Thursday, January 6, 2011
Content, Goals and Dreams
My corp leader said if you can fly over to our base and join us for a bit and if you fit in well, we'll let you sign up. All's left is for you to decide to play the game.
I'd like to give special thanks to The Mittani on TenTonHammer for inspiring this post with this article on content and sandbox MMOs.
Runescape isn't a sandbox MMO. It's a content based MMO, like a slightly uglier version of World of Warcraft. The difference between content and sandbox MMOs is that in content based types, the parent company gives you the fun. In sandboxes, you make your own fun and set your own goals completely unforeseen by the developers.
The problem with content based MMOs is that you run out of content eventually. The main hook of such a game is the thousands of hours of content involved and the hundreds of places to explore. Sandboxes tend to have more mature players, because in a sandbox MMO, you are forced to make your own fun. You aren't spoon fed goals and missions by the system and any major goal attained was probably set by yourself, in your mind.
Runescape delivers all of those thousands of hours of content as promised. There are hundreds of quests, enemies, dozens of skills; but what happens once you've explored them all? The best way to test if Runescape is sandbox or content was to use the old goals system. Many players will remember how it functioned and what was in it. Now try to set yourself a goal that isn't included in the list of goals provided and doesn't involve 'Perform x action y times'.
Not easy, is it? If you're a quite high leveled player, you'll have a very narrow list of goals available, and most things you can think up outside of the goal system are 'Perform x action y times'. They're not fun goals for you to go at.
In EVE, missions are simple quests, repeatable and pay consistently. They're not incredibly exciting, but I don't find them completely boring, either. A friend of mine ingame was shocked at my ability to grind so many missions. I'll admit, it isn't fun, but it's good money and I can keep at it. This friend repeatedly asked me over the course of the afternoon, "What you doing?" every time I throw back a, 'missions', he was surprised at my patience and resistance to boredom. I've looked at the other aspects of EVE Online and found that missioning is right down on the bottom in terms of fun, alongside mining and hauling. It's repetitive, but I didn't think so.
When I told him I played Runescape for a while and this sort of thing happens every day and is usually even less exciting that launching missiles and drones at clusters of NPCs, he was blown away by how boring it must have been and praised my dedication.
So this got me thinking a bit longer; how does the sheer boredom and grind of Runescape catch so many players? Accessibility and free-to-play are major aspects, but even freemium, browser MMOs tend to lose their playerbase after a while.
Then I worked it out.
Runescape is a very good content-based MMO.
Once people run of content, they leave. So as long as developers keep pushing new features and content out, they can keep their customers. The news archives are a good indicator of how much content we get. An average of a single ingame update per 1.5 weeks is a stunning rate. We don't leave because they keep giving us new stuff to keep us busy until the next update! As long as we're around to keep doing each update, we'll still pay. Runescape is so addictive because of the amount of content that keeps us busy. Veterans who quit come back to the game to catch up on new content. Updates are free. We don't buy expansions, so people who quit can come right back.
So what makes a sandbox MMO any better than a content MMO? It's the players. In EVE, the players are what make the game so unique. Alliance politics become a frothing mess of angry nerds seizing imaginary territory with their internet spaceships. There are plenty of space-based games out there, EVE's playerbase makes it special. Runescape isn't as much of a Multiplayer game as it could be. I've played without successfully joining a clan for my whole career. I've done everything (barring those 2 quests) solo. The only time I interact with players is when I'm forced to in minigames and chatrooms, otherwise, I thrive on my own.
In EVE, everyone pushes you to join a corp as soon as you're eligible. Pick carefully and sign up, because these people will help you, nurture you and teach you. In EVE, the players hurt you and help you most. The tutorial is very impersonal, as are all interactions with NPCs and only the players there can make the game fun.
I joined my corporation (and subsequently, alliance) several weeks ago and this is the first time I've felt so at ease in a player organisation. Runescape clans boil mostly down to a bunch of people working together because they have common goals and have to through the rather limited clan system (I can't wait for those clan updates to appear on Stellar Dawn).
All this means that EVE is special because it's well-done sandbox. The main thing interfering and aiding your game are the players.
In EVE, you decide what happens to your character, your dreams and goals are manifest. EVE is the kind of place where you can get really, really creative with where you want your little avatar to be in a year.
I'm not constrained as much by levels and equipment as I was in Runescape, I don't have to grind missions and mine all day if I feel it. They're a means to an end, an end which you decide. Do you want to infiltrate corporations and scam the shit out of them, jacking all of their assets and laugh at them while you leave? Would you rather launch suicide attacks against miners in highsec who think they're safe and equip their ships with expensive modules? Perhaps you'd like to turn a trading corporation into an empire, utilising your wealth from the trade routes to hiring a mercenary corporation for seizing territory. Or do you want to earn a high place in your corporation and be elected as Fleet Commander, calling the shots and directing your peers in battles across the stars. The choice is yours. You don't grind to watch your statistics go up, you work toward a dream you set out for yourself. Every level, lump of cash and item is just a step in the direction you pointed yourself in.
For instance, any of my dreams or goals in Runescape would have consisted of some level. A level listed on a hiscore. Like the other tens of thousands on the hiscore tables above and below me. People don't speak of me as someone who made stellar changes in the game's history. Your goals and dreams aren't nearly as significant because thousands of people have already gotten there before you.
For instance, my dream in EVE is to be financially stable, fit mining lasers to a what is intended to be a sniping battleship and mine asteroids with it and one day, be at the head of a fleet in a carrier loaded with at least 50 exotic dancers and plenty of alchohol. Because I can. Why should I work to a ship? Or work for money? I want to do something unique with the existing game mechanics that too few others have thought of.
That is a sandbox.