One frequent request in MMO circles is to not railroad the player into linear tasks, but to let them have greater freedom. “I’m tired of the level grind and an environment where nothing changes – let me shape the very face of the world!” is asked for at various times.
In the file marked “Never trust the players” can be added the story of Woodbury University and Second Life. Many people don’t think of SL as a MMO and although the ‘game’ part of SL’s purpose doesn’t really exist, the whole virtual world, where players can shape the face of it (for some money down, of course) does. So, what happens when players are able to shape the world? Why, another case of people trying to see how far they can push things right up to the point they are banned.
Sandbox MMOs might be something that some players call for, but the biggest problem with them is that they require players to drive the action. EvE Online does it by accepting that players / corporations are going to get into some morally questionable behaviours and offer it as part of the thrill, but pretty much every other company that has offered the sandbox MMO post-Ultima Online has run into trouble when players exploit the freedom they are offered. SL has certainly seen its share of scandals and problems, with those scandals often resulting from the very freedom it tried to attract people with.
That Woodbury University is itself an institution also underlines the point that you can’t expect good behaviour from anyone – it needs to be enforced (through both hard and soft measures, but that’s a different story). I’m sure that SL will be in the news again for the same kind of things that has happened here, but such activities just reinforce that if you players an inch, they’ll send that flying phallus a mile to the nearest furry erotic role play den.