Sunday, September 1, 2013

Theme park and Sandbox MMOs for a Casual gamer

Iorek meets our new friend Nomi

I just finished reading The Shattering by Christie Golden (yes, I know I am almost 3 years late reading it).  I enjoyed it, but that isn't what I am going to talk about.  It explained a lot of what happened led up to the Cataclysm and Mists expansions of World of Warcraft.  There were sympathetic characters who you meet in the game and it did make we want to play the game more (and I found humorous all the discussions about how you might enjoy playing World of Warcraft if you enjoyed the book).

Others have complained (I'll try to find references later) about having to read a book to truly understand what is happening in a game.  Part of me agrees that the game should be self-contained, but as I have thought about it, if we want truly interesting stories, I'm not sure we have a better option.  It is possible for solo content to have cutscreen videos within the game, but if this is supposed to be a multiplayer game, that takes you away from those with whom you are playing.  People have tried to put stories within the game while allowing people to play together, but there are people who never want to wait and it doesn't work well to make everyone wait for whomever is slowest.  Hopefully a player who wants to watch the 'story' can find friends who are willing to watch it with him or her, but that doesn't always happen.  

A video accompaniment might be possible, but I'd suggest that would encourage people just to watch the video and the game becomes secondary.  Books may be the best alternative, allowing the developer to build the background and motivations while still allowing you to participate in the plot.

I believe part of the reason I want an independent story provided to me is that I have limited play time.  With a lot of game time, it is much easier to have momentum and just build your own story within the game.  When you don't have much time, it is great to have some outside motivation that allows you to participate in the game world without always having to build your own story.

This leads directly to the conversation about 'Theme park and Sandbox' games (yes, I finally got to the subject of my post).  For many serious gamers, a Sandbox (or World) game like Eve or like Everquest Next is purported to be is what they are looking for.  They want to build the stories themselves and I can certainly understand that desire.  However, when I analyse how I play, I don't believe I would enjoy an MMO like that today.

I can't commit myself to a time to play with others and, while games like GuildWars 2 has made it is easier to group with others on the fly, it is a poor substitute for playing with people you know.  I really like being in my guild and having participated with them, even if it has been sporadically, over many years.

More generally, I suspect the market for a "Sandbox" game is more limited to than the one for a "Theme park" game.  Most people who play MMOs don't play for the many hours a week that the serious gamers and most of those who write about games play.   There is a place for a well-written story that isn't written as you play but let's you play a side part.  There is a place for a book that gives the background to the story in depth in a way that a casual gamer could never see within the game.  

I suggest there are probably many more people who would happily participate in a game like this than there are those who have the time to build their own stories.  I do believe the 'sandbox' gamers have been neglected and I hope, as trends seem to be going, that there are more games that cater to their needs.  Have said that, I doubt I'll be playing those 'sandbox' or 'world' games with them, and they may have to accept that those games will have a more limited market that those where the player participates in the story told within the game.