Free MMORPG & Free MMOs

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!

Remember games like Evony, Caesary and Tribal Wars? Or how about Dark Orbit, SeaFight and Deepolis? These are six popular browser based MMORPGs of this generation. The next generation of browser based MMORPGs will mop the floor with these old games. Why you ask? Simple. Technology. Newer games like Nanovor Evolutions, Tiger Woods Online and Battlestar Galactica Online which are powered by the Unity Player have much better graphics and gameplay than older browser based games. The Unity engine allows real 3D graphics on the web browser – which looks awesome. And when I say 3D, I mean actual good looking 3D – not blocky 3D like Roblox and RuneScape.

Even on the strategy MMO front, games like Evony are in trouble. WarStory from BigPoint is a new strategy themed browser MMO with much crisper graphics and more in depth gameplay. WarStory is being powered by Microsoft Silverlight, not Unity though. BigPoint has had a lot of success with their older MMORPGs, but even they are embracing new technologies. Battlestar Galactica Online will be powered by Unity. Games like Farmerma, War of Legends and Xblaster will still be around, but the next wave of games will feature rich 3D graphics.

I suspect that new browser MMORPGs will be equal in terms of graphics quality with current-gen client based MMORPGs. There’s no reason that older popular MMORPGs like MapleStory and even Runes of Magic can’t run through Unity or on the web browser. I think client based games will eventually be extinct. Everything will be streaming through the internet – sort of how Second Life actually streams player made content on the fly. Somewhere someplace there will be a datacenter of PCs doing all the heavy lifting for generating good graphics and cpu power. The results will be transmitted through the net on end-user monitors. This way, all the CPU and GPU computing is outsourced to a datacenter, where it can be done more efficiently. This would make browser based MMOs and client based games equal on graphics.  This is probably many years away though, but browser based games will continue to get better and better.

I think PoisonVille, Neverland Online, Pirate Galaxy and even World of Cars is testament that newer browser based games look great and will only continue to get better. Client based games are of course improving too. I mean just look at Vindictus and EverQuest 2 – these games are absolutely stunning. The only thing is, I hope MMORPG music quality also  continues to improve. I don’t think I’ve ever played a browser MMO with good music quality. MMO music is definitely important too. At least graphics will only continue to improve

BigPoint – the MMO publisher behind numerous browser based games including SeaFight, Dark Orbit and Deepolis announced many new free to play MMORPGs recently. BigPoint is probably best known for their simple 2D browser based games, but they’ve recently begun embracing more complex 3D MMORPGs. Maestia is one of these games. I’m pretty sure BigPoint didn’t actually develop Maestia, but they will be the company publishing the game in Europe. Maestia finished its closed beta testing in August and launched into open beta on September 15, 2010. Unfortunately, Maestia seems to be EU only – so North American players won’t get a chance to play it.

BigPoint also launched Poisonville into open beta recently. Poisonville is a game fully developed and published by BigPoint. It’s actually their most expensive MMO ever developed – clocking in at around $2 million in developments costs. The game isn’t too impressive visually, even though its 3D, but its gameplay looks like a lot of fun. Poisonville is trying to capture the “fun” of Grand Theft Auto and APB and bring it to a much more accessible level on the web browser. Unfortunately APB shut down recently and was a big MMORPG flop, so hopefully Poisonville doesn’t meet the same fate. Aside from these two games though, BigPoint has been expanding like crazy.

They launched a slew of new games in 2010 including Farmerama – a browser based farming MMO that was designed to compete with Farmville which Zynga makes. So it looks like BigPoint is entering Zynga’s turf. Farmerma isn’t exactly a social game the same way Mafia Wars, Pet Society and NightClub city is, but it still competes with FarmVille – which is Zynga’s most popular game. I’d like to see BigPoint launch some facebook games too – as browser based MMOs can easily be integrated into facebook.

So with BigPoint rocking the browser game space, launching 3D games and publishing popular third party MMORPGs like Maestia – what’s next? I’d like to see BigPoint focus more on launching and licensing games globally though. I Feel that’s what made Dark Orbit and SeaFight super popular – global access. Maestia is EU only at the moment – the same way Martial Empires from Gamigo is EU only. Also the same way GamerKraft has Priston Tale 2 in EU only and Suba Games has it in the U.S. One large server would definitely have been better for both the developers and players.

With legend of Edda, Iris Online, CosmicBreak and a ton of other new MMORPGs coming out, a lot of people forget about the older MMORPGs that are still alive and kicking. Archlord and Mu Online on the Webzen gaming portal for example are still alive and kicking. Mu Online is actually a really old Diablo inspired MMORPG with a sizable playerbase. Battle of the Immortals and even Erebus Travia Reborn are both newer and better titles – but people are still sticking with the game. Archlord is an old 3D fantasy MMORPG that used to be pay to play, but went free to play. The game has been out for well over 4 years now and it’s still around. Ace Online and Luminary: Rise of the Goonzy both borrowed the whole “Rule the server” feature from Archlord.

Other older MMORPGs like AstroN, 9Dragons and Cabal Online are around too. AstroN is published by GameIs the same company behind the Carom3D billiards MMO. It’s a sci-fi MMORPG thats been around since 2006 or so. 9Dragons used to be published by Acclaim, but it’s now being published by GamersFirst – as they bought the license for the game after Acclaim went bankrupt. Cabal Online used to be published by Ogplanet, but the developer of the game yanked the license from them. Now it’s being published world-wide on the developer’s own website. Which is sort of neat I guess.

Newer MMOs are fun and all, but I think too many people are ignoring some of the great older games. New doesn’t always mean better either. The Fists of Fu game from Outspark and Mission Against Terror FPS from Suba Games for example are two brand spankin new MMOs that are absolute trash. Both games releaed in late 2010 too! Some newer games are great, but I like to stick with some of the classics that helped re-define the genre. Maplestory and RuneScape are two such games. They were really the first mega popular free to play games. After they had huge success in North America – other companies starting launching their games here. Nowdays we have all sorts of free to play MMOs from the golfing MMO Pangya to a DotA like Avalon Heroes. There are well over 200 free to play titles out there – not counting browser based games.

So which game should you play? Old or new? Both.I personally like to play games with large playerbases, as I feel that an MMO isn’t worth playing if it doesn’t have a large and growing playerbase. So I like to play all sorts of games. I’m looking forward to that new action MMORPG from Nexon though – the one everyone really wants to play – Vindictus. Any new MMORPGs you guys are looking forward to?

As more and more free to play MMORPGs launch, it seems like they’re all getting bigger and bigger in size. No, i’m not talking about content, I’m talking about file size. Runes of Magic from Frogster is 7GB, The Lord of the Rings Online from Turbine is a whopping 8GB big, and Age of Conan from Funcom is some 14+gb big. It seems like as games get more and more advanced, their file sizes also continue to grow. Even WonderKing from Ndoors is 1.2GB – and that’s a 2D side scrolling MMORPG! How can a 2D side scrolling game be that big is beyond me.

I find it ridiculous that so many free to play MMOs are over 1 GB in size – especially really basic looking ones like Fiesta Online from Outspark is 1.2GB and Dungeon Fighter Online from Nexon is 2GB in size. Dungeon Fighter Online – for those that don’t know is a RETRO 2D side-scrolling brawler MMORPG. It plays like the old Gauntlet Legends game in the arcades. It’s actually more like Golden-Axe than anything else. So why is it that the game is a whopping 2GB in size? I have no idea. As is, the game is much bigger in size than NUMEROUS 3D MMORPGs like Metin 2, Hero Online and Karos Online. Heck, the graphics in Karos Online are GORGEOUS and the game is only 950 MB in size. So why is that NHN was able to create a gorgeous game like Karos Online at under 1GB and Nexon couldn’t make Dungeon Fighter Online smaller? It’s beyond me.

Some reasonably sized free to play MMMORPGs include games like Grand Chase and Conquer Online. Both of these games are less than 600 MB in size. Grand Chase is by Ntrev and is a fun side scrolling MMORPG with fun cooperative elements. Conquer Online is from TQ Digital and offers a ton of content. Another example of a game that has a huge file size is Company of Heroes Online from THQ. The game Is quite fun, but the file size is so big.

The problem with huge file sizes is that downloading these games can take ages – especially for those on slower internet connections. It took me like 5 hours to Download The Lord of the Rings Online and another hour or so to patch it. Huge file sizes are perfectly fine if the game actually downloads fast, but download speeds are usually limited by the server you’re downloading it from. If thousands of people are tryign to download the same game, it could take forever for it to finish. A few other games with reasonable file sizes include Battle of the Immortals from Perfect World Entertainment and Lunia from ijji.

I think independent game developers can be very successful if they make free to play MMORPGs. Forget developing regular PC games or console games – MMOs are the way to go. Why? Because one successful game can bring in a steady stream of revenue. Just look at Eternal Lands – the 3D fantasy MMORPG that looks a lot like RuneScape from Jagex – the game is very popular. It has some 400+ users online at all times. That’s more than ACTUAL MMORPGs like Robo Smasher from KRU Interactive and Outer Galaxies – a sci-fi themed browser based game. So how is it that an indy game like Eternal Lands can have so many players while commercial games can’t? Well – it’s simple. Indy developers tend to pay more attention to what their community actually wants. Companies like Aeria Games, Uforia and gPotato can’t always do this – especially since they publish more than one game. Just look at gPotato – they publish Luna Online, Aika Online, Allods Online, Fly For Fun, Iris Online and numerous other free to play games. They can’t just focus on one game – they’re always looking to launch new games and try to make more money, so it’s hard to focus on just one thing.

So where are all the indy game developers? They’re off making games for the Xbox-live arcade or launching flash games on sites like Newgrounds. I think they can be much more successful if they focus on free to play games. There are quite a bit of Indy browser based games like Fallen Sword and Dragon Fable, but there are very few client based indy MMOs. Earth Eternal is like the only one. Dreamlords and Saga are two others, but that’s it. All the major games, such as Battlefield Heroes, Rappelz, Metin 2 and Wizard101 are all developed and published by major companies. Games by big companies aren’t bad, but indy games tend to bring more innovation – as major game studios have been releasing the same old wow clones over and over again.

I think the future for indy free to play MMOs is with the Unity Web Player. The Unity Web Player is capable of rendering gorgeous 3D graphics on web browsers and game developers can use the Unity Web Development platform to design their games for free. That’s right, game developers can develop full 3D games entirely for free on the Unity Web player. This isn’t some cheap game development software like RPG Maker either. This is the real deal. It’s the same platform Captains of Darktide and Fusionfall use – two major browser based MMOs. Both with top notch graphics too.

Anyway. Indy game developers… you guys need to start embracing the free to play MMO model.