The last year or so has seen the collective industry start to wake up from that bad dream, as there are now a half dozen really promising sandbox or sandpark titles in development, several of which are backed by millions of dollars and major studios.
What about the current crop of games, though? Is it a stretch to imagine a few of them, even the unapologetically linear ones, expanding their horizons with a little bit of player-generated content?
Star Wars: The Old Republic is apparently pretty profitable these days. Wouldn't it be slick if BioWare reinvested some of that cash shop windfall into something other than dungeons, dialogue, and cutscenes? Don't get me wrong; I've warmed to SWTOR over the last few months to the point that it's now my primary fun-time MMO (at least until ArcheAge gets here!), but the current game does have a one-track mind.
I'd love to see it branch out much as EverQuest II has over the years. I'm not talking about neglecting the progression-based core or even the PvP sideshow in favor of fluff, but just as SOE has made an artform out of various non-combat activities, so too could BioWare, particularly given that the firm is blessed with both a money-printing IP and an IP that is overflowing with unique gameplay possiblities.
Look at the dozens of minigames in SOE's Clone Wars Adventures browser title, for example. Most of them would fit quite comfortably inside SWTOR's established framework, and they'd flesh out the title immeasurably and make it even stickier for both subscribers and free-to-play types.
Perhaps BioWare is already going down this route, too. The rumored space expansion is one of the industry's worst-kept secrets, and I've also heard scuttlebutt regarding customizable ship interiors and the like. Who knows, at this point, but given how popular non-combat activities proved in that other Star Wars MMO, and given how player-generated content pays for itself in short order, BioWare would be wise to give it a serious look.
This one will probably elicit a few WTFs. Hear me out, though. Yes, I know that some of you don't even consider Wargaming.net's instanced actioner to be an MMO, but to be honest, you've lost that battle because dozens of industry folk and gaming publications classify and cover it as such. And semantics aside, it's a fun online multiplayer title with a massive playerbase!
So how could World of Warplanes possibly add player-generated content to what is in essence an instanced shooter? And why would the devs even want to? Two words: nose art. Well, OK, here's a third word, too: customization. I've played Microsoft Flight Simulator for more years than I care to admit, and the thing that keeps me coming back to it apart from an incurable obsession with aviation is the ability to mod my aircraft.
Now, WoWP certainly isn't a flight simulator, and I'm not talking about players getting the opportunity to tweak their aircraft performance config files or whatever Wargaming's equivalent happens to be. But nose art? Custom squadron livery or decals? Why the hell not? Look at the custom graphics community that sprung up around the Forza Motorsport games, and those poor geniuses are forced to perform their aesthetic wizardry with a console controller. Imagine what similarly talented community artists could do on a PC and the larger surface areas on an aircraft!
I know, someone would turn his fuselage into a giant penis on day one if left unchecked. So Wargaming would probably have to dedicate a community rep to policing that sort of thing, but wouldn't it be worth it? The company could even take a page out of SOE's book and integrate approved community designs into the game's cash shop. Crazier things have happened.
DC Universe Online has a leg up on the other titles in this article, mainly because it was designed and published by SOE. The company certainly takes its lumps from vocal critics in both the games media and the MMO-playing public, but no one in his right mind can deny the firm's willingness to experiment with sandbox mechanics and player-generated content in nearly all of its titles, even those like EverQuest II that are linear, quest-driven progression exercises at their core.
SOE recently added a robust housing system to DCUO, and while most of the decorations come from loot drops instead of crafting (boo), the foundation is there for a spectacular system on par with those from both EQII and Star Wars Galaxies, which are the gold standards for instanced and open-world housing implementations, respectively.
Additionally, what I'd like to see from DCUO in the future is some sort of player mission system. SOE has multiple blueprints to choose from, whether it be EQII's Dungeon Maker or SWG's peerless Storyteller system. I wouldn't put it past the DCUO creative team to come up with an entirely new system, either. But hey, why reinvent the wheel when you're already got a couple of awesome examples right there in your proprietary portfolio?
Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of sandboxes and player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!