Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Null-Sec aint no Sandbox

To some, ‘sandbox’ is a term casually flung about to make their argument sound more legitimate. If you read anything on the forums discussing game mechanics, you will see all manner of references to the ‘sandbox.’
“It break the sandbox.” “It’s un sandboxy.”

What is a sandbox, exactly?

Simply put, a sandbox (in relation to a video game) is a game where the mechanics or storyline of the game does not lead you on a directed path toward some planned ‘end game.’ There are many end games, and many paths to get to each.

For example, Lord of the Rings Online is not a sandbox. Whether you do quests, or craft, or simply run around killing things, parts of the game ‘open up’ to you as you advance in skill, and you are more or less directed to follow a natural progression through various regions, and etc.

Null-Sec gameplay, in EVE Online, is not really sandbox gameplay, either. Before you tear your hair out, scream, cry, and make plans to burn me at the stake, please consider:

There is one end goal in null-sec: to take sovereignty. I say this with confidence because almost everything you do in null-sec is tied to sovereignty. Owning stations…upgrading systems…etc.

Sure, you can wander around aimlessly, with no interest in sovereignty at all. Just like you can wander around in LOTRO in any region you want, with no interest in doing the quests or killing the beasts. But in order to operate there, you have to be in the position to do so. In LOTRO, this means being of a high enough level to even survive. In EVE, it means having sovereignty, or being friends with those who have sovereignty so that you can at least use the local facilities, and etc.

Furthermore, there are very few paths to null-sec. Or, you could say that there really is only one path to non-NPC null-sec, and that involves being ‘friends’ or as some call it, a ‘pet.’ No matter how skilled you are as an alliance, how organized, how rich, or how large, it will be more or less impossible for you to take and hold space without friends. Furthermore, it will be impossible for you to compete with the coalitions and alliances already established without first bowing to them.

One major reason for this ‘one-path’ scenario is due to the complete lack of scalability in EVE. You have the small, and the large, and nothing in between. There is nothing that a moderately large alliance can do, on a sovereignty level, anywhere in EVE. Faction War tends to be way too small, and null-sec is way too large and established. So your choices are to stagnate until you ‘fit’ into the small again, or align yourself with someone in the ‘large’ who is established and has the resources you need to survive.

There are many things that CCP could do to alleviate some of this, but there is no one feature that will automatically fix it all. They’ve done a lot to balance things in EVE on a micro level, but I will be very interested to see what steps they make to balance things on a more macro level. To do it right will probably take compromising, painful decisions, and more than a little out of the box thinking.


  1. EVE is pretty much a sandbox...but that doesn't mean I can expect to take sov in hisec or AFK-mine in null.

    What you can do in null is surprisingly varied, however, given the constraint of the number of such systems.

  2. You are looking for wormhole space.

  3. You can play in null without sov or being a pet. It's called pvp.

    1. You can do all sorts of things in null that don't involve sov. Conga lines springs to mind immediately.

      Are you suggesting that null sec isn't primarily about claiming sov simply because you can actually do other things?

    2. I'm suggesting that saying something isn't a sandbox b/c primarily people do one thing there ignores the plethora of other options that are available, thus swinging the needle closer to the sandbox.