Funcom’s Joel Bylos on the difference between MMOs and survival sandboxes

Funcom’s Joel Bylos features in a Twitch interview on Gamasutra this week talking up Conan Exiles and explaining the core difference between server-based survival games versus Funcom’s “old MMOs,” as the interviewer put it. Bylos’ answer actually makes a lot of sense.

“[In] The Secret World, we focused very strongly on making really cool and interesting content and story, and the idea was to make it interesting to play. The thing is, with an MMO, a lot of focus goes into repeatable content. A lot of focus goes into things like ‘I’m gonna run this dungeon six times’ or 20 times or 200 times, right? So we need reward systems that give you tokens, that let you build or buy better items. There’s a lot of itemization discussion in MMOs. In a game like Conan Exiles, people are going to lose stuff, and we know that. We need to make it so that they can keep rebuilding stuff, keep creating stuff, keep progressing in the game, but not necessarily wanting them to go, ‘Oh, I want you to go grind this dungeon 50 times so that you can do the next dungeon – slightly harder.’ So [Conan Exiles] is not so much about this very small percentage of power increase to increase your character’s progression. That’s what I would say is a big difference in these type of games.”

A survival sandbox like Conan Exiles, he says, is designed to be about a living breathing world over which players feel ownership, and the social dynamic is more about PvP and defending territory than about PvE cooperation, which he says defines MMOs.

Of course, anyone who’s been around long enough knows that this is how the original MMORPGs, like Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call, already worked until second-wave devs turned the genre into a dungeon gear grind, but hey, who’s counting?

Oh right. MMO players.

Source: Gamasutra
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32 Comments on "Funcom’s Joel Bylos on the difference between MMOs and survival sandboxes"

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Paragon Lost

Regardless Joel, it’s still all just a variation on a theme. Grinding.

Eliot Lefebvre
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Eliot Lefebvre

Yeah, he’s just trying to say “well, MMOs are about repeating content, while these other games are about repeating a different kind of content for slightly different reasons” while dressing it up as a meaningful difference and trying to paint one kind of investment and enjoyment as “investment” while the other… isn’t. It’s kind of a non-statement.

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Paragon Lost

Exactly, a non-statement sums it up quite well Eliot. :)

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Rottenrotny

The problem with Conan Exiles, from my point of view, is that once you finished leveling, learn all the cool recipes, build some neat stuff, get thralls and DON’T want to PVP there’s almost nothing to do.
The game has no replay value to me, as I’m mainly a PVEr.

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Nathan Aldana

Joel Bylos, continuing to dissemble on any random subject rather than address exactly what the hell SWL is supposed to be to differentiate itself from an MMO or Conan

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Denice J. Cook

What differentiates one type of game from another? Mainly the amount of development, maintenance and server costs, that’s what! And I’ll bet those costs are much radically lower for the new “survival FotM” games than they are for true, traditional MMORPGs, that’s for sure.

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Tobasco da Gama

who’s counting?

Oh right. MMO players.

Indeed. Who rewarded gear treadmills by flocking to the treadmill games in droves, leaving the sandbox games without treadmills to languish in obscurity for well over a decade.

Let’s not pretend that players are blameless here. We got the games that we voted for with our feet and dollars.

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thickenergy

I got this. One is a license to print money, at least until you completely screw it up. The other takes more work for a lot less money.

semugh
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semugh

UO has a gear grind too. At least from Age of Shadows.
Then Evocare left the building and made the MMO that ended all MMOs.

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Crowe

Interesting answer but confirms that I should continue to stay away from survival sandbox games.

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Utakata

Or tl,dr…

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Robert Mann

Yep, MMOs used to not be so focused on the whole gear treadmill. Can’t wait for more than a rare one to return to be focused away from it.

That said, I hope a few take different approaches than, say, GW2 or ESO with OT. It just feels odd to me having a game with levels like that, and then no real sense of becoming more powerful. It’s obviously great for some people, and that’s cool! Just… not great for others, so bring on alternate ideas!

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Jeff

Are they even aware that most folks who are running their own servers are turning off most of the survival elements and running the game like a small scale MMO? really doesn’t sound that way. I think games like this are going to spawn a lot more play your way small server based games.

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Tanek

Even if that is the case (and I’d like to see actual numbers on it, too), I’m not sure it is a bad thing. How many times do you see complaints in an MMO that this or that changed? That things were “better before xyz happened”? Or arguments between different groups who disagree on how the game “should” be played or what developers should be focusing on?

In a game like CE or ARK where a player has the option to run and customize a private server, if problems like that crop up, chances are pretty good you can just change it and play how you and the others on your server prefer.

Theryl
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Theryl

It would be interesting to see the numbers on that. Most of the people I know playing CE are RPers who are doing as you say but I’d like to know what percentage of the servers are running standard vs. custom rule sets.

Building a toolkit of server rules to allow an admin to customize their server experience might be a good way of differentiating the game and opening it up to people who ordinarily wouldn’t consider a survival game.

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Schmidt.Capela

Even with standard rules, a completely different environment can be achieved merely by choosing who can join the server. A server where players have pledged to never work against each other, and where any violation is considered griefing and punished with a permanent ban, is going to feel like an idyllic PvE server even if the game rules are ruthless PvP ones.

Case in point, the Mobius group in Elite Dangerous (groups work kinda like a private server in that you only interact with others in the same group). In a game where there is no restriction on griefing, ganking, or PvP, you have a player-created way of removing non-consensual PvP while still playing with other players, and that way of playing is so popular the group has more than 36K players.

I believe something similar also happens with DayZ. Never played that, but I’ve seen plenty references to PvE-only servers that enforced that by permanently banned anyone that attempted to engage in PvP while playing in the server, despite the devs refusing to provide an official way to disable PvP because they thought it would make the game pointless.

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life_isnt_just_dank_memes

That’s the kicker. I really enjoy Conan but I play it solo as a building sim and its relaxing. I wonder how they get metrics on how people are playing. Are the majority playing it as intended, replete with obligatory post-kill tea bag or are they playing it with friends and eschewing the senseless murdery parts?

The point I hope devs reach is where they take story heavy single player RPGs and incorporate the persistence of the servers found in survival sandboxes but make them persistent world co-op games. I want a world like the Witcher that 2-10 friends and I can live in.

I am actually getting more on board with lesser people being in my game. I find the content in the chat windows are more to my liking.

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Schmidt.Capela

I am actually getting more on board with lesser people being in my game.

I guess you mean fewer people. “Lesser people” is kinda offensive, as it implies those playing with you are less important or capable in an objective way.

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