Smed Talks Sandbox

SOE's president discusses why themepark MMOs are unsustainable and why games with player-driven tasks are more likely the wave of the future.

Sony Online Entertainment's top dog, John Smedley, has a lot to say about current games on his blog, and about why SOE is poised for a strong showing with its future games. In a recent post, he discusses why he believes sandbox games are the wave of the future, and why themepark games with static content are unsustainable. 

He claims that most MMOs nowadays are "content driven," focusing mostly on stuff created by developers for players to consume.

Over the years the quality has really been steadily rising to the point where we have some brilliant narrative and exciting storylines in many MMOs today. We still thrill at completing a quest to kill the dragon or save some poor townsperson who was unlucky enough to get kidnapped by orcs. The real issue is a simple one – our ability to consume that content as players has gotten to the point that most content is done by the players nearly immediately after it’s released. It’s also laid out for all to see on any number of websites that contain complete spoilers up to and including the loot drop percentages.

I won’t argue why I think that part sucks. It’s too subjective. The thing that is tough as a game maker is that players are going through the content we make so much faster then we can make it that we’re constantly in a state where our players are looking for stuff to do.

A great example of this happened with SWTOR. I happen to think it’s a very well done game and the team at Bioware should be proud. However people that played the game went through the content so quickly that they became bored a whole lot sooner than the developers wanted them to.

A gaming writer can't help but feel a bit disappointed that his carefully-researched guides might be a source of annoyance for developers, but he has a point. And he goes on to predict that this rapid content consumption will spell trouble for games like the Elder Scrolls Online:

Don’t get me wrong.. someone with deep pockets can still pull it off. TESO looks like it’s going to follow the content model and it’s going to have a lot of players. I’m willing to bet that it hits the same problem that SWTOR did. Just not enough to do.

He then proposes that the solution to the problem of rapid content consumption is player-driven content:

In my opinion the solution is focusing a lot more on letting players make and be content for each other. Battlegrounds are an excellent example of an Evergreen style of content where it’s the players themselves that actually create the content. Auction houses are another example. So are things like storytelling tools in SWG.. or the brilliant music system in LOTRO. Building systems into the games that let the players interact with each other in new and unique ways gives us the ability to watch as the players do stuff we never anticipated. We’ll see a lot more creativity in action if the players are at the center of it. Imagine an MMORPG of a massive city.. and the Rogue’s guild is entirely run by players. Where the city has an entire political system that is populated by players who were elected by the playerbase.

There’s a great example of this today with Eve Online. It’s a brilliantly executed system where the players are pretty much in charge of the entire game. Sure there is a lot of content for players to do, but anything that’s important in the game is done by the players. This is a shining example of how this kind of system can thrive.

Well said, Smed. You can read the rest of this blog entry on his brand new blog,

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