Samstag, 27. März 2010

Conventional MMOs vs. Sandbox MMOs and why EVE is still alive

(Need a German translation? Contact me here: jan-christopher@altenhoff-lgh.de)

Conventional MMOs vs. Sandbox MMOs

Looking at the MMORPG/MMORTS/MMOFPS/MMOG/MMO market (whatever, you get the point), for me there are two categories for products. Although they all share the general idea of having one main character, in my opinion there is one difference that shouldn't be forgotten.

The first type of MMOs (the "conventional" type) assigns one main level to each character. That means, you basically work on Quests/NPCs/etc to push your main EXP bar/whatever up to 100% and once you are done with that, you start it over, aka "teh grind".
As you probably already figured out, most MMOs belong to this category. I'll use (of course) WoW as my prime example.

The second type, on the other hand, does not directly show you a Level itself but ofeten only an indicator of how far you have progressed thus far. It is very common for this type to not only have one, but a number of Skills (Although I find "Skills" to be confusing here, I'll explain later), sometimes their total amount lies beyond two dozens.
Again, as you may have guessed, the number of MMOs here is very low. My prime example will be EVE Online.

There may even be some hybrids which select one very important "Skill" and designate it as the main Level.
This happens in many Sandbox MMOs to a degree which but some take this to a niveau that exalts them from their category like Bounty Bay Online (thats Voyage Century for Americans).

Coming back to what I wrote earlier, the term "Skill" may not be appropriate for the different levels of the second type. It sounds like they still remain mere parts of a greater entity.
For example, EVE counts all the skillpoints you achieve by leaving your character train the skills while you sleep and thus, the "Total SP" could be considered a "main level" just like the ones I mentioned in the paragraph about the first type. But that's not the point.
What I'm getting at is that "conventional" MMOs mostly have their content depend on the characters' main level as a primary prerequisite while "non-leveling" MMOs allow their players to choose goals for themselves and even enable them to completely cut loose from every "mainstream" character setup without forcing them to undergo extra grinding sessions.

Now speaking of my very own, personal experience, I enjoy the second type far more than
the first (Well, that should be obvious looking at the Blog title anyway) and thought a little about why I actually do. What I wrote previously is just what I think should be known to the reader before presenting my thoughts concerning the question why relatively old Sandbox MMOs are still alive and kicking many many years after their creation while conventional types have a slight trend to look a little unhealthy (concerning the playerbase) comparatively often and in the end, I came up with a pretty simple result.

So, why is EVE still alive?

Since "THE GRIND" aka repetition possibly has the biggest influence on players, conventional MMO players will get increasingly frustrated when they realise all they do is "killing ten rats" all the time. Everything is focused on leveling and looting without proper user interaction (I like to call it the "LFP" syndrome) and in the end, there you are, with the most awesome equipment you painstakingly farmed over the course of the last 6 moths but now...? Exactly what do you plan on doing now? Yeah, that's right, let's postpone the inevitable a little by starting a new char, blah blah blah, we know the drill.
Ok now, how can you prevent players from leaving the game once they're done? Right. Don't ever let them finish or at least ensure that the gameplay is sufficiently based on teamplay and that is something the long-standing sandboxes have shown perfectly.

Don't get me wrong though, the conventional MMOs are fine like they are (I didn't forget about the impressive number released in the last century/centuries which are still alive) and I think they will prevail until the new player influx declines to unseen depths which will presumably never happen but if you are looking for something that's going to keep you entertained for a long time and which you can put all your heart into, you might just finally want to consider to look for something else.

So basically, everything boils down to this:
Conventional MMOs -> short-term gratification
Sandbox MMOs -> long-term gratifcation