While it is true the advantages of a Sandbox MMO is things like Emergence, User Generated Content or Procedural Generated Content as well as Creative Projects, Complex Social Interactions and a Dynamic World.
All of that does not matter as Progression is ultimately FINITE.
Even in Themepark MMOs they merely link Content with Progression. Another Expansion another infusion of progression, max level +10, a few more gear added, and maybe a few new progression mechanics.
All you people that are complaining about prevalence of Themepark MMOs, and the woes of Sandbox MMOs and why The One True Sandbox MMO won't come to save us, tough luck since its the same problem.
Progression is the Main Motivator for any MMO. Even games built around creativity have progression as a base. Even if you can build a Star Trek ship in Minecraft, or a Rocket ship, or a Statue. So what? What meaning does it have? What function does it have? How is it better?
Progression is also the main source of competition and conflict.
What is better? Creating a Spaceship in Space Engineers without limits or in From the Depths creating a steady progression of designs based on resources and technologies available that are tested in battle? But once you build a unbeatable Ship and defeat all your opponent's what then?
In a Single Player Game this isn't a problem, simply start again, the variability in the mechanics,options and content can keep you entertained for multiple playthroughs just fine.
But what happens in a MMO? What happens when Everyone reaches the Maximum Power Progression?
Are you going to start again? Especially when Endgame is when the Game Starts?
But Endgame is also when Progression completely collapses. Levels as a concept in MMORPGs have already completely collapsed. Skip to level 90? Area level scaling? What kind of joke is that?
And the Grinding Gear Treadmill isn't all that different.
I also absolutely love the concept of "Daylies", what kind of harrowing experience like crack addicts to get your daily shot of progression?
And Pay 2 Win, how could it not be inevitable for progression to ultimately tied to money? More Money, More "Progression".
Not even EVE, your Sandbox King can escape from that.
So how do you fundamentally solve the problem of Progression in a Sandbox MMO(and even themeparks)?
You have to make your progression system Cyclical where Effective Power(as in Combat capability) is reset in some way, now this does no necessarily mean you have to lose everything or you can't gain anything through this resets. There may be multiple progression paths with variability in its mechanics of equal viability.
However what is essential is that The Player Population itself Cycles. This is why pure horizontal progression does not work that well. At progression End the Challenge is pretty much dead so you need a Reset.
New Gear that you can equip that starts at Level 1 that you can level up can be an effective Reset even if its gear you get from an Endgame Boss.
How to Cycle Population can be through Seasonal Resets like you can see in Path of Exile and Crowfall.
Or you can do it through things like Permanent Item Durability Loss based on resource collection and crafting system with procedural gear. Full/Partial Loot PvP and some other forms of gear destruction can also work.
But the problem with this is the economy will eventually be flooded with gear and in games which has player inventory banks accumulating sets of gear isn't a problem.
Even if you tie inventory to a guild/clan base that can be stolen from or destroyed you get into other issues that are inherent in the survival genre.
Now it's time to acknowledge your Lord and Saviour, the Cruel and Benevolent Master that will save Our Souls and the very Spirit of MMOs.
Praise our Lord!
Roguelikes/Roguelites have been increasingly getting popular and for good reason. The thing is Players starting again was never a big issue in the first place.
The Big Misconception of the MMO Genre was that it was about Character Permanence.
The idea behind a MMO was about Being in a World and Connecting to that World, to Live and Affect that World.
This is especially the case for a Sandbox MMO.
The problem is the World most of the time is completely Static. No Boss is ultimately defeated, and all your actions ultimately ring hollow.
Character Progression was the only thing that changed in that world, your only connection to that world.
The thing is Worlds do not have to be that Static. And some Sandbox games have been successful at this. Through Faction PVP conquering territory. Through creation and base building and colonization like in Minecraft. Through community, social dynamics and politics.
Players can create their own History of the World.
Character Permanence isn't needed.
Permadeath can have very interesting properties and things aren't as Severe as you might think.
With Permadeath the Power Level can be much more Flat and reasonable. It also eliminates the need for Grinding as you don't have to Slow Progress to a Crawl just to delay the inevitable. You can have a much more reasonable pace with a 20 Level Cap maximum that can be reached in a couple of weeks to two months maximum of casual play.
Second what is A Death and what is Permadeath can be Tweaked.
Character for examples can have multiple numbers of "deaths" before a character dies permanently.
With this kind of system you can have a monthly renewable "life" you can use for cases like Disconnect Issues and Bugs. With possible Admin/GM petition to renew that month if its for legitimate reasons.
There is also another concept of Soft Permadeath where instead you get wounds and disabilities that you can use costly crafting resources to heal. You can also use things like prosthetics. But eventually once your character gets too many wounds it will die permanently, and healing might not be economically viable then just making a new Fresh character. Think Kenshi and Mordheim:City of the Damned.
Like in some Roguelikes/Roguelites some things can be permanently unlocked for the next character.
My proposal ro go the extra mile to make Permadeath work is through Class Unlocks.
Like in FTL where you can Unlock New Ships by doing specific requirements and achievements in a run.
Once you have the concept of permadeath and classes there is many ways we can play with it in interesting ways and dynamic situations.
You can Unlock Classes Permanently that you can use after your previous character permanently dies.
That way you can keep Players going by dangling a new thing they unlocked to try out and a new challenge to achieve in the next life.
Some Classes can be available through group progression of the community/faction the player is part.
Think of it like a Base in a Strategy game where New Units that can be hired and are unlocked through building new Buildings, Technology Research or Special Resources can represent the Classes options the Player has that is linked to a town/base/guild/faction that he player is part of.
This can make for interesting cooperation between player and competition for resources against other factions.
The more that community and faction develops the more
There can also be Antagonist/Villain Classes with a limited number of slots per World/Server based on population, like you find in Space Station 13, that can make for interesting RP experience and Truly Dynamic World and Stories.
They would have their own objectives they would have to do against the Players that will be part of their own Class Unlock/Evolution system.
Player controlled Monsters and Bosses can also be used though this slots system. They can spawn in random areas and take control of monsters in that area with the mission to cause chaos and destruction for normal players.
It's like what those asymmetric multiplayer games like Evolve, Friday the 13th, Day by Daylight should have been with the bigger world and randomness serving much better against Meta-Strategies and exploits. Players do not know what can appear in your hunting ground and the cat and mouse between hunter and the hunted and its reversal can be maintained much better.
There also a Remort/Reincarnation system for Classes that have as a requirement in achieving Max 20 Level in a previous Class.
The level is Reset but you can keep your gear and maybe gain some other temporary bonus for this life.
This can get players more acclimated to Death and Resets.
Classes also represent the power potential of that class so in a sense they would be permanent progression for the player's account.
For example a Soldier class might have an Attack of 120 at level 20, but a High Tier Dragon Slayer class might have an Attack of 340, on top of more powerful abilities.
But what is important at Level 1 a Dragon Slayer would be still vulnerable against a Level 20 Soldier that can still kick their ass. So you have a interesting balance as even New Beginners can find themselves with the advantage against Veteran Players. Higher Tier classes are also much harder to level up Experience wise. A flatter power curve also gives the advantage of piling on bodies against powerful opponents.
The Class system can also be tied with the Lives system. More Base Classes might have 10 lives until they permanently die as an advantage while the more advanced and powerful classes will have lesser lives, with High Tier "Endgame" Classes might have 3 or even just 1 life.
That means basic classes can be much more expendable and suicidal. Especially useful in Big Faction Wars where numbers and strategy and tactics can make the difference and not just individual power. This is also where Group Progression can be an advantage with Classes having the Role of Units in a RTS with the similar lives advantage mechanics.
A higher lives count also means you can try more risky achievement challenges that you need to complete with one character.
Having permadeath means you can also have complex ownership,inheritance and politics with possible assassinations to change the political status quo fundamentally. A permadeath can represent a void in the governmental and political role that has to be filled. This can be a cause of a complete rupture with factions competing against each other that can devolve into a faction civil war.
This is the True Power of Death.
The Class Unlock system has the interesting "Gotta Catch 'Em All!" collectathon feelling, and achievement challenge.
It can be easily expanded with New Classes over time in a true horizontal progression fashion. New branches representing new base classes and playstyles can be added that has to be new challenges to strive and progress into the branch that lead to new High Tier Endgame Classes.
Further Reading on the concept.
Source: Original link
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