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Everytime i read how a sandbox mmo have to be one request is always a huge world.
And dont get me wrong, a huge world is a good thing, but a huge world, especially, when it is completely barren will not bring anything to the table. And there are no benefits for a sandbox in a huge world except the unknown area in front of you to explore, to settle, to build up and to conquer. Thats about it.
I read shortly this article, about a developing approach, which in my mind is the way to go for developing a sandbox.
TL;DR: Start small expand upon that.
Originally posted by Ryan Dancey, https://goblinworks.com/blog/index.html#20121010
Start Me Up
Enabling this process to begin requires the team to draft and reach consensus on what that initial release target will include: specific numbers of races, skills, character abilities, structures, monsters, NPC systems, market systems, social systems, graphic assets, back-office systems, etc.
In its most simplistic level, this amounts to how we will release a next-generation fantasy sandbox MMO on a fraction of the budget and in a fraction of the time of a current-generation AAA MMO.
A current-gen theme park requires a nearly feature- and content-complete game design before it can be released. Without all systems and all content, a theme park is not a very good game, and players will quickly exhaust its potential. To recoup the cost all of that entails, the game must attract hundreds of thousands (and in some cases millions) of players. That creates a feedback loop of needing a lot of content, which is expensive, which requires a lot of launch customers, which means more content, etc. It's why many MMO projects fail to release or release in a unsatisfactory state.
Our vision for a next-gen design relies on the idea that players create content for themselves in their interactions with one another. That enables us to focus on designing systems rather than content. That allows us to speed up the release dramatically. But it also means that we'll have a fairly small space ready for the players to experience, so we'll carefully regulate the initial size and growth rate of the game to achieve a good balance of character diversity and density. It's the opposite of the theme park feedback loop. The better the sandbox systems are at making interaction between players interesting, the fewer players we need in the game to make it fun to play, which means we need less content and can get the game out faster.
The game that we deliver on Day 1 will be small, bit not empty. It will then grow every couple of weeks as new systems and content are rolled out. The prioritization and mechanics of those additions will reflect the input of the community, and so the game will reflect the sum of many contributors' inputs.
So what your thoughts about that? Do you really think a huge world is a must have from the very beginning?
As we have seen again and again from different indy developers.. they all tried to deliver a huge world, and actually did, but all of those worlds were rather empty, and a lot of sandbox building features missing. Not to talk about other features required for Roleplaying, Socializing and what not, all those parts are important for a good MMORPG and maybe even more for a sandbox mmorpg.
So my thesis is more or less the same as in that blog entry, that the mechanics behind the scene are much more important than the world size. It is a lot better to do first a small world, but with a living world and all thinkable sandbox building features and all other features done, and done good and completed and polished. And then over time add on the world size.
And hell nothing easier than that. You start with an island or a few islands, and after some time you add a continent and let the player discover it and so forth and so on. The border will always the never ending ocean and you will add new land, and new contintent in it, and give after that the player hints for where to find it.. or let a magic portal in some ruins appear, which led to that continent. Nothing is easier then to expand on size. But to add features into a running game is much more complex, and will effect that game a lot more. (and often it is easier to rather release a new game instead)