Sandbox means Boring

400px-Sandbox

That looks boring as hell

If you have been following my blog for any length of time you know that I don’t dislike games because they are sandbox games, take Fallen Earth and Ultima Online as examples. In general I dislike sandbox games due to other factors such as boring combat (Darkfall, EVE) or horrid grinding being required (Darkfall, EVE). I think however that I have discovered another reason I don’t like most sandbox games, and it’s not the elitism that leaks out of those that play them like a festering wound (not today anyway), it’s the fact that most companies, and indeed most players, seem to think that sandbox means boring.

I constantly see blogs about how people just don’t understand this sandbox game or that one. About how, if you want to have fun, you need to find something and use your imagination in order to get any enjoyment out of it. They then berate people for saying that they got bored when that person obviously just wasn’t working at it.

At some point developers and player sat around and decided that in order for a game to be sandbox it needed to have mobs, pvp, a skill system and absolutely nothing to do unless you make it happen. If this is the case why not just open up MS Paint and make something happen. If you try hard enough you WILL have fun, you just have to put in time and effort.

I think something that needs to happen to really help the sandbox genre, at least in my opinion, is for the genre and it’s players to get over itself. Would it ruin Darkfall to have more quests? Surely players would cry foul and say that their favorite sandbox was ruined because they had to go from one place to another, even though NOTHING was changed except the addition of 1000’s more quests. Would it ruin Ultima Online to have a Dungeons and Dragons Online type of immersive, interactive dungeon? How about 30 of them sprinkled throughout the game?

I’m not saying you need to FORCE people to do certain quests or go to certain dungeons, but give me some story and some developer created things to do and perhaps I wouldn’t be sitting around looking for stuff to do 90% of the time I am playing. If there were as many quests in Darkfall as there are in World of Warcraft it wouldn’t take anything away from that game, other than giving people a little direction if they CHOOSE to take it.

Instead sandbox players and developers sit back and grin, thinking about how much better they are than your average MMO player because they have to make their own fun. Sounds more like a failure on the part of the developer to me with the fanbase continuing to support the product just because they are fans.

It’s a wonder that I like some sandbox games. What usually does it is getting lucky and finding that sweet spot, that perfect moment where you experience all the game can be and then spend the rest of your game time pining for it. Kinda like heroin I hear.

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8 Comments on “Sandbox means Boring”


  1. I don’t find sandbox games boring, I actually find there’s too much to do. That’s a problem for me, and I suspect for a lot of people out there, because we’ve all grown up to seek direction. When you’re a kid, your parents set the rules. When you’re in school, the teacher tells you what you’re graded on. When you work, your boss tells you how you need to affect the bottom line. Very rarely do people get something and are told, “Do whatever you want with this, have fun!”

    Also, growing up in a culture like this, we tend to become very goal-oriented people. We prefer being given targets to aim for, so there’s a clear idea of what we should be doing to meet those goals. When we don’t have clear direction, we get lost. I have a suspicion that that’s what happens in a sandbox game…people want to have fun, but they just don’t know how to start. That’s my take on it anyway, there’s a lot more to my thoughts but I might save some of them for a future post of my own about this topic 😛

    In general, I’m not bothered by people who like sandbox games. After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but it really does bother me when they flock to the forums of upcoming games and try to force their views on others with regards to how THEY think the game should be developed. It’s like, I know you’re into sandbox games, but I’m sorry, the reality is that it’s still a niche market. Theme park MMOs are still the mainstream, and you certainly can’t fault developers for catering to the wider market in order to make profits.

    • amuntoth Says:

      Very true. In fact my main objection to sandbox MMO players is the generally ‘tone’ for lack of a better word. They seem to think that their style game is inherently better, and not just for them. It’s not all of them I know, but many of the bloggers seem to fit that category.

      • Blue Kae Says:

        As someone who plays both sandbox and theme-park MMOs (I really hate those terms but those are the common one), I think there’s too much elitism on both sides of the debate.

        I do agree with GC on the topic of guidance. When I first picked up EVE, beyond just learning the game, I had to mentally switch gears because the game didn’t set any goals for me, beyond finishing the tutorial missions. That is the primary draw for me now in the game. Some days I prefer the LotRO experience and some days I prefer the EVE one.

  2. Thac0 Says:

    I don’t understand at all. My first MMO was SWG and that was literally a sandbox. (There is nothing sandbox about Fallen Earth btw) You could build almost anywhere and the economy was almost completely player run with some items that were dropped as well.

    I had no goals when i logged in and the world was my oyster. The first thing i did was run to the top of a mountain set up a tent and set off fireworks and talked to strangers all night. I then went and played music in a cantina for money (My man also danced in hawtpants woo hoo!) as an entertainer, thats how i met my guild. I then went on to be a smuggler, a bounty hunter and later a doctor all with the same character. I could so that because I was given a tool set and a world and was allowed to do what i wanted. I could craft, or pvp or hunt for meat to make medical supplies out of or raid the geo caves or corvette or collect DNA samples or decorate my house at anytime and at the same time. I never ever had to MAKE MY OWN FUN.

    In theme park games i am told to choose what i will do for the entire game from the log in screen when i select a class. When i get into the world i have to follow a highly structured path to level with a few very minor choices about skills and abilities that will only modify my class predetermined skill sets. you have to run quests in the order that is predetermined for you by the game and set by your level. There is no real choice in theme park MMOs, The experience is all predetermined before you ever play the game. The one thing that these games are very good at is providing narrative because they force you into its linear path and that can be fun.

    The MS paint comparison is lame. Since when is MS paint a massive multi player game? Your entire post is almost ironic in that you berate how much you dislike and how inferior or boring sandbox games with a somewhat elitist attitude toward theme park games all the while calling people who like sandboxes elitist.

    I can enjoy both types of games if they are good games. But i have to wonder about you in this post. Why is it that you need so much structure and someone to tell you how to play or what to do to have fun? I’m not trying to be insulting I am curious. Did you have a very structured childhood with lots of structured, planned and supervised activities like i see most kids now days?

    I was the opposite, when i was young i went out and played and did whatever, make believe in the woods, playing army with toy guns and generally running about the neighborhood and was called home when the streetlights came on. No structure for play time just friends and imagination. Thats perhaps why i like sandboxes a bit more.

    • amuntoth Says:

      I can see your point about the MS paint comparison, it was a poor choice. As to my upbringing I am only 25, but I grew up in the age of “just don’t bother me” parenting for the most part, so I know how to make my own fun. It’s part of the reason I actually like some sandbox games. My problem is that sandbox games tend to avoid narrative just because they are sandbox.

      Like you said, you logged into SWG and you went to a hill and set off fireworks and talked with strangers all night, and then you went and danced in a cantina for money. I can do all of those things in World of Warcraft if I so chose. I could also decide not to quest at all and just go PVP in battlegrounds, or go grind mobs. It’s not as strict as you make it seem. Sure I can’t be different classes in one character (I can with Fallen Earth BTW, part of the reason I call it somewhat sandbox. It still has levels but they mean much less than in most games.)

      The reason I like theme park MMO’s for the most part is the same reason I like books, movies and music. The entire thing is structured for me and I know it will be enjoyable (or SHOULD be) for the majority of the time. With a sandbox game you have to decide what to do, and what if you really like PVP and want to just do that? That’s great but you can’t, not really. Take Darkfall for example. If I log on today, no skills, and try and run around and PVP I am going to be naked and dispointed VERY quickly. In Sandbox games you are still limited on what you can do and when, it’s just not by level like it is in Theme Parks. But what if I DO get my characters skills in Darkfall up there? Then I can PVP! Except no I can’t because I need to not only make friends, but be online at the same time as those friends AND at the same time as people I can find to kill with them. It’s still very restricted, but with Theme Parks I know when and how I can do what I really want to do, and I can strive for it. In Sandbox games I am left without any idea when my guildies will be on, when enemies will be on and I will find them and they won’t immediately run.

      It’s not that I think Theme Parks are inherently better either. Sandbox games hold some of my FAVORITE MMO memories because those few times when everything works out right it’s amazing, but because there is no structure and things hardly work the way you want them to, Theme Parks offer more fun for my time spent I find.

      You are right though, I was being far too elitist with my post.

      • Thac0 Says:

        I see. But what you like about the themepark MMOS is why (as in CGS blog) no one talks to plays as a friendly team. You just get lumped with random people and go on to achieve some task of getting a title or trinket and you all go your separate way.

        In games where you have to make friends and agree on a time to meet etc. ; the type of community forms that keeps people playing a game and give the game a deeper meaning. I am mean after all aren’t MMOs supposed to be about forming bonds playing with other people?

      • Thac0 Says:

        I thought I should say that I also enjoy the casual and easy going nature of themepark MMOs for the reasons you said. Being very accessible and easy to play in short stints is a big draw for me playing STO right now.

  3. amuntoth Says:

    I completely agree with you Thac0 on the fact that in Theme Park MMOs the community is usually lacking, or in WoW’s case terribad. Of course that isn’t true for all games, take LOTRO’s community, which I really enjoy. In general though Sandbox games foster friendships and cooperation.

    Sometimes I just want an MMO style game that is single player, like WoW Offline or Fallen Earth Offline. Make the quest chains more in depth and interesting and allow me to do everything by myself.

    Then sometimes I want to play a game where I am forced to group up and talk to people. I guess it all depends on how I feel that day.


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