvP or craft to max level "and then the games begins" is better because it provides 3 rail lines instead of 1 to the common goal. But there is a single destination with a couple of elder games.

I can't resist - "EVE is a sandbox" is not quite as true as the marketing folks would say - if you want to do high-sec missions or mining, there will be a number of players and developer decisions telling you that you are doing it wrong.
I always see sandboxes as high risk and reward - probably doomed to fail as people want more immediate gratification and more direction and less thinking. But if you can get the sandbox going, it is so much cheaper to keep going; you do not have to keep making unfun grinds to slow down the content carnivores who want the next raid & expansion at a pace far too fast to be economically viable.

Synchronicity: it looks like a press embargo on Wildstar will be lifting next week and that EQNext may even ship this year. I am hopeful for yet pessimistic about sandboxes. It is quite surprising that my two anticipated games of the next year are both sandboxes. Or at least use some sandbox PR points.
Sandbox > Themepark for me, though yeah it can be a scary experience when you don't know what the heck is going on.

Try Stalker Online for example. Finding your way out of the very first area can be very challenging unassisted. :P
It seems he's coined a term that you used to describe what we've been working on a few months ago... Synchronicity!
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