Darkfall: Unholy Wars launched a few months late but those who waited apparently enjoy what was given. It does sound like a lot of fun and reading through that post gets me thinking about what I do like about sandboxes and what I don’t like about FFA PvP. (To Syncaine’s credit, he has a fairly detailed post about a PvE sandbox that I would love to play someday.)
What I like is being able to do what you want to do, when you want to do it and never really having a schedule. There’s no common ride and everyone’s adventure is slightly different than another’s. I really liked that about UO and early SWG. Community had a big part in it but the ability to socialize to consume PvE content was where it was at. Killing dragons or liches, treasure hunting, animal taming, building a craft store – it was all great fun.
What I didn’t like was the open/FFA PvP aspects. One person could ruin 20 or 50 other player’s nights for no other reason than griefing. Goal-based PvP makes sense and it’s always around controlling PvE access. I can’t remember a game where you hunted people for their ears in order to make a coat but there are plenty where you keep people away from a resource spawn point so you can craft better gear. UO private shards all have this problem and typically move towards extremely aggressive PvP controls.
The thing that lacks most in PvP games is the moderation of the activities. In the real world, there are laws and law enforcement. Typically these two combined will keep the general population from attempting a PvP activity (theft, harm, etc…) and those that do are tracked down and punished. This doesn’t exist in games for a few reasons.
First, players are not online, their characters are and not 24/7. I could play Jim as a PvP dink and Paul as a savior and most people would never know the difference. There should be tools to identify a player based on all their characters.
Second, law enforcement is a thankless job, with little bite and no compensation. When a griefer does it for the lulz, there is no in-game punishment possible to stop them from doing it again. Short of removing all their skills and gear, or simply access to the game, why would the stop? Moderation then requires a higher level of authority and then you get into the “god complex” issues. Mind you, League of Legends has a decent system, even if there are still hundreds of horrible people playing.
The sheer lack of social restraint in these games is incredible. No one would walk down the street and say “wow, that’s a nice car” and then proceed to break the window, hot wire it and proceed to row down a street full of people. No, what happens is that you approach the driver, compliment them on the car and have a quick conversation. I mean, I can’t imagine anyone on this planet thinking it’s acceptable for a group of people to simply walk around town, shooting everyone and then say “it’s to teach them buggers a lesson that crime is always around”.
I get PvP, I do. It’s the reason we have MMA, boxing or any other combat sport. There’s a primal need to compete against live people. There’s a superiority complex that makes us strive to be better, to improve. What I don’t get is some people’s need to intimidate or harass other players and their ability to find enjoyment in it.