Massively multiplayer online games are a fickle beast: while there's a massive market for them, there's no question that the arena is dominated by a few select offerings. No matter how well-known the brand, or how high-quality the content, the average life cycle of the modern MMO can fall far short of the developer's projections.
In its current state, the MMO market is dominated by content-driven models like that of World of Warcraft. These are dubbed 'content-driven' as content is continuously created by the developers to keep players engaged, whether it be new races, dungeons or quests. But given how quickly today's gaming audience consumes content, there are few surprises to uncover once the core game is released.
Past releases have shown that no matter how fast additional content is released, developers simply can't keep up with the consumption of the average MMO gamer. As a result, SOE's John Smedley posits on his new blog that sandbox gameplay holds the key to the future of the massively multiplayer online game:
"In my opinion the solution is focusing a lot more on letting players make and be content for each other... Building systems into the games that let the players interact with each other in new and unique ways gives us the ability to watch as the players do stuff we never anticipated. We’ll see a lot more creativity in action if the players are at the center of it."
As he states in the blog post, this is very similar to the mission statement (and success?) of EVE Online. From its battles of epic proportions to its economy crashes, the universe that CCP initially built is constantly influenced in fundamental ways way by the community's actions and motivations. Even if the game didn't have regular content updates, EVE represents a constantly shifting entity that has its community to thank as much as - or even more than - the developers.
This is what John Smedley foresees the MMO market converging on in the future. Not only does it make sense from a player's standpoint as it motivates dynamic, player-driven content, but it also makes sense from a financial standpoint, allowing the developers to focus on the content that will ultimately define the game instead of injecting significant amounts of filler content simply to sate their community's voracious appetite.
As such, he ends the blog post by stating:
"Our belief at SOE is that it’s smarter to head in this direction now rather than waiting. We want to innovate and let players be a part of everything we do including make the game in the first place. We’re going to take the idea of sandbox gaming and we’re putting it at the core of everything we’re doing. We’ll obviously still be making awesome stuff for players to do, but we’re going to aim very high in terms of letting players be a part of the game systems. The more emergent sandbox style content we can make the less predictable the experience will be."
With EverQuest Next standing as one of the next big releases from SOE, it's clear that this philosophy is playing a crucial part in its development. Being touted as an MMO for the fans, by the fans, sandbox gameplay looks to be the main course in EverQuest Next with players creating content for one another through a separate client called EverQuest Next Landmark. If the execution is on point, it could represent the continued shift in the MMO spectrum.
Until then though, the state of the MMO world doesn't seem to have any intention of changing too drastically. It will take a massive release to shift the weight that past MMO titans have secured with World of Warcraft still going strong. For the sake of gamers, developers, and the potential evolution of the genre, here's hoping that John Smedley and SOE can find a way to effectively bring sandbox gameplay to the masses.
Do you think EverQuest Next will be able to reach a wide enough market to initiate any sort of change? Do you agree with John Smedley's beliefs on sandbox gameplay?
Source: John Smedley