The Survivalist: When survival sandboxes are more MMO than actual MMORPGs

On Life is Feudal's RP server and other ways survival sandboxes giveth what MMOs taketh away


Ever since Life is Feudal announced at the end of last month its dedication to developing a deep roleplay-focused server, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how much we’ve lost from MMORPGs over the years (roleplay servers being at the top!). For a fan, it is disheartening to see the genre I loved so much bleeding out features, tossing those things that helped constitute the lifeblood of full and vibrant worlds. The trend is to chop, chop, chop away at what… things they think of as unnecessary? Those features are what made the worlds homes!

And yet, there’s a genre that is picking up those features: survival games. More and more it strikes me that survival sandboxes giveth what MMOs taketh away. I’ve gravitated to these survival games so much lately because I am finding a more MMO experience in these non MMO games! From roleplay servers to housing and trade, I can reliably get features I crave — just without the massively multiplayer part. And I am not sure I can see that trend reversing any time soon. So perhaps survival games are better MMOs than MMOs in some respects.

Ready for roleplay

There is no denying that roleplay servers in MMOs are mostly dead and gone — ghosts from the past that tug at grieving players’ heartstrings. Many games just don’t even bother to put them in at all, which is really a disappointing tragedy when the RP community tends to be a stable one that comes to a game for the long-haul (not to mention purchase cosmetics). Players who want to gather have to elect an unofficial server and just migrate to it, hoping the community isn’t fractured along the way. But even worse is when games strip existing ones out!

Star Wars: The Old Republic’s removal of Ebon Hawk in 2017 is a prime example of why this is a bad idea: It takes a dedicated community and throws them into a place that is unwelcoming or even openly hostile. Want to drive away these stable players? Yeah, go ahead and take away their world. I’ve also experienced this personally with ArcheAge; although our Tahyang server survived the first set of merges, it succumbed to being mashed in with non-RP the second time around. There is no question that the overall mentality and personality – even maturity level – of a RP server is inherently different than a general population server, and there is a reason people select that type of server whether they roleplay themselves or not. Wiping out that community and forcing them in with players who don’t welcome them just kills the game for many and they leave. Even EverQuest II axed Lucan D’Lere, but at least our server was merged into the main RP one. However, that didn’t stop the move from effectively destroying our community.

That’s why it was so great to see Life is Feudal not only put in an RP server but strongly emphasize it. And on top of that, stress that it is meant to be a comfortable place for the RP community! Now, granted, this LiF is the MMO, but it still started as – and continues with an incarnation of – a survival sandbox. And Life is Feudal is still very much a survival game at heart. I sure wish other MMOs would listen and learn here.

Oh give me a home

It is more than frustrating when you can look back at games 15, even 20 years ago and they have housing, yet so few MMOs can include that feature now. At least in most cases the feature isn’t removed after having it in game, although World of Warcraft’s adding an “almost” with garrisons feels worse, and Aion and Final Fantasy XIV’s housing that limits many players’ options for the larger houses (though all can have apartments) can feel super restrictive and disappointing.

Of course, when you count in the aforementioned server merges for ArcheAge, you may not have lost the feature of housing, but you lost all your existing homes, so it is practically just as bad (if not worse). To have and to lose hurts. I was willing to forge ahead with life on the non-RP server, but losing my homes was a deal-breaker. I left myself.

And then, we can talk about all the games we’ve lost completely that took the housing with them when they turned out their lights for good, such as WildStar, Star Wars Galaxies (of course), Vanguard, Landmark, City of Heroes, and Asheron’s Call.

Now let’s look at the survival games. The vast number allow you to not only have housing but to build and customize it yourself. This is a budding architect’s dream! The games may not have the most robust decoration arsenals, but there is sufficient for populating your abode. And sometimes mods, which a number of these games like ARK: Survival Evolved support, give you more than enough. Talk about having your own personal space! Honestly I felt like the housing feature has been a lost cause since SWG, but now thanks to the survival sandboxes, it’s seen a revival! This feature alone keeps me coming back for more and more and increases my time in survivalboxes while it decreases it in MMOs.

Take that (in trade)!

One super duper pet peeve of mine is when MMOs started removing the ability to trade with other players. I’m not just talking about not having a robust player economy to play in — I am talking about the ability to hand an item over to a friend. To me, having player-to-player trade interactions is crucial. This trend of removing it, which seems to be the norm for the Asian MMOs, is a complete deal-breaker for me. Oh, I tried hard to play Black Desert Online; the game is gorgeous and has many cool sandbox features. But I couldn’t trade! I couldn’t spend time growing or gathering resources and then giving them to my best friend so he could craft. I couldn’t receive a gifted horse or even pet feed without going through some frustrating gyrations on the auction house/broker all the while praying someone else doesn’t nab it first). It’s one reason I had no real interest in giving Bless Online more than a cursory glance. At least no-trade games like Guild Wars 2 allow you to mail items to others!

Now, let’s put in the way-worse-category games that used to have the ability to trade and have removed it! Yes, stripped it right out and tossed it in the trash. I am looking so hard at you right now Aion. That was a final straw that made me leave the game permanently.

In the survival games, I may not always have a radial option to click trade, but I can at least throw the items down on the ground for someone to pick up or place in a chest they can loot. If MMOs are supposedly so multiplayer, why do they make it impossible to actually cooperatively play with those other players?

Survival games getting more MMO than MMOs

I’m telling you, it is reaching the point where I feel that the survival sandboxes are becoming more MMO than MMOs. MMOs are taking away key elements that I play MMOs for while the survival games are adding them in. I don’t want a solo experience just surrounded by other player bodies – I want a multiplayer experience. And I am getting these experiences in games with fewer players; yes, they seriously lack the massively multiplayer part of the equation, but they are winning for multiplayer while MMOs themselves are crushing their own communities.

Are MMOs losing their MMOness, and are sandboxes a viable alternative to you to fill those voids? Let us know below! And tell me your favorite survival game to inhabit.

In the survival genre, there are at least 1001 ways to die, and MJ Guthrie is bound to experience them all — in the interests of sharing them with you! The Survivalist chronicles life and death struggles against all forms of apocalypse, outbreak, mutation, weather, and prehistoric wildlife. And let’s not forget the two-legged enemies! Tune in here and on OPTV to see who feeds better: MJ or the Death Counter.
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