Your experience may differ from mine, but I promise you I'm not alone. Maybe this will help you understand why sandboxes struggle to find an audience.
I've been playing MMOs for over 2 decades, and every time someone wishes for the good old days all I think about it how large guilds would bully smaller groups out of any content worth doing. You either joined one of these guilds or you had to settle for whatever content they weren't focusing on at the time. Even if you joined, you were probably just cannon fodder, there to gear up other more important guild members. Then you had to deal with guild politics and the constant risk of the guild splintering before your turn came. It was exhausting for the casual player who made up a majority of the playerbase and once the thrill of a new type of gaming experience ran dry many of us left. It amazes me how so many people forget camping a mini-boss for hours on end only to have a zerg show up and snatch it from you, but I imagine many of you were in the zerg and got a good laugh out of it. Actually a lot of these guilds got pleasure out of it, and would ecstatically camp these spawns even if they didn't need the gear. They wanted to ruin your experience. Now these same players troll every MMO forum and complain to anyone who will listen about how the genre has been destroyed. Why would any casual gamer want to go through that when there are plenty of games that cater to them? Developers gave us freedom, and a small portion of the community abused it for their own benefit and refuse to acknowledge that that's part of the reason why developers pivoted toward more instance-based gameplay. Casual gamers didn't leave your game because they're flaky or unskilled, many left because of the toxic atmosphere created by hardcore gamers. I'm not trying to criticize anyone's style of play, unless you go out of your way to purposely ruining other people's fun, but realize that's exactly what was happening in older games whether it was intentional or not. We're not NPCs here to fill the game world for your amusement, and it has nothing to do with skill level if you're coming with 10x the number of players and a massive gear score difference because your opponent can't compete for the open world content that would close that gear gap. I wish it could be different, but even now nothing has changed. Archeage ended up turning a lot of open world content into instances because 2-3 guilds completely dominated the open world and made the game miserable for the rest of us. Anything they could control, they would. Even just dumb daily kill quests. Finally, I sucked it up and joined a big guild, made some acquaintances, finally got to my turn on a raid roll only to have the item given to the guild leader's friend. I'd much rather party with my small group of friends doing instances and enjoying the story and lore of a game rather than deal with that bullshit anymore.
I honestly don't know if there is a set of rules that can prevent this sort of situation from happening, but it's something that absolutely has to be considered if you want a successful open-world sandbox.
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