Home > MMORPG, SWTOR > Is there a sandbox inside the theme park?

Is there a sandbox inside the theme park?

Some time ago, Damion Shubert – The Lead Systems Designer for Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) was talking in his blog – Community: The Third Element – about the two major approaches for creating content for MMO games. Those two are most commonly known among players as SANDBOX and THEME PARK. He was basically saying that SWTOR is going the middle way. Instead of explaining what sandbox and theme park means and how SWTOR is combining both, I’ll let Damion Shubert demonstrate it in his own words:

“Massively multiplayer games are not new. … One of these questions, still asked today, is whether or not massively multiplayer environments should strive to be games or to be worlds.

Advocates of the world philosophy see the space as a simulation or a sandbox. Fans of this viewpoint favor freedom and realism above all else – players have the ability to use and abuse almost anything around them, including other players. In ‘world’ MMOs, players tend to have a wide range of possible actions, most of which have relatively little depth. The depth of the world MMO comes from the interactions – players are urged to explore the world, and to find their own fun. The world MMO hates artificial constraints like classes or level requirements.

The game philosophy is quite the opposite, of course. Advocates of this view favor fun and balance more than anything. The game MMO is often described as being more like a theme park than a virtual world – player activity is tightly controlled, in such a way to help maximize the chance the player will have a fun, balanced and interesting combat experience and, in general, not be nasty to each other. The game MMO has no problem with introducing arbitrary rules to provide a tight, visceral gaming experience. Players can perform fewer actions, but these actions tend to have greater depth (such as a deeper, more balanced combat game)…

I’ve long advocated that moderation is the way to go, and I believe on The Old Republic we are successfully travelling a middle path, a centrist path that takes the strengths of both: provide a directed and balanced game experience inside a lush, free-form Star Wars world.” (bold letter emphasis by Petrosis)

You can read the entire blog here: http://www.swtor.com/news/blog/20100402_001

Well, I believed what Damion Shubert was saying in his blog back then. But I start to doubt his judgement about this matter. “Traveling a middle path” implies that SWTOR is somewhere in between SANDBOX and THEME PARK. Or it could be that it combines both elements successfully. At the moment I think that SWTOR is not going the middle path and is just another THEME PARK game with hints at some SANDBOX elements. Let me explain why.


SWTOR is clearly advancing a lot in terms of story telling inside a MMORPG. And I can confidently say for most players, that touched those BioWare stories – they like them, one way or another. I like the story element too. But the story inside SWTOR is clearly a THEME PARK element. The player will start with a certain class and advance from levels 1 to 50. This is another theme park element, despite the customizations you can do within your class. We know for some planets that they will have content for certain level range. In-fact in a thread on the official SWTOR forums – Epic Rewards for Finishing Class Quest? – Georg Zoeller is talking about “level 40 planet”. It is an example of course, but the idea is clear. Some planets are designed for certain level ranges. But I hope it is not all planets. There are 17 announced planets and I’d like to see a few of them only for the end game. Not like in another MMO that should not be mentioned here – to have each zone assigned to certain level of content – and thus destroying the Open World PvP.

Raids, warzones, flashpoints – all those are THEME PARK content. And I have no problem with any of those theme park elements. In-fact I think that they can very much exists together with sandbox elements within the same MMO. But what are SANDBOX elements in a MMO for me?


Customization – something desired by the majority of players, and even according to many polls on the official SWTOR forums. But I’m not worried about customization. As seen from game-play videos and screenshots on the official SWTOR forums – there is plenty of customization to satisfy – if not all – but most player damands for customization in SWTOR.

Player Housing in SWTOR is another game-play feature that is pure sandbox and in high demand on the official SWTOR forums. Many players seem happy with the player ships, but those are not the player housing that most of the MMO players want. The real sandbox player housing must be an option to put a house on the open world map and not inside some instance (LotRO style). Those houses can group up as player towns and allow even more sandbox options – like shuttle-ports (which clearly effects the travel system on a planet), cantinas (social areas by players for players). I don’t need to explain too much about player housing – sandbox style. Because first from what we’ve seen it wont be in SWTOR, at least not at launch, and second this will make the article too long.

Crafting – this is another sandbox element. SWTOR will have crafting, and although not so complex in nature it seems that it will be better than some crating systems in current MMOs. Most crafters want their sandbox game to have meaning for the players – especially in end game, and bring rewards as well as recognition by other players. We still have to see more how BioWare’s Crew Skills work inside the game. For me personally if the crafting system doesn’t make difference in the game economy and has the prime spot in the market system – it will be a failure, no matter the twist is has. We hope for the best.

Open World PvP and not warzones is another sandbox element and very important for many. By the way, that other MMO that we will not mention here has Open World PvP in theory, but actually it is not working, because the whole world of Azeroth (oops it slipped) is a big THEME PARK. People stay in the capital cities and wait in a queue for mini games (battlegrounds, dungeons and raids – all a repetitive content). Devs have stated that SWTOR will have Open World PvP. But no more details on that yet. If all planets are designed with content for certain levels, and at the max level players hang out in the two capitals – Dromuns Kaas and Coruscant – because there is nothing to do outside in the THEME PARK world, then Open World PvP will not exist in SWTOR no matter what devs say now. But we still need to see what kind of end game content the devs have for us. Because the sandbox game play features dwell at the max levels, in the end game.

I’m not complaining or predicting doom and gloom. I just have a question that still doesn’t have a clear answer. Does SWTOR go the middle route and combine strong features in theme park and sandbox approach? How much game and how much world SWTOR will be? Damion Shubert wants us to believe that SWTOR is going the middle path. But we don’t see much of that – yet.

Just small comparison. Theme Park elements: Story – yes, Raids – yes, Flashpoints – yes, Warzones – yes. Sandbox elements: Customization – yes, Crafting – yes, Player Housing – no, Open World PvP – no real info on that. Just that small comparison doesn’t show me a middle way between THEME PARK and SANDBOX. And I completely agree with Damion Shubert on that – the best way is the middle way. Not compromise between both, but combine all the best from both approaches. That will be a recipe for a very successful MMORPG. But we don’t see that yet.

What do you think about that? Can BioWare deliver the right MMO universe for Star Wars geeks and MMO pros and the casual player? I’m sure they try their best for that. Just show us more of the sandbox, BioWare. Then we will believe you. You will make a lot of fans even more happier.














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