The term “sandbox” may be more recognizable from its usage in tech or even as an open-ended mode available within certain games. It’s often associated with player choice, open environments, and non-linear gameplay. The sandbox genre has grown from a small niche to encompass a huge variety of titles.
In these games, players often have less concrete goals and narrative pathways to pursue. Instead of beating the boss and saving the princess, you may face a variety of tasks you can accomplish in a number of different ways. This draws players into more immersive experiences, encouraging experimentation with what may be unfamiliar mechanics.
Sandbox titles can sometimes be highly conceptual and even lack some of the most recognizable gameplay elements. The 1984 game Elite is a key example, with a simple design and play focused on combat, exploration, and trading. It also showcased an early instance of procedural generation.
Simulation games like The Sims are also increasingly touted as sandbox titles, as are many popular franchises, including both Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto. As game worlds expand and narratives diversify, expect more of an overlap with other gaming genres.
Sandbox examples
  • Minecraft
  • Grand Theft Auto
  • The Sims