Free MMORPG & Free MMOs

When an MMORPG or an MMO game has IP blocks in place to prevent people from certain regions from accessing the game, it’s the game developers fault, not the publishers. For example – when Gamigo announced that only those in Europe could play Martial Empires and War of Angels, Gamigo didn’t willfully prevent those outside of Europe from accessing the game. The fact is, CR-Space, the Korean game developer behind Martial Heroes, only sold the European license for Martial Empires to Gamigo. They apparently did not sell the North American license to anyone. When gPotato made Aika North America only, the same thing happened. Gpotato only made the game North America only because they didn’t have “permission” from Aika’s developer (HanbitSoft). So gPotato was forced to ban all non-U.S ip addresses. A global version of Aika on the T3Fun service, who also has Cardmon Hero and WYD Global, eventually launched. The global version was open to every country except the U.S, as the U.S version of Aika was being serviced by gPotato.

I honestly think gPotato is the one who got screwed with the Aika licensing shenanigans. The T3Fun version is much more inclusive, as it’s basically global (minus the U.S.) The T3Fun version, thus has many more players than the U.S version, which means the game itself has a larger community, which usually means it’s more fun to play. I kind of wish games like Fiesta Online and Allods Online were also global, instead of being available in multiple regions through different publishers. Fiesta Online is available in the U.S. Through OutSpark, who also has Fists of Fu. The game is available in Europe through Gamigo. As a fan of Fiesta Online, I find it ridiculous that Europeans have their own server and Americans have their own server. Why can’t there just be one big MMO server for both areas? Lag can easily be solved by having multiple channels – the same was Knight Online from GamersFirst or Guild Wars from NCSoft handles it.

The worst MMORPG IP block problems arise when a game launches in one region but not another. Priston Tale 2 is available in Europe through GamerKraft, but because of stupid licensing agreements, they can’t launch Priston Tale 2 in the U.S. Suba Games, the company behind Mission Against Terror, has the U.S. License for Priston Tale 2, but they have labeled the game as “launching soon” for over 2 years now, which basically means it’s never going to release. Suba Games clearly gave up on the game, so why can’t GamerKraft just open their service to everyone? The actual game developer behind the game will certainly make more profit, because as is, no one in the U.S. Can play Priston Tale 2, some people will spend money in the cash shop, and thus the developer would make more money by allowing those in North America to play on the GamerKraft version. GameKraft also publishes FreeJack, but FreeJack is available to both those in Europe and North America. There’s no reason Priston Tale 2 can’t be the same way.

I think too many people are complaining to the wrong people. MMO Game publishers like GamerKraft, Aeria Games, OG Planet and such, aren’t the ones responsible for IP blocks, thus they shouldn’t be blamed. Players should direct their anger towards game developers, as they’re the ones who have the ultimate say in the matter.

There are a ton of interesting browser based games out there. Strategy games like Might and Magic Heroes Kingdoms, Caesary and King and Conqueror for example have a lot to offer, but they have really low end graphics. Travian and Tribal Wars are two other strategy MMOs that are both now incredibly old. All of these games remain popular, but these games could benefit from a major graphical overhaul – especially if they were remade using the powerful Unity engine, which allows game developers to make awesome 3D MMOs on the browser. Currently there are only a handful of games that run on the Unity Engine – some of which include FusionFall, Tiger Woods Online and Nanovor. All 3 of these games look gorgeous too!

Aside from strategy games, other 2D and 3D browser based games like Star Pirates and Pirate Galaxy would benefit from being redeveloped on the Unity engine. These games already look pretty solid, but the Unity engine is much more powerful than any of the proprietary systems that these games used when developing their games. I think BigPoint failed pretty hard launching their 3D browser MMO PoisonVille. They spent millions developing the game and its unique Java based 3D engine, but the visuals in the game look much, much worse than what Unity could have done. The entire game could have been done on Unity and it would have been much better for everyone – as the game would have cost less to develop and it would look a lot better. I think Poisonville is going to flop, because it’s trying to do what APB is trying to do, except it has less features. Once GamersFirst, the company best known for Knight Online and Warrock, launches APB as a free to play game in early 2011, Poisonville might as well shut down as it’s going to fail.

I think the entire browser based game market needs a good shake up. Too many games are built on old technologies which are quickly getting out dated. Games like Shakes & Fidget and Adventure Quest Worlds for example would be infinitely more “fun” if they were built on the Unity engine. Transforming these games into Unity powered titles would require a lot of effort though. For 2D MMORPGs, it would be near impossible, but for 3D games, there’s no reason not embrace Unity, as Unity is the future for browser games. I think the biggest problem right now is that very few companies are actually embracing the technology. Luckily, the ones that have so far are having a lot of success with it. Aeria Games recently announced that they will be launching a Unity powered MMOFPS game in the near future. They didn’t reveal too much info about it, but Aeria Games has had a lot of success with Dynasty Warriors Online and Legendary Champions, so seeing them throw their weight behind Unity is definitely a good sign. I’d like to see maybe OGPlanet or Nexon start launching some browser based Unity games in the future too.

Even though new games like Forsaken World, Iris Online and Zentia are all around the corner – it’s worth pointing out that older MMORPGs like Fly For Fun from gPotato and Fiesta Online from Outspark still remain extremely popular. Perhaps saying remain popular is a bit of an understatement, as I would argue that both Fly For Fun and Fiesta Online have rapidly growing playerbases. In fact, these games are growing much faster than some of the newer games out there like Fists of Fu and Legend of Edda. I don’t want to write off either of those games yet, as they’re still too new to judge, but with all the shiny new games coming out, I feel that those newly entering the free to play MMOs from pay to play games should choose their first game carefully.

flyff-gameplay.jpg Lets analyze Silkroad Online from Joymax for a minute. The game originally released back in 2006 and today has well over 4 million registered users. In fact, it’s one of the most popular free MMORPGs today, even though it’s 4+ years old. I remember when I first logged into the game years ago, it had like 25+ servers, and every single one was “full”. You literally had to try logging in for 20 minutes to even get into the game. The funny thing is, every time the game tells you “The server is too full, try again later” the game shuts itself down, so you need to relaunch it every time. I think the only other MMORPG with servers this full was Knight Online from GamersFirst – another REALLY old MMORPG, which is extremely popular. MapleStory from Nexon and Hero Online from Netgame are popular too – but these games have enough servers to accommodate the playerbase. I don’t know why Silkroad Online never had enough servers or channels. Vindictus from Nexon has only a handful of servers, but each has 200 channels, so it’s enough. It’s also worth mentioning that Fantasy Earth Zero which GamePot USA launched in North America earlier in 2010, is quite popular. It’s worth mentioning because the game is a Japanese MMORPG which has been available in Asia for 5+ years.

silkroad-online-goblin.jpg Obviously not every new game is a flop. Games like The Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online and Heroes of Three Kingdoms have all proven to be successful titles. In fact, nearly every game from Perfect World Entertainment from Jade Dynasty to Battle of the Immortals has been wildly successful. My point though is that older MMORPGs still remain quite popular, and well worth checking out. Most of the MOST popular games are MMOs released before 2008. As odd as it is, it’s a fact. One of the main benefits of these older games is that since they’ve been out longer, they have enjoyed more expansion packs and updates, so they feel like more well rounded games.

the-lord-of-the-rings-online-combat-training So which older MMORPGs do you still play? Me? I still play MapleStory and Runescape every once in a while. As for newer games, I’m looking forward to Forsaken World when it gets out into open beta. The new Battlefield game from EA seems neat too, but it has no official release date. How about you? What are you looking forward to?

Ever since Iris Online released into closed beta earlier in October, I’ve been waiting eagerly for gPotato to release the game into open beta. Unfortunately, like many other closed beta games, Iris Online will be having a character wipe. I remember leveling my character quite a bit in Legend of Edda and Asda Story from GamesCampus back when those games were in closed beta. I learned my lesson – there’s no point of committing to a game when its still in closed beta. That’s actually the reason I haven’t been playing Forsaken World from Perfect World Entertainment. The game is definitely one of the most interesting and high quality games of 2010, but why should I sink hours and hours of time into it, when it’s going to get wiped? I’d much rather wait till open beta begins. On a side note, i’m actually looking forward to playing Forsaken World, but only when it hits open beta. Until then I’ll stick with Perfect World and Heroes of Three Kingdoms – two other games from the same company.

iris-online-fight The reason I’m looking forward to Iris Online is because it’s a really polished anime MMORPG, and I’m a sucker for anime inspired games. Plus the game has a really sleek interface too. Very functional and easy to use. When gPotato first announced the game, I stopped playing Fly For Fun and Luna Online – two other games by the same company. The reason being of course, I’d be moving onto to Iris Online – so why bother playing these two other games when I’m going to start playing Iris anyway? I should mention that Fly For Fun is the most popular free MMORPG that gPotato publishes. I find this little tidbit quite amazing, especially since the game is quite old now. It’s not like Darkeden or Digimon Battle old, but it’s a good 5+ years old now. I think It’s their oldest game after Rappelz. I played the Iris Online closed beta for a good day or so before telling myself that I’ll play it more upon release. I didn’t want to play it for too long, as I mentioned earlier, that there’s going to be a character wipe. I really liked the game’s tarot card system. Like Ragnarok Online and Dragon Saga, players can upgrade their equipment by inserting cards into them. Tarot cards can also be used to transform into monsters, which adds some interesting bits of depth to the game. Players can even turn into boss monsters, but boss tarot cards are much rarer.

legend-of-edda-broken-house Another neat little game that peaked my interested in October is Legend of Edda from GamesCampus. It’s a PvP MMORPG, but with cute MMORPG style graphics. I know this sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, and in a way it is. But it’ actually has hardcore PvP elements, even with its cutesy graphics. The open beta for Legend of Edda began in the middle of October. I guess this game can keep me busy until Iris Online hits open beta later in November hopefully. I just hope the game doesn’t pull a War of Angels or Fists of Fu and take forever to launch. OutSpark is terrible with release schedules – Divine Souls for example STILL isn’t released, how ridiculous is that?

With dozens of high budget MMOs and MMORPGs launching every year, it’s worth pointing out that only a handful of sports MMOs and racing MMOs ever get released. The only sports MMOs to launch in 2010 are FreeJack, Zone 4: Fight District, Lost Saga, Hot Dance Party (Steps) and FIFA Online. But the number of sports games that launched on the PS3 and Xbox 360 are in the dozens! Sports games are big business on traditional platforms like the 360 and PS3, but for some reason they haven’t experienced the same explosive growth in the free to play MMO department. I think this will change in the coming years, because as games begin to transition from products to services, more and more games will relaunch as free to play MMOs. Companies like Electronic Arts and Sony Online Entertainment are already beginning to realize that they can make more money by making their games free to play and by monetizing through optional micro-transactions. Turbine figured this out when they made two of their biggest games free to play – Dungeons and Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online. Zynga figured it out once Farmville began printing money. It’s rumored that Farmville makes over a million dollars a day in revenue. Farmville isn’t the only facebook game printing money though – Playdom has been so successful with games like Market Street and City of Wonder that they got bought out by Disney for over half a billion dollars!

It seems like MMORPGs right now are huge amongst free to play games – as games like Runes of Magic and Fiesta Online from OutSpark are growing like crazy. Perfect World Entertainment’s revenues in North America have also been climbing with the growth of their four core games – Perfect World, Jade Dynasty, Heroes of Three Kingdoms and Battle of the Immortals. Other Chinese MMORPG companies are launching their games in the west too. ChangYou has been super enthusiastic – as they already launched three games within 2 years, with Zentia being their newest title. Chinese browser games are also making their way to the West with strategy MMORPGs like Caesary and Evony leading the charge. Business Tycoon Online from Dovogame has been a huge hit too – so it shows that non-strategy games can also be successful.

Non-RPG MMOs such as racing games and sports games haven’t really experienced the same growth that RPGs have though. Games like Company of Heroes Online, Land of Chaos Online and Alien Swarm have been somewhat successful, but again they haven’t experienced the exponential growth of RPGs. I think it’s safe to say the most successful non-rpg MMO is League of Legends right now. It’s worth pointing out too that the game is Western developed. The entire free to play genre emerged in South Korea and China, so seeing an American MMORPG developer be so successful is quite intriguing. I think the most successful non-rpg genre has been MMOFPS games. Games like Mission Against Terror, Alliance of Valiant Arms and Cross Fire have all proven to be very popular here in the West. But that’s not too surprising, as Western gamers absolutely love their first person shooters. Just look at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s success in Europe and North America. The game isn’t popular at all in Asia, but it’s thriving here in the West.

I suspect that Sports and Racing MMOs will push forward and begin growing, but only when gaming itself fully transitions into a service rather than a product.

Some people like to think that linearity in video games is bad. That’s mostly true, but for MMORPGs, I think linearity is a good thing, as it provides direction. Just look at a game like Lunia. It’s an anime MMORPG that’s broken down into worlds and stages – sort of like a Super Mario game. In order to get to the next stage, you need to finish the current one. It’s probably the most linear MMORPG out there, but it’s also a popular game; definitely one of the more popular games ijji publishes. But too much linearity may not be a good thing. I think games like Lunia take things a bit to the extreme. Look at a game like Fists of Fu. The game is also broken down into stages, but it’s not as linear, because players don’t ALWAYS move from one stage to another. Players can pick which stages within their level range they want to complete first – where as in Lunia you MUST complete level A before moving to level B then to C. Fists of Fu is from OutSpark and it’s actually one of their new MMORPGs. It’s a side scrolling MMORPG that aims to compete with Dragon Saga from Gravity Interactive – as it has the same type of hack-n-slash style gameplay.

The success of Vindictus from Nexon is yet another example of why linear MMOs work really well. Vindictus is broken down into stages the same way Lunia is. The only thing different is that you might have to play the same few stages in Vindictus multiple times to complete every possible quest in that area. The game world is literally broken down into a persistent world town and instanced dungeons. That’s it. It’s hard to get any more linear the Vindictus and Lunia. Other stage based games like Divine Souls from OutSpark and Grand Chase from Ntreev are also extremely linear. Even really popular MMORPGs like The Lord of the Rings Online from Turbine and Heroes of Three Kingdoms from Perfect World Entertainment do this. They’re built in way that their quest lines are linear.

There are games that are a bit more “open”, but still linear. Just look games like Grand Fantasia and Kitsu Saga from Aeria Games. Both games have quests that take players from point A to Point B to Point C while leveling them up in the process. These games wouldn’t be so linear if they had multiple quests that took players to different areas of the game world, but that isn’t the case. These games basically have ONE quest chain which is extremely linear. Everyone goes through it – no matter what class they pick! Another good example of a game that does this is Runes of Magic and maybe Allods Online. Both games are structured so players move throughout the game in a very linear pattern. It’s easy to say EVERY Game is like this, but it isn’t true. More open world games such as Ragnarok Online, Darkfall Online and Uncharted Waters Online are examples of MMORPGs that aren’t linear.

The thing is, I actually LIKE when a game is linear, because it gives me direction. I know exactly where to go and what to do in 4Story, because the questing is structured in a way that players will always have something to do and know where to go.

Well the MMO news is out – War of Angels is launching in North America through WizGames. If the name WizGames sounds a bit familiar to you, it’s because they’re the same company who developed S4 League – a sci-fi themed third person MMO shooter which Alaplaya currently publishes. Seeing a game developer like WizGames launching a game is interesting, as WizGames might eventually launch more of their products in North America. I had a chance to play War of Angels in its closed beta on the Gamigo service and after playing the game for a few hours I really liked it. The only problem was I was worried that Gamigo may not have the North American license for the game, which would mean I couldn’t play the game on their service – only those in Europe could. Now than a WizGames announced that they would be publishing the game in North America, I’m a bit relieved. The reason I was concerned is because Gamigo pulled the old bait-and-switch tactic with their other game – Martial Empires. In the game’s open beta anyone anywhere in the world could play it, but after the game launched the company had put IP blocks into the game preventing those living Outside of Europe from connecting to the game. The reason they had to do this was because the Korean developer, CR Space, only sold Gamigo the European license to the game. The North American license was sold to another company – who never actually launched the game. So even though I want to play Martial Empires, I can’t because the game is EU only.

Gamigo isn’t the only company who had to put IP restrictions in one of their popular MMORPGs because of licensing agreements. Gpotato had to ban all IP addresses outside of North America from connecting to their Aika Online game. Many people outside of North America wanted to play Aika, but they couldn’t because gPotato had blocked all foreign IP addresses. It wasn’t until T3Fun, the game publisher behind WYD Global, launched Aika Online world-wide 6 months later that people outside of North America could play the game. The thing is, because of MMORPG licensing agreements on occasion never get released in certain regions. For example – Priston Tale 2 was licensed to Suba Games in North America and GamerKraft in Europe. The European version launched a year ago, but the North American Version through Suba Games hasn’t and no release date has been announced. Anyone in the United States or Canada who wishes to play Priston Tale 2 cannot because the GamerKraft version is only available to residents in the European Union. Suba Games also publishes Ace Online, Mission Against Terror and Fragoria in North America while GamerKraft publishes FreeJack. Another thing about licensing is that games may release in different regions at different times. Nexon released Vindictus in North America on October 13, but the EU version isn’t scheduled to release for another 3 months. Those living in the EU are upset, and rightfully so. Why should they have to wait 3+ months for a clearly finished product to launch in their region?

Anyway, enough licensing talk. I’m just glad that War of Angels is actually going to launch in the U.S, and I think many other gamers are too. The thing about Gamigo is that you can never really tell if their games are going to be EU Only or EU and U.S. They publish Fiesta Online and Project Powder in EU only, but they have King of Kings 3 and Black Prophecy in BOTH the EU and U.S. So if they release a new game, just hold you breath and hope that it’ll be playable in the U.S.

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