What follows is a rant. Brace yourselves, for rants are rare at Red Skies.
I’m all about sandbox MMOs. There’s hardly a blogger out there which believes as firmly as I do that they are the way of the future for the genre. However, I’ve rarely talked about the (significant) downside to the whole sandbox thing. The side that will certainly witness companies abusing the players-as-content feature in a way we’ve never seen before. It will be nothing short of them opening the doors to taking player content and profiting from it all the while trying to persuade us that it’s fair exchange: they get your money and you get a game. While we get “fun” and a “thanks for playing!” they implement our content (say, Landmarks) and take it to the bank. I’m extremely cynical about this arrangement because it will be as unfair as they can make it, no matter what kind of share they promise us.
The thing with player-created content is that, in essence, players are generating revenue for companies by making the stuff in their games. In that sense, it’s like working for free. Oh, sure it doesn’t feel like a job or anything we associate with traditional work. It doesn’t matter how much passion and joy I have for creating things in a game or sharing them. The player-creator model essentially allows MMO companies to do something they’ve never been able to do: create a persistent world and not need to regularly create tons of content for it, depending on players to do some of the legwork so that development costs less and profits increase accordingly.
Case in Point
If EQN pulls of what they say they will (they can’t), then Norrath will largely be a world in which players produce a lot of content. Sony’s no fool (they know how to get your money without delivering on their word) and let me just make my position on their ability to create a great sandbox MMO perfectly clear: they’re incapable of succeeding. This company is the pinnacle of ineptitude, from management to development, when it comes to MMOs. They have a great lineage of over-promising and under-delivering. EQN will be the next feature in their circus line-up on Sony Station.
A quick browse of the Station is like walking through a museum. There are so many games there which players had great hopes for, and which had great potential. Placed in the hands of Sony, their failures were inevitable. Every game in there had a terrible launch, missing features, and broken core mechanics from day one. Credit where it’s due, Everquest 2 did eventually become a very respectable game. It’s too bad they botched the launch and subsequent 2 years of it’s early days to the point where it won’t be remembered that way.
The propaganda flying out of their hype-machine is so painfully superficial that only dreaming eyes would think they could re-invigorate the MMO genre with this scheme. It’s so transparent. EQN will be a mediocre title. It’s opening days will be nearly unplayable or else thoroughly under-deliver; features will be missing at launch and others flat out broken. That destructible world will be little more than a respawn mechanic taken to new heights or else a total wasteland not unlike Star Wars Galaxies. PvP will be half-baked. Classes will be unbalanced. Sony has a proven track record of incompetence and mediocre game development and these are just some of the star features of it. Players have almost no reason to believe EQN will be different.
The Sandbox Hoax
In the grand scheme of things, sandboxes do and will continue to do, all the things which I think make them compatible with MMO game design. It will return players-as-conent to the core of gameplay as it should be. This is eternally good for traditional MMOs because they don’t work well without this dynamic. Since producing games for the genre can be astronomically expensive, sandboxes decrease this load like nothing else. Players get exactly the kind of universe they want to play in with like-minded others. Content development can remain focused on that niche, decreasing costs and leading to a sustainable formula. Finally, niche sandboxes leave LOTS of room for MANY different types of MMOs to thrive. It counter-acts the need for them to be everything to everyone in order to be profitable and successful.
EQN will corrupt this potential by blatantly running a game designed to extract content from players as a “feature” of Norrath. They plan to prey on player fantasies of building things in our worlds and our desire to share those things with other players. And since Sony will fail in this endeavor, companies with the same intent will pick up the corpse and make their own Frankenstein with it, promising to “get it right.” To say I’ve been disappointed with Sony and it’s promises surrounding EQN is an understatement. I can feel the lies. I think it’s very safe to say that suits are running the show and they want as many barriers from EQ2 broken down as possible including making it F2P. They plan to make their money somehow and that includes encouraging player content development so they can take a slice of the pie. It’ll be a “class revolution”, alright.
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