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Wavinator

Competitive Sandbox - Is There A Point?

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Sandbox games usually stand out for not having victory conditions. You just play, experiment, explore, etc. until you're sick of the thing. But without victory conditions, can you have a competitive game? Since you can't determine a winner, what's the point of competing? One idea might be ranking or the player's influence of the world as a sort of soft victory condition. For instance, if one player has held the ranking "Undefeated" for the entire length of the game, or (for a strategy game) controls so much territory that assailing them OVERTLY is suicide, they can say to themselves, "I've basically won this game." For strategy, what I see is a sort of cycle of victory. If you dominate the world militarily, players can then use technological, covert or economic means to unseat you. Rankings such as "Greatest Dictatorship" or "Most Prosperous Empire" could be achieved by being the most powerful, or richest or whatever for the longest amount of time. Thoughts?

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It's meta-competitive, or comparative: the players determine their own victory criteria, as well as the nature of their victory. It may simply be a matter of placement, as opposed to absolute wins and losses.

If the sandbox game allows you to create and share an artifact as a side effect of your play, then there is a basis for comparison. Enhancing the game by allowing users to easily share and exchange their artifacts allows players to trade, informally, on reputation. To make the preceding concrete, say the sandbox game is something like Sim City and the artifact produced is the map of your city. By being able to upload your city map for others to share, and allowing other users to rate and remark upon your work, a form of "passive competition" emerges where users strive for the accolades of exquisite play, despite not antagonistically competing head to head.

Allow the user to annotate the artifact - add tourist guides, voiceover narration and 3D walkthroughs to the map - and you have multiple dimensions for competition.

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Another stand-out portion of sandbox games is that they (usually) don't have outside influence. You can build your castle as you see fit. Having competition will impede that; even if indirectly by pressure to 'do better' (based on whatever criteria you and your mates are competing at).

That might turn off the usual fans of sandbox games.

But I have no real problem with competition without a finite victory condition.

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To be honest, I don't see a connection between sandbox gameplay and a lack of victory conditions. There's nothing about linear gameplay that makes victory more viable than sandbox gameplay - it just makes it more inevitable. If you desire to make progress in a linear game, you have no choice but to move toward its end. That's the only difference.

If you're competing in a sandbox game for some type of victory, then even that difference doesn't exist. Any type of progress (building a barracks, attacking your enemy) is still progressing toward the end.

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Achievement badges work great with sandbox games. Depending on the game you are playing, you can get a badge for building a 100-million people city, or for being fired 3 times in a week, or for finding the 9 sacred ruins of Druth-Brakaahr. Badges can be explicitly competitive -- have the top-ranking empire by the end of the month and win a Mighty Leader badge -- or they can simply reward behavior the game designer wants to see in the game, like helping newcomers and creating alliances.

You don't even have to tell what badges are available; let the players try to find them.

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Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
For strategy, what I see is a sort of cycle of victory. If you dominate the world militarily, players can then use technological, covert or economic means to unseat you. Rankings such as "Greatest Dictatorship" or "Most Prosperous Empire" could be achieved by being the most powerful, or richest or whatever for the longest amount of time.

That's kind of the point. The competition is taking a supreme interest in the particular empire that a player is controlling and building up; the players (or player) in the game would continually alter their own victory conditions that, ideally, would eventually be shared by the other players by some sort of shared achievement list/leaderboard.

That said, I don't think players inventing their own victory conditions is an ideal means of continually urging players to play and achieve more within their sandbox. Aside from having some concrete goals in the game which are established early on I think a system of dynamic goal-setting would be kind of a nice way to fuel progress past the "end game" that some sandbox games have -- Grand Theft Auto 4, for instance, has a very definite storyline and ending in its richly-detailed world. There could be reasons for the player to continually make more money to fuel his crime empire in-the-making and random events that could occur that would make a player's focus shift from expansion to defending areas that he's previously "owned." I think GTA: San Andreas tried to do this with its Gang Wars (though that was a very minimal and ultimately boring mechanic).

That's kind of a terrible example to use since GTA4 is pretty linear despite being an "open world" game and, despite being visually pleasing, Liberty City is limited in its actual offerings outside of the story and a few collection sidequests, but the point still remains.

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One of the biggest things that fascinates me about this topic is the thought of a GTA MMO. Lets just assume for a moment that GTA is an MMO but with the same kind of gameplay and everyone can be shot at and harmed. The coolest thing I think would appear is friction between players. If 'SandyBob' runs around in a heavily populated area shooting people it's going to create a sense of panic and friction between the other players and (unless they know him really well) are going to turn on him and try to take him out. I think this whole 'cause and effect' system in a sandbox game is the point, especially when it's a sandbox featuring more than one player.

Recently I found out about this spell that plagued people in a World of Warcraft dungeon and somehow it got out and spread through the population because the contaminated creature found its way to a major city. (The spell could be caught by being within a certain radius of the contaminated player)

Those are both instances (one real, one fictional) in which the game has these reactions to the players that it never intended and it (slightly) models real life based on the reactions of the players.

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Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
Sandbox games usually stand out for not having victory conditions. You just play, experiment, explore, etc. until you're sick of the thing.

But without victory conditions, can you have a competitive game?

Since you can't determine a winner, what's the point of competing?


One idea might be ranking or the player's influence of the world as a sort of soft victory condition. For instance, if one player has held the ranking "Undefeated" for the entire length of the game, or (for a strategy game) controls so much territory that assailing them OVERTLY is suicide, they can say to themselves, "I've basically won this game."

For strategy, what I see is a sort of cycle of victory. If you dominate the world militarily, players can then use technological, covert or economic means to unseat you. Rankings such as "Greatest Dictatorship" or "Most Prosperous Empire" could be achieved by being the most powerful, or richest or whatever for the longest amount of time.

Thoughts?




To control having players overwhelm eveyone else when the gain alot of resources many games have command/control factors than make it increasingly difficult to control your assets as they get more numerous.

Distance from HQ cause communication delays, corruption effects, limited view for the player (who can only be one place at a time) or number of cammand that can be issued withing a turn....

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