Theme Park Meets Sandbox. Themebox?

Or how about Sandpark?

My question about raiding as an endgame yesterday received lots of interesting comments and replies which I loved reading and responding to. It got me thinking about whether or not it would be possible to combine the open, player driven perpetual worlds of sandbox MMORPGs with the gated, level driven worlds of theme park MMOs.

Sandbox MMOs like EVE Online tend to offer a vast amount of choice and freedom. They don’t necessarily focus on raiding as an endgame, or at all, but instead provide the players with their own means of determining the nature of the world they live in. Usually this is through PvP and battles over territory and guild wars but it may also extend into crafting monopolies and political alliances. Suffice to say, there is plenty of room to grow and the appeal of this type of game is great as it truly is about the players deciding on how their world is shaped. The Butterfly Effect as CCP called it.

The downside of sandbox MMORPGs though is that they tend to be very difficult to penetrate and learn and can often be very scary and unappealing to new players. They also tend to lack contained stories and, as we’re seeing with Star Wars: The Old Republic, story driven MMOs are the latest and hottest trend.

Theme park MMORPGs on the other hand offer very controlled, gated and obvious progression. It’s easy for a new player to jump into a game like this, pick a race and class and get stuck into the game. Their levels and abilities are clear and obvious and the game can be very accessible and friendly. Not that it’s always utilised well, but gated content can also offer some great story driven elements and clear forms of progression to the user. I’m going to use that old chestnut Tortage (from Age of Content) as an example of self-contained, story driven, gated content that rocked our socks off.

The downside of theme park MMOs though is that they tend to be quite bland in comparison to their sandbox brothers. The appeal of a game like EVE Online is that you can effect everyone with your actions but in World of Warcraft, your individual actions are almost meaningless outside of your own guild. Nothing you do in a theme park game is going to influence anyone else.

So, my mad scientist mind has started wondering if there’s a way to combine to the two into some sort of super MMORPG, a themebox sandpark if you will. And why not? There’s no rule which states that you can’t have classes or level progression in a sandbox world or a free form, sandbox world as the endgame of a theme park MMO to replace raiding.

Can these two entities ever exist as one? Or should I just lay off the crazy pills?

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  2. Freedom Without Direction – The Risk of Sandbox MMORPGs
  3. Aion – Levels 1 to 10
  4. EverQuest Next: Return Of The Sandbox
  5. Do You Care How Long It Takes To Level Up?


  1. Longasc says:

    It is difficult. Some design decisions are just opposites, contradicting other ones.

    Can STEAK be BURGER? I once had a steak in a bread roll, basically a steak burger. So yes, I think it is not impossible, and maybe not even that hard to do. At least for armchair designers and bloggers. ;)

    • Gordon says:

      Being an armchair blogger/designer is my calling in life :) All of the thought and none of the hard work!

      Plus you forget that the burger was originally an adaptation of bread and meat. Same goes for the pizza. So sometimes crazy combinations end up working really well :)

  2. Kane says:

    I’m with you on this! Actually brings to mind Fable 2 to some extent. Closed, guided areas that have lots to explore and do at your own pace…or to skip of you just want to move onto the next story point.

    Their was a game I was beta testing called Wish Online. It was…amazing. Sandbox, but with worldwide stories run by GMs. It sadly never made it out of beta due to legal/financial troubles. I almost cried when it was shut down.

  3. I think this is what the PvP-games, like Aion or Warhammer Online, is trying to accomplish – a grind of levels, until you cap and at which point you’re supposed to wage war on the opposing faction, attack keeps, change the world, yadayada.

    Does it work? I’m too tired to tell. My brain…is not…working…

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, I think it’s certainly what they attempt. Unfortunately – WAR anyway – wasn’t very successful because it didn’t capture the other elements of the game. It still hold an appeal to me though as I think the concept is great…. just the execution was poor.

  4. Mike says:

    Theme-park-story driven MMOs are far more accessible. In some ways their an extension of films/books. It allows players to interact with what is otherwise a static world.

    I kinda think of these games as “interactive story books”. You know what is coming next – or want to know what comes next – so you keep reading. We’re guided by the authors (or developers). They reveal the world and parts of the story as we progress. If it’s a good experience, then we’ll enjoy the journey.

    Take good old WoW. IMHO, I think it is moving much more towards story telling than simply being a game about the “raiding endgame”. The whole endgame has changed, it’s now about getting *everyone* into Icecrown in Patch 3.3. The fight against the Lich King is the final chapter in the Arthas story.

    How about the term “Storypark” to describe games like WoW and SW:TOR? Maybe my brain is addled too ;)

  5. Hi, First time here at this blog. Its very interesting and useful. I wanna to visit here very often. Thanks for this info.

  6. SWG kind of existed as both back in the day. The quests were lame (yay mission terminals), so the world existed for us to inhabit–sandbox. However, there were points of interest like Jabba’s Palace on Tatooine which were quest hubs that the devs actually called theme parks, and they followed a strict storyline until the end, at which point the player was rewarded in some way for their trouble. One could easily play the game and never experience a theme park, unlike in WoW, where the entire game is a trail of breadcrumbs from one ride to the next.

  7. Stabs says:

    “Tortage (from Age of Content)”

    Are you sure you don’t mean Tortage (from Age of Lack of Content)?

  8. [...] could be palette-swaps with another game. I’m tired of, like Gordon posted about recently, being pushed along the rails of a theme park without ever feeling like I’m in the world. And I’m not even an RPer in MMOs. I just want to [...]

  9. ian says:

    themepark mmo would be awsome… special if decent graphics and such where decent it could be done just not so easy

  10. [...] Theme Park Meets Sandbox. Themebox? [...]

  11. csgo says:

    Wonderful web-site you have got there

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