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If there is one thing that I’m certain of in the MMORPG genre it’s that true sandbox games don’t work
For the vast majority of the players that are out there.
I began my MMORPG journey in 1998 in what I still consider the ultimate sandbox game, Ultima Online.
Back in 1998 only 2 mainstream MMO’s existed, Ultima Online and Lineage and as far as anyone in the West was concerned Lineage didn’t exist because we didn’t hear about it, so for most western gamers it was Ultima Online or nothing.
Ultima Online was the great experiment, a free roaming, do anything, skill based world to explore. There were no quests to do, no guides, no tutorials, nothing to nudge you in any one direction. You chose your starting city and you were thrown into the world.
Ultima Online was a dangerous place to be, far more dangerous than any other MMORPG I have ever played since. Seeing another player while out exploring the world was a very tense moment, you could almost feel the tension between the two of you, it was this way because Ultima Online was a true sandbox in that anything could happen, you could lose everything you had on you, you could make a new friend, or you could choose to avoid one another.
There were no true safe areas in Ultima Online. The city’s were a lot safer than the wilds though you could still be robbed by a thief without ever knowing it or even killed outright before the guards could respond. A common macro in that game when going to a bank in town was “Bank, Guards!, Thief!” since the thieves would hang out at the banks to relieve you of your adventuring loot before you could deposit it.
Playing the game could be incredibly frustrating, for example on several occasions after jumping in my boat and sailing to a resource rich mining area on one of the coasts I would mine for hours only to have a couple guys sail into view, block me in with their boat before I could react and subsequently murder me. I would have to stand there on my boat which was now their boat as a ghost and watch as they looted my lifeless body, transferred all the ore it took me hours to mine to their boat, use my boat key which was now their boat key to deconstruct my boat to sell later. If they were nice they would rez me and gate me to some town, or more often than not just ignore my poor ghost until they sailed to a port and I could get off their boat and go to a healer to get rez’d.
People couldn’t really handle a true sandbox game back then, the crying and loss of subscriptions became so great that Ultima Online had to change to survive so they split the game in two and created Trammel, an exact mirror of the old world Felucca but with one twist, it was no longer a true sandbox for there was no player vs. player allowed, you could live in absolute security and thus the great experiment ended and the first true sandbox game had failed.
In my opinion if any AAA dev studio put out a true open world sandbox game today the tears would be endless and the screams of rage deafening.
Anyone who posts that they want a true sandbox game but wasn’t around to play Ultima Online before Trammel doesn’t really understand what they are asking for in my opinion.