10/12/2013

Thoughts on Gates and Sandboxes

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was fun, for about a month. Unfortunately, it fell into the same formula that developers have become so accustomed to using, sometimes referred to as gating.

Gating is when an obstacle is placed in front of a player that requires them to go through the gate to be able to move to higher content. While gating in its simplest form is done by having level requirements for content, developers have fallen into a formulaic trap, of level (L) plus gear (G) equals the ability to overcome the gate (Ag) or in solo play:

L + G = Ag

The problem then becomes much more complicated through party play. Each member of the party (P) must fit the formula to allow progression, but add on ability of the player (Ap) and the formula becomes more complicated, in the realm of:

(n * P)(L + G + Ap) = Ag 

Since the dawn of MMO party content, the above formula has plagued players. For example, any player who does not meet the gear or level requirements will not allow the entire party to go through the gate. The more strict a developer makes this formula, the more unlikely a group of players will progress without having spent the time and effort to meet the requirements to progress.

FFXIV:ARR takes a more strict approach, which isn't necessarily a bad thing for those who enjoy the above stated progression formula. The problem is many players rushed to end game, while others took their time. Players in the second wave were less likely to be helped by those who went farther on, and players who had already finished content were not pleased to help others complete it (a common occurrence in MMOs). This creates two groups of players due to the current lack of end game. Being part of both of the first and second wave, and seeing very little of a new formula in the game itself, the author decided to jump ship early.

There is a formula the author is not as accustomed to that removes quite a bit (though not all) of the gating in an MMO. This is commonly known as a sandbox MMO, and these have met in the past with less success.

Sandbox games allow a more open approach, and while they may also include gear and level requirements, they are secondary to the player being in charge of the progression of their character rather than the developer of the before-mentioned formulaic approach. Often times players become more powerful through discovery in the game, than they do by upgrading gear, or obtaining levels.

It may be high time for MMO developers to move back towards a balance that includes much more of the sandbox approach to gaming. Everquest Next and Star Citizen are both games looking to lead in this movement. At least I am retired from formulaic progression MMOs for good.

1 comment:

  1. Let's not also forget that this formula then feeds into another one people are more familiar with and see often on a graphical level, the DPS meter. Your gear and level often are a factor of your DPS as well. Now, yes, there is another factor in skill(overall skill that is) that comes into play, but your previous equation plays into the DPS meters just as well.

    Realistically, I think it stems more from the monthly rated MMOs than the rest of them. Yes, every MMO has a grinding aspect to it, but I've felt that the subscription ones have it moreso, to milk more money out of you. The "free to play" ones almost make it "pay to play" in some cases.

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