"A while back I opined that SOE was the ideal company to carry the MMO sandbox banner. For the most part, I still believe that, given what I've seen of Landmark thus far and what I know of the company's design history. That said, some of CEO John Smedley's recent comments give me pause, as does his long-term involvement in EVE Online's community."
On Friday I ran across an article written by Massively's Managing Editor, Jef Rehard, wondering if the next couple of years will truly see a revival of sandbox MMORPGs. A fair concern given the wild optimism that fans of various games have exhibited over the years for unpublished games. I have to remind myself not to get too hopeful for EverQuest Next and even though I'm not into building games like Minecraft, I do want to try Landmark as soon as the beta is over. But then came the attack upon Sony Online Entertainment's CEO, John Smedley, and his choice of games.
From following both The Mittani and Smedley on Twitter, I know that Smedley was once in EVE University and then wound up in the CFC for awhile. Since he left the CFC about the same time TEST Alliance Please Ignore did, I've always assumed that at one time he was in TEST. I guess since Smedley was in the same group as The Mittani, that makes him tainted somehow. Grr Goons!
I was intrigued by what disturbed Rehard about Smedley's recent comments about sandbox games since he didn't provide a link. I can only assume he's a bit upset about a post on Smedley's new blog.
"In my opinion the solution is focusing a lot more on letting players make and be content for each other. Battlegrounds are an excellent example of an Evergreen style of content where it’s the players themselves that actually create the content. Auction houses are another example. So are things like storytelling tools in SWG.. or the brilliant music system in LOTRO. Building systems into the games that let the players interact with each other in new and unique ways gives us the ability to watch as the players do stuff we never anticipated. We’ll see a lot more creativity in action if the players are at the center of it. Imagine an MMORPG of a massive city.. and the Rogue’s guild is entirely run by players. Where the city has an entire political system that is populated by players who were elected by the playerbase.I'm not sure if the favorable mention of EVE is what caused Rehard's ire or if he doesn't believe in giving people a great deal of autonomy in our virtual worlds. The quote that opens this blog post threw red flags for me about the entire post. While I know very little about upcoming games like Pathfinder Online, I do know a fair bit about EVE. Since EVE was the first game he chose to discuss, I thought I'd parse through the other 4 paragraphs about EVE.
"There’s a great example of this today with Eve Online. It’s a brilliantly executed system where the players are pretty much in charge of the entire game. Sure there is a lot of content for players to do, but anything that’s important in the game is done by the players. This is a shining example of how this kind of system can thrive."
"I'll probably catch some (more) flak from EVE die-hards here, but it's worth repeating the fact that EVE is not the quintessential sandbox. This is because it features no actual consequences for bad behavior -- actually it encourages and celebrates asshattery more than any other MMO -- and thus it's little more than a sci-fi Lord of the Flies in spite of some terrific game mechanics and technical innovations."I'll admit that I wasn't sure what "quintessential" meant, so I went to Merriam-Webster Online and looked up the term:
quintessential (adjective) - constituting, serving as, or worthy of being a pattern to be imitatedbeauty of the ancient world>For some reason that didn't seem to fit the context, so I went to the Oxford Dictionary site and found this definition that seems to fit better:
quintessential (adjective) - representing the most perfect or typical example of a quality or class: "he was the quintessential tough guy—strong, silent, and self-contained"Okay, so Rehard doesn't want EVE influencing the direction of the sandbox genre. But the next sentence left me scratching my head. I don't think anyone can deny that asshattery is celebrated in EVE Online perhaps more than any other game, but stating that the game features no actual consequences for bad behavior? I guess that depends on the definitions of "actual consequences" and "bad behavior" mean, as he left those undefined.
First, what was meant by "actual consequences"? I get the feeling that Rehard doesn't consider social ostracism, declarations of war, or any other punishments that players administer within the client as an actual consequence. I believe that Rehard defines "actual consequences" as sanction against the offending player by the game developer/publisher. If so, then I do not see Rehard's problem with CCP, as the Icelandic game company doesn't, contrary to popular opinion, just let players do anything they wish in the game.
In addition to the usual prohibitions against hacks,bots, exploits and engaging in illicit RMT, CCP has stated these prohibitions on activities that can result in account suspensions and bans:
3. HARASSMENTAnd yes, that includes putting links to pornographic material in a chat channel.
An immediate permanent ban of an account may result if a player:
a. Organizes or participates in a corporation or group that is based on or advocates any anti-ethnic, anti-gay, anti-religious, racist, sexist or other hate-mongering philosophies.
Severe offences may result in an immediate ban without warning; however, warnings may be given for first time offenses, followed by account suspensions of varying degree and ultimately a permanent ban if a player:
a. Is abusive, obscene, offensive, sexually explicit, ethnically or racially offensive, or threatening to another player or an official EVE Online representative.
b. Uses role-playing as an excuse for violating the guidelines regarding fair play with others.
c. Sends excessive e-mails, EVE-mails or support tickets, files support tickets with false information or repeatedly under the wrong category in an effort to circumvent the customer support queue.
6. SCAMMINGWait, this is EVE. Scamming is forbidden? In some cases, players are banned for scamming. Goonswarm director Andski posted a short summary of what will get players in trouble with CCP on the forums earlier this month.
Severe offenses may result in an immediate ban without warning; however, warnings may be given for first time offenses, followed by account suspensions of varying degree and ultimately a permanent ban if a player:
a. Illegally obtains items from another through use of an exploit or cheat method.
b. Intentionally creates contracts that cannot be completed through normal game mechanics or abilities.
c. Has been told by a GM to discontinue a scam ploy and disregards the instruction.
"The do-nots in scamming are basically don't impersonate CCP, don't impersonate other players, don't engage in scams involving character trades, don't scam for actual time codes and don't encourage a mark to actually buy PLEX with RL cash."One other thing that will draw CCP's ire is to scam in the newbie help channel. CCP really, really looks down upon that. In fact, CCP has set up a set of rookie systems in which new players receive some additional protection. The below warning was taken from the Evelopedia:
Warning: Attempting to abuse a new player’s lack of knowledge of the game and its mechanic for your personal gain or simply for their harm is prohibited in these solar systems. This includes, but is not limited to; tricking new players into situations where you or others may open fire on them freely or scamming ISK or assets from them. Disregarding warnings to cease such behavior from authorized CCP personnel is considered to be in violation of section 6 of the EVE Online Terms of Service.The last part of the paragraph's second sentence invokes a comparison to the novel, Lord of the Flies. I believe the reference was intended as an insult. Having never read the novel or seen the movie, I visited Wikipedia to find out exactly what I had missed. According to Wikipedia, Lord of the Flies...
Pilots found to pursue activities against new players in other areas may be subject to further restrictions as deemed necessary by CCP Games Customer Support Team.
"At an allegorical level, the central theme is the conflicting human impulses toward civilization—living by rules, peacefully and in harmony—and toward the will to power. Themes include the tension between groupthink and individuality, between rational and emotional reactions, and between morality and immorality. How these play out, and how different people feel the influences of these, form a major subtext of Lord of the Flies."I can see this interaction play out in EVE, especially from my spot in low sec looking into null. Is a game company wrong for attempting to set up complex social situations and forces in a virtual world? The social forces at work in EVE are a lot more interesting that what we see in the traditional theme park MMORPG. While not for everyone, wouldn't we as consumers of games prefer an interesting world with complex interplay as opposed to just two factions that the game developer tells us are supposed to hate each other?
I should also note that CCP went so far as to try to match the rules to the lore in order to make New Eden a more immersive environment. Kirith Kodachi wrote a nice summary of a capsuleer's place in the world when writing about Ricdic's theft from EVE Bank:
"In the Lore, players represent people who are, for all intents and purposes, above the law of man. They are an immortal elite class of super rich that care very little for the happenings of the billions on the planets below. The faction governments are at best peers and at worst annoyances to be dealt with as the capsuleers see fit. There is no government organization that could run a bank for them and enforce any punishment should the pod pilots steal from them. In the end, the pilots have to provide the service for themselves and police it themselves."What is true for bank fraud is equally true for corp theft. I really get the impression that Rehard's problem is that CCP doesn't think the way he thinks. Rehard has a mindset that some things are right and some things are wrong, and game companies should not allow behavior that is wrong. If I had to guess, I'd say corp theft is near or at the top of his list. Of course, his writing is a bit confusing, so I may have inadvertently misrepresented his views.
Speaking of confusing, his next paragraph was a bit confusing as well.
"Think about it. All of the sensational EVE stories that we love to read about -- and that very few of us have actually experienced -- are always the same story. Corporation XYZ screws corporation YYZ, and the result is a gigantic slideshow of a dot-sized spaceship battle that costs however many millions in PLEX damages and theoretical real-world money loss."I would think that Rehard would like the turn that coverage about EVE has taken. No longer are journalists writing about immoral behavior like espionage and gigantic scams and heists. No, they are writing about honest, stand-up fights involving thousands of players.
I did notice one little jab that Rehard threw in, "and that very few of us have actually experienced." That leads to a philosophical question. Do all players in any MMORPG, not just a sandbox game, need to experience all the content, or just have the opportunity, no matter how slim the chance, to experience all the content? Personally, I like the fact that people will do things in my virtual worlds that I will never do. I don't play a lot as it is; I don't have any time for jealousy of players who can experience everything. I believed that when I played WoW, EQ2, and now EVE.
The next paragraph, combined with the paragraph above, is very clear:
"Yawn."Coming from the managing editor, that explains why Massively did not cover the Battle of B-R5RB until CCP announced the Titanomachy monument. At that point Massively needed to explain why CCP was putting a monument into the game. When Massively did not immediately publish an article about the battle, I assumed that they were waiting until it had all the facts before publishing. That's why I did not jump on Massively's coverage (or lack thereof) like Corelin did. But when the managing editor of Massively comes out and basically says that he thinks EVE's big battles are uninteresting, I guess my idea of Massively's thought process was mistaken.
The last paragraph is interesting.
"You rarely, if ever hear about a player building something; it's all destruction, espionage, metagaming, and people finding newer and more novel ways to backstab one another. That's great if you're into that sort of thing, but not every sandbox fan is, and therefore it's folly for SOE or anyone else to pattern their future sandbox development exclusively after EVE. Player freedom is necessary, sure, and that's the part that CCP gets right. But unchecked player freedom leads to anarchy and ultimately the same sort of repetition, boredom, and burnout that themeparks have perfected over the past decade."I'll go back to that old press standby, "If it bleeds, it leads." People like to see things blow up or see spy vs. spy lived out, even if only in a virtual world. So even though so far in February players have changed the face of their virtual world forever by building a Minmatar station in the 07-SLO system of Wicked Creek and another one in the FGJP-J system of Etherium Reach, those events are not even newsworthy in the specialized EVE Online press. The construction of a new segment of a jump bridge network (similar to players building and controlling WoW's flight paths) that would lead to hundreds of billions of ISK in commerce likewise would receive little mention in the EVE Online press. Let's face facts. Building in EVE is no longer newsworthy. It's just expected.
I should also add that metagaming is not just confined to sandbox games. As the popularity of EVE news shows, many people are fascinated with the metagame. I was reminded of this bit told by Massively columnist Karen Bryan on the now defunct Shut Up, We're Talking podcast back in 2009:
"I’m just going on my EverQuest experience, but the community in our game, it was similar to -- I hear about these stories of competition in EVE -- and there were so many stories of competition on the Prexus server. And the mind games that guilds would play with each other and the things that they would do. I hear stories of infiltrating corps -- corporations? -- and it was the same thing in EverQuest.Ironically, Rehard is worried about the influence of EVE Online corrupting Norrath. Apparently, Norrath was corrupted well before EVE ever launched. The metagame is apparently in the DNA of EverQuest.
"In the high end guilds people were trying to get a toon invited in the guild so they could hear targets or inside strats, or guild information. I remember one night one of the top guilds on the server just out of the blue was gone (snaps fingers), no tag. And everybody was like, 'what just happened?' And as the night went on we slowly saw them start to get the tags back. And it turns out that the leader had discovered a couple of turncoats in the guild. So he figured instead of kicking them out, 'I’m going to start from scratch. If you get an invite you know that I trust you. If you don’t get an invite, then we know who the turncoats were.' And it was little things like that.
"One guild -- it was the same guild actually -- I don’t know if you remember the old languages you could learn in EverQuest, and when you raided you had to use open channels. So they decided they would all learn Froglok, because it was impossible to master that one. And they would speak in Froglok in the open channels so that no one would know what they were doing. So it was little things like that where guilds were trying to one-up each other.
"Considering it was a PvE server it was amazing to me how directly we could affect each other’s progression. So when I read about some of these things in EVE, I nod my head because that’s a lot of what we were doing in EverQuest. It’s the beauty of MMOs, it really is, and again, I’m really impressed with how well EVE does it. But I wouldn’t call them the ones who were breaking ground in it." (20:03 - 22:09)
Now, despite all of the horrible arguments that Rehard made concerning EVE, I do have to agree with some of his conclusions. I agree that SOE should not "pattern their future sandbox development exclusively after EVE." But having followed the development of EverQuest Next and Lanmark, that is not the plan. The plan is to develop a PvE sandbox, which involves different concepts. I also agree that unchecked player freedom is a bad thing. EVE doesn't do that and neither should EQN or EQNL. I would say that players in SOE's upcoming titles would receive more restrictions, if for no other reason than the new Norrathian lore wouldn't support giving characters the same powers as EVE's capsuleer demi-gods. But I will disagree strenuously with one assertion Rehard made. The new EverQuest titles will not suffer because of John Smedley's involvement with EVE Online. That experience will only make the games better.