The Ultimate Sandbox MMO

What if I told you there’s a MMO that had the following features:

  • Open-world player housing with the best decoration system of any MMO ever made.
  • A crafting system more powerful and advanced than any MMO out there
  • Player run stores and casinos
  • Player run economy
  • The ability to stream music from internet radio stations directly into the game to play at your player-run dance clubs
  • Mature areas where kiddies are not allowed to hang out.
  • A game where over 40% of the player base is female. (as opposed to 19% in WOW)
  • No Level Grinding.
  • No Loot Camping
  • Free to download and play
  • No Monthly fee unless you purchase land
  • What would you say?

    Well, if I then told you the name of the game is Second Life, then you’d probably say “No thanks.”

    I often hear people asking for sandbox style MMO features like open-world housing. Oh, how we love the sandbox features like player-run open-world cities in Star Wars Galaxies or the open-world house building of Ultima Online. But these features come at a cost. Open-world housing means that you have to walk past all the urban sprawl just to get to the content… if there’s even any out there.

    The more sandbox you give your players, the less the themepark aspects of the game work. If players can pick any skill they want without being restricted to classes or skill-trees, then you end up with cookie-cutter builds and a shallow PVE game. If players have no level grinding and no camping, then they will complain there’s not enough to do in the game. If the crafting system is insanely powerful and complex, people will claim you have to be a programmer to figure it out and say that it takes away from the loot aspect of the game.

    Every feature which can be called “sandbox” exists in the sandbox category specifically because it breaks a themepark aspect. Otherwise, it’d be in both and we’d call it just a normal feature of the genre.

    The real mystery I find myself pondering today is, “Why don’t people who like sandbox gameplay go play a true sandbox MMO?”

    Published by


    Suzina is a 27 year old who usally plays the same MMOs as her husband. Games played: UO, EQ2, FFXI, SWG, LOTRO.

    32 thoughts on “The Ultimate Sandbox MMO”

    1. The virtual world aspect of MMORPGs is just one piece of the pie. The other piece that separates games from virtual world enthusiasts is gameplay. Second Life at its core is not a game. Yes, its possible for people to create pieces of gameplay and game-like experiences, however Second Life as a whole has no platform-wide game features. Meaning, that unless you know what you’re doing, its hard to find the games.

      MMO gamers don’t really want to a true “build it yourself” experience. Even if they think they do.

      1. Dead topic, but thought I’d revive it.

        This is not a “real world” MMO. If it truly was a sandbox it would let me go into whatever venue I wanted, WITHOUT paying in-game currency and massacring the entire establishment. Killing EVERYONE! Hey, there are serial killers in real life, why not in “real” life mmos? Think about that second life…

        1. Even more of a dead topic, but a point this stupid never deserves to be a “last word”.

          Jerkoffs always use this defense “well there are REAL sociopaths!”

          Well there is real world “perma death” too. You want to be a “virtual serial killer”? Personally, I consider that a mental illness, but the problem is there is *zero* repercussion for that behavior. In the real world, “serial killers” end up behind bars being gang-raped by drug gangs, get a needle in the arm, or get shot by cops. Then they’re gone.

          So in a game, if there were a way for the person playing the “virtual serial killer” to somehow be *permanently removed* from the game upon being killed, then sure that makes sense. Otherwise its just another a-hole rationalizing being an a-hole for their own entertainment at the expense of other people.

          “Freedom to be a jerkoff on my OWN terms” is not part of “sandbox”. Which is part of the problem with the term. A true “sandbox”, in the extremist sense of the term, almost demands perma-death, and possibly even a penalty that extends to the actual player to limit griefing (like real a-hole behavior gets the PLAYER, after character death, a 30 day ‘time out’ from the game) in order to prevent idiots from abusing the freedom of the game purely so they can be idiots.

    2. Some are looking for a “build your own approach” to an existing game. It’s not quite a true “sandbox”, and more of a “sandman” design, as it were…

    3. First, because Second Life isn’t DIKU. Second, because people tend to define their preferences more by what they don’t like than by what they like. They tend to play the game they tolerate best rather than the one with a couple features they think are really cool.

    4. The word “sandbox” has changed its meaning over time.

      Back when Daggerfall first came out it was heralded as a sandbox game. Daggerfall was in fact very much like a single player version of WoW.

      Of course back then a huge world to explore and the ability to choose to diverge completely from the main linear questline was pretty revolutionary.

      I think a lot of us would like sandbox style gameplay because ultimately we want to be making the choices. It would be great to have that Daggerfall feeling all over again of “wow, I can just head off and do this? I don’t have to follow the rails?”

      Yet still as Cuppy has pointed out we do want a game. Not a big pointless virtual space.

      And yeah who the hell wants to build it themself? Do you go to the playground with your own cement mixer and pickaxe if you want to take the kids to mess around in the sand?

    5. “Sandbox” is a very poor analogy for what MMO players tend to mean when they use the term. A sandbox, assuming I understand the term in its non-gaming context (and it’s something I had actually never heard of outside MMO gaming – in the U.K. I think we would call it a “sandpit” and even then I doubt anyone’s seen one in real life since the 1970s) offers you absolutely no entertainment at all beyond a space to play in and a safe surface to play on. Any fun you have there comes entirely from your imagination and your social interaction with others.

      If I’ve understood that correctly, then I don’t think that’s at all what MMO players who bandy the term about really want. It seems to me that the real analogy would be “park” or “recreation ground” to use English terminology. A large area in which a number of facilities have been provided, but which does not prescribe a particular way in which those facilities are used. You can make up your own games, but you can use the marked-out pitches, the trees, the swings and monkey bars as props. You can stroll, sit, watch others, read, eat at the cafe as you wish.

      In a theme park the only choice you have is what order to go on the rides, and maybe not even much of that. In a sandbox you have…sand. I think there’s a better option somewhere between those two.

      As for Second Life, it’s not a “game”, is it? If we’re going to use the term as it applies to MMOs, it’s actually “sandbox game”.

    6. Allow me to quote the local playground:
      “I shot you!”
      “No you didn’t!”
      Repeat ad nauseaum.

      When there is no agreed-upon and enforced rules, there is no game. Second Life is perfect if you want a sandbox MMO, but if you want a sandbox MMORPG, you better look elsewhere.

    7. Echoing other commentors; Second Life is not a game. It’s more of a 3D IM service; more an evolution of AIM or MSN than a MMORPG.

    8. I think what you are suggesting/insinuating is correct, we (sandbox fans) don’t necessarily want a true, full-on sandbox like Second Life. And like others have mentioned, SL isn’t so much a game as a virtual world. So maybe we should say that we like ‘sandbox games,’ not ‘sandbox virtual worlds.’

      I think we can agree that we want an open world where we can be what we want. Maybe a place that allows for roleplay. Player-run economy and crafting. You get the idea. The list differs based on personal preferences. For example, some would require open world PvP on that list.

      One of the things I have been thinking about is the question of whether or not Free Realms is a sandbox or theme park. I mean, it does have an openness to it, you are not on rails. You can be whatever profession you want and you level that profession by doing it. That’s at least two bullet points of sandbox features. But, obviously, to look at the games map, it sure appears to be a theme park.

      I have also heard people say how Fallen Earth isn’t really all that much of a sandbox. I won’t go into specifics. But it does have some of the sandbox features that we like. For me, FE is just the right amount of sandbox. But I would have to agree that it is not an absolute sandbox like SL. So that somewhere in the middle is probably what a lot of us want…as you have suggested.

      1. I’d have to agree with Zentr. I myself have been trying to find an acceptable “sandbox game” for the better part of 10 years now. I’ve played open ended worlds such as sl and Eve, and I’ve played the theme park games like Lineage 2, WoW, Lord of the Rings online and a few others. In my opinion I think that my favorite game that I’ve played so far was Star Wars galaxies prioir to the New Game Enhancements and before it became a Star Wars version of WoW.

        For those of the gaming community who are too young or otherwise just did n’t get the pleasure of knowing what Star wars Galaxies was like prior to the NGE, lemme lay it out best as I remember. When you loaded the game, you got to choose not only the species of your character, but other various aspects about your character (very similar to the character creation system in Guild Wars or Elder Scrolls: Oblivion). You then had the choice to choose what kind of profession you wanted to start in, and wait, before I lose you thinking “Oh great. A Class system …” it was simply put what do you want to start working on FIRST. At any time you could have dropped it and gone to a trainer looking to start a different profession. Within said professions, there were skill trees that you could specialize in one field or the other. Crafters for example. There were 4 skill trees in craftiing that you could work on which in turn branched off into something like 8 different “master” professions I think. Which brings me to another point. The Crafting.

        I had, at one point 7 characters on one server dedicated to crafting. Why 7 you ask? because the crafting system was so intricate, and complex that I thought it was wonderful. You had different materials that would fill the requirements of whatever kind of material you were looking for (food, liquid/water, energy, metal) that would have different characteristics. Certain metals would be far more enduring where as some might be more brittle and as such wouldn’t be as good for a blaster. These characteristics are what you had to keep an eye on and made the game challenging cause the resources would run out in an area so you’d have to find that great source of metal somewhere else so you could make products worth buying. Third point! Player run economy.

        There was nothing in that game I had that wasn’t player made. You could make a product on one planet, put it in the market in whatever was the capitol city for that world and Anyone else in a capitol city on any other planet could find and purchase it. Great deal it was.

        Another part of the game were the job boards. There were always jobs posted by either other people or by the devs for any assortment of services; couriers, surveyors, miners, bio engineers (for pets with particular traits you had to “sample” DNA from other creatures and more or less build the pet how you wanted it), and my personal favorite, Bounties! Open world PvP if you wanted. 2 Factions; the Rebel alliance and the Empire, and anyone who knows of Star Wars knows that those 2 don’t play nicely, but besides that if you flagged yourself for PvP, you were game to go and anyone else flagged was fair game. Which is were bounties came in. Sorta like the GMs little hit squad. If a player did you wrong, you could post a bounty on the board and others would go after said person to obtain the bounty. OR GMs could post bounties on NPCs and the same thing would happen.

        Yes, it was a Star wars game, but I think if you were to take that same openness and apply a different face to it, be it Steam-punk (I’ve been on a kick for that lately), space fantasy, western, middle ages, or whatever other face you wanted to put to it, a huge portion of the “sandbox game” community would be very satisfied with the result. I mean it’s got 3 or 4 points to it already, and that’s just what I remember.

        I’m not saying that huge portions of the community are geared towards middle age fantasy, or western fantasy, or any other particular genre, but if you could derive the game engine out of the game and add whatever flavor you wanted there would be a huge fan base already sitting out there waiting for “the perfect game” that got the rug pulled out from under us.

    9. As others have said in this thread, Second Life while being a large persistent space, is not a game and couldn’t be classified as a MMO (that being short for MMORPGame ignoring the other styles — for example FPS — for the sake of discussion.)

      This doesn’t mean that a virtual world like Second Life couldn’t successfully be used as the base for a true sandbox game, somewhere the players could be as creative as in SL, but what would be needed is a set of gameplay elements.

    10. I’ve never liked the word, “sandbox” as a game style or genre. I prefer, “open world”. That means that the game is still built on rules and a theme, but has a “go-anyway-you-want” feel to it. I think this is what gamers really want.

      A “sandbox” usually implies that the rules and theme can be changed (which defines Second Life pretty well).

      So, Suzina, I think your list would be great in a game, IF the game had set rules and theme.

    11. Others have covered the “game” aspect of the issue quite well. Another aspect is ‘social norms’ or perhaps ‘exclusivity’. The more open and freeform your playspace is, the more people can come in and be asshats to everyone (Second Life and Something Awful’s relationship spring to mind). By adding rules and strictures to your game you force people to operate within prescribed boundaries. People gripe about PvP Looting — I’d hate to think what would happen if I could just arbitrarily destroy a guild hall. Kicking over the virtual sandcastle, say.

      (Aside: I found SWG’s non-instanced housing to be better as theory than in fact. Even with my new computing rig I still found that houses “beamed in” as I wandered across the countryside, and I could walk around a hall for at least 20 seconds before the furniture would start manifesting. This was far from immersive for me.)

    12. Is it me, or does anyone else think it’s odd that EVE Online is yet to pop up in the discussion? It’s probably the most “sand-boxey” MMO that’s still a game. As a pilot you can PvP or not PvP. You can pilot any ship in the game, if you’re willing to put in the training – no “character class” definitions to keep you roped into a specific role. You can RP if you want to, dunno – it just seems to be the only true MMORPG that has the most sandbox qualities. No?

    13. Combat is the one thing that still defines MMOs as MMOs. Despite the glut of things to do in these worlds, combat remains the core mechanic of MMO gameplay. That’s why Free Realms is a theme park with sandbox qualities, and not the other way around. You can be any class you want at any time, but it gets old real quick, and there just isn’t enough to do.

      “If players can pick any skill they want without being restricted to classes or skill-trees, then you end up with cookie-cutter builds and a shallow PVE game.”

      1. Relative to the topic, Second Life is a great sandbox for what it is. I, like others, think the lack of a combat system makes it a little bland but it still represents a great sandbox.

        As for cookie-cutter builds and shallow pve game… I don’t quite understand this. No matter what game you talk about there is always going to be a base build for people to use in combat.

        As for combat, i agree that combat defines MMOs. As for sandboxes or MMORPGs combat is just one half of the game. SWG is still, in my mind, the best example. Maybe it wasn’t a true sandbox, as some post argued it should be called a park, but it offered the most extensive and realistic simulation in a fantasy world in existence. I say “offered” because the developers essentially made half of the game obsolete. Eve is another great example just not as extensive as original SWG.

    14. Well, while I certainly would relish a sandboxish game Second Life with it’s complete lack of narrative sense and clunky tools is like a sandbox where you’re only allowed to use your hands to scoop up the sand.
      The feeling of being slightly dirty that I get from my journeys into Second Life isn’t so much due to the “adult content” as it is to the fact that I just end up mucking about and getting sand under my nails.

      Also in Second Life (or any other system without any constraints at all) there is always the risk for a light shower of goonsquad related penises.

      Any sandbox that would want to also like to be attractive as a game would need a lot of things that Second Life lacks. Such as a combat system, easy and accessible tools for crafting/changing the world, and a set of natural laws that prevent the cunning from shaping the world in whatever way they like. (Because I’m not paying 15 EUR per month to scale Mount Cockmore.

    15. Well I remember the old MUD before we had MMO and generally they varied from total sand box you can think it up you have it to rules so anal retentive that they were not fun.

      But the funny thing is they started from ADVENTURE basically zork over a modem. Which you could try any you wanted but until someone writing the code knew what you were going to try it did not work or did something from a list of random things. The ones that got really fun were because someone was fun the environment side of things ie Dungeon Master or Game Master.

      Where I’m going with this is people want a sandbox to be a space were they can go play and have their whims re-created in a virtual space. Second life fails at this because the tools to create with are very limiting and you have to spend money, at which point people expect more because they are now paying for it.

      I have a thought what needs to be done but I figure I should try and see how difficult it would be and if I’m right I could make a lot of money. :)

    16. Before I clicked the full article I was thinking to myself “this is quite like Second Life” and “so where’s the game part?” But then I’m not usually clamouring for open-endedness anyway.

      Edit: Beaten lol. Would have been nice if Northrend in WotLK was a little less like a railroad in each zone.

    17. Three cheers for educated gaming!

      I’m sick and tired of people complaining about lack of innovation when they don’t make an effort to try new things. If they’re unaware of alternatives out there… I’m not even sure if I can excuse that anymore, since sandbox games like Second Life, EVE Online, and (recently) Fallen Earth always get a fair amount of press in the interwebs.

      But to know of such alternatives and dismiss them without a fair trial? Maybe you don’t have the money (which is understandable; I was in the same boat until I got a job) or maybe you’re just lazy. In either case, stfu until you try them out plzkthx.

      I finally decided to put my money where my mouth is by trying out Fallen Earth and Saga of Ryzom. And what I found out… is that I don’t really like the taste of sand in my mouth. EVE Online was fun. Fallen Earth was also fun. But Ryzom was a just a little too free-form for me. The mainland is GORGEOUS and HUGE and full of life, but it comes with its drawbacks (and I’ll spare you the details).

      I learned something about myself from all this, one of them being that the themepark model is okay with me, in spite of its inherent flaws. So you won’t hear me whining about sandboxes anymore :)

      Next game on the list – LOTRO!

      1. Rofl. I haven’t tried Fallen Earth yet, but I have played Ryzom. Still a bigger fan of Eve, but $15/month is a little more than I can afford right now WITH a job, a crappy one yes, but in todays market and with my particular circumstances I took what I could get. Btw, LotRO is a great pick.

    18. *coughcough*WurmOnlineisthebestfantasyMMosandbox*coughcough* ‘scuse me, I have a sandboxy cold.

    19. because 2nd life is not a sandbox and lacks a good design is nearly every aspect
      I have not spent much time in SL so pardon if I am inaccurite is some of its aspects..
      to me a nice playable sandbox

      IDEALIZED reality
      organic real feeling world
      world changeability and building/distruction
      a pvp system that doesnt interfere with others enjoyment of the game.

      weather climate localized resources, diverse and valued crafting system, craftable combat moves, craftable spells, harvestable plants animals resources, diverse buildable structures, diverse and unique races, ability to build social structures/kingdoms nations caravans, shipping large and interesting world including sun and planets and stars pets and mounts
      adaquate graphic engine to not hinder immersion
      ballanced armor (lite armor fast heavy armor slow)
      pets meters for food, water comfort, morale where you dress for the environment or climate a arctic player is different from a tropical player
      where there is blights and plagues and natural diasters possible animals and inteligent NPCs and lastly things in the world that are interesting or suprising.
      where the focus is on a realistic but fun world,

      I tried wurm which had many aspects but high learning curve and dieing could mean reappearing thousands of miles from your equipment or griefers destroying your stuff just to ruin your fun, crude combat system, no economy, beautiful ships with very little to do with them,
      very crude charactors crafting system with very little value..

      in short very poor reality systems and improvement or fixes on the geologic scale
      they only had a single water level
      if this game improves some of its core features I will be very likely to want to play it

    20. true sand boxes are never good games because, if nothing else the limits of coding
      a hybred that makes the sandbox fun and limits harassment and abuses.

      there are many many things about 2nd life that turns me off about it like the horrible graphics

      Id love a game where I fan farm and one a boat to haul trade goods and still participate in fights occasionally

    Comments are closed.