Casual Sandbox?

This rant if the week is sponsored by starburst fruity chews, eat a whole pack, overdose on sugar, and have your tongue feeling like you’ve been drinking acid.

I came across the term casual sandbox *shudder* on a massively article about the upcoming Archeage and that term had me completely perplexed. I know what they both mean separately, that is obvious enough but together it just seems all wrong. How would a casual sandbox *shudder* even work.

In this age a casual focus seems to be in vogue with a lot of companies catering to this expanding demographic. I’ve talked about my hangups with this before, it’s just not a great direction for a game where you want a consistent returning playerbase like an mmo. Even if you don’t have a subscription you still require a critical mass of players so it doesn’t end up an empty shell devoid of socialising and inhibiting group pick ups. I don’t even think a casul focus is good for a regular mmo let alone a sandbox where the players are the content.

There are enough random definitions of what hardcore and casual mean floating around the interwebs although these really don’t matter at all since everyone’s interpretation is quite different. In my mind the difference is based on the level of investment on person has or can give to a game based on personal factors and it is this investment which determine a players expectations. I think that is the main premise of thesearguments anyway.

A casual player prefers items to be easier to gain in less time and wouldn’t want to lose such things wherein hardcore players are willing to devote themselves to a cause. It’s kind of what perfectly separates the design practices of themeparks and sandboxes, themeparks are naturally designed to be segmented, consumed and completed at leisure while sandboxes open ended nature require time and patience to achieve things. Of course there are hardcore themeparks or at least a part of them which usually focus around raiding but for the life of me I can’t think of a casual sandbox *shudder* as it naturally becomes less of a sandbox if there is an easily reached end point.

Some might call farmville and the like it spawned rather casual and open ended but they take a tremendous amount of time if your actually invested in them, constantly checking, planting, maintaining and harvesting. Always have these schedules of play in the back of your mind. They are terribly compelling and not for the person who is inpatient or without long term goals.

So what exactly would a casual sandbox even look like? You know, I think it would look exactly like WoW in its current form. An all encompassing beast with a variety of content styles suited at different levels of experience and skills where you can focus and neglect the various parts at your leisure. Yeh I think that sums it up nicely.

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4 thoughts on “Casual Sandbox?

  1. I think that Minecraft is a casual sandbox – but not a MMO. You can play 2 hours a week and achieve great things and enjoy yourself. There is no hard penalty – especially if you play in peaceful mode. And it is clearly a sandbox !

    After reading a lot of blog posts about Hardcore VS casual, I am starting to understand why hardcore gamer can be interesting for casual gamer. But I strongly believe that a game where both casual and hardcore can enjoy themselves is possible. But it should not be centered on time-long objectives but can accept them. And old players (in term of played hours, not in term of lived hours ;-) ) should not have a benefit VS young one, at least for short term activities – like fighting.

    For a sandbox short session should allow you to make visible progress.

    • yeh, minecraft would be kind of the epitimay of a casual sandbox but I guess I was more thinking of a casual sandox mmo minecraft does have multiplayer but I don’t think it’s exactly the same thing since if it really was an mmo it would get very competitive over certain resources.

      I do think providing for and supporting for both demographics is an important part but right now I think most mmos are too far overdesigned for the casual market. And yes actually, I do think they should be centered towards long term goals and bigger projects but that there should be smaller milestones or components people can achieve during short seessions that work towards these bigger goals. These smaller components are why I think minecraft works so well, during your time your a;ways progressing towards something big even if that was just creating a couple windows… can you imagine if it had more pre fab designs where you had to collect vast somes of resources first.

  2. I was going to cite Minecraft too. A casual sandbox sounds like a fine idea to me. it should be a shared environment with gameplay designed around imagination and creativity, with a toolset that allows ideas to be realised in a few hours not a few weeks or months.

    Rather than throwing the sand in other players’ eyes (PvP) or hoarding sand and selling it to other players (economy) activity would centre on using the sand to build sandcastles and then inviting other players to come see what you’d made.

    • I just don’t see such a thing sustaining a critical mass and a concurrent playerbase. what you describe sounds more like a single player game with certain multiplayer allowances.. sounds like Little big planet in many ways.

      Giving everyone the abilities to mold and construct in the world would require a huge open space that really isn’t very plausible for developers to create, otherwise it has to be an instanced thing like most housing systems… and those really aren’t that popular.

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