Monthly Archives: June 2017

Four Things Western MMOs Can Learn from the East

I’m not a fan of the favoritism some people have when it comes to Eastern versus Western MMORPGs. Historically, I’ve spent more time in Western games, but I’m not going to write off a whole hemisphere because of it.

An enemy encampment in Blade and Soul

Ultimately, I think both regions’ design philosophies have their pros and cons, and both could benefit by taking lessons from the other. This being an English language site, I’m guessing most people here have a pretty good idea of what Western games have to offer, so let’s start with a look at what the West can learn from Asian games.

Strong Character Creators

These days the gap between Western and Eastern character creators isn’t as stark as it once was, but the best MMORPG character creators are still found in Asian titles like Aion and Black Desert. These games let you tweak virtually every aspect of your character’s appearance in excruciating detail, allowing you to create the avatar of your dreams.

Western games just don’t quite match up. Even those that do offer a lot of options, like Elder Scrolls Online, don’t offer the same fine touch as something like Black Desert. Just because there’s a slider for your character’s nose doesn’t mean you can get it looking exactly the way you want.

Some may find such things frivolous, but for those for whom it matters, it matters a lot.

More Imaginative Settings

Both Western and Eastern MMOs are perhaps a bit too hung-up on the high fantasy genre, but it seems to me as if there tends to be a bit more flavor in the settings of Eastern games.

A flight path in Aion

There’s a certain alien feeling to the worlds of Eastern MMOs that you don’t just find anywhere else. The creatures are stranger, the landscapes more otherworldly, and the cultures more fantastical. There’s often a strong magitech influence that you don’t see as much of in Western titles, which hew closer to traditional fantasy archetypes.

This may simply be another set of cultural tropes that only feel fresh because I’m not as used to them. This is definitely true in cases where the MMOs draw on quintessentially Eastern concepts, such as wuxia MMOs like Blade and Soul. Either way, though, the settings of Asian MMOs often feel like a breath of fresh of air.

Part of the reason I tend to hold a relatively high opinion of Aion despite it being a fairly generic game is that I found its world so enchantingly strange.

Better Combat Animations

One of the stranger differences between Western and Eastern MMOs is how much effort is put into combat animations. Our developers here in the West just can’t seem to make them anywhere near as good as their Asian contemporaries.

It’s not just that Asian games use more and bigger particle effects when it comes to combat abilities, although they certainly do, and I definitely appreciate it.

But even at a more fundamental level, the animations are just better. They’re faster, they have much more of a feeling of weight behind them, and their sound effects are much more dramatic. If I hit someone with a sword in Rift, pretty much the only feedback I get is seeing their health drop. If I hit someone with a sword in TERA, I feel it.

We’re starting to see a little more effort put into combat animations in Western MMOs. Neverwinter’s are pretty weighty, and World of Warcraft has improved their animations a lot in the most recent expansion. But overall the West is still lagging far behind the East on this front.

Scythe Classes

A reaper character in Kritika Online

If there’s one thing I love in Eastern games, it’s the opportunity to play classes that fight by swinging a giant scythe at their foes. You can’t tell me that’s not awesome, because it objectively is.

Examples include the oracle of Dragon’s Prophet or the Reaper of Kritika Online, both classes who can slice through their foes like so much dry wheat.

This is an experience that for whatever reason Western developers simply don’t offer. If scythes appear at all in Western games, it’s usually just a staff skin for caster classes, a mere stat stick that isn’t actually used in combat.

That’s not good enough. Just having a scythe is not enough. I must be able to slice through my foes like the Grim Reaper himself.

On that note, Eastern games tend to offer a lot of weapon choices and archetypes that are often neglected by the West.

Spears come to mind. Classes that favor a spear as their preferred weapon, such as Final Fantasy XIV’s dragoon, are fairly common in Eastern MMOs, but often neglected by their Western counterparts. It’s pretty strange when you think about it, as spears and polearms were one of the most popular weapons of history. Swords, by comparison, were relatively rare.

I can think of a few other archetypes that seem more common in Eastern games: martial artists, archers without pets, gunslingers… Again, this may simply be a different set of cultural tropes, and perhaps from the perspective of someone in Asia Western games feel like they have better class choices, but I enjoy the variety. Perhaps developers in both hemispheres should just try to expand their class choices in general.

Especially where scythes are concerned.

Six Ways WoW Still Can’t Be Beat

Let’s face it: World of Warcraft is by now a very old game. Constant updates have helped it endure the ravages of time better than most video games, but by now it can’t help but show its age. At this point more recent MMOs have surpassed in many areas.

A world boss battle in World of Warcraft

Many, but not quite all. There are still a few specific things that Blizzard’s juggernaut does better than any other game.


It always confuses me that I don’t see more discussion of the active mitigation tanking model. For me, it was a revolution.

In most MMOs, tanking is mainly about holding aggro. The tank fights a constant tug of war with both the enemies and their own teammates to ensure their threat stays high enough to keep mobs’ attention. Their survivability comes from passive damage mitigation — like armor and other defensive gear stats — and the efforts of their healer.

Active mitigation was the name given to a new model of tanking that WoW introduced around the time of the Mists of Pandaria expansion. It was a pretty extensive rebalance, but mostly it boils to down to two major changes.

The first is that tank threat generation was massively buffed, to the point where it’s virtually impossible for a tank to lose aggro — even with over-geared DPS players — as long as they actually use their abilities.

The second was that passive damage mitigation for tanks was lowered in favor of a much greater emphasis on active damage mitigation (hence the name). This includes things like self-heals and short duration defensive buffs. Intelligent use of these abilities is crucial in absorbing damage and preventing the healer from being overwhelmed.

A Dwarf warrior tanks a dungeon in World of Warcraft

But that dry description doesn’t capture how active mitigation actually feels. The end result of these changes is that tanking is much less stressful, and you end up feeling much more like a true tank, controlling enemies and shrugging off incredible punishment. With less concern about holding aggro, it’s simply a fight to death between you and the bad guys. You feel like the true vanguard of your party, a wall of steel between the enemy and your friends.

Historically, tanking has been my least favorite MMO group role by a wide margin. In WoW, with active mitigation, it now threatens to topple DPS as my preferred group role. On every class I play with a tank spec, I tank at least some of the time, and in many cases it’s my main spec.

Active mitigation even benefits those who don’t play tanks. DPS players no longer have to worry about throttling their damage to avoid pulling aggro. Healers no longer live in fear of an inopportune heal crit attracting the boss’s attention. It’s a better system for everyone.

Active mitigation is an innovation I would dearly love to see the rest of the MMO industry adopt. It’s ruined me for tanking in other games.

Endgame PvE

Blizzard’s focus has long been on high-end PvE content like dungeons and raids. Sometimes this focus can cost other sections of the game, but it has allowed their instanced PvE to surpass every other game on the market in pretty much every way.

When it comes to quality, Blizzard can’t be beat. After years of experimentation, they’ve achieved a strong formula for endgame design. Not too much trash, a good number of bosses per instance, and creative and engaging fight mechanics.

A raid boss in World of Warcraft

Add to that consistently excellent art design and compelling lore, and you have some of the best group content in the world of MMORPGs.

All that quality wouldn’t matter if no one saw the content, though. Thankfully, Blizzard also does an excellent job of making its max level PvE accessible.

It’s certainly been a rocky road to get here, and Blizzard’s track record on accessibility is far from spotless, but nowadays each dungeon and raid has been opened to all through a combination of reliable matchmaking tools and a variety of difficulty settings to satisfy every playstyle and skill level. At this point, pretty much anyone who wants to experience WoW’s dungeons and raids can.

Open World Design

Sometimes it feels like the concept of sprawling, open MMO worlds is slowly dying off. I can grant that some games simply wouldn’t work as open worlds, but these days it feels like developers just aren’t trying. More and more we see games where each zone is its own partitioned off instance. Even Elder Scrolls Online, otherwise an exemplar of good open world design, is heavily instanced.

But World of Warcraft is still keeping the open world torch alive. Some may blame it for the rise of instancing, and its endgame does focus heavily on instanced content, but nonetheless each expansion to date has featured huge new landmasses that are freely explorable with nary a load screen in sight.

If you want to lose yourself in a seamless virtual world as in the days of old, WoW remains a stellar choice.



Whether you love or hate Blizzard’s unique style, you can’t deny that they have one. In a genre awash in interchangeable fantasy settings, WoW stands apart with its vibrant and colorful graphics, its bombastic soundtrack, and its larger than life characters.

One of my favorite examples is Meryl Felstorm. He is an ancient human mage so powerful and so badass that when he was killed in the Troll Wars he proceeded to resurrect himself from the dead and go on kicking ass and defending Azeroth as a zombie for the next three thousand years.

And that’s a minor character! Every aspect of the Warcraft setting exudes the same over the top style and intensity.

Once you’ve lived with it for a while, it’s just so hard to go back to fantasy settings where everything is brown and half the characters are farmers. The vibrancy of the Warcraft setting is every bit as addictive as its gameplay after a while.


Player flight isn’t necessarily a unique feature to World of Warcraft, but the list of games that give players the ability to fly under their own control in the large majority of the game’s content is still relatively small.

Aside from being convenient, flying mounts impart a wonderful sense of freedom and are arguably the best way to take in the scale and beauty of the game world. They’re certainly a Godsend for screenshot fanatics.

This is part of why I’m so perplexed by Blizzard’s attempts to limit player flight in recent expansions. It’s a special experience that few games offer. It’s like they want their game to be more generic, to have fewer selling features.

The region of Dun Morogh in World of Warcraft

Sheer Scale

Finally, if there’s one thing that other MMOs can’t touch WoW on, it’s the sheer breadth of the game. World of Warcraft is by now probably one of the biggest games in history, and still growing. It was massive to begin with, and after six expansions, it’s reached a truly titanic scale.

This is true in every respect. In terms of physical scale, the actual world of Warcraft is enormous, encompassing six continents across three worlds, plus occasional forays into stranger realms still. There are dozens of instanced dungeons and raids. There’s a lengthy list of battlegrounds, arenas, and other PvP areas. There are extensive optional activities, from crafting to pet battles. There are countless gear appearances, achievements, pets, toys, and mounts to collect.

Even if you focus on only a few aspects of WoW, you’d still find a staggering wealth of content. Even if you just treated it as a single player RPG and did nothing but solo quests, you’d still be able to play for months if not years before running out of things to do. And that’s without taking into account whatever new content gets patched in along the way!

It’s nigh impossible to run out of things to do in World of Warcraft. More likely you’ll burn out long before you ever reach the end of what it offers… which means there’ll still be plenty to do when your burnout wears off.

10 MMO Games to Play at Work

Being in front of a computer all day at work can really suck when you like relaxing in front of a computer at home. There is one advantage of such an office job though (depending on your company’s restrictions). Computers connect to the internet via browsers which have games accessible from anywhere. So that means you don’t have to fear “all work and no play” turning you into a dull boy who kills people. Basically, playing games at work prevents murder so tell that to you’re boss if you get caught.

Also, by reading this article and/or playing games at work, you may not hold MMOBro liable for any jobs that you are fired from. While we may think games at work are great, more conventional (i.e. lame) bosses may feel differently.

When writing up blurbs I highlighted what I felt were the most important aspects of a good browser MMO. For one, it needs to be easy to pick up and put back down. Requiring more than 5 minutes to get anything done just doesn’t work for work. Automated progression (either through an included bot or a real time component) is almost essential to fulfilling the sense of advancement. Bonus points if it looks like work in some manner. Finally, some browser MMOs tend to overly sexualize their females. That’s not good for work so I’ll make note of that for any games where I’m aware of it being an issue. But remember – no blaming MMOBro for anything bad. If you’re worried, play it at home first!

Throne: Kingdoms at War

Throne is a new strategy MMO that doesn’t add a lot of new features to the genre, but really improves on what’s already out there. It’s perfect for work because all of the activities in the game resolve automatically but not instantly. That means that while there are strategic considerations like troop composition (look at the variety in the screenshot), players never get bogged down by the minutiae. Additionally, Throne really emphasizes friendly play much more than Plarium’s past titles. While it’s possible to pillage others, there’s a big penalty for attacking someone much weaker. It’s actually more lucrative to raid neutral towns. This creates a cycle where everyone, not just paid players, get to gradually to improve their empire.

There is, of course, a big PvP element but it is completely optional. Players can join orders to take part in guild combat. This lets those who are interested, engage in and coordinate massive assaults on other players. There are still occasional griefers outside of guild play but it just makes more sense not to piss off the neighbors, you know? I will say that players interested in guild wars will probably want to shell out at least some cash to rebuild faster after a war.

Like other strategy MMOs, the core gameplay of “build structures to build units to get resources to build bigger structures” is here in full force. The differences in Throne are the customization options, the fantastic visuals/UI, and bigger rewards for neutral towns.

Click Here to Play Throne: Kingdoms at War

Forge of Empires

What stuck out to me about Forge of Empires is just how much of a Browser Civilization game this felt like. It’s certainly not as deep as Sid Meier’s PC offerings, but there’s war, technology, diplomacy, and city growth. Since buildings take a long time to construct and technology research can expand well past an 8-hour workday, it’s a breeze to “set it and forget it”. However, there are also enemies who will want to take your land. It’s worth logging back on occasionally to see what’s happening. Interacting with friends also gives bonuses, but that’s a quick few minutes in between real work.

There’s two main downsides to Forge of Empires. One, it’s pretty much a necessity to pay money to progress past a certain point. Two, it looks pretty good for a browser game so it would be obvious that you’re not working. You might be able to get away with saying you’re just looking at screenshots though. It’s worth a try, right? Either way, Forge of Empires is as close to a Civ game at work as one will find.

Click Here to Play Forge of Empires

Naruto Online

There are a lot of unofficial anime MMOs. I’m not sure about their legality, but they stick around. They’re also generally poor quality. So when Naruto, an anime I actually care about, went MMO I was skeptical. However, Naruto Online is actually an officially licensed game with a fairly good combat system and tons of Naruto cast members. Combat takes place on a tactical grid reminiscent of Heroes of Might and Magic. Like many other browser MMORPGs, auto combat can tackle the heavy grinding. This leaves only the real interesting combat for you to tend to.

The game is easily accessible for gamers of all skill level. It also includes a fairly long story to read through via questing. While that’s not great for work, it does add more to the game while remaining unnecessary if it’s an issue. Anime fans, Naruto ones especially, should really give this a whirl.

Click Here to Play Naruto Online

SAO’s Legend

SAO’s Legend is a skinning of Sword Art Online brought to life in MMO browser form. It’s unofficial so it may not last very long. It’s also not super original, but it does provide an unintentionally great feature – “Engrish”. You see, the translations in this game are bad enough that I’d watch Patton Oswalt run a Mystery Science Theater 3K on it. The game is easy to advance in as well because it can be played completely AFK.

For a game that’s easy to play, provides a good laugh, and involves some ties to Sword Art Online, SAO’s Legend is worth a go. There’s not a crazy amount of provocative images but it is anime so just be sure to pay attention. Let the silly times roll!

Click Here to Play SAO’s Legend


Elvenar differentiates itself from the slew of other city builders and strategy games on this list because of it’s focus on PvE. Cooperative elements are baked into the very essence of Elvenar and it makes for quite a different experience. Other players’ cities can be discovered which may lead to opening up trade possibilities. Players can also provide ‘neighborly help’ in the form of resources towards a building which also earns the helper some free coins.

The game is fairly easy to get into with only a handful of basic structures. These will form the backbone of your economy. This in turn leads to growing your city bit by bit as you acquire advanced resources like culture and knowledge points. Knowledge unlocks new technologies to build better units or buildings. These units are then used to explore locations, which creates decision based events. These decisions may lead to a turn based, tactical combat between your units and whatever monsters or opposing forces you discover. The tactical combat is especially impressive for a browser based MMO focused primarily on city building. However, an auto combat option exists when real life gets too busy. For a relatively stress free city builder, Elvenar is a great choice.

Click Here to Play Elvenar

Dragon Blood

For the gamer that has 20-30 minutes/day to play an MMO at work, Dragon Blood checks a lot of boxes. Now, it’s not fully automated like some other browser MMORPGs. Players actually need to put in some effort to advance. However, battles are about setup rather than tactical decision making. This makes it easy to put the brunt of the effort into one longer sitting and then play a minute here and there throughout the day. The developers make money by limiting how many dungeons/quests you can do for free in a day. This is actually great for work though as you could play for free without playing enough to get into real trouble.

The core element of Dragon Blood’s advancement is the NPC system. There are a ton of different characters to recruit, but they level up with berries instead of being used in battle like a typical RPG. That means that newer, more desirable characters can be leveled up quickly by holding onto these magical leveling berries. The translation is also pretty good, especially for a full fledged browser MMORPG. Don’t let the generic looks fool you. Dragon Blood is a solid casual MMO to play directly from your browser.

Click Here to Play to Dragon Blood

Vikings: War of Clans

In this strategy minded war game, Players take control of a clan of vikings to grow their fiefdom by taking resources from other players. Orders like building and recruiting (or even attacks) are not instantaneous. This gives players at work the chance to input moves throughout the day and do most of their progressing “offline”.

The world map is divided into six zones, which players can freely move between (though moving does have a cooldown). Inner zones hold more resources but are more greatly contested. Hence, It’s pretty easy for free and casual players to stay away from top dogs by just avoiding these highly contested zones.

Players can recruit and train heroes, which is another activity to occupy time. The only NSFW imagery encountered is with certain female heroes in the game, who can be avoided. Alliance discussions can also be pretty time consuming. That’s more of an inner zone activity too though, so if you are happy slowly growing but maybe never reaching elite status then Vikings: War of Clans is a great game to play at work.

Click Here to Play Vikings: War of Clans

League of Angels

The most appealing aspect of League of Angels is building a party of Heroes and Angels to take on more difficult challenges. In order to build the type of party you want, there’s a lot of mindless killing. Luckily, all of this can be handled via automated combat. Unfortunately, combat isn’t super deep for when you want to play manually. However, gradually building a party with powerful abilities is really satisfying. One thing to watch out for: League of Angels has a lot of scantily clad women. If you know what you’re doing you can stay safe, but play this at home first. It’s important to learn how to avoid the NSFW imagery.

Click Here to Play League of Angels

Mars Tomorrow

Mars Tomorrow is a pretty safe MMO to play at work. There’s no violence or scantily clad women to risk getting in trouble. People who like Railroad Tycoon will find Mars Tomorrow most appealing. This is a transportation simulator on a massive scale. Based on how the players optimize their routes, this will affect the growth of surrounding cities.

Actions rarely take more than 10 minutes at a time and then a several hour counter starts for those actions to resolve. This fits in perfect with work breaks without damaging overall performance. That said, true logistics fans will want to optimize future plans when not playing. Since there’s a good dose of math in that, players can pretend to be working by opening Excel. Are you working on a financial statement or Mars Tomorrow? No one will know but you! There’s also iOS and Android version so public transporters will really like it.

Click Here to Play Mars Tomorrow


The best part about playing Torn at work is that there’s no graphics. I mean it looks pretty boring from the screenshots so it’s doubtful to cause an issue. While there’s no aesthetics to speak of, don’t mistake this for a shallow game. Torn is a deep crime/real-life simulator. Players can level up in all sorts of physical, criminal, professional, and intellectual stats. The game limits play based on remaining energy and completing tasks can take as short as a few seconds. It’s a very easy game to jump in and out as energy allows.There’s not much strategy per say, but it’s great for actually developing and roleplaying a character.

There is a big social element too that can be important to join in on to reach higher standings. While that’s pretty cool, it’s a detriment to playing at work. At least if productivity really matters. If it doesn’t, you can probably just pretend you’re writing an email.

Click Here to Play Torn


I’ll try to keep this list updated so check back every once in a while. Hopefully you’ll find a game to play for many months before growing bored though. I know it’s not always easy to find a worthwhile MMO, especially one that can be played at work. When compared against AAA titles like World of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls Online, these games can seem pretty underwhelming. They definitely have their place in the world though.


How a PvE Survival Sandbox Could Surpass PvP

These days it feels like you can’t swing an epic Sword of Valor in the MMO space without hitting three or four survival sandboxes. They’re the latest trend every developer is eager to jump on, following WoW clones and MOBAs.

A screenshot from the survival sandbox DayZ

But this is one fad that’s mostly passed me by. There are a few reasons for this, but one of the biggest is the focus on PvP that dominates the survival sandbox genre. I’m not a big fan of PvP, and I’m even less a fan of the free for all anarchy that is the preferred style of competition in survival games.

PvE-focused survival games are rare, and multiplayer versions thereof rarer still. If you want a survival game that hews closer to an MMORPG, you’re doomed to be constantly looking over your shoulder, fearing the next gank.

But I don’t think it needs to be this way. I think a PvE multiplayer survival sandbox can work. I think it could even sell the fantasy of survival against all odds much better than its PvP counterparts.

How We Got Here

First, I think it would be helpful to examine why PvP has come to be the “default setting” for survival sandboxes. Some of the reasons are good, but some aren’t.

Of course, there are clearly plenty of people who simply enjoy it. They find the cutthroat experience of gank or be ganked thrilling. I may not share their view, but I can respect it.

From a broader perspective, PvP puts the “survival” in survival sandboxes. Without risk and loss, the challenge of staying alive in a hostile world would become trivialized, and the entire concept of the genre would fall apart. A survival game needs a threat, and other players can provide that.

But there are, I think, other factors that are more problematic.

A screenshot from the survival game Conan Exiles

To be blunt, PvP is cheap. And I don’t simply mean that as a casual put-down. From a literal financial perspective, enabling open PvP is one of the cheapest ways to add threat and challenge to a game.

Survival sandboxes are clearly games that are being done on the cheap, at least relative to a full-featured MMORPG. Most are indie games who begin charging for admission long before an official launch. For a developer looking to cut corners or at least save costs, PvP is a life-saver.

PvP doesn’t require a lot of development time or expertise. There’s no mechanics to design, no AI to program. Just throw a bunch of people into a box, give them weapons, remove consequence, and let the dark side of human nature take its course.

That brings me to another issue with the survival genre. It seems to be caught in celebrating the worst aspects of humanity.

Most survival games are set after some sort of disaster — usually a zombie apocalypse — and even if they aren’t, there’s usually some sort of environmental threat, like dinosaurs or other nasties. Despite this, though, the greatest threat usually comes from other players. The message is clear: Rather than banding together to survive, humans turn on each other. We’re the real monsters here.

I don’t wish to veer too far off into the realms of politics or philosophy, but to me this seems symptomatic of a growing cynicism in our society as a whole. We’ve come to believe the worst about ourselves as a people. We don’t just acknowledge the darkness within us; we wallow in it.

A screenshot from the multiplayer survival sandbox Ark: Survival Evolved

People are capable of terrible things, but that’s not all we’re capable of, and we can change. We don’t have to settle for the worst; we can be better.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with some games making humanity’s darkness their star feature. Sometimes I like to indulge my dark side in games, too. But I find it disquieting that an entire genre seems to have made “people are awful” its core conceit.

In the end, all a survival sandbox needs is persistent danger. Players are not the only or even necessarily the best way to provide this. I think the environment can provide just as much of a threat, and perhaps even bring something positive to the online community, as well.

How It Can Work

At a fundamental level, all we need is an enemy for players to fight, something genuinely threatening. The trouble is that humans tend to be a lot smarter than AI, but I think this problem can be solved.

You don’t really need AI that’s particularly good at strategy. You just need it to be powerful, and unpredictable.

Zombies are played out, so let’s say our bad guys are robots. I’ve been watching a friend stream Horizon Zero Dawn lately, and I can’t help thinking what an amazing setting it would be for an MMORPG — or a multiplayer survival game. But if you prefer, you could also imagine our hypothetical game is Terminator Online.

Power is easy enough to achieve. Just give the bots a numerical advantage over players. Design it so there will always be more robots on a server than players by a wide margin. Doesn’t matter if they’re stupid individually; their sheer weight of numbers makes them a threat.

A screenshot from Horizon Zero Dawn

Players should generally be more powerful than the machines so that other players are always seen as a valuable resource. It’s a quality versus quantity proposition; players are stronger, but bots are much more numerous.

Unpredictability is a little trickier, but I think it can be doable without investing millions into advanced AI research. Again, the bots don’t need complex strategies to be a threat. Place some broad limits on their behavior — an upper limit on the number of NPCs that can be deployed server-wide, for instance — and then apply a certain degree of randomness to their distribution and aggressiveness.

Those two factors alone should be able to make for an unpredictable world. One day, the bots might swarm a certain zone heavily while neglecting other regions; the next, they might stick to the wilderness, presenting a threat to lone wanderers but not organized groups.

This would undoubtedly lead to some odd behaviors now and then. The robots might go a brutal rampage across a zone with no players. They might swamp a smaller settlement so much the players within have no hope of survival.

I think that’s okay. Survival sandboxes have always been a bit random, and they were never meant to be fair. A PvE sandbox doesn’t need to change those things.

What’s most important is that players never feel entirely safe, that they never know exactly when the next blow will come.

Couple this with the removal of the option to attack your fellow humans, and suddenly you have a game where you’re always happy to see other people. Bonds are formed not by arbitrary goads toward socialization, but by the simple fact that there’s strength in numbers.

Hasta la vista, noob

I think the bigger challenge would be to ensure nothing else in the game’s mechanics discourages cooperation between players, but I think this is also a solvable problem.

My initial thought was to emulate the open-tapping and personal loot of Guild Wars 2, but that could sabotage the scarcity of resources that is a core part of the survival genre. Adding more players would simply generate more resources.

A better option might be to make resources more of a node system than directly looted items. If players capture a mine, then those in the immediate area can craft metal items.

This could also create interesting emergent gameplay. Maybe there aren’t any mines in your area, but a new one just opened up to the west, so you have to make the journey there to craft new weapons.

But the bots are swarming between you and the mine. Do you try to sneak through and hope you don’t get noticed? Do you take the long way around and risk the mine being conquered by bots in the meanwhile? Do you rally your fellow players and fight your way through?

Adding some randomization to the resources could also help ensure scarcity. Mines regularly deplete, farms regularly fail, and so forth. New resources will appear, but not always consistently. Shortages can happen, forcing players to ration, or perhaps to risk forays into enemy territory to capture what resources remain.

With a few simple mechanics, we’ve designed a game full of danger, where survival is a constant struggle, but where other players a resource and not a threat. It’s human versus machine in a constant struggle for dominance. Picture people manning the walls of player-made cities in a desperate struggle to protect precious resources from a swarm of robotic foes. Picture random strangers rushing to each other’s aid after a wilderness encounter with a bot patrol.

That, to me, seems like a much more appealing prospect than the Lord of the Flies simulators we’re stuck with now. Rather than encouraging the worst in all of us, a PvE survival sandbox could foster cooperation and fellowship among players.

It might not solve toxic behavior in all cases, but I do think it could foster an environment that’s more positive than negative. Adversity can bring out the worst in us, but it can also bring out the best, and it’s time the survival genre acknowledged this.