Sandbox MMOs vs. Theme Park MMOs: FIGHT!

Two heavyweight MMO styles of gaming go into the ring. Only one will come out the victor!

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years, computer role playing games (CRPGs) were all
about playing a character or controlling a party in an expansive world,
with danger and adventure. Whether that adventure took the form of
resources for crafting, exploring dank dungeons, or fighting for your
against a seemingly constant stream of monsters (seriously…
just how many rats
are in those sewers?!), the games were huge and took forever to play

MMORPGs evolved from the text-based MUDs that
birthed them, they followed the same path as the CRPGs that came before
Meridian 59, Ultima Online, EverQuest – they all were massive
worlds full of
danger. Rather than guide players through a set of predetermined
the development teams created these games to allow players to live out
fantasy of playing a character seeking fame and fortune with their
Just like everything else, these games eventually began to evolve and
it wasn’t
long before the theme park MMO was born. 

park MMOs are designed to set players on a set of
rails, guiding them through the content of a game. Some people consider
this a
bad thing, but there are a lot of advantages it gives to developers.
One of the
biggest advantages to this method of game creation is that it allows
development team to create a very elaborate story or setting to deeply
the experience a player has. Whether this is through scripted events,
or mini-cut scenes, all of these things and more can be created knowing
won’t go to waste when a player travels along a designated
adventure path. The
biggest disadvantage of this style is that it limits player choice

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MMOs are nearly the complete opposite of this.
Rather than choosing a predestined path for players to follow, this
style allows for the creation of an open world in which players are
free to
discover their own adventure at their own pace. The style of gameplay
has its
own advantages, the largest of which is player freedom. Players are
free to go
where they please, get into whatever trouble they find, and create
their own
adventures. The biggest disadvantage of this style is that players can
become overwhelmed with too much choice, making them feel lost. 

games such as Ultima Online and EverQuest followed
the sandbox school of development. When World of Warcraft came along
dominated the market with its theme park style of gaming, this method
became the law of the land for most future games. For the longest time,
was a four-letter word to most development teams. Players had shied
away from
open and expansive worlds in favor of smaller guided experiences for so
that the few independent sandbox MMOs that released fared poorly. As a
sandbox MMOs looked as though they were going to go the way of the Dodo
short order. 

inevitable that everything in life eventually
becomes old or boring and as a result, it was only natural that players
theme park MMOs have begun to cry for something different. In response,
are definitely some new games coming next year that are looking to
alter the
course of MMO history and introduce players to completely new concepts
(more on
later this week).

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which is the better gaming method? While I will gladly
give theme park MMOs their due as something new and interesting at one
point in
time, in the end, they’re just far too limiting to win this
battle. I’m not a
fan of being put on a set of rails, even if there are multiple rails to
from. I want the freedom to go wherever I want to. At the same time,
that means
I also want to be able to get into as much trouble as I want to. Part
of the
thrill of an MMO is taking your character into an area of the game that
clearly has no business being. 

was great at this, as was Vanguard. Both games
allowed you to roam the land freely. If you wanted to be cautious, you
able. If instead you wanted to try and sneak your way into a zone of
ever-impending death, you were welcome to do that as well, but
you’d better be
prepared to accept the consequences. One of my favorite memories of
was seeing a ruined city, high atop the edge of a cliff far off in the
distance. At the time, I had no quests for it and it was well above my
range. Even so, I spent a week fighting and sneaking my way towards it.
thrill I felt when I finally set foot inside the edge of that city
with me even now. 

the magic a sandbox MMO can give that a theme park
game never will. It may take extra effort on the part of a player to
reasons to explore and push further for themselves, but trust me when I
say it
is well worth the effort. Times are changing and the sandbox is
becoming a
welcome site to gamers new and old alike. If you think I’m
wrong and you prefer
theme park MMOs instead, let us know why in the comments below.
You’re also
always welcome to href="">hit me up on
any time as well.


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