The Daily Grind: Which multiplayer survival sandbox is the most like an MMORPG?

A week or so ago, I took an ARK: Survival Evolved post out of our newsroom to write up, expecting something mundane. I’m an MMORPG player, after all; survival sandboxes look cool, but most give off the same non-persistent, ephemeral, could-fail-at-any-time vibe as emulators, especially the player-hosted ones for games in eternal early access, so I’ve always stayed away. But ARK has put a lot of effort (and cash) into cultivating incredibly high-quality mods, and that’s what got my attention and made me glad I’d taken the post: An auction house mod in the game seems like exactly the sort of thing that helps this subgenre turn the corner from “everybody haplessly running around naked killing dinos and each other with crappy axes” to genuine persistence and social tools and server anchors. Far more than construction projects that you’re really only building to function as content for somebody else to tear down, anyway.

Let’s say I’m looking for a good multiplayer survival sandbox — MJ’s put together several lists for her new column already to choose from. But which one do you think is the most like an MMORPG and would most appeal to an MMORPG-first type of gamer — and why?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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39 Comments on "The Daily Grind: Which multiplayer survival sandbox is the most like an MMORPG?"

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steve

As Miol wrote below, ARK is the closest I’ve seen in some respects.

Though ‘seamless worlds’ is an element of modern MMO design, it doesn’t define the MMO genre and the ARK officials allow you to move players and material from map to map. Zone control is a thing, with ever-larger and more organized groups working to control those maps. Thousands of players existing across multiple zone maps makes it an MMO as much as EQ.

To those who point out that a single map can’t handle more than 60 players without problems I counter that no MMO really handles that sort of thing very well and never has.

What benefit do you have in an MMO where thousands of players are sharing the same space without any need to interact? When I moved to WoW I found myself interacting with fewer people in any meaningful way. For all the security that came with not having others impact your gameplay we lost the things that addicted me to the genre in the first place.

I used to know people by name in EQ. I knew their reputations, and grew to know many of them as people and not just a means to complete some single-serving instance. ARK, even on our little Massively server brought that back and with it a wealth of interaction that no daily quest or LFG queue could replicate.

There are many here who dismiss the survival genre, and I hold no animosity toward people who enjoy their time in a themepark or sporting arena, but for me there is no greater incentive to play than to be able to meet others and help or be helped by those who know my name. That’s what makes me want to grind out thousands of hours, and the survival genre has taken up that mantle the themeparks left by the wayside.

That’s the promise of what Landmark could have been. Zones or servers each with an individual history of villainy and altruism, populated by real people and not just single-serving interactions measured by DPS meters or how fast the run is completed.

I cannot believe that virtual worlds and identity has been lost, never to be seen again. Most of you may no longer have time for that, but others will and do, and even if most people play themeparks or move into lobby-based sports arenas I know there will always be Odds out there who want a real community and a living, breathing online world.

Reader
Johnny

The definition of MMO does not loosen or change because you don’t find use in thousands of people sharing the same space. Its simply a descriptor. The way you talk about it makes me believe you feel MMO should stand for more than massively multiplayer online. Well, it doesn’t and it shouldn’t.

miol
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miol

Aren’t you late for the party, repeating the same answer every time everywhere?! o.O

miol
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miol

Couldn’t agree more! /hat tip

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Bionicall

In my opinion, one of the defining characteristics of the MMORPG genre, is the ‘R’, a role that we are playing. So potentially the survival sandbox that fits this is Space Engineers. Simply for the fact that you are taking on the role of an ‘Engineer’.

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Johnny

That would mean you are focusing on RPG. The MMO part is useless to you. MMO only stands for massively multiplayer online. Space Engineers gives no one that feeling as you never see that many people in game.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Bionicall

Your mileage may vary. My experiences playing space engineers have been with a dedicated group, all talking at least. That has been way more interactive and massively multiplayer than anything I have played in years.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
flying_dutchman

In someways they are more MMORPG than alot of MMO’s. Farming goblins endlessly to get an extra +1% attack damage don’t make a game an MMO. Alot of Survival games have created pretty awesome environments that gives players a ton of freedom to play as they want. I remember when ARK first came out and all the other tribes on the island were playing politics and back-stabbing each other. Too me that’s more of an Awesome MMORPG moment than downing another crappy raid boss. It’s actual interaction with humans in a virtual world, where consequences matter and decisions shape the game-world.

The fact most survival games turn into KOS gank-boxes, says a lot more about people than it does about the games.

Reader
Johnny

Its literally impossible to have an MMO moment outside of an MMO. Because if it was an MMO moment you would have been sharing space with a massive amount of other players. If you only shared space with 16, its not an MMO moment. Just a plain old multiplayer game moment.

Reader
Dug From The Earth

None of them are even close to an mmorpg.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
mysecretid

This is a really good question — but I haven’t played enough sandboxes myself to answer it.

I’ll be curious to see what other Massively posters have to say here …

Reader
enamel

Exiled mod for Arma is probably the closest one for me. It has persistent housing in the world, a central safe zone for trading and the game loop involves farming items to sell for gold (credits). You go out into the world and gather items, take them back to the central zone and sell them for cash, then you can trade with other players or buy and sell directly from the NPC traders.

The big feature it is missing is character progression ala RPGs, but has a ton of player skill progression. Also small server sizes, up to 100 players, but this is probably more than the amount of players in a single instance at once in a modern MMO.

Reader
Robert Mann

Wait, you think an AH will… generate persistence and social tools? It’s the exact thing that keeps trade gameplay from really mattering, outside “I have all this gold!” epeen.

No, an AH won’t do that. It provides no more reason to care about others, and in fact it probably makes it just that much easier for the scum to go running over, get their hands on something potent, and go attack people with little to no chance of fighting back effectively.

If you want something more or less like most MMORPGs you are… well, looking at the wrong type of game right now. Simply put the entire idea in most of them is different from what you will find throughout the MMORPG genre. Some of that is good (open world housing, trade, more comple/deep systems outside combat) and some of it is bad or potentially bad (open PvP, full loot, longer reward timeframes for things other than attacking people who have little to no chance of fighting back effectively.)

Simply put, there are some people who like the current primary design and push for it… and then there’s the rest of us who want something deeper still, with rules that actually push persistence and social interactions beyond “I killzor you, lolz!” There are a few ideas there with some promise… but they aren’t really fully fleshed out yet.

Reader
Rheem Octuris

Crowfall is a survival sandbox MMORPG, if you think about it.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Rottenrotny

Survivals sandboxes for me kind of go like this:

Log in and create a character.
Enter the world and figure things out.
Level and or build some stuff.
Repeat.
Ok this is pretty cool now what?
Oh, so there’s nothing else unless I want to go ganking?
Logout

They all feel like I’m playing the starter zone of an MMO + building stuff… forever.
I like it for the first little while but eventually they all end up seemingly giving me the same impression… that they’re not done.
Player generated combat (PVP) isn’t enough to keep me playing.
Devs need to add lots and lots of more MMO-y PVE elements like quests, NPCs, towns, dungeons, epic/elite/world boss type mobs. The open world zones are great, but they need to be 10x+ as big while remaining completely uninstanced/unphased.
As they are, there’s not a single Survival Sandbox that will keep my attention for more than a couple/few days and so I’m not purchasing any for the foreseeable future.

malrats
Reader
malrats

These days it’s so common to only see a few people at a time in a MMO. So I’d say that any survival game that can surpass that is worthy of the “massive” name in some way. MMOs and their instancing mostly all feel like single player RPGs without the great storytelling and some occasional forced grouping and people you may encounter.

I’ll never really FEEL an MMO again until I’m running around a beautiful world, happen upon some new dungeon, and to my surprise find dozens of other players camping out inside.

Yeah, I got my start in EverQuest long ago. ;)

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Johnny

The MMO definition doesn’t change because you don’t experience it often.

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Robert Mann

That, and a reason to care. The modern harvest of ‘MMOs’ leaves me running by people, or people running by me, and the only time they matter to me is if they happen to be a jerk or want help (I’m pretty open about helping people out, grouping up, answering questions, etc.)

Sadly, this leaves the world feeling like nothing more than a solo RPG with random NPCs running by doing things 99.99% of the time. The lack of other people mattering in terms of the world around us is glaring.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Nordavind

Ingress.

What? Ingress is (among other things) a survival game: You need to eat or you die. You need to find shelter or you freeze to death (or get a heat stroke). You get exhausded and need sleep. You can literally die while playing the game, and it’s perma death.

Crow
Reader
Crow

MMORPG isn’t a “style” nor is it a concrete “thing”.

RPG happens when one gets sucked into a world/character/group. You don’t “create” RP, you encourage it.

Ark, on MY private server is super RP by default. Ark public servers are the furthest thing from RP you can get. Same code, different people.

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Robert Mann

Aye, although to some RPG means storyline and character development. Which can be developer based, but as you note can also be created by the players.

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Melissa McDonald

Tough question when most of them aren’t more than 64 player

Reader
Robert Mann

Agreed, which is where I run into problems with so many games that are called ‘MMOs’ but really only leave you with a few dozen people who matter to you in any form outside NPCs. If I wasn’t in a larger guild in the MMOs I play, I wouldn’t really consider them worthy of that moniker… given how little people matter outside those you choose to interact with.

miol
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miol

But IF your char stays persistent when jumping between servers of 64, I wouldn’t see much difference than just in naming, than when jumping between raid instances of 64, for instance!

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Johnny

You don’t see much difference because you struggle with what MMO stands for obviously. It’s simply a descriptor. No one wants to change 1 million to stand for 1 thousand because the don’t see 1 million often. If you can only share space with 64 players you are literally just hoping around 64 player games/zones/instances. MMO is meant to describe games with much more than that.

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adri

I think the same. MMO has MULTI and MASSIVELY in it and a few dozen players per server is not MMO worthy.

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Utakata

So you are asking when a survival multiplayer become massive? Err…when players start holding ingame costume contests? o.O

Reader
steve

We had an ingame jousting event on our ARK server. I built the list. The wife of another Massively reader painted and decorated it. Others brought their unique mounts to joust with. It wasn’t much to speak of, but it was an experience I haven’t seen in modern MMOs.

Reader
Utakata

It’s a start? O.o

miol
Reader
miol

If we argue that character persistence is the most important thing (mentioned by Eliot in the last Massively Overthinking), then ARK is on the right track, as you can port your character to another possible server of your choosing, heavily depending on which rules your char was able to progress, obviously!

Though, they would still need to fix the 6% chance of losing your char and/or your transmitted inventory ASAP, and expand on how many items you are allowed to take with you (now 20 max) or maybe even treat ressources as separate currencies, as the auction house mod does, that don’t count as one of those 20 items!

Reader
Johnny

Character persistence literally has NOTHING to do with MMO. NOTHING AT ALL. MMO only stands for Massively Multiplayer Online. It stands for the amount of people playing the game online in a shared space/environment. Its not a cult. It doesn’t have a hidden meaning. Its not a philosophy. It’s not a religion. Its a descriptor. Its three words that only have one meaning.

miol
Reader
miol

I strongly suggest you read http://massivelyop.com/2017/05/11/massively-overthinking-is-the-mmo-genre-facing-an-identity-crisis/ very closely, especially Eliot’s response! ;P

Reader
MesaSage

I’ll be reading the responses, because I’m curious about this segment, but I have no interest in playing them myself. I’ve played survival games, and it was fun the first time, but for me it quickly diminished from fun to work.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
BalsBigBrother

A lot of the survival games potentially have a lot to offer an mmo player on paper but sadly that is all they can offer, potential.

I would be hesitant to play any of them myself as an mmo player let alone recommend one to someone else while they all mostly remain in early access / beta stage.

Crow
Reader
Crow

I would be hesitant to play any of them myself

Gonna riff off an unintended point: What seems to make something more RPG-focused is the approach of the players. Running a private Ark server, for example, without PvP stress, for ten people is often more of a MMORPG than what you get when you have a million playing the game.

Number of players means nothing anymore. Their quality is actually the better determinate.

quark1020
Reader
quark1020

Honestly, any of them would work out. The only issue is a player would have to bring friends with them. They could try making friends within a game, but if the game encourages PvP or allows for PvE dickery, the current players may too suspicious of strangers to make joining a clan/tribe easy.

Reader
steve

Modern MMOs encourage PVP and PVE dickery abounds with little recourse for the offended party.

Survival games give players the ability to fight back and build a community, just like the old first-gen MMOs did. It was ugly and brutal much of the time, but just like in the real world if you give people the means to fight back they tend to build communities out of the chaos in ways that themeparks just cannot do.

Reader
Robert Mann

Aye, although many groups just roll with those punches and try to filter out who is suspicious before giving people the ability to wreck too much stuff (at least in games where there are some restrictions… in others there’s nothing holding those people back and nobody trusts anyone they don’t know.)

Reader
Nick Smith

Quark… I like your reply here. If you have a group of friends (handful) AND your character progression is not deleted… then it would feel massively enough to me.

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