Free MMORPG & Free MMOs

Archive for October 2010

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.

I’m always on the lookout for good MMOs and MMORPGs to play, but ever since I started going to Rutgers University, I couldn’t sit at home and play MMORPGs all day. I could of course bring my laptop with me, which is what I did, but I couldn’t download and play big client based MMORPGs like The Lord of the Rings Online, Runes of Magic or even Fists of Fu. This sort of sucked because I just started playing two new MMORPGs which I really liked – Uncharted Waters Online and FreeJack. I began playing both of these games in early September, but since University started up, I had to change gears. My laptop isn’t exactly an Alienware beast or anything, it’s only powerful enough to browse the net and play some low end graphical games. This means I couldn’t download 3D MMORPGs and instead had to stick with more casual MMORPGs. The obvious choice was to switch gears to browser based MMOs.

I’ve written about browser based MMOs in the past a bit unfavorably, but the fact is there are A LOT Of browser based games that are actually quite fun to play. Obviously many of you have already heard of Tribal Wars and Travian – the two strategy MMORPGs that newer games like Grepolis and Caesary are based off of. If you haven’t played either Tribal Wars or Travian I think you should because both were some of the earliest browser based strategy games ever. They were the two games that really got the ball rolling on browser based strategy games. Strategy games got so big on the browser that even Electronic Arts jumped on the bandwagon with Lord of Ultima and Jagex jumped on board with War of Legends.

The neat thing about browser based MMOs is that there are so many different kinds of games. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t actively require your attention maybe a game like Shakes & Fidget or The West would peak your internet. If you’re looking for something much more “hands on” a trading card game MMO like Urban Rivals would be great or an active skill based MMORPG like Dark Orbit or SeaFight. If you feel you’d like to play more of a traditional MMORPG on the browser then Adventure Quest Worlds and Shadow Tale are worth checking out. Both games look and feel like a traditional persistent world style MMO.

Personally, I think 3D browser based MMOs on the browser powered by Unity are the best. Games like Pirate Galaxy and FusionFall for example use Unity to achieve graphics on the web browser that rival client based games. Heck, I would argue that Pirate Galaxy has better visuals than say an old MMOPRG like Hero Online from Netgame. The beauty about most browser games is that they can be played on and off without a big time commitment. The same applies for social games on facebook like Farmville from Zynga and Market Street from Playdom. Browser based games that don’t require a huge time commitment will only continue to get bigger and better.

It’s only October 3 and the month is already off to good start. Why you ask? Well FreeJack – the parkour themed racing MMO just entered into open beta on October 1. Netmarble, the company behind Mini Fighter Online, launched their new title Uncharted Waters Online into open beta as well. That’s not all, ChangYou released Zentia into open beta on October 1st too! How crazy it that? Three new free to play 3D MMORPGs launching into open beta (basically full release) on the same day! It shows that the free to play sector of the video game biz is doing great! Sure, not all games are a success, as Bright Shadow is joining the MMO Graveyard in late October as GamePot USA shuts it down, but for every game that closes, a half dozen games take its place.

Out of the three new games that launched in early October, Uncharted Waters Online is the most interesting in my opinion. It’s one of the only Japanese MMORPGs available in North America. I mean aside from CosmicBreak, Florensia and Pandora Saga, Uncharted Waters Online is one of the only Japanese developed games in the U.S. Unfortunately, Uncharted Waters Online isn’t a new game. In fact, it’s an old one. The game has been out in Japan for well over 5 years now. Heck, it’s even playable on the PlayStation! I bet that the Japanese version of the game is several years ahead of the Netmarble version in terms of updates and expansion packs too. Even so, the game is interesting because it has unique gameplay which helps differentiate it from the dozens of WoW clones and browser based strategy MMOs. It’s a bit like Voyage Century from IGG, except much more in depth. Since it’s in-depth, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that it has a pretty steep learning curve. It’ll take a good few hours of playing before you even know what’s going on. This can definitely turn a lot of people off from the game, but my advice is stick with it. So many people told me the they love the game after I introduced it to them.

FreeJack launched on October 1st too and it’s a pretty nifty little racing MMO. The game marketed itself as some sort of revolutionairy new game as it was the first “Parkour” themed game, but in my opinion the game is a lot like Tales Runner from gPotato, except with a different art-style and different kinds of stages. Both games have players racing on foot rather than a vehicle. I would say that FreeJack is unique for this bit alone, but Tales Runner already did this like a year ago. I guess you can say it’s different than traditional racing MMOs like Need for Speed World Online and Heat Online, but that’s about it. On the positive side, the level designs are intense and the art style in the game is awesome. I actually like the visuals in FreeJack more than the graphics in TalesRunner. The races in the game take a lot of skill and the game’s housing system gives players an additional incentive to keep on racing.

Zentia from ChangYou is a surprisingly good game too. I say surprisingly good because I wasn’t a big fan of Dragon Oath or Blade Wars – two other MMORPGs published by ChangYou. Zentia unlike the other 2 games from the company, is actually 3D. The whole top down style somewhat 3D graphics in the game weren’t my thing. Dragon Oath reminded me too much of Conquer Online and even JX2 Online, as the art styles are definitely a bit similar. What I liked most about Zentia is the games large variety of playable classes. I think more MMORPG classes are more important than MMO class balance, as variety is always better than balance – so long as things aren’t too ridiculously imbalanced. Perfect balance is impossible anyway – so devs shouldn’t bother trying to achieve it.

Anyway October should have some more awesome releases too. Vindictus enters full release on the 13th while Dynasty Warriors Online should hopefully hit CB by the end of the month. Legend of Edda and Kitsu Saga both entered into closed beta early in the month too. Hopefully we’ll get some more neat announcements too!