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  By Nick 16 Jun 2009
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Sandboxes and Amusement Parks
By Nick 16 Jun 2009

Massive Online Games are roughtly catergorized under two headings, as amusement parks or sandboxes.

Amusement parks are where the developers line up things to do (like rides), you often stand around waiting for hours for a spawn, but the ride itself doesn't last long. Sandboxes are where players are given a pliable and readily available substance (sand) and will create fun things to do with that.

An example of an amusement park game is your standard WoW or Everquest. Things work the way they should, and if the status quo is disturbed your friendly neighborhood GM will sort things out. You go on raids, you farm high level loot, you craft ad nauseam, join guilds, and so forth. You are also handed a convenient map telling you where everything is and pocketbook detailing how to do it.

The perfect example of a sandbox game is EvE Online. Almost everything that can be done in the game can be done right from the beginning or whever you choose. How do you want to make money, mining asteroids, killing other people, working the local market? Doesn't matter, really. Every so often stories pop up of some spectacular things happening in EvE that no developer planned for and is certainly not a scripted event. Players rob banks for hundreds of billions of ISK, or plan for eight months on how to infiltrate a corporation, assassinate the leader in one of the rarest and most powerful ships in the game, and literally clean out it's money and equipment.

Sandbox games, while very appealing on paper and on a features list, comes with a price. Most are brutal and painful to break into, with the difficulty curve rising exponentially. Veterans, like most games, are always a pain because of their superior skills and equipment, but especially so in sandbox worlds. In amusement parks at least you can see a discernible path to the top: you go and level. The environment in a sandbox often smothers new players, and most have no sense of direction or purpose.

The previously mentioned players can generally be classified as casual players, but not always. So which should we have more of? Well most of the recent failures (WAR, Conan) were largely amusement parks. But if the next games that came out were sandboxes (they won't be, but for hypothetical purposes), how many people would play it? EvE has survived quite a long time (and I don't see it going anywhere) because a very dedicated community, truckloads of lore like books and newsletters, and some truly unique ideas and expansions. Most games are not this lucky, so its hard to definitively say what a game should follow. I'm waiting for the perfect mixture between both worlds.



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