Landmark and a Dire Vision of Things to Come…

Rowan Blaze over at I Have Touched the Sky has managed to sum up in one picture what I expect eventually to happen everywhere in SOE’s Landmark.

Freedom's just another name for...

Freedom’s just another name for…

I cropped his screen shot down to the essential message.   Free Donuts.

And therein lies the seeds of destruction.

Not that I object to the sign.  It is just a cute example of what one can do in a sandbox like Landmark.  Innocent fun.  And I am sure if the person with the adjacent claim was trying to build something with a different theme that contrasted with the idea of free donuts… maybe a place where donuts were currency, or perhaps some fantasy setting where donuts aren’t really a thing… Rowan would take down his sign.  Heck, his sign… and his claim… might disappear on their own at this point in development.  But even if it remained, I am sure he wouldn’t prop it up next to his neighbors medieval castle or whatever.

Landmark is in alpha after all, and a pay-to-play alpha at that.  Everybody who is playing in the alpha really wants to be there and, judging from what I have seen, are very quick to let you know you can get a full, no-questions-ask refund the moment you complain about anything in Landmark.

That is pretty common with pre-release communities.  They tend to be the most invested in the game and are always the ones to moan about how the community for a given game went down hill after release.  How often have we heard, “The game/The community/People were much better/nicer in beta?”

So Landmark is in that happy, like-minded, orthodoxy enforced, pre-release community state where everything is new and people seem to care more about the game and the idea of the game than the current state of the game.  If you worry about the current state of the game… well… you can get a full, no-questions-ask refund.  It is a happy time of newness and excitement.

But the game will not remain in alpha… or beta… or pre-release… forever.  The happy pre-release community that cares about the game will, if things go to plan, eventually be dwarfed by the a larger community that will not, in general, hold exactly the same values when it comes to Landmark.

Landmark will be an amusement, a distraction, a toy, a way to pass the time, and a way to express themselves.

One way that people have shown they enjoy expressing themselves in the past is through griefing their fellow players.  And the more freedom you give people the greater the of griefing that will occur and the hard it ends up being to stop it.

Basically, the proposition I am putting forward is that the more sandbox-like an online game is, the more there will be griefing.  And, with that in mind, I made a little chart.

Continuum_450That is my “pulled straight from my posterior end” assessment of the sandbox nature of some online games that came to mind given a few minutes thought.  Feel free to object or suggest a re-ordering or inject where other games may sit on the continuum of sandboxiness.  I am already reconsidering my placements, but I am too lazy to edit the picture.

At one end is Webkinz, in which your ability to do anything is pretty well constrained and interactions with other players is severely  limited.  This is a game for small children and their mothers.  Your ability to touch the game is limited to decorating your own house, which only a select few individuals… if anybody at all… will ever see.  Arrange your furniture in a swastika or penis shape and nobody will likely know or care.

I put League of Legends down the line towards Club Penguin because, despite its reputation, it seems to me that your freedom of action is pretty limited, and saying bad words in either game will get you banned eventually.

I put EVE Online in the middle, trending a bit towards the pure sandbox end of things.  The thing is, for all of its sandbox reputation, it really isn’t all as much of a sandbox as you might think.  The game is quite constrained by its mechanics.  What gives it the air of sandbox is more about the lack of central narrative… there is so little “game” in the game… the range of potential career paths, and the tolerance by CCP for what one might consider griefing in another game.  A sandbox attitude in a universe constrained by some occasionally strange mechanics.

I compare this to Wurm Online, about which I only know by what Stargrace has written.  She had a number of tales of people clear cutting her trees or stealing her livestock, or making pests of themselves, or just general drama.  That all sounded much more sandbox-like and much more grief prone… at least relative to the rules of the respective games… than EVE.

At the sandbox end of my little list I put Second Life.  This is the bugbear, the thing that should scare you about sandbox freedom, as things sometimes end up looking like this.

Second Soviet Life

Second Soviet Life

I actually find that picture amusing.  But then, I don’t have to look at it every day.

That picture is from a tale of an ongoing attempt to grief a player in Second Life, which including buying up adjacent properties and filling them with things meant to annoy the player.  The tale of that is over at Broken Toys, from where I swiped the screen shot.  So there is that, flying penises, and… well… you have to visit the place to see the range of things.  Griefing… like porn… isn’t everywhere in Second Life, but it can be brought to a level of art that would surprise you.

Just down the line from Second Life I put Landmark.  Again, my own gut call, and you can argue where it really belongs on the line.  But given the sandbox claims and Rowan’s sign, I have to think that it is far closer Second Life than any traditional MMO.

And while I do not think SOE is going to allow anywhere close to the amount of freedom to do… whatever… that Second Life has allowed, there is going to be a line somewhere.  The sign that says “Free Donuts” might be okay, but what if it gets changed to “Free Penises?”  What if Rowan builds a tower that happens to look like a penis?  What if he reconstructs St. Basil’s Cathedral, only with the onion-shaped domes looking suspiciously penis-like?  What is with Rowan and his obsession with phallic imagery?  (Do I need to say “just kidding” here?  I will, just in case.)

What happens when we get this?

Happy FarmVille Memories

Happy FarmVille Memories

At some point SOE is going to draw a line, and then there will be a group of people who will push right up to that line and dare SOE to do something about it.  And people will complain about those within the letter but perhaps not the spirit of the rules and there will be arguments and rage and rule lawyering and all the fun stuff we expect from online games, only magnified by the freedom allowed by Landmark.  Is it any wonder that SOE canned that other sandbox title before launch?  They were not ready for it then and I am not sure they are ready for it now.

Sure, SOE might believe they can police the internet.  But will they be able to handle the conflicting visions and personalities that will eventually flock to Landmark?  Has SOE articulated a plan for this?  Is my vision too dire, or not dire enough?  And how much enforcement can they impose and still keep things happy and sandboxy?

Anyway, I’m still waiting for EverQuest Next, which may or may not be as sandbox-ish in nature, but about which SOE has been very quiet.

11 thoughts on “Landmark and a Dire Vision of Things to Come…

  1. Pasduil

    I feel Posterior End Assessment (PEA) is term that should be put into widespread use.

    The sign reminds me about how different countries look based on how “sandbox” they are. Some let people put up their giant “Free Donuts” signs pretty much everywhere, others say “Umm… no, it will upset the neighbors and spoil the views, no can do here.”

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  2. bhagpuss

    That’s the same sign that used to say “Ron Paul 2012″ that I used as an illo on a post of mine a few days ago. Not sure if that lead to any complaints and hence the change or if the guy just got bored with it. If you go to the Donut Shop as Rowan calls it, the Claim identifier is actually an advertisement for a guild so I guess the “Free Donuts” is a kind of inducement to join.

    There’s already a /reportclaim command in game that we’re encouraged to use. I’ve already observed that Landmark is going to be a potential Customer Service nightmare but even so I don’t really see that it’s going to be all that different from most MMOs, let alone from most SOE MMOs. We’ve been here before, after all.

    I’m sure you remember the days of automatic broadcast announcements of duels in Everquest, for example. Every time a couple of players stuck /lfg had a tussle to see who was toughest the winners and losers would be announced to everyone in the zone. People used to make new characters just to get the amusing combinations read out. It was generally held that the day two players made characters called “VerantInteractive” and “Yoursociallife” with the result that everyone in the vicinity learned the lesson we all already knew, namely that “Verant Interactive has defeated Your Social Life” was the day that little game came to an end.

    It used also to be relatively commonplace for players to make characters with hatecrime names and stand in Freeport or Qeynos yelling hate speech at the top of their red /shout lungs until GMs turned up to banish them. I saw that all too often. Then there were the endless intentional train deaths, the kill-stealing, the creepy stalkers, the wizards who’d port innocent customers to high level zones and bind them there, not to mention Fansy and his antics or the GM who went crazy one day…

    The potential for griefing and offense in Landmark is probably much lower than it was in Everquest. The claims are separated by a wide area of unbuildable land so it would be hard (although I think not impossible) to box someone in. As far as casual offense goes, they’re static and you have to visit them to be offended. There will be a LOT of claims and no-one is likely to be able to visit all of them even if they wanted to so there will be a voting system and a Leaderboard. Most people are going to use that. They’ll only see the popular places (which isn’t to say penis palaces won’t get a lot of votes, but hey, if that’s what people want…)

    When it comes to punishment, buildings have the distinct advantage that the evidence is indisputable and unhideable. Short of the edge cases like your Onion domes, there shouldn’t be any need for discussion or argument like there has to be in “he did X to me” vs “oh no I didn’t and anyway if I did it was because she did Y to me first” cases. Just visit the claim, see the swastika, issue the ban.

    Also, come Live there are going to be themed worlds. Only one is an EQ-themed version of Norrath and they’ve already said that will be heavily policed for style. On the other worlds I got the impression it’s going to be pretty much do what you like so long as you don’t break any actual laws.

    All in all, yes it will be an anarchic scrum of political incorrectness and bad behavior, but then, so was Everquest.

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – I remember variations of “Your Mom” being broadcast for duels at one point.

    The thing is, the obvious cases will be obvious. A giant penis, a swastika, or whatever. Those will be clearly in the no-go zone. But what about the Arrow Cross symbol? There will always be the zone of doubt.

    To summarize a thread I once read, you cannot make a character named Hitler. Likewise, Himmler will be right out. Heydrich will likely be a no-no. Kaltenbrunner was hung at Nuremberg, so he is out. But what happens when you get down to Karl Wolff? He was an SS leader and likely a war criminal, but really isn’t all that well known. Can I name my character after Karl Wolff. It will offend somebody, somebody always gets the reference. But how do they know I meant THAT Karl Wolff? They cannot prove it. Is that name bad? What if I didn’t know who Karl Wolff was. The name would still offend somebody, but would my lack of intent to offend count? And could you ever be sure I lacked intent?

    Basically, I sympathize with the problems SOE will face and am glad they are not mine. But I am still interested in how they will handle things. Will they stomp out anything anybody complains about? Will people then use the complaint form as a tool to grief?

    @Ultrviolet – Indeed, though as I noted, the community is self-selecting at this point and the founder’s pack price is a barrier to people who just want to grief. Once things are “free,” I expect things will trend much more towards penises.

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  4. SynCaine

    I’m not too concerned, since EQNL is being run by SOE, and they are veterans of the MMO genre lead by Smed, a man with a brilliant record of brilliance.

    Totally.

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  5. Whorhay

    Why not just implement the system used in real life, zoning rules. If someone reports a claim for whatever it gets put to a vote of their neighbors.

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  6. rowan

    I just want to reiterate that the Donut Shop was not mine, I just made some items at the crafting stations beneath the sign. Also, I do not intend to have any phallic symbols on my claim, but the conversation did inspire an idea for a comfy—ahem—underground lair, maybe with some shrubbery partially obscuring the entrance.

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  7. Pingback: John Smedley on SoE’s sandbox future | GamingSF

  8. Syl (@Gypsy_Syl)

    This is why I would love to see private servers. and if that never happens, then at least ‘themed’ servers – fantasy, sci-fi, contemporary etc. even if that still requires some moderation.

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  9. themis

    It depends on the rating they want really. IMO I don’t care if someone wants pink flamingos or a giant t-rex on their lawn, its a sandbox! Having said that I do know some will want a theme and think the best approach IS themed servers with a few truly sandbox. I’ve been in Second Life and really for the most part if you find something offensive… leave. With the buffer zones I think it will be pretty difficult to build something visible in penile detail from your own claim. And if you dont like it put up a tree…

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