Longtime reader and commentator, Curuniel, emailed me and asked if I knew the origin of the sandbox / theme park distinction? I admit I really did not so I decided to crowdsource the question. Google is not much help because it wants to show the more recent hits.On KillTenRats, the first instance of the term “sandbox” is in 2005 where Zubon praised EVE Online and A Tale in the Desert for being such MMOs. “Theme park” occurs in 2007 and 2008, again by Zubon.
Syncaine has a post from early 2008, but he uses the terms like ordinary vernacular. Looking at Syp’s MMO timeline, I would imagine that the actual distinction happened a bit later than Syncaine’s theory of Everquest. World of Warcraft, I feel, was really the MMO that streamlined quests in to “rides” instead of mere activities. It was so fresh at the time, the backlash of it becoming a theme park I feel came about much alter. Perhaps only later when around Blizzard’s first World of Warcraft expansion in early 2007 people began to see more of the same and a swath of alleged copycat MMOs came around. But, really this is all guesswork on my end.
Anyway, I’d love to hear people’s opinions or any better search attempts to find the origin of the distinction.