Free MMORPG & Free MMOs

Archive for May 2009

As it stands, most free MMORPG Game publishers are trying harder and harder to push users to purchase items from their cash shops. This isn’t exactly surprising, considering that every time players buy items in the cash shops, the publisher makes money. What is surprising though is the growing trend of almost requiring players to purchase items from cash shops. Games like Sea fight and Dark Orbit require players to spend real money in their game if they want to get anywhere in the games. For example, weapons available to cash shop users in these games are infinitely superior to non cash shop items, which means that anyone who doesn’t spend money, loses.

Other games like Combat Arms and Maplestory take a much more balanced approach with their cash shops. Weapons purchased through the cash shop in the MMOFPs game Combat Arms are largely similar to their non-cash shop counterparts with a few aesthetic differences. Maplestory on the other hand has a few powerful items, but no actual equipment, so players that purchase cash shop items don’t have material advantages over those that don’t. You could argue that those that purchase Maplestory’s 2x EXP scrolls in the cash shop have an advantage over those that don’t, but this isn’t necessarily true because the game doesn’t even have PvP, so where’s the edge?

So what’s the solution? Simple. Make cash shop items strictly aesthetic or only moderately powerful, because as it stands, far too many games put too much emphasis on cash shop items. Nearly all of IGG Game’s including Tales of Pirates, Godswar Online, Angels Online, Wonderland Online, Voyage Century Online, Zu Online and Myth War 2 have incredibly powerful cash shop items that make the game unfair for non paying users.


Even though there’s a new free MMORPG coming out every month, it’s an incredibly tough market. There just aren’t enough players to populate all of the MMOs on the market. So what does that mean? Well, some MMORPGs are going to have to shut down. Likely, games like Pi Story, Stone Age 2, Racing Star: Come On Baby and Shadow of Legend won’t last till the end of the year, simply because they don’t have a playerbase. An MMORPG without a playerbase really isn’t an MMO anyway.

Without players, the MMORPG publisher simply cannot make enough money to cover their expenses. I’d certainly like to see all of these games continue to exist, but it’s just not going to happen. With well over 160 client based free to play MMORPGs and countless MMORPG Free Trials and free browser games, the free to play market is just way too saturated at the moment. The way I see it, more and more games are coming out, but more players aren’t playing free to play games. Economically speaking, supply [MMORPG Games] is increasing far faster than [Demand] MMORPG players.

I don’t expect any major MMORPG Publishers like Aeria Games, Gpotato, IGG, or Netgame to go under, as they each have numerous successful titles. Aeria has Twelve Sky and Shaiya, Gpotato has Flyff: Fly For Fun, IGG Has Voyage Century Online and Tales of Pirates and lastly Netgame has Hero Online and Ghost Online. Aside from these hit games, each of these publishers I mentioned have a bunch of other games as well, but unfortunately those other games aren’t very popular. The publishers that will shut down are likely the ones with no successful games.

The more I look at the MMORPG genre, the more I’m convinced that the ‘pay to play’ genre will be fully replaced by free to play games. Some people may think I’m crazy, but if you take a look at all the pay to play games out today, it’s clear that only two or three of them out of dozens are a success. Sure no one will admit it, but games like Pirates of the Burning Sea and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes are complete flops. They were both rumored to be ‘WoW killers’, but in reality, they were nothing more than a whole lot of hype. I’m not saying that all pay to play games are bad, they aren’t, but with more and more free to play MMORPGs coming to market every year, I just can’t see people paying a monthly subscription to play a game. The only ‘mega popular’ pay to play MMORPG is World of Warcraft with 12 million or so subscribers and Eve Online as a distant second or third with 400,000 subscribers. After third of fourth place, the ‘pay to play’ subscriber numbers get worse. The incredibly hyped up ‘Warhammer Online” launched with nearly 1 million subscribers, but today has under 600,000. Games like EverQuest II and Age of Conan are also in rapid decline.


Twelve million players may sound like a lot, but if you look at free MMORPGs like MapleStory and Ragnarok Online, you’ll quickly realize that twelve million isn’t that much. MapleStory alone has over 100 million accounts worldwide and there are easily a dozen or so free titles that have similar figures. The first pay to play MMORPGs, EverQuest, Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot played an important role in the development of the entire MMORPG market, as they were the ones that got the ball rolling, but like everything else, the MMORPG industry in North America and Europe will change. Gaming in China, Korea and Japan has already shifted to largely ‘free to play’ games and the West will soon follow.

Everyone I’ve talked to tells me that ‘pay to play’ games are ‘higher quality’ than free to play ones, but from my experience this isn’t always the case. Sure, big budget mega hits like World of Warcraft have a lot of content, but is does that justify the game’s $15 / month cost? Heck, there’s a relatively new free MMORPG called ‘Runes of Magic’ that plays a lot like World of Warcraft, but without the monthly cost. The growth of the free to play market will lead to gaming companies developing ‘free’ versions of these premium pay to play games. It has already happened with World of Warcraft, and it’s happening with other MMORPGs as well. With so many free alternatives, why should anyone pay monthly to play an MMORPG?


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The Golden Age

By Erhan Altay

The year was 1998 and I had just started my very first MMORPG, Ultima Online. I had no idea what to expect from this new genre but at first things didn’t look so different. I wandered around town and eventually made my way to a nearby forest. After killing a few orcs and trolls I thought I had the game figured out but what happened next took be my surprise. In the distance I saw another band of travelers and decided to make my way towards them to say hello. Little did I know that this particular group of players were in fact player killers (PKs) and were more interested in my new suit of armor than in exchanging greetings. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and found myself a defeated ghost, forced to wander the world in search of a healer who could resurrect me. My armor, weapons, and the loot I had gathered from the orcs were all gone. I was angry and I vowed to take my vengeance upon them when I was strong enough. Over the next five years my skills improved and I joined a guild and even took a side in the ongoing civil war between the forces of Lord British and Lord Blackthorn. Mainly because of its PvP features, Ultima Online kept me engaged longer than any other MMORPG, even longer than the other early MMO hit EverQuest.

A False Dawn

Now fast forward to 2009 and it is obvious that the MMORPG market has achieved new heights. Today there are hundreds of games available, many of them don’t even charge a subscription fee. But what about PvP? World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online both boast of their Player vs Player content. Mythic even claims RvR (PvP between larger numbers of players) as its opus magnum but both games fall short of the kind of open PvP first offered over a decade ago. Death in either of these games is meaningless since players are instantly resurrected with only a slight financial penalty in the form of damaged equipment. Some free to play MMORPGs like Atlantica Online, Ragnarok Online, Shaiya and Warrior Epic offer many controlled PvP features but again, it lacks the natural feel of Ultima Online’s open-world, anything goes atmosphere. Many free MMORPGs don’t even bother with PvP at all these days, take for example Maplestory or Fairyland Online. What is even more unfortunate is that EA chose to castrate Ultima Online by restricting open combat and mixing foreign elements into the game to try and make it resemble other popular offerings.

A New Beginning?

Over the years many bold developers have tried to carry UO’s PvP banner but have stumbled before getting very far. Shadowbane comes to mind. During its development it was hailed as the PvPers dream come true, the MMORPG that would be Ultima Online and more. I admired this spirit but unfortunately, the game failed to live up to its fan’s expectations. All Shadowbane servers were permanently closed in the first half of 2009. Now a new game has risen to claim the UO mantle, DarkFall Online. DarkFall offers many of the same features diehard PvP fans crave, unrestricted combat, free looting and so on. The game has so far been attracting so many users that the publishers have had to limit the number of new subscriptions allowed each day. Hopefully they will fix their technical issues soon and allow anyone who wants to try the game an opportunity to do so. Will DarkFall elevate MMORPG PvP back to where it was during the golden age? Only time will tell.

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The Decling Role of PvP in MMORPGs

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Why do some games stay in closed beta for so long while others jump right into open beta so quickly? I’m tired of seeing games like Dragonica and RagnarokOnline 2 on the ‘closed beta’ lists, as those games have been in ‘closed beta’ for ages! As an MMORPG gamer, I sort of feel that a lot of game developers are just launching closed beta to get more publicity for their games. Giving out closed beta keys to several big gaming websites to giveaway can get an incredible amount of publicity for your game, so why shouldn’t game companies do it?

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Well firstly, a lot of beta key giveaways tend to be limited, so a lot of gamers end up having to wait for open beta or the full commercial release before they can play the game while others, who were lucky enough to be online during the giveaway got to play earlier. If the whole purpose of a closed beta is to find and fix bugs, wouldn’t this goal be better accomplished with MORE players actively playing the game? The players online, the easier it is for the game developer to find and fix bugs. Some people would argue that launching straight to open beta would be disastrous because of so many glitches and bugs, but in reality isn’t that the purpose of a beta release?

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I remember when Atlantica Online and Runes of Magic opened their doors in closed beta, I was lucky enough to get in on it, but I’m sure a lot of other eager gamers had to wait until open beta before they could get a taste of either game. Sure, no one is ‘entitled’ to playing a game early, but I think the goal of game developers should be to get their game out as early as possible and as efficiently as possible and perhaps focusing moving straight from internal testing to open beta can accomplish that.


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