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

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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