What matters going forward is who, if anyone, is going to spend money on an open PvP title with meaningful crafting, cat girls, fantasy magic, and automobiles. In my opinion, a small but loyal audience of sandbox-starved gamers will spend money on an open PvP title with meaningful crafting, cat girls, fantasy magic, and automobiles. Not WoW die-hards, not young I’ve-only-got-20-minutes-to-play parents, and not older gamers pining for another godawful EverQuest grindpark with updated visuals.
Trion has the only current triple-A sandpark on its hands here, so I hope it can avoid tweaking the game’s virtual world elements in an attempt to lure the anti-virtual world majority. [bold mine]
The above quote was taken from an article about the upcoming MMO ArcheAge, a Korean game being converted to English for a western audience by Trion. The “virtual world” comment caught my eye and it really got me thinking about the people I know (even if only online) and the reasons they play what they play. Is the MMO playerbase an anti-virtual world majority?
Virtual Worlds, Themeparks and Sandboxes
Over the last few years, as the themepark model of MMOs has been refined and streamlined into what it is today with WoW, TSW, Wildstar, Rift, LOTRO, etc., the common use of the term “virtual world” has become more synonymous with “open world sandbox” than the all-inclusive base meaning. It is used as a contrast to those strict themepark worlds, where all player activities are strictly controlled and compartmentalised. It is used to refer to the game itself rather than the setting.
That said, the sheer amount of lore and history and detail in games like WoW, TSW and LOTRO are incredibly deep and there are details that some players love discovering because it is something new to them, even after years of play. My WoW friends are regularly commenting on a bit of npc dialogue or a hidden cave that they stumbled across and never realised had been under their noses for years. They have been a part of Azeroth for so long, have visited and revisited so many places, seen so many stories (all npc stories, of course), that they have a perhaps unbreakable connection to that world. I am but one among probably millions of people who have played LOTRO at some point, and although I have not ventured past the Breelands, like those millions of players I have been swept up in the sheer awe of being present in Middle Earth. It is a world, to me. But not in the sense that Jef is using. The actual game is average at best. You could swap in WoW’s mechanics and gameplay and it would work just as well. Same with the Secret World – I love the setting, the stories are amazing, the characters are incredibly well written, the atmosphere is perfect, yet I recognise that the gameplay mechanics are pretty average. Bring in Rift’s mechanics and you wouldn’t lose much, if anything, from the experience. These are static worlds.
I believe that Jef is referring to virtual worlds in the sense of dynamic worlds, ones where change is common, sometimes radical, and usually permanent. Most importantly, such change is mostly, if not wholly, player-driven. So, not Cataclysm-style zone revamps, or developer-decided change like the destruction of Lion’s Arch. The power to change the world, to leave your mark upon it in a way of your choosing, is key to a virtual world in this sense. And although I think it may – barely – be possible to create a virtual world in which players cannot harm each other, I believe that a solid foundation of a truly immersive virtual world is the ability to mess with your fellow players in ways that have consequences for you both. Yes, this will most likely mean open world PvP. At a minimum, having the power to change the world around you means that others must be affected by that change, and thus you must be affected by the impact that others have on the world too. Otherwise you’re simply in a museum, a zoo, a…themepark. What Jef is talking about in the quote above is the fear that “tweaking” ArcheAge’s virtual world elements means stripping out the ability to meaningfully change the world (and therefore have the world changed for you by others).
Where do you stand?
As much as I hate to say it, I believe that Jef is right that the majority is anti-virtual world. Certainly among my online friends, I am reasonably sure that most of them are unwilling to play in a dynamic world where their choices have significant consequences and there is an element of risk vs reward to most activities – where they could possibly lose more than a token repair cost. Certainly there are many people who agree with Syp – they don’t want other players to be able to have a meaningful impact on their play, because they assume that such an impact will be a net negative. Players with social anxieties, who don’t like grouping and play solo whenever they can, would probably tend to be anti-virtual world. Very casual players, who can or want to only log in a few hours a month, would probably tend to be anti-virtual world, since they’d probably have to spend the majority of their time catching up on what has changed since the last time they played. That would be all kinds of frustrating.
I’m interested in ArcheAge, and I really hope that there is no move away from a virtual world by Trion. The game that I am most excited about, though, is Star Citizen, due to the virtual world (universe?) foundation of it. I’m not against themepark play – I love TSW, for example – but I think that my next true MMO home will be in a sandbox virtual world. One that has meaningful consequences for my play.