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'Sandbox MMOs like EverQuest Next are the future,' says SOE president

John Smedley says The Elder Scrolls Online will run out of content

Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley thinks the "content model" of massively multiplayer online games - where developers create quests, dungeons, and other set experiences for players to tear through - is no longer sustainable.

Smedley wrote on his blog about sandbox MMOs, a label SOE has courted for EverQuest Next. MMO creators have to deal with the fact that World of Warcraft has nine years of content built up, Smedley said, which is tough to compete with directly.

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"Don't get me wrong.. someone with deep pockets can still pull it off," Smedley admitted. "TESO [The Elder Scrolls Online] looks like it's going to follow the content model and it's going to have a lot of players. I'm willing to bet that it hits the same problem that SWTOR [Star Wars: The Old Republic] did. Just not enough to do."

Smedley said he's pursuing systems that let players be the content for each other. This isn't without precedent: player vs. player situations in MMOs can remain novel long after set player vs. environment experiences get old, but Smedley wants to expand that to the rest of the game.

He noted the success EVE Online has enjoyed by putting its players, not pre-made content, at center stage. EverQuest Next is planned to let players shape the growth of their worlds by raiding monster camps and nurturing small villages into cities (or vice versa), and the EverQuest Next Landmark alpha already lets players dig up the environment and build their own structures.

"Our belief at SOE is that it's smarter to head in this direction now rather than waiting," Smedley said. "We want to innovate and let players be a part of everything we do including make the game in the first place. We're going to take the idea of sandbox gaming and we're putting it at the core of everything we're doing.

"We'll obviously still be making awesome stuff for players to do, but we're going to aim very high in terms of letting players be a part of the game systems. The more emergent sandbox style content we can make the less predictable the experience will be."

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