Yesterday when I wrote about what I think Bioware is doing wrong, I made the following statement:
If SW:TOR has been released five years ago it might have been the WoW killer everyone has been dreaming of, but instead it has been released at a time when there appears to be a growing disatisfaction with the subscription themepark model.
I said this, in part, because I’m a part of the group feeling that disatisfaction with the themepark model.
The problem I find is that I also enjoy the direction inherent in a themepark. You go to a location, do a bunch of quests that when complete direct you to the next area. It’s a big step up from having no direction and having to kill a ton of mobs in order to get to the level where you can go to the next area that defined games like Everquest.
But this model has the problem that it can get a bit tedious after a while. After all, the quests all blend in to one. And when a game is entirely based on the quest-to-level-cap model it ends up being limited.
On the other hand, a pure sandbox has its problems too. New players starting up may find the lack of direction quite daunting, especially coming from a traditional themepark like WoW. Sometimes too many choices without any direction can be as bad as a completely directed experience.
That’s why I think that MMORPGs should be like a vacation (or holiday as we say here in Oz.)
When you go on a vacation you get to choose what you want to do. You can stay in a national park and go hiking one day. The next day you can visit Disneyland. The third day you can ride a tour bus, and the fourth day you can get into the car and spend more time at the spots you visited in the bus the day before. The fifth day you can visit a waterpark. There are themeparks sure, but you can spend as much or as little time in them as you want.
So why can’t a MMO be like this? A big game with lots of sandbox features, but with individual unconnected themeparks
To make a MMORPG more like a vacation you need:
- A game with a lot of sandbox features, where the players have a lot of autonomy to play and interact with the world, like Eve for example, lots of crafting, trading, PvP… everything like that.
- Some direction for players who are not sure what they can do. Missions perhaps. Not necessarily story based. These are like the bus tours showing a general overview of places you can go back to later to explore in more depth.
- Some areas in the game that offer a quest chain with a decent story. Disneyland anyone?
The difference is that the themepark areas are not the focus of progression, they are just things that a player can do and spend as much or as little time as they want. When a player gets bored of the quest areas they can leave and do something else in the game. Or they can never set foot in them, and not be disadvantaged.
So, with the rising disatisfaction in themepark design, and the still somewhat niche status of the sandbox game, perhaps it’s time to see some games that combine the two models. Let me know what you think in the comments below.