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One term that I find increasingly annoying on this forum is "sandbox". Now, we all know what a sanbox is, right? It's the ideal MMO! In a sandbox it's like you're playing another life and not just a game. YOU affect the universe around you, and NPC's and players alike react to those actions, and you have to live with what you've done.
Now, I'm not here to argue for or against sandbox's (which I'm very fond of, especially with games like Skyrim and Minecraft). What I'm here to argue is that there will never be an MMO sandbox satiffactory to all of the people calling for one.
There are several insurmountable difficulties surrounding the developer of a sandbox, and I've organized them in a list format for neatness.
1. Too Much Stuff:
One of the first major difficulties one will find when building any remotely realistic sandbox is just how much stuff there is. What I mean by this is how many various items and entities would have to be coded in to make the world "real".
In a true sandbox if one entered some NPC's mansion (again, assuming the slightest bit of realism) they would find the place loaded with various types of furniture, jewelry, paintings, and an endless list of other objects. Such a game would require enormous amounts of RAM and HDD space, not even mentioning years upon years of development.
To be a true sandbox, all of these would have to be moveable or in the last affectable, as they would be in real life. Now it is true that most people are satisfied with how TES has handled it- a good half of the items one finds in a house are affectable, allowing one a somewhat good sense of realism.
But even this half-measure is impossible in an MMO, to be explained in number two.
2. "Massive" Multiplayer:
The second major difficulty facing a sandbox MMO is simply the fact that it IS an MMO, and that there are many players (and probability states that at least a few of them are going to be less than respectable citizens). Let us assume, for a moment, that some developer was able to accumulate enough capital to make a real sandbox MMO and has spent the better part of two decades doing so.
This new game, to be the "herald of a golden age of gaming", would very quickly look like several atomic bombs dropped on its surface in a few days. Within only weeks of launch, several of the games cities would be burning wrecks, the countryside would be laced with craters and burning farmsteads, and NPC houses would be ransacked of all posessions. The problem is simple- griefing.
For those who don't know the term, griefing is best defined as the purposeful destruction of both player and NPC property, and the general ruining of gameplay for other players. This problem is rampant on Minecraft multiplayer servers, and even after years of gameplay hasn't been completely resolved.
There are a couple ways to solve this. The Minecraft method is to make "plots", wherein only the player residing in said plot can do anything inside of it. This does, of course, completely ruin the realism feel. Another method is to have NPC guards patrolling about ready to stop any would-be criminals. There are several problems with this method.
First of all, there would have to be a highly-complex AI (and I think we all know how well AI's are in games nowadays) that would be capable of recognizing criminals and non-criminals, as it is entirely possible that a player DOES have to create a massive crater in the ground to, say, stop a bunch of criminals from burning down the village.
The difficulty in defining criminals and non-criminals is insurmountable (at least for now), and such a system would quickly result in much of the playerbase leaving out of irritation of being arrested and jailed while having not commited a crime.
Having player guards is quite possibly even worse than NPC guards, as players are quite apt to bring down randomized cruelty on to other players, and old vendetta's can very easily get in the way of being just.
But let us assume, just for a moment, that by some miracle a satisfactory anti-griefing system is devised as to disallow pure chaos but to allow some realism. The second problem with an MMO sanbox again relates to the simple question of the amount of players, and the idea of the sandbox.
The problem that emerges is that of compatibility. Take, for example, an event in-game where a small farming village is attacked by a horde of centaurs (GW2!). Let us assume that a group of players, through bravery and strength, is able to repel the attackers. That's all very nice and dandy- the village is safe and all is well.
And yet, what of the next group of players? Are they to be denied the fun and exciting thrill of battle? No. Unless you want to lost half of your playerbase, EVERYONE needs a shot at saving the village.
This time let us assume that the village is NOT saved. Lacking in numbers and skill, the second group of players is completely wiped out, and the village burns to the ground.
But wait, the village can't both be alive and dead, can it? We're not dealing with a cat and some poison inside of a box here, people, so don't be smartasses and start talking metaphysics. The problem we have here is, as stated previously, compatibility. What happens the next time the first group of players happens to pass the village? Will it be alive, or dead? If we're talking realism, the village can't POSSIBLY be alive and completely rebuilt after being razed to the ground.
The overarching problem of a massive multiplayer sandbox can be simply stated as this: there are too many players, and if you want to have a non-instanced world (which is necessary if you want realism) you can't also have a "dynamic" world where everyone takes part in the story. What you will always (ALWAYS) end up with is a themepark-esque style, possibly with an instanced side-story of your own that nobody else affects.
3. Login, Logout:
The third, and final problem that I'll cover here is that of story continuity. The problem of an MMO sandbox being realistic is that it is, at the end of the day, a game. In real life, you don't log out- you play as long as your life lasts. Philsophical debates aside, the problems that result from the log-in, log-out feature are many and present many difficulties for the new sandbox.
One of the first problems relates to PvP. If a guild logs out, leaving their castle undefended, another guild (from another timezone, possibly) can readily take the castle with little to no difficulty. What this quickly leads to- on a sandbox with PvP at least- is the power of a server/guild/clan/team being decided by timezones instead of skill or numbers. NPC guards are no solution to this, nor is having the players characters being controlled by an AI.
The second problem is slightly more petty and unimportant, admittedly, but nontheless impacts the realism of the game. In real life, one cannot simply POOF out of existence for a time, and then reappear in the same spot a few hours later.
My overall point is this everyone. While an MMO can DEFINITELY be better by adding more sandbox features, I am highly doubting the idea that there can ever or will ever be a "perfect" sandbox MMO that satisfies even the lowest standards of players. I love sandbox games myself, but I cringe at the thought of playing an MMO that publicizes itself as a sandbox because of the problems I went over above.
While I don't mind anyone disagreeing with me, I'd appreciate you actually reading what I've written before you rant for a good two paragraphs about how I'm wrong and a WoW fanboiz and should just stop playing MMO's if I hate them so much. So yeah, let the flaming begin.
If u want sandbox u no have enuf stuff. If u want sandbox u no have realism. If u want sandbox u no have affect on game. If u want sandbox u no have fairness. DURRRRRRRR...